Red Petticoats

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXIII (11) | Start of Chapter

My journey lay through a wild mountainous country, and the red petticoats scattered here and there upon hill and lake side gave a romantic touch to the strange scenery for many a mile. A walk of six miles called for rest and a little soap for my blistered feet, and turning into a cabin upon the top of a hill, I heard reading as I entered the door. The woman of the house was sitting with an infant on her lap, reading to a friend who had entered, and I soon perceived she had a cultivated mind, though her lot was cast in that desert. She was a Protestant, and said, "you have no idea of the dreadful condition we are in upon these mountains. No school, and scarcely a book, and seven miles from any church." I promised, if I passed that way on my return, to spend a night with her, and bring her some books. I now felt the want of my luggage. An old man and his daughter entered with each a heavy burden, which they tried to lighten at every cabin upon the mountains. They were dealers in dry goods. "I hope," said the intelligent woman, "you will keep the company of these worthy people across the mountain." I had not walked far when a cough behind caused me to turn about, and the girl said, "Ye are quick on the fut, and I feared we should not gain upon ye." The father soon joined us, and after a "God save ye kindly, we're all travellers together," he added, "I rair'd the little gal yonder, and a blackguard of a fellow kept his eye on her for a twelvemonth, till by her consent and mine he married her, stopped with her one month, took the few pounds she had gained by dailin', and went away, the villain, and set up the business, and has never put the two eyes on her sence."

We were all fatigued, our feet blistered, and we sat down upon a bank of one of the beautiful lakes which are dotting this wild mountain-scenery for many a mile. Having my Testament in my hand, "ye have a nice little book," said the old man. "Shall I read a little?" I asked. "Plaise God, ye will," was the answer. I opened at the 14th of John, and read. "Where," said the daughter, "did you get that beautiful book?" "It sounds," said the father, "like our Catholic raidin', and what the priest has told us from the altar." They had heard portions of the Scripture, but did not know that this was the Word of God till I told them. The daughter took it in her hand, turned over the leaves, read a few portions intelligibly, and asked, "Where could I get one? Would you sell me this?" I promised one from my basket, should it reach Clifden while she was there. The old man clasped his hands, raised his eyes, blessed the good God that he had met such a lady, and such blessed words which "melt the heart." It was a pleasant hour. We needed no cushioned desk nor fringed drapery, to adorn our pulpit. We wanted no lighted gas to enable us to read our prayers from gilt edged books. The chandelier of day was hanging out in heaven's high dome, and the pure waters of the lake were sparkling in its beams. Our temple was a lofty one, and as we sat together within its broad portals, we read the sweet and condescending words, "Let not your hearts be troubled." "In my father's house are many mansions." "Yes," ejaculated the old man, "blessed be his holy name, there are many mansions." I then felt that God was truly a Spirit, and could be worshipped on the mountain top or lowly valley, and needed no temple made with hands.

"Must we go?" I asked, as the book was closed, "and leave this heavenly place?" "Plaise God, we must," the old man answered. Our walk was ten miles upon the top of a mountain spotted with lakes. The old man became fatigued, and they stopped as the sun was setting, at a miserable looking lodging-house for the night, leaving a three miles' walk for me alone, with weary feet, before I could find "a dacent house for a body like me." The daughter, to encourage me, told me one of the "good lies" which so much abound, that it was "but a short mile under yer fut." Darkness soon came over me, and no smoke of a cabin cheered my eye. I sat down upon a little hillock, and again looked over the scenes I had passed, and thanked God that I was in Ireland, and that I had met the old man on the mountain, and hoped he would rest his weary old limbs, though I might not find a shelter. I heard a footstep, and as it approached, inquired if the lodging-house of the mountain was near. "A perch or two under yer fut, and ye are in it." I went on; as I reached the door I heard laughing, music, and dancing. It was a barrack; and a piper, with more whiskey than good sense in his brain, was blowing with all his might for the barefooted girls and merry lads, who were in the highest glee. "Is this a lodging-house?" I inquired. "Go back, and you will find it."

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.