From Love and Summer by William Trevor
EXTRACT:In this extract from his new novel, ‘Love and Summer’, William Trevor sets the scene for a story in which Miss Connulty is liberated by the death of her imperious mother while the curiosity of Ellie, a farmer’s wife, is aroused by the arrival of a dark-haired stranger, Florian Kilderry, to Rathmoye
ON A JUNE evening some years after the middle of the last century Mrs Eileen Connulty passed through the town of Rathmoye: from Number 4 The Square to Magennis Street, into Hurley Lane, along Irish Street, across Cloughjordan Road to the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer. Her night was spent there.
The life that had come to an end had been one of good works and resolution, with a degree of severity in domestic and family matters. The anticipation of personal contentment, which had long ago influenced Mrs Connulty’s acceptance of the married state and the bearing of two children, had since failed her: she had been disappointed in her husband and in her daughter. As death approached, she had feared she would now be obliged to join her husband and prayed she would not have to. Her daughter she was glad to part from; her son – now in his fiftieth year, her pet since first he lay in her arms as an infant – Mrs Connulty had wept to leave behind.
The blinds of private houses, drawn down as the coffin went by, were released soon after it had passed. Shops that had closed opened again. Men who had uncovered their heads replaced caps or hats, children who had ceased to play in Hurley Lane were no longer constrained. The undertakers descended the steps of the church. Tomorrow’s Mass would bring a bishop; until the very last, Mrs Connulty would be given her due.
People at that time said the family Mrs Connulty had married into owned half of Rathmoye, an impression created by their licensed premises in Magennis Street, their coal yards in St Matthew Street, and Number 4 The Square, a lodging house established by the Connultys in 1903. During the decades that had passed since then there had been the acquisition of other properties in the town; repaired and generally put right, they brought in modest rents that, accumulating, became a sizeable total. But even so it was an exaggeration when people said that the Connultys owned half of Rathmoye.
Compact and ordinary, it was a town in a hollow that had grown up there for no reason that anyone knew or wondered about. Farmers brought in livestock on the first Monday of every month, and borrowed money from one of Rathmoye’s two banks. They had their teeth drawn by the dentist who practised in the Square, from time to time consulted a solicitor there, inspected the agricultural machinery at Des Devlin’s on the Nenagh road, dealt with Heffernan the seed merchant, drank in one of the town’s many public houses. Their wives shopped for groceries from the warehouse shelves of the Cash and Carry, or in McGovern’s if they weren’t economizing; for shoes in Tyler’s; for clothes, curtain material and oilcloth in Corbally’s drapery. There had once been employment at the mill, and at the mill’s electricity plant before the Shannon Scheme came; there was employment now at the creamery and the condensed-milk factory, in builders’ yards, in shops and public houses, at the bottled-water plant. There was a courthouse in the Square, an abandoned railway station at the end of Mill Street. There were two churches and a convent, a Christian Brothers’ school and a technical school. Plans for a swimming-pool were awaiting the acquisition of funds. Nothing happened in Rathmoye, its people said, but most of them went on living there. It was the young who left — for Dublin or Cork or Limerick, for England, sometimes for America. A lot came back. That nothing happened was an exaggeration too.
The funeral Mass was on the morning of the following day, and when it was over Mrs Connulty’s mourners stood about outside the cemetery gates, declaring that she would never be forgotten in the town and beyond it. The women who had toiled beside her in the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer asserted that she had been an example to them all. They recalled how no task had been too menial for her to undertake, how the hours spent polishing a surfeit of brass or scraping away old candle-grease had never been begrudged. The altar flowers had not once in sixty years gone in need of fresh water; the missionary leaflets were replaced when necessary. Small repairs had been effected on cassocks and surplices and robes. Washing the chancel tiles had been a sacred duty.
While such recollections were shared, and the life that had ended further lauded, a young man in a pale tweed suit that stood out a bit on a warm morning surreptitiously photographed the scene. He had earlier cycled the seven and a half miles from where he lived, and was then held up by the funeral traffic. He had come to photograph the town’s burnt-out cinema, which he had heard about in a similar small town where recently he had photographed the perilous condition of a terrace of houses wrenched from their foundations in a landslip.
Dark-haired and thin, in his early twenties, the young man was a stranger in Rathmoye. A suggestion of stylishness – in his general demeanour, in his jaunty green-and-bluestriped tie – was repudiated by the comfortable bagginess of his suit. His features had a misleading element of seriousness in their natural cast, contributing further to this impression of contradiction. His name was Florian Kilderry.
“Whose funeral?” he enquired in the crowd, returning to it from where he had temporarily positioned himself behind a parked car in order to take his photographs. He nodded when he was told, then asked for directions to the ruined cinema. ‘Thanks,‘ he said politely, his smile friendly.
‘Thanks,‘ he said again, and pushed his bicycle through the throng of mourners.
Neither Mrs Connulty’s son nor her daughter knew that the funeral attendance had been recorded in such a manner, and when they made their way, separately, back to Number 4 The Square they remained ignorant of this unusual development. The crowd began to disperse then, many to gather again in Number 4, others to return to their interrupted morning. The last to go was an old Protestant called Orpen Wren, who believed the coffin that had been interred contained the mortal remains of an elderly kitchenmaid whose death had occurred thirty-four years ago in a household he had known well. The respectful murmur of voices around him dwindled to nothing; cars drove off. Alone where he stood, Orpen Wren remained for a few moments longer before he, too, went on his way.
Cycling out of the town, Ellie wondered who the man who’d been taking photographs was. The way he’d asked about the old picture house you could tell he didn’t know Rathmoye at all, and she’d never seen him on the streets or in a shop. She wondered if he was connected with the Connultys, since it was the Connultys who owned the picture house and since it had been Mrs Connulty’s funeral.
She’d never seen photographs taken at a funeral before, and supposed the Connultys could have employed him to do it. Or he was maybe off a newspaper, the Nenagh News or the Nationalist, because sometimes in a paper you’d see a picture of a funeral. If she’d gone back to the house afterwards she could have asked Miss Connulty, but the artificial-insemination man was expected and she’d said she’d be there.
She hurried in case she’d be late, although she had worked it out that she wouldn’t be. She would have liked to go back to the house. She’d have liked to see the inside of it, which she never had, although she’d been supplying Mrs Connulty with eggs for a long time.
It could be the photographs were something the priests wanted, that maybe Father Balfe kept a parish book like she’d once been told by Sister Clare a priest might. Keeping a book would be more like Father Balfe than Father Millane, not that she knew what it would contain. She wondered if she’d be in a photograph herself. When the camera was held up to take a picture she remembered slender, fragile-seeming hands.
The white van was in the yard and Mr Brennock was getting out of it. She said she was sorry, and he said what for? She said she’d make him a cup of tea.
After he had spent only a few minutes at the remains of the cinema, Florian Kilderry broke his journey at a roadside public house called the Dano Mahoney. He had been interrupted at the cinema by a man who had noticed his bicycle and came in to tell him he shouldn’t be there. The man had pointed out that there was a notice and Florian said he hadn’t seen it, although in fact he had. ‘There’s permission needed,‘ the man crossly informed him, admitting when he snapped shut the two padlocks securing the place that they shouldn’t have been left open. “See Miss O’Keeffe in the coal yards,” he advised. “You’ll get permission if she thinks fit.” But when Florian asked about the whereabouts of the coal yards he was told they were closed today as a mark of respect. “You’ll have noticed a funeral,” the man said.
In the bar Florian took a glass of wine to a corner and lit a cigarette. He had had a wasted journey, the unexpected funeral his only compensation, and from memory he tried to recall the images of it he had gathered. The mourners had conversed in twos and threes, a priest among them, several nuns. A few, alone, had begun to move away; others had stood awkwardly, as if feeling they should stay longer. The scene had been a familiar one: he had photographed funerals before, had once or twice been asked to desist. Sometimes there was a moment of drama, or a display of uncontrollable grief, but today there had been neither.
On the other hand, what he had been allowed to see of the cinema was promising. Through smashed glass a poster still advertised Idiot’s Delight, the features of Norma Shearer cut about and distorted. He’d been scrutinizing them when the man shouted at him, but he never minded something like that. The Coliseum the cinema had been called, Western Electric sound newly installed.
A smell of frying bacon wafted into the bar, and voices on a radio. Sporting heroes – wrestlers, boxers, jockeys, hurlers – decorated the walls, with greyhounds and steeple-chasers. The publican, a framed newspaper item declared, had been a pugilist himself, had gone five rounds with Jack Doyle, the gloves he’d worn hanging from a shelf behind the bar. “Give a rap on the old counter if you’d want a refill,” he advised when a woman summoned him to the meal she’d cooked. But Florian said the single glass would be enough. He sat for a while longer, finishing a second cigarette, and then carried his empty glass to the bar. A voice called out goodbye and invited him to look in again. He said he would.
Outside, in warm afternoon sunshine, he stood for a few minutes, eyes half closed, his back against one of the entrance-door pillars. Then, riding slowly, he continued his journey. He lived alone. He wasn’t in a hurry.
The day advanced in Rathmoye. Disturbed by death, the town settled again into its many routines. Number 4 The Square was put to rights after nearly a hundred sympathizers had accepted the invitation to funeral refreshment.
Trays of cups and saucers were carried down from the vast first-floor sitting-room to the kitchen, scattered glasses gathered up, windows thrown open, ashtrays emptied.
By the time the stairs had been hoovered, tea-towels hung up to dry and the daily girl sent home, it was evening.
Alone in the house, as she had not been since the death, Mrs Connulty’s daughter fondled the jewellery that now was hers: strings of lapis and jade, garnet and amber, the sapphire earrings, the turquoise, the pearls, the opals, the half-hoops of diamonds, the ruby engagement ring, the three cameos. There was a rosary too, but it did not properly belong, being of little value compared with the finery.
In her middle age, Miss Connulty was known in Rathmoye no more intimately than that – a formality imposed upon her when, twenty years ago, her mother ceased to address her by either of the saints’ names she had been given at her birth. Unconsciously, her brother had followed this example, and when her father died she was nameless in the house. By now, ‘Miss Connulty’ belonged to her more naturally in the town than the form of address she had once enjoyed there.
Thirty-two pieces she counted, not one of them unfamiliar to her, and she would wear them and wear them often, as her mother had. This reflection came coolly, without emotion. Some of the pieces would suit her, some would not. ‘What are you doing, child?’ her mother had long ago sharply demanded, unexpectedly in this same room, her slippered feet making no sound. A garnet necklace draped her child’s neck, not hooked at the back, the clasp held between finger and thumb. It dropped with a clatter on to the dressing-table, and Mrs Connulty, tall and stoutly made, declared that the Guards must be sent for.
“Don’t get the Guards! Oh, don’t, don’t!” Her own cry of alarm came back to Miss Connulty from childhood, fear cold again in her stomach. “Go out for a Guard, Kitty,” her mother called down the stairs to a startled maid, and ordered the necklace to be put away. She went through the pieces to see that they were all there. A Guard was in the hall then, and her mother ordered her to tell him, and when she did he shook his head at her.
Less tall than her mother, and not stout at all, Miss Connulty retained the shadow of a prettiness that had enlivened her as a girl. Grey streaked her hair, darkening its fairness, but few lines aged her features. Even so, she often felt old, and resented this reminder that in reaching middle age and passing through most of it she had missed too much of what she might have had. She returned the jewellery to the top drawer of the dressing-table that had been her mother’s and now was hers. She kept out only the garnet necklace, admiring it against the drab shade of her mourning.
by William Trevor is published by Viking on Monday