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I recall with utter clarity the first great shock of my life. A scream came from the cottage next door. I rushed into the room, as familiar as my own home. The Larkin kids, Conor, Liam and Brigid, all hovered about the alcove in which a mattress of bog fir bedded old Kilty. They stood in gape-mouthed awe.
I stole up next to Conor. "Grandfar is dead," he said.
Their ma, Finola, who was eight months pregnant, knelt with her head pressed against the old man's heart. It was my very first sight of a dead person. He was a waxy, bony specimen lying there with his open mouth showing no teeth at all and his glazed eyes staring up at me and me staring back until I felt my own ready to pop out of their sockets.
Oh, it was a terrible moment of revelation for me. All of us kids thought old Kilty had the magic of the fairies and would live forever, a tale fortified by the fact that he was the oldest survivor of the great famine, to say nothing of being a hero of the Fenian Rising of '67 who had been jailed and fearfully tortured for his efforts.
I was eleven years old at that moment. Kilty had been daft as long as I could recall, always huddled near the fire mumbling incoherently. He was an ancient old dear, ancient beyond age, but nobody ever gave serious consideration to the fact he might die.
Little Brigid began to weep.
"Hush!" her ma said sharply. "You'll not do any crying until Grandfar has been properly prepared. The house has been surrounded by fairies just waiting to pounce and your weeping will encourage them to break in and snatch his soul from us."
Finola struggled to her feet, going into a flurry of activity. She flung open the windows and doors to let the evil spirits out and quickly covered the mirror to hide his image.
"Liam, you be telling the news. Be sure to go to the byres and the beehives and let the cattle and bees know that Kilty Larkin is gone. Don't fail or the fairies will take his soul." She wrung her hands and sorrowed. "Oh, Kilty, Kilty, it was a good man you were." And then she turned to me. "Seamus!"
"Yes, ma'am," I answered.
"Get to your ma. I'll need her good hands to help lay him out. Conor!"
Conor didn't respond, just looking on at his grandfather. She joggled him by the shoulder. "Conor!"
"Go up to the bog and get your daddy."
Brigid had fallen to her knees and was crossing herself at a furious pace. "Off your knees and be helping me, Brigid," Finola commanded, for the corpse was a woman's work.
Liam bolted first into their own byre. I could see him through the half door speaking to the Larkin cows as Conor backed away from the alcove slowly, his eyes never leaving his grandfather.
Outside, I punched him lightly on the arm. "Hey, if you come to my house first, I'll go to the bog with you to fetch your daddy." We scampered over the stone wall which separated our cottages. My own ma, Mairead O'Neill, as all the mothers of Ballyutogue, will be remembered by us bent over her eternal station at the hearth. As we tumbled in she was hoisting the great copper pot by pulley chain over the turf fire.
"A good day to you, Mrs. O'Neill," Conor said. "I'm afraid we are in sorrow."
"Kilty Larkin croaked," I said.
"Ah, so it is," my ma sighed, and crossed herself.
"And sure Mrs. Larkin will be needing you to lay him out."
My ma was already out of her apron. "Conor, you stay here with your brother and sister tonight," she said.
"I was hoping to mourn at the wake," he answered.
"That will be up to your ma and daddy. Are you carrying salt?"
"Oh, Lord, we all forgot in the excitement."
Ma went to the large salt bowl in a niche on the side of the fireplace and doled out a pinch for my pocket, for Conor and for herself to ward off the evil spirits.
"I'm going to the bog with Conor," I said, bolting behind him.
"Be sure you tell the bees and cows," she called after us.
"Liam is doing that."
Our village started at an elevation of three hundred feet above Lough Foyle and our fields crept up into the hills for another five hundred feet, all sliced into wee parcels of a rundale. Some of the plots were hardly larger than our best room and very few people could really tell what exactly belonged to whom. Each plot was walled off, making a spider web of stone over the mountainside.
Conor ran like he was driven on a wind, never stopping until he cleared the last wall gasping for breath. He sat sweating, trembling and sniffling. "Grandfar," he said shakily.
Now Conor Larkin was twelve, my closest friend and my idol, and I wanted very much to be able to say words of comfort but I just could not manage much at all.
My earliest memories had to do with the Larkins. I was the youngest of my family, the scrapings of the pot. My sisters were all grown and married and my oldest brother, Eamon, had emigrated to America and was a fireman in Baltimore. The middle brother, Colm, at nineteen was eight years older than myself when Kilty died.
Conor and I waited for a time, for seldom was the day as clear and the view as splendid. Ballyutogue, meaning "place of troubles," lay grandly on the east side of Inishowen several miles north of Derry in County Donegal.
From where we stood we could see it all . . . all the stolen lands that now belonged to Arthur Hubble, the Earl of Foyle. . . .Trinity. Copyright © by Leon Uris. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Trinity by Leon Uris
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