Thursday, March 17, 2011

Red Haired Boy, Part 2 (prequel)

“We got ourselves in a bit of a standoff, so we do...” The Irish thug on the stoop was surprisingly calm, considering Dorcas was still holding her blade jammed hard under his ribcage. “Would you feel better if I let you take me musketoon?”

Dorcas considered this. She was hesitant to reach for it, because she was afraid a shift in position might give him an opening to either grab her or hit her with the weapon. But on the other hand, I really do have the tiger by the tail right now. Gonna have to do something.

She put her hand on the weapon firmly, ready to pull him into her blade if he made a sudden move. He was taller than she, but judging by his lean, rangy build, and the way had the gun slung across his broad shoulders, a hard yank on it would pull him off balance. He kept his thumb in the trigger guard and his raised hands open, fingers spread to show they were otherwise empty and unready to fight.

“Take it.” He said, sliding his thumb slowly out of the metal loop.

“You try anything and I swear I’ll kill you.”She tightened her grip on both the gun and the knife handle, giving him a nudge with the latter to remind him of his precarious position. “I’ll leave your dead white ass right here on the stairs.”

“Aye, I’m getting that.”

She slowly pulled the musket from across his shoulders and backed out of his reach, leveling the barrel at his chest. “What do you want?”

“Well...It was me intent to help you with the door....well...that and if I hadn’t stayed, Connor most likely would have.”

“He seems to think your intent was to attack me. And he clearly knows you better than I do.”

The young man grimaced unhappily and shook his tousled ginger head. “Actually, he doesn’t.”

“You’re telling me you don’t know him, now?”

“He’s me brother.” The man muttered, a disgusted edge in his voice. Ignoring the weapon aimed at him, he turned towards the stuck door and put his shoulder to it. It moved another squealing inch. “Aye, got a problem here, sure. So...” He said conversationially, peering beyond the door  into the dank darkness within the tenement. “You play fiddle down at Pete’s place.”

Wha...? Startled, Dorcas’ mouth fell open. “You mean Almacks? The dance hall? Uh...yes. I play...violin.

“You’re very good.” He was stooping, straining his arm behind the door at something she couldn’t see.  

An unpleasant realization hit her. “Did you...did you follow me home?” She stepped back in alarm and re-aimed the big barrel, which had started to droop, back up to his chest.

“No.” He planted both hands firmly on the door frame, braced one foot against the door, and shoved steadily with his leg. The door slid slowly open, scraping and squeaking the entire way.

“Then why are you really here?”   

“Because I live here. I need to pick up more balls.” He turned and gently but firmly took his firearm out of her startled hands. “Tha’s not loaded, lass.”

Her mouth dropped open and she stared at him. I'd say he has all the balls he needs and then some. She crossed her arms, cocking her head at him. There is probably close to a thousand people living in this building. I guess it’s possible I’ve never seen him here. Especially if he keeps different hours...which considering that he’s wearing gang markings, I imagine he does.

His face broke into a cocky grin. “How stupid do you think I am?” He winked and gestured to the now open doorway. “After you. Mind your step, Mr. Scarano is passed out paralytic drunk in the hallway once again. He’s layin’ against door. And I smell know, the to the left. He’s made a right holy show of it in there.”

He really does live here. She stared at him, not moving.

He gave her a comical shrug and flopped down on the seatwall, looking up at her.  “Are you goin’ in?”

She thought about this. She felt fairly certain that if the man had meant to attack her, he could have done so while she was holding his unloaded weapon on him. He hardly would have handed her a loaded weapon, so she felt inclined to believe his claim that it wasn’t. Hell, he did get rid of his pig brother...he wasn’t obligated to do that. Still, not sure I want a Roach Guard I’d held at knifepoint and then at gunpoint knowing where exactly I live...  “No.”

He gave her an exasperated look and cocked his head. In the dim amber light, she could see that his eyes were a deep blue. Normally, she didn’t like blue eyes. They were pale and untrustworthy, and belonged to people who looked at her as if she were less than human. This man’s eyes were a deeper color, like indigo dye, and twinkled with amusement.

“Fair enough, lass.” He nodded. “So if we’re gonna sit here, I don’t supposed there’s any danger of me...” He gestured at the violin case."I mean, would you possibly let me...."

Is he serious? She raised an eyebrow at him.

He raised one as well and held out the musketoon to her.

I must be out of my skull. This violin is the difference between starving and not starving. She held out her instrument case and let him take it from her, taking the gun from him once again.

“You play?” She said incredulously, watching him reverently open the case. It was more an exclamation of disbelief than a question.

“’s been a while.” He said softly, his long, slightly freckled fingers running over the chalky white haze that marred the instrument’s narrow waist, plucking the strings and listening, adjusting them.  He found lump of rosin inside and deftly rubbed it over the horsehair of the bow. “I don’t know if I can even...”  He gently swung the instrument to his shoulder, and drew the bow across the strings, his eyes closing in what Dorcas thought was something akin to quiet ecstasy. He played each string, listening to the tone of each, the sweet, heartbreaking sweep of pure sound seemingly even more beautiful for the filthy squalor of the decaying tenement before them. When he reached the high E, it took her breath.

Then he bounced the bow like the Irish in the dancehall did when they were playing reels or jigs, and a jaunty tune she was pretty sure she’d heard before awoke from the strings. Hesitantly, as if his fingers had to remember what they were doing, and then more confidently. She smiled in spite of herself, intrigued. She didn’t play this style, and in fact normally didn’t care for this style. But it was interesting to hear her violin played this way.

He finished the tune, his eyelids slowly opening as he smiled at her. She was pretty sure his eyes were brighter than they had been. “Thank you, lass.” He said, his voice suddenly quiet and fragile.

Dorcas was not quite sure what to say. She cleared her throat. “That’s one I like” she said with a forced casualness, trying to place the tune in her mind. Trying to make him think she didn’t notice the emotion that transfigured his face, that twisted her soul inside her. “Beggarman, or Rigadoo...or...?”

He was carefully placing the instrument and the bow back into the case, closing the latches and holding the case out to her. He had a look of pure gratitude on his face, and he didn’t answer. She suspected he didn’t want her to hear his voice break.

“How about I call that tune Red Haired Boy?” She said charitably, abandoning her curiosity and with it, the need for him to answer. “I’ll remember that.”

Is this how the reel Red Haired Boy, otherwise known as The Jolly Beggarman or The Little Beggarman got it’s name? Well, anything’s possible I suppose, but to my knowledge, no. What I do know is that traditional and folk tunes and songs morph and change and get renamed all the time. Sometimes they’re called “So and So’s Favorite.” Traditional songs oftentimes go by many names.

I particularly love the tune Red Haired Boy, and often request we do it when I am involved in an Irish session. Once, when it was my turn to call the tune, I said “Let’s play Red Haired Boy”, and the fiddler beside me said “Ah, Danny Pearl’s Favorite.”  I gave him a questioning look, so he explained why he’d called the tune that.

You may recall hearing about Daniel Pearl, the journalist who was murdered in Pakistan by Al-Qaeda. What you probably didn’t hear was that Pearl played bluegrass fiddle, and was particularly fond of the tune, too. So his session buddies decided to honor him by renaming the tune, and passing word of the renaming to any other session musicians they played with.

The new name had trickled all the way to a hole-in-the-wall Irish pub called the Publick House way down in South Carolina.

So the next time I was in a session where someone requested Red Haired all know what I said. 

*Special Thanks to Fred for helping me out with some historical details on firearms!

© 2010 Regina Shelley


Hazel West said...

I like that tune too! Good post, as always. Great treat for St Paddy's Day ;-) Do you play fiddle?

Regina said...

I thought it might be a fun post for St. Paddy's.

No, unfortunately, I don't play the fiddle, although I've given it a few shots when I've been alone with a friend's fiddle. Sounds like someone strangling a cat. If I could play any instrument, it would be that.

I do play the mandolin, and am a huge fan of Irish tradition (and Irish contemporary) music. Yes, I know if you play mandolin you get fiddle for free, more or less, but I have yet to master that whole "no fret" thing. And the bowing. Not so easy! :-DDD

Anonymous said...

Beautifully told... as always.. I love the whole little prequel and the music history lesson... As a vocalist I know that while songs may change names often throughout time, once lyrics are set in place they tend to stay in place... the only way song gets a new name then, is if the lyrics get a serious rewrite

Like God Save the queen & My Country 'Tis Of Thee. Both have the exact same music and melody but the lyrics are totally changed thus they are different songs. ;)

Hazel West said...

I like the mandolin too. I play the fiddle (not very well, mind) but my friend and I who both love the Irish folk music, we play around sometimes. She also plays the fiddle and I will sometimes play with her with my penny whistle or bodhran. It's really fun. I also have another friend who is learning to play Irish harp.

Regina said...

I do love the bodhran, started out with that. Playing one has got me so I can't play any other kind of drum, I keep wanting to make my right hand do all the stick work. :-D

One of the fiddle players I know picked up an Irish Harp last year and is learning to play it. Beautiful thing.

Regina said...

I meant to mention, kliklikitty, around here if someone sings the song, it's always "The Jolly Beggarman." If they play it as a tune, it's always "Red Haired Boy."

I think my favorite version of "Jolly Beggarman" is done by Gaelic Storm.

Eve said...

The High Kings do it best, I'm sorry. They generally kick ass. :D I have to disagree with you there. But Gaelic Storm has some of the best songs for kicks- have you heard "Darcy's Donkey"? :) After working outside with my ipod on shuffle, it never fails to make me grin to hear it. And "Go Home Girl" is damn near perfect.

Hazel West said...

Aye, the High Kings are awesome :) Love their new CD. The Jolly Beggarman is just a fun song in particular.

Fred said...

Thanks Gina,drinks on me :D

Regina said...

Okay, Eve, I just checked your boys out at

Man, I love this arrangement! Thanks for turning me on to these guys!

Here's Gaelic Storm's all can see they are totally different songs due to how they are arranged.

I'm gonna go find the other songs you mentioned, they ain't ringing a bell (well the second one kind of is, but I can't recall it exactly.)

Fred: I could go for a drink or three about now. :-DDD