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About the Author
Charles O’Neal, born in Raeford, North Carolina, was a film and television screenwriter and novelist. O’Neal was the father of actor Ryan O’Neal and screenwriter/actor Kevin O’Neal, and grandfather of Tatum, Griffin, Patrick, and Redmond O’Neal. His novel Three Wishes for Jamie was produced as a two-hour television in 1987. He died in Los Angeles, California, at the age of ninety-two.
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Three Wishes for Jamie
By Charles O'Neal
The Permanent PressCopyright © 1980 Charles O'Neal
All rights reserved.
High up on a hillside overlooking the sea, and where the grass curled green and a breeze from the west stirred the branches of the yew trees to gentle gossip, Jamie McRuin lay pleasantly dreaming. Jamie was fond of dreaming. Where else but in a wishing world could be found the life of unfettered freedom for which he hungered. He had taken to dreaming as other Irishmen took to drink, and at times grew almost as drunk upon dreams as they upon poteen.
Twenty-four years of life beside the bare Connacht rocks and the spitting mouth of the ocean had given Jamie the face and eyes of a bard. His features were bold and regular, and his skin of surprising whiteness for one who spent most of his hours out of doors. Under the worn edges of his cap, his hair curled thick and black. His eyes were closed now, but their lids twitched pleasantly and his lips formed faint, intangible outlines of the wonderful words he was speaking somewhere in the dark woodland of his dreams.
Far below, and nestling at the foot of a row of toothy hills known in the west of Ireland as the Twelve Pins, stood the small stone and sod cottage where Jamie lived with his father, Old Dan, his younger brother, Dennis, and his older sister, Kate. Their handful of acres was set apart by hedges and a ragged stone fence, but was alike in appearance with a dozen others surrounding it; alike in size and alike in poverty. The year was 1895. Even the years were alike in Connacht.
The narrow path winding up the mountain was no wider than a sheep's width. Kate McRuin paused on it in her slow climb and squinted across toward Dunriggan Gap — a devil's cauldron, said to be without bottom and through which the waters from the upper lakes plunged headlong to the sea.
"Jamie ... Jamie McRuin ...!" Her voice rose like a tattered kite and hung for an uneasy instant on the buoyant air, then dropped away to be swallowed by the muffled booming of the snarling, white-lipped ocean.
"Och, he's gone again," she muttered wearily, "and out of this world, where only them that rides the moonbeams — the flahooly ones — can find him." Drawing her shawl tighter about her, she continued the climb.
It was a grand dream that Jamie was dreaming when Kate intruded upon it. He had dreamt it twice before ... and well known it is throughout the depth and breadth of Ireland that a dream dreamt three times is bound to come true!
Standing beside the sleeping boy, Kate felt a tug of jealousy. Whatever of beauty there had been in the family, it had passed her by and settled upon Jamie. The endless work and worry of an Irish peasant household made Kate appear older than her thirty years. Care of her father and her two younger brothers had fallen upon her when the mother died. Kate was sixteen then; and from girlhood into womanhood, she had cooked, cleaned, scrubbed, mended, and helped in the fields, until her hands and feet had toughened into leather, and her face and voice grown thin and harsh together. Now her voice was sharp and edged with bitterness as she roused him.
"Would you mind waking now, Jamie McRuin! Come back to the roof of the world where the potatoes still grow in the ground and not on fairy bushes. There's company waiting for you at the cottage."
Jamie stirred and opened his eyes reluctantly. They were of the deep blueness of a rain cloud trapped by the sun, their color warming or deepening according to his mood.
"Hello, Sister Kate!" — there was a lilt of music in his teasing voice. "Sure you looked like the Fairy Queen standing there with the sun making a halo behind your head. I've been having tea with her."
"Tea with the Fairy Queen is it?" Kate snapped. "And did she tell you that high dreaming and low living are sisters in Ireland? That you and your dreams have let the farm go to thistles and that it's ruined we shall all be if you don't turn your hand and marry and settle down, as every decent man should?"
"We spoke of marriage," Jamie conceded loftily. "I'm to have the girl of my choice."
Kate's exasperation found expression in a snort of derision. "And never a word of a crock of gold or silver the depth and breadth of your face?"
"Kate darling, would you have me strive and sweat until my back is knobbed and bent as a blackthorn stick, to have what I can get just by closing my eyes on a grassy hillside?"
"Aye, and what's to become of the rest of us while you live on in your silk and satin dreaming?"
The hurt in Kate's voice sobered Jamie. "Who's at the cottage?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Cousin Tavish," Kate replied. "All the way from Kilkahoon since morning he's come — and to see you!"
Jamie whistled apprehensively. Owen Roe Tavish was the community matchmaker, or Speaker, and a distant relative. His presence at the home of an eligible young man was the harbinger of matrimony.
"Sure now it sounds as if Old Dan has made up his mind."
"Someone had to, since you seemed incapable of making up your own," Kate sniffed.
"Has Cousin Tavish found a likely girl then?" Jamie queried.
"Yer-a-noe," Kate retorted evasively. "You're to have a look."
She led the way down the mountainside, and, tease as he might, Jamie could draw no further information from her.
The question of Jamie's marrying had been a familiar and pressing topic in family meetings. The fortune his bride was to bring would restock the farm and provide Dennis' passage money to America; and maybe enough left over for Kate to find a husband and a home of her own.
Jamie had argued that Dennis should keep the farm while he went adventuring to America, but Old Dan would not hear of such a thing. "America, is it?" he would bellow! "Sure and I'll not be giving up my eldest to that benighted country. America has bled Ireland white enough already — skimming the cream of our young manhood year after year till there's nothing but skim milk left. They'll not be getting my Jamie."
There the matter had rested, and escape for Jamie seemed farther away than ever. What it was he wished to escape, Jamie himself was not sure. He only knew that he hungered in his heart for some wonderful experience not to be found beside the bared teeth of Connacht rocks and the spitting mouth of the ocean.
Owen Roe Tavish and Old Dan McRuin were waiting in the yard of the cottage as Kate and Jamie came down the mountain. Jamie's father was a typical west country Irishman. He dressed in sturdy homespun and wore a crumpling, high-crowned hat that seldom left his head, and carried a heavy blackthorn stick that seldom left his grasp. His hair was thick and black, though the frost of years had begun to make inroads, and his eyes were slate-blue like Jamie's.
It was a warm March day and the two men had been enjoying a glass. Tavish's small, fiercely bright blue eyes sparkled with the satisfaction of a job well done. The marriage broker was a solid, compact little man, with great, aggressive eyebrows that rose and fell according to his mood. He had an authority of manner which made him seem inches taller than he was, and his superior education gave him a power of words and speaking unmatched in the entire countryside.
Marriages in rural Ireland were not easily arrived at. They had to be coddled and nursed, and finally arranged with a shrewd eye for the prospects of the boy on one hand and the dowry, or "fortune," of the girl on the other. The "arranging" was Tavish's job, and he took his work with the utmost seriousness.
"Sure now," he would say, "the business of helping young lovers find each other is better put in the hands of a grown man with experience than left to chance, or a cupid with wings, buzzing around like an insect, and shooting arrows into respectable, God-fearing people."
Without his practiced hand and tactful soothing of ruffled dignities, marriages would have been seldom in that part of Ireland. Poverty and pride, which shared most Irish firesides in common, were the twin rocks between which Tavish was forced to pilot his frail, romantic skiffs; and for every voyage that ended safely at the altar, he took justifiable satisfaction — plus a reasonable commission based upon the size of the bride's dowry.
As his call upon the McRuins was a professional one, the Speaker was attired for the occasion. He wore his best vest, a rich double-breasted affair of green-and-gold brocade, while the remainder of his apparel consisted of a tight-fitting pair of homespun trousers; a short, buff-colored cutaway coat; and a tall green hat that had long since lost its resiliency of texture and color.
"God and Mary salute you now, Cousin Tavish," Jamie called out when he and Kate were near the cottage, forcing a cheerfulness he did not feel. "Sure had I known that a visit from you was Kate's reason for bellering, I'd have leapt on my white steed and been here quick as lightning through a gooseberry bush."
Tavish's great eyebrows lifted with pleasure and his sharp little eyes twinkled. "Would you now?" he said, and turned to Old Dan. "Didn't I tell you, Dan — the boy's a darling. The catch of the county! And I'm not saying it because we're kin!"
Old Dan McRuin grunted his agreement. Jamie was his favorite of the children. "He's the flahooly one," he would proclaim proudly. "Sure he puts a thread of poetry around every word he utters."
"Lucky's the lass as will get him," he agreed now.
"I'm doubting if any of the county girls are good enough for our Jamie," said Kate spitefully. "He's been hobnobbing with the High Queen of the fairies and she has promised him the girl of his choice."
"Has she, now?" said Tavish impressed. Old Dan, too, was interested.
"Indeed she has!" Jamie assured them. "Not only am I to have the woman of my choice," he continued mysteriously, "but two other wonderful wishes besides."
"You don't say," said Tavish, observing Jamie shrewdly.
"Be that God's truth, lad?" demanded Old Dan. "Three wishes!"
"Aye, Father, three wonderful wishes!" said Jamie, and waited tantalizingly.
It was the sort of bait few Irishmen could resist. "Well ... out with it, lad! How did it come about? And mind you ... give us the truth of it!" Old Dan was childishly eager.
Taking his time, Jamie related the story of his dream. He had rescued three bags of fairy gold from three old crones who had stolen it, and he had returned it to the Fairy Queen's grotto. In gratitude, the Fairy Queen had granted him three wishes. "And don't be forgetting 'twas the third time I had dreamt it," he reminded his listeners. "Sure there be more to it than an empty snooze on a grassy hillside. Three times I saw Queen Una ... and three times she spoke to me!"
"Three times you saw the Fairy Queen ... and three times she promised you three wishes?" queried Old Dan in awed tones.
Jamie was beginning to enjoy the role of storyteller. "First off, she offered me her hand in marriage," he said with mock modesty. "It seems the men among the fairy folk are not such-a-much. The ladies like to bring in a little new blood occasionally."
"And what did you say to that? Was she very beautiful, lad?" Old Dan exclaimed eagerly, caught up in the wonder of the tale.
"Aye, Father," Jamie assured him, "with the sort of glowing, golden beauty that went out of Ireland when the foreigners came in."
"And what did you say to the proffer of marriage?" Tavish asked. "You turned her down?"
"That I did. I said I had responsibilities in the land of the living ... but thanking her kindly at the same time."
Kate snorted derisively. "'Tis nice that he admits it, if only in his dreams."
"Silence, girl," Old Dan snapped at her. "What happened then?"
"'Twas than she granted me the three wishes," said Jamie with calculated indifference.
Even Owen Roe Tavish was impressed. "You don't be saying!" he exclaimed.
There was a moment of uneasy silence. "Well ... well ... say it out! What did you ask her?" Old Dan demanded.
Jamie kept them waiting. "First," he said at last, "I asked for travel: Enough to make a man homesick ... for every man should know and experience the wonder of movement...."
"Aye ... aye!" Tavish and Old Dan agreed together. "'Tis a good wish!"
"Next, I spoke for the woman of my choice ... to be as beautiful as the Fairy Queen herself, and who would love me always," Jamie continued.
"Sure every man wishes for that," Tavish observed piously, while Old Dan nodded agreement. "And for the third wish ...?"
"For the third wish ..." Jamie paused dramatically, "I asked for a wonderful son! One who would have the gift of poetry and speak in the ancient tongue!"
There was a moment of stunned silence, broken by a low moan from Kate. "No money ... no money!" she repeated. "He didn't ask for riches! Poor as we are, he didn't ask for so much as a shilling!"
Her wailing released a flood of argument and protest from Tavish. Even Old Dan, who thought everything Jamie did was perfect, was disappointed. "Wonderful sons are not necessarily got by wishing, Jamie lad," he said reproachfully. "Couldn't you have asked for something a little more practical?"
"Like riches?" said Jamie. "Sure the riches I'll earn myself, Father! When I get to America, checks that long I'll be sending home ... and that's what I told the Fairy Queen."
Mention of America snapped the spell of the tale that Jamie had been weaving. Another wail came from Kate. "You see, Father! He's not given it up! He still wants to go to America! He's going to desert us all."
"I've said it before and I say it again," roared Old Dan, "he'll not go! America'll not get my Jamie! And that's my final word!"
Jamie pleaded. "Father ... my heart is set upon going! Think of the promise made me by the Fairy Queen! The first wish was for travel ... and you yourself said it was a good wish! And Cousin Tavish, too!"
"Aye, that I did," agreed the speaker with a sly wink at Old Dan, "and travel you shall have!" He clapped Jamie affectionately on the shoulder. "Arm and arm we'll go tomorrow to the fair at Kilkahoon ... and that's travel enough for any man, eh, Dan McRuin?"
Jamie's father grunted a sour assent. "But what of my other wishes?" Jamie protested. "And a trip to Kilkahoon by shanks' mare is not calculated to make a man homesick."
"Sure the woman of your choice you'll be having, too, Jamie lad," Tavish assured him blandly. "Leave that to me. And who is better qualified to choose for you the girl of your choice than your own cousin, Tavish, who has made it his life's work? Guided by those magic words of the Fairy Queen, and with the wonderful powers of persuasion gifted me from my grandfather, Dermott Tavish, who once split a rock with the sound of his voice calling his brother, Sheamus, who had run afoul of the drink and thought he had lent his shadow to the Devil and was out on the hills trying to get it back ... we'll to the fair to choose the fair, and once chosen — I promise she'll be yours, and there's my hand on it. Pour us a drink, Kate, and we'll toast the lucky girl!"
Kate moved to obey, but Jamie shook his head despondently. "You've a power of building a nest in a body's ear, Cousin Tavish," he said, "but when you've done there'll be nought to my wonderful wishes but the common furniture of life."
Tavish brushed aside Jamie's despairing protest. With a drink in his hand, he proposed a toast. "And for your third wish — the wonderful son — sure you'll be having that — in God's good time, for you're a lad to flash his antlers in the air, Jamie. Up romance!"
With another wink at Old Dan, Tavish downed his drink. The facts of life, he thought to himself, must be faced in this world; our dreams we keep for the next.
By suppertime Tavish was mellow with whisky and love of his work. He spoke glowingly of the girl he intended to find for Jamie; her beauty and wit and the number of pigs, cows, and sheep she would bring with her. "She'll be as lovely as the girl he courts in his mind," he promised.
Meanwhile Dennis, a sour, dark-tempered, perverse lad, who resented his older brother's favored position, had come home. He had been helping a neighbor mark some pigs and now he noisily washed the blood from his hands at the washbasin just outside the door. When he finished, he dashed the water carelessly into the yard, calling spitefully to Kate: "Och, I forgot to say, 'Take care of the water.' Sure now bad luck will have the lot of us before the week is out."
He took pleasure in violating Kate's many superstitions — one of which was to call a warning to the Little People when water was thrown out. Otherwise they might be lurking about underfoot and get wet and put a curse on the house.
Excerpted from Three Wishes for Jamie by Charles O'Neal. Copyright © 1980 Charles O'Neal. Excerpted by permission of The Permanent Press.
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