It is hard for the likes of me, a homebody, to understand a man like Dermot. A Wanderer, he termed himself, in one of those interminable chats we had that always lasted long into the night. My stock of malt whiskey was sadly depleted on each visit to my lonely cottage, but it was worth it. I gladly restocked in anticipation of a further opportunity to hear of the strange goings on in the wide world.
Don’t get the idea that he monopolised the conversation; he was a magnificent listener. His bright eyes regarded me intelligently as I held forth on my pet hobbyhorse subjects. They would crinkle at the corners at my attempts at wit, and look gravely at me when I touched on serious topics. I felt that he was giving me his complete attention, an experience that was extremely rare for me. Down in the village, I have grown used to being considered a silly old duffer, but Dermot treated my views with great respect.
He was popular there. In the Golden Harp, I am told, he exerted his charm with great effect. The landlady, the Widow O’Morrissy, doted on him, and Bessie, the barmaid, vied with her to serve him ‘drinks on the house’. Strangely, this preferential treatment was not resented by the other patrons. Sometimes they too would benefit from the widow’s euphoria, and besides, all agreed that Dermot, despite being a ’foreigner’, was a sound man; always ready to tell a good story, and, more importantly, listen attentively to their stories and laugh at their jokes.
He was popular with children, and their mothers. “What a beautiful child!” he would say, “But not surprising with such a beautiful mother”, and he would smile his lopsided smile and doff the old tweed hat.
He would sit on the Green, the village meeting place. There was a weathered old bench there, and he would sit enthroned, playing quietly on his guitar and singing softly the haunting songs of his long lost home. Children would silently gather around him. He would quickly switch to a local tune and soon they would all be singing joyfully.
Some of his audiences were not quite so young. Local lasses, in their teens, would oh so casually drift to the perimeter of the circle. Dermot, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, would switch to a romantic ballad promising undying love. The silly girls would blush and giggle, and whisper in each other’s ear. And Dermot’s bright eyes would be watching them.
“I sing for my supper.” Dermot had announced on his arrival in the village, He was never at a loss for an invitation. The farmers, and their wives, competed among themselves to have a ‘Dermot Dinner Party’. They would feed him to bursting point for a chance to listen to his songs and stories. They were all entranced by him I fear. I too, I am ashamed to say, was not above trying to tempt him with a fifteen-year-old malt. We were besotted.
We should have realised that our infatuation for Dermot was too good to last. And too good to be true. Somehow he filled for us an aching need, an antidote to our isolation, a desperate desire to belong to the real world. But the world is a far harsher place than our little community, and its ways are sometimes wicked.
One day there were tears in the village. Worried women whispered in corners. Angry husbands and fathers gathered at the pub. All were looking for Dermot. But he was gone, silently and in the night. By the time the news reached me in my little cottage on the moor, I knew it was too late. I would never again see my five hundred, nor the cases of eighteen-year-old scotch it was supposed to purchase. He owed others money all over the surrounding countryside.
I do not regret the money so much. It was the loss of trust in my fellow man, and worse than that; the loss of trust in my own judgment. Perhaps I am a silly old duffer after all. I still look back on that time with fond memories. For three months or so I really felt myself to be someone special.
We do not lack for reminders of Dermot. Within nine months of his departure our community increased by six. All boys. All with red hair and green eyes. And all with that curious lopsided grin that can wrench your heart. May God preserve them from becoming wanderers.
(c) Copyright H.St.V.Beechey, 1994