The season passed into winter , and when Mrs Leonard saw Dolores going about with her overcoat, she condescended to light a fire again and this time she would keep it going .
She was struck more and more by the day that the woman was frigid or something .
She said something to this effect in the general context of Ms Burke’s art and needless to say it had been taken quite the wrong way .
Dolores retorted with a little time bomb of a remark .
- What was the definition of an Irishman - she asked
- well there are so many
- a man who can play the bagpipes - but desists - then came the barbed retort.
-I suppose the same could be said of someone playing Wagner melodies.. If they could play them correctly they would also desist .
The barbed remark wounded Mrs Leonard , as she had a great fondness for Wagner . But she let it go
They decided to go into town the following day. They crossed the little footbridge , for the island was really only an island high water of winter Mrs Leonard had a motor car on the shore , and having had to hold Dolores’ hand crossing the bridge she said as they drove off.
- I wonder if island life is suitable to you my dear,
- Oh yes- said Dolores
- I was just wondering ..just wondering..
-you’re not getting fed up with me
-No no.. but it takes a certain robustness to get used to it . Some never do.
This stung Ms Burke as was the intention.
- I know I’m helpless when it comes to doing anything about the house .. Its just that never had to.. And now I’m quite useless. I know.
- its just that ..
She began to sob. Just a little ,then composed herself and continued.
-Oh I know .. Everything like that was all done for us . Even during the war there were always soldiers about , convalescing .. They always gave us a hand .. They were wonderful really.. People always got the impression that we were independent lot.. I suppose we used the poor patients frailties sometimes , but the were so dear - we wernt always quite so independemnt as we may have seemed
-No . ‘fraid not . We were rather pampered really.. Even in Abyssinia .
After lunch they called to the various little shops and Mrs Leonard ordered her monthly provisions . Going across to the turf yard she spotted the chimney sweep. He was wheeling his bicycle in an unweieldy maner .His gait was unsteady and even from this distance, Mrs Leonard offered to he companion a word of caution
- Don’t look now my dear but here comes Mr Keenan .-The sweep chappie ..’
He was upon them by the time Dolores recognised the bleary eyed man swaying a little menacingly before them.
He doffed his cap in a manner that suggested more menace than respect.
-Morning Mrs ..Leonard ..Spotted ya comin in to town .
-Oh yes .. Good morning Mr K..kk Kelly
-Keenan mam- Me name is Keenan
- Oh yes quite so ..well good morning Mr Keenan . Nice meeting you again . Come , Ms Burke we have business to attend to
.- I was wondering ..- said Mr Keenan blocking their way with his bicycle..
-if ye had a chance to consider me fees
Two months had elapsed since he’d finished the job on the chimney. But Mrs Leonard was frugal. She liked to get value , and loathed being short changed.
- I’ve hadn’t had a chance to try it out yet.- Mr Keenan ..but when I do..
- ‘Tis six weeks since I dun the job an no payment .an I swore I did see smoke comin up out of her ever day since I dun it..
The man who had begun with a petulant whine had become coarse and challenging
- and when I’ve had a chance to test it properly you’ll be indemnified fully I can assure you.
- but what about me bill
She tightened her lips and looked at Dolores .
Mr Keenan . - she began
- you are ill disposed to speaking coherently this morning. This is unfortunate for you and I . I shall speak with you when you are more lucid.
As for your fee. Please try to remember this . I shall be having three bales of turf delivered on alternate days next week. If the work is satisfactory you shall be reimbursed without delay . I must await the trial period after which if your work has proved satisfactory you shall be paid. Now if you please Sir, as we have many other matters to attend to I bid you good morning - she said crisply, and taking the other woman by the arm , she hurried along .
Mr Keenan turned as they passed him .
Dazed and bewildered he closed one eye as they diminished in his field of view
- I’m due me money .. Ya owes me .ma money ..
He loked after the pair as they crossed the street
- Ya shtuck up auld bitch.!.- he added and mounted his bicycle . and as he carered down the street a phrase from a rebellious ballad came to him
- An thank God we're surrounded be wather ..!! The sea oh the Sea is graw geal mo chri ..,
The next turf was delivered and as the two women settled in to the comfort of the early close of a crisp December night , Mrs Leonard had to admit that the work despite her misgivings was indeed satisfactory. Moreover that unpleasant cloying smell of turf smoke smell has disappeared . It clung to her clothes , the bed linen ,her smalls . It had caused her endless trouble . What with various besides echniques fromusing moth balls , disinfectant , deodorant she had battled to decontaminate her clothes of this distasteful smell but she had battled in vain . And besides ; that smell was insidiously overbearing ,but worse ; it suggested a life of austerity . Hardly an image which Mrs Leonard liked the peasantry to have of her.
She was much relieved that the air was again fresh and pure.Pure ! she marvelled . Pure !
The following evening the subtle baaaattle raged.
- well , said Dolores putting down her paints and setting the painting facing the wall she sat down
- Isn’t this so nice..
-Yes . I’m surprised at those fellows , you know. You must be quite firm with them. Quite firm. ! it’s a question of showing whose boss. It’s the only way !
- Have you settled your account with.. Mr.. Mr Keenan.- Ms Burke asked timidly .
Mrs Leonard flapped a dismissive hand ,
- I’ll pay him when the next load comes over .
- Oh I do wish you’d pay the man. After all he’s done the job. - she said.
- Fair’s fair after all .
- Indeed , my dear .but you don’t know these people . They think all the more of you the firmer you are with them. You’ll see- said Mrs Leonard nodding contentedly .
- you’ll see .
Now it should be explained that the island was not really an island but an isthmus . At its narrowest point it reached to within twenty feet of the mainland. Mr Leonard , had in his time constructed an ingenious little drawbridge which they had now only used sparingly.
The bridge gave them all the advantages of island life with few of the encumbrances.
By arrangement with the postal services she agreed to open it on Wednesday mornings . It was a long saga .The postman had held out. He was not going to row out to this harridan just because she didn’t feel like opening a simple drawbridge .
Mrs Leonard also held out . She lived on an island. It was designated as such on the ordnance map.
Was it for this that we fought the Sassanach . Was it for this the ‘men of 16 gave their lives.
A compromise was arrived at . The bridge would be opened on Wednesday mornings. But no deliveries would be accepted . These would have to be delivered by boat. Mrs Leonard was adamant on this point .It was her husband’s bridge , and as she paid for its maintenance from his pension .
The one exception she allowed was the turf delivery. But on this occasion Mrs Leonard had a change of heart when three ricks of turf had been delivered. The bridge was lifted and they lived in blissful serenity of insular life once more
The women were however growing increasing intolerant of one another and by the day each lowered they expectations of the other to a considerable degree.
There had been something of a stand -off between the two women and what had started as a fraught relationship had gone through a series of domestic tyrannies to the current climate of bilateral oligarchy .
Ms Burke felt it was dishonourable not to have paid the bill
Mrs Leonard held that her firm stance was the was to manage the affair.
The house was divided much along these lines.
They ate at different times . They rose and went to bed at different hours.
The one period where their paths crossed was afternoon tea. There was a diary in the kitchen designating blue and red indicating the day whose turn it was to prepare the tea. Even the colour designation had caused it own stand off , neither wanting to be perceived as ‘Ms Red ’ It gave quite the wrong impression whereas ‘Ms Green ‘was even more fraught .
Amiability such as it was deteriorated into distaste which hastily progressed to enmity.
This latest rift started when Mrs Leonard made a comment a painting she’d sneaked a view of .
- The colours .. A bit .. A bit well a little weak..insipid I’d say ..-
- its subtle said Ms Burke with an unusual assertiveness..
- Subtle ..unlike some ..
- well it may very well be but what I mean is .. Well did you ever see a Caravagio dear . ..
- Of course -
- Well that’s what I mean ..It lacks that certain umph !!
- Umph ?
- well you know what I mean .. a Carivagio leaves you in no doubt .. It sorts of hits you like a bolt..No ’m afraid this is too .. Feathery.
- I see Feathery - said Ms Burke , her restraint at breaking point.
The artist , held her council . Some days later as they endured one another;s company over afternoon tea , the radio was playing a classical version of the Strawberry Fields/ Penny Lane medley .
- Listen ! She said of a sudden - Ahhh!!! - said the artist
- Now that’s how it should be played ..,
- How ?
- poppycock The thing scarcely even evokes a single tap of the foot. Theres no counterpoint ..It should be more rousing !! - said Mrs Leonard adamantly.
- more umph I suppose ?
- yes . If you like ..more umph indeed .!! .the piece lacks any format . It is bereft of construction .. a poor composition at best and a work of a dubious merit work at best - said Mrs Leonard with vehemence.
- it requires the discipline of orthodoxy . She added
- you see my dear , musical composition , well its hardly your strong suit..
Ms Burke disagreed heatedly. She accused Mrs Leonard to be too swash -buckling in her interpretations ..
It was the beginning of the end of a relationship which each now realised should have never begun..
Both women grew sullen. They even cancelled afternoon tea.
Mrs Leonard retired to her studio and punished her piano late into the night.
Ms Burke’s paintings grew more emboldened . She studied clouds in meteorological detail , but their particular hues of gloom reflected more her deteriorating relationship with Mrs Leonard. She painted the clouds with a particular passion , and for a reason unknown to herself she’d added a carion crow perched on a gate in the foreground. The theme recurred in many of her works of this period.
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