The West's Awake by Cormac MacConnell
Patrick’s Powerful Shamrocks
Posted on Wednesday, March 17, 2010 at 10:37 AM
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What happened was a windy night on Sliabh Mish, and I was cold and careless in the morning and had lost three ewes. I knew where they were likely to be.
There they were, down at the bottom of a chasm, stone dead. That was trouble for a slaveherd like me.
Maybe that is what happened because I slipped over the edge and got jammed about two man's lengths down below. Something terrible happened to my leg.
I fainted, and when I came back I started shouting. There was the chance the other slaveherd on that side of Mish might hear me.
He was the cold one called Pat Rick from the Big Island. I did not like him much. He was a strange kind of a bastard.
You'd wave at him from the other hill and most times he would not wave back. A loner of a yoke.
I thought when I was shouting that he might not come over even if he heard me. But he came all right.
I saw his head and shoulders against the sky above me.
He pulled me up out of the chasm. He said nothing at all. I was screaming from the pain in the leg, a big open wound above the left knee.
When I saw it I thought I would probably die. There was a lot of blood and sheep dung and dirt. That kills you quick. The wound goes yellow and you get fever and die. I've seen it happen twice.
The Pat Rick looked at it, and I could see him thinking the same thing. I fainted again for certain.
When I came back I was over at his fire -- that was for the first and last time -- and he was doing something to stop the blood with a flaming stick.
It is rough stuff, but the burning stick will roast the vein and stop the bleeding.
I did surely faint again. When I came back again he was giving me a drink of water. He did not speak to me at all, just grunted.
I knew he could speak the language because I'd twice heard him calling to the sheep. He had a strange accent.
That day and the days afterwards he seldom spoke to me, though he looked after me and put my flock along with his own for minding. Four or five days I lay there beside his fire.
He gave me rabbit stew most of the days that I could eat. He was the kind that looked through you rather than at you. He was miles away even when feeding you.
Of course the gash in my leg started to smell and turn yellow on the sixth day. I saw it and smelt it.
I said to the Pat Rick that I was going to die. He said in his rough accent that maybe I would not for sure, but it was likely.
He went away after that, and when he came back after about 20 minutes he had something cupped in his hands. He had gone back to my dead ewes to get the white maggots, the leeches in the towns sometimes use to clean away the matter from infected wounds.
I think I was feverish and half-dead, but I felt him leaving them atop the mess. He gave me a drink or two, I think, through the next couple of days, but mostly I was drifted away, nearer dead than alive.
But I came back after a couple of days. I was cold instead of hot. I felt him working on the wound.
I looked down and all the infection had been cleared away by the maggots. He had washed them out.
The wound was red raw now. I watched him and he was kneading something in his hands.
He saw me looking and he held the material up. He said in his rough voice that it was blue clay and moss from the rocks mixed with shamrock plants.
He was just kneading in the green shamrock when I awoke. He held the mess up. He said they claimed in his country that shamrock could heal both the body and the spirit.
He smeared it into the wound. Truly the sharp pain seemed to ease quickly afterwards. I went away again.
He kept me at his fire for 12 days. He saved my life and still we were not friends.
He was never quite with me. He was aloof.
We talked a little. He said he had three copper coins the bosses had given him one time, and if he had two more he could escape back home through the fishermen.
When they heard the clink of coinage, he said, they would do anything for you. But he did not have quite enough.
I said I had found one silver coin on the mountain after the lords passed through on hunting, and I would give it to me. He grunted thanks.
He was making me a crutch at the time from a forked stick. When he took off the poultice the wound was nearly healed.
“This shamrock,” I said, “is powerful.” He grunted agreement.
The next day I used the crutch to get back to me own place. He had kept my herd safe.
I dug up the silver coin and brought it down to him. It took me half of the day.
When I gave it to him the Pat Rick said nothing, but he shook my hand for the first and only time. The next morning I looked over the hill and he was gone.
I often wondered afterwards if he managed to get away back to the Big Island where he came from. I often wonder what happened to him afterwards. He was a strange one with a kind of presence about him.
Sometimes I touch my old scar -- it is white and old now, and then I think about the blue clay and moss and the shamrock he used to give me back my life.