The Pride of Kildare
This English song is not to be confused with the sentimental John McCormack ballad Nora the Pride of Kildare. Sadly the only video I can find is a rather unlovely one at https://youtu.be/eu4AVHAq2M8. It deserves better.
The Pride of Kildare
My cousin Jack, the old man told my grandfather, was always likely to be a roving blade. When he was a boy in Plymouth Town there was too much coming and going on the streets, always full of grog-shops and women no better than they should be. It was a hard place to live a Christian life, and a young lad needs a firm hand. It was a credit to Aunt Jane and a wonder that he didn’t go straight to the bad. Even so, on the day he was born his father was in Jamaica, clerking on some ship that did the sugar run. Uncle Tom always wrote a fair hand and it did him well. After he left home and showed up in Plymouth he soon got himself cosy berths on the strength of it on all manner of vessels, shipping tin, wool, whatever was coming in and out. But it was a few years before he got himself a shore berth, and Jack’s mother, left alone, was too soft hearted, and the boy had his head.
Then Uncle Tom left the sea, and the house was too small for father and son. They both had to have their way – like all the Parkers perhaps – and they scratched against each other like flint on steel, always sparking off. So as soon as Jack turned a certain age, and by then there were other mouths to feed, Uncle Tom had had enough of him. He didn’t turn him out, but it was made clear he should fend for himself. By then, that didn’t come amiss with young Jack, he wanted to be out in the world. It’s not like the country, Plymouth: you meet people who have been places and seen some things, their very being is restless, and it seems natural to be off and away. And when you come back, it might be years later, folks greet you and pass on their way as if they had seen you only yesterday.
By this time, Uncle Tom was well fixed up, working in a warehouse for the Shepherd family in Coxside. That’s where he stayed till he died of an apoplexy years later. The Shepherds thought a lot of him: they gave Aunt Jane a pension, which kept her off the parish. So Uncle Tom could probably have begged a position for his son in the same business, but Jack wouldn’t have that. He had some spirit, and he would only settle for the sea. So Uncle Tom came home one evening to their little house round the back of Looe Street, and he was full of importance.
-Right, he said to Jack, it’s all fixed up. You can pack up my old chest from under our bed, and get yourself down to Sutton Quay at ten by the clock tomorrow morning. You’ll look for the Vesta, and report to Mr Harrison, the mate, and he will sign you on.
-But the Vesta’s a collier, said Jack.
-Good God, you want jam on it. I’m afraid there was no opening for the captain of a ninety-eight this week.
Seated across the table, Aunt Jane frowned at the language, but held her tongue. Jack’s brother and sister just smirked. Uncle Tom said:
-Mr Harrison’s an old shipmate. He tells me he’s got a good bosun, who will take proper care you learn the trade and don’t drown yourself the first week out. A few runs to the Tyne and back and you might begin to call yourself a seaman. At the bottom of my sea chest you’ll find my old monkey jacket: you can take that with you. You’ll maybe need it.
So Jack began his working life in the coal trade, and his father was right; those old brigs made a man of you quick, if you could but last it out. A few runs up the East Coast and one over the sea to Bremen, and when Jack finally got back to Plymouth a year later his mother hardly knew him. A few weeks on shore and he was off again. But he didn’t stick the coal ships very long: it is a dirty trade and a dangerous one, and of course the youngest get the worst of it, down in the hold in the coaldust with the trimmers. You learn to drink, laying that dust, and Jack got a thirst second only to the pitmen themselves. He came to like a drop.
But Jack’s real problem was that he was always open to a pretty face. He soon grew up to be a handsome fellow, near six foot and broad in the shoulder, but like his namesake in the old rhyme, quick and nimble. The maids took to him, and he had a way with them which he could soon turn to his advantage. He discovered that pretty soon after starting out on the colliers. In those days the coal ships often took passengers down to London: the ladies liked it because they thought it safer and quicker than the roads from up North. On the occasion I’m talking about, Jack’s brig picked up some gentleman’s wife as they were lying off Whitby. She came out in a cutter, with her daughter. This maid, the daughter, was a pretty little thing of about Jack’s age, and it happened to be Jack who was standing by the rail to help with their baggage as they clambered aboard. So it was Jack’s hand that held hers as she reached the safety of the deck.
-Good morning, Miss, he said, and he boldly caught her eye.
Those were the only words that ever passed between them. On the voyage down the mother was indisposed and never appeared again. But the young maid was often on the deck, and it seemed to Jack that whenever he turned round there she was, quickly looking elsewhere. At first he was thrown by this, then intrigued, but in this way he discovered that he had a certain power. When they dropped their passengers at Wapping, he was at the rail, watching as the mother and her maid descended the gangway. When she reached the quay Jack was amused that she could not resist a look back. He waggled his fingers in farewell.
Of course, when you’re starting out in love’s way you think that every girl you meet might be the one, the special one you could never live without. For all that he was a common sailor and she was a young lady, it was quite some time before Jack could quite put her out of his mind.
Some years before Uncle Tom’s death, Jack’s father became the senior clerk for the Shepherd’s wool warehouse. But at the time young Jack took to the sea that post was held by an Irish, a Mr O’Brien. He came from Kildare. I don’t know how he found his way to Plymouth, but like Uncle Tom after him, the Shepherds set a lot of store by him, and he was a man deserving of some respect. He had a daughter, called Susan. By all accounts she was the proper job, a real looker, long raven hair and, for a young maid, the bosoms to go with it. She was her father’s little jewel, no doubt about it, and he couldn’t deny her anything. But the consequence was that she put a high store on her own worth, and it was not for nothing that people grinned and called her The Pride of Kildare, like she was one of the Shepherd’s more fancy wool ships.
It was Jack’s second or third spell ashore, back in Plymouth. He had just landed the day or two before.
-I’m done with colliers, he told his father, and I’m looking for something tidier. His father couldn’t argue: he could see Jack was a man now and had to make his own way. But his mother said:
-Stick with the coastal trade though, Jack. (She liked him home of course). You’re too young yet to be going deep sea.
-Well Jack had a pocketful of tin from his latest trip, so he was in no hurry, and that evening he agreed to meet his father out of work to treat him round the alehouses in Coxside. But having nothing better to do, he sauntered down to Shepherd’s warehouse and got there early. It was a fine spring evening, so he lounged against a bollard on the quay and watched the wool trade go by with the pleasant attention of a fellow that doesn’t need to work. A succession of wagons were lined up at the big doors, from which fleeces were being craned into lofts, or finished bolts of cloth lugged into the gloomy spaces below. Two harassed clerks scurried to and fro with bits of paper in their hands. Immediately along the quay was a familiar schooner, The Girl Jennet, out of Exeter, where the wharfmen were just finishing for the day, and no doubt thinking about their beer. There was the old smell of horseshit and seaweed.
Among the dun browns and blacks and greys of the working men, a flash of white caught Jack’s eye. He thought immediately of the stray whiting that’s taken up in a shoal of mackerel. This pretty young maid was picking her way down the cobbles towards the counting-house door. Though the sun was mild by now, a parasol was raised across her shoulder, gleaming behind her in the light like a mizzen topsail. Jack watched as she stood in conversation with someone inside unseen, and then turning aside, she lowered the parasol to lean lightly upon it and looked about her. She saw Jack watching, and after a second or so looked away. Hallo, thought Jack, now here’s a game. He had on his best shore-going rig. He straightened his jacket and strolled across the quay.
-Can I be of help, Miss? He said when he came alongside.
-Well, Sir, she said, turning towards him, you’re very kind, but I am just waiting for my father.
-Oh, and who would that be, Miss?
-Why, Mr O’Brien, Mr Shepherd’s chief clerk.
Good Lord, thought Jack, she’s got cheeks like roses in June. But he said: Didn’t they ask you inside , Miss?
-Oh yes, but I thought it might be more pleasant in the fresh air. It’s such a beautiful evening.
-it’s not as fresh as it might be just here, Miss
-I daresay. Miss O’Brien’s nose wrinkled and she gave a wry smile. Jack felt he had a following wind, worth a little impudence.
-I’m having to wait for someone myself. Would you welcome a turn along the quay with me to pass the time? The sun is lovely on the water.
-Jack Parker, he said, and held out his hand. I’m Thomas Parker’s son. The name clearly meant nothing to her, so he said: He works in there with your father. I believe they think very highly of each other. Really, he had no idea on this point.
The maid took his big hand lightly. Her fingers were slim and pale. She said: Then a few minutes stroll might be very pleasant, Mr Parker. I’m Susan O’Brien. He felt his heart relax. Safely home then.
Together they crossed the quay and turned along it in the direction of the Cattewater, where the Plym broadened into the Sound. Vessels were moored in parallel all along the harbourside, a small forest of masts and spars, the quay a tangle of ropes and goods like an understorey.
-You’ll need to beware where you’re stepping miss, said Jack. He noted her small feet, in elegant but hardly adequate shoes. These quays, he went on, are always so full of business, and it won’t be quiet here till well on tonight. But then like as not you know it well, as Mr O’Brien’s daughter.
She said: It’s certainly not my first visit to Mr Shepherd’s yards, if that’s what you mean. Jack gauged the reply a little tart, but she went on: It’s always a wonder to me, to think about where these ships are bound. It may be Cornwall, or it could be the Indies, and what’s in them, and who sails on them.
Jack pressed down a mooring rope, so Miss O’Brien could step over the more easily.
-And how are you employed then Mr Parker? she asked.
-Oh, I’m just starting out on the sea, he said, with an uncomfortable vagueness
-How exciting that must be! She exclaimed. I often wish I were a man, that could jump on a ship and sail away around the world.
-That would be a terrible loss to the fair sex Miss.
She looked him in the face, and they both laughed at his boldness. That’s sauce, she said. Have you been to the Indies Mr Parker?
-I’ve been in the coasting trade, Miss. But I’ve just come ashore and I’m making holiday till I find myself the right berth. It occurred to him to say grandly: I thought I might work up to London and then ship on an East Indiaman.
-Oh, the gorgeous East, she said. Palanquins and rubies and elephants and men in turbans. Her keen eyes glittered. He didn’t know what she was talking about.
They had passed the end of the inner harbour. Looking out beyond Queen Anne’s Battery, that guarded the Cattewater, there was a view of the Sound. Under the guns of the Citadel, a number of ships were at anchor in the blue expanse of still water. Small boats plied between them.
-How jolly it all is, she said. I expect the ships are waiting for the tide to change.
-Some may have been here for weeks, he said, waiting for the right cargoes, or for their owners to send them orders. That sorry brig off the end of Picklecombe, she’s The Foreland Trader, and lost her main mast last winter – Lord knows how – and the owners keep moving her about because they’ve no money to bring her in for repairs. Well, he thought, the story must be something like that.
-And that pretty boat this side of the island?
-That’s a Navy sloop. I think she’s The Antelope. She’ll be waiting to pick up more crew, I don’t doubt. Eighteen guns, and all very trim: she looks fit to take some prizes, don’t she?
-You didn’t want to enter the Navy, Mr Parker?
-I thought about it, Miss. He had, it was true, but for maybe a minute, so he quickly went on: there’s no action at present for a young fellow, but in my trade they are always looking for a likely man to move on, and who knows where I may be in a few years if things go right. And of course, the King’s money don’t stretch too far.
-I suppose not, she said.
A slight breeze ruffled the water, and the flag over the battery stirred briefly, but then clung limply to its pole again. A little knot of gunners were sitting on the battery wall, lighting up their pipes. The murmur of their conversation and bursts of laughter carried on the still air.
-Look Miss Susan, Jack said easing himself gently into familiarity, there’s a tern. They watched its silver wings flash across the entrance to the harbour. It will likely grab something in a moment, Jack said, and indeed almost immediately the bird struck the water and rose with something in its beak. I love them, he said, they’re so quick and gracious.
-Graceful, she said. I expect they have their babies to feed now though, isn’t that so? So it’s all work to them.
They stood together a few moments more in the sun, while shadows began to stretch down over the roofs of the houses across on the Barbican quay. The young maid said: I had better not keep my father waiting. He will worry if I’m not there as I promised. So they started back.
Miss Susan lived with her family on the other side of Charles’ Church, Jack gathered. There were two brothers, so she helped her mother keep house. Mother thinks I could do well as a children’s governess if I choose, but Father says he still needs me at home, and besides, he won’t think of me going into service, even with the right family. But I have some French you see, and Mother thinks that could be useful. Such accomplishments are always welcome, don’t you think?
As they approached Shepherd’s yard Jack wondered how he was going to negotiate a likely meeting with Mr O’Brien. Even if his own father was ready to leave, he could hardly leave the maid unattended now, and there was still the tricky issue of how to bring about another such outing. Jack stepped aside to let her pass a handcart on the quay; her shoulders rising from her white muslin were bare, sloping to a slender neck downed with her dark hair. He couldn’t leave this opportunity unresolved, with what seemed a following wind. But as they drew near the warehouse she said: Do you often visit the yard, Mr Parker?
-My time is my own till I return to sea, Miss Susan. I like to take the air when I can, and this is a pleasant walk from our home.
Jack saw his father on the quay. He was talking to another man, who was locking the door to the counting house with a very large key. It could only be the maid’s father.
-I find I’m frequently asked to meet here with Father, she said. It generally seems to be a Tuesday or a Saturday, when he has time to close his books early and so likes my company to see him home.
-Said Jack: is that so, Susan?
When they arrived at the counting house, Mr O’Brien had pocketed the key and the two men were pulling on their hats. Jack’s father glanced up.
-Jack, there you are. He said to O’Brien: may I have leave to present my son Jack, Sir?
O’Brien looked around affably enough. Ah, you must be the wayward sailor, Sir?
-It amuses my father to think so, Sir. Jack touched his hat.
-I see you have already made the acquaintance of my daughter.
-That’s my good fortune this very afternoon, Sir. Jack was at his most charming best.
Of course, the maid was there again the following Tuesday, although on this occasion she had brought a friend with her. Jack was disappointed, although not surprised. May was a gawky girl with big hands, and maybe a couple of years older than Susan. After the first introduction, she said not one word, but trailed along behind them, somewhat forlorn, while they took the same walk down to the battery. When they returned to the yard, Jack asked: and do you think you will be collecting your father again on Saturday, Susan? I would look forward to our meeting again.
-Well Jack, she said, it happens that my father will be away at the Shepherds’ mills. Mr Shepherd is providing his chaise so that father can visit Buckfastleigh and come back the next day. She paused, as this seemed very grand to them both. Then she continued: but as I will have no duties on Friday, we might meet then, and a little earlier if you choose.
Of course he chose. Even a two day interval already seemed two days too many. On the Friday afternoon, the weather remained warm, but it was overcast and grey, as a westerly made its slow way up the coast. Susan’s parasol was folded in her hand, and there was a light wool shawl about her shoulders.
-Sadly May has taken cold, Susan announced. May didn’t feel like walking today, but I have been cooped in the house all morning, and one needs the air, I find. Jack felt they were both trying to smother a grin. We have more time today, she continued, perhaps we could walk out on the Hoe and view the whole sound.
They set off around the harbour, passing along the cobbles before the Customs House, and by Southside Street and then the steep alleys behind to stand at last in front of the gates of the Citadel. The lowering grey walls always seemed to Jack a grim boundary for the green sward that stretched along the hill top before it. The two redcoats stood with their muskets before the great gate’s flourishes of stone carving.
-Do you think they have a hard life, Jack, soldiers? she asked
-No more than do sailors.
-Yes, she said, their masters can hang and flog them just the same, I suppose. Jack thought she really did come out with the most extraordinary things, hardly ladylike.
A cold gust met them as they turned along the ridge with the town below them on their right and the Sound filling the view on their left. The wind raised little whitecaps here and there, and clouds were building over Rame and Cawsand at the entrance to the water. The Navy sloop had gone. Two or three fishing boats were running into the Cattewater, their brown sails straining into billows. Below their feet the bull ring stood empty. Jack’s father had a friend who kept bulldogs, went in for the baiting. Gory sport, Jack thought, too much blood for proper fun.
-They say bull baiting makes the meat tender, Susan said, as if she had read his thoughts.
-Not a place for ladies, said Jack.
-I should think not, Susan said, but in a slightly mischievous way, that made Jack wonder to himself if she had ever visited. The people, she commented are really rather de mode’. That must be her French, thought Jack.
After they had walked the length of the Hoe and were again approaching the Citadel, the sky grew very dark, and the sea with it. Susan drew her shawl tighter about her, clasping the ends together in her hand as they walked. Jack felt he could offer to carry her parasol, but it would hardly be manly, and she might need it at any minute. A few large drops of rain fell on them.
-I think we will need to haste back, Jack said, and they turned quickly towards the old Barbican streets below. They had hardly left the Hoe when the rain burst upon them. They gained shelter below a projecting first floor and stood looking at each other. Jack had to admire her form where the damp summer dress clung about her. She caught him looking and held his eye for a moment. She said nothing.
_This rain could go on, Jack said. Why don’t we wait in here?
-It’s an ale house, Susan objected.
-Yes, but it’s a better one, and you’ll be shivering in a minute.
There was a half-hearted fire in the empty taproom. He bought a jug of beer, and persuaded her to rum and water. As he sat beside her it crossed his mind: I expect they have a room here. Isn’t that what you do?
-I have only really drank my father’s punch before, Susan said, that he makes as a Christmas treat. I thought only sailors drink this.
-It will put some warmth into you.
Jack could feel the pressure of her thigh against his, and his arm stole around her shoulder. After a moment or two, she rearranged the shawl about her neck. I really shouldn’t be seen In here, she said. It’s hardly proper.
-There’s another room across the passage: it might be more private.
-Really, young Jack, you would have me behave like some demi-rep. She gave what he could only describe as a pout, but then winked at him. Demi-rep? Where did she learn these things? And then he realized her hand was on his knee. He leaned across and kissed her full on the lips. It was his first kiss. He thought it might be hers.
The drawer came into the taproom. They moved apart. I think the rain may have stopped now, Susan said. I don’t want my mother to wonder where I am.
-What did you tell her?
-Oh, that’s my business. Susan produced another impish grin. But poor May, of course, is really most unwell.
Jack waved the drawer over and pressed Susan to another rum without success. He held her hand under the table. In fact, they were hand in hand as they stepped back into the street, but within a few yards she had moved away, opening and folding her parasol. I think the sun may be out again in a minute, she said.
Jack walked with her the mile or so across the town , leaving her at the end of the row of tidy cottages where her family lived. She stretched up, kissed his cheek, and turned away. He was bewitched.
The following week Jack had an offer of a good berth on a vessel that mostly ran wool across the channel. His father was surprised that he didn’t take it, since after all it was not the despised collier. Jack told him:
-I have still got a bit of money left. I’ve been away a while, there’s still a few buyes I have to see, and besides, Ma enjoys having me here again.
-Well if that’s so, you can give her a bit more for your bait, Uncle Tom grumbled. Instead of pouring your money into the privy at the Turk with your mates each night, or wherever it is you all go.
-I do believe I’ve earned it.
-Look buye, a sailor’s life can be short and sharp, like a bosun’s tack. You never know when you may need that bit of money you should salt away.
But the truth was, as you’d guess, that not much of that money was being spent on beer in the Turk’s Head, or any of the hundred other grog shops in the town. It was going on Miss Susan O’Brien. It wasn’t long before Jack was calling at the house and they were walking out together. He treated her all around Plymouth, to dine at an eating place in George Street, by a diligence to view the frigates in Plymouth Dock, and to dance at a public assembly in Old Town Street. They even took the ferry at Cremyll to walk by Lord Edgecumbe’s park.
One fine afternoon, they were walking down Frankfort Street, not far from where the old town gate once stood. Susan glanced in a window, and they stopped.
-Seen something to touch your fancy? Jack asked.
It was a milliner’s. Ladies’ hats and bonnets were strewn inside in a careless display amid ribbons and pieces of lace. Beside the open door, where the light was best, two women were seated around a heap of material, working upon their stock. Beside them were a number of large brimmed hats on little stands. You would look comely in one of those , said Jack.
-Oh come now, Jack, Susan said. While one of the shopwomen got to her feet, Jack seized a hat from the shelf and dropped it on Susan’s head. She immediately pulled it off, but he replaced it with another.
-Now Jack, she said, please behave, but he found a looking glass and held it up to her. There. He said, just as I thought, very fine, finer. The hat was white, like her gown, the band embroidered with tiny roses of red and white.
-It sits very pretty Miss, said the shopwoman.
-How much is it? asked Jack. It was thirteen and fourpence. Jack thought, too late now.
-Jack, Susan whispered at him, you can’t afford it surely?
He bridled, and said: My money’s my own. We’ll take it, he said to the shopwoman, and a ribbon to tie under the chin.
The very next night, he took her to see the ballad opera at the Frankfort Theatre. This was well before the King ever visited, but they both thought the building most imposing. Susan was wearing the new hat. Jack felt all the men admiring her, turning to look as she passed. He thought, I can’t believe my luck.
When the first work ended, Jack took her to buy refreshment in the space set aside above the entrance hall. There was a throng of people, and although it was not properly dark outside, the room was brightly lit by two chandeliers of dripping candles. It was too hot to remain, and they decided to stand in the hall. Susan said:
-Why, there’s May, and with her brother! We must greet them.
Jack was vexed. Not only would he be forced to share Susan’s attentions, but the special occasion his purse was providing might be reduced to something that would to her seem more ordinary. But led by her, they pushed their way over to where May stood. The brother was as tall as she, but the gawkiness in her was the large boned build of a sportsman in him. The brother gave a gentlemanly nod and his hand to Jack.
-John Reynell, he said. Beside him was a shorter, dapper young man in a fashionable cravat, as we were learning to call them. Mr Reynell said: And allow me to introduce my friend, Richard Bowden. Richard is indentured to Lord Edgecumbe’s agent. Jack thought he was to be impressed by this, as Mr Reynell clearly was, but he was too bemused by the crowd and the noise to give much notice.
There was some discussion of the performances and the actors they had just seen. Jack had thought the principal very droll, but found he could not say so, for the company seemed to consider the work much too broad. Best keep quiet. But in a while, May turned to him.
-I suppose you were too young to see Mrs Siddons when she played at Dock, Mr Parker?
Jack recognised there was something intended to discomfit in the question, and he did not like to say he had not heard of the woman. He said:
-I believe I was away from town, Miss Reynell.
-Her Lady Macbeth is thought to be most affecting, said Susan. I’m sure Jack would adore to see her, if he had the chance, as would I. They say she is very beautiful.
-So most fitting for present company, ventured Jack, slyly, he thought, not looking at anyone in particular.
-Oh, very galant, Mr Parker, said May’s brother. You’ll do well in Miss O’Brien’s following: she enjoys a complimentary wit.
-Oh how unfair! Susan rallied. I am sure I take compliments in the spirit in which they are given.
-But I expect you are much practised, Miss O’Brien, said Mr Bowden, leaning forward. Miss Reynell too, of course.
Of course, the money couldn’t last. Jack had not yet gained admission to the O’Brien household, and indeed there were no further opportunities to meet Susan’s family. The door was always opened by their only servant, who seemed just a slavey, a year or so younger than Jack. She usually grinned at him, and then kept him waiting on the step.
-Father doesn’t disapprove of you Jack, said Susan. I believe he thinks it good for me to be more out in the world. But he says he’s not prepared to see your feet under his table on so short an acquaintance.
Jack considered taking her back to his home, but had she been willing to meet with her father’s underling, there was no privacy there, and the idea of his father’s tongue and his sister’s gibes put it beyond thinking. So his courting was conducted out of doors, and at entertainments the maid considered proper: and that’s expensive……………, for other reasons. When they walked together, she would take his arm or hold his hand: sometimes, when the street was empty or they were passing through some shady place, she would suddenly draw him to her and present her raised lips for a kiss. Then if this became prolonged, she would break away with a little snort of glee, or perhaps embarrassment. He was sorely provoked, without relief, and their meetings became like a continual itch that he could barely scratch.
Very soon he would have to return to sea. He had not paid his mother for two weeks, and his visits to the Turk’s Head had to stop. He took the last refuge of the shore-bound sailor and pawned the monkey jacket for the little it fetched, knowing he would curse himself as soon as he was in the Channel. His father grew more and more wrath, and Jack avoided him as best he could: they barely spoke.
Susan’s father, being Irish, had been brought up a left-footer, but sometime after arriving in England he left the Romish church. Maybe adopting the Articles helped him rise, but he must have been sincere enough because he took the family to Charles’ Church regularly of a Sunday. They would all troop along after him, clutching their prayer books and looking very smart, although as Jack said, Susan was dressed fit for a Sunday at any time. Jack’s family had never been ones for church, though Jack’s mother saw him christened and for a while packed him off to the Reverend Hawker’s new Sunday school, where at least he learned his catechism. So when the money began to disappear and it was getting to be difficult to fund outings, Jack took the notion to start attending church. He wouldn’t take communion, but he could get there early and stand at the back of the church to watch Susan walk along to her family’s usual seat, and then he would sing out with the beat of them when the hymns came along. He was always a good singer. Then there would be a chance to talk.
The first time this happened, Jack could see it took Susan by surprise: she gave a little start as walking forward she caught his eye. Jack responded with a discreet salute. The congregation being of a good size, Jack thought her father failed to notice him, tucked below the West gallery. And in fact, the church was full to the beams, because it was the heyday of Reverend Hawker, who drew crowds by his preaching and the power of his conviction. Even Jack was moved, though he could not remember one word later. The occasion was not wasted though, because during the sermon, Susan found a chance to turn around and look for him. He winked, and she pulled a face, but whether of disapproval or amusement he could not be sure.
The O’Briens were well known at Charles’ Church: after the service they had a lot of people to talk to, so the chance Jack hoped for never arose. But when he met with Susan later that week, she said: That was very naughty of you Jack, to come to church on Sunday without warning me.
-I only felt the call that very morning, he said.
-Really? I’m not sure I believe you. I hope you weren’t attending solely on my account. Father would be very angry if he thought that were so.
-Ah, but would you? He asked. Her only reply was to peck his cheek. She then said:
-May and her brother are attending a rout this Friday. I believe it is for the men of the Devon Militia.
We could go too: it’s by ticket. I would love to dance again.
He asked her: Where is it?
-It’s in a big hotel in Dock, Cowley’s.
He had not a penny left. He thought desperately of anyone who might be tapped in the next day or so. There would certainly be someone. Jack said: You just leave it to me.
-I could wear my new hat.
-That would be lovely.
There was no money to be had. Jack convinced himself he could make some excuse, but the night of the rout passed, and it then being Saturday he was glad it was raining and Susan would not be expecting him at the harbour. He went along to Charles’ Church again on the Sunday. This time as Susan passed him in the train of her family, she paused and wagged a reproving finger in her elegant long gloves. Too bad! she mouthed and he laughed. She was wearing the expensive hat.
When she took her place, he noticed her turn to a family seated behind her, and there was a prolonged conversation, interrupted only by the start of the service. When the last hymn ended, Jack left the church quickly. The sun was hot there by the South porch. Jack waited in the yard, determined this time to enjoy the chance of conversation with Susan and perhaps bring about a meeting with her parents. After all, he thought, Friday night was a few days ago now. He stood there some time holding his hat in his hand while the genteel of Plymouth filed past, anticipating their late breakfasts. They were a cheerful sight, the people good humoured with the satisfaction of duty done. Jack watched two Naval officers in dress uniform helping their ladies into a waiting carriage. When he turned back, Susan was at the door in the midst of her family. Her back was towards him, listening to her father talking to an elderly man from the family who had been seated behind them. A younger man was part of the group. He glanced around at Jack without recognition, but Jack knew him. It was that cub from the theatre, Bowden.
Susan half turned too, her eyes widening to acknowledge Jack’s presence. Here we go then, he thought, and started towards them. Susan’s face turned to a frown and she discreetly shook her head. As Jack hesitated, Mr O’Brien said to the old man: Well Mr Bowden, we’ll bid goodbye now. I think we are all ready for our victuals, and he swept off with his wife and Susan on either side. Susan gave one backward glance and was gone.
Jack knew Susan would be well kennelled up with her family for the rest of the day, it being Sunday. He spent the rest of the day moping on the rocks along the Cattewater, and went to his bed without his supper, only to have his brother restlessly kicking him awake most of the night. The next day he made himself as presentable as he could and went out. He dawdled about the streets and the harbour for a while till he thought it had reached the earliest respectable time for a call, but when he finally knocked at Susan’s door, the slavey told him that Susan was out with her mother. No, she didn’t know when they might return. Another day without seeing the young maid lay in front of him. He successfully touched a friend for a shilling, and they spent the time drinking around Sutton.
Jack went back to the house the following afternoon. There was a long wait before the slavey opened the door. The empty hallway stretched behind her. Miss Susan can’t see you, said the girl, before Jack had opened his mouth. She’s got things she must do with her mother. The slavey grinned at him in her usual empty way.
-I could come back later.
The slave pulled a face. Jack remembered it was a Tuesday. You could tell Miss Susan that I will be at the warehouse if she is meeting your master this evening. Will you?
-I’ll pass it on. She continued looking at him. There was no more Jack could say. As he turned down the street the door closed behind him. He was on the quay near the counting house for half the afternoon and into the evening, but when Mr O’Brien came out at last, the maid had not appeared. Jack was head to wind: he didn’t know which way to come out of it.
As he passed along Hawk Street with his eyes in the gutter a voice said: Why, it’s young Parker ain’t it? It was Mr Harrison, the Mate of the Vesta. What are you about? he asked.
-I’ve had a spell ashore while I look around me, said Jack, and in that moment it seemed the wind of fortune was pointing his head. He had to bow before it. He said: I suppose I need another ship now.
There were three days before the collier was due to sail. The officers were making good the crew roster, and loading a mixed cargo for delivery to London before working back up the East coast to the Tyne. On the strength of his record, Jack got a small advance on wages and paid his debts, got his jacket out of pawn.
The day before he sailed, Jack found himself in Susan’s street again. He walked its length two or three times. Finally he could hardly help himself: he had to knock. He expected to confront the slavey, but it was young Susan herself who opened the door. Oh, she said when she saw him.
They looked at each other. He found she was beautifully dressed as ever, like she was about to step out. Her long black hair was pulled back in some sort of knot behind her head, leaving her shoulders bare, white. The Pride of Kildare.
-Jack, I am so sorry, she said.
He found he was trying to catch his breath, then at last he said:
She shrugged and bit her lip.
-Do you want to take a walk with me? he asked.
-My mother may be back at any moment.
-I’m joining a ship tomorrow. I have to go back to sea. He suddenly felt angry. He wanted to say, because I’ve no money, because I’ve spent it all on you, because I’m a poor bloody sailor. In the end he just said: I might join an East Indiaman in London.
-You’ll see some rare sights.
As he turned away, Jack could only think: but none as rare as you.
The Pride of Kildare
This English song is not to be confused with the sentimental John McCormack ballad Nora the Pride of Kildare. Sadly the only video I can find is a rather unlovely one at https://youtu.be/eu4AVHAq2M8. It deserves better.
The rights of Christopher Thomas as author have been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Website constructed by Tony Thomas of Inspirestudios.com.au