Fin Keegan



From an unpublished novel, Grace and the Fusilier.

Dublin, 1922

They had been out in Howth and come home to find him in the kitchen, eating. Bridie was at her mother's for the weekend. Daniel was at mass. Feeling thirsty Thomas Quinn went to the kitchen, a part of the house into which he rarely stepped. The curtains were drawn. A man he had never seen before sat at the table.
    "Get out of my house," said Thomas, shaking and pale.
    The man--not much more than a boy--looked up. He had eaten half the shepherd's pie that was to have been dinner.
    "I will not," he said, taking a swig from a bottle of stout and then looking back down at his food.
    It was then, when the necessity of holding the stranger's gaze had passed, that Thomas Quinn noticed a revolver lying on the table by the black bottle.
    Without turning he closed the door behind him.
    He stood for a while over the boy and then sat down.
    The boy wiped his mouth with his sleeve. Thomas noticed there was blood on it.
    "What do you want?"
    The boy looked at him--Thomas put him at eighteen,nineteen at the most.
    "I want you to shut up."
    He finished his meal and taking a second bottle of stout from the press drank it down, looking at Thomas. Upstairs the twins moved about.
    "Who's that?" said the boy.
    "My daughters."
    "Any men in the house?"
    "You're sure of that?"
    "There's no men in the house."
    The boy made a face and picked up his gun. He smelled of excrement. His eyes, even in the grey darkness, were bloodshot and weary. There was a heaviness about his movements that told of a huge tiredness.
    "Are you for the Treaty?" he asked suddenly, pointing the gun at Thomas.
    Thomas said nothing.
    "Course y'are," scowled the boy. He spat on the ground. "Get up."
    Thomas got up, keeping his hands above his head. He turned and felt the gun in his kidneys. He needed to go to the lavatory.
    "Go on," said the boy, pushing him through the door. "Go into the parlour."
    Thomas took him into the drawing-room. Grace was sitting by the fire saying her rosary. She said nothing--her hand went to her mouth at the sight of the intruder. The fact that he held a gun was almost incidental. A minute later the twins came down and were told to sit side by side on the settee. Thomas stood between the boy and his daughters. He hoped nobody had noticed the trickle of urine that had run down his leg and was collecting in a dark patch by his foot. There was a smell too but it was swallowed up by the stench of the intruder.
    The boy finished his stout slowly.
    "They're trying to find me," he said at length.
    "They'll come here. Youse'll have to hide me somewhere."
    "We can do that," said Thomas. Nobody spoke. Grace was murmuring her rosary again. The boy watched her for a while but said nothing.
    Then he said to Madeleine, "Go in and make mea cup of tea. Have you got biscuits?"
    She nodded and went over to the door. Charlotte,left alone on the settee, let out a tiny whimper. The boy looked at her.
    "Make it for everyone here," he said, his magnanimity cloaked in a tone, if anything, more menacing than before. "And bring in all the biscuits."
    He said nothing while she was gone. Thomas looked at Charlotte, trying to reassure her with his eyes--she was shaking. The boy looked at his gun.
    "You're from the country?" said Thomas.
    "Shut up you," said the boy. "English bastard."
    There was a sound from outside: rain. ThenMadeleine came back with the tray of tea things. She poured cups for all of them and they each took a biscuit.
    The boy looked at her closely as she poured.
    "Have you got a brother?" he said.
    She nodded but before she could speak Thomas said,"I told you there's no other man in this house."
    The boy got to his feet and hit him on the jaw with the butt of his revolver.
    "Shut your mouth! Shut your mouth you English bastard!"
    Thomas groaned and fell sideways.
    Charlotte screamed: Grace's rosary speeded up and the boy stood looking at her, wide eyed. He swayed, his shoulders,stiff for a moment, slumped with exhaustion. He fell back onto his chair, his eyes rolling upward. There were streaks of blood on the napkin Madeleine had given him.
    "Everybody shut up," he whispered, holding the gun on his lap and closing his eyes.
    Thomas, rubbing his jaw, pushed Madeleineover to the settee. Outside the rain fell in spears upon the gravel,a wash of sound about the still life indoors.
    "There's no men in the house," said the boy, as if talking in his sleep. "You've no sons?"     "No," said Thomas, after a moment of silence, "Only daughters."
    He looked at the twins.
    "I'm tired," said the boy.
    His breathing lengthened; his head fell back. Thomas noticed that the band of black about his midriff was glistening.
    He looked back at the twins then gave a start:on the sewing table between them--signed by the Major-General of the Irish Division himself--there was a certificate of gallantry in the name of his son. Looking at the boy all the time he reached out an arm and tipped the frame over onto its face. It fell with a crack. The boy sighed but didn't wake.
    He looked at Madeleine. She pointed over at the secretaire in the corner which nobody but Noel had ever used and on which there lay, undisturbed since the war, virtually all they had left of him: his letters and cards, his cap, the telegrams and obituaries, everything that pointed to his existence. Madeleine got up--Thomas went to check her but stopped himself. He thought he could see thin crescents of life between the eyelids of the gunman.
    "They've got you now, boy," murmured the boy. "Got you now." His voice went on, warped into nonsense. Thomas looked at the gun--the boy's hand was over it entirely. To retrieve it would mean loosening his fingers one by one. It was impossible.
    A floorboard creaked. It was a long time since Madeleine had crept about the house. She took the papers in her hand, clutching them to her chest like life itself. She came back around the armchair. Thomas lifted the certificate and then the lid of the sewing table. She dropped them inside. The certificate went after it. Thomas closed the lid carefully, as though it were a tabernacle,locked it and dropped the key into his pocket.
    For three hours the boy stayed where he was, bleeding to death in their drawing room, regaining consciousness for sufficient intervals to dissuade them from going for help. When he slipped away at last the gun fell to the ground by his feet. Then Thomas got up and called the Guards.