The False Knight
The False Knight
Mr. Hanevy had never liked his daughter, she having been a different class of hypocrite to himself. They had possessed nothing in common but her mother and his wife, and that maddeningly patient woman never managed to be any kind of hypocrite, although she lied a good deal during her life. He had been decently sorry when the young girl died, but he was relieved to be over the drudgery of the obsequies. Fidelma Hanevy had been killed, along with her husband of two days, when the plane taking them on their wedding trip had crashed in the Mediterranean off Barcelona. The marriage had come as a surprise to most people and a shock to her father. Having been a quiet, rather ostentatiously pious young woman, obliquely giving the world to understand that she would probably take the habit soon, she returned from a holiday in the West and presented a seemingly commonplace Galway ironmonger as her betrothed. It seemed extraordinary in view of her past behaviour, but certain subtle changes in her demeanor and a reflection on the way things were with young people in these days, led Mr. Hanevy to suspect that neither of the pair had married a virgin. Nothing was said on the subject however.
At the time of his daughter’s death Mr. Hanevy was 47 years years of age and as active as he had ever been. He was a sturdy man of medium height; handsome in a greying, sexlessly Irish kind of way. His face seemed open and expressive without actually ever telling many tales. The tiny eruptions of mauve decay in his cheeks, earlobes and the left side of his nose were the only signs of his decorous dissipations. He was middle-grade civil servant in the Department of Lands and was generally regarded as one of the three or four finest sean-nos singers in Ireland. A strong and intelligent supporter of the Tradition, no one was thought to have a greater love for Irish music and song, as indeed few did, although Mr. Hanevy’s deepest affections were for the frighteningly beautiful sound of his own voice. This was a high, vigorous baritone in which a painstakingly acquired decorative technique almost invariably succeeded in overcoming the effect of a secret preference for drawing room tenors.
A favourite refuge of Mr. Hanevy’s when he sought quite was a roadside public house near the Dublin Mountains and on the Sunday following his daughter’s funeral he sat in its plain lounge, gazing through a half-frosted glass window and mixing thoughts of his now completely solitary condition with a pint of stout and his pipe. He was a serious smoker of several excellent pipes. He cut his own plug and kept it in fine leather pouch of his own making. He usually got through three boxes of matches a day and he kept a patent pipe smoker’s knife that seldom left his hand when he was at his ease.
The sun appeared, reflecting for a few moments off the Small Sugarloaf, only to set quickly. As the last weak rays crept through the window they were exploded in the corrugated sandy hair and beard of a tall young man in brushed denim bell-bottoms trousers and a green leather jerkin, who ambled in carrying a fiddle case. Another bearded young man followed wearing corduroys and a heavy lumberjack shirt. He had an instrument case in each hand and another under his arm. an erect and pretty woman of 25 or so, with short black hair, quick green eyes and an enthusiastic mouth came next, closely followed by a short, sallow man in his mid-thirties wearing a dusty suit of indeterminate colour and a grey anorak which did not quite cover his suit-jacket. A richly decorated flute case stuck out from an anorak pocket. The four sat down at the table under the window and when the lounge boy finally answered to the bell, ordered four pints of stout. Before the drink had arrived the three men had taken out their instruments and begun tuning. For twenty-five minutes they played virtually non-stop; speaking only monosyllabically of keys and tune titles. They were each good musicians, the flute player being particularly accomplished and most at home with the music they were playing. The fiddler’s style was wildly eclectic but he was very quick in picking up the tunes the flute player started. The third man was a guitarist of passing facility but he was not able to get the airs. He would attempt to play the melody of each piece but would inevitably stumble and have to go back to playing simply the rhythm. The young woman did not play or speak but kept perfect time with an almost imperceptible rocking of her head and shoulders. After an especially furious set of jigs all three players laid sown their instruments and began to smoke. The flute player happened to glance behind him as a new customer came in and noticed Mr. Hanevy for the first time.
“Hello, Sean. Is that you all this time, I didn’t see you.”
Mr. Hanevy recognized the speaker as someone he had known around pub session and music gatherings for some years, although not as well as his manner indicated.
“It is, Cormie, and a pleasant time too. You are in great form with your pupils today.”
“Will you join the company, Sean?” asked the flute player. “You’re very quiet over there.”
Mr. Hanevy nodded, picked up his pint and smoking paraphernalia and pulled his high-backed captain’s chair across the room to the party’s table and sat down. First name introductions were made, revealing the young woman to be from Slane, the fiddler from Manchester, and the guitarist from Ann Arbor, Michigan. The ensuing conversation consisted of the drinkers remarks about each other’s native places. After awhile Mr. Hanevy said to the fiddler:
“For all that Scottish scrapping, Morris music and bluegrass bashing you were given music by an Irishman sometime.”
“Aye, well,” said the fiddler, “there was an old man in Manchester – well, Salford, actually – named Johnny Scully, from Roscommon. He’d great tunes and he taught me a lot. He’d lots of records as well, 78s, you know. Michael Coleman and all.”
“Do you work at it?” inquired Mr. Hanevy.
“Oh aye, around the clubs in England, you know, makes us a few bob.”
“No, I mean the instrument.”
“Oh aye, yeah, all the time. Drives me wife around the twist. That’s why she stayed in Dublin today; said a holiday wouldn’t be a holiday if she couldn’t get away from bloody fiddle for a bit.”
“And do you not play?” said Mr. Hanevy, addressing the young woman.”
“Well, only the whistle once or twice. And spoons.”
“She’s the dancer, Sean,” said the flute player in clumsy imitation of Mr. Hanevy’s easily familiar manner.
“Are you indeed? said Mr. Hanevy. “Well, up you get then.”
“Oh, no. I couldn’t, you know, not here. I mean, the pub wouldn’t allow it.”
“The pub is no problem,” said Mr. Havevy, “and you’ve no call to be shy. Go on now, up with you.”
The young woman agreed with enough reluctance for modesty, but not enough to exasperate.
“Will a reel do, Maura?” asked the flute player.”whatever you like, Cormie.”
“A reel it is. Right, ‘The Flags of Dublin?” said the flute player interrogatively at the other musicians. “No? Well, you’d surprise me if you did. D.”
Mr. Hanevy watched the fiddler’s fingers intently as he heard, then learned and finally embellished the unfamiliar tune. He did not take his stare from them until he seemed sure that they could carry on without the supervision of his eyes. Only then did he turn to the dancer. Her feet were a blur of precision but the rest of her body was rigid. She seemed like a marionette hoping that if she put no pressure on the strings that held her they might be cut away. Even her eyes were impossibly still and fixed. Only her feet and her mouth, as she silently lilted the tune, were inside the free commonage of rhythm from which the rest of her body seemed fenced out. The fiddler now had the air so well that he began to cut the flute player for speed. As the tempo became faster the dancer bobbed across the floor like a mannequin buoy but never hesitated in a step.
“A rest,” said Mr. Hanevy at length. “You’ll destroy the poor girl.”
The players stopped and the dancer sat down, flushed but breathing easily. Another round was ordered and technical points were discussed. Presently Mr. Hanevy said to the dancer: “You have lovely feet for a dance, Maura, but you’d as well have left the rest of you at home. Is it the nuns taught you that bottomless, below-the-knees class of dancing?”
“Well, to start, yes. Then I was in, you know, some competitions.”
“God, they’re a curse. Especially for youngsters,” said Mr. Hanevy earnestly. “Well, it may be very neat but it’s not my notion of dancing. Would you not think to use the whole body God gave you, and (He’ll forgive me) it’s a fine one.
These words were said with such a frank and detached countenance that the dancer felt no embarrassment at them but she could find no reply.
“Aye, well, I thought she done dead clever,” observed the fiddler. “And if you’d seen some of them E.F.D.S.S. ladies flinging themselves about, you’d be glad of some neatness.”
“God, yes. I’d have to give you that. I was to Keele Festival there seven years ago or so and never saw sensible tweed jiggle and jounce to such an extent before nor since.”
“That’s right, aye,” said the fiddler. ” I was at Keele that year. Here, when are you going to, you know, come over to England and sing again?”
“Are you a singer, man?” asked the guitarist, perking up.
“Singer? said the flute player incredulously. “Have you never heard of Sean O nAnamahai?”
The guitarist was acutely flustered at this. He fancied himself knowledgeable in these areas and was piqued with the company and with himself for being caught out.
“Oh… yeah. I didn’t realize that’s who you were. Of course I know… I mean, I’ve, you know, heard you on the radio… and on a record once, I think. Would you, you know, sing now. I’d like to hear you like, you know, live.”
“Yes, Sean,” put in the flute player, “You said we needed a rest.”
“Aye, do,” said the fiddler.
The dancer was silent and looked confused, like a child about to do some exciting and dangerous thing for the first time. After mild resistance and considerable foreplay with his pipe knife, Mr. Hanevy said he would and proceeded to sing an expert and sprightly version of ‘Cunnla’. He decorated the low register stanza climaxes with discreet vibrato and addressed the lilted refrains to each of the company in turn with suitable unself-consciousness.
“Mise shein, adeir Cunnla,” he concluded, smiling broadly at the dancer.
Mr. Hanevy took a deep draught of his pint and again began to ply his pipe knife. The musicians gave out “Lovely, Sean, “Good man” and the litany of session commonplaces.
“Aye, I’ve heard that song in English,” remarked the fiddler. “I think it’s the only rude Irish song I know.”
“Oh, there are few,” said Mr. Hanevy, nodding, “but nothing like the English ones where everything’s on the job from the cobbler’s awl to the stone-cutter’s chisel.”
Evening was well fallen by this time and the room had filled up comfortably. A slight haze was in the air as the guitarist picked and slid through a flashy bottleneck blues, which he played well and sang limply. The hysteria of the hour before closing had not yet begun. The flute player again led the others in the jigs, reels and hornpipes. He was quite drunk but his playing was not noticeably affected. The fiddler had more drink taken than any of the others but showed it least. He delicately danced his fingers and flailed his bow, from which flaxen strands of gut had begun to to come away in ones and twos. He looked stern, single-minded and slightly manic. The guitarist had given up trying to play the melodies and thumped out one indistinguishable bass rhythm for everything, adding occasional, totally inappropriate fills. Mr. Hanevy looked on with grave benignity, flickering a smile at a particularly fine flourish or bold mistake. The dancer had stopped her private rocking and was staring at the singer’s profile; not hearing the music but only ‘Mise shein, adeir Cunnla”, ending in short bass quiver. When the tune was done the guitarist opened one of his instrument cases and took out a new string to replace one that had broken. Mr. Hanevy took advantage of this pause to say that he really had to be away as he’s a long drive ahead of him. There was general insistence by the three musicians and a few people at neighbouring tables that he sing one song before going. Mr. Hanevy had been dealing with the last two inches of his pint and reaming out the bowl of his pipe. He now carefully folded up his knife and picked up his pint. He did not drink but said: “One more it must be,and in deference to our visitors we’ll make ‘as Bearla’ as they may not get on so well with what I once heard a man in Finsbury Park call ‘yer actual Garlic'”
Mr. Hanevy put down his pint, still unfinished, and placed his pipe, pouch and knife in his pocket.
“One evening fair, to take the air
Down by Blackwater Side…”
As he sang Mr. Hanevy offered his hand. The dancer took it and together they commenced the ritual of winding.
“Was in gazing all around me,
That an Irish lass I spied.
All through the first part of the night
We lay in sport and play…”
The clasped hand tightened and loosened with the singer’s heightening and lowering of the lyrical tension within the verses.
“…Till the young man arose and
gathered his clothes,
Saying fare-thee-well today.”
“That’s not the promise you gave to me
When you first lay on my breast.
You could make me believe with your
That the sun rose in the West.”
The dancer’s hand, which had been cold and tremulous at first, now decorated the internal rhythm of the song as intricately as the singer’s voice did its melody. She looked up through the half-frosted glass window and watched a fine rain falling through the light of the courtyard lamp and the silhouettes of a couple speaking earnestly.
“Go home, go home to your father’s
Go home and cry your fill
And think on the sad misfortune
You brought on with your wanton will.
There’s not a girl in all the world
As easily led as I,
And when fishes can fly and the seas
The dancer’s eyes dropped to meet the singer’s as they turned fully toward herself.
“…That’s when you’ll marry I. ‘Blackwater Side.'” He finished speaking the last line and the title quickly and finally.
“You’re sure you won’t have one more before you go, Sean?” asked the flute player.
“Positive, Cormie. I’ve one call to make and I’m away.”
Mr. Hanevy passed into the hall between the public bar and the lounge where the telephone was located and the dancer rose to go to the Ladies’. As she came back Mr. Hanevy was still waiting at the service hatch for a two penny piece. He turned with a distracted air as she touched his arm and said:
“Sean… there’s going to be a session after, at my flat, if you wanted to call up.”
“No, Maura, I must be carrying on, thanks all the same.”
There’s going to be good fellas, musicians and… if you wanted to, you know, stay on after… I wouldn’t mind.”
Mr. Hanevy called the dancer a wretched name and left without making his call.
NOTE: The above story was published in the Irish Press in July 1973 as one of a weekly feature under the running head “New Writing”, edited by David Marcus. His letter of acceptance – which I still have – was gratifyingly fulsome. Also gratifying was the fee of ten guineas. Those who have read both this story and the other on this site called ‘A Peculiar People’ will notice that the occasion of this story is referred to briefly in passing. In contrast to David Marcus’s kind words someone else quoted in one of the small literary magazines of the period slagged off the piece vigorously.