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Topic: The Hill Bachelors--Paulie's Redemption

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Molonian
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The Hill Bachelors--Paulie's Redemption
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This story is written as a continuation of the heartbreaking story “The Hill Bachelors” by William Trevor. The details of the female protagonist are deliberately kept vague.

 

Paulie had been three years on the farm when his neighbour Mr. Hartigan died. He hadn’t set the brake on the tractor and it rolled back over him—he lasted a few days, then was gone and all. Miss Hartigan called their family abroad as soon as it was clear that her brother wouldn’t come out of it. Their farm belonged to two halves of the family: the Hartigans’ grandfather had stayed; his brother had emigrated to a new country and new opportunity, but he had kept half ownership of the land.

Paulie knew that the others kept in touch as the land passed to each generation in turn. He knew that they sent money from time to time. One of them, a woman, a cousin he reckoned, even wrote back and forth with Miss Hartigan and sent her pin money so she wouldn’t have to depend on her brother for everything. But none of them had set foot on the farm, and now Miss Hartigan planned to hand it over to them and move on. She’d accepted a marriage proposal—too late for children perhaps, but still a chance for happiness. Paulie envied her.

Three of them came for the funeral: two young men and Herself. She was the one who wrote and sent money, Paulie could tell by the way Miss Hartigan spoke with her, favoured her. At the wake the two young men were kept busy by those who wanted to know their business, wanted to discuss buying the farm with Mr. Hartigan barely cold in the grave. She was ignored, which suited her. She observed quietly and helped in the kitchen. Paulie spoke to her briefly before leaving. He had to go home and tend to his livestock, and his mother was tiring and ready to leave as well.

She watched Paulie and his mother drive away and sighed. They were the only ones she was interested in. Her cousin’s letters had included news of the neighbours; Paulie, the gentle man who gave up his own interests to take over his family farm and take care of his mother, had intrigued her.

Later she saw him return in work clothes and go directly to the barn. Of course, he would be caring for his neighbour’s livestock. She grabbed a work coat off the hook by the back door and threw it on over her black dress. She stuck oversized boots on her feet, over the soft flat shoes she wore. She went to the barn cloaked in the scent of the farm and the uncle she had never met. Paulie was setting up the cows for milking, gently coaxing each one into her stall. He looked at her for a moment, puzzled.

“Let me help?”

Paulie knew loss, and the sense of being out of place that she must be feeling. He pointed out the hay bunk and feed bin and she fed out portions that resembled what he had started; a scoop of ground mixed grain in the wood box nailed to the front of the stall, and armload of hay in rack for each cow. He watched, noting her attention to what she was doing, her comfort with the work, her accuracy.

He set up the big milk cans and milk pails in a corner of the barn, on a concrete slab that was cleaned daily. She plucked a milking stool off the peg on the wall. “Do they kick? Will I need shackles? Do they have names?”

“Start with Meg here. No shackles, just run your hand along her back as you go, introduce yourself. She’ll be fine.” Paulie handed her a cleaning cloth out of the bucket of wash water that sat by the milk pails and watched as she set down the milking stool and reached easily under Meg to clean her udder and teats for milking. She returned the cloth as he had done, took a milk pail, and perched comfortably on the milking stool, her black dress hanging into the straw on the floor of the stall. She nestled her head and a shoulder into the curve of the cow’s side and began expertly drawing milk from two teats. Paulie could tell by the sibilant song of milk hitting the pail that she knew what she was doing.  

She turned her head to one side and called softly, “Does she have a calf on?”

“Aye, they all do, but the calves are eating a bit, too. Save about half.”

She finished with Meg and took the pail to the milk can, unscrewed the lid, and poured the milk carefully through the mesh covering and into the can, just as Paulie had done. He wondered, did she watch him somehow, or does she have the same routine at home?

They milked the eight cows in a companionable silence, speaking quietly only when needed. As they finished, she asked, “Why so many?”

“The dairy down the road buys milk, uses it to make cheese. You know about Irish cheese?”

“Oh yes,” She smiled. “We must have some at the house at all times.”

He tucked the milk cans into a refrigerator in the same clean corner of the barn, then began washing the milk pails. He showed her the disinfectant rinse, and she saw quickly how to store them for the next morning.

“Now what?”

“We count the sheep,” he said with a smile. “Usually they are pastured, but your uncle had been penning them at night of late.”

He got two buckets of mixed grain out of another bin. She picked up one while he filled the second. He led the way to a large pen, where she could see feed troughs lined up at one end and a gate at the other. The sheep were milling at the gate, anxiously bleating for dinner. They spread the feed and moved to open the gate. Paulie would count the sheep as they passed. She pulled a long, knotted string from a coat pocket and held it up to him. For the count, he confirmed.

When the sheep were through the gate he turned to her with a slight frown. Their count was the same, but his frown deepened and hers began as she saw an extra knot on the string. “Is just the one missing?”

“Just the one,” he sighed.

“Will you look for it?”

He nodded.

“Wait for me,” she said. “Please.”

She hurried to the house and he followed, waiting unseen at the back door, avoiding the people still inside. She returned quickly, dressed for a hike, with her own boots on her feet and a torch in her hand. It was moving toward evening.

As they trudged across the land Paulie couldn’t help pointing out its features like a tour guide. A tiny piece of him hoped that she would see something in the hills and stone fences and sunset colors that would be worth staying for.

She was entranced by what she saw, but focused on the hunt. She asked smart questions and seemed to understand his answers. “Where do you expect it to be?”

“In the bog,” he answered drearily.

“Is that why we are going in a fairly straight line?”

He nodded.

“I have no experience with bogs.”

He described it as they walked, how the water never leaves and the peat forms layers upon layers, how after a big rain it can become unsteady and a sheep can get drawn in, its wet wool dragging it down and holding it there.

Of course it was there, stuck up to its neck because of its own struggles. Paulie could see no way around it, he would have to push in after it and hope to get it out before he sank too far himself. It was going to be a mucky mess.

“I should go. I weigh less. I won’t sink as much. You can pull us both out if you need to.”

He stared at her, aghast, but she was already moving and by the time he thought to reach out for her it was too late, she had caught the sheep by the wool along its back and was hauling it out of the peat. Her efforts pushed her in deeper but she didn’t bother with it. Paulie followed, caught her under the shoulders, and heaved them all onto solid footing. They lay panting from the exertion for a few moments before struggling upright.

“I’m so sorry—this is the muckiest job on the place—you landed right in the middle of it—“ he tried to stammer out an apology but she interrupted him.

“That’s the worst it gets? Not so bad, then.”

He slung the sheep across his shoulders, feeling the wet wool smothering the back of his head. He would have to carry it at least partway back to the pen, as it was too tired to walk. “So, you’ve dealt with worse, then?” He couldn’t help asking as they moved slowly back toward the house.

 “Pulling calves is my all-time worst job.”

“You’ve done that?” He was surprised, and it showed in the tone of his question. Paulie had been required to assist in the birth of a calf when it was too big for its mother’s birth canal and needed extra coaxing into the world. It was a bloody, painful, exhausting job. “What about your brothers?”

“They have weak stomachs and limited spines.” She continued, “I lost a cow once, Paulie. That was the worst day, the worst thing I’ve had to do.”

“I’m sorry.” He truly was. Her pain was apparent.

“Do you mind hearing about it, Paulie? You may be one person who actually understands what it did to me.”

“I don’t mind,” he answered as he shifted the weight of the sheep across his shoulders.

“It had been raining most of the day and a real storm was coming. I knew she was missing from the count. We searched the pasture, the woods, the fencerows. The boys gave up and went home. By the time I found her, it was too late.”

She sighed. “The poor girl had slid in the mud, ten feet down an embankment into a gully. Landed on her back in a foot of water. She was dead when I found her, the calf nearly dead and stuck like a wedge. I couldn’t pull it by myself.”

“I had a pocketknife. My only tool. So there I was, in the pouring rain, covered in mud and blood, hacking into my best cow with a 3-inch blade to save her dying calf. Water rising over my boots, using language I didn’t know I knew. Not my finest hour.”

Paulie disagreed. He had seen a hint of her strength, of the spark of passion in her when they struggled to save the sheep. He could only imagine what she would have been like on that day, in those conditions. He wished he could have been there with her. He said none of those things.

“I’m sorry,” was all his voice would allow.

“I saved the calf, thank god.” She gave him a sideways smile. “Getting back to the house was the hardest part of the whole thing. Getting the calf up out of that gully just about killed me, but it was worth it.”

“You win,” Paulie smiled back at her, a half-smile like her own. “That job was the worst.”

The sheep had begun fighting him, so he set it down and they herded it gently toward the barn. They hosed it down and themselves as well, trying to get the muck cleaned off as best they could. Paulie walked her to the back door of the house.

Before he could say good night, she asked, “What time should I start morning chores?”

“I’ll be here about 7. It’s what they’re used to.” He waved toward the barn and sheep pen. He waved at her as he drove away. She waved back, still standing on the back step watching him leave.

After doing the morning chores they walked the land. She moved as if she were born to it, and at the same time she delighted in each new discovery. She asked about places and people from her grandfather’s stories. Paulie smiled when she mispronounced the names. She asked about the farm, and the crops, and the stock, and the neighbors. She asked only one question that Paulie didn’t have an answer to: Why do livestock have access to the bog if it is dangerous? He hadn’t understood that either.

She was the first woman he had seen who cared for the land, understood it, loved it even. As they walked he asked her about her home and she shared with him some of the details of the farm on which she was raised. Her grandfather kept her close to him, taught her about the old country, taught her everything he knew about farming. Her father doted on his sons and left her to her own devices. She was used to working hard and being alone. She didn’t mind it. In fact, she preferred it to a life spent in crowds and noise and chaos.

As the morning passed Paulie accepted that he had suddenly, overwhelmingly, fallen in love with her. His loneliness, the emptiness of his days, the years stretching ahead of him dismally without the soft touch of a woman, all fell into brutally sharp focus for him in those short hours.

They returned to the house in time for lunch, which consisted of leftovers from yesterday’s wake. The brothers were eager to talk about the farm, and the people who wanted to buy it, and how easy it would be to sell it and be done with the thing altogether. They spoke like men who knew their decisions carried weight, like boys who were used to getting what they wanted. When they spoke to Miss Hartigan as if she had already sold them her half of the property, she just smiled to herself and didn’t interrupt.

Paulie knew that she was only there for a visit, a family duty, a short side trip on the path she had set for herself. He could tell by the way she spoke of her home and her farm that she was rooted there, bound to the land. He couldn’t know what was in her heart, couldn’t know that she was only passing time on her father’s farm, keeping her hand in, couldn’t know that her roots had always been in the Irish hill country, sunk there deeply through her grandfather’s efforts.

She and Paulie ate silently, he with sinking heart that his slumping posture mirrored, she with quiet composure.

At last the brothers wound down and asked her the question she had been waiting for. “What do you think? Is it in good shape? Should be easy enough to sell it and get back home, right?”

She took a sip of her tea before answering. “I think you’re both pissing into the wind.” Paulie sat up, caught by the sharpness of her tone.

“You have no voice here. Grandpa passed his share of this land to me, not to Dad. He didn’t trust Dad or you to take proper care of it. If you had bothered to ask, I would have been happy to tell you that.” She shared a smile with Miss Hartigan. “I’ve arranged to buy her half as well, so as soon as the legalities are settled, the farm will be mine.”

Paulie couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “The land belongs to you?” He heard his own giddy hope as he spoke.

“Aye, Paulie, the land belongs to me and I belong to it,” She answered with a touch of Ireland in the lilt of her voice and in her soft smile.

“But you’ll still need to sell it. You can’t manage this property and the one at home.” Her older brother refused to consider any plan other than his own.

“This has been our home since hundreds of years before we were born. This is my home today. I won’t abandon it. It is mine by right, by blood, and by my own commitment to it.”

Paulie’s heart stopped beating as she spoke—he gasped for breath and felt it leap and start again. His distress went unnoticed because of the outburst from her brothers: Impossible, crazy, all alone, strange world, far away from everything she loved or wanted or needed.

She held up a hand and stopped them. “You are wrong.” She looked Paulie square in the eyes. “Everything I want is right here.”



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DMF
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Wow TJ, this is beautifully written - what wonderful homage to the radio drama, and I bet William Trevor would be flattered by your continuation of his short story and Damien and the creators of the drama happy you were thus inspired.

I love this further ending you have given the characters (and the new one you introduced) you pitched the tone just right - it is gentle and yet moving at the same time.

Thank you for sharing!

For anyone who missed Damien's radio drama The Hill Bachelors on Monday, you can find the link to listen to it and join the discussion here



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Damiac
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Oh wow. Just...wow.

I was affected by the sadness of Paulie's future and this is the perfect antidote.

Beautifully written, in tune with the original play and gorgeous. Atmospheric and did i say gorgeous?

Bravo, fantastic job. Loved it.

(And i understand writing coda fics, when you want to write an ending for a character that has affected you. I wrote a coda fic for an Irish tv drama called 'The Clinic'- Aidan Turner appeared in this prior to getting Being Human, he was in the final two series, a receptionist/computer whiz/wannabe DJ called Ruairi who at the end of the series was shot and gravely injured. The series was cancelled then so left on a cliff hanger but i was so affected by it that i wrote a coda fic for it and it helped me settle his character, his future in my mind)

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DaModerator
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Lovely fic - thanks for posting it

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Damiac
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As I said on Twitter, I love this. The perfect ending for Paulie. Thank you for writing this. I can listen to the play again and not feel so sad at the end. Knowing that there is your alternative ending. smileyflowers



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Professional Thud-er
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Thank you for writing and sharing this TJ.  As you know I was deeply affected by The Hill Bachelors and my heart broke at "gentle, generous" Paulie sacrificing love for family.  The thought of him working himself to the bone and wandering the lonely hills the rest of his days haunted me.  Beautiful writing, how many times did I saw "awwwwww" as I read it?  Thank you for giving Paulie a match that could endure the life in The Hills, someone to keep him warm and happy and give him all the love such a gentle soul deserves.  



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A lilt in his voice.  Every sentence like music...
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Molonian
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Thank you all for the lovely feedback. I'm glad that I wasn't the only one who wanted a better life for Paulie.
It's funny how we can be moved by a clearly fictional character. The original story is so well-done, and the radio drama was so beautifully produced, and Damien's voice gave Paulie such life, that we responded to it strongly.
Thank you all again.

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DMF
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thank you TJ, for giving voice (so brilliantly) to a feeling we may have all shared!
Now we have two endings for Paulie.

I do find myself drawn to unfinished endings in all art, because they leave unanswered questions - and not all endings are happy. But, Paulie's fate was so bleak that your story is (as rubyrosettared put so wonderfully) the perfect antidote.

As you know, I emailed your story to the BBC Radio NI team and they loved it. In their words:

"We all LOVE this! Thanks a million!"

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Oh wow, I didn't realize you'd done that Domino!  That's fantastic!  



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papillon... pamplemousse... bibliothèque... un baiser
A lilt in his voice.  Every sentence like music...
#kisskisskiss 
A terrible beauty is born.
Love me some #Jacksass

Marvellous Molonian Moderator
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Strangely I read this last year without ever having heard the radio play. I thought it was a lovely story then but didn't get the significance. Now that I've heard the play I've re-read the story and I found it very emotional. It made me feel so much for lovely, selfless Paulie that he was no longer going to be alone.

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Molonian
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This was a lovely ending to the heartbreaking "The Hill Batchelors". I had told myself that sooner or later Paulie might make his way to Lisdoonvarna for the Batchelor Festival, but that has changed in recent years - more of a knocking shop than a matchmaking event. This is a much better outcome!



-- Edited by EllieForster on Monday 26th of October 2015 11:24:39 AM

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Molonian
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I makes me happy that forumers continue to discover this little story. I love Paulie! (And I require happy endings.)

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Marvellous Molonian Moderator
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My heart always aches for Paulie. He certainly deserved the happy ending that you have him, TJ

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Molonian
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Damien's gorgeous reading is what makes the story so poignant.

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