waters and the bark of a faraway dog.
Refreshed, he began to walk faster than before, knowing he had lost time. So far, nothing troubled him, but he could no longer see the Shannon; high fields stood between him and the river. His stride came to his aid, and once again the act of walking kept his spirits high. The sun broke through the clouds.
He passed a quiet house with chickens in the yard. Hydrangeas nodded to him, their blooms as big as babies’ heads. The curtains twitched, but it would have taken an expert— or a neighbor— to detect the movement.
Tall, friendly hedges now began to guide the little road, and he walked between them to the top of a hill, from which descended a straight half mile. He stopped in his tracks: Down at the bottom of the hill sat a great creature gleaming like a dragon in the sun.
It glistened, it sparkled— a large automobile, blue as the sky with a white canvas roof. Leaning against it, wearing a hat as big as a cartoon, stood a woman in her Sunday best. She was as fabulous as her car; she was also large, blue, and shiny. From around her head rose clouds of blue smoke— she did not so much draw on her cigarette as drain it.
Robert hesitated. She looked uphill and waved: friendly, welcoming, safe. Throughout the minutes it took him to reach where she stood, he continued to watch her.
When he had gained her side, she stuck out a silver cigarette case and said, “D'you want one?”
He said, “No, thank you.”
“Wise man. You'll never get a cough,” she said. “I'm Miss Maeve MacNulty”
He introduced himself as she ground the cigarette under her shoe.
“Hop in,” she said, and they clambered into the car.
She never asked whence he came or whither he went. As they drove, she glanced at him often, and the car swerved each time. Five minutes into the journey she lit a cigarette while driving; Robert closed his eyes until the car was straight again.
“We won't go near Pallaskenry” she said, a propos nothing whatsoever. “The people there all have insomnia and they never go to bed.”
“There's a madman living in that house,” she said, as they drove by a farm. “He carries a tomahawk everywhere.”
They met no other vehicle, they saw no other person, and soon they reached a point where they saw a distant spire.
Counting his term at Tarbert and his night in Glin, it had taken Robert Shannon almost three weeks to travel forty miles. He had walked but a fraction of that, given the rides on the motorbike and now in this extravagant blue car.
Outside Mungret, Miss Maeve MacNulty halted and climbed out, beckoning Robert. At the rear sat two large gasoline cans, staunch as sentries, and she unbuckled the straps that held them. From a compartment she took a large funnel, its mouth wide as a pail. She opened a cap on a pipe and, with the funnel in place, lifted the first heavy can as lightly as if it were a teacup and began to pour the fuel into the funnel.
Robert rushed to take the can from her; he could scarcely bear its weight. She watched closely as he filled the tank. The veil on her hat slipped a little out of shape like a crooked pane of glass. While leaning to peer at the flowing gasoline she lit another cigarette. Fortunately she soon stood back.
“I wanted a car,” she said, “whose color would match my eyes. And it nearly matches yours too.”
Out of a pocket she took a hand mirror. She scrutinized her face, tapping a tooth here, a tooth there, yanking at them.
“Still firm,” she muttered, and explained to Robert as he poured, “I'm very much afraid of losing my teeth. I couldn't do my job if I had no teeth.” She paused, looked in the mirror again, and said, “You didn't ask me what my job is.”
Robert concentrated on pouring.
“Well, I'll tell you,” said Miss Maeve MacNulty. “I'm a matchmaker. I arrange marriages.”
She tugged her blue jacket down over her blue hips and twisted the hand mirror this way and that, seeking