I set to work to cover my paper with the letters of the alphabet. My mother sat at the other end of the table with the Sgt and when he produced his silver flask I paid no more attention than I did to Annie & Jem & Maggie & Dan. After I made each letter as a capital, I set to do the smaller ones, such were my concentration that when my mother spoke her voice seemed very far away.
Get out of my house.
I looked up to discover Sergeant O'Neil with his hand to his cheek I suppose she must of slapped him, for his countenance were turned v. red.
'Get out' my mother shrieked, she had the Irish temper, we was accustomed to it.
'Ellen you calm yourself, you know I never meant nothing in the least improper'.
'Eff off' my mother cried.
The policeman's voice took a sterner character. 'Ellen' said he 'you must not use such language to a police officer'.
That were a red rag to my mother she uncoiled herself from her seat. 'You effing mongrel she cried her voice louder again. You wouldn't say that if my husband were not gone contracting'.
'I will issue one more warning Mrs Kelly'.
At this my mother snatched up the Sergeant's teacup and threw the contents onto the earthen floor. 'Arrest me' she cried 'arrest me you coward'.
Baby Kate woke crying then. Jem were 4 yr. old sitting on the floor playing knuckles but when the brandy splashed beside him he let the bones lie quiet. Of a different disposition I begun to move towards my mother.
Did you hear your mother call me a coward old chap'
I would not betray her I walked round the table and stood next to her. Said he 'You was busy writing Ned?'
I took my mother's hand and she put her arm around my shoulder.
ou are a scholar ain't it?' he asked me.
I said I were.
Then you must know about the history of cowards. I were confused I shook my head.
Next O'Neil was bouncing to his feet and showing the full hard stretch of his policeman's boots, said he 'Let me educate you young man'. No said my mother her manner now completely changed. Please no.
A moment earlier O'Neil had a stiff and worried air but now there was a dainty sort of prance about him. O yes said he, all children should know their history, indeed it is quite essential.
My mother wrenched her hand from mine and reached out, but the Ulsterman ducked behind the 1st set of curtains and emerged to prowl in and out and around our family, he even patted little Dan upon his silky head. My mother were afraid, her face was pale and frozen. 'Please Kevin'.
But O'Neil was telling us his story, we had to quiet to listen to him, he had the gift. It were a story of a man from Tipperary named only A Certain Man or This Person Who I Will Not Name. He said A Certain Man had a grudge against a farmer for lawfully evicting his tenant and This Person etc. conspired with his mates to kill the farmer.
'I'm sorry' said my mother, 'I already apologised'.
Sgt O'Neil made a mocking bow continuing his story without relent telling how This Certain Man did 1st write a threatening letter to the landlord. When the landlord ignored the letter and evicted the tenant This Certain Man called a select meeting of his allies to a chapel in the dead of night where they drank whisky from the Holy Goblet and swore upon the Holy Book, then he said to them 'Brothers for we are all brothers sworn upon all that's blessed and Holy. Brothers are you ready in the name of God to fulfil your oaths?' They said they was, they swore it and when they done their blasphemy they descended upon the farmer's house with pikes and faggots burning.
Sergeant O'Neil seemed much affected by his own story his voice grew loud; he said the farmer's children screamed for mercy at the windows but the men set their home alight and those who escaped they piked to death; there was mothers and babes in arms - the Sgt would not spare us either, he painted the outrage in every detail - we children were all silent, open mouthed not only at the horror of the crime but also the arrest of the Guilty Parties and the treachery of This Certain Man who betrayed all he had drawn into his conspiracy. The accomplices was hanged by the neck until dead and the Ulsterman let us imagine how this might be - he did not conceal the particulars.
Excerpted from True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey . Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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