City Cousins, Country Cousins
By: Lynne Phillips

It was the last day of school before the holidays. Eleven-year-old twins Roland and Rodney Barwick were excited because the next day they were going to Ireland to stay with their cousins who lived on a farm.

Four weeks ago, they didn't know their cousins in Ireland existed, but their mother had a bee in her bonnet about drawing up a family tree. For the last two years, she researched and recorded all the members on her side of the family. During the last few months, she was researching her husband's family and found through the births and deaths registry, Daniel Barwick — her husband and father of the twins — was Daniel Mc Cormack, who had a brother and father living in Ireland. When Daniel was only two years old, his mother took him to England and left her older son, Patrick, in Ireland with Michael, Daniel's father. She made a new life in England with a new husband after her divorce.

"That's strange. Didn't she tell you?" Jenny Barwick asked her husband.

"No. I always thought Edward Barwick was my dad. He's the only one I've ever known, and he treated me the same as my younger sisters. I had no reason to think he wasn't my dad."

"Well, I've been in touch with your brother Patrick, who prefers to be called Paddy. He's excited to meet you, and has invited us over to stay with them, so you can get to know each other and meet your dad."

"It will be interesting meeting my birth dad, and I've always wanted a brother."

"Paddy and his wife have twin boys, a year older than ours. Seems twins run in your family. I wonder if they have red hair like you and our boys."

***

The Barwick twins hadn't stayed on a farm before. They'd been on day trips to the country. With its vast open spaces and lots of greenery, it was very different to the life they led; born and raised in London, attending an exclusive boys' school, their life a bus, noisy, bustling existence, of catching the train to school amid ambulance fire and police sirens, and traffic. They were intrigued to meet their cousins, but apprehensive about what they would be like, and about life in the country.

***

The trip to Ireland on the ferry was unpleasant because the water was choppy, and the ferry unsteady.

"This doesn't bode well. Not a good start to our holiday," Daniel Barwick commented to his wife.

Like her, his face was pale, and he felt queasy in the stomach. It didn't seem to affect the twins, who were hanging over the rail, laughing and pointing at the vast waves that buffeted the ferry.

"At least the boys are having fun. How much longer do I have to endure this?

"Not long. I can see the coast."

Back on land, Daniel and his wife's legs refused to walk steadily. The boys laughed as their parents staggered until they could walk straight, and the color returned to their faces.

"I'm not looking forward to the return journey," Daniel commented.

"With luck, it might be calmer going back."

Jenny's eyes searched the area. "Paddy said he would meet us. Keep an eye out for him."

She felt her husband stiffen. When she turned to him, his face was ashen and sweat beaded on his forehead.

"What's wrong? You look like you saw a ghost." Her eyes followed his.

A man who could be Daniel's twin — he looked so much like him — was walking towards them, followed by twin boys who looked like Roland and Rodney, only taller and bulkier. The smiles on their faces were infectious. Daniel relaxed and his family moved forward to meet the family they didn't know existed a month ago.

It could have been an awkward moment, but it wasn't. Paddy threw his arms around Daniel. The boys exchanged friendly greetings. Jenny smiled. It was exactly as she hoped it would be.

"Welcome to Ireland," Paddy said after releasing his brother. "I'd like you to meet my boys, Patrick and Michael Junior." He grinned. "Yeah, I know not very original."

"Paddy, this is my wife, Jenny, who discovered my past and arranged all this, and my boys, Rodney, and Roland. The one with more freckles is Roland," Daniel said, his grin matching Paddy's.

"Let's collect your luggage and get going. We still have quite a drive, and my wife, Maureen, has a meal waiting for us. Sorry dad isn't with us, but my car only has seven seats. He's excited to meet you, although I should warn you his memory isn't good," Paddy said, steering them towards a large black Range Rover.

Daniel thought about his brother's words during the trip. He squeezed his wife's hand; grateful she discovered his father before it was too late. In the back of the car, the boys chatted; the Irish cousins pointing out places of interest, and Rodney and Roland responding. He smiled, listening to the different accents; his boys more refined English tone and Paddy's boys with their Irish lilt. He hoped they got along together; two weeks was a long time if they didn't.

"You and Daniel could be twins too," Jenny commented to Paddy.

"Yeah, I noticed, but I've got four years on him. I still remember the day my mother took him away and left me behind. I cried for weeks."

Jenny noticed the catch in his voice; it still hurts him, she thought.

"I can't understand a mother doing that, but I guess she had her reasons. Ireland is exquisite. I understand why they call it the Emerald Isle," she said, to change the subject.

"That part I don't regret. I love Ireland and being a farmer. I've taken over most of the farm work now that dad isn't up to it."

He paused as if a sudden awful thought entered his head before he blurted out. "You haven't come to claim half the farm, have you?"

Daniel looked bewildered at the idea. "No, the thought never entered my head. I just want to meet my dad, catch up on all those missed years, and make fresh memories."

Jenny watched Paddy's shoulders relax. They filled the rest of the journey with quiet chatter between them, and occasional raucous laughter from the back seats.

"Nearly home," Paddy said as he turned into a narrow lane lined with trees. "This is our boundary fence."

Stone walls formed the fences, and the lush fields with cattle and sheep grazing impressed Jenny and Daniel. Everything looked peaceful and serene.

Maureen rushed down the steps as soon as the Range Rover pulled up in front of the homestead. "Welcome, you're just in time for supper," she said in her beautiful Irish accent.

An old man followed her down the steps, his gait unsteady, but his face alight and still some red in his grey hair. "Ye are home at last, son," was all he said as he embraced Daniel.

The next five minutes were filled with laughter and tears before Maureen took them into the dining room for supper, while Paddy collected the luggage.

"Paddy, put Jenny and Daniel in the guest room. I've made up beds for all boys in the bunkhouse. I thought that would give them a chance to get to know each other."

***

The bunkhouse, a long room attached to the house — containing multiple double bunks — was where farmhands stayed during shearing and fruit-picking times. The boys all chose top bunks. They talked late into the night; the country cousins wanting to know what it was like living in the city. The city cousins explained about living in an apartment, city transport and the sports they played at the weekend. 

"It all sounds exciting, but complicated," Patrick said.

"Too many people too," Michael added. "Do you really catch a train to school, and you take an hour? We walk or ride our bikes. The school is only two miles up the road, shorter if you cut across the paddocks."

"Maybe you can come and visit us sometime and we'll show you around," Rodney suggested.

"That would be great, but tomorrow it's our turn to show you, life on the farm."

"We'd like a genuine farm experience," Rodney said.

Roland nodded in agreement and yawned. "It's been a long day. I'd suggest we go to sleep now. I'm exhausted," he said.

When Patrick turned out the light, the bunkhouse was dark and silent. It spooked the city twins. They had never slept in the dark and without some background sounds.

"Is it always this dark?" Roland asked in a small voice. In the city, it was never totally dark because the streetlights shone through the curtains and the city sounds were always present. Here, the darkness seemed to enclose him.

"This isn't dark. There's a moon out tonight. On the nights when the clouds cover the moon, it's dark. Anyway, the dark won't hurt you," Michael said. "Close your eyes for a while and when you open them, you'll be able to see clearer."

"Is it always this quiet?" Rodney whispered.

"There are sounds at night in the country too," Patrick said; "Owls, foxes, and farm animals. They're a bit like your city sirens. You get used to the sounds. Tonight, is a quiet night. Anyway, the only night sound you have to worry about is the wail of the Banshee."

"What's a Banshee?"

"She's a woman who flies around at night wailing to warn folks that someone in the household is going to die," Michael explained. "You'd better keep an ear out for her," he added, realizing his brother was having a bit of fun with the city cousins.

Rodney and Roland found the darkness and the quiet unsettling. They strained their ears, hoping they didn't hear a Banshee wailing — Grandpa looked old enough to die soon — but all was quiet. By closing their eyes, the room became less dark, but still strange. The clock in the house struck two before they fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.

***

As soon as the rooster crowed at first light the next morning, the country cousins were awake. Their city cousins didn't stir; in a deep sleep.

"Come on, sleepy heads. If you want a farm experience, you have to be up early. We've got chores to do before breakfast," Michael said.

With a lot of complaining about how early it was and being tired, the city cousins got dressed.

"You can't wear that on a farm," Michael said as Rodney and Roland put on white t-shirts and light-colored trousers. "Haven't you got some rough and tumble clothes?"

"These are our casual clothes."

"Well, they're not suitable for the farm, and neither are those sneakers. After breakfast, I'll ask my mother to find you something suitable.

"Come on, we've hens to feed and eggs to collect if you want breakfast," Patrick called, as he raced out the door.

It took an hour. As well as hens, there were geese, ducks, and turkeys to be fed, their water dishes refilled, the soiled straw from their nesting boxes scooped out and placed into the compost heap next to the vegetable garden and replaced with fresh straw.

There was a commotion, a lot of yelling and the gobble, gobble, gobble of Murgatroyd, the largest male turkey who was the boss of the hen house.

"Help, save me!" Roland yelled.

The country cousins fell about laughing as Murgatroyd chased their city cousin around the pen and bailed him up against the gate.

"He wants that cob of corn in your hand. Throw it to him," Michael suggested.

Roland's face turned red as he tossed the corn cob. The turkey snatched it up and strutted off.

The country cousins laughed again when Rodney stepped in duck poo, which stuck to the bottom of his sneakers.

"I think there are some gumboots we've grown out of that should fit you," Michael said. "You'll need to wash those." He pointed to the smelly sneakers.

In the mudroom, the boys removed their footwear. "Farmhouses have mudrooms, so you don't bring the muck from the farm inside," Patrick explained. "Our mother would give us a clip around the ears if we traipsed mess into the house."

The adults, except for Maureen, were seated at the large table in the kitchen. Maureen was cooking bacon, eggs, and pancakes. There was a pile of toast beside butter and milk from the dairy; the city twins had muesli and yogurt for breakfast at home. The aroma of the bacon sizzling made them realize how hungry they were as they piled food onto their plates. Chores before breakfast works up an appetite, Roland thought.

Jenny helped Maureen clear up after breakfast while Paddy, Daniel, and Grandpa went to the barn to work on the tractor, which needed an oil change.

"Rodney and Roland need some suitable clothes for the farm," Patrick told his mother. "Do you have some clothes we've outgrown still around?"

"You're in luck. There's a box of clothes I was going to donate to the Goodwill in the garage. There should be something that will fit them."

Michael and Patrick found flannelette shirts, khaki work shorts and socks in the box, and gumboots which fitted the visitors. "All you need is a hat," Michael said as he rummaged around and found a couple of straw hats.

The city boys enjoyed their day on the farm, especially riding the quad bikes when rounding up the sheep. By the time they were back in the bunk house they were tired but happy.

"Keep an ear out for the Banshee," Patrick said after the lights went out. Michael grinned in the dark. He'd heard the legend of the Banshee ever since he was little. It was part of Irish folklore, but he'd met no one who'd heard her wailing. Patrick was having a joke with his city cousins.

"How will we know what she sounds like?" Roland asked.

"It's like no other sound you've ever heard before," Patrick replied, glad the boys couldn't see him smirking in the dark. The city cousins lay awake for a long time, listening to the night sounds. Roland thought he heard a frog croaking and Rodney heard an owl hooting, but they didn't hear any wailing.

Every day there something new for the city cousins to learn and enjoy, like riding a horse, bringing the cows in for milking, separating the cream from the milk, and making butter from the cream. They tried milking a cow by hand with hilarious consequences. Roland squirted milk everywhere, and Rodney ended up with the cow knocking over the bucket and half the milk spilt.

At night, the cousins swapped stories about their life growing up in the city and the country, and every night after the light went out, Patrick reminded the city cousins to listen out for the Banshee. 

***

On the tenth night, Rodney whispered, "Roland, are you asleep?"

"No, I heard a strange noise. It's like no other sound I have ever heard before. Do you think that it's the Banshee wailing?"  

The noise was unsettling, a low mournful moaning sound. It wasn't an owl or a fox; they'd heard them many times over the last week. This sound was unfamiliar, eerie.

"Listen," Rodney whispered. The sound stopped for a few minutes, but then it started again.

"The Banshee might be warning us someone is going to die. It could be Grandpa. I don't want that to happen. We only just met him."

"Patrick, Michael, wake up! We think we can hear the Banshee. We have to get rid of her and save Grandpa," Roland called out.

It took a minute for Patrick and Michael to wake up and realize what their city cousins were saying.

"Listen, is that the Banshee?" Rodney asked.

Michael turned on a lamp. The light revealed Rodney and Roland's concerned pale faces.

Patrick listened and then started laughing. "No, it's not the Banshee, but it is something you don't see or hear very often. Put on your warm coats and boots and we'll show you. Michael got a flashlight, and the city cousins followed the country cousins out into the dark night. The sound was coming from the barn.

The three men were already in the barn, each holding a lantern. In a stall was a cow. The weird sound was coming from her.

"She's having trouble calving," Paddy explained. "I might have to help her."

Roland and Rodney watched round-eyed as Paddy helped the calf to be born. First came the legs, and then the calf — covered in mucous — fell into the straw. The cow stopped the scary sound and licked the calf, which attempted to stand on its spindly legs, but fell a few times before it tottered over to its mother and began suckling.

"It's like a miracle!" Daniel exclaimed, his eyes wide and misty as he hugged his boys. "Wasn't that something special to remember for the rest of your life?"

***

"I'm sorry I played a trick on you." Patrick told the city cousins when they were doing the morning chores. "Banshees are Irish folklore. I didn't mean for you to worry about Grandpa. I was just having a bit of fun."

"Grandpa went to the doctor's yesterday for a check-up and got an excellent report. Meeting your dad has given him a new lease on life. I've never seen him so sprightly and happy. I'm sure he'll live for many more years. He's making plans to visit you in spring to meet your aunts, Michael added

Roland and Rodney's eyes met over the bale of straw they were carrying. "Apology accepted." Rodney said. He winked at his twin, who grinned. The country cousins were coming to visit during the next school holidays. They had plenty of time to plan revenge.

The end

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