Burlington Bertie
Sheet music "Burlington Bertie", 1900
Chapter 3 — Section 3
Pages 74-7971-7662-67
Whenmemories of 1911
G.W. Hunt, sheet music "The Afternoon Crawl", 1870s

Twelve years old. He was helping his father in the shop when the bell clinked and a fantastical character stopped in the door. Out of a bright check suit, buttoned high at the collar, shone a bright red face that danced with smiles under an orange flame of hair. A handkerchief flowed from his top pocket and a buttonhole bloomed in his lapel. In his hand he held a silver-topped cane, a bunched pair of lemon gloves and the brim of a brown bowler hat.

Jim saw his father standing at gaze; then gradually his mouth came to work. “Well well well, I’ll go to hades and back. What’s this blown in of an old Irish morning?”

Hayfoot, strawfoot, stand and freeze. Fusilier Doyle at the steady.” Click went heels and the character made a humorous salute.

“If it isn’t the Queen’s bad bargain himself!”

Sergeant and Corporal in full dress, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, postcard 1902.

“Let me present arms now, Mr. Mack, and if I shake your paw I’ll shake the paw of the finest quarterbloke’s bloke the Dubs did ever see.”

“Well, if it isn’t Mick me old sweat.”

“If it isn’t Mack me old heart.”

It made Jim smile himself to see his father so beaming. He had come out from the counter and he had the stranger’s hand gripped in both his own. “I’ll go to hades and back,” he said again. “Haven’t seen sight of you, haven’t heard wind of you, not since—”

Sheet music "South African Expedition", 1900

Pete’n’Marysburg, the Natal Province, October fourteenth, eighteen hundred and ninety-nine.”

“That’s about the length of it. The regiment was setting off for Ladysmith, I remember.”

“And your good self, Sergeant Mack, was setting off for home.”

Gordie had come out from the kitchen, and he nudged Jim’s shoulder. A sliver of doubt had crossed their father’s face. “Well well well,” he repeated. “And you’ve been prospering since. You’d take the stick on parade yet, so you would.”

The newcomer gave a swank of his clothes. “Not a greasy button in sight,” said he.

Again that doubt in their father’s eyes, his face a margarine smile. “My my my,” he said. “And what brings me natty old sweat to the parish by the sea?”

“Amn’t I domiciled local now? The dog’s lady, the grawls and meself.”

“Married and all?”

“Priest and witnesses.”

“And whereabouts would you be staying so?”

“A handy four walls down a vicinity called the Banks. That’s till we finds me feet, of course.”

“You won’t be long about that be the cut of you. Mighty prosperous altogether.”

... hurrah, hurrah for
Erskine Nicol, "A Head or a Harp", 1856

For a season then he was a regular in the shop and the two old comrades would often be jawing over old times. Every now and then a roar would let out of a regimental song: “Hurrah, hurrah for Ireland! And the Dublin Fu-usiliers!” In the kitchen Gordie would wink at Jim and Aunt Sawney used bang her stick on the floor.

Gordie called him Burlington Burt, and it was curious to see him late of a morning step out from the Banks, his swagger suit alive against the slob and a bloom in his buttonhole if only an old dandelion he plucked on the way. His bowler he tipped at an angle and his cane he carried sloped to the ground. “It was the Colonel gave him that,” their father explained to them. “Five times in a row the smartest man in the battalion.” He said it with pride, the way he would share in his comrade’s splendour. They had never known their father be friendly with anyone. It was inconceivable he would give credit so free.

Then one day Gordie took Jim aside. “Old Burlington Burt’s put the stiffeners on the old fella.”

“What stiffeners?” asked Jim.

“Don’t you know the old fella cut and run from the Boers. Scut away out the army the first shot was fired. He’s scared of his wits thinking Burlington Burt will blow the gab.”

“The da never scut.”

“Young ’un,” said Gordie and he cuffed Jim’s neck.

The pinch of tea and the tins of milk soon proved a burden, till finally Aunt Sawney put her stick unshakably down. “A double deficit,” his father said sadly. “For they won’t mind what they owe us and what pennies they have they’ll spend elsewhere now.”

... the coast clear, Sergeant?
Frederick Richardson, illustration from "Mother Goose", Chicago 1915

“Ye’re the slatey one,” Aunt Sawney chid him, “and himself inside of Fennelly’s regaling them what a touch ye are.”

The brown bowler hat was presently an item in Ducie’s window. The lemon gloves quickly joined it, followed one drab morning by the silver-topped cane. Then one evening Mr. Doyle came in the shop with Doyler in tow.

Cross-patch, draw the latch, sit by the fire and spin. Is the coast clear, Sergeant?”

“She’s away at chapel,” Jim’s father answered. “And who’s this you have with you? Who’s this the grand wee fusilier?”

“Sure you know the eldest. First shake of the bag. Say hello to Mr. Mack, son.”

“Hello, Mr. Mack,” came the surly voice.

“Though ’twasn’t your humble what shook that particular bag, I don’t think.”

“Ha ha ha.”

“You and me was sodgering yet when this wee mustard came out the nettlebed.”

“Ha ha ha,” echoed his father’s strained voice, and the inside door closed to a crack.

Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, "Portrait of a Boy with a Book", 1740s

In the kitchen, Jim returned to his books. Doyler he knew from national school. He was the rag-mannered barefoot boy who glowered at the back and never played games in the yard. He was mocked for a baldy peelo, for his hair would often be shaved against the itch, and his cap would slip and slide about his head. Every morning he was hauled for a thrashing because every afternoon he went working in the street. The master’s face had been a sketch when he went up for the scholarship. But he sat it and was waiting, like Jim was now, the decision.

Movement by the door caught Jim’s attention. Through the crack he saw Doyler’s shadow, and the shadow of his hand was darting up and down to a shelf. Soaps. He was stealing soaps.

Lewis Hine, photograph for US National Child Labor Committee, 1911

The grown-up banter continued beyond. Immediately, Jim understood what was going forth. Mr. Doyle kept his father occupied while his son helped himself to the shop-goods. He rose from the table, and with that movement Doyler clocked him. He froze in the jar. His coat was open and the torn lining sagged with his haul. Jim made to approach, but a jerk of Doyler’s head commanded him wait.

The eyes shifted to where the grown-ups were, shifted slowly back. Dark ovals washed Jim in their gloom, and as though some deep communication had passed the face nodded, nodding assurance. Slow and deliberate, he buttoned his coat.

Jim nodded back, but it was unclear to him what he had assented to. He came to the door and pushed it a gap.

Inside, the hilarity had quickly faded. “I’m sorry now,” his father was saying, “I couldn’t be more assistance. But as you can see from the books here—”

“Spare your breath, old camerado. The well ever dried for the thirsty.”

Rex Whistler (1905-1944), "Toff and Tramp"

There was still that remnant of the swell about Mr. Doyle. His face was prinked and scrubbed and his jacket was brushed and buttoned high. But a patch of skin showed between the lapels. His cuffs gleamed their usual white but you could see they were unattached to any shirt.

“Where’s that young buzzard after getting to?” he said, looking round for Doyler. He pushed him roughly to the door. “Sergeant Mack says we’re to approach the Benevolent Fund. Say thank you to Sergeant Mack.”

The black look deepened on Doyler’s face. Without lifting his eyes from Jim, he said, “Thank you, Mr. Mack.”

“Quartermaster-Sergeant Mack’s the brave man for advising, never doubt it. He’d have the gun advised off a Bojer’s back. Which is all to the good, for devil the chance he’d fight him for it.”

When the shop door closed his father ushered Jim back into the kitchen. He took a heat from the range. He waited there with his back to Jim. “Wouldn’t mind now what that fellow says. That fellow says the worse thing comes in his head. Terrible man for a dodge. Terrible man for the lend of a loan. Wouldn’t mind anything that man says. Do you hear me there?”

The next morning on his way to school, a spit landed at Jim’s feet and Doyler dropped from the wall above.

“You won’t say nothing about last evening.” The words came out for a threat. He had that way of looking or talking that expected trouble. “No good,” Jim answered. “The da’ll soon feel the miss of what was took.”

“Not if you put them back for me.” Out of his coat he pulled six cakes of soap. “There’s one got sold. I’ll pay that back, only not till Saturday fortnight. You’ll leave me off till then?”

Brooke's Monkey Brand soap, advertisement 1899

Jim handled the cakes. Monkey Brand. It won’t wash clothes was the slogan. Costly stuff that they never used at home. Neither did their customers, for they’d gathered dust as long as Jim could remember. Comical to think of Doyler stealing soap. His tousled hair and dirty face were a study for the monkey on the wrapper.

He wasn’t just dirty: there were bruises forming round the eyes and his lip was gashed. “He beat you, didn’t he. He beat you, your da did, ’cause you wouldn’t hand over the soaps.”

Doyler glared and for a moment Jim feared he might cut up rough. He spat at the wall, a streak of browny phlegm. But when he looked up again, his eyes were shining, and the hint of smile took the ape off his back. “I didn’t want you thinking me a thief.”

“I wouldn’t have told.”

“You’d be thinking it all the same.” At a dueller’s distance he called back, “Good luck with the scholarship results.”

“Good luck with yours,” said Jim.

... their palms and smeared their
Louis le Brocquy, "Hand", 1971

They met a few times after that. They walked up Glenageary once. They walked as far as Ballybrack. He put leaves on Jim’s leg after he was stung by nettles. One time he called Jim cara macree, which he said was Irish for pal of my heart, and he took a thorn and pricked their palms and smeared their blood together. In the back of Jim’s mind an idea was forming that if after all he went to college, it would be better if another from his own streets went with him. They were palling up, on the cusp of being great, when news came of their joint success. That day Doyler wasn’t to be found. County Clare, they said.