Much ado about Sixpence

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter V (2) | Start of Chapter

An unfortunate miss from Liverpool, with more tongue than brain, opened the scene by telling the captain that she paid more, by sixpence, for a ride in that dirty ditch, than for crossing the raging billows from England; and besides, a boy in the cabin, bigger that she was, had not paid so much. "But, miss, if you please, it's not by weight but by age we go." "Age! indeed! and who told you that?" A wag from one corner of the boat cried out, "and 'spose, captain, you take a look of the two jaws on the two sides of the tongue." "The devil a bit could ye gain by that," answered an old man, "that long loose tongue of hers would fret out eleven pair of teeth before a hair could turn white on her pate."

The battle now rose high.

"And may-be the girl would stand up and show how long she is; and if but a slip, she must surely have on leggins." The girl was instantly on her feet. "There, do you think I am as big as the boy?" "And that you are, rejoined the captain, "and I think you are married." This she positively denied, and insisted on the sixpence. "Will nothing else do?" said the captain; "I will give you a dinner of beef-steak, and pay all expenses of whatever you may choose." "And though," said another, "you may have had breakfast, you cannot have too much of a good thing; and if you don't choose the steak, you can take the tay and toast." "The sixpence is all I want; the sixpence is my due; and will you, captain, give me the sixpence?"

A fat old woman sat at my side, guarding an enormous wallet that lay at her feet, with two huge bonnets upon her head, which, though by their material, they might have been modelled some ages apart, yet by dint of bending a little here, and widening largely there, they so exactly fitted that they might be said to be of the same ton. This thrifty manager arose in all the majesty of matronly experience, and made her way through masses of legs and mountains of luggage, till she reached the clamorous maiden, who was still standing, and demanded an audience: "And sure the like of ye couldn't be found in a day's walk in Ireland; and can't ye stop your bawlin' about a paltry sixpence? and where's the mother that rair'd such a scrawl? If she's out of the ground, why didn't she keep ye under her eye till ye had sinse?" All to no purpose! she still insisted on the sixpence. "Yer a fool, and ther's no use in talkin." "And do you think she's the only woman that's a fool?" answered an old man who had been snoring in the corner.

Ireland’s Welome to the Stranger is one of the best accounts of Irish social conditions, customs, quirks and habits that you could wish for. The author, Mrs Asenath Nicholson, was an American widow who travelled extensively in Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine and meticulously observed the Irish peasantry at work and play, as well as noting their living conditions and diet. The book is also available from Kindle.