Boat Trip 2
It was Thursday before Eímear mentioned the boat trip. She was off to the shop to get a few messages, and Mam came with her to settle the account. As they passed Salters, a low whistling came from the Fishery School.
The school was a tall stone building like a seminary misplaced by the dock, an austere place set up after the Famine by an absentee landowner’s wife, meant to give a chance in life to country lads with no land. Eímear’s shopping trips often aroused the interest of the fishery school boys, and she was in the habit of walking by without so much as turning her head.
Mam was incensed.
‘Ill-bred rapscallions! Treating you as if you’re a common hussy. I’ve a good mind to give out to their teachers.’
Eímear’s face went pink and the young men busied themselves with their painting and net-mending, but Mam was not done yet.
‘Blessed school! It’s a mystery to me why they send droves of ragamuffin orphans from all over Munster to fish our seas dry here in Baltimore.’
‘It’s not their fault, Mam. They only come because their families send them.’
Mam paused with one hand on the shop door and looked at Eímear. It was an equal mystery to her why one of her daughters should be thought prettier than the rest when they were all so alike. But this one was always a careful dresser; even as a child she would beg for a collar or a silk ribbon, and Mam could never refuse because she adored such trifles herself when she was young. Now Eímear was sixteen and ripe for marrying, her talk was no longer of ribbons but of moving to the city, and Mam was less keen on giving in to her whims.
‘You’re awfully well informed about the Fishery School, of a sudden,’ she said.
‘Róisín tells me about it. Her uncle is a skipper from Cape Clear, and he teaches the boys now and again.’
‘Mark my words, girl, it’s one thing to know a skipper, quite another to be associated with a common seaman.’
‘I’ve no interest in any sailor or fisherman. Why, Róisín asked me out on a skiff with her uncle and his friends next Sunday, and did I even ask if I might go? I did not. I knew you’d get hold of the wrong end of the stick.’
Mam said nothing.
She remembered how happy Róisín’s mother had been the other day when she announced that a fellow in the fishing industry was courting her daughter. ‘A local man, thanks be to God,’ she’d said. If only Eímear would find a Baltimore fellow with a good living, perhaps she’d forget this codology she’d got into her head about moving to the city.
Later, Mam asked who was skippering this boat, and were any other children going? Finally, once she knew there was no harm in it, she said, ‘Why did you not come to me sooner?’
By supper-time it was all settled. Eímear washed the dishes after supper and went to her room.
Mam’s approval of the boat trip was surprising. Confusing, even. Had someone told her one of the men was a catch, was that it? But she would have said. Besides, if Róisín was correct the only eligible man aboard would be her Mr Cotter.
Eímear went to draw the curtains, pausing a second to note how quickly the October night had closed in. Just a hint of sunset left: a swirl of navy and tangerine sky.