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An Encounter
IT WAS Joe Dillon who introduced the Wild West to us. He had a little library made up
of old numbers of The Union Jack , Pluck and The Halfpenny Marvel . Every evening
after school we met in his back garden and arranged Indian battles. He and his fat
young brother Leo, the idler, held the loft of the stable while we tried to carry it by storm;
or we fought a pitched battle on the grass. But, however well we fought, we never won
siege or battle and all our bouts ended with Joe Dillon's war dance of victory. His
parents went to eight- o'clock mass every morning in Gardiner Street and the peaceful
odour of Mrs. Dillon was prevalent in the hall of the house. But he played too fiercely for
us who were younger and more timid. He looked like some kind of an Indian when he
capered round the garden, an old tea-cosy on his head, beating a tin with his fist and
"Ya! yaka, yaka, yaka!"
Everyone was incredulous when it was reported that he had a vocation for the
priesthood. Nevertheless it was true.
A spirit of unruliness diffused itself among us and, under its influence, differences of
culture and constitution were waived. We banded ourselves together, some boldly,
some in jest and some almost in fear: and of the number of these latter, the reluctant
Indians who were afraid to seem studious or lacking in robustness, I was one. The
adventures related in the literature of the Wild West were remote from my nature but, at
least, they opened doors of escape. I liked better some American detective stories
which were traversed from time to time by unkempt fierce and beautiful girls. Though
there was nothing wrong in these stories and though their intention was sometimes
literary they were circulated secretly at school. One day when Father Butler was hearing
the four pages of Roman History clumsy Leo Dillon was discovered with a copy of The
Halfpenny Marvel .
"This page or this page? This page Now, Dillon, up! 'Hardly had the day' ... Go on! What
day? 'Hardly had the day dawned' ... Have you studied it? What have you there in your
Everyone's heart palpitated as Leo Dillon handed up the paper and everyone assumed
an innocent face. Father Butler turned over the pages, frowning.
"What is this rubbish?" he said. "The Apache Chief! Is this what you read instead of
studying your Roman History? Let me not find any more of this wretched stuff in this
college. The man who wrote it, I suppose, was some wretched fellow who writes these
things for a drink. I'm surprised at boys like you, educated, reading such stuff. I could
understand it if you were ... National School boys. Now, Dillon, I advise you strongly, get
at your work or..."