20 MAY 1905, Page 21


READERS of Miss Barlow's earlier books do not need to be

reminded that she is no chronicler of the knockabout humours of Donnybrook Fair, and that the Erin she depicts has the tear far more often than the smile in her eye. Her peculiar province in the realm of Irish fiction is that of the homely annals of the poor,—and for the most part the remote and sequestered poor, whose cult of the simple life is dictated, not by fashion, but by the stern stress of need. It is a land as yet unreached by the motor-car and the daily newspaper, and apparently untroubled by the currents of political or religious controversy, sparsely peopled by a simple, unsophisticated folk, and yet yielding rich materials to the attentive and friendly observer. Miss Barlow, however, does not belong to the school of writers who find an attrac- tion in the lives of remote country-folk because in them the elemental passions are exhibited in their most primitive form. Her talent is essentially idyllic rather than dramatic, and it is with peasant life in its domestic aspects that she is chiefly concerned. But though the themes are often trivial in their outlines, and devoid of strong situations or explosions of emotion—the love interest, for example, is for the most part absent from the present collection—the treatment is so illuminative and suggestive that the most commonplace episodes are translated to a higher plane. This delicately romantic handling of homely subjects is a peculiar feature of Miss Barlow's work, and it is all the more remarkable because the result is achieved without any preciosity of style or undue parade of literary culture. On the contrary, she relies largely, even in descriptive passages, on quotations from the talk of the peasants, and thus avoids the fault, common in many writers of rural romance, of alter- nating realistic dialogue with a literary narrative.

Irish peasants, no matter how poor, are as a rule kind to their children; and this engaging national characteristic is illustrated over and over again in Miss Barlow's new volume. Thus we have the delightful sketch of the " strange childer " —two little derelicts adopted by a kindly widow on the death of their vagrant father—who, terrified by the results of their mischievous pranks and the threat of being sent to the Union, run away, and after coming within an ace of perishing in a quicksand, prove the means of rehabilitating the character of their rescuers, two brothers who had fallen under the suspicion of the neighbourhood. In lighter vein, but not less attractive, is the story of the two pairs of truants who, in the absence of their parents, set off in search of adventure and excitement. Especially ingenious is the happy thought of the young people who safely disposed of their infant charges by contriving that they should fall into the hands of the police, with results which exhibit the "uniformed bloodhounds " (as Nationalist Members used to call them) in a most agreeable light. Most touching of all is the sketch of " Crazy Mick," who wandered over the country under the impression that his dead child was still in his care :—

" What's he lookin' for all the while?' said Larry Dowdall, as they watched Crazy Mick's progress, intermittently visible between the high banks of the winding boreen. 'He's peerin' down before him as if he had the notion he was welkin' after a lost shillin'.'—' Och, that's not his notion at all,' said Felix ; it's discoorsin' he consaits he is to a little girl he owned one time— she's dead this twinty year and more, herself, and the mother, and another child; they all died on him in the fever widin a couple of days, and he's wrong in his head ever since. But his belief is that he's got Peg along wid him yet. It's her he's havin' the talk wid there this minyit, you may dipind—and she in her clay maybe before you were born—and walkin' slow he does be to humour her, or whiles carryin' of her about."

The pitiful sequel tells how the poor madman lost his dream child. " Crazy Mick " had fallen asleep on a bright September afternoon, but was aroused by the voices of the reapers going home :— " Crazy Mick started up half awake, and walked round the bush into the brightness of the long sunbeams, which were slanting across the lough. The sun had dropped low into the gap between two purple pyramids, and his rays on the smooth water had woven a strip of matting, as if with a skein of fiery golden thread. It was like a carpet for some wonderful sort of footpath. he thought, blinking at it with sleepy eyes, and he said so to Peg. But immediately afterwards he blamed himself for putting such a notion into her head; it might encourage her to run into the water some day, which would be a terrible thing entirely. And then, all in a moment, with the swift shifting of a dream, he began to see that terrible thing actually come to pass. Peg darted away from him and raced down to the edge. He made a rush, too late to stop her, and in an instant was floundering helplessly out of his depth. Larry Dowdall was just in time to plunge in and rescue him, with no small peril from the blind drowning grip ' ; but then Larry and the two other men needed all their strength to keep him from struggling back into the lough, where he averred that his little girl was being drowned dead. At nightfall they brought him, exhausted and passive, to the District Asylum, for which he was clearly a suitable case, as he had been seen to throw himself into the water, and his looks and words bespoke unreason. How- ever, he did not rebel against captivity. With Peg had gone all his business and desire. He did not even wish to meet his wife and little Dan now. Herself would think too bad, he said, of his losing Peg. And after moping for a while, one morning he turned his disconsolate face to the wall and unwittingly went perhaps the very way he had been in search of so long."

But there is light as well as shade in these bog-land sketches, and Miss' Barlow's humour, if never exuberant, is none the less genuine on that account. We have seldom encountered a more quietly entertaining story than that of the " Widow Farrell's Wonderful Age," which tells how a poor old widow was erroneously invested with the prestige of bicentenarianism, to the pride of her neighbours, but her own humiliation, until the opportune arrival of a grandnephew from America proved her after all to be well under ninety.