Lanty Tinney and his Pension
by Cahir Healy
There are many odd people in the length of the Parish of Tempo, as in every other parish, but I think the oddest of them all is Lanty Tinney, the tailor.
He never was young. The while he spent at school he took no part in our games or the customary boyish exploits. He was learning his father's trade even then, with his head bent over the "goose" and the sewing. His people didn't ask him to do it, and we didn't want a type of that sort for our folks to be holding up for an example.
He left school and became a fully fledged tailor--sitting on the same bench. And when his father died he took the whole burthen of the home on his shoulders. His brother Jack's tastes ran after his mother's side of the house, not caring at all for hard work, preferring to rise late and act as a prop to the house at the corner thereafter, save when a true friend invited him for welcome refreshment.
Lanty was a bit odd; he liked work. Jack loved to romance upon politics when he got a listener, and a drink.
Lanty sewed and stitched early and late, seldom or never leaving the house. He was a good tradesman, with plenty to do all the time. One man like that can maintain three others--if he's good-natured enough to do it.
He seldom moved out of the house. Even on a Sunday he would be looking over a tailor's paper and studying patterns instead of stretching his legs. Smoking and drinking he left to Jack, who had the time and inclination for them.
This is the singular part of the matter: Lanty Tinney was as happy as a sheep in the grass. His voice was nothing to boast of--it was as God gave it--and Lanty made considerable use of it. The repertoire of songs was not wide--two come-all-ye's, a hymn, and "Ireland, boys, hurrah!" He sang them early and late and when he was tired of the singing, he hummed the airs.
We forgave him the songs for the sake of the fine work he put into our duds.
Matters were thus when one autumn evening a stranger arrived in Tempo.
He was a man somewhere in the thirties, tall, good-looking, and a gentleman, judging by his clothes. He had a bicycle with him, on which was packed as much clothing as it could carry.
At Hegarty's Hotel he put up; there is no picking and choosing of hotels there; if you don't like it, you can just leave it. A friendly sort of a man, he talked a lot to the old folks, asking them about the old times and the old ways.
It was in this way he knocked across Lanty Tinney.
Lanty was in a hurry making up a grey suit for Sandy Walker, who was to be married, when the strange fellow leaned across the half-door, friendly-wise; says he: "Good-morra, Lanty."
"Morra to you," sez Lanty back again, barely lifting his eyes from the coat he was basting.
"I'm told you are a very happy lad--singing and working from sunrise to sunset?"
"Maybe you hev been toul' no lie."
"They tell me you don't go around, but stick to the house like a cricket?"
"Well," sez Lanty, "aren't the crickets happy enough?"
"No doubt, no doubt. They tell me, likewise, that you have never been across the bridge at the end of the town here?"
"And I never want to."
"That beats all I ever met," sez the boyo, "and I having been around half the world. Never to have seen the end of the town or the bridge! If you hadn't the use of your legs and eyes I could understand it."
He made a wonder of the matter, thus, leaning over the half-door. After a time Lanty said he could come in--it was as cheap to sit as stand in that place; and whilst the stranger talked Lanty listened, proceeding with his work as if it was the last hour of the Day of Judgment and he wanted to have Walker go forth in decency. "I have been searching up and down all these years to find a happy man, and I had nearly given up the quest. I reckoned it was impossible until I came to Tempo."
"We're always learnin'," sez the tailor, dryly.
"I have an offer to make you," the stranger went on; "if you'll consent never to see the straggling end of the town that is across the bridge, I'll pay you a pension of a pound a week."
Lanty dropped the "goose" board and stared at the speaker. He could not, for a moment, find any words in which to express his amazement. "What for, my dacent man," sez he, "would you do that? I never set eyes on you before. How can it matter to a stranger what I see or don't see? And to pay me a pound a week--it's surely romancin' you are?"
"To show you my sincerity here and now, I shall pay you four pounds; that's for the next four weeks." He spread out four banknotes on the tailor's bench. Lanty lifting them found them to be genuine enough. "You must sign this." He took out a paper and read a brief wording to the effect that Lanty Tinney, the tailor of Tempo, agreed not to go next, or near, or within sight of the end of the town from that day out, in consideration of which he would be paid the sum of a pound a week for as long as he kept to the terms of the agreement.
Mrs. Tinney had been listening all the while in the little stuffy kitchen behind the workroom. There was a window in the wooden partition so that she could see and hear everything that went on in the shop. When the stranger asked for a witness, Lanty called for the old woman, who could just write her name and nothing more.
It was all over in the space of a quarter of an hour.
Lanty walked around the room hardly knowing where he was; his mother stood looking at him, making such ejaculations as "odious, so it is!"
Lanty said: "Keep this a secret. It may be someone tryin' a joke on us . . .we have his money, anyhow."
The stranger quitted the hotel the same evening as mysteriously as he had arrived, leaving neither name nor address. He and the bike with all the luggage went off sauntering in the direction of the Clogher Hills.
The people passing noticed a change in Lanty almost immediately. The song ceased in the tailor's shop. Not that they had anything to regret,--like a boil on the neck, you just missed it. One remarked and then another, until it was the common talk of the place, the new way that had come on Lanty, all of a sudden.
After a time it was likewise observed that the tailor used to lean over the half door at odd times, looking down the street, as if he were expecting someone, and a lonesome look on his countenance as of one who has been blighted by the Good People.
His mother worried him a good deal with her suspicions. "Why should he pay you good money and him only a passer-by?" she would say, and: "This is not the end iv the story."
It was not the end; when a month had gone by letters started to arrive bearing the London postmark and a pound note in each, but not one scrap of paper beside. He grew erratic in his work and could be found hanging over the half door at intervals all the day.
After a time he found he could not turn out his work as arranged, and he had so many misfits that people began to talk and drift elsewhere with their cloth.
"I wish you had niver seen that man's face," sez the mother at length. "You didn't know an hour's peace since the evenin' he darkened the door."
"No matter," sez Lanty, "it cannot be helped now." The fact is that he was losing more money every week than he got under the agreement. He should have thrown up the sponge at once--and the allowance--and gone about his work, as he used to do, but there was some fascination in the thing that he could not shake off. The wailing of the old woman made him worse, that and the longing that had come on him to see the end of town. He got up suddenly from his work one day and ran into the kitchen: "I say, mother, what is the end iv the town like?"
"Don't worry your head over it, a-vic; it's only a bridge with three arches, a forge with the roof all rotten, and five thatched houses and sooty drops runnin' down the walls--that's all you'll see in it."
"I wonder," sez he, again, "if I were to take a skip out late at night, would he hear iv it? It's a poor thing, afther all, to niver see the end of the town. I might die."
"Go, and welcome; it will aise your min'. And sure how could he see you?"
"That's true, he is abroad amusing' himself. I'll tell you what," sez he again, "I'll tell the priest." He had been receiving the remittance for almost a year.
The clergyman was, naturally, much puzzled and could only account for it by suggesting that the stranger was a man with more money than sense who had made a bet, and this was his way of winning it. He advised Lanty to have sense, go home and attend to his work.
But curiosity had eaten too far into Lanty's mind to permit of his taking so sensible a course. One dark night, when a drizzling rain was falling, and the streets of Tempo were apparently deserted, he sullied forth, making his way across the bridge, not a quarter of a mile distant. Then, behold the end of town, poor, dilapidated and tumble-down! He was asking himself why he should have troubled at all and was just turning back when a man stepped out of a shadow by the roadside and said: "I was left to watch you, Lanty Tinney." Saying which, he walked off, leaving the tailor speechless with surprise. It was a regret with the latter ever after that he did not get to know who the fellow was.
"Well," sez his mother, "are you satisfied now?"
"I am surely." He told her of his meeting with the watcher.
"That's what you got over your nonsense, Lanty. Weren't you the amadhan?"
He was astir next morning at the screed of day, and when the Tempo folks moved about they heard the tailor caroling "The fight of Donnelly and Cooper." It was the first time in a year they heard his voice, so they came up forenenst the door and looked in to see if they could discover the reason. All that day and the following days he sang and served, to all appearance as happy as a lark in the clear air. No longer could he be seen hanging over the half door. His mother made frequent lament over the loss of the money. When, however, she saw Lanty was happier and earning more in the old way, she ceased to have any regret and agreed that maybe it was all for the better.
No further letters came. It was not the first time that a man's curiosity proved his undoing, for as Lanty reasoned afterwards, if he had minded his work and not worried over the agreement, he would have had both peace and plenty and the pension likewise.
A girl of the Connors, from Tempo, returning from America, gave a new explanation of the matter when she arrived in the Fall.
It appears that a relation had died out there leaving Lanty a legacy. What the amount was she could not tell nor could she give the name of the lawyer. He knew of Lanty's peculiarity and had a notion of shaking him up, making him move around and live like other people. Whether it was himself or the lawyer who invented the pension plan nobody could tell, nor does it matter now.
There was some lamentation in the tailor's home on the news reaching the old woman, "Lanty has ruined us!" she exclaimed, "only for him we'd have a pension as long as grass grew and water ran."
She meant by this herself, Jack who supported the street corner, and Lanty who kept the three of them in comfort. Jack made an awful noise about being done out of his rightful inheritance by his numbskull of a brother, and left without the means wherewith to quench his lawful thirst.
Lanty himself let the yarn in of one ear and out of the other, not giving any credence to it. He silenced his brother by insinuating that he might marry, although he had little notion of it; and when last I cycled past the village I heard his voice in:--
"They'll bob their hair and lave ye there,
Like Kate from Ballinamore."
Amadhan = fool