Heyes dropped his shovel and sank down onto a gravestone. “I’ve had enough. This has to be the worst job we’ve done in years. It’s March and wet soil is heavy. Why couldn’t this wait until summer?”
“Get diggin’,” growled the Kid. “If you put as much energy into shiftin’ the soil as you did into moanin’, we’d be done by now. Besides, if they waited until summer we wouldn’t have a job.”
“I pull my weight,” Heyes protested.
“All you pull is the wool - over other folks eyes – just so you know; I ain’t buyin’ it. Now pick up that shovel so we can get done for the day.” The Kid cast harsh eyes over to the church. “Then we can get that preacher to pay us, and convincin’ him to do that will be a job in itself. He holds on to money so tight he’s got varicose veins on his knuckles.”
“It’s boring, Thaddeus. I’m not made for this kind of work.
“My mind wanders too. I just get on with it.”
Heyes stood and picked up his spade again. “Yeah, but yours is too weak to go very far,” he chuckled, dodging a shovelful of earth. “How did we come to this?”
The Kid hefted another load of soil. “We’re doin’ this because we were smart enough to give up stealin’, but not bright enough to save any of the money.”
Heyes’ eyes looked wistfully over at the town, the warm glow from the windows testifying to each one being a toasty refuge from the dank soil and the cold air. “Yeah, it’s like buying a comb after we lost all our hair.” He thrust the spade into the ground. “What time is it?”
“Look at your watch. The light’s goin’ so get to work if you want to get outta here before dark.” The Kid straightened up with a frown, arching his tried back. “Who are they?”
Both sets of eyes drifted over to the wagon which had drawn up beyond the picket fence of the graveyard. The rider tethered the vehicle to the fence as men helped the ladies down, clad in black mourning weeds, as the group made their way towards the hole.
“We made it,” a man in a shiny top hat declared, peering into the hole. “We were just about to give up. We got lost; thank heavens we got here before it got too late.”
“Too late?” asked Heyes.
“Sure. I think we just made it in time.” A burly man wearing an Irish kilt pulled out a set of bagpipes and started inflating them, his cheeks bulging out like balloons beneath his grey beard. He spoke with a pronounced brogue. “You’ll be finishing soon, won’t you?”
“Well, yeah. I guess we will,” the Kid replied, scratching his head. “But, I think you should know...”
He was cut off by the sound of wailing and weeping coming from a woman who lead the little company over to the hole, while another started singing in Irish, the chorus being taken up by the everyone else.
The man with the bagpipes smiled at the partners’ confusion. “She a keener. We employ them to weep and wail. It’s her job.”
“Yeah, but surely this isn’t the right time or place.” Heyes cast a hand over to the church. “I think you should ask for some directions.”
The piper arranged his drones over his shoulder. “I know, we got lost and we’re hours late, but better late than never, huh?” He nodded over to the group. “We’ll take up ten minutes of your time; then we’ll be outta here. We’ve got a wake to attend in the next town. That’s where his family live.”
“Sure, but...” Heyes protests were cut off by the loud skirl of the pipes. The group shuffled over to the gaping hole as the soaring tones of ‘Limerick’s Lament’ filled the air, the men respectfully removing their hats and raising their eyes as though in prayer. The eldest man glowered over at the workmen, who leaned on their shovels a few feet away. The
Kid quickly picked up on the look and snapped upright, dragging his hat from his head.
“Joshua!” The Kid nudged Heyes who reluctantly brought his feet together and stood up straight. “Your hat,” the Kid hissed.
A pair of exasperated brown eyes burned into the Kid. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, it means a lot to these folks. Do it.”
Heyes shook his head ruefully and removed his hat, smiling politely at the pretty young woman standing at the end of the hole.
The strains of ‘Amazing Grace’ drifted over the group, and they began to sing with mellow, harmonic mellifluousness. The Kid smiled, his heart gripped by the stirring, emotion of the scene. Grandpa Curry had told him about Irish funerals, the women sitting with the body, the burial - and the wake; bittersweet and uproarious as the family shared a last party with those they would never see in life again. Some wakes were legendary with family coming from far and wide; and to make it worth their while some of these get-togethers could last for several days. This, he supposed, was one such far-flung group.
Heyes and Curry slunk off towards the fence, leaving a respectful distance for the mourners to pray and toss handfuls of earth into the hole. The group stepped back, following the piper as he swung into a jaunty march. He strode three times around the churchyard before treading on the spot in time to the music. The mourners turned making their way back to the wagon, weeping and dabbing at their eyes with cotton squares. The man in the top hat grabbed a bundle from the vehicle before he returned, thrusting it into the Kid’s hands. “Here, whiskey to drink to his memory,” he pushed a few dollars at Heyes, ”I won’t hear another word about it. We always tip the grave diggers, it’s tradition.” He tipped the brim of his hat. “Good day to you, fellas. We have to get to Bracherville before nightfall. We have ladies to consider, but we truly thought we ‘d never get to pay our respects. Thanks for stopping work for us.”
“Bracherville,” the Kid pointed up the road. “About five miles that way.”
The man gave a disdainful look at the driver. “And he’s got us pointin’ in the opposite way? He’s the best piper for three states, but he’s got the worst sense of direction I’ve ever seen. We’ve been travellin’ for six hours now, and this is the third town we’ve been to.”
Heyes and Curry watched the vehicle swing and sway its way down the road. “That was real movin’, all those folks coming from far and wide just to say their farewells.”
Heyes nodded. “Yeah, it’s a shame they got lost like that, but I guess they feel better now, at least I hope they do; after coming all that way and getting lost.”
The Kid nodded, watching the wagon disappear around the bend in the road. “I guess they were more lost than they thought. I don’t suppose they needed to know we’re puttin’ in a new septic tank, did they?”