The aubade of sparrow twittering in the bare shrubs beside the road, the grouse hiding in the patches of dwizzened grass shyly ebbing out from breaks in the snow, the gulleys filled with snowbroth trickling along the cracks in the road, the skree of gulls caroming across the landscape pervaded the morning air with an uncommon melody, accompanied by the groans of fellow farmers walking with them along the way, age sitting lightly on their bent backs and broad shoulders, their heads bowed in surrender to the light, the countryside laid out before them prostrate under the grief of winter. Everyone moving toward town shuffled thither in a slow bustle, feet scuffing and steps clointering, hands clumpsed and feet heavy with the remembrance of an evening of unbridled gaiety, Balane’s Curse settling over everyone who dared indulge the inhibitions of the holiday. Farmer greeted one another along the road in a haze of half cheerfulness and half disconcertion, their rasping voices giving relief to a clear sky, the soft voices of men speaking everywhere in a dreadful hush, whilst the women who passed were all eager animation, their voices pealing in musical cadence as they offered their passing felicitations, rousing the somnolent, the divagating, the petulant, the aching, their sanguine tempers resurrecting even the most dismal and desperate of smiles. Everyone honoured Aiden and Adaoire, as two of Frewyn’s most celebrated farmers, with a nod and a wish of “Maith Ailineighdaeth,” though some wishes were spoken in a agonizing drone. The women cooed and crooned over the children, and the men remarked at how much they were grown, and though their dry lips were wreathed with smiles for the two young boys, their eyes were speaking a very different conviction, looking and trying not to look at the bacon and bread in their basket.
Aiden and Adaoire pressed on, speaking quietly with the boys and rendering passing salutations to everyone who passed, until two men, older and looking very deplorably, one swearing a soldering apron over an impossible sweater, and the other walking under a sinful old hat and practicing a most disagreeable look, both cultivating begrutten aspects, their features attacked with frost, seeming as though to have refined the art of a headache, each lurking under wool coats disdaining the world and condemning everything else.
“Aiden, Adaoire,” said the man with the hat, his voice a wreck of gleet and smoke. “How’re yous lads?”
“Maith an shin,” the twins replied. “And yerself?”
“Had to get out, though she’s a cold one this morn.” The man with the hat glared toward the sun and quietly despised it. “Aye, that light. It’ll wake you up somethin’ fierce.”
“So’ll the wife,” said the man with the soldering apron. “Heard yers from all the way over the hedge.”
“Aye, she was doin’ me head in.” The man with the hat looked pained and rubbed his eyes with his fingertips. “Shoutin’ and hollarin’ since early this morn’.”
The man with the apron grinned. “Shoudna had that last pint. Told you not to.”
“Ach, you told me, and sure I didn’t listen.” He waved at hand dismissively at his friend. “Go feed yer stock and hush that up. You got cows what need feedin’ and a mouth what needs quietin’. Go away to yer fields and have a breakfast and kill the two birds with the one stone.”
“You lads look up for it,” said the man with the apron, smiling at Aiden and Adaoire. “How’s it gettin’ on with the two wives? They let yous stay up and make a night of it?”
“Aye, we had a time of it,” said Adaoire, his headache coming on again, diffusing and trickling over from the man with the hat, whose state he reckoned must be contagious. “Good craic till the wee hours with the wives gone to bed.”
“And the wives let yous be at it?” said the man with the hat. He grimaced at the sky and looked agonized. “Wyn Abhaile, I’m married to the wrong women.”
“Just married too long,” the man with the apron corrected him, with half a smile. “Their marryin’s still fresh. Wait th’while. Aiden and Adaoire’ll be comin’ down to the Seidh Maith, usin’ the counter for confessionin’ sure enough.”
“Only thing we’ll be tellin’ you,” and Adaoire closed his son’s ears when he said it in a hushed voice, “is what a right hashiff we gave ‘em night before.”
“Aye,” said Aiden, self satisfied and all approbation, “our girls like us out o’ the house a bit, makin’ a raucous elsewheres. They see us enough durin’ the day. They’re glad to have us out.”
“They let yous out for a drink and a walk,” said the man with the apron. “Wait till yous have more wee-uns. They’ll have yous tied by the leg.”
Adaoire would have attested to their being no possibility of more children in future, as they were perfectly happy with their namesakes and could want no other children in the house beyond what stock their cousins could furnish, but the sun blazed against their visitor’s faces, the man with the hat writhing about, sinking under all the anguish of the light searing his eyes, and the man with the apron growling and wishing the sun would go away, their aspects recommending an internal patience and outward indignation, desirous that the snows should come on again and grey out the sky. The ceaseless sibilation emanating from town behind offended their ears, and the tinkling peals of joyous children ringing out in plangent exultation was a trial to their rattled nerves. They groaned and placed their hands over their eyes. They were sorry, but they must go: they could not longer listen to the dissonance from town as they could open their eyes, and the two men went off away home, probably to nurse their wounds and cure their headaches with stout and coddle, and Adaoire and Aiden were left to continue toward town.