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Title: Strangers at Lisconnel
Author: Barlow, Jane, 1857-1917
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Strangers at Lisconnel" ***

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STRANGERS AT LISCONNEL

_A SECOND SERIES OF IRISH IDYLLS_


BY

JANE BARLOW



  NEW YORK
  DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
  1895


  _Copyright, 1895_,

  by

  Dodd, Mead and Company.



  TO

  M. L. B.

  [Gaelic: Is fada mé beo do dhiaigh.]



CONTENTS


                                       PAGE

CHAPTER I.

OUT OF THE WAY                            1


CHAPTER II.

JERRY DUNNE'S BASKET                     14


CHAPTER III.

MRS. KILFOYLE'S CLOAK                    31


CHAPTER IV.

A GOOD TURN                              53


CHAPTER V.

FORECASTS                                80


CHAPTER VI.

A FAIRING                               112


CHAPTER VII.

MR. POLYMATHERS                         139


CHAPTER VIII.

HONORIS CAUSA                           168


CHAPTER IX.

BOYS' WAGES                             211


CHAPTER X.

CON THE QUARE ONE                       235


CHAPTER XI.

MAD BELL                                271


CHAPTER XII.

A FLITTING                              303


CHAPTER XIII.

A RETURN                                324


CHAPTER XIV.

GOOD LUCK                               340



CHAPTER I

OUT OF THE WAY


To Lisconnel, our very small hamlet in the middle of a wide bogland, the
days that break over the dim blue hill-line, faint and far off, seldom
bring a stranger's face; but then they seldom take a familiar one away,
beyond reach, at any rate of return before nightfall. In fact, there are
few places amid this mortal change to which we may come back after any
reasonable interval with more confidence of finding things just as we
left them, due allowance being made for the inevitable fingering of
Time. We shall find some old people who have aged under it, and some
who, as certain philosophers would hold, have grown younger again. The
latter may be seen just beginning, perhaps, to sit up stiff on a woman's
arm, or starting for a trial crawl over mother earth; and of them we
remark that there is another little Ryan or Quigley; while the former
stay sunning themselves so inertly, or totter about so shakily, that we
notice at once how much old Sheridan, or the Widow Joyce, has failed
since last year. These babies and grandparents often associate a good
deal with one another at the stage when the old body is still capable of
"keepin' an eye on the child," and the child still resorts to all fours
if it wants to get up its highest speed. But this companionship does not
last long in any given case. Very soon the expanding and the contracting
sphere cease to touch closely. On the one hand, the world widens into
more spacious tracts for nimbler and bolder ranging over with all manner
of remarkable things growing and living upon it, to be gathered and
captured, or at least sought and chased, among pools, and hillocks and
swampy places. On the other, it shrinks to within the limits of a few
dwindling furlongs and perches, traversed ever more feebly, until at
length even the nearest stone, on which the warm rays can be basked in,
seems to have moved too far off, and the flicker-haunted nook by the
hearth-fire becomes the end of the whole day's journey.

Thus the generations, as they succeed one another, wave-like preserve a
well-marked rhythm in their coming and going--play, work, rest--not to
be interrupted by anything less peremptory than death or disablement.
This wag-by-the-wall swings and swings its bobbed pendulum without
pause, but one swing is much like the other, and their background never
varies. Little Pat out stravading of a fine morning on the great
brown-wigged bog, and, it may be hoped, enjoying himself thoroughly, is
taking the same first steps in life as young Pat his father, now busy
cutting turf-sods, and old Pat, his grandfather, idly watching them
burn, with a pipe, if in luck, to keep alight. And the Lisconnel folk,
therefore, because the changes wrought by human agency come to them in
unimposing forms, are strongly impressed by the vast natural
vicissitudes of things which rule their destinies. The melting of season
into season, and year into year, the leaf-like withering and drifting
away of the old from among the fresh springing growths, are ever before
their eyes, and the contemplation steeps them in a sense of the
transitoriness of things good and bad. Even the black soil they tread on
may next year flutter up into a vanishing blue column through a
smoke-hole in somebody's thatch. They carry this sense with a light and
heavy heart. In like manner they make the very most of all unusual
events. They find materials for half-an-hour's talk in the passage by
their doors of one of those rarely coming strangers, who do appear from
time to time, as frequently, indeed, as anybody would expect, having
surveyed the thoroughfare that links us with humanity. For if we follow
it southward, where, like the unvanishing wake of some vessel, it
streaks the level plain, that is lonely as a wide water, but stiller, we
pass by Dan O'Beirne's forge, now neighbourless, and through humble
Duffclane, and on to Ballybrosna, our Town; but we must go many a mile
further to reach anything upon which you would bestow that title. Or, if
we turn northward, we only find it seaming another ample fold of
bogland, outspread far and far beyond Lisconnel before a grey hill-range
begins to rise in slow undulations, crested with furze and broom. Here
we smell turf-smoke again, and see a cabin-row that is Sallinbeg, and
hence the road strikes north-westward in among the mountains, where a
few mottled-faced sheep peer down over it from their smooth green walks,
but do not care to trust their black velvet legs upon it. And then, by
the time that the air has become sea-scented, the road climbs to the
top of a hill, and stops there abruptly, as if it had been travelling
all the while merely to look at the view. The truth is that the funds
for its construction would go no further, and, in consequence, wayfarers
coming along by the shore still have to tread out a path for themselves
across a gap of moorland, if they are bound for Lisconnel.

You may perceive, therefore, that Lisconnel lies out of the way, on the
route to no places of importance, and as its own ten or a dozen little
houses are, I fear, collectively altogether insignificant, it has small
reason to expect many visitors. The Widow M'Gurk said one day that you
might as well be living at the bottom of the boghole for any company you
got the chance of seeing; but this was an exaggeration. She was vexed
when she made the remark, because Mrs. Dooley, old Dan O'Beirne's
married daughter, then staying at the forge, had promised to come and
inspect a pair of marketable chickens, in anticipation of which Mrs.
M'Gurk had wetted a cup of tea and used up her last handful of wholemeal
for a cake, that Mrs. Dooley, who was in rather affluent circumstances,
might not think them "too poorly off altogether." But, after all, the
hours had slipped blankly by, and nobody had arrived. So the widow had
ruefully put her teapot to sit on the hob until himself came in--for,
properly speaking, she was at this time not yet a widow--and had stepped
down her tussocky slope with her double disappointment to Mrs. Kilfoyle.

Mrs. Kilfoyle was knitting at her door and not looking out over the bog,
where the flushed light of the sunset drowsed on the black sod in an
almost tangible fire-film. Against it the poppies stood up dark and
opaque, but the large white daisies had caught the wraith of the glow on
their glimmering discs. She had been thinking how not so long ago her
son Thady used to come whistling home to her across the bog when the
shadows stretched their longest. The sunset still came punctually every
evening, but had grown wonderfully lonesome since the kick of a
cross-tempered cart-horse had silenced his whistling and stopped his
home-coming for ever. Thady's whistling had been indifferent, considered
as music, yet it had sounded pleasant in her ears, and Mrs. M'Gurk's
trouble seemed to her not very serious. However, she replied to her
complaint: "Ah, sure, woman dear, like enough she might be here
to-morra."

"And if she is, she'll be very apt to not get e'er a chuck or a chucken
off of me--not the feather of a one," said Mrs. M'Gurk, resentfully,
"plenty of other things I have to do besides wastin' me time waitin' for
people that don't know their own minds from one minyit to the next, and
makin' a fool of meself star-gazin' along the road, and ne'er a fut
stirrin' on it no more than if it was desolit wildernesses."

She would not for the world have alluded to her expenditure of more
material resources, and accordingly had to explain her vexation by
putting a fictitious value upon her time, which, in reality, was just
then drearily superabundant.

"Sure," suggested Mrs. Kilfoyle, "the poor woman maybe was kep' at home
some way, and she wid ivery intintion to be comin'. I declare, now,
you'd whiles think things knew what you was manin' in your mind, and riz
themselves up agin it a' purpose to prevint you, they happen that
conthráry."

As Mrs. M'Gurk's experience did not dispose her to gainsay this
proposition, and she was nevertheless disinclined to be mollified by it,
she likewise had recourse to generalities, and said:

"'Deed then it's welcome anybody is to stop away if they're wishful,
hindered or no. Long sorry I'd be to have people disthressin' themselves
streelin' after _me_." And she added, rather inconsistently, the remark
already mentioned: "But the likes of this place I never witnessed. You
might as well be livin' at the bottom of the blackest ould boghoule
there, for e'er a chance you have to be seein' a bit of company."

"And it's yourself 'ud make the fine sizeable waterask, ma'am," a
high-pitched voice said suddenly from within doors, causing Mrs. M'Gurk
to start and peer into the dark opening behind her, somewhat taken aback
at finding that she had had an unsuspected audience, which is always
more or less of a shock. The first object she descried through the hazy
dusk was the figure of the old woman known to Lisconnel as Ody
Rafferty's aunt, but in fact so related to his father, sitting with her
short black dudeen by the delicate pink and white embers, for the
evening was warm and the fire low. Ody himself was leaning against the
wall, critically examining Brian Kilfoyle's blackthorn, and forming a
poor opinion of it with considerable satisfaction. Not that he bore
Brian any ill-will, but because this is his method of attaining to
contentment with his own possessions.

"Whethen now and is it yourself that's in it, Ody Rafferty?" said Mrs.
M'Gurk, as she recognised him. "And what talk have you out of you about
waterasks? You're the great man, bedad."

"Me aunt's lookin' in on Mrs. Kilfoyle, ma'am," said Ody, "be raison of
Brian bein' off to the Town. And right enough you and me knows what's
took him there; and so does Norah Finegan. Och, good luck to the pair of
thim."

"Coortin'," said his aunt, who preferred to put things briefly and
clearly. "But I was tellin' Mrs. Kilfoyle to not be frettin', for sure
God is good, and they'll be apt to keep her in it all's one."

"Goodness may pity you, woman," said Mrs. M'Gurk. "Brian 'ud as lief
take and bring home a she _hyenna_, and it ravin' mad, as anybody 'ud
look crooked at his mother, I very well know."

"Norah's a rael dacint little slip of a girl," Mrs. Kilfoyle said
tranquilly, considering that her son's character needed no certificate.
But the old woman only grunted doubtfully, and said: "Och, is she?" For
she had been a superfluous aunt so long that she found it hard to
believe in anything better than toleration.

"Talkin' of company," said Ody, to change the subject--which his aunt's
remarks often disposed people to do--"Mad Bell's just after shankin'
back wid herself; she's below colloguin' wid Big Anne. It's a fine long
tramp she's took this time; so if she was in the humour she'd a right to
ha' plinty to be tellin' us."

"Well, now, I'm glad the crathur's home," said Mrs. Kilfoyle. "It's
lonesome in a manner to think of the little ould bein' rovin' about the
world like a wisp of hay gathered up on the win'; for all, tubbe sure,
it's her own fancy starts her off."

"I won'er where to she wint this time," said Mrs. M'Gurk.

"You might as well," said Ody, "be won'erin' where a one of thim
saygulls goes, when it gives a flourish of its ould flippers and away
wid itself head foremost--barrin', in coorse, that Mad Bell's bound to
keep on the dhry land at all ivents. But from Sallinbeg ways she come
this evenin', singin' 'Garry Owen' most powerful--I know that much."

"Ah, then she might be chance ha' been as far as Laraghmena, and ha'
seen a sight of me brother Mick and Theresa," Mrs. Kilfoyle said, with
wistful interest. For at Lisconnel we still look not a little to the
reports brought by stray travellers for news of absent friends, much as
we did before the days of penny posts and mail trains. And our
geographical lore is vague enough to impede us but slightly in our hopes
of obtaining information from any quarter. Only the probability seems to
be increased if the newcomer arrives from the direction in which our
friend departed.

"Sure she might so," said Ody. "But niver a tell she'll tell onless she
happens to take the notion in the quare ould head of her. It's just be
the road of humouring her now and agin, and piecin' her odd stories
together, you git e'er a discovery, so to spake, of the places she's
after bein' in."

The scenes of Mad Bell's wanderings did indeed reveal themselves to her
neighbours confusedly and dispersedly in her fitful and capricious
narrative, like glimpses of a landscape caught through a shifting mist.
As this sometimes distorts the objects that loom within it, so Mad
Bell's statements were occasionally misleading. Once, for example, she
threw the Quigley family into most distracted concern by her accounts of
the terrific "shootin' and murdherin' and massacreein'" she had seen in
progress down away at Glasgannon, where Joe Quigley had taken service
with a strong farmer; these disturbances being in reality nothing more
than a muster of the county militia.

"But I can tell you how she thravelled a good step of the way home," Ody
now continued, "for she tould me herself. The Tinkers gave her a lift in
their ould cart. Somewheres beyant Rosbride she met wid them; glory be
to goodness 'twasn't any nearer here they were, the ould thieves of sin.
Howane'er, _Mrs. M'Gurk_ belike 'ud be wishful to see thim comin' along.
Fine company they'd be for anybody begorrah. Troth, it's the quare ugly
boghoule she'd find the aquil of thim at the bottom of."

Mrs. M'Gurk, however, said protestingly, "Och, wirrasthrew, man, don't
be talkin' of the Tinkers. They'd a right to not be let set fut widin
tin mile of any dacint place. Thim or the likes of any such rogues."

And Mrs. Kilfoyle said, "I'd liefer than a great deal they kep' out of
it. Ne'er a one of the lot of them I ever beheld but had the eyes
rowlin' in his head wid villiny. And the childer, goodness help them, do
be worse than the grown people."

And Ody Rafferty's aunt said, "Bad cess to the whole of them."

For in Lisconnel nobody has a good word to say of the Tinkers.

The tribe and their many delinquencies have even supplied us with a bit
of the proverbial philosophy in which not a little of our local history
is epitomised. The saying, "As pat as thievin' to a tinker" is probably
quoted among us as frequently as any other, except, perhaps, one which
refers to Jerry Dunne's basket. This latter had its origin in a certain
event, not like the former in the long-accumulating observation of
habits and propensities, and to explain it therefore is to write a
chapter of our chronicles. Moreover, the event in question is otherwise
not unimportant from a sociological point of view, because it is very
likely to have been the first morning call ever made at Lisconnel.



CHAPTER II

JERRY DUNNE'S BASKET


So it is worth while to tell the reason why people at Lisconnel
sometimes respond with irony to a question: "What have I got? Sure, all
that Jerry Dunne had in his basket." The saying is of respectable
antiquity, for it originated while Bessy Joyce, who died a year or so
back, at "a great ould age entirely," was still but a slip of a girl. In
those days her mother used often to say regretfully that she didn't know
when she was well off, like Rody O'Rourke's pigs, quoting a proverb of
obscurer antecedents. When she did so she was generally thinking of the
fine little farm in the county Clare, which they had not long since
exchanged for the poor tiny holding away in the heart of the black bog;
and of how, among the green fields, and thriving beasts, and other good
things of Clonmena, she had allowed her content to be marred by such a
detail as her Bessy's refusal to favour the suit of Jerry Dunne.

Mrs. Joyce eagerly desired a brilliant alliance for Bessy, who was
rather an important daughter, being the only grown-up girl, and a very
pretty one, among a troop of younger brethren; so it seemed contrary
enough that she wouldn't look the same side of the road as young Jerry,
who was farming prosperously on his own account, and whose family were
old friends and neighbours, and real respectable people, including a
first cousin nothing less than a parish priest. Yet Bessy ran away and
hid herself in as ingeniously unlikely places as a strayed calf whenever
she heard of his approach, and if brought by chance into his society
became most discouragingly deaf and dumb.

It is true that at the time I speak of Bessy's prospects fully entitled
her to as opulent a match, and no one apparently foresaw how speedily
they would be overcast by her father's improvidence. But Andy Joyce had
an ill-advised predilection for seeing things what he called "dacint and
proper" about him, and it led him into several imprudent acts. For
instance, he built some highly superior sheds in the bawn, to the
bettering, no doubt, of his cattle's condition, but very little to his
own purpose, which he would indeed have served more advantageously by
spending the money they cost him at Moriarty's shebeen. Nor was he left
without due warning of the consequences likely to result from such
courses. The abrupt raising of his rent by fifty per cent, was a broad
hint which most men would have taken; and it did keep Andy quiet,
ruefully, for a season or two. Then, however, having again saved up a
trifle, he could not resist the temptation to drain the swampy corner of
the farthest river-field, which was as kind a bit of land as you could
wish, only for the water lying on it, and in which he afterwards raised
himself a remarkably fine crop of white oats. The sight of them "done
his heart good," he said, exultantly, nothing recking that it was the
last touch of farmer's pride he would ever feel. Yet on the next
quarter-day the Joyces received notice to quit, and their landlord
determined to keep the vacated holding in his own hands; those new sheds
were just the thing for his young stock. Andy, in fact, had done his
best to improve himself off the face of the earth, and he should
therefore have been thankful to retain a foothold, even in a
loose-jointed, rush-roofed cabin away at stony Lisconnel. Whether
thankful or no, there, at any rate, he presently found himself
established with all his family, and the meagre remnant of his hastily
sold-off gear, and the black doors of the "house" seeming to loom ahead
whenever he looked into the murky future.

The first weeks and months of their new adversity passed slowly and
heavily for the transplanted household, more especially for Andy and his
wife, who had outgrown a love of paddling in bogholes, and had acquired
a habit of wondering "what at all 'ud become of the childer, the
crathurs." One shrill-blasted March morning Andy trudged off to the fair
down below at Duffclane--not that he had any business to transact there,
unless we reckon as such a desire to gain a respite from regretful
boredom. He but partially succeeded in doing this, and returned at dusk
so fagged and dispirited that he had not energy to relate his scraps of
news until he was half through his plate of stirabout. Then he observed
"I seen a couple of boys from home in it."

"Whethen now, to think of that," said Mrs. Joyce with mournful interest,
"which of them was it?"

"The one of them was Terence Kilfoyle," said Andy.

Mrs. Joyce's interest flagged, for young Kilfoyle was merely a
good-looking lad with the name of being rather wild. "Ah sure _he_ might
as well be in one place as another," she said indifferently. "Bessy,
honey, as you're done, just throw the scraps to the white hin where
she's sittin'."

"He sez he's thinkin' to settle hereabouts," said Andy; "I tould him
he'd a right to go thry his fortin somewhere outlandish, but he didn't
seem to fancy the idee, and small blame to him. A man's bound to get his
heart broke one way or the other anywheres, as far as I can see. I met
Jerry Dunne too."

"Och and did you indeed?" said Mrs. Joyce, kindling into eagerness
again.

Jerry had been absent from Clonmena at the time of their flitting, and
they had heard nothing of him since; but she still cherished a flicker
of hope in his connection, which the tidings of his appearance in the
neighbourhood fanned and fed.

"And he's quit out of it himself," Andy continued, "for the ould uncle
of his he's been stoppin' wid this while back at Duffclane's after dyin'
and lavin' him a fine farm and a hantle of money, and I dunno what all
besides. So it's there he's goin' to live, and he's gave up the ould
place at Clonmena, as well he may, and no loss to him on it, for he sez
himself he niver spent a pinny over it beyont what he'd be druv to, if
he wanted to get e'er a crop out of it at all, and keep things together
in any fashion: he wasn't such a fool." Andy hesitated, as if on the
brink of a painful theme, and resumed with an effort: "He's bought
Magpie and the two two-year-olds off of Peter Martin. Chape enough he
got them, too, though he had to give ten shillin's a head more for them
than Martin ped me."

"Mavrone, but some people have the luck," said Mrs. Joyce.

"And Jerry bid me tell you," said Andy, the memory of his lost cattle
still saddening his tone, "that he might be steppin' up here to see you
to-morra or next day."

At this Mrs. Joyce's face suddenly brightened, as if she had been
summoned to share Jerry Dunne's good luck. She felt almost as if that
had actually happened. For his visit could surely signify nothing else
than that he meant to continue his suit; and under the circumstances,
Bessy's misliking was a piece of folly not to be taken into account.
Besides that, the girl, she thought, looked quite heartened up by the
news. So she replied to her husband: "'Deed then, he'll be very
welcome," and the sparkle was in her eyes all the rest of the evening.

On the morrow, which was a bright morning with a far-off pale blue sky,
Mrs. Joyce hurried over her readying-up, that she might be prepared for
her possible visitor. She put on her best clothes, and as her wardrobe
had not yet fallen to a level with her fortune, she was able to array
herself in a strong steel-grey mohair gown, a black silk apron with
three rows of velvet ribbon on it besides the binding, a fine small
woollen shawl of very brilliant scarlet and black plaid, with a pinkish
cornelian brooch to pin it at the throat, all surmounted by a snowy
high-caul cap, in those days not yet out of date at Lisconnel, where
fashions lag somewhat. She noticed, well-pleased, Bessy's willingness to
fall in with the suggestion that she should re-arrange her hair and
change her gown after the morning's work was done; and the inference
drawn grew stronger, when, for the first time since their troubles, the
girl began to sing "Moll Dhuv in Glanna" while she coiled up her long
tresses.

All that forenoon Mrs. Joyce had happy dreams about the mending of the
family fortunes, which would be effected by Bessy's marriage with Jerry
Dunne. When her neighbour, Mrs. Ryan, looked in, she could not forbear
mentioning the expected call, and was further elated because Mrs. Ryan
at once remarked: "Sure, 'twill be Bessy he's after," though she
herself, of course, disclaimed the idea, saying: "Och musha, ma'am, not
at all." The Ryans were tenants who had also been put out of Clonmena,
and they occupied a cabin adjoining the Joyces', these two dwellings,
backed by the slopes of the Knockawn, forming the nucleus of Lisconnel.

About noon, Paddy, the eldest boy, approached at a hand gallop,
bestriding a donkey which belonged to the gang of men who were still
working on the unfinished road. As soon as the beast reached the
open-work stone wall of the potato-field it resolutely scraped its rider
off, a thing it had been vainly wishing to do all along the fenceless
track. Paddy, however, alighted unconcerned among the clattering stones,
and ran on with his tidings. These were to the effect that he was "after
seein' Jerry Dunne shankin' up from Duffclane ways, a goodish bit below
the indin' of the road, and he wid a great big basket carryin', fit to
hould a young turf-stack."

The intelligence created an agreeable excitement, which was undoubtedly
heightened by the fact of the basket. "Very belike," said Mrs. Ryan,
"he's bringin' somethin' to you, or it might be Bessy." And while Mrs.
Joyce rejoined deprecatingly: "Ah sure, woman alive, what would the poor
lad be troublin' himself to bring us all this way?" she was really
answering her own question with a dozen flattering conjectures. The
basket must certainly contain _something_, and there were so few by any
means probable things that would not at this pinch have come acceptably
to the Joyces' household, where the heavy pitaty sack grew light with
such alarming rapidity, and the little hoard of corn dwindled, and the
childer's appetites seemed to wax larger day by day. She had not quite
made up her mind, when Jerry arrived, whether she would wish for a bit
of bacon--poor Andy missed an odd taste of it so bad--or for another
couple of hens, which would be uncommonly useful now that her own few
had all left off laying.

Mrs. Ryan having discreetly withdrawn, Mrs. Joyce stood alone in her
dark doorway to receive her guest, and, through all her flutter of hope,
she felt a bitter twinge of housewifely chagrin at being discovered in
such miserable quarters. The black earth flooring at her threshold
gritted hatefully under her feet, and the gusts whistling through the
many chinks of her rough walls seemed to skirl derisively. She was
nevertheless resolved to put the best possible face upon the situation.

"Well, Mrs. Joyce, ma'am, and how's yourself this long while?" said
Jerry Dunne, coming up. "Bedad I'm glad to see you so finely, and it's
an iligant place you've got up here."

"Ah, it's not too bad whatever," said Mrs. Joyce, "on'y 'twas a great
upset on us turnin' out of the ould house at home. Himself had a right
to ha' left things the way he found them, and then it mightn't iver ha'
happened him. But sure, poor man, he niver thought he'd be ruinatin' us
wid his conthrivances. It's God's will. Be steppin' inside to the fire,
Jerry lad; there's a thin feel yet in the win'."

Jerry, stepping inside, deposited his basket, which did not appear to be
very heavy, rather disregardfully by him on the floor. Mrs. Joyce would
not allow herself to glance in its direction. It struck her that the
young man seemed awkward and flustered, and she considered this a
favourable symptom.

"And what way's Mr. Joyce?" said Jerry. "He was lookin' grand whin I
seen him yisterday."

"'Deed, he gits his health middlin' well enough, glory be to goodness,"
she said; "somewhiles he'll be frettin' a bit, thinkin' of diff'rent
things, and when I tell him he'd better lave botherin' his head wid
them, he sez he might as aisy bid a blast of win' to not be blowin'
through a houle. Och, Andy's a quare man. He's out and about now
somewheres on the farm."

Mrs. Joyce put a spaciousness into her tone wholly disproportionate to
their screed of tussocks and boulders; and then paused, hoping that the
next inquiry might relate to Bessy.

But what young Jerry said was, "You've got a great run, anyway, for the
fowls."

The irrelevance of the remark disappointed Mrs. Joyce, and she replied a
little tartly: "A great run you may call it, for begorrah our hearts is
broke huntin' after the crathurs, and they strayin' off wid themselves
over the width of the bog there, till you've as much chance of catchin'
them as the sparks flyin' up the chimney."

"That's unhandy, now," said Jerry. He sat for some moments reflectively
ruffling up his flaxen hair with both hands, and then he said, "Have you
the big white hin yit that you got from me a while ago?"

"We have so bedad," said Mrs. Joyce, not loth to enlarge upon this
subject. "Sure we made a shift to bring a few of the best chickens we
had along wid us, and sorry we'd ha' been to lose her, and she a
won'erful layer, and after you a-givin' her to us in a prisint that
way."

"There was some talk that time," said Jerry, "about me and Bessy."

"Ay, true for you, there was," said Mrs. Joyce, in eager assent, "plinty
of talk." She would have added more, but he was evidently in a hurry to
speak again.

"Well, there's none now," he said. "Things is diff'rent altogether. If
I'd ha' known, I'd ha' kep' the hin. The fact of the matter is I'm about
gettin' married to Sally Coghlan, that's me poor uncle's wife's niece.
He's after leavin' her what he had saved up. She's a fine figure of a
girl as iver you saw, and as good as gould, and the bit of lan' and the
bit of money had a right to go the one way. So I was thinkin', Mrs.
Joyce, I might as well be takin' home the ould him wid me--things bein'
diff'rent now, and no talk of Bessy. Sally has a great wish for a white
hin, and we've ne'er a one of that sort at our place. I've brought a wad
of hay in the basket meself, for 'fraid yous might be short of it up
here." Jerry gave a kick to the basket, which betrayed the flimsy nature
of its contents by rolling over with a wobble on its side.

At this critical moment Mrs. Joyce's pride rallied loyally to the rescue
of her dignity and self-respect, proving as effectual as the ice-film
which keeps the bleakest pool unruffled by the wildest storm wing. With
the knell of all her hope clanging harshly in her ears, she smiled
serenely, and said gaily: "Ay bedad, himself was tellin' us somethin'
about it last night. Sure, I'm rael glad to hear tell of your good luck,
and I wish you joy of it. And will you be gettin' married agin
Shrovetide? Och, that's grand. But the white hin now--the on'y thing is
the crathur's been sittin' on a clutch of eggs since Monday week. So
what are we to do at all?"

"There's hapes of room for the whole of them in the basket, for that
matter," Jerry suggested promptly.

"Ah, sure, it's distroyed they'd be, jogglin' along, and the crathur
herself 'ud go distracted entirely; sorra a bit of good you'd get of
her. But look here, Mr. Dunne, I've got another out there as like her as
if the both of them had come out of the one egg, and you could be takin'
that instid. It's a lucky thing I didn't set her to sit the way I was
intendin'; on'y I niver could get a clutch gathered for her, be raison
of the lads aitin' up the eggs on me. Sure, I can't keep them from the
little bosthoons when they be hungry."

"'Twould be all the same thing to me, in coorse, supposin' she was
equally so good," Jerry admitted with caution.

"Ivery feather she is," said Mrs. Joyce. "I seen her runnin' about there
just this minute; you can be lookin' at her yourself."

She went towards the door as she spoke, and was somewhat taken aback to
perceive her husband leaning against the wall close outside. How much of
the discussion he might have heard, she could not tell. The white hen
also appeared within easy reach, daintily resplendent under the sunshine
on a background of black turf. And Mrs. Ryan, standing darkly framed in
her doorway, was very certain to be an interested observer of events.
For the moment Mrs. Joyce's uppermost anxiety was to avoid any betrayal
of discomfiture, and she accordingly said in a loud and cheerful tone:

"Och, and are you there, Andy? Jerry Dunne's wishful for the loan of a
clockin' hin, so I'm about catchin' him the young white one to take home
wid him."

But, to her intense disgust, Jerry, who had followed her with his
basket, said remonstrantly: "Whethen now, Mrs. Joyce, the way I
understand the matter there's no talk in it of borryin' at all. I'm on'y
takin' her back instid of the ould one, and I question would any
raisonable body stand me out I don't own her be rights. It's an unjust
thing to be spakin' of loans."

Mrs. Joyce was so dumbfounded by this rebuff that she could only hide
her confusion by displaying an exaggerated activity in the capture of
the hen.

Her husband, however, said blandly, "Och, don't make yourself onaisy,
man. Loan or no loan, you needn't be under any apperhinsion we'll be
comin' after her wid a basket. Divil a much. Stir yourself, Kitty, and
be clappin' her in under the lid. He's in a hurry to get home to his
sweetheart wid the iligant prisint he's after pickin' up for her. Ay,
that's right, woman alive; give a tie to the bit of string, and then
there's nothin' to be delayin' him."

After this everybody said good-bye with much politeness and affability,
though withal a certain air of despatch, as if they were conscious of
handling rather perishable goods. And when Jerry was beyond earshot,
Andy, looking after him, remarked, "I niver liked a bone in that
fellow's skin. Himself and his ould basket. The lads 'ill be prisintly
comin' in to their dinners."

"D'you know where Bessy is?" said Mrs. Joyce, her heart sinking still
lower at the thought of the disappointment, which she had presumably
been helping to prepare for her daughter.

"When I seen her a while back, she was out there wid the childer,
discoorsin' to Terence Kilfoyle," Andy said contentedly.

"Musha, good gracious, Terence Kilfoyle, and what's _he_ come after?"
she said in a bitter tone.

"He stepped up wid a couple of pounds of fresh butter and a dozen of
eggs. He said he minded Bessy havin' a fancy for duck-eggs, and he
thought we mightn't happen to have e'er a one up here. She seemed as
pleased as anythin'. But if you ax _me_, Kitty," he said with a
twinkle, "I've a notion he's come after somethin' more than our ould
hin."

"He's a great young rogue," said Mrs. Joyce. Yet there was an accent of
relief in her voice, and on her face a reflection of her husband's
smile.

And Jerry Dunne's basket still occupies its niche in the stores of our
proverbial philosophy.



CHAPTER III

MRS. KILFOYLE'S CLOAK


The opprobrious proverb already mentioned is not the only permanent mark
of unpopularity that the Tinkers have earned for themselves at
Lisconnel. Their very name has become a term of reproach among us, so
that "an ould tinker" is recognised as an appropriate epithet for any
troublesome beast or disagreeable neighbour. If they were not
case-hardened by long experience, they would surely be mortified
sometimes at the reception with which they meet almost wherever they go.
The approach of the two queer vehicles in which they now generally
travel is watched by displeased eyes all over our countryside, and they
are so to speak lighted on their way by the gleam of suspicious or
resentful glances. And it must be admitted that their evil reputation
has not been bestowed upon them gratuitously. According to Ody Rafferty,
"The like of such a clanjamfry of thievin' drunken miscreants, you
wouldn't aisy get together, if you had a spring-trap set for them at the
Ould Fellow's front door for a month of Sundays. And if himself didn't
do a hard day's work the time he was consthructin' them, he niver done
one in his life, and that's a fac'." But Ody is apt to be particularly
severe in his strictures upon the Tinkers, because he feels an
aggravated form of rivalry existing between him and them. For the
wiliness which is understood to be Ody's forte also pre-eminently
characterises many of the Tinkers' nefarious proceedings, and this makes
it seem to him that they not only set their wits against his, but throw
discredit upon his favourite quality by the glaring moral defects which
they exhibit in conjunction with it. One's pleasure in being described
admiringly as "the ould boyo that's in it," is much diminished when one
hears the same thing said bitterly of some slieveen who has filched a
poor body's meal bag, or run off with a lone widdy woman's fowl.

Still, although the Tinkers' name has become a by-word among us through
a long series of petty offences rather than any one flagrant crime,
there is a notable misdeed on record against them, which has never been
forgotten in the lapse of many years. It was perpetrated soon after the
death of Mrs. Kilfoyle's mother, the Widow Joyce, an event which is but
dimly recollected now at Lisconnel, as nearly half a century has gone
by. She did not very long survive her husband, and he had left his roots
behind in his little place at Clonmena, where, as we know, he had farmed
not wisely, but too well, and had been put out of it for his pains to
expend his energy upon our oozy black sods and stark-white boulders. But
instead he moped about fretting for his fair green fields and few
proudly-cherished beasts--especially the little old Kerry cow. And at
his funeral the neighbours said: "Ah bedad, poor man, God help him, he
niver held up his head agin from that good day to this."

When Mrs. Joyce felt that it behoved her to settle her affairs, she
found that the most important possession she had to dispose of was her
large cloak. She had acquired it at the prosperous time of her marriage,
and it was a very superior specimen of its kind, its dark-blue cloth
being superfine, and its ample capes and capacious hood being
double-lined and quilted, and stitched in a way which I cannot pretend
to describe, but which made it a most substantial and handsome garment.
If Mrs. Joyce had been left entirely to her own choice in the matter, I
think she would have bequeathed it to her younger daughter Theresa,
notwithstanding that custom clearly designated Bessy Kilfoyle, the
eldest of the family, as the heiress. For she said to herself that poor
Bessy had her husband and childer to consowl her, any way, but little
Theresa, the crathur, had ne'er such a thing at all, and wouldn't have,
not she, God love her. "And the back of me hand to some I could name."
It seemed to her that to leave the child the cloak would be almost like
keeping a warm wing spread over her in the cold wide world; and there
was no fear that Bessy would take it amiss.

But Theresa herself protested strongly against such a disposition,
urging for one thing that sure she'd be lost in it entirely if ever she
put it on, a not unfounded objection, as Theresa was several sizes
smaller than Bessy, and even she fell far short of her mother in stature
and portliness. Theresa also said confidently with a sinking heart: "But
sure, anyhow, mother jewel, what matter about it? 'Twill be all gone to
houles and flitters and thraneens, and so it will, plase goodness,
afore there's any talk of anybody else wearin' it except your own ould
self." And she expressed much the same conviction one day to her
next-door neighbour, old Biddy Ryan, to whom she had run in for the loan
of a sup of sour milk, which Mrs. Joyce fancied. To Biddy's sincere
regret she could offer Theresa barely a skimpy noggin of milk, and only
a meagre shred of encouragement; and by way of eking out the latter with
its sorry substitute consolation, she said as she tilted the jug
perpendicularly to extract its last drop:

"Well, sure, me dear, I do be sayin' me prayers for her every sun goes
over our heads that she might be left wid you this great while yet;
'deed I do so. But ah, acushla, if we could be keepin' people
that-a-way, would there be e'er a funeral iver goin' black on the road
at all at all? I'm thinkin' there's scarce a one livin', and he as ould
and foolish and little-good-for as you plase, but some crathur'ill be
grudgin' him to his grave, that's himself may be all the while wishin'
he was in it. Or, morebetoken, how can we tell what quare ugly misfortin
thim that's took is took out of the road of, that we should be as good
as biddin' thim stay till it comes to ruinate them? So it's prayin' away
I am, honey," said old Biddy, whom Theresa could not help hating heart
sickly. "But like enough the Lord might know better than to be mindin' a
word I say."

And it seemed that He did; at any way the day soon came when the heavy
blue cloak passed into Mrs. Kilfoyle's possession.

At that time it was clear, still autumn weather, with just a sprinkle of
frost, white on the wayside grass, like the wraith of belated moonlight,
when the sun rose, and shimmering into rainbow stars by noon. But about
a month later the winter swooped suddenly on Lisconnel: with wild winds
and cold rain that made crystal-silver streaks down the purple of the
great mountain-heads peering in over our bogland.

So one perishing Saturday Mrs. Kilfoyle made up her mind that she would
wear her warm legacy on the bleak walk to Mass next morning, and
reaching it down from where it was stowed away among the rafters wrapped
in an old sack, she shook it respectfully out of its straight-creased
folds. As she did so she noticed that the binding of the hood had ripped
in one place, and that the lining was fraying out, a mishap which should
be promptly remedied before it spread any further. She was not a very
expert needlewoman, and she thought she had better run over the way to
consult Mrs. O'Driscoll, then a young matron, esteemed the handiest and
most helpful person in Lisconnel.

"It's the nathur of her to be settin' things straight wherever she
goes," Mrs. Kilfoyle said to herself as she stood in her doorway waiting
for the rain to clear off, and looking across the road to the sodden
roof which sheltered her neighbour's head. It has long been lying low,
vanquished by a trouble which even she could not set to rights, and some
of the older people say that things have gone a little crookeder in
Lisconnel ever since.

The shower was a vicious one, with the sting of sleet and hail in its
drops, pelted about by gusts that ruffled up the puddles into ripples,
all set on end, like the feathers of a frightened hen. The hens
themselves stood disconsolately sheltering under the bank, mostly on one
leg, as if they preferred to keep up the slightest possible connection
with such a very damp and disagreeable earth. You could not see far in
any direction for the fluttering sheets of mist, and a stranger who had
been coming along the road from Duffclane, stepped out of them abruptly
quite close, to Mrs. Kilfoyle's door, before she knew that there was
anybody near. He was a tall, elderly man, gaunt and grizzled, very
ragged, and so miserable-looking that Mrs. Kilfoyle could have felt
nothing but compassion for him had he not carried over his shoulder a
bunch of shiny cans, which was to her mind as satisfactory a passport as
a ticket-of-leave. For although these were yet rather early days at
Lisconnel, the Tinkers had already begun to establish their reputation.
So when he stopped in front of her and said: "Good-day, ma'am," she only
replied distantly, "It's a hardy mornin'," and hoped he would move on.
But he said: "It's cruel could, ma'am," and continued to stand looking
at her with wide and woful eyes, in which she conjectured--erroneously
as it happened--hunger for warmth or food. Under these circumstances
what could be done by a woman who was conscious of owning a
redly-glowing hearth with a big black pot, fairly well filled, clucking
and bobbing upon it? To possess such wealth as this, and think seriously
of withholding a share from anybody who urges the incontestable claim of
wanting it, is a mood altogether foreign to Lisconnel, where the
responsibilities of property are, no doubt, very imperfectly understood.
Accordingly Mrs. Kilfoyle said to the tattered tramp: "Ah, thin, step
inside and have a couple of hot pitaties." And when he accepted the
invitation without much alacrity, as if he had something else on his
mind, she picked for him out of the steam two of the biggest potatoes,
whose earth-coloured skins, cracking, showed a fair flouriness within;
and she shook a little heap of salt, the only relish she had, on to the
chipped white plate as she handed it to him, saying, "Sit you down be
the fire there, and git a taste of the heat."

Then she lifted her old shawl over her head, and ran out to see where at
all Brian and Thady were gettin' their deaths on her under the pours of
rain; and as she passed the Keoghs' adjacent door--which was afterwards
the Sheridan's, whence their Larry departed so reluctantly--young Mrs.
Keogh called her to come in and look at "the child," who being a new and
unique possession was liable to develop alarmingly strange symptoms, and
had now "woke up wid his head that hot, you might as well put your hand
on the hob of the grate." Mrs. Kilfoyle stayed only long enough to
suggest, as a possible remedy, a drop of two-milk whey. "But ah sure,
woman dear, where at all 'ud we come by that, wid the crathur of a goat
scarce wettin' the bottom of the pan?" and to draw reassuring omens
from the avidity with which the invalid grabbed at a sugared crust. In
fact, she was less than five minutes out of her house; but when she
returned to it, she found it empty. First she noted with a moderate
thrill of surprise that her visitor had gone away leaving his potatoes
untouched, and next, with a rough shock of dismay, that her cloak no
longer lay on the window seat where she had left it. From that moment
she never felt any real doubts about what had befallen her, though for
some time she kept on trying to conjure them up, and searched wildly
round and round and round her little room, like a distracted bee strayed
into a hollow furze-bush, before she sped over to Mrs. O'Driscoll with
the news of her loss.

It spread rapidly through Lisconnel, and brought the neighbours together
exclaiming and condoling, though not in great force, as there was a fair
going on down beyant, which nearly all the men and some of the women had
attended. This was accounted cruel unlucky, as it left the place without
any one able-bodied and active enough to go in pursuit of the thief. A
prompt start might have overtaken him, especially as he was said to be
"a thrifle lame-futted," though Mrs. M'Gurk, who had seen him come down
the hill, opined that "'twasn't the sort of lameness 'ud hinder the
miscreant of steppin' out, on'y a quare manner of flourish he had in a
one of his knees, as if he was gatherin' himself up to make an offer at
a grasshopper's lep, and then thinkin' better of it."

Little Thady Kilfoyle reported that he had met the strange man a bit
down the road, "leggin' it along at a great rate, wid a black rowl of
somethin' under his arm that he looked to be crumplin' up as small as he
could"--the word "crumpling" went acutely to Mrs. Kilfoyle's heart--and
some long-sighted people declared that they could still catch glimpses
of a receding figure through the hovering fog on the way towards
Sallinbeg.

"I'd think he'd be beyant seein' afore now," said Mrs. Kilfoyle, who
stood in the rain, the disconsolate centre of the group about her door;
all women and children except old Johnny Keogh, who was so bothered and
deaf, that he grasped new situations slowly and feebly, and had now an
impression of somebody's house being on fire. "He must ha' took off wid
himself the instiant me back was turned, for ne'er a crumb had he
touched of the pitaties."

"Maybe he'd that much shame in him," said Mrs. O'Driscoll.

"They'd a right to ha' choked him, troth and they had," said Ody
Rafferty's aunt.

"Is it chokin'?" said young Mrs. M'Gurk, bitterly. "Sure the bigger
thief a body is the more he'll thrive on whatever he gits--you might
think villiny was as good as butter to people's pitaties--you might so.
Shame how are you? Liker he'd ate all he could swally in the last place
he got the chance of layin' his hands on anythin'."

"Och, woman alive, but it's the fool you were to let him out of your
sight," said Ody Rafferty's aunt. "If it had been me, I'd niver ha' took
me eyes off him, for the look of him on'y goin' by made me flesh creep
upon me bones."

"'Deed was I," said Mrs. Kilfoyle, sorrowfully, "a fine fool. And vexed
she'd be, real vexed, if she guessed the way it was gone on us, for the
dear knows what dirty ould rapscallions 'ill get the wearin' of it now.
Rael vexed she'd be."

This speculation was more saddening than the actual loss of the cloak,
though that bereft her wardrobe of far and away its most valuable
property, which should have descended as an heirloom to her little
Katty, who, however, being at present but three months old, lay
sleeping happily unaware of the cloud that had come over her prospects.

"I wish to goodness a couple of the lads 'ud step home wid themselves
this minit of time," said Mrs. M'Gurk. "They'd come up wid him yet, and
take it off of him ready enough. And smash his ugly head for him if he
would be givin' them any impidence."

"Aye, and 'twould be a rael charity--the mane baste--or sling him in one
of the boghoules," said the elder Mrs. Keogh, a mild-looking little old
woman. "I'd liefer than nine nine-pennies see thim comin' along. But I'm
afeard it's early for thim yet."

Everybody's eyes turned, as she spoke, towards the ridge of the
Knockawn, though with no particular expectation of seeing what they
wished upon it. But, behold, just at that moment three figures, blurred
among the grey rain-mists, looming into view.

"Be the powers," said Mrs. M'Gurk, jubilantly, "it's Ody Rafferty
himself. To your sowls! Now you've a great good chance, ma'am, to be
gettin' it back. He's the boy 'ill leg it over all before him"--for in
those days Ody was lithe and limber--"and it's hard-set the thievin'
Turk 'ill be to get the better of him at a racin' match--Hi--Och." She
had begun to hail him with a call eager and shrill, which broke off in a
strangled croak, like a young cock's unsuccessful effort. "Och, murdher,
murdher, murdher," she said to the bystanders, in a disgusted undertone.
"I'll give you me misfort'nit word thim other two is the pólis."

Now it might seem on the face of things that the arrival of those two
active and stalwart civil servants would have been welcomed as happening
just in the nick of time; yet it argues an alien ignorance to suppose
such a view of the matter by any means possible. The men in invisible
green tunics belonged completely to the category of pitaty-blights,
rint-warnin's, fevers, and the like devastators of life, that dog a man
more or less all through it, but close in on him, a pitiful quarry, when
the bad seasons come and the childer and the old crathurs are starvin'
wid the hunger, and his own heart is broke; therefore to accept
assistance from them in their official capacity would have been a
proceeding most reprehensibly unnatural. To put a private quarrel or
injury into the hands of the peelers were a disloyal making of terms
with the public foe; a condoning of great permanent wrongs for the sake
of a trivial temporary convenience. Lisconnel has never been skilled in
the profitable and ignoble art of utilising its enemies. Not that
anybody was more than vaguely conscious of these sentiments, much less
attempted to express them in set terms. When a policeman appeared there
in an inquiring mood, what people said among themselves was: "Musha cock
him up. I hope he'll get his health till I would be tellin' him," or
words to that effect; while in reply to his questions they made
statements superficially so clear and simple, and essentially so
bewilderingly involved, that the longest experience could do little more
for a constable than teach him the futility of wasting his time in
attempts to disentangle them.

Thus it was that when Mrs. Kilfoyle saw who Ody's companions were, she
bade a regretful adieu to her hopes of recovering her stolen property.
For how could she set him on the Tinker's felonious track without
apprising them likewise? You might as well try to huroosh one chicken
off a rafter and not scare the couple that were huddled beside it. The
impossibility became more obvious presently as the constables striding
quickly down to where the group of women stood in the rain and wind
with fluttering shawls and flapping cap-borders, said briskly, "Good-day
to you all. Did any of yous happen to see e'er a one of them tinkerin'
people goin' by here this mornin'?"

It was a moment of strong temptation to everybody, but especially to
Mrs. Kilfoyle, who had in her mind that vivid picture of her precious
cloak receding from her along the wet road, recklessly wisped up in the
grasp of as thankless a thievin' black-hearted slieveen as ever stepped,
and not yet, perhaps, utterly out of reach, though every fleeting
instant carried it nearer to that hopeless point. However, she and her
neighbours stood the test unshaken. Mrs. Ryan rolled her eyes
deliberatively, and said to Mrs. M'Gurk, "The saints bless us, was it
yisterday or the day before, me dear, you said you seen a couple of them
below near ould O'Beirne's?"

And Mrs. M'Gurk replied, "Ah, sure, not at all, ma'am, glory be to
goodness. I couldn't ha' tould you such a thing, for I wasn't next or
nigh the place. Would it ha' been Ody Rafferty's aunt? She was below
there fetchin' up a bag of male, and bedad she came home that dhreeped,
the crathur, you might ha' thought she'd been after fishin' it up out
of the botthom of one of thim boghoules."

And Mrs. Kilfoyle heroically hustled her Thady into the house as she saw
him on the brink of beginning loudly to relate his encounter with the
strange man, and desired him to whisht and stay where he was in a manner
so sternly repressive that he actually remained there as if he had been
a pebble dropped into a pool, and not, as usual, a cork to bob up again
immediately.

Then Mrs. M'Gurk made a bold stroke, designed to shake off the hampering
presence of the professionals, and enable Ody's amateur services to be
utilised while there was yet time.

"I declare," she said, "now that I think of it, I seen a feller crossin'
the ridge along there a while ago, like as if he was comin' from
Sallinbeg ways, and accordin' to the apparence of him I wouldn't won'er
if he _was_ a one of thim tinker crathurs--carryin' a big clump of cans
he was, at any rate--I noticed the shine of thim. And he couldn't ha'
got any great way yet to spake of, supposin' there was anybody lookin'
to folly after him."

But Constable Black crushed her hopes as he replied, "Ah, it's nobody
comin' _from_ Sallinbeg that we've anything to say to. There's after
bein' a robbery last night down below at Jerry Dunne's--a shawl as good
as new took, that his wife's ragin' over frantic, along wid a sight of
fowl and other things. And the Tinkers that was settled this long while
in the boreen at the back of his haggard is quit out of it afore
daylight this mornin', every rogue of them. So we'd have more than a
notion where the property's went to if we could tell the road they've
took. We thought like enough some of them might ha' come this way."

Now Mr. Jerry Dunne was not a popular person in Lisconnel, where he has
even become, as we have seen, proverbial for what we call "ould
naygurliness." So there was a general tendency to say, "The divil's cure
to him," and listen complacently to any details their visitors could
impart. For in his private capacity a policeman, provided that he be
otherwise "a dacint lad," which, to do him justice, is commonly the
case, may join, with a few unobtrusive restrictions, in our neighbourly
gossips; the rule, in fact, being--Free admission except on business.

Only Mrs. Kilfoyle was so much cast down by her misfortune that she
could not raise herself to the level of an interest in the affairs of
her thrifty suitor, and the babble of voices relating and commenting
sounded as meaningless as the patter of the drops which jumped like
little fishes in the large puddle at their feet. It had spread
considerably before Constable Black said to his comrade--

"Well, Daly, we'd better be steppin' home wid ourselves as wise as we
come, as the man said when he'd axed his road of the ould black horse in
the dark lane. There's no good goin' further, for the whole gang of
them's scattered over the counthry agin now like a seedin' thistle in a
high win'."

"Ay bedad," said Constable Daly, "and be the same token, this win' ud
skin a tanned elephant. It's on'y bogged and drenched we'd git. Look at
what's comin' up over there. That rain's snow on the hills, every could
drop of it; I seen Ben Bawn this mornin' as white as the top of a
musharoon, and it's thickenin' wid sleet here this minute, and so it
is."

The landscape did indeed frown upon further explorations. In quarters
where the rain had abated it seemed as if the mists had curdled on the
breath of the bitter air, and they lay floating in long white bars and
reefs low on the track of their own shadow, which threw down upon the
sombre bogland deeper stains of gloom. Here and there one caught on the
crest of some grey-bouldered knoll, and was teazed into fleecy threads
that trailed melting instead of tangling. But towards the north the
horizon was all blank, with one vast, smooth slant of slate colour, like
a pent-house roof, which had a sliding motion onwards.

Ody Rafferty pointed to it and said, "Troth, it's teemin' powerful this
instiant up there in the mountains. 'Twill be much if you land home
afore it's atop of you; for 'twould be the most I could do myself."

And as the constables departed hastily, most people forgot the stolen
cloak for a while to wonder whether their friends would escape being
entirely drownded on the way back from the fair.

Mrs. Kilfoyle, however, still stood in deep dejection at her door, and
said, "Och, but she was the great fool to go let the likes of him set
fut widin her house."

To console her Mrs. O'Driscoll said, "Ah, sure, sorra a fool were you,
woman dear; how would you know the villiny of him? And if you'd turned
the man away widout givin' him e'er a bit, it's bad you'd be thinkin'
of it all the day after."

And to improve the occasion for her juniors, old Mrs. Keogh added, "Ay,
and morebetoken you'd ha' been committin' a sin."

But Mrs. Kilfoyle replied with much candour, "'Deed, then, I'd a dale
liefer be after committin' a sin, or a dozen sins, than to have me poor
mother's good cloak thieved away on me, and walkin' wild about the
world."

As it happened the fate of Mrs. Kilfoyle's cloak was very different from
her forecast. But I do not think that a knowledge of it would have been
consolatory to her by any means. If she had heard of it, she would
probably have said, "The cross of Christ upon us. God be good to the
misfort'nit crathur." For she was not of at all an implacable temper,
and would, under the circumstances, have condoned even the injury that
obliged her to appear at Mass with a flannel petticoat over her head
until the end of her days. Yet she did hold the Tinkers in a perhaps
somewhat too unqualified reprobation. For there are tinkers and tinkers.
Some of them, indeed, are stout and sturdy thieves, veritable birds of
prey, whose rapacity is continually questing for plunder. But some of
them have merely the magpies' and jackdaws' thievish propensity for
picking up what lies temptingly in their way. And some few are so honest
that they pass by as harmlessly as a wedge of high-flying wild duck. And
I have heard it said that to places like Lisconnel their pickings and
stealings have at worst never been so serious a matter as those of
another flock, finer of feather, but not less predacious in their
habits, who roosted, for the most part, a long way off, and made their
collections by deputy.



CHAPTER IV

A GOOD TURN


Along the road to Sallinbeg little seemed to be abroad besides foul
weather, but there was a great deal of that. The gusts that came
flapping wide-winged over the bog met the wayfarer with a furious hurtle
and grapple, as if for want of better sport they had concentrated all
their forces upon his sole repulse; and the drops they dashed into his
blinded eyes and against his benumbed hands were as icy as they could be
without ceasing to be wet. Their combined assaults were calculated
feelingly to persuade a man of his uninfluential position in the scheme
of things--his voice in this matter was so tyrannically howled down--or,
if of less philosophic mind, to bring home to him the special
disadvantages of going half-starved and clad in threadbare tatters. This
was the plight of Thady Quinlan as, leaving Lisconnel, soon lapt out of
sight behind him amid the grey web of the rain-mists, he tramped
haltingly away, with Mrs. Kilfoyle's cloak bundled under his arm, and
the dread of pursuit on his mind, and in his heart a great remorse, the
object of which you are perhaps guessing wrongly. But he had also a hope
and a purpose, and is therefore not wholly to be pitied, although the
one did wane until the other looked impossible, as mile after mile
unrolled its drenched and dreary length without bringing him apparently
nearer to his goal.

All the while, however, he was slowly gaining upon a traveller, who had
taken the same road a few hours earlier, hopelessly and aimlessly, and
even more inadequately equipped than he. It was his sister Judy Quinlan,
from whom he had parted on the worst of terms about three o'clock that
morning. The fact is that the Tinkers' raid upon Jerry Dunne's premises,
although carried out with unusual success, had led, not at all
unusually, to complications when it was time to divide the spoil. Over
Mrs. Dunne's second-best shawl it was that the difficulty arose. Mrs.
Dunne, despite her husband's thrifty turn, owned many shawls, few of
them inferior enough to be worn at all frequently, and she had pinned on
this one three times only during the half-dozen years of her
proprietresship. So it was certainly bitter bad luck that she should by
chance have worn it to Confession on Friday, and got it soaked coming
home, and hung it up in the passage by the back door to dry slowly,
"instead of to be all cockled into gathers wid the heat of the fire
blazin' on it, you stookawn," as she explained with exasperation to
Ellen Roe, her servant-girl, who had officiously suggested the kitchen
hearth. For this precaution proved tragically self-defeating, and put
its object into the very hands of Thady Quinlan and Joe Smith, when,
under cover of the wild, wet night, they forced the feeble lock, and
made a clean sweep of all portable property that lay within easy reach.
The shawl formed the most valuable prize. It was very admirable, indeed,
being of a dappled fawn colour, with an arabesque border of shaded
chocolate and amber; but in the eyes of its new owners its greatest
charm was its weight and thickness. Judy Quinlan declared, pinching a
fold fondly between a finger and thumb, that just the feel of it done
your heart good. Her own shawl was really only a ragged cotton
table-cover, and had, as she often remarked, "no more warmth in it than
an ould dish-clout." I should observe, to make the situation clear, that
the Tinkers' confraternity at this time consisted of Thady Quinlan and
his sister Judy, and their married sister Maggie Smith, with her
husband, and his brother, and his father, and three or four children.
Hence it is obvious that in any dispute which might arise between Judy
and Maggie, the latter was likely to have numbers preponderantly upon
her side. And this was what now actually took place, the place being the
driest end of the un-roofed cabin in Dunne's boreen, where the Tinkers
had for some time past made their camp.

The screed of thatch still adhering to the wall sheltered their fire of
purloined sods, and it burned steadily and strongly between the blasts
which made its red flame duck and sweel, and sent the white ash-flakes
fluttering. So there was light enough to show how covetous gleams from
the sisters' eyes flashed together on the shawl, of which each held a
corner. And no great wisdom was needed to forecast a storm. Mrs. Smith's
shawl was undeniably better than Judy's by many degrees but she had not
the magnanimity to consider this, even so far as to propose that Judy
should at any rate enjoy the reversion of her own. On the contrary, she
had rapidly planned its division between her two little ragged girls.
Judy, for her part, had set her heart desperately upon the acquisition,
and she deemed it her best policy to say in a tone studiously
matter-of-course:

"Faix, now, it's glad enough I'll be to get shut of this ould wad that's
on me. Every breath of win' goes thro' it as ready as if it was a
crevice in a wall, fit to freeze you into mortar."

A very vain device, for her sister promptly rejoined with a sarcastic
laugh and a tightened grip: "Musha moyah, how bad you are entirely.
Don't you wish you may?" which intimated plainly that the shawl was not
to be had uncontested.

At this crisis Judy had fully expected to be backed up by Thady; but he
naturally taking a more dispassionate view of the matter, recognised
with reluctance the futility of pitting himself singly against three
opponents, two of them better men than he, who was "no great things at
all, let alone havin' one knee quare." Therefore he turned his back upon
the controversy, and feigned unconsciousness of it, instead of bouncing
up and saying with appropriate action, "And I'd like to know who at
all's got a better right to it than herself has?"

His defection aggrieved her so bitterly, that the fiercest of her wrath
turned upon him; and after a wrangle wherein all the parties concerned
had made liberal use of those "aculeate and proper" words against which
the wary Bacon warns his quarrelling readers, she flounced away into the
darkness of the small hours of the stormy December morning, loudly
avowing her determination never to see a sight of the ugly, dirty,
mane-spirited poltroon, or open her lips to him as long as she had an
eye or a tongue in her head. Jeering laughter followed her exit on a
skirl of sleet-fledged wind.

She seethed over her anger for many a long mile, to such fierceness was
its flame fed by disappointment and more potent jealousy. For had not
Thady, the only person she cared much about in all the world, turned
against her and sided with Maggie, "who was always a greedy grabbin'
little toad ever since she stood the height of a creepy stool?" It was
an hour or so before daybreak when she sat down to rest under an immense
bulging boulder that loomed dimly on her beside the road a little way
beyond Lisconnel. Then she began to look backwards and forwards. Far
back to the time when her father kept a little shop in Bantry, before he
was stone broke one bad year and took to carrying the remnant of his
stock-in-trade about in a basket as a higgler, which eventually led
other members of his family to wander, less reputably, for their
livelihoods. She remembered that even in those days Thady was always her
ally, and had lamed himself for life by a fall on the road when running
to rescue her from the Hutchinsons' wicked mastiff, who had knocked her
down near their gate, and was standing over her with a growl and a grin
of which she still sometimes dreamed. And again she remembered how once
she had been laid up for a long while with the fever, and had crept out
of the Union infirmary to find that her relations, supposing her dead,
had all "tuk off wid thimselves to the States," and was keening like one
demented over her desertion outside McNeight's public, when what should
come familiarly round the corner but Thady himself, who had stopped
behind, foregoing his assisted passage, because the divil a fut of him
would stir out of it so long as there might be e'er a chance at all of
Judy coming back. Whereupon it recurred vividly to her mind how she had
just called him, among other things, "a great dirty, good-for-nothin'
hulk of a poltroon," and had expressed a hope that she might never again
see sign nor sight of any such a hijjis baste hobblin' anywheres on her
road; to which he had rejoined that she might go to blazes and welcome
for anythin' _he_ had to say agin it, and that bedad a crosser-tempered
ould weasel of a wizened-up ould witch wouldn't be apt to land there in
a hurry. At last, being very tired, she escaped for a while from these
fluctuations of wrath and ruth into a nook of sleep, but the bitter cold
routed her out of it soon after sunrise, and she took the road again,
cramped and numbed, in the teeth of the gusty showers that were still
stalking over the bogland.

As she went, the hills beyond Sallinbeg rose up frowning before her
through rifts in the cold white fleece trailed and knotted about their
front of harsh purple gloom, on which the streaks and patches of ravines
and fences and fields, with here and there a cabin gleaming, began by
degrees to be traced dimly as if a fragment of the countryside were
reflected on a dark thunder-cloud. But she was now thinking more about
her journey's end than about anything she saw on the way thither--the
bleak many-windowed workhouse at Moynalone that she well knew must be
presently her fate. Since she had thrown herself on her own resources,
three ha'pence was all she could command for ransom from the durance
into which self-preservation assuredly would not forbear to betray her.
Experience gave a dreary definiteness to anticipation. Once again she
would morning by morning awaken in the grim whitewashed ward to all the
old hardness and roughness of existence with a tyrannous restraint and
monotony superadded. She said to herself, it is true, that she might as
well be in one place as another, since she would not have Thady to go
along with anymore--the black-hearted, thievin' miscreant--and if she
had as much wit in her as an ould water-rat, she'd just creep away into
some dry ditch, and be done with the whole of it. Still, as she did come
short of that wisdom, the alternative continued to lie across her path,
a murky shadow, which she could by no means evade nor disperse.

The invisible sun was low when Judy came to a place where the road
forks, sending one branch to creep across the level bogland towards
Sallinbeg, and one to climb up among the first tilted slopes of the
mountains. Here the Rosbride river comes jostling its way down a rocky
ravine spanned at the mouth by a bridge, past which the swift, brown
stream darts along in a more spacious and smoother channel, bound for
Rosbride Bay. Judy stood for a while and looked down over the parapet at
the swirls of creamy foam that swept under the arch. Then she took out
of her pocket a battered-looking heel of a loaf, and began to munch it.
But before she had half finished it, she tossed the crust away into the
river, being too heartsick to go on eating once the rage of hunger was
subdued. She wished sincerely that she dared fling herself after it, but
she was far too much cowed by cold and weariness to muster the courage
for such a resolve. Perhaps there was not under Irish skies that
December day, a more miserable woman than Judy Quinlan as she stood all
alone in the world on Rosbride bridge, while a black mountain rampart
lifted itself slowly against the shrouded west, and the dusk thickened
on the long, shelterless road, whence eager blasts whistled a summons to
her, nearer and nearer, till they fluttered her rags, and keened about
her ears, and chilled her to the bone.

Suddenly something heavy and soft seemed to grasp her by the shoulders,
and thence fall around her in long, wide folds, covering her from head
to foot, much as if a small tent had been blown down on her. Of course
she screamed shrilly, and almost in the same breath she saw that Thady
was at her elbow. He had for some little time been stalking her warily,
with the great coat expanded ready to throw over her, and having done
so, was now holding it on with a rough hug. The joy with which he had at
last caught sight of the forlorn, bedraggled figure had overflowed
irrepressibly into this joke, and its successful accomplishment put the
finishing touch to his happiness. As for Judy, if the sun had leaped up
again in a fiery flurry, till the hills and the plain and the river were
all flooded with flushed light, gleaming and glowing, it would have but
dimly symbolised the transfiguration of her world. In the twinkling of
an eye her stark despair was changed into rapturous relief, a miracle
which just at first made the marvellous cloak seem almost a matter of
course. Any good thing might naturally be expected to befall her since
Thady was not estranged and lost to her after all. "Whethen now, and is
it yourself come streelin' along?" she said. "You tuk your time, bedad.
I'm here this half-hour."

"Sure, I stopped till I would get a thrifle of things together," said
Thady. "And what d'you call that for an ould flitterjig?"

"It's not too bad," said Judy, stroking down the cape with caressing
fingers. "A grand weight there's in it, to be sure. But where at all did
you come by it? You're not after gettin' it off of thim thievin'
rapscallions of Smiths, anyway?"

"Thim or the likes of thim--sure not at all," said Thady, loftily.
"'Twas in a house away down below there at Lisconnel. A young woman bid
me step in to ait a pitaty, and, tellin' you the truth, I'd no fancy to
be delayin', for I'd a mistrust in me mind that the pólis was follyin'.
The notion I had was to ax her had she seen you goin' by, on'y I wasn't
wishful to be lettin' on I was anythin' to you, in case they come along.
So I thought she might be chance pass the remark herself. But out she
ran, and the first thing I noticed was this consarn lyin' convanient to
me hand in the windy. And wid that I whipped it up and made off. For
anythin' I could tell, I might ha' met me fine gintleman full tilt at
the door; and begorrah, it's as heavy to carry as a pair of fat geese.
Howane'er, I knew it's distressed you were entirely for the want of such
a thing, and bejabers, you've got it now."

"Troth have I," said Judy, delightedly groping her way about her new
garment. "Rael dacint it was of you to be bringin' it to me, for
perished and lost I did be, and that's no lie. Och but it's the grand
one. Look at the hood there is to it. Sure it's as good as a little
house of your own. You might be out under buckets of wet in it, and
ne'er a tint you'd git whatever."

"Ay, or, for that matter, takin' a rowl through the river there, and
sorra the harm it 'ud do you wid that on," said Thady, with pride. "But
we'd better be quittin' out o' this," he added, with a shrug and a
shiver, "for the win's tarrible, and there's a shower comin' up on us
yonder as thick as thatch. I was thinkin' you'd maybe had thrampin'
enough for this day. 'Twill be as dark prisintly as the inside of a cow,
and we'd see daylight agin before we come to Moynalone. So we might put
the night over under th'ould bridge. There's a good dry strip along the
one side of it, and the way the rain's dhrivin' we'd git a grand
shelter."

Judy readily agreed, and they descended the little stony footpath which
led down to the river. Beneath the arch, where Thady's booted steps
reverberated hollowly, they found, as he had said, a broadish strip of
dry ground, for the bridge had allowed the stream ample measure in its
stride. The little platform was bordered by a scattering of stones and
boulders, amongst which the shallow water gurgled. It seemed to Thady
and Judy that their quarters would be very tolerable; but they soon made
a discovery which promised luxury indeed. This was a dead branch, which
lay at one end of the arch, having evidently been floated down the
current, and perhaps hauled out of the water by some thrifty body, who,
however, had made no further use of it. Long ago that must have been,
for it was dried and bleached till it glimmered through the dusk like an
intricate white skeleton. Better fuel no one could desire. Thady made
for it at once with knife and matchbox, and in a few minutes crackling
flames were crunching up the twigs and gnawing at a log. The red light
washed flickering over the wet walls, and was caught on the glancing of
the water as it fled by, rapid and dark. Blue smoke trailed up lazily
against the frame of the arch, blurring gleams of tossed foam as it
melted out into the mist.

But a fire naturally suggested food, and Judy said ruefully, after
feeling in her empty pocket: "It's starved wid the hunger you'll be,
Thady, and the sorra a taste of anythin' have I in the world. 'Deed now,
if I'd on'y known the way it 'ud be, and I passin' thim houses below in
the boreen a while ago! I seen where there was a big cake of
griddle-bread coolin' itself, laned agin the windy-ledge, and man nor
mortal near it. I might ha' raiched it down as aisy as puttin' me fut to
the ground. But sure I was that knocked about wid one thing and another,
I thought I wouldn't be bothered wid it, so I just left it where it was,
I did so--may God forgive me," she said, with unfeigned contrition.

Thady, however, did not seem to share in her regrets. He was lifting his
cluster of cans off his shoulders, and extracting from one of them a
bundle tied up in a red handkerchief. "Is it starved you'd have us?" he
said as he untied the first corner. "Starved! How are you?" And he
continued to repeat: "Is it starvin' she said?" while he was undoing the
several knots. When they were all unfastened, the handkerchief was seen
to hold a number of eggs and a fair supply of broken bread. Thady might
well scout the possibility of famishing. "That's somethin' like," he
said, as he saw Judy surveying his stores, "and I've a shillin'
somewheres besides."

"Glory be!" said Judy, looking as if she could scarcely realise a world
with which they were so much beforehand.

"And we'll be givin' them a boil in a one of the little saucepans," said
Thady. "Raw eggs do be ugly could brashes, and we've plinty of wather
handy--lashins and lavins of dhrink runnin' on tap there, so to spake."

Supper was accordingly prepared on these simple lines with much success.
They boiled many eggs and ate them, using their scraps of bread for
plates--an expedient not unknown at far earlier banquets--and they
scooped up water to drink out of the palms of their hands--also in an
old-fashioned manner. But when they had finished Thady gave a
comparatively modern touch to the entertainment by lighting his pipe. He
occupied the nearest place to the fire, in consideration for the
scarecrow-like raggedness of his garments, which now began to weigh upon
Judy's mind amid the comfort of her magnificent wrap.

"Froze stiff you'll be in thim ould tatters, man alive," she said
despondently. "Sure, you might as well be slingin' yourself round wid
the ould wisps of spiders' webs up over your head for any substance
there is in thim. I won'er, now, could I conthrive to reive the top-cape
off of this. 'Twould be as good that way as a cloak apiece for the two
of us."

Thady, however, said decidedly: "Blathers, not _at all_. Is it
destroyin' it you'd be after? I'm plinty warm enough." And he rolled the
big red handkerchief which had held the eggs into many folds about his
neck, tucking it down under his coat-collar all round. "There was a
surprisin' hate in it," he said.

By this time the dusk far and near had gloomed into darkness--the black
beetle had scared away the grey moth. As Thady and Judy sat with their
backs to the curving wall, they caught only fitful glimpses of the
opposite one when any long-fronded flickers of the fire-light waved
across and touched it. More often they fell short, and made quivering
circles shine where they struck the broken water in the mid-stream.
Without, beyond either arch, nothing was distinguishable except glimmers
of white foam shaken and tossing. On the left, looking up the river, it
seemed as if many spectral hands, borne nearer and nearer, came waving
and beckoning out of the night, to pass by and away down the river,
still beckoning and waving, carried further and further, on into the
night again. Every now and then a waft of the wind sighed in on them
along with the river, puffing about the flame and smoke, and blowing
ice-cold in their faces. When it had passed Thady always inquired: "Is
it warm at all, Jude?" and she always answered, drawing "its" folds
together with ostentatious satisfaction: "Och scaldin'."

But between whiles there was little conversation to interrupt the
monologue of the river, which seemed to find itself many voices under
the bridge. The one unceasing rustle of the main stream was frayed along
its margin into a myriad finer noises of murmuring and plashing, as the
massed foliage on a bough dwindles at its edges into more delicate
traceries of distinct sprays and leaves. Round some stones the water
whispered mysteriously, coiling in and out of gurgling recesses, and
against others it broke with a clear chiming tinkle as if elfin anvils
rang; here it droned on with a bee's hum soft and steady, and here it
chuckled and chirped, bubbling up in sudden little rapids and cascades.
At Judy's feet was a thin flat stone, which rested loosely on the top of
another, and flap-flapped, bobbing up and down as the ripple rose and
fell. Sitting idle in the firelight, warmed and fed to unwonted
contentment, Judy watched it half drowsily for a while. Presently she
said:

"That's the very way the lid of our ould kettle would be goin' at home
when it was on the boil, and me poor mother 'ud bid us keep an eye on
it--like enough to keep us out of divilmint. Och, but that was a cosy
little room of a could night. D'you mind it, Thady?"

"Ay, sure," said Thady, "but it's one while ago."

"It is that. A matter of thirty year and more, anyway, since we owned
the little shop. Sure now I remimber the day they shut it up, and put us
out of it, as plain as if it was on'y this mornin'. Grand we that was
childer thought it, because of somebody givin' us the ind of an ould jar
of sweets out of the windy to pacify us. Bedad the fightin' we had over
it was fit to ha' raised the town. But I grabbed meself a biggish lump
of peppermint twist, and would be slinkin' behind me mother to finish
it, and she talkin' at the door to ould Mrs. McClenaghan, and I heard
her sayin' her heart was broke. So I got wond'rin' to myself if the
raison was maybe that we'd ate it all on her. Och, but it's the quare
foolishness people does be remimberin'!"

"Belike the raison of that is because it's as plinty as anythin' else
wid thim," said Thady, cynically, "or maybe a trifle plintier."

"Sure we was on'y brats thim times," said Judy, apologetically. "For
anythin' we could tell we might as well be streelin' about under the
width of the sky like a string of wild duck, as stoppin' at home wid a
roof over our misfort'nit heads. Ould Mrs. McClenaghan next door had a
cloak the same pattern as this," Judy continued, selecting her memories
with better judgment. "But 'twas all tatters at the bottom, not worth a
bawbee to mine."

And Thady said with interest: "Had she now?"

"And as for me ould shawl," Judy went on, "it's been a scandal and a
caution this last three or four year; droppin' in bits it is, and small
blame to it. I wish I'd a penny for every mile I've tramped in it. Do
you remimber the joke me mother had about it's bein' a conthráry thing
that people thravellin' 'ud always begin a mile at the wrong ind? She'd
be talkin' that way to hearten up me father; but as often as not he'd
on'y let a roar at her to whisht, he was that discouraged. 'Twas a great
wish he had, poor man, to git her back settled in a little place of her
own before he was took. But 'twas in the big barracks of a Union at
Monaghan----"

"Well, it's all one to the two of thim now anyway," said Thady, finding
that Judy's reminiscences of their family history did not tend to
enliven his meditations over his pipe.

"Ah sure, everythin' will be all one to the whole of us, plase God, one
of these days," said Judy, who in her present mood could not easily have
realised the keen contentions and scorching jealousies of the night
before; "and when we get done with the thrampin', 'twill make little
enough differ whether it's one mile we wint or twinty hunderd. On'y I'd
liefer than a good dale thim two had had better luck wid it all. Cruel
put about they were many a time, and wantin' the bit to keep the life in
thim, and it just fretted out of thim in the ind I'm thinkin'. The
thought of it comes agin a body when one's sittin' warm and snug," Judy
said, gazing remorsefully round her shadowy, gusty lodging, and then
into the flames, lighting up a bare earth-patch, and down at the dark
folds that fell about her as she crouched on it. She seemed sunk into a
reverie. But after a while she looked up and said without apparent
relevance: "Heaven be her bed this night, the cratur. Thady, you
heathen, we'd a right to be sayin' the Rosary before we git too stupid
altogether. The eyes of you are droppin' into your head wid sleep this
minnit."

"And me just after lightin' me pipe," remonstrated Thady.

"Ah thin, hurry up and finish it," said Judy, betraying by this
injunction an invincible ignorance touching a man's sentiments towards
his last screw of tobacco, "or else I'll be off sound. It's the fine
warmth makes me sleepy. Sure wid this on me sorra a breath of could gits
next or nigh me to be keepin' me awake."

"Och thin, wait till it's out," said Thady.

"I will so," said Judy. "Sling another stick on the fire, lad, the way
you won't be perished sittin' there in thim woful ould rags. I've plinty
of prayers I might be sayin' till you're ready."

But in a little while, Thady, lingering over his pipe, became aware,
somewhat to his relief, that she had gone fast asleep, muffled up to the
chin in her cloak, with her head leaning back against the stone wall. He
sat and looked at her for some moments with an expression partly
complacent and partly compunctious. "Bedad now the crathur was bein'
perished alive before I brought that to her," he said to himself. "Very
apt she was to be gettin' her death. 'Twas great luck I had entirely to
pick it up. It's the hard life the likes of her has whatever thrampin'
around. Ay, glory be to God, 'twas the best good turn iver I done her."

Just at the time when Thady the Tinker was making these reflections
while the firelight flickered and the waters fleeted under Rosbride
bridge, some mile or so higher up the stream, where the long mountain
slopes are folded closer and steeper about it, a great turmoil had
arisen in a deep hollow among walls of the bare rock. Down one face of
these, a huge glistering slab, the river had for certain thousands of
years been taking a foamy leap; but to-night it happened that the rains,
beating for many days on the mountains, had eaten away the clay setting
which cemented a ponderous lump of rock into a niche immediately over
the fall, and the mass had now crashed down into the channel on the very
verge, blocking all the waterway. This, however, was a door hard to keep
shut, when every affluent rill and runnel out on the broad mountain
shoulders went darting swift and white, so that every minute swelled the
forces gathering pent in the barred passage. As the bridled torrent
seethed and climbed, hissing, behind that barrier, the great stone
tottered and swayed, and before the first foam-crest could overpeer it,
yielded to the weight of waters leaned against it, and rocks and flood,
thunderously roaring, rushed down together.

The sound of it, dulled into a moan, came through Rosbride bridge, and
Thady, who had grown very drowsy, thought to himself that the wind was
getting up, and that they couldn't have done better than stop where they
were, instead of to be setting off tramping on such a dirty wild night.
God knew where they might have got to.

The flood that broke away, with wave tumbled over wave, out of the
whirling pool, had not far to race down its stony stairs before it
reached a place with a turbulent floor, where the white mouths of other
two streams foamed into it through rock-rifts, loud-throated on either
hand. Thenceforward the water which had threaded the large boulders in
heavy strands coiled like monstrous braids of snaky locks, rose up and
drew together above their tallest heads into a single obliterating fold,
as it slid on smoothly with only now and then a quiver puckering its
surface, as if it had rolled over some live creature that writhed. Its
mounded solidity made its rapid motion look strange and terrible. Where
circles of thin froth swam round on it slowly, it was as black and white
as a bit of the bog in a snowstorm or under a drift of summer daisies.
At the turn of the ravine's last winding above the bridge, it plucked
away as it passed a small company of fir-trees, that long had dropped
their cones and needles into the river from a coign of vantage on a
jutting crag, and a minute after, anybody who had looked up from beneath
the arch would have seen the glimmering points of foam extinguished like
lights, further and nearer, lost amid the shadowy onsweeping of
something that set all the darkness astir as if it were one vast wing
unfurling. And then for a moment, in the narrow space lit by the fading
fire, he would have known that he was cut off from the world by chaos,
which poised towards him a formless surging front, and stooped and fell.
But as it happened nobody was keeping a watch there.

What wakened Thady was the clang of his cluster of tinware, which the
wave dashed against the wall behind him. But before he knew this, it had
gathered him up and swung him across with it over to the other side of
the arch. There he caught hold of a twisted ivy-tod and a bough of
mountain-ash, whence he dropped on the bank, and crawled up it out of
reach, commenting in forcible language upon the occurrence, by which he
was still astoundedly bewildered.

Judy, who was aroused in like manner, had her chance too. For a branch
of the same tree crooked a friendly arm towards her as she was borne
past, and she would have grasped it only that the weight of her heavy
cloth cloak dragged her down. So that instead of returning to dry land
for many a long day's tramp, she went out to sea in company with sundry
wrenched-off boughs, and mats of heather, and bundles of withered
bracken, and other such waifs and strays, none of which were ever again
heard tidings of any more than they were inquired after in the lonely
places they had left. Only for some stormy days the wrecked and sodden
banks of the Rosbride river were haunted by a forlorn-looking object of
a lame tramp, who sought vainly what his despair hoped to find. As he
roamed about in it, he had just one spell of consolation, which he was
often muttering over to himself. It was something he called, "The best
turn, anyway, I iver done the crathur in her life. Little enough, God
knows, little enough, but the best good turn."



CHAPTER V

FORECASTS


When Mrs. Joyce used in her last days to predict regretfully that her
youngest daughter would never marry, she said a bold word, for at this
time still Theresa's years fell short of twenty, and she was generally
recognised as the prettiest girl to be seen at Mass in the small, ugly
chapel down beyant near Ballybrosna. Some people, it is true, said that
she was "just a fairy of a crathur, and too little for anythin'," and
she was, no doubt, diminutive in size. Nor had she any brilliancy of
colouring to make amends in a humming-bird's fashion for the
insignificance of her proportions, resembling rather, with her dark eyes
and hair, one of those filmy white blossoms which look the paler and
frailer for their knots of ebon stamens, or the delicate moth who shows
fine black pencillings among his pearly down. Still, nobody denied that
she had "an uncommon purty face of her own," and the neighbours,
moreover, always found her "plisant and frindly and gay enough," when
they found her at all. But they remarked among themselves that one
seldom seen e'er a sight of Therasa Joyce these times anywheres about.
They supposed she was took up wid lookin' after her mother, who wasn't
gettin' her health over well this good while back. I think myself that
Theresa's invisibility could be only in part accounted for thus, as the
explanation does not cover the fact that to slip the wrong side of the
dyke, or turn aside among screening hillocks and hollows when she
noticed the approach of her acquaintances, was the course she always
adopted if she could achieve it without hurting anybody's feelings.
Theresa much disliked doing this, as a rule, though she broke it on one
occasion in a way that surprised and puzzled those who knew her best.

But whether Mrs. Joyce forecast the future rightly or wrongly, she had
certainly an erroneous impression on her mind when, as often happened,
she wound up her disconsolate musings by saying resentfully, "And the
back of me hand to some I could name." If she had proceeded to do so,
she would probably have mentioned persons who had done nothing to bring
about the result she was deploring, and she never thought of connecting
it with the events which had accompanied Ody Rafferty's flitting from
the Three Mile Farm more than a twelvemonth before Denis O'Meara came to
the place.

Until Ody took up his abode at Lisconnel he had always lived with his
father, who farmed a remote bit of land out towards Lough Glenglas. It
was a holding which had been wrested from the grip of a surrounding bog
by earlier generations of Raffertys, who were a strenuous race; but in
Ody's father's time their energies had taken a turn not conducive to
reclamation, or even to the maintenance of what was already won. All
Ody's many elder brethren--sisters there were none--had run wild, and
ended by running it so far afield that the narrow, whitewashed house,
lonesome and bleak, saw them no more. Its mistress also died, failing,
perhaps, other means of exit--running wild being in her case
impracticable--and finding life impossibly dreary without Ned, the
least-good-for of her sons; and the household was thus reduced to old
Michael Rafferty, and his aunt, and little Ody. These domestic changes,
in conjunction with other untoward chances, sadly hindered farming
operations, and nature made prompt use of the pause. Season by season
the patch of tilled ground seemed to shrink at the wish of the greedy
black land that girdled it about. The outlying fields grew first garish
with golden ragweed and scarlet poppies, and then dull green again with
the brown-knotted rushes and sombre sedge, and all other marish growths,
until the re-annexation was complete, and they once more were
homogeneous part and parcel of the conquering bog. Old Michael used to
trudge heavily round his dwindling territories, which were haunted by
memories of better days. There had been a time when they had actually
"kep' a pair of plough-horses." I believe that he would have fretted his
heart out much sooner than he did if it had not been for Ody, his only
remaining son, "whose aquils," his aunt Moggy sometimes remarked rather
bitterly, "he consaited you wouldn't find plintier in the world than an
apple sittin' on a sloe-bush." As the boy grew up the old man's pride
and pleasure in him were tempered by apprehensions lest he should "take
off wid himself like the other lads." However, Ody never did this nor
anything worse than wax somewhat over-confident and self-opiniated; and
a year or so before his father's death he became associated with Felix
O'Beirne in the management of an illicit still off away in the bog,
which gave him an object in life, and had a sobering and settling effect
upon him.

He was not more than twenty when his father suddenly died one early
spring morning, and he found himself left responsible for a few acres
well cropped with weeds, and sundry arrears of rent to be extracted from
their produce. Whereupon he resolved to abandon the struggle, and set up
on a less ambitious footing in one of the cabins at Lisconnel. So he got
ready for the move by selling off his little bit of live stock, all
except Rory, the old black pony, who had a very large head and a white
face like a grotesque mask, and with whom he would not have parted on
the most tempting terms. As for his great-aunt Moggy, when she heard of
this arrangement, she resigned herself to her fate, which was obviously
the Union away at Moynalone. What else should become of her, since she
was past field-work, and nobody could expect Ody now to be bothered with
keeping her idle, and he with scarce a penny to his name after settling
with Mr. Nugent. "Ody," she reflected, "didn't mind a thraneen what way
he had things in the house, and didn't care to be keepin' fowls, so what
good 'ud he get out of her at all?" Moggy was a dull and rather
cross-tempered old person, who had grown up in souring shade, and never
had a life of her own to live, nor yet a faculty for slipping smoothly
into other people's. Her slight intercourse with Ody had hitherto
chiefly consisted of quarrels. In fact, only the day before his father's
death, they had fallen out abusively about the broiling of some bacon,
and this seemed to make her destination all the more inevitable.
Therefore Moggy likewise set about her few dismal preparations,
oppressed by a stunned sense that the black hour she had been dreading
most of her life was now just going to strike.

On the morning of the day Ody was to flit she held a sort of carouse at
her solitary breakfast over the remnant of a pound of tea which she had
saved after the wake. Tea was ten prices fifty years ago, and a very
rare luxury at the Three Mile Farm. As she poured it strong and black
out of the badly broken teapot, the whole one being packed up, she
thought that was the last time she'd ever have the chance again in this
world to be wetting herself a cup of tea, and she thickened it
recklessly with lumps of damp brown sugar, and swung it round in her
cracked saucer to cool, and tried hard to enjoy it. She was still
lingering over it when Ody came into the kitchen, which caused her, poor
soul, instinctively to thrust away the betraying teapot out of sight on
the black hob.

"What way was you intindin' to go, then, aunt?" said Ody.

"To Moynalone?" she said, turning to face her future with a deep sinking
of heart. "Sure, I suppose it's trampin' over I'll be."

"And I won'er how long you think to be doin' it," said Ody--"a matter of
ten mile?"

"Where's the hurry at all, supposin'?" said his aunt, desperately.

"Blathers!" said Ody, "there's room in the cart waitin' ready. You'd be
better bundlin' yourself into it than to be sittin' here all the mornin'
delayin' us."

"'Deed, then, beggars drive as chape as they walk," she said, "and I
might as well be gettin' the lift as far as you can take me."

The old white-faced pony preferred to pace slowly on the long bog-road,
and, as Ody always respected his whims, the journey barely ended with
the March daylight. The old, sad-visaged woman sat all the while under
her muffling shawl in silent apathy undisturbed, and as during the
latter stages of the drive a blinking drowsiness co-operated with her
want of interest in the scenes through which she jogged, she naturally
looked around her in bewilderment when roused by the jerk of the
stopping cart. She expected to find herself in the streets of Moynalone,
drawn up, probably, at the door of the big Union workhouse. But, instead
of its long rows of casements staring down blankly on her, she saw only
the one mole's-eye window of a tiny whitewashed cabin peering at her
from beneath its thatched eaves, and all about it the great lonely bog
spreading away with never a trace of any town.

"Och, wirrasthrew, man, what are you after doin' on me?" she said,
beginning to bewail herself querulously. "Sure you haven't brought me to
any place at all. Every hour of the black night it'ill be afore ever
I'll get there now, and the Union'ill be shut, and what's to become of
me then I dunno. You'd a right to ha' tould me----"

"Blathers!" said her nephew, "git down out of that wid your yawpin'.
D'you want the folk here to think you're a sackful of ould hins? And go
in and be seein' after a bit of fire; it's late enough to be sure. What
fool's talk have you about the Union, and bad luck to it? You'll find
the things for the supper in the inside of the ould churn. Union,
moyah!"

And old Moggy, alighting with cramped limbs, entered her home at
Lisconnel, feeling blissfully as if she had been _unpacked_ out of a
most horrible nightmare.

Ody was probably actuated by several unassorted motives in dealing thus
with his superfluous old great-aunt. Pride and pity and perversity and
generosity--all had, no doubt, some influence upon his conduct, while
long use and wont had unawares given her the same sort of hold upon his
affections that was possessed in a much higher degree by Rory, the pony,
whose humours were of course easier to put up with than human foibles.
But the old woman measured his magnanimity by the immensity of the
benefit which it had conferred upon her, and with a strong revulsion of
feeling she formed an opinion of his virtues and talents as exalted
quite as that which she had often secretly jibed at in his father.
Accordingly she sang his praises unweariedly among their new neighbours,
and, as Ody was vain enough not to dislike the echoes which reached him,
he soon began to look upon her with more complacency, so that they
agreed much better than heretofore. She found no small solace, too,
after her long cronyless isolation up at the Three Mile Farm, in the
company of Mrs. Joyce, and Mrs. Keogh, and the other Lisconnel dames. In
short, a kind of Indian summer of content seemed to be setting in for
her. Moggy's mind, however, was of the self-tormenting type, and soon
devised means of marring it. They took the form of apprehensions that
Ody would presently get married, and that thereupon "the wife would put
her out of it." If she had only known, Ody was at this time, as for many
years ensuing, far too much taken up with himself, and Rory, and "the
little consarn away in the bog," to entertain any such project; but as
it was she felt that the event, with all its direful consequences,
perpetually hung over her, and might at any moment bring her new
prosperity to a miserable end. Her impending great-niece-in-law was a
vaguely appalling spectre, who threatened to take the roof from over her
head, and the bit out of her mouth, and turn her adrift to founder
hopelessly on the workhouse doorsteps. But it was not until more than a
year after their settlement at Lisconnel that she endued her bogey with
one definite form, by making up her mind that Ody "was thinkin' of
Theresa Joyce."

Her reason was that she had one fine evening seen him carrying Theresa's
water-pail for her down the hill, an ordinary act of courtesy enough,
but the sight of which suddenly darkened the world before her foolish
old eyes more dismally than if the golden fleece of the summer sunset
had been smothered under the blackest pall ever woven in cloud-looms.
"Fine colloguin' they're havin' together," she said to herself as she
watched them and their long shadows down the slope, "and he sloppin' the
half of it over the edge instead of mindin' what he's doin'. It's
throwin' me out on the side of the road she'll be." In reality Theresa
was wondering why there would be, a quare black sidimint like, in the
water on some days and not on others; and Ody was explaining the
phenomenon confidently and erroneously on an extemporised theory of his
own. But to old Moggy's fears it seemed quite possible that they might
be fixing the wedding-day. For Theresa Joyce herself she had no manner
of misliking at all, considering her to be "a very dacint plisant-spoken
little girl," but Mrs. Ody Rafferty seemed none the less certain to
evict her without remorse. And Ody's aunt retired to rest that night in
a despondent mood.

It was just about this time that Denis O'Meara came to stay at Lisconnel
on sick leave. The O'Mearas lived in one of the three cabins which used
to stand near the O'Beirne's forge, but which the great Famine and Fever
year left tenantless for ever after. Their household consisted of the
two infirm old people with their melancholy middle-aged son Tim, and
their sickly grandson, little Joe Egan, who was Denis's cousin. Now
Denis had been wounded in a battle somewhere out in India, and had been
promoted sergeant--"and he but a young boyo so to spake"--and owned four
medals, and stood six foot three in his stockings, and was as fine a
figure of a man as you could wish to see, let alone his gorgeous scarlet
uniform, which was a sight to behold; so if he was not a hero, get me
one, as we say in Lisconnel. But Lisconnel was quite satisfied with him
in that worshipful character, and found it very easy to adopt the
appropriate attitude towards him. For Denis was good-natured and
cheerful and never conceited at all, nor vain when there was anything
more to the purpose for him to be; qualities which have an irresistible
fascination in distinguished personages and make their followers' duty
a pleasure. It was wonderful how his sojourn enlivened everybody, even
his mournful little old grandmother, whose gratification expressed
itself chiefly in regrets that his poor father and mother had not lived
to see the illigant man he'd grown. When she said this to the younger
matrons of Lisconnel, they thought that the crathurs' fate was
commiserable indeed, and earnestly hoped that they themselves would be
spared, plase God, to witness the splendid careers that lay before their
own Denises at present playing among the puddles. But the older ones had
to content themselves with the knowledge that if they had only just so
happened to get the same chances, their own lads would have done the
very same things; a fact which seemed to give them a sort of
hypothetical proprietorship in Denis's glory. His presence brightened up
society as a tall poppy brightens up all a sombre potato-plot, and his
conversation brought strange lands and extraordinary events within one
remove--a single pair of eyes and ears--of everybody's experience. For
many years after "the summer we had Denis O'Meara up here" made a vivid
time-mark in our annals; and I fancy that the stories of some of his
exploits, with their outlines looming large through a mythical
mistiness, still float in our atmosphere. There is at least one legend
relating how a soldier out in the East cut off a mad elephant's head at
a stroke of his sabre, with the hero of which Denis O'Meara could
probably be identified. Altogether he was so exceptionally brilliant a
figure both in himself and in his fortunes, that the interest which he
excited had no element of envy in it, as might have been the case had
emulation seemed less utterly beyond everybody's reach.

Next to his cousin, Joe Egan, a stunted, starved-looking sprissawn of a
lad, perhaps the most appreciative of his admirers was big Hugh
McInerney, whom people were apt to call an omadhawn. He also was,
comparatively speaking, a stranger at Lisconnel, having come there only
that spring to give John O'Driscoll a hand with the building of his mud
cabin, after which he stayed about doing what odd jobs offered at that
slack season of the year. Now and then he tramped on distillery business
for Felix O'Beirne, and generally acquitted himself in a manner which
appeared worthy of contempt to young Ody Rafferty, who was his companion
on these expeditions. Ody expressed his opinion in unqualified terms,
saying, "Sure it 'ud disgust you to see him moonin' along like an ould
donkey strayed out of a fair." But his senior partner, rather to his
annoyance, persisted in replying, "But, mind you, the chap's no fool."
He had nobody belonging to him at Ballybrosna, whence he came, and some
people said that he had been a workhouse child.

At the time of Denis O'Meara's arrival, he was darning the widow Joyce's
thatch for her, and "not killin' himself ever the job," as people said,
when they reckoned how many days he had been visible crawling about on
the top of her little house, a conspicuous position in which he looked,
Mrs. Con Ryan remarked, "a quarer great gawk than he did on dry lan'."
He was occupied thus on the first afternoon that Denis walked up there
with some of the other lads, and while they talked to Mrs. Joyce and
Theresa underneath, the thatcher took a leisurely and critical survey of
the scarlet and golden newcomer, from his wonderfully polished boots to
his sleek dark head and fierce moustache. The verdict he pronounced to
himself with unfeigned satisfaction was, "Grandeur's no name for him."
Hugh himself, of large and lumbering frame, had a shag of reddish
flaxen hair, which made thatch-like eaves above his small, light-blue
eyes and high burnt-brick-coloured cheek-bones. He wore whitey-brown
rags. After the rest had gone on and in, he slithered down to the ground
and told Theresa, who was still standing by the door, that she didn't
look the size of a bit of a lady-bird beside the soldier fellow. If
anybody else had made this personal remark, Theresa might have been a
little hurt by it, as she wished herself of more imposing stature; but
sure nobody minded poor Hugh McInerney; at any rate she said, "Aye, he's
a terrible big man, isn't he? Apt to knock the head off himself he'd be
if he was offerin' to come in at our door."

However, on the very next day Denis contrived to accomplish that feat
without any such accident when he called in at the Joyces' to ask was
his grandmother there--which she was not, nor indeed likely to be.
Failing to find the old woman, he postponed his quest for the present
and stayed talking to Theresa, who, as it happened, was at home; and
then he stopped again outside to help Hugh McInerney by handing him up
some rolls of green-sodded scraws and slippery bundles of rushes. His
long reach made him serviceable here, though his left arm was still
partially disabled by the sabre-cut that had invalided him. The gleam of
the red coat at the Joyces' door had apparently as fascinating an effect
upon Lisconnel as if the place had been inhabited by a population that
bellowed and gobbled its greetings instead of saying, "How's yourself,
lad?" and "It's a grand day, thank God," as it came sauntering up
dispersedly from various quarters. Before many minutes had passed quite
a numerous group were collected, for in these long midsummer days there
is little to be done up here except save the turf, a business which fine
weather makes short work of. In the weeks before the potato-digging,
employment becomes as scarce as the pitaties themselves, and the hours
hang limp and flaccid between the meals which punctuate them with a
plateful of coarse-grained gruel. Therefore to Christy Sheridan and
Terence Kilfoyle, with half a dozen of their neighbours, the sight of
their distinguished visitor was an oasis in a very arid desert, and they
made towards it thirstily.

By and by the group drifted away from the road before the Joyces' house
into the rough sward behind it; rather literally drifted, as the cause
of the move was the wind, a strong soft west wind which had been blowing
over the bog all the morning in great wide gusts. They seemed to lean
hard against whatever they met, and made standing still an effort, and
devastated conversation by carrying off important fragments of it
uncaught, no matter how loudly one bawled. But the big boulders and
furze-clumps strewn about in a slight depression close by offered seats
and shelter opportunely; so amongst them presently appeared Denis
O'Meara's scarlet tunic, and Theresa Joyce's brown-striped shawl, and
Mrs. Ryan's white-frilled flapping cap, which she said was bein'
fluttered to destruction off her ould head, and Hugh McInerney's
many-rifted caubeen, for he declared that until the flurry of the blast
went down a bit you might as well be lettin' on to thatch the sails
whirlin' of a win'mill. And the rest of the company following suit might
be described in terms of their attire as for the most part sad-coloured
and dilapidated. It was just such a gathering as may be sitting to sun
themselves at Lisconnel this day--if it happens to be a fine summer
one--but with a touch of brilliance, both for eye and ear, added by the
young soldier's presence. They had, however, but fitful gleams to bask
in, for the sky was all feathered over with little silver-white plumes,
which the wind kept ruffling by so fast that the light flickered in and
out continually, as if it had come through a canopy of large slowly
waving leaves. Still, they gossiped beneath it with much satisfaction,
and catechised Denis about his adventures, and told him all the news of
the countryside; and there seemed to be no particular reason why they
should not go on doing so indefinitely. What in the end broke up the
assembly was a slight mishap that befell Theresa Joyce.

It cannot be denied that Theresa was rather vain about her long black
hair, which she had only of late begun to put up in thick silken coils.
Her mother said you had to take your two hands to a one of them, like as
if you were twisting a big _suggawn_ (hay-rope); and they looked almost
too heavy for her small head, no matter how closely they were wound
about it. A rippling wave, moreover, ran through these tresses, which
were exceedingly soft and fine; so her vanity was perhaps excusable. At
any rate, it led her to fashion herself a small knot of cherry-coloured
ribbon made of a bit that had trimmed the sleeve of her mother's purple
merino gown. It was a _very_ small knot, because most of the bit had got
mildewed lying up, before Theresa grew to concern herself about such
things. But it looked as bright in her hair as a ruddy berry on a dark
foliaged creeper, and she wore it with a pleasure, which was destined to
be brief. For as she sat knitting with the quietly creeping fingers of
an expert in that art, a vagrant gust maliciously whisked off her little
gawd, and tossing it contumeliously on the ground, as if it were not
worth carrying, began to puff it along, skimming over the heather and
tussocks. Denis O'Meara all but rescued it for her, only that Hugh
McInerney--the omadhawn--starting forward at the same time, blundered up
against him, and tumbled with him into a furze-bush. And before they
picked themselves up, the cherry-coloured knot had met its fate in the
shape of the Ryans' black and white kid. She was tethered close by, and
had been apparently absorbed in scratching her forehead with her left
hind foot in a way that said much for the limberness of her youthful
joints. But as the bit of ribbon flirted past her she made a rapid
snatch, and swallowed it at a gulp. Mrs. Ryan stood dismayed at possible
serious consequences to the kid, and Theresa at the certain loss of her
scrap of finery; and everybody else was saying to Hugh McInerney: "Och,
you great omadhawn, why couldn't you keep yourself aisy? He had it safe
enough on'y for you gettin' under his feet"--everybody, that is, except
Denis O'Meara, who said: "Sure now the both of us wasn't mindin' rightly
where we was chargin' to; and the raison of that belike was the nayther
of us thinkin' so much of what we was runnin' after, as of who we was
runnin' for--and small blame to us bedad."

But Hugh's self-esteem was not restored by the good-natured excuse. He
said: "Truth it is, I'd a right to ha' sted quiet. For the on'y notion I
had was puttin' meself for'ard to be gettin' a hould of it before any of
the others." And he walked off crestfallen to resume his perch on the
thatch.

As for Theresa, she ignored Denis's pretty speech, and said 'deed now
she remembered her mother had bid her step up and see what way Ody
Rafferty's aunt was that morning. And she, too, withdrew from the group
to make this visit of inquiry.

As she passed on her way under the place where Hugh was thatching, he
dropped a small handful of rushes on her head to call her attention, and
when she looked up she saw his red-brick-hued face in a wild
tow-coloured halo peering down at her from over the eaves. "I am sorry I
lost it on you," he said.

"Ah, no matter about it; and it wasn't your fau't more than another's,"
said Theresa.

"You'd ha' had it now," said Hugh, "if it wasn't for the little goat
gettin' the chance to ait it while himself was tumblin' over me. But I'd
as lief have your hair the way it is now. It is the blackest ever I
seen. One might think you'd gathered it out of the middles of them red
poppies there. Stick a couple of them in it, if you want anythin'; but
to my mind it's better widout. On'y if you've the fancy to be tyin' the
bit of red string through it, I'm sorry it was ate."

Hugh's head drew back, and disappeared from her view; but next moment
she heard him say mournfully: "What am I after doin'? Puttin' me fut
that far down a houle it's caught fast between a couple of rafters.
Firrm it is, begorrah. If I don't mind what I'm at, it's pullin' the
half of their house down, and wranchin' me ankle I'll be before I free
meself." And she saw him struggling cautiously on the roof all the
while she was ascending the slope to Ody Rafferty's door, within which
his aunt was at present a prisoner.

A reluctant and repining one she was, having been seized with a bad
attack of lumbago at a time when she felt particularly anxious to keep a
vigilant eye upon what occurred in her neighbourhood, instead of being
left dependent upon hearsay for a knowledge of anything happening
outside her four draughty walls. Many a care-infested hour she fretted
away between them. For how could she tell with what insidious steps the
calamity to ensue from Ody's courtship of Theresa Joyce might all the
while be stealing on her? She dared not confide her fears to any
neighbour, nor would she have put much faith in the report of
observation unwhetted thereby; and she lived in daily dread of hearing
the news announced as no mere conjecture or rumour, but a very hard
fact. As the days wore on the idea took possession of her more and more
completely, but she could only wreak her helpless ill-humour by doing
foolish and futile things, such as dilating to Ody upon the imprudence
of getting married, and the undesirable qualities of black-looking slips
of colleens--a simple and ingenious expedient for putting him out of
conceit with all and any of them; while she assumed towards Theresa a
demeanor so glum and repellent that the girl could not attribute it
entirely to the irritability caused by rheumatic twinges, and from one
of her charitably intentioned visits returned with a disconcerted
expression, and a resolve, which she kept, to pay no more. But in fact
Ody was during these weeks even more than usually engrossed by the
affairs of the inobtrusive little manufactory, which he and Felix
O'Beirne superintended away in a retired part of the bog; and not they
alone, but Lisconnel collectively, had been going through some
excitement on this account. This was occasioned by the livelier interest
which the police had recently manifested in that branch of home
industry, stimulated by admonitions from their authorities to the effect
that the hunting down of illicit stills, and confiscation of the
produce, might with advantage be carried on more energetically. Hence
had resulted several appearances in Lisconnel of the constabulary from
Ballybrosna and other stations, and when these occurred Ody was in his
element of wiles and stratagems. More than once he enjoyed the moment of
their visitors' departure on a wild-goose chase, "consaitin' they've got
us be the hind leg this time for sartin;" and long did he chuckle over
the evening when they came and "sat discoorsin' as plisint and aisy as a
rabbit in its houle," by a hearth where there was "enough of the stuff
to float the lot of them lyin' widin six inches of their shiny brogues."
It was, however, thought expedient to guard against a repetition of this
perilous entertainment, and the contraband crocks were transferred to a
still more secluded hiding-place in the queer tiny sod-and-stone shanty
with Hugh McInerney, who had displayed unexpected strategical ability
and presence of mind under late emergencies, now knocked up for himself
in a hollow behind the hill. So old Moggy's fears might have been better
employed. Then about this time, too, a thrill was caused by the
mysterious horseman, who visited the O'Beirnes' forge one night, and got
old Felix to break open for him an immensely strong, small iron box
which he carried. The same box being found next morning lying empty in
the little Lisconnel stream, beside which the horse, "a grand big roan,"
was quietly grazing, while his rider was nowhere, nor was ever after
anywhere, to be seen; an incident which gave scope for infinite
speculation at Lisconnel.

All these things happened before Ody's aunt got about again. By that
time it was well on in August, and the season having been hot and dry,
Lisconnel's oat-patches were already reflecting as if in a mirror,
tarnished somewhat and rusted, the broad golden blaze that had looked
down on them so steadily, and people had begun to think about reaping.
The Ryans' field, indeed, was so ripe by the day of Ballybrosna Big
Fair, that Paddy Ryan commissioned Hugh McInerney to bring him back a
reaping-hook from it. Hugh was going to attend it on business of his
own, and Ody Rafferty had some bulkier commissions to execute in behalf
of his neighbours. But he encountered some difficulties in getting under
way, due to the inopportune devices of old Rory, whom he proposed to
bring with him. Ody had been careful not to put on his best clothes
until he had caught the beast, because, as he remarked, "He well knew
the crathur 'ud be off wid himself hidin' in the unhandiest place the
divil 'ud put in his mind, if he noticed e'er a dacint stitch on him."
Yet despite this precaution, when his master went to look for him after
breakfast, no black pony was in sight.

"And he that'll be foosterin' everywhere under your feet other whiles,
he's that fond of company," said Ody's aunt, who hobbled out of doors
for the first time to assist in the search. "Belike he's seen you
rubbin' up your brogues, and be raison of that he's took off wid
himself. Bedad, now the big ould head of him is as full of desate as it
can hould."

"He's a notorious schemer, God forgive him," Ody said, rather sadly, for
it went against the grain with him to admit defects in Rory.

But his scheming bade fair to prove successful, as Ody after long
hunting stood baffled at the door, with his expedition seemingly
frustrated, when Hugh McInerney passing by reported that he "was after
seein' the baste lanin' gathered up close agin the back of the big stone
above there, wid a continted grin on the ould gob of him that 'ud
frighten you wid the villiny was in it." Whereupon the two young men
went to dislodge him from his fool's paradise, and the three started
together without further delay.

Till a short way down the road they met old Felix O'Beirne, and with him
Denis O'Meara, at whose heels followed Joe Egan, ragged and small, his
habit being to dog his splendid cousin so persistently that old Mrs.
Byers next door said she wondered "the young chap didn't of an odd
while take him be the two shoulders and sling him over the dyke."

"So you're off to the fair," said old O'Beirne. "And is it sellin' the
pony you'd be at last? Sure, now, he'll be the pick of the market,
that's sartin."

"Ah, they'll niver give me me price for him, the naygurs," said Ody.

"Our Captin-Commandin' here had a right to take him off of you for a
throoper," said old O'Beirne, "and, faix, there wouldn't be his aquil in
the len'th and breadth of the army. What 'ud you offer for him, lad?
Look at the size of the head he has on him, and the onnathural white
face of him that's fit to scare a rigimint before it, if there was
nothin' else."

"Is it broke bankrupt you'd have me then?" said Denis, "settin' up to be
buyin' meself mounts of that expinsive discripshin?"

"Musha, good gracious, man, promise him the first thruppinny-bit you
meet floatin' down the river on a grindstone, and you'll be buyin' every
hair in his tail," said the old man. "But come along and don't be
delayin' thim. They're goin' after fairin's for their sweethearts, the
way you'd be yourself if you worn't too great a naygur. Or, maybe,
there isn't anythin' good enough for her to be had in Ballybrosna--is
that the raison of it?"

Little Joe was beginning to say in a resentful shout: "Naygur
yourself--he and I are goin' to get----" But Denis pulled him on
jocularly by the collar, and the parties went their several ways.

Ody then said: "Sweethearts is it? He's the quare ould man for talkin'.
Glory be to the great goodness, I'm throubled wid ne'er a one. 'Here's
out of it,' sez I. 'Onnathural,' sez he, musha cock him up, and himself
shoein' ould garrons all the days of his life. Hi along, Rory, jewel!"

But Hugh said, meditatively, and more than half to himself, which was
rather a habit of his: "Well, now, for the matter of the fairin', it's
just the best len'th of ribbon I can get thim to give me for a shillin'.
Yella it's to be. I wasn't long aither plannin' a way to find out the
colour she'd like. Sure, I gave her a bunch of flowers wid poppies in
it, and daisies, and furze-blossom, and foxglove, and forgit-me-not, and
midowsweet, and sez I to her, which of thim was the finest coloured.
And, sez she, the furze-blossom was, be raison of it bein' the bright
gould all over, that the others had mostly only a spark of somewheres
inside. So it's to be yella. Tellin' you the truth, I'd liefer she
wouldn't be wearin' e'er such a thing at all, anyways not in her hair,
that's a sight purtier just in the big black twists. But, sure, it's the
fancy she has, and morebetoken, I think bad of me lettin' the little
goat swally the weeny bit she had on her. Ay bedad, I'd a right to be
bringin' it to her; and, at all evints, I'd be doin' a foolish thing to
come home widout it, and me not gettin' the bit of fat bacon these six
weeks next Saturday to make up the price. I won'er now what len'th
they'd give you for one shillin'?"

But Ody, who had not been listening, only said, oracularly: "Och! that's
accordin'," which did not materially assist Hugh's speculations.

Yellow ribbons were not plentiful at Ballybrosna fair, and Hugh
McInerney had to ask for them vainly at several stalls before he came to
an old-clothes cart, where the proprietress, being hot and cross, took
him aback by replying: "And who ever heard tell of sellin' ribbons be
the len'th, you quare-lookin' stookawn?"

"Sure it's meself couldn't say but you might; I niver had any call to be
buyin' such a thing before. But a bit that one shillin' 'ud be the
price of is what I'm wishful to be gettin', if it was yella--and beggin'
your pardon, ma'am," Hugh answered with a glib meekness, which mollified
the old woman as much as his not undesigned mention of his shilling.

So she said, "'Deed, now, I believe I've a splindid yella bit
somewheres, a trifle creased in the folds, that I could make you a
prisint of for a shillin'." And she rummaged, and unrolled before him
interminable coils of vivid dandelion-hued ribbon. "The grand colour of
it couldn't be bet," she said, "in Ireland. You could see it a mile off,
and you wouldn't get the match of it in Dublin under half-a-crown. If
she wouldn't be plased wid that, you've got an odd one to satisfy."

Ody with Rory came by as she was wrapping it up in paper, and Hugh,
pointing to his purchase with a melancholy air, said, in an aggrieved
tone: "It's a _terrible_ quantity they're about givin' me--yards and
yards--enough to rope round a haystack; and it's an ojis colour. Troth,
now, if she takes the notion to be stickin' the whole of it on top of
the little black head of her, it's an objec' she'll make of herself, she
will so. It's a pity. I'd liefer there hadn't been the half of it."

"What for then are you gettin' more than enough of whatever it is?" Ody
asked not unreasonably. "Supposin' you wanted any such thrash at all at
all."

"Ah, sure, I settled in me own mind to be spendin' me shillin' on it,
and that's the way it is," Hugh said resignedly. "Maybe she'll have more
wit, the bit of a crathur; she might never put it on. So now I've on'y
to see after Paddy Ryan's rapin'-hook, and then I'm done. And is it
carryin' them two bags all the way home you'd be? Sure there's plinty of
room for them on the baste."

"Ay, is there?" said Ody. "But the fac' is Rory's in none too good a
temper this minyit, goodness help him, and he'll be apt to thravel more
contint, the crathur, if he sees he's not the on'y body wid a loadin'."

"Rax me over the one of them," said Hugh, "I've nought barrin' the bit
of ribbon, and the rapin'-hook 'ill be nothin' to me at all."

And in this way they plodded back to Lisconnel.



CHAPTER VI

A FAIRING


Up at Lisconnel, meanwhile, as the idle hours loitered by, Ody
Rafferty's aunt grew tired of her solitary housekeeping, and late in the
afternoon she made her way down as far as the Joyces'. Here a number of
the neighbours were sitting about in almost the same place where Theresa
had sustained the loss of her cherry-coloured knot. But to-day there
were no rough breezes stirring to bring about such disasters by their
unmannerly pranks. The sun-steeped air was so still that the thick
bushes stood as steady as the boulders, and even the rushes nodded
slightly and stiffly. As the old woman hobbled down the slope she saw
Denis O'Meara's scarlet uniform gleaming martially against a background
of dark broom and hoary rock. Its wearer was, however, very peacefully
employed in pulling the silky floss off the heads of the bog-cotton,
which lay in a great heap before him on a flat-topped boulder, with a
big bunch of many-hued wild flowers beside it. Theresa Joyce, who sat
opposite to him, was pulling bog-cotton too, though less diligently, for
it might have been noticed that she often looked off her work, and
towards the scrap of road that lay within her ken. Joe Egan was at his
cousin's elbow, and a few other lads and lasses made a rough circle. But
old Mrs. Joyce, and old Mrs. Ryan, and old Paddy Ryan, and old Felix
O'Beirne had established themselves on a low grassy bank at a little
distance. It was kept so closely cropped by the Ryans' goat that its
dandelions grew dwarfed and stalkless, and were set flat in the fine
sward like mock suns. All this day the real sun had shone on it so
strongly that the air was aromatic with the odour of its dim-blossomed
herbs, and to touch it was like laying your hand on the warm side of
some sleek-coated beast. Old Paddy said you might think you were sitting
on the back of an ould cow, but his wife rejoined that "you'd have to go
far enough from Lisconnel, worse luck, before you'd get the chance of
doin' such a thing." And she shook her head over the reflection so
regretfully that a matter-of-fact person might have inferred her to have
been formerly much in the habit of enjoying seats on the backs of cows.

These elders, from where they sat, commanded a comprehensive view of the
crops of Lisconnel, its potatoes and oats, green and gold, meshed in
their grey stone fences, and flecked with obstructive boulders and
laboured cairns. In the middle of the Ryans' neighbouring field there is
a block of quartzite, as big as a small turf-stack, which gleamed
exceedingly white from amongst the deep muffling greenery of the
potato-plants. Mrs. Joyce had been praising their thriving aspect to old
Paddy, who, however, was disposed to express a gloomy view of them.

"It's too rank they're growin' altogether," he said; "ne'er a big crop
you'll get under that heigth of haulms. 'Heavy thatchin' and light
liftin',' as the sayin' is."

To Felix O'Beirne the smooth leafy surface recalled a far-off incident
of the War, when the dense foliage of a certain potato-field had
permitted the execution of a curious military manoeuvre. It was one of
old O'Beirne's favourite stories, and he often related it at full
length, but to-day it was cut short by the arrival of Ody Rafferty's
aunt, whom Mrs. Joyce and Mrs. Ryan were prompt to greet, making room
for her between them on the bank with an alacrity which somehow conveyed
an impression of uneasiness lest she should establish herself elsewhere.

Presently she said: "And what at all is Theresa busy wid over
yonder--and young O'Meara? Is it bogberries they're after pullin'?"

Mrs. Joyce said: "No, ma'am, it isn't bogberries;" and left further
explanations to Mrs. Ryan, with the air of one who refrains from
self-glorification, but counts upon its being done for her, more
gracefully, by deputy.

"Sure wasn't he out on the bog the len'th of the day, since early this
mornin', he and little Joe, gadrin' her the bog-cotton?" said Mrs. Ryan.
"The full of a pitaty-creel he brought her. They have it there in a
hape."

"'Twas because he heard her sayin' last night she wished she had a good
bit of it to stuff the pillow she's makin' me," put in Mrs. Joyce. "Off
he went after it the first thing this mornin'."

"Whethen now, is that the way of the win'?" said Ody Rafferty's aunt,
with a pleased smile, striking out unfamiliar paths among her wrinkles.
"Troth, but I'm rael glad to hear it. Bedad, it's a grand thing for
little Theresa."

"He's a very dacint poor lad," Mrs. Joyce said, looking over with pride
at the handsome young sergeant, and thinking that Ody Rafferty's aunt
must have some good nature in her after all, since she was so evidently
glad of their good luck.

"'Deed but there's not a finer young man in the kingdom of Connaught
this day," said Mrs. Ryan, who could, of course, be frankly laudatory.
"And wid everybody's good word, high and low, and drawin' grand pay, and
the colonel in his rigimint ready to do a turn for him any time, and a
rael steady kind-hearted lad to the back of that. But sure he's after as
nice a little girl as he'd ha' found anywheres, wid all his thravellin',
and as good as gould. He'll be very apt to be spakin' out to her
prisintly, for it's gettin' near his lave's ind, and what for would they
be waitin'? But to my mind it's as good as made up after what he's done
to-day."

In a little while after this Ody Rafferty's aunt slipped away, and set
off hobbling along the road towards Duffclane. She wanted to intercept
her grand-nephew on his way home and tell him this news. For all day she
had been haunted by an apprehension that Ody meant to return with a
fairing for Theresa, the presentation of which might bring about a
crisis in his courtship very disastrous from her own point of view. Old
Moggy surveyed her world rather steadily at all times from that
particular outlook, finding in her solitary superfluousness little to
deflect her gaze. The disappointment which, on her own theory, these
tidings would bring to Ody did not do so now, and she put her best foot
foremost, animated by the pleasure of telling some new thing, one,
moreover, that threw a reassuring light upon her situation. With even
her amended opinion of the lad she could hardly imagine that he would
have a chance against magnificent Denis O'Meara, whom nobody would have
ever expected to look for a wife in poor little Lisconnel--but you never
could tell, and she felt that it still behoved her to be on her guard
against all possible perils. Therefore she at present thought it
expedient to waylay Ody, and let him know that if he had any notion of
Theresa Joyce, he was a day after the fair.

Hobbling on bent and breathless, wrapped in her rusty black shawl, with
her shadow flitting far out over the level bog amid the slanted beams,
she looked a not inappropriate messenger of woe, symbolically impotent
and insignificant; a little dark speck in the wide westering light; a
feeble stir of life creeping on the verge of a vast silent solitude;
and full, withal, of baseless fears and futile plots, concerning the
withered shred of existence that remained to her. She was just in the
nick of time, she said to herself, when she saw the trio presently
coming over the top of the hill. Ody was pointing out conciliatingly to
the morose Rory how they'd be at home now nearly in the time he'd be
waggin' his tail; and Hugh McInerney was resolving that he would go on
straight to his own place, and defer the presentation of the ugly yellow
ribbon until to-morrow. All three were hot and fagged and dusty.

"Well, lad, and what's the best good news wid you?" Ody's aunt said to
him, as they met.

"Little enough," said Ody.

"And you comin' out of a fair?" she said. "Bedad now, we make a better
offer at it ourselves up here for the matter of news."

"What's that at all?" said Ody.

"Sure amn't I just after hearin' tell of a grand weddin' there's goin'
to be prisintly?" said his aunt, "and that doesn't happen every day of
the year."

"Och, a weddin'," said Ody. "I was thinkin' maybe there was somethin'
quare at our little place beyant yonder. But as long as it's nothin'
worser than weddin's you're hearin' tell of, I'm contint, if you
listened the two ears off your head."

"It's Denis O'Meara and Theresa Joyce has made a match of it," said his
aunt, conscious that she was slightly overstating facts; "settled up it
is on'y this evenin'. And the weddin's bound to be before his lave's
out--so there's for you."

"Sure good luck to the both of thim," said Ody, "Theresa Joyce is a
plisant little bein', I'll say that for her, and divil a bit of harm
there is in O'Meara aither. A fine chap he is for a sodger; not that
they're any great things as far as I can see--just pólis a thrifle
smartened up."

Ody's thoughts were for the moment running on the police, a couple of
whom he had lately espied at a short distance coming across the bog.

"Well, if you wanted to see the two of thim," said his aunt, raising her
voice as he began to drive Rory on, "there they are, just at the back of
her place, sortin' the stuff he's after gettin' her on the bog. He
brought her the full of the pitaty-creel. Her mother's as plased over it
as anythin', and sot up too, aye is she bedad."

The old woman was for the time being almost as much disappointed as
relieved by the equanimity with which Ody had received her tidings; yet
if she had but known, they had not failed to produce a strong sensation.
Only she never thought of considering how they might affect that quare
big gawk Hugh McInerney. What did occur to her in his connection as he
begun to trudge alongside her after the pony, was that "he was as ugly
as if he had been bespoke." For Hugh's long tramp under the sultry sun
had scorched him a deeper and more uniform red brick than usual, and his
shock of tow-coloured hair jutting from beneath an unnoticeable round
cap, looked more than ever like thatch over his blinking blue eyes. When
they had gone a few yards in silence he suddenly said musingly--

"I dunno why he wouldn't have as good a right to be bringin' her
anythin' she had a fancy for off the bog in a pitaty-creel, as me to be
buyin' her len'ths of hijis-coloured ribbons to make a show of herself
wid. But all the same, I'd as lief he'd let it alone. For some raison or
other I've the wish in me mind I was slingin' the whole of it into one
of thim bog-houles out there--and that 'ud be no thing to go do on
her.... And that was a quare story the ould woman had about thim
gettin' married. Somebody was apt to be makin' a fool of her. Who was it
would be tellin' her I won'er?"

But old Moggy partly overheard and said: "Thim that knew what they was
talkin' about, supposin' it's any affair of yours."

So he did the rest of his meditating inaudibly. He said to himself that
he was steppin' home straight--continuing the while to walk in quite the
opposite direction--and that he wouldn't be goin' to the Joyces' place
to-night at all; what 'ud bring him there, and it gettin' so late? But
of course he went there, as surely as a swimming bubble goes over the
cataract's smooth lip, or a fascinated little bird down the snake's
throat.

For the sensation which he had begun to experience, and which was a
strong one, and strange to him, was nothing less than jealousy. He was
jealous of that pitaty-creel.

When he came to the place Ody's aunt had told of, he found a group of
young Joyces and Ryans and others gathered among the boulders and bushes
in a circle of which the heap of bog-cotton formed the centre; and a
glance having showed him that it included Denis and Theresa, he sat down
facing them, and said to himself:

"If I'd known, now, it was bog-cotton she was wantin', I could ha' been
gadrin' her plinty last night after I come home. There's a gran' big
moon these times, wid lashin's and lavin's of light to be gettin' thim
kind of glimmerin' things by. I seen a black place below between the
sthrame of wather and the roadside all waved over white wid it, like as
if it was a fall of snow thryin' could it flutter off away wid itself
agin out of the world. I'd have got her enough to fill a six-fut sack.
What for didn't the crathur tell me?"

Pursuing these and other such reflections Hugh's attention, which at all
times had a long tether, strayed far afield. He did not hear Denis
O'Meara inquire of him twice whether Ody Rafferty had got his fine price
for the old pony; not yet Peter Ryan rejoin after an interval that he
supposed it was such a big one, anyway, Hugh McInerney couldn't get it
out of his mouth--that was sizable enough. No doubt it was this symptom
of absentmindedness that emboldened Thady Joyce to set about twitching
out of Hugh's pocket the flimsy paper parcel seen protruding from it, a
feat which he achieved undetected, while his surrounding accomplices
nudged one another and whispered: "Och he has it now--whoo-oo he'll do
it."

Thady conveyed what he had filched to Molly and Nelly Ryan, who
manipulated it for some time amid much giggling; and then Nelly, with
dexterous audacity pinned their handiwork on to the cap of her neighbour
Denis O'Meara, who sat all unawares. Thus it came to pass that when Hugh
was at last roused to a vague sense of tittering all round him, which
reached him much as the clacking chirp of sparrows gets meaninglessly
into our frayed morning dreams, and looking up out of his reverie,
stared about him for an explanation, the first thing his eyes lit on was
Denis's smart cap surmounted by a mass of gaudy yellow ribbon in immense
bows and loops and streamers, flapping and waggling absurdly at every
movement made by their unsuspecting wearer. And the spectacle caught his
breath, and dazzled his sight with a sudden scorching blast of wrath.
For it seemed to him that Denis was not making merely a mock of him and
his fairing, which he thought intrinsically of small amount, but through
it of Theresa herself and her foolish little fancies. And there sat
Theresa looking on, with a quick pink flush, and shining eyes, and a
quiver about her mouth. The next moment Hugh had hurled at the bedizened
cap what he happened to be holding in his hand. And this was Paddy
Ryan's new reaping-hook.

Thereupon followed a terrible confusion and clamour, which seemed to
fill at a sweep all the spacious drowsy light of the sunsetting. For the
missile had gone surely to its mark, and had not simply knocked off
Denis's cap, but made a shocking gash in his temple, so that there were
only too sufficient reasons for the rising shrieks of "Holy Virgin, he's
murdhered--he's kilt!" Amid all the turmoil, with Denis fallen on the
ground, and Hugh standing staring, and everybody else rushing through
other like crows in a storm, one person alone appeared to act with a
definite purpose, and that was little Joe Egan. The event had made him
like one possessed with rage and despair. To Joe, weakly and timorous
and not over-wise, his valiant, handsome, good-natured soldier cousin
had come as the most splendid apparition that had shined upon him in the
dim course of his fifteen years; and he had spent the past three months
in adoring it very devoutly. So that now to see him laid low suddenly in
this savage fashion was a sight that might well cause a burning thirst
for vengeance upon the miscreant who had dealt the stroke. Joe generally
had to get his revenges wreaked by deputy; and now, as he darted away,
his intention was to find the pólis somewhere, and bring them to take up
"that great bastely murdherin' divil, Hugh McInerney," and if by any
means possible get him hung. He attained his object sooner than might
have been expected, as not far down the road a pair of constables were
run into by a small tatterdemalion figure, who, choking and stammering
and writhing in an ague fit of fury, proceeded to inform them that "Big
Hugh McInerney was just after murdherin' Denis O'Meara up above
there--takin' the head off him wid a rapin'-hook," and, further, that
"if they looked in the dirty thief's little place at the fut of the
hill, they'd find that every other stone in the walls of it was nothin'
else but a crock of poteen."

This was the cause of the police's prompt arrival on the scene, where
nobody resented Joe's action. Denis's injury, though so grave, happily
did not seem to be mortal, in fact, on this occasion young Dan O'Beirne,
albeit scarcely more than a spalpeen, displayed a handiness and resource
about bandaging and other remedies, which foreshadowed his future
reputation throughout the district for knowledgableness in surgery and
medicine. Hugh McInerney was, of course, at once arrested, without any
resistance on his part, or any sympathy from the indignant neighbours.
He appeared to be what old Will Sheridan termed, "fallen into a serious
consternation," and was heard to make only one remark. It was when
people were saying that Theresa Joyce had took a wakeness, and her
brothers had carried her indoors. "Och, the crathur," he said, "and it
might aisy have hit her, very aisy. Miself's the quare divil."

Once the police and their prisoner had gone, Denis having been brought
into the Ryans' house, a deep and melancholy hush settled down upon
Lisconnel, as if a murky wing had flapped out its brief flare of
excitement. The whole thing had happened so quickly that the rich light
from the west was still bronzing the edges of the flat-ledged furze
boughs, and rosing their white stems, when the little hollow behind the
Joyces' house rested quiet and deserted, with no traces left of the
company lately there assembled, except a litter of silky white
bog-cotton tufts, soon to be swept away by the breeze, and the unchancy
yellow ribbon, which had been torn out of Denis's cap, and lay coiling
among the rough grass, whence, as the dusk thickened, it glinted like
the wraith of a lost sunbeam or a ray from an evil star.

But that night fell very dark, with a moon so closely veiled that the
flaggers and bulrushes waving their swords and spears fast by, dwindled
into mere rustlings and murmurs--the air was full of them. At the
dimmest hour anybody who had stolen out of a neighbouring door, and
passed between the faintly glimmering white boulders, as if in search of
something lost there, might have seemed only one of the whispering
shadows. And these might have begun so say, "Sorra aught can I do at
all, at all. And ne'er a soul is there to spake a word--all of thim agin
him, and it no fau't of his, when he would be torminted that way. They'd
no call to go play such a thrick on him, and he didn't mane it a'
purpose, I very well know; but the other chap was intindin' to annoy
him, sittin' there wid a great ugly grin on his face. I wish he'd never
come next or nigh Lisconnel." But be that as it may, when the next
morning's light twinkled among the dewy blades, the yellow ribbon had
disappeared.

After this the days seemed to drag heavily at Lisconnel, where a dulness
and flatness had come over society. Dr. Hamilton had carried off Denis
O'Meara to Ballybrosna, and there was nothing to fill up the blank he
left except speculations about his chances of recovery, and censures
upon Hugh McInerney, monotonously unanimous. In his favour, indeed, no
one seemingly had a word to say. People declared that "they'd never have
thought he'd take and do such a thing, for though he might ha' been a
quare sort of bosthoon, he was always dacint and paiceable." But
cancelled praise is the bitterest of blame; and they added that "it was
rael outrageous of him to go do murdher on the likes of Denis O'Meara,
and no credit to Lisconnel for it to be happenin' him there. Iligant
charácters it 'ud be givin' them if he wint back to the rigimint wid his
eyes slashed out of his head, as much as to say he hadn't a fair chance
among us unless he'd come wid his side-arms."

The neighbours were of opinion, too, that "it was no wonder little
Theresa Joyce had got a bit moped and quiet, after her sweetheart bein'
as good as destroyed before her eyes, and it hard to say if she'd ever
see a sight of him again."

"It was a misfort'nit thing," Mrs. Con Ryan remarked one day, when the
subject was under discussion, "that young O'Meara hadn't actually spoke
out before it happint thim. 'Twould ha' made her a dale aisier in her
mind now, I wouldn't won'er. Because the way the matter stands, he
might take up wid some diff'rint notion, and just be off wid himself
like a cloud blown out of the sky, and she couldn't be sayin' a word, if
she was ever so sure of what he was intindin'."

Young Mrs. Keogh, to whom she made the observation, refused to entertain
this view, and replied, "Sorra a fear is there of that. It was aisy to
see he'd ha' gone to the Well of the World's End after her, let alone
steppin' up from the Town, if he's spared to get his health. Ay, he'll
be comin' back for her one of these fine days, sure enough, plase God."

But the fulfilment of her confident prediction looked several degrees
more doubtful in the light of one of the two pieces of news which Mrs.
Carbery, accompanied by her daughter Rose, conveyed to the Joyces' on a
bright September morning a short while after. Her son had come home with
it from the Town too late the night before. One of them was that Hugh
McInerney, who had been awaiting the assizes in Moynalone Jail, had died
of the fever there on last Friday. There was nothing very surprising in
this event, as Hugh's open-air life could have but ill acclimatised him
to the atmosphere of the unclean little jail; and it was not likely to
be very deeply deplored at Lisconnel, where he had not been known long,
nor, as we have seen, much to his advantage.

As Mrs. Carbery sat in the three-cornered arm-chair, with the sun-dazzle
off a burnished mug on the dresser shimmering into her eyes, and making
her blink quaintly, she said, with rather severe solemnity, that "she
hoped the young fellow had had time to repint of his sins, or else it
was very apt to be a bad look-out for him, and he after comin' widin a
shavin' of takin' another man's life no time at all ago, so to
spake--ne'er a chance but it would be clear in everybody's
recollection."

Mrs. Joyce, however, said: "Ah, sure maybe the crathur wasn't intindin'
any such great harm all the while, God be good to him. And, anyway,
where he's gone he'll find plinty ready to be spakin' up for him, and
puttin' the best face they can on the matter."

"Ay will he," said old Biddy Ryan, who was calling too, "and bedad it's
one great differ there is, be all accounts, between that place and this.
For here if a misfort'nit body does aught amiss, the first notion the
rest of us have, God forgive us, is to be axin' what worser he was
manin', like as if it was some manner of riddle, that there's bound to
be an answer to, if one could find it."

"'Deed, and I dunno if they haven't very far to look, ma'am," said Mrs.
Carbery, with dignity, "when a chap does his endeavours to take the head
off another man wid a rapin'-hook, ma'am."

"And _I_ dunno, ma'am, for that matter," said old Biddy, also with
dignity, "if it's any such a great dale better to have one's mind took
up wid invintin' other people's bad intintions than if it was wid one's
own."

"Ah, well! I wouldn't be thinkin' too bad of poor Hugh McInerney, at all
events," said Mrs. Joyce. "'Twas maybe a sort of accident, for he seemed
a dacint crathur afore that. Och now, to think it's on'y a few odd weeks
since he was creepin' about over our heads up there, mendin' th' ould
thatch! You'd whiles hear him hummin' away, talkin' to himself like some
sort of big bee--and in his grave to-day! But isn't it a lucky thing
that he's lavin' nobody belongin' to him to be breakin' their hearts
frettin' after him? Theresa, child dear, you've ne'er a stim of light to
be workin' in, sittin' there in the corner."

But Theresa said she had light enough to blind her, and was only
winding a skein, and could see better to do that in the dark. So Mrs.
Carbery passed on to her second piece of news, which, though less
tragical than the first, was not likely to sound very cheerfully in the
ears of some among her audience. It ran that her son Ned was "after
seein' Denis O'Meara down beyant, and that he was doin' finely, next
door to himself again: and that the people in the Town did be sayin' he
was coortin' Mary Anne Neligan, the people's daughter that he was
lodgin' wid--a terrible fortin she was said to have--and that he'd be
very apt to be takin' her along wid him prisintly when his lave was up."
Mrs. Carbery supposed they were none of them ever likely to see him
again up at Lisconnel. And the rest of the neighbours, having heard her
tale, supposed so likewise, and said among themselves that Theresa Joyce
was to be pitied.

Yet not many days after this, while the early autumn weather was still
soft-aired and mellow-lighted over our blue-misted bogland, where the
leaves and berries were brightening, and even the little frosty-grey
cups on the lichened boulders getting a scarlet thread at the rim, on
one clear, dew-dashed morning, who but Denis O'Meara himself should
come stepping into Lisconnel? The neighbours who saw him go by were glad
to notice that he looked as well as ever he did in his life, and he
greeted them all blithely though briefly, eluding every attempt to
entangle him in conversation, and making very straight for the Widow
Joyce's house, which was by these same observers considered to betoken a
healthy frame of mind.

Only Mrs. Joyce and Mrs. Kilfoyle were in the little brown room when he
arrived, but they gave him a cordial welcome, and he took a seat from
which he could keep a watch on the door while they talked about
different things. One of these, naturally, was the melancholy end of
Denis's assailant--poor Hugh McInerney--and Mrs. Joyce said it was
little enough they'd have thought a while ago that it would be Denis
who'd come back. "But indeed," she said, "if anythin' had took you, we'd
ha' been in no hurry ever to set eyes on the other unlucky bosthoon."

Denis said: "Faith, ma'am, I'd give six months' pay the thing had never
happint. Divil a bit of harm I believe there was in poor McInerney; and
I spoke to Dr. Hamilton to spake to Mr. Nugent and the other magistrates
for him; but they said, after what me cousin Joe let out about the
poteen at his place, the pólis would be wishful to keep him convanient
to thim for a while; and to be sure, they kep' him too long altogether.
I know, ma'am, young Rafferty and the rest had his shanty pulled down
before the pólis come up next day; but they thought they'd git somethin'
out of him. The little jackass ought to ha' held his tongue. It was a
pity, bedad. Hard lines it is on a man to be losin' his life, you may
say, along wid his temper, just be raison of a bit of a joke."

Still as he looked out into the sunshine he could not help thinking that
he would have had a greater loss of his life than poor Hugh McInerney,
who, it was evident, would always have met with a cold reception from
everybody at the Joyces'. Then he said to Mrs. Joyce: "And how's
Theresa, ma'am?"

Mrs. Joyce was in the middle of replying that she was grandly, and had
just run over to Mrs. Keogh on a message, when Theresa herself came in.

Denis jumped up quickly, saying: "Ah, Theresa, it's a great while since
I've seen you."

But Theresa only lifted her head without turning it, and walked straight
on as if nobody had accosted her.

"Arrah, now, Theresa darlint, don't you see Denis O'Meara?" said her
mother, puzzled and rather dismayed.

And then Theresa did turn and look at him. "Yis, I see him," she
said--and, indeed, she might as easily have overlooked the red flame in
a lantern as the tall scarlet lancer in her mother's little
misty-cornered room. "I see him," she said, "and I hate the sight of
him." And thereupon she turned again, and walked out of the door,
leaving a dead silence behind her.

This was one of the very few harsh sayings that Theresa Joyce has
uttered in the course of her long life, and it came like a shock upon
her hearers.

Mrs. Joyce at last said blankly: "What at all has took the child?"

And Bessie Kilfoyle said to Denis, who stood dumbfounded: "But indeed
now, you may be sure there's not a many up here, at any rate, who do
that."

But he replied: "If _she_ does, it's many enough for me, Mrs. Kilfoyle.
And I won't stop here to be drivin' her out of the house. So I'll say
good-bye to yous kindly, for I'll be off now to Dublin to-morra or next
day."

"And in coorse," Mrs. Joyce remarked ruefully, after he had departed,
retreading his steps through the bright fresh morning with so
crestfallen a mien that all the neighbours knew things had not run
smoothly, "you couldn't raisonably expec' him to stay here to be hated
the sight of. And indeed, what wid one thing and another, it's none too
good thratement the poor lad's got up at Lisconnel, more's the pity."

Theresa herself never had any explanation to offer of "why she would be
that cross wid poor Denis O'Meara." Her mother accounted for it by pique
at the Carberys' ill-timed gossip about his imaginary courtship of Mary
Anne Neligan; and Mrs. Kilfoyle was for a while inclined to the same
opinion, until one day by chance she espied in the little old tin box
which contained Theresa's treasures, a roll of bright yellow ribbon
wrapped up very carefully; and thenceforward she silently ceased to hope
that things might all come right yet, if Denis O'Meara came back again
on leave.

So, although Mrs. Joyce may have drawn wrong inferences, the results
were much as she had foreseen. Theresa never married, and when her
mother died she went to live with her brother Mick at Laraghmena, where
she is living still, notwithstanding that it is so long since all this
happened--since the fine summer when Denis O'Meara was at Lisconnel, and
Hugh McInerney, who luckily left nobody to be breaking their hearts
fretting after him, died in Moynalone Jail.

The yellow ribbon lies safely in her box, and with it a grimy bit of
paper, brought to her one day by a trusty hand, to which Hugh found out
a way of committing it "before he was took bad entirely." Theresa
herself has never deciphered its wild scrawls, being an unlettered
person, but its bearer read it over to her until she knew it by heart
every word. "For your own self the yella ribin is," the letter ran, "but
don't be wearin' it unless you like it. And I'm sorry the man got hit;
but I do be dhramin' most nights that it's you I'm after rapin' the
little black head off of; and I'd liefer lose me life than think I'd be
after hurtin' a hair of it. But the Divil was busy wid me that evenin'.
And I'm very apt never to get the chance to set fut again out on the big
bog. It 'ud do me heart good to see the sun goin' down in it a great way
off, for this is a quare small place. It's a long while. But sure, to
the end of all the days of me life," it said to her, like an echo
beaten back from the walls of the great abysm, "it's of yourself I'll be
thinkin' off away in contintmint at Lisconnel."



CHAPTER VII

MR. POLYMATHERS


It was to an accidental circumstance that Lisconnel owed the prolonged
sojourn there of perhaps the most distinguished scholar who has ever
visited us. For when he arrived at O'Beirne's forge one misty June
evening, the night's lodging only was all he asked or desired. But in
those times, now some fifty years since, we had "a terrible dale of
sickness about in the country," and next morning the stranger was down
with the fever, which, although so mild a case that even Bridget
O'Beirne never gave him over more than twice in the same day, brought
his journey perforce to a halt. At the beginning he was very loth to
believe that he must relinquish his intention of reaching Dublin by a
certain date--the first Monday in July; however, having once recognised
the impossibility of doing so, he showed no haste to quit his quarters,
and his stay with the O'Beirnes lengthened into months as the summer
slipped away. At this time the forge was owned by Felix O'Beirne,
blacksmith, shebeener, and ex-whiteboy, and with him lived his orphan
grandsons, Daniel and Nicholas, his very old, ancient mother, who still
drew enjoyment in whiffs through the stem of her black dudeen, and his
elderly sister, Bridget, who had taken little pleasure in anything since
the redcoats shot her sweetheart in the War. The missing third
generation was represented occasionally when Mrs. Dooley, Felix's
married daughter, came on a visit. It was conjectured among them that
"the fancy the ould gintleman had for larnin' all manner to young
Nicholas continted him to stop." And this may have had something to do
with it, though less, probably, than the vaguer fact that he from the
first "took kindly" to the O'Beirnes, and they to him. His appearance
puzzled them a little. He was of a massive, large-boned frame, such as
nature seems to design for rough uses; but, as Felix remarked, "you
could aisy tell be ivery finger and thumb on him that hard work wasn't
the handle he'd took a hould of the world by." He wore a very long, grey
frieze coat, and a chimney-pot hat so old and tall that it looked as if
it must have grown slowly to its great height. When he took it off he
uncovered a shock of soft white hair, like the wig of a seeded
groundsel, about a face which was furrowed and wrinkled ruggedly enough,
in a different pattern somehow from what is commonly seen at Lisconnel,
where sun and wind have a large share in the process. His baggage
consisted of two bundles, very unequal in size and weight. The contents
of the smaller one were mainly a shirt and three socks, knotted loosely
in a blue cotton handkerchief; the other was done up carefully in
sacking, and he liked to have it under his eye.

Of course the O'Beirnes' visitor was often talked about among the groups
gathered of an evening, much as they are nowadays, for gossip and poteen
within the broad-leaved forge doors, through which on dark nights the
fire still blinks as far across the bog as the amber of the sunset, or
the rising glow of the golden harvest moon. Even from Felix's first
report it appeared that the stranger was no ordinary person.

"Won'erful fine discoorse he has out of him, anyway," he told the
neighbours a few nights after the arrival; "ivery now and agin he'll out
wid a word as grand like and big as his Riverence at Mass--goodness
forgive me for sayin' so. Sometimes we've been hardset to tell what he's
drivin' at. But that's the way it is wid thim words that has a power of
manin' in thim. They're apt to bother you a bit when you're used to
spakin plain."

"Belike it's the fever in his head sets him talkin' oddly," said young
Barney Corcoran. "I mind me brother Joe when he was bad wid it would be
ravin' wild. Sorra the sinsible word there was out of him for the best
part of a week."

This way of accounting for his guest's fine language rather affronted
Felix, and he consequently said, "Musha now, was there not? And how long
might yourself be under that descripshin of fever?"

"Ah sure, what 'ud we do at all if poor Barney was took that way?" said
Peter Keogh, "and nobody able to tell was it ravin' he was, or settin'
up to be talkin' raisonable for any differ they could see."

Barney cleared his throat disconcertedly, and the old man, recalling his
responsibilities as a host, and perhaps not admiring his sarcasm thus
elaborated, said conciliatingly, "Och, he'll do right enough if he niver
raves any worse than Mr. Polymathers. All that ails him is that we want
to git a bit used to his manner of spakin'."

"Polymathers?" said Peter.

"To be sure, Polymathers. Did you say it any better than I?"

"Well, I nivir heard tell of anybody called that way before. It's a
quare she-he soundin' sort of name," said Peter.

"Faix, then, there may be plinty quarer in it, we niver heard tell of,
if that was all," said Felix. "Anyhow, it's his name, and his people's
afore him. Himself tould me his father was the ouldest of all the
Polymatherses there was in the counthry he came out of--somewheres down
south, I think he said--and the head of the whole of thim forby."

"Ay, he did so," said Dan. "Sez you to him, there was a dale of water
run down hill since the time there was O'Beirnes blacksmiths in this
part of the counthry; and your father was a one, sez you. And sez he to
you, he couldn't be any manner of manes purtind to be the aquil to what
_his_ father was. And sez you to him, what was he? And sez he, it was
one of the Polymatherses he was, and well known for his larnin' through
the len'th and breadth of the county Sligo. And a name it was, he sez,
any man might be proud of ownin'."

"Be jabers, himself has the great consait of it, at all ivents," said
Peter. "But he might find people could be tellin' him there's Keoghs as
good as any Polymatherses iver was in it--ivery hair."

The stranger's patronymic having thus been ascertained, it was desirable
to fix his calling, and, despite his disclaimer of inherited erudition,
several circumstances bespoke him a schoolmaster, even before the
question seemed settled by the first act of his convalescence being an
inquiry into the amount of book-learning which Dan and Nicholas had
amassed during their sixteen and fourteen years. This was not large,
though as much as could be expected, considering that in all Lisconnel
there were not just then, I believe, more than four volumes, one of
which being merely the index to a non-existent _Encyclopædia_, can
scarcely rank as literature. The boys themselves, and their grandfather,
were deeply interested in the examination, and very anxious that it
should have a creditable result. For learning and the learned have at
all times been held in profound respect among us away on our bogland,
where the devotion to something afar springs perhaps the more abundantly
because so many things are remote. On this occasion Mr. Polymathers
opened his most sizable bundle, and it was seen to be filled with books,
not fewer, doubtless, than a score, in leather bindings, ragged and
battered, and brownly time-stained all over their margins, as if the
river of years had for them run no metaphor, but a russet bog-stream.
They comprised _Homer_, _Virgil_, _Livy_, and other ancients; likewise
two Latin lexicons, which looked extravagant until you observed how each
did but supplement the other's deficiencies, and this so imperfectly
that their owner was still liable to search in vain for words between MO
and NA.

These, however, were evidently not the most prized portion of Mr.
Polymathers's library, though he displayed them with some complacency,
reading out here and there a sonorous "furrin" phrase, at which his
audience said, "More power," and "Your sowl to glory," and the like. It
was when he handled the shabbiest of the volumes, with broken backs and
edges all curling tatters, that his touch grew caressing. The
lookers-on, contrariwise, thought but poorly of them because they set
up, seemingly, to be illustrated works, and their pictures, mostly of
uninteresting round and three-cornered objects, struck Lisconnel art
critics as very feeble efforts. To be sure Mr. Polymathers called them
_dygrims_, but that was no help to the overtaxed imagination. Only young
Nicholas O'Beirne listened intently to the explanation which he gave of
one of them. Nicholas was a long, thin lad, with melancholy grey eyes
and a square forehead, whose capacity his grandfather had held in some
esteem, since it had been discovered, years ago, that "the spalpeen
could make out an account for four sets of shoes, and half a stone of
three-inch holdfasts, and a dozen of staples, and two gallon of the
crathur, and allow for a hundredweight of ould iron, all in his head,
and right to a farthin'." Now the melancholy eyes darkened and
brightened with excitement as Mr. Polymathers discoursed of right lines
and angles and circles, and expounded the mysterious signification of
certain Ah Bay Says. And he had thenceforward an unweariable pupil in
Nicholas, companied, albeit with less ardent zeal, and at a slower rate
of progress, by his elder brother, Dan.

More general interest, however, continued to be taken in the stranger's
classical attainments. Everybody--the O'Beirnes themselves, their
neighbours in the cabin-row close by, now long since an untraceable
ruin, and the people of Lisconnel proper, a couple of miles further
on--felt uplifted by the residence among them of a man, who they boasted
would talk Latin to you as soon as look at you. But as we never enjoy
our own happiness fully until it has been looked at through other men's
envious eyes, they could not here remain content with simply possessing
this privilege, or even with dilating upon it to their less favoured
friends down below and down beyant. They longed to make a parade of it,
to give a demonstration of it. And the method of doing so which they
came to consider most desirable was the bringing about of a conversation
in Latin between Mr. Polymathers and Father Rooney, the Parish Priest.
For if that took place they could easily imagine his Reverence riding
home to report in the Town what a wonderful great scholar entirely they
had stopping above at Lisconnel. Moreover, the conversation itself would
be a rael fine thing to have the hearing of. Terence Kilfoyle, for
instance, said that it would be as good as a Play, which, as he had
never seen one, was to entertain unbounded expectations. And at last,
after they had wished the wish for some weeks, a prospect of its
fulfilment came into sight together with Father Rooney's cream-coloured
pony jogging along through the light of a fiery-zoned July sunset, in
which Mr. Polymathers was basking by the O'Beirnes' door. In those days
his Reverence was a youngish man, ruddy, and of a cheerful countenance,
a substantial load for his sturdy nag, and altogether, in his glossy
black cloth, a figure very different from their gaunt, sad-visaged,
shaggily-garbed old guest. He was at the time of Father Rooney's
approach seated on a two-legged, three-legged stool, propped
precariously against the ray-rosed cabin wall, and was teaching Dan and
Nicholas the twelfth proposition of the second book of Euclid. Dan had
not yet grasped it, but it all lay as clear as a sunbeam athwart
Nicholas's brain, and he was fidgeting like an impatient horse at the
slowness of his fellow.

Several of the neighbours chanced to be about, for the forge saw a good
deal of company in those long empty days before the potato-digging could
begin. They all drew together into a small crowd, and closed in step by
step to watch the first meeting between these two notable persons, much
admiring the deftness with which old O'Beirne secured it by pronouncing
one of the pony's shoes in need of tightening, and the felicitous
opening he made by assuring his Reverence that "divil a bit need he be
mindin' the delay, because Mr. Polymathers there had enough _furrin
languages_ to keep thim all divarted, if the baste owned as many feet as
a forty-legs, wid the shoes droppin' off ivery pair of thim. That was to
say, in coorse, supposin' he got the chance of convarsin' a bit wid
somebody aquil to answerin' him back iligant, the way there wasn't e'er
a one of thim could make an offer at doin' no more than thim little
weevils of chirpin' chuckens."

Yet the interview turned out disappointingly after all. If such a thing
had not been, of course, exceedingly improbable, one might have fancied
that each scholar stood in awe of the other's reputation, they steered
so clear of all recondite subjects; keeping to the merest commonplaces
about rain and potatoes and turf--which anybody else could have
discussed quite as knowledgably. In vain, whenever there was a promising
pause would the bystanders nudge one another, whispering, hopefully,
"Whist, boys--they'll be sayin' somethin' now." Only the plainest
English followed, and at last, when Father Rooney rode on, his parting
joke, which referred to the difficulty his pony would now find in the
way of becoming a barefooted pilgrim, left for a wonder solemnly
irresponsive faces behind it.

Michael Ryan said, with a touch of resentment, "Ah, well, one couldn't
maybe expec' it of thim to be throublin' thimselves talkin' fine for the
pack of us, as ignorant as dirt, in the middle of th'ould bog."

And his wife said, "'Deed, now, I wouldn't won'er meself if the raison
was his Riverence 'ud think bad of usin' his Latin words for anythin'
else on'y prayers and such. It might be somethin' the same as if he went
and took his grand vistments to go dig pitaties in; and that 'ud be a
great sin, God knows."

But old Felix, who was, as we have seen, a rather touchy person,
construed this suggestion into an implied censure on his own wishes in
the matter, and he said, huffily--

"Sorra the talk of sin I see in it at all, ma'am. 'Tis a dale liker they
just couldn't get out wid it convanient offhand. The same way that I'd
aisy enough bate out a shoe on me anvil there, when it's bothered I'd be
if you axed me to make a one promiscuous here of a suddint on the
roadside."

Mr. Polymathers himself meanwhile was perhaps dimly conscious that he
had disappointed hopes, and failed to rise duly to the occasion; and
this may have been why he slipped indoors, and fetched out a small book
he had never produced before, bound in a dingy greenish blue, with a
white paper label.

"D'you know what that is, sir?" he questioned, rhetorically, handing it
to Felix O'Beirne. "It's the Calendar, let me tell you, of the College
of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, _juxta_ Dublin. There's a print of
the Front of the Buildings attached to the fly-leaf. I'm after pickin'
it up this spring at Moynalone. 'Twas new the year before last, and
comprises a dale of information relative to terms, examinations, fees,
and so forth."

"Begor, then, it looks to be a wide house," said Felix, confining
himself to the picture as a comprehensible point. "It's apt to be an
oncommon fine place, sir, I should suppose."

"You may say that, me man," said Mr. Polymathers, emphatically. "Not its
match in the kingdom of Ireland. The home of literature and the haunt
of science. And it's there I'll be, plase God, next October."

"Musha, and will you be thravellin' that far--to Dublin?" said Felix.

"Ay will I, and would have gone last month on'y for the fever delayin'
me till after the midsummer entrance. Me savin's amount to somethin'
over thirty pound, so I may venture on the step, and prisint meself at
the Michaelmas term. In short," said Mr. Polymathers, re-poising himself
upon his rickety stool, "I might describe myself as an unmatriculated
candidate undergraduate of the University of Dublin."

"And what at all now would that be, sir, if I might be axin'?" said
Felix, humbly, after the awe-stricken pause which followed Mr.
Polymathers's proclamation of his style and title.

"It's a necessary preliminary," said Mr. Polymathers, "to proceeding to
the Degree of _Baccalaureatus in Artibus_, or _In Artibus
Baccalaureatus_--the _ordo verborum_ is, I take it, immaterial, to judge
by the transposition of initials in the case of ----."

"Faix, but it's the fine Latin you can be discoorsin' now, and his
Riverence half-ways home," said Felix reproachfully.

Mr. Polymathers, glancing round a circle of deeply impressed faces, felt
that his prestige was restored, and even began to enjoy a foretaste of
the triumph, which had been one part of his dream through the long
laborious years. But he was puzzled how to bring the full grandeur of
his design clearly before this uninstructed audience, and after
reflecting for a while in quest of concise yet adequate definitions, he
launched out into an eloquent description of the ceremonial observed in
conferring degrees at Dublin University. It may be surmised that many of
the details were due to his own fondly brooding fancy. For not only did
the highest learning in the land crowd the Hall in their academic robes,
but the Lord Lieutenant himself took a prominent part in the
proceedings, which were enlivened by military music and thunderous
salutes. Mr. Polymathers nearly toppled off his tricky stool more than
once without noticing it in his excitement as he rehearsed these
splendid scenes, declaiming with great unction the formulas long since
learned by all his heart, especially _Ego, auctoritate mihi concessa_,
and the rest, until he came to his peroration: "And all this pomp and
ceremony, mind yous, to the honour and glory of science and fine
scholarship. It's a grand occasion, lads; it's an object any man might
be proud to give----" Here he pulled himself up, warned by an unusually
violent lurch that his theme was running away with him. But having by no
means worked off his enthusiasm, he expended some of it, as a schoolboy
might have done, in throwing a small bit of turf at a stately white hen,
who just then sailed across the dark doorway, like a little frigate
under the most crowded canvas. She immediately took flight with
floundering screeches, which drowned what the old man was muttering to
himself. However, it was only "_Admitto te--admitto te_."

After these revelations Mr. Polymathers was looked up to more than ever,
as one not only endowed with rare gifts, but destined by their means to
scale heights of hardly realisable exaltation. "Be all accounts there
was no knowin' what he mightn't rise to be at Dublin College," the
neighbours said. They also often remarked that it was "a surprisin'
thing to see a great scholar like him spendin' his time over taichin'
thim two young O'Beirnes." If the speaker happened to be afflicted with
a twinge of envy about those educational advantages, he was apt to say
"thim two young bosthoons" or "gomerals." But Dan and Nicholas were
not, in fact, any such thing. Nicholas, indeed, quickly proved himself
possessed of what Mr. Polymathers called "a downright astonishin'
facility at the mathematics," far out-stripping Dan, not quite to Dan's
satisfaction, as he had always enjoyed the pre-eminence conferred by
superior physical strength and a practical turn of mind. So well pleased
was the old man with his eager pupil that he would have liked to do his
teaching, "nothing for reward," but his host's hospitality, and his own
ambition, would not permit this. Now and then he rather puzzled Nicholas
by an apologetic tone in answering questions about his University
career. And once at the end of a lesson he said, as if to himself: "May
goodness forgive me if I'm takin' what he'd have done better with. But
sure he's young--he's plenty of chances yet." However, as the time for
his departure drew on, all his misgivings, if such he had, seemed to
vanish away, and his thoughts became very apt to journey off blissfully
to Dublin in the middle of the most interesting problems. Nicholas had
to wait till they came back.

Mr. Polymathers left Lisconnel on a fine autumn morning, when the air
was so still that the flashing and twinkling of the many dewdrops seemed
to make quite a stir in it. The sky was as clear as any one of them, and
in the golden light the wavering columns of blue smoke rose with curves
softly transparent. He started with a buoyant step, as well he might,
since he was setting out on the enterprise into which he had put all the
spirit of his youth. He felt some regret at parting from his Lisconnel
friends, but his plans and prospects were naturally very pre-occupying,
whereas they had the ampler leisure of the left-behind to deplore his
flitting, which seemed likely enough to be for good. Nearly four years,
he had explained, must elapse before the crowning height of the B. A.
Degree could be won, and it was only just possible that he might manage
to tramp back on a visit meanwhile, during some Long Vacation. This
doubtful chance was cold comfort for that ardent scholar Nicholas
O'Beirne, who grieved more than anybody else. Most ruefully did he help
Dan to carry the candidate undergraduate's library as far as the Town;
nor could he take more than a downcast pleasure in Mr. Polymathers's
farewell gift to him of the raggedest _Euclid_. And as he stood
watching the car out of sight, his eyes were as wistful as if a door
briefly opened on glimpses of radiant vistas had been inexorably barred
in his face.

Yet after all Mr. Polymathers's absence was not to be measured by years
or months. One evening on the threshold of December, Lisconnel was lying
roofed over by a massy livid-black cloud, which came lumbering up and up
interminably, and which the weatherwise estimated to contain as much
snow as would smother the width of the world. The north wind moaned and
keened dismally under the toil of wafting on this portentous load, and
its breath was bitingly sharp, so that when the lads came in from the
forge, their grandfather said, "Ah, Dan, shut over the door, for there's
a blast sweepin' through it 'ud freeze ten rigiments as stiff as
staties." We usually take a large view of things at Lisconnel. Dan went
to carry out this order, but instead of doing so he suddenly shouted:
"Murdher alive! Here's Mr. Polymathers."

Through the grey gloaming came a Mr. Polymathers, very different from
what he had been on that brilliant, hopeful morning only a few weeks
ago, when he had stepped lightly, and held his head up as if he were
looking a friendly fortune in the face. Now his feet stumbled and
dragged as he fared slowly against the wind's blustering, with his eyes
on the ground, and his movements seemingly guided more by the weight of
the bundle he carried than by his own will. Before he came within even
loud shouting distance, everybody felt a presentiment of disaster; but
he had not spoken a word to justify or discredit it by the time he got
indoors.

"Musha, and so it's yourself, sir," old Felix then repeated, in a
congratulatory tone. "Ah, but it's a hardy evenin', and it's perished
you are, sir. Come in be the fire."

"Ay, I'm back," Mr. Polymathers said slowly, after a hesitating pause,
as if the remark had been interpreted to him by some second person, "I
was bringin' the books, thinkin' the lad might use them--he's young
enough. But I'm not come to stop on you," he added, speaking faster,
"on'y just for this night. Early to-morra I must be off to Ardnacreagh,
and try for the taichin' there again. 'Twas on'y on account of bringin'
the books I came this way. I'll be on the road quite early."

His insistence on this point made, somehow, a very melancholy
impression on Felix; but he replied jovially: "Is it to-morra? Bedad
then, sir, don't you wish you may slip off on us that soon, and we after
gettin' a hould of you agin? What fools we are. Not if you was as
slithery, ivery inch of you, as a wather-eel."

The wraith of a relieved smile at this came over Mr. Polymathers's face;
still it looked so grey and withered, and his eyes were so sunken, and
his large, bony hands so shaky, that all with one consent refrained from
questions which they were agog to ask; and when Mrs. Keogh by and by
dropped in, and being an inquisitive and not very quick-witted person,
said, "Saints among us--it's Mr. Polymathers. And how's yourself, sir?
And are you bringing home the grand Degree?" though they all listened
eagerly for the reply, they wished she had held her tongue.

"The divil a Degree, ma'am," said Mr. Polymathers, "and niver will."

There was a short silence, and then he turned round on his stool--it was
the same from which he had made his boast in the summer sunset, but Dan
had meanwhile mended its broken leg with the handle of a worn-bladed
spade. "I've given up," he said to them. "I no longer entertain the
project of becomin' a graduate, or for the matter of that an
undergraduate of Dublin University; and if I'd done right, I'd niver
have taken up such an idea. I've put it out of me head. But it's been in
me mind a great while--a terrible long while."

"Look you here, Mr. Polymathers, sir, are you after gittin' any bad
thratment from any people up in thim places?" said Felix, who always
liked better to lay a grievance on some human and possibly breakable
head than to believe it the work of the vengeance-baffling demon
bad-luck.

"Not at all, not at all," said Mr. Polymathers, when the question
reached him. "I've nothin' to complain of. They're very respectable
people in Dublin, and it's a fine city. But me head's a bit giddy yet
wid the drivin' they have in the streets, that makes one stupid. I mind
there was a car tatterin' along, and I crossin' over the College Green,
had me down on the stones, on'y a dacint lad gript a hould of me, and
whirled me inside the College gates. There I was before I rightly knew
anythin' had happened me, and I after spendin' the best part of me life
gettin' to it. 'Twasn't the way I thought it 'ud be.... But the College
is as grand as any notion I had of it; on'y since I've seen it, 'tis
like a drame to me that ever I set fut in it, just a sort of drame....
Great ancient places the squares are; I walked round the whole of them
before I found the Hall. A couple of chaps in uniform like came axin' me
me business, but I tould them fast enough that I was a candidate--ah,
goodness help me.... And the Hall's a spacious and splendid apartment.
On'y it was strange, now, to see it full of nothin' but young fellows,
scarce oulder than the two lads there. I might, sure enough, have known
the way it 'ud be, if I'd come to considher, but somehow it seemed to
put me out, as if I'd no call to be there at all. There was one of them
began pricin' me ould hat, and another of them tripped him up against a
black marble construction with a pair of angels atop of it, that there
is on the wall--sure they were just spalpeens. But I'll give you me
word, when they called me up to the examiner's table, there was a young
gintleman sittin' at it in his black gown and his cap wid the
tassel--bound to be one of the College Fellows, and ivery sort of a fine
scholar--and for all the age there was on him he might ha' been me son
or me grandson.

"So he handed me over a little black _Virgil_ wid the page opened where
I was to exhibit me acquaintance wid the text. It was merely a bit of
an oration of Queen Dido's that I've known ivery line of these forty
years as well as I know me own name, and better. And what came over me
is more than I can tell, but the minute I took the book in me hand, it
seemed to me as if ivery atom of sinse and manin' slipped out of the
words, or out of me head--I couldn't say which, and I just stood starin'
at them and starin', till iverythin' else got whirlin' round about me,
fit to shake the panes out of the big windows, and the pictures off the
walls.... Belike himself persaived I was flusthered, for, 'Take your
time,' sez he; and after a while they stood steady enough. But, the Lord
be good to me--sorra a syllable of the sinse come back. And be that I
well knew it was all up wid me; and I was thinkin' me father's son had
no business to be standin' there makin' a show of meself in the middle
of Trinity College. So the lad in the cap said again, 'Take your time,
sir, take your time.' But I said to him, 'God help me, sir, I've taken
very nigh all I'll get, for I declare to you, lad, I'm over seventy
years of age. But as for your time, sir,' I said, 'I'll be wastin' no
more of it.' And wid that I put down the book, and out I wint. I mind
the sun in the square nearly dazzled the eyes out of me fool's head. I
niver seen it blazin' brighter--and there was a big bell somewhere
boomin' away, as if they'd set the heart of the world tollin'; it's
ringin' in me ears yet.... And a couple of days after that I quit out of
Dublin, and I've been trampin' back to this counthry, takin' me time, as
he said--there's no hurry now about anythin'. So that was the ind of me
University Degree."

"I just wish I could git discoorsin' wid that young feller," said old
Felix, vindictively, "himself and his tassel in his cap."

"Sure, man, 'twas no fault of his," said Mr. Polymathers, "and I can
live widout a Degree, if that's all. Me betters did before me. To tell
you the truth, I've thought often enough as I was comin' along now, that
I dunno how at all I'd have had the face to meet me poor father one of
these days, and I cocked up with a _Baccalaureatus in Artibus_, and he
wid not so much as a dacint stone over his grave to commemorate his
name, that was the most illusthrious Polymath in the county Sligo, wid
more larnin' in the tip of his ear than ever I got into me ould skull.
Never a hap'orth of good was I at anythin' except the trifle of
mathematics, but he was as great at the Classics.... I used to humbug
meself somewhiles lettin' on I hankered after it because it would ha'
gratified him maybe to hear of the event. But little I ever done to
plase him, God forgive me. Let alone goin' and makin' an ould fool of
meself up at Trinity College.... 'Twas a terrible upset to him when I
turned again the Priesthood, after he had the money saved up for the
seminary and all. Words about it we had, and the ind of it was he put it
all into me brother Ned's little farm. Ned had no more fancy for larnin'
than the bastes of the field. A trifle of it would ha' come in very
handy sometimes for buyin' me books; howane'er it was not to be.... And
the books there--I on'y brought them along to lave wid you for the
youngest lad--ay, Nicholas. He has a head on his shoulders for the
mathematics, I can tell you; he might do something yet, if he got his
chances. They're no use to me now, and I'd as lief be shut of the sight
of them. And to-morra I'll be off to Ardnacreagh."

So the gaunt old man talked on, groping his way out of hesitating
pauses, and straying into dreamy meditations, as if he sometimes forgot
his story, and sometimes its hearers. They did not know what a
life-wreck it outlined, but they saw and surmised enough to make them
think of him as "the crathur," and speak to him with more deference
than if he had returned in a radiant glow of success, symbolised as some
of them had anticipated, by scarlet robes as splendid, at least, as
Father Rooney's at High Mass. And Felix O'Beirne took occasion of a
madly skirling gust to say, "Listen now to that, sir, and don't be
talkin' wild of thravellin' off to-morra. If I might be sayin' so, you'd
a dale better stay quiet where you are this minyit. And as for taichin',
sure it's proud and thankful the two boyos 'ud be for e'er a bit more.
There's Nicholas mopin' about like an ould hin that's lost her chuckens
iver since you quit."

Mr. Polymathers did stop quiet--very quiet--but he taught the boys no
more. In fact, he did nothing except sit all day staring into the fire,
as if he had lost something in it. Once after Nicholas had sat looking
very hard at him for a long time with the ragged _Euclid_ ostentatiously
open at a crux, he seemed to rouse up, and putting out a hand for the
book, began an explanation. But it died away unfinished in an aimless
muttering, which both shocked and saddened Nicholas, and the experiment
was not repeated. Then towards Christmas time all the neighbours were
saying that Mr. Polymathers was greatly failed to what he had been. And
Bridget O'Beirne reported that you might as well be argufyin' wid a
scutty wren to swally down the full of the ducks' dish as persuadin' him
to take a raisonable bite and sup. Dr. Hamilton from the Dispensary, who
was consulted on the case, "consaited," Bridget told inquirers, "that he
might be after gettin' a sort of stroke like unbeknownst;" but her own
opinion was that "he had, so to spake, lost the knot off his thread, and
'twould be much if he didn't slip away out of it on them, afore they
seen e'er another green laif on the bushes."

It was, at any rate, more than happened. One snowy afternoon, when he
had been busy for some time "scrawmin' a manner of letter," which
related, he said, to the disposition of his property, Mr. Polymathers
grew so much worse that Dan and Nicholas ran off for the Doctor and the
Priest, and before their arrival could possibly be expected, it became
evident that he could not wait to receive them. Bridget O'Beirne,
deploring the hap by his bed in the small room off the kitchen, thought
a few minutes before he went that she heard him murmuring something
coherent, and she called to little Rosy Corcoran, "Child alive--me
head's bothered--come in here and listen, can you make out at all what
he's sayin'?"

Rosy came reluctantly and listened. "I think," she whispered, "it's some
sort of prayers like what his Riverence sez."

"Ah, then, glory be to God for that itself," said Bridget, "there might
be a good chance for him after all."

But she had been misinformed. The words Mr. Polymathers was muttering
over and over to himself were: _Admitto te--admitto te_.



CHAPTER VIII

HONORIS CAUSA


The evening of the day after Mr. Polymathers died was a very wild
black-and-white one out of doors all round Lisconnel, yet,
notwithstanding the flakes in the air and under foot, the O'Beirnes had
received some company. Not at a wake, however the purpose of their
assembly was to discuss a serious business matter, upon which old Felix
O'Beirne wished for friendly counsel. Hence his contemporary, old Paddy
Ryan, had prodded little round craters in the snow with his thick stick
all along the good step of bleak road which lay between his house and
the forge, and with him had come on the same errand Terence Kilfoyle,
who, although of so much junior standing, was esteemed as a man of
notably shrewd sense and judgment. But then neither he nor the
neighbours knew how often he took and gave Bessie Kilfoyle's advice.
These two were present by express invitation, but another pair of
guests, the Dooleys, would never have been asked for the sake of their
opinion, which they were indeed encouraged to keep to themselves, and
appeared at this domestic crisis merely by virtue of family ties. Old
Felix had always thought little of his daughter Maggie's mental powers,
and less ever since her marriage with Peter Dooley, who kept a shop in
the Town, and could be described as "an ould gombeen man," if one wished
to regard him from an unfavourable point of view, which his
father-in-law not uncommonly did. He had been heard to say of Peter that
"the chap was that smooth-spoken you might think he was after swallyin'
a one of his own graisy dipts, on'y he'd liefer be chaitin' some poor
body over the sellin' of it"--a perhaps not inexcusable preference. As
for Peter, he contemplated humanity with a jovial cynicism, and rather
enjoyed the society of the old blacksmith, despite the gruff sarcasms
which sometimes made their womenkind turn the conversation
apprehensively. _He_ had been heard to say of Felix that "It was aisy
work runnin' down other people's business, and small blame to th' ould
man if he had a fancy for a light job now and agin, when he would be
tired poundin' th' ould iron at a profit you couldn't see to pick up
widout a strong pair of spectacles." Proximity had brought to the
consultation Mrs. Carbery and Tim O'Meara from adjacent doors; and they,
with old ancient Mrs. O'Beirne and her daughter and the two lads, formed
quite a large party about the fire. The business to be brought before
them was Mr. Polymathers's Will.

Now, lest it should be thought that unseemly haste was displayed in
attending to this affair while Mr. Polymathers still lay in the little
next room, I must explain that for special reasons the nature of the
funeral arrangements depended upon the result of the conference; and how
deeply important such a point would be considered at Lisconnel I need
remind no one who has occasionally been perplexed by our propensity for
the pinching and scraping which takes toll of a life-long penury, that a
brief show of pomp may invest the last scene of all. This propensity is
not seldom misconstrued into the outcome of a mere personal vanity,
whereas it has its root in the worthier sentiment of veneration for our
Kind. Ould Pat Murphy, who has subsisted all his life upon an
insufficiency of pitaties, and inhabited a largish sty, never loses the
sense that he owes something better to himself in his character of a
human being, and he takes painful steps to ensure the ultimate discharge
of the debt. One of these days he who has hitherto come and gone in
unimposing guise shall be borne, on wheels if possible--but here I
mention grandeur never even dreamed of up at remote Lisconnel--in
unwonted state, certain to draw the gaze of every passer-by. But as if
with a fine touch of courtesy, he so times his assertion of dignity that
none of his fellows shall thereby be abashed nor envy-bitten. No ragged
wayfarer shall wish to change places with him as he passes solemnly
along, nor grudge him the unshared splendour of his sombre equipage; not
even if it display the crowning glory of woolly black plumes to waggle
over his head. Accordingly, when Pat has died on his humble bed, which
is as likely as not just earth tempered with straw, under his rifted
thatch, through which he may perhaps see the stars glimmer with nothing
except the smoke-haze and gathering mists between, he is conveyed thence
with whatever pomp and circumstance his savings permit, and all his
neighbours feel that the right thing has been done.

It is true that Mr. Polymathers had given no sign of any such sentiment.
When discreetly sounded on the subject during his last days, he had
replied: "Ah! man, it's very immaterial," in a tone of indifference as
unmistakable as the phrase was ambiguous. And from this fact, coupled
with his written instructions, it might, one would have thought, safely
have been inferred that he desired no costly magnificence at his
obsequies. Yet the point was obscured in his late host's mind by a thick
cloud of doubts and scruples.

Mr. Polymathers had died surprisingly rich, not less than twenty-five
pounds, seven shillings and threepence having been counted awestrickenly
out of his leathern pouch. The ground rents of all Lisconnel did not
reach to such a figure. It had been larger still before his disastrous
expedition to the University; but it had never undergone any diminution
so long as he abode under Felix O'Beirne's roof. On the first Saturday
after his convalescence he had inquired, pouch in hand: "And what might
be the amount of me pecuniary debt to you, sir?" And old O'Beirne had
replied: "And you spendin' your time puttin' the heighth of larnin' into
the two lads' heads! Bedad, sir, it's debt the other way round,
supposin' there was to be any talk about it." The same little scene,
dwindled at last into a mere form and ceremony, had taken place on
every succeeding Saturday. Not that Mr. Polymathers did not feel he had
grounds for more than merely formal demur. But he was then facing the
steep hill of his ambition, and had sometimes to stoop as he climbed.

But now, when he had turned back baffled, and all his climbing was done,
old Felix had no engrossing object to blunt a sense of many scruples
that must be removed before he himself or his family could with honour
derive profit from the event; as they would do if Mr. Polymathers's
instructions were carried out. For by that document, which he had
finished drawing up only just in time, all his property was left
unreservedly to Nicholas O'Beirne, with the injunction that as little of
it as possible might be expended upon "the burying." Of course it was an
extraordinary thing that such a piece of good fortune should befall,
such a number of pounds accrue to, anybody at all; but apart from this
there seemed to be nothing very strange in the bequest. Everybody knew
that Mr. Polymathers had entertained "a great opinion entirely" of
Nicholas' abilities. Time and again he had said that the lad would be
heard of in the world if he got his chance of some good teaching. And he
once more expressed the same conviction, only at fuller length and in
finer language, in the composition which had been the last effort of his
wearied brain. "It would give me," he wrote, "the utmost satisfaction to
think that the legacy may eventually smooth his path to the attainment
of those University distinctions which have eluded my own grasp." And
almost his latest moment of consciousness had been pervaded by a faint
thrill of pleased pride at the turn of the sentence as he read it over.
This high style was not, however, maintained throughout, and the purport
could not be misunderstood. Furthermore, everybody knew that he had said
he had not a relation belonging to him in this world; and that being so,
it was natural enough for him to make a promising and favorite pupil his
heir. At first sight, therefore, no difficulties presented themselves;
but old Felix slept upon the matter, and by morning grave doubts had
risen in his mind. The gist of them was that "If they took and grabbed
the ould gintleman's bit of money, and he after dyin' all his lone up
among them there, wid ne'er a one of his own folks near him to see he
had his rights, it might look ugly enough agin them, and set some people
passin' remarks he'd be long sorry to have made on him, or any of his
name;" and that for the precluding of such animadversions it might
behove them to provide "a buryin'" not merely decent but "very
respectable whatever," and to expend the remainder of Mr. Polymathers's
personality upon a headstone for his grave, and Masses for his soul. To
set against these apprehensions were Mr. Polymathers's wishes and
Nicholas's interests; and the longer the old man balanced them in his
mind, the more perplexing became their tremulous poise. So at last,
goaded by the urgent necessity for a prompt decision, he turned to seek
it among his neighbours. He could not forbear a hope that their voices
might be convincingly in favour of giving Nicholas his chances; still
his strongest feeling was that it would be a relief to get the matter
settled one way or the other.

Very different in its degree of intensity was the interest with which
his grandson Nicholas looked forward to the issue. The question to be
decided seemed to him of almost as vital importance as if it were:
Whether or no the sun should rise again next morning. For him at least,
it depended upon that whether his world should loom back again in a
dreary blankness, or waken lit with new and wondrous gleams. Nicholas's
thirst for knowledge and love of learning were much more essentially
part and parcel of him than his hands and eyes, and had so far found
little except dreams and desires to thrive upon. Even before the
memorable summer evening when the gaunt old man in the curious big hat
had asked for the night's lodging, which lengthened into a season's
sojourn, he had often wandered among visions of places where there were
as many books as anybody could read--a dozen maybe--and some people in
it with a power of book-learning--as much perhaps as his Reverence or
the Doctor--only neither priest nor quality, but just neighbours whom he
could question about anything that came into his head, as he used to
question his grandfather, and Paddy Ryan, and Terence Kilfoyle, until he
got tired of being asked, in reply: "Musha good gracious, and who could
be tellin' you that?" an answer which had repeatedly left him a
discouraged atom of bewilderment, symbolically environed by our
wide-spreading bog. Since Mr. Polymathers's visit, these visions had
grown clearer, but not under any rays of hope. His initiation into the
elements of mathematics had pointed out the road along which he should
travel, but had simultaneously revealed all its obstacles,
insurmountable for him solitary and unequipped. In those days his mind
was constantly fumbling at some insoluble problem with the sense of
frustration that one has who gropes vainly in the dark, well knowing how
a single unattainable match-flare would put what he is seeking into his
hands. And no brighter prospect seemed to lie before him anywhere in his
future.

So when he suddenly learned that Mr. Polymathers had left all his
money--sums and sums--to be spent on "getting schooling for Nicholas
O'Beirne;" and when the sums and sums were actually counted out on the
table, he felt as if a door into enchanted regions had majestically
opened in a blank wall. That night he went to bed in a state of joyous
excitement, only dashed by some pangs of self-reproach for being unable
to feel more sorrow at the flickering out of his poor old teacher's dim
life. He had to frame excuses for himself by recollecting how his
great-aunt Bridget had said, "Ah, sure the crathur's better off, God
knows. What else 'ud he do, and the heart of him broke, but quit out of
it, if he got the chance? Ay, bedad, some people have the quare good
luck."

And when he got up with his happiness still fresh and strange in the
morning, there was his grandfather declaring "he didn't know if they'd
have a right to touch the bit of money at all; it might be no thing to
go do; schoolin' or no schoolin', he wouldn't be givin' people any call
to say the O'Beirnes were after playin' a dirty thrick." At this
Nicholas's experience was like that of a desert traveller who should see
a mirage of palms and pools grow swiftly before his delighted eyes into
a substantial oasis, and then anon, or ever he could approach it,
shimmer back, with all its sheen and shade, into mocking illusion again.
For thus did it fare with his hopes as his grandfather talked of
renouncing Mr. Polymathers's bequest. Moreover, the grounds which the
old man alleged forbade his grandson, lothfully though he listened, to
utter a word of protest, and even made him half ashamed of his vehement
longing to do so. Nicholas had been an O'Beirne for but fourteen years,
yet he had already entered upon his inheritance of family pride. Only he
could not bring himself to believe that the honour of his house called
for so prodigious a sacrifice; and he could have urged a dozen arguments
against it, if some other person had been the legatee. As it was, all
that delicacy would permit him to do for himself was to give piteously
inadequate expression to his sentiments in casual remarks about the
grandeur of getting a bit of learning, and the difficulty of
understanding some things out of one's own head. Altogether that day was
the longest and the most anxious that he had ever spent.

Dan also, though his fortunes were not involved to the same extent as
his younger brother's, was not easy in his mind. All day he had been
thinking rather badly of himself, and suspecting that other people
thought worse of him than he deserved, and the reflection was depressing
and irritating. The news of the legacy certainly had not given him
unmixed pleasure, as he felt that it ought to have done; but at the same
time he was aware that he neither grudged nor envied Nicholas his good
fortune, and that this unamiable frame of mind would nevertheless
probably be ascribed to him, if he betrayed any dissatisfaction or
disapproval. The truth was that he could not help feeling some
mortification at the way in which both Mr. Polymathers and his
grandfather assumed the forge to be his destiny and portion in life. Dan
did not by any means despise it: he took an interest in the work, and a
pride in the fact that farmers sent their horses thither from beyond the
Town, so well reputed was old Felix O'Beirne's shoeing. But it did not
follow that he wanted to be a blacksmith all his days. Even if he had
done so, he was sixteen, and consequently of an age to resent any
prescribed calling, especially since he knew that the selection here had
been made as the result of an unfavourable comparison of his abilities
with those of another person. "Dan is no fool, mind you," Mr.
Polymathers had said once. "But for intellect you need never name him on
the same day of the month as Nicholas," a verdict which fell with a
slight shock upon Dan, accustomed to the precedence given by two years'
seniority, superior strength, and a more practical turn of mind. What
was far more serious, however, Dan secretly cherished an ambition of his
own. It took the form of thinking that it would be a wonderfully fine
thing if he could ever get to learn the doctoring, and be able to drive
about on a car like Dr. Hamilton, with a name and a remedy for
everybody's ailment. A particularly fine thing it seemed to understand
the construction of bones and joints, a knowledge which would put it in
his power to prevent people from coming to such grief as, for instance,
poor Matt Haloran down at Duffclane, who must limp on a crooked leg to
the end of his days, because the man who pulled in his dislocated ankle
for him had made a botch of it, through not knowing rightly what he was
about. Dan had been much impressed, too, by several cases where a few
drops of brown stuff out of a bottle had put people to sleep when
various aches and pains had long hindered them from closing an eye, a
result which the neighbours were occasionally disposed to view with
mistrust, as rather probably wrought through the agency of "some quare
ould pishtrogues (charms)," but which to Dan's mind proved the
possession of a skill as enviable as it was beneficent. Beside it
hammering out horseshoes appeared a tedious and aimless pursuit, and he
sometimes thumped away in a very vague dream of one of these days
finding himself more congenially employed. Now, however, it was
perfectly clear to him that if Nicholas "took off wid himself to get
scholarship," his own portion must be to stick to the anvil. For
otherwise supposing his grandfather got past his work, or anything else
happened him, there would be nobody left to look after Dan's great-aunt,
who was not very old, and his great-grandmother, who was such a
wonderful age entirely that no one could say how much longer she mighn't
live. Even the wildest of dreams are not quite easy to scare away, and
it was this chiefly that marred his content with Mr. Polymathers's
testamentary dispositions. Still, when he heard his grandfather's
doubts, and saw his brother's downcast looks, he became almost as
anxious as Nicholas himself that the neighbours might talk away the old
man's scruples and allow the will to stand.

Thus there were many eager hopes and fears lodged that evening in the
O'Beirnes' living-room, which was all throbbing with fire-light, as the
neighbours began to drop in talking out of the dark. People are apt to
speak loudly when they get their breath after a battle with snowy
blasts; and the sound of voices came strangely into the stillness close
by, where there was only a cold glimmer of candle-light, and nobody
conversing, unless we count old Bridget O'Beirne, who had slipped in to
repeat a few prayers, and say to herself with a sort of grudging
wistfulness that everybody else was getting away. Then she came back to
her world again, and mended the crumbling red-hot bank with sods out of
her apron, and shovelled up the snow-balls shaken off their visitors'
clogged brogues, that they might not melt into mud patches on the floor.

To Dan and Nicholas, looking on from opposite corners, it seemed a long
while before anything to the purpose was said. Everybody had to comment
upon the snow, and Paddy Ryan's remark was that "if it kep' on at it
that-a-way, they'd be hard enough set to get through the dhrifts be the
day of the buryin'." This caused Mrs. Carbery to remember how she "had
been at a one up in the County Cavan, where the gate into the
buryin'-ground was all blocked up, so that the whole of them had to lep
over what would be be rights a ten-fut wall. And if they did, the half
of them plumped up to their necks in a soft place on the other side, and
came as near losin' their lives as could be thought. Bedad now, they
were comical to behould, goodness forgive her for sayin' so, all bawlin'
and flounderin' about like a flock of sheep stuck in a bog, on'y it was
a white bog and black sheep, as she minded Tom Ennis, that was a quare
codger, sayin' at the time." And this again started old O'Beirne upon
reminiscences of remarkable buryings which had come under his own
observation.

"Comical it may have been," he said, "but I'll bet you me best brogues
ne'er a one of yous ever witnessed a quarer buryin' than a one I seen
down in the south some ould ages ago, when I was a slip of a lad. But
I'll maybe ha' tould you the story, ma'am--about the flood in the
Tullaroe River?"

"Was that the time it riz up suddint and dhrownded the crathur that was
diggin' the grave?" said Mrs. Carbery.

"Sure not at all: that happint up at Lough Gortragh, and this I'm
talkin' about was in the Tullaroe River, a dale souther of the Lough.
Outrageous it does be in the wet saisons. So one harvest day, when it
was flowin' over all before it, there was a walkin' funeral about
crossin' at the ford. The way of it was, they were after hangin' a lad
up at the jail. In those days it's very ready they were wid the hangin',
and in a hurry over it too sometimes. Howane'er the frinds of this lad
had got lave to be buryin' him dacint after he would be hanged; and me
poor father, and meself, and plinty of other people were follyin'. Till
they come to the ford, and when they seen the manner the wather was
runnin' wild, the bearers had a notion to be turnin' back; but they made
up their minds, and on they wint. And as sure as they did, one of the
lads must needs slip his fut, and they right in the middle of the river,
and down wid the whole lot of thim, like a stook of oats in a gale of
win'; 'twas twinty wonders e'er a man of thim ever got his feet under
him agin. Faix, now the yell every sowl let you might ha' heard
anywheres at all; for some of thim was thinkin' the misfort'nit body was
apt to be swep' away and mortally dhrowned to the back of bein' hung;
and some of thim wasn't thinkin' any such a thing. But as for the
coffin, I'll give you me word if it didn't take and set off wid itself
floatin' away bobbin' along atop of the wather as light now, as if it
was a lafe dhropped down from the boughs archin' over our heads--and
wasn't that cur'ous enough? And as quare as anythin' it was to behould
the people all peltin' along be the two wet banks of the river as hard
as they could dhrive, and thrippin' theirselves up over the roots of the
trees, and slitherin' into the pools, wid the coffin just skimmin' and
swimmin' away down the sthrame ahead of them, as aisy and plisant as if
it was a bit of a pookawn. You might ha' sworn there was ne'er a nothin'
in it, to look at it. And he they were after hangin' a fine big man,
'ud weigh every ounce of fourteen stone. I tould you it was a quare
thing. So where it would be sailin' to nobody could say; very belike out
into the bay below. But sure when it come where the river runs past th'
ould church, the strong current that was racin' under it just gave a
sort of lap round wid it, and washed it clane up on the flat stones at
the gate goin' into the buryin'-ground, and left it lyin' there, same as
if the lads had set it down off their shoulders. Bedad now it was a very
lucky thing it so happint there was none of the pólis or red coats
about, be raison of their gettin' notice the buryin' was somewhere
else--oncommon lucky."

"It's as quare as the rest of it," said Peter Dooley, who had heard the
story before, "that nobody among them had had the wit to put a few
brickbats in it, or some good big lumps of heavy stones. Stones is
plinty, and chape enough."

"They're things you haven't the sellin' of then, I'll go bail," said old
Felix. He spoke in resentment of the interruption, but Mr. Dooley took
the speech as a flattering tribute to his business capacity, and
acknowledged it with a good-humoured smirk.

So Bridget might have spared herself the uneasiness which made her say
hurriedly to her brother: "If you was lookin' for Mr. Polymathers's bit
of writin', Felix, I left it lyin' convanient to you under the plate
there on the table."

"Oh, ay, bedad, that's what's been botherin' me," said the old man,
reachin' for it, "I dunno rightly what to say to it. But sure any of
yous that like can be readin' it, and see what he sez for yourselves."

Reading was not a question simply of liking with all members of the
company; but everybody could hold the paper and look wise, and if he
were none the more so afterwards, that may have been only because he
knew the contents of it beforehand. When it was Peter Dooley's turn he
examined the signature closely, and said, "But what name's this he's put
to it? 'John Campion' I see, but divil a sign of any Polymathers."

"Ah, that was another thing was botherin' me, too," said old O'Beirne,
rather dejectedly, "a little while ago, when Dr. Hamilton was comin' to
see him. For th' ould gintleman tould him Campion was his name; and it
appairs Polymathers is some discripshin of thrade, and not rightly
called to anybody at all. So I was thinkin' he was maybe annoyed wid
our callin' him out of his name all the while; but he said all that
ailed it was it was a dale too good for him; and better plased he seemed
we would keep on wid it. Oh ay, 'John Campion's' right enough."

"I niver heard of any such a thrade as polymatherin'," said his
son-in-law; "would it be anythin' in the pedlarin' line?"

"Is it pedlarin'?" said old O'Beirne, "and he that took up wid larnin'
and litherature he couldn't ha' tould you the price of a pinny loaf.
Faix, man, if I was Maggie I'd just put a good dab of strong glue in
your place behind the counter down-below, and stick you standing steady
in it, for buyin' and sellin's all the notion you have in your head here
or there. Pedlarin', sez he."

"Well, at all events," said Peter Dooley, unperturbed, "he's got
together a dacint little fortin one way or the other. Maybe he didn't
come by it any worser; but sure that's no great odds now. And plain
enough he sez the young chap there's to have it--that's all the one
thing wid yourself. But, anyhow, I dunno who could aisy conthrive to be
takin' it off you, and he lavin' no one belongin' to him. You have it
safe enough. Grab all you can, and keep a hould of it when you've got
it, sez I. But you're safe enough, no fear."

Nicholas, watching his grandfather's face from his corner, would have
given ten years of his life to throttle his uncle's reassuring speech
midway.

"There's no mistake, I should say, about what he was intendin'," said
Terence Kilfoyle, in whose hands the paper was by this time; "and who'd
be apt to know better than himself what he had in his mind so long as he
was right in his head."

"And if he wasn't, it's little likely he'd be to ha' got that written.
Hard enough work it is, accordin' to what I can see, even when a body
has all his wits to the fore," said old Paddy Ryan, whose acquaintances
did as a rule get more out of breath over a letter than over a wrestling
match or the recapture of an active pig.

"Mad people do be surprisin' cute some whiles, mind you," said Mrs.
Carbery. "There was a deminted body used to be up at our place--Daft
Jimmy they called him--and if you axed him the time of day he'd tell you
to the minyit, exacter than any clock that ever sthruck, and he belike
not widin a mile of e'er a one."

"It seems a sight of money to be layin' out on larnin'," pursued old
Paddy; "I dunno where you'd be gettin' the vally of it that-a-way,
onless he was larnin' everythin' twyste over, same as you put two coats
of whitewash on a wall if you're after mixin' a drop more than you want.
You might do it then."

His friends' arguments and illustrations had apparently a depressing
effect upon old Felix, and he said with impatience, "Weary on it,
man-alive! Sure there's no doubt about what he was manin', at all at
all. The question is, have we any call to be takin' him at his word, and
spendin' it away from aught 'ud do him a benefit--the buryin' and Masses
and such?"

"That might be a diff'rint thing," said Mrs. Carbery.

"I'd scarce think it," said Terence Kilfoyle, "considherin' he'll say no
more to make it so. The job's out of his hand, and 'ill stay the way he
left it."

"He might ha' changed his mind afore now, for anythin' we can tell,"
said Mrs. Carbery.

"'Deed, then, he might so, the poor man, Heaven be his bed," said Mrs.
Dooley.

"You could ax the priest about it," Tim O'Meara said diffidently, out of
the melancholy muteness which it was his habit to maintain.

"That's as much as to say it should go for Masses," said old Felix,
clutching at any shred of definite opinion, "for it's on'y in the nathur
of things his Riverence 'ud be recommindin' thim."

But Tim shrank away from the shadow of responsibility, protesting, "Och,
not at all, not at all. I wasn't as much as sayin' anythin'."

The old man tossed up his chin disgustedly, and meditated gloomily
during a brief pause.

"There's no denyin'," he said then, "that poor Mr. Polymathers had a
won'erful great opinion of himself over there." He nodded towards
Nicholas's corner, and used this periphrasis with a sense that he had
taken a precaution against perilously arousing the boy's vanity. "Times
and agin last summer he was sayin' to me the lad 'ud do credit to us yet
if he had his chances. A pity it 'ud be, he said, if he didn't iver git
to school, or maybe College itself. And gave him his books and all. But
sure, I dunno would that make it look any the better for us if we was to
be grabbin' his bit of money, and we the on'y people he had to see he
got fairity after he was gone. Ne'er a word have I agin schoolin' and
College if there would be no doubtin' over the matter; but there's some
things you can't stand too clear of, like the heels of a kickin' horse.
It might have a quare, bad apparance, rael mane; and long sorry I'd be
for that. What 'ud you say, now?"

He looked slowly round the flickering room, but met with no response
from old or young; all silent, from his mother, asleep in her
elbow-chair by the hearth, to his grandson Nicholas, very wide awake, in
a nook beyond her. Then his eyes travelled across to the opposite
corner, and as they lit there upon his other grandson, he specialised
his question into, "What 'ud _you_ say, Dan?"

Dan, thus abruptly called upon, was intensely conscious that two eyes
shining out of the shadow over against him had fixed him with an
unwavering gaze. And it is hard to say how he would have answered their
urging if at the same moment Mr. Dooley at his elbow had not been loudly
whispering to Mrs. Dooley--

"Colleges? Sure that's just talk he has be way of an excuse for keepin'
it. A great notion he has of spendin' it on Colleges. He knows better,
bedad."

Mr. Dooley, who was rather like several sorts of rodent animals in the
face, wore a smile at his own penetration.

"I dunno but it might look ugly," Dan suddenly said.

He was staring straight before him, yet he knew somehow, as if by a
sixth sense, that the shining eyes opposite ceased their watch with an
angry flash; and he had scarcely spoken before he would have given
anything to call back his irrevocable speech.

His grandfather's puzzled will closed on the opinion with a vice-like
grip, as if at a touch given to a powerful spring. Indecision was with
him an unwonted mood, from which it was an irresistible relief to
escape, even at some cost. And nobody who knew him could suppose that
his mind, once made up, would alter.

"Begorrah, Dan, I believe it's true for you," he said. "'Twould be no
thing to go do, and divil a bit of me 'ill do it. Whatever's over from
the buryin' and bit of a grave-stone may go for Masses; sorra a penny of
it a one of the O'Beirnes 'ill touch."

So Nicholas lost his chances, which seems a pity when one considers how,
for the sake of bringing them to him, old Mr. Polymathers, dazed and
enfeebled and hope-bereft, came tramping on that long, long journey, day
after weary day, under the scowling wintry sky, and against the
ruffling blasts, back again across the breadth of Ireland. The road was
all strewn for him with the wreckage of his shattered dream, and the one
gleam of consolation that lighted him on the way had been the thought
that his savings might now give a help to the lad up at Lisconnel. This
had often been in his mind when he set off, shivering in the bleak
morning, and when he stopped to shift his over-heavy bundle, and when he
roused himself painfully from the bewildering lethargies that fell upon
him. But he had reckoned without the pride of the O'Beirnes.

It was a pity, too, that the affair should have led to an estrangement
between the two brothers, which set in as tacitly as a black frost, for
neither of them ever said a word to the other about Dan's intervention.
This silence left him in the thorny grip of misgivings as to the motives
with which Nicholas might be charging him. That he had done it on
purpose to spoil Nicholas's chances out of spite was one of these. And
although Dan knew very well that he had spoken from an altogether
different impulse, he was conscious of having had feelings which seemed
to give him a cruelly clear insight into the possible workings of
Nicholas's mind. "Consaitin' that it was because I was invyin' him,
that's what he's thinkin' agin me," he said to himself as the days went
by, and he perceived, or fancied, that Nicholas in his disconsolate
moping about had no other aim than to keep away from wherever Dan might
be.

But Dan's unhappiness took an acuter phase in a fortnight or so, when
Nicholas began to resume his mathematical studies. There lies just
opposite the O'Beirnes' front door a low turf bank, gently sloping, and
mostly clothed with short, fine grass, but liable to be cut into brown
squares, if sods are wanted for roofing a shed, or for spreading a green
layer of scraws under new thatch. This had been done on a rather large
scale in the past autumn, and the boys had been in the habit of
utilising the smooth, bare patches as tablets whereon to trace with
pointed sticks, or any handy implements borrowed from the forge, the
figures and diagrams occurring in Mr. Polymathers's scientific lectures.
Nicholas now, albeit he had buried both teacher and hope, began once
more to draw his circles and triangles and polygons on the soft mould,
as it grew damply and darkly through the wearing snow coverlid.
Sometimes in the excitement of demonstrating involved relations between
AB's and BC's he would for a while forget his disappointment almost as
completely as he did the wet-winged winds that had been flapping and
wheeling about the house ever since the thaw set in. His obliviousness
could not, however, ensure him against the effects of cold shower-baths,
and before long his geometrical drawing was done to the accompaniment of
a hollow-sounding cough, which made Dan remember a time some years ago
when Nicholas had been so seriously ill with pleurisy that voices had
said at their door, "Ah, the crathur, he'll scarce last the night. Dr.
Hamilton has no opinion of him at all. 'Deed, now, his poor
grandfather's to be pitied, losin' such a fine young lad." And he also
remembered having occasionally heard his great-aunt say that Nicholas
took after his poor mother, and would never comb a grey head. Now,
therefore, the figure of Nicholas sitting out on the bank in a vibrating
mist of rain, with his feet in a puddle, and his hair flickering in damp
strands about his thin face, became for Dan an ominous and saddening
spectacle.

But while he was ruefully contemplating it one day, a happy idea struck
him. He would get Nicholas some clean white paper to draw his _dygrims_
on. "And then belike he'd be contint to sit in be the fire, instead of
to be catchin' his death scrawmin' out there in the mud under teems of
rain." Grand writing-paper was to be had at Isaac Tarpey's, down in
Ballybrosna, and Dan at this time happened to be in possession of a
whole shilling, which he dedicated more than willingly to the purchase.

Isaac Tarpey presided over the Ballybrosna Post-office, which was in
some respects a singularly complete establishment, as not only was the
raw material for a letter kept in stock there, but the letter itself
could, for a consideration, be written on the premises by the postmaster
in person. It is true that Isaac did not supply more than the barest
necessaries of scribes, the bread and water, so to speak, of stationery,
the very plainest pens and paper and ink. He kept his ink in a single
moderate-sized jar, out of which he measured penn'orths and ha'p'orths
into the various receptacles brought by customers who came to demand "a
sup" or "a drain." On these sales his profits were certainly enormous,
not less than cent. per cent., but then the consumption of that article
was extremely small in Ballybrosna. It took a long while to reach the
sediment at the bottom of the jar, and Isaac's letter-writing, done at
the rate of thruppence a-piece, probably was a more lucrative branch of
his business, though the correspondence of the Town was not large enough
to put his services in frequent requisition. Partly on this account, and
partly because he was by nature a strong conservative, Mr. Tarpey set
his face sternly against the spread of education. He was distressed by
the appearance of any symptoms of it among the neighbouring youth, even
when it took the form of an inquiry for his limp paper and skewer-like
pens. In fact, the diffusion of penmanship was what he most seriously
deprecated and discountenanced. "The Lord knows," his main argument ran,
"the foolery them spalpeens 'ill be gabbin' permiscuis would sicken you,
widout givin' them the chance to be sittin' down aisy and invintin' it."
His wife once suggested that "the crathurs might be more sinsible like,
when they were takin' time to considher themselves." But Isaac said,
"Pigs may fly."

At the time when Dan came for his paper the office was occupied by Norah
Fottrell, engaged in dictating a letter to her sweetheart, Stevie Flynn,
away in Manchester. The composition still looked discouragingly brief,
despite Isaac's big, flourishing hand, yet Norah's ideas had already
run so short that she was staring in quest of more up among the cobwebby
rafters over her head.

"You might say," she said, after a pause, "that I hope he's gettin' his
health where he is."

"I've said that twyste before," Isaac objected severely.

"Och, murdher, have you?" said Norah, reverting to the rafters with a
distracted gaze.

"Couldn't you tell him the price your father got for the last baste he
sould?" said Isaac.

"Bedad, I might so," said Norah; "'twas on'y thirty shillin', but it 'ud
take up a good bit of room. And look-a, Mr. Tarpey, couldn't we lave the
rest of the page clane? As like as not the bosthoon wouldn't be
botherin' his head spellin' out the half of it."

The adoption of this course expedited Norah's love-letter to a happy
close. But when Dan took her place at the counter Isaac assured him, not
without satisfaction, that "they were cliver and clane run out of all
their writin' paper, barrin' it might be a sort of butt-ind of loose
sheets left litterin' at the bottom of the drawer, and they that thick
wid dust you could be plantin' pitaties in them, forby gettin' mildewed
lyin' up in the damp so long."

It was not so much compunction at Dan's disappointed countenance as an
irresistible hankering after a good bargain that ultimately led the
postmaster to sweep this uninviting remnant together, and fix upon it
the price of sixpence. The charge was exorbitant, considering the small
quantity and damaged state of the goods, yet Dan carried off his little
packet quite contentedly, announcing that he would step over again for
another sixpenn'orth next week, when, as Isaac reluctantly admitted, a
fresh supply of stationery would have arrived.

As Dan left the office he passed an unknown gentleman, tall, with a
shrewd sallow face, dark, peaked beard, and alert grey eyes, who had
been leaning against the door while the bargain was struck. The stranger
was Mr. Alfred B. Willett, of New York, a wealthy engineer, who on his
way home from Europe had been visiting his friend Dr. Hamilton of
Ballybrosna. His curiosity now was roused by Dan's evident eagerness to
acquire materials for the drawing of diagrams, the pursuit striking him
as so strangely incongruous with the aspect of the brown-faced stalwart
ragged youth, that he stepped inside when the place was empty to make
inquiries on the subject. The post-master's information was to the
effect that "the O'Beirnes above at the forge had always had the name of
bein' very dacint respectable people up to then, and he'd never before
seen any of the young ones settin' themselves up to be askin' after such
things. He hoped it mightn't be a sign that the old man was goin'
foolish, and lettin' the lads get past his control. But sure enough we
must all of us put up wid growin' good for nothin' sometime, unless we
happint to ha' never been worth anythin' to begin wid. And he wished he
had a penny ped him for every one of that sort he'd met in the coorse of
his life."

This cynical disquisition was not very enlightening. However next week
when Dan slipped over again for his second sixpenn'orth, Mr. Willett it
chanced was there too, having called to report on the excessive
thickness and other undesirable peculiarities of some ink lately
supplied to him. It had been, in fact, composed of "the sidimint"
artfully diluted with a drop of vinegar; but Isaac Tarpey said it was
"thick wid the stren'th was in it," and set about uncorking his fresh
jar with an affronted air, when his customer persisted in pointing out
that its adhesive properties were less valuable in ink than in glue.
Meanwhile Mr. Willett fell into a conversation with Dan, which ended in
his engaging the lad to accompany him as guide on a shooting expedition
next day. The arrangement turned out satisfactorily, and was repeated
more than once, with the consequence that Dan and the stranger talked
about many things in the course of several long tramps, until one
evening the latter, sitting on a stone wall after a steep pull uphill,
made Dan an offer which caused the most familiar objects to seem unreal,
because a marvellous dream was coming true among them. For Mr. Willett
proposed to take Dan home with him, and have him taught whatever he most
wished to learn. "You're a smart lad, Dan," he said, "and I reckon
you'll make more of that in the States than in this country."

"Ah! the doctorin'," said Dan, turning as red as the young sorrel
leaves, and letting his darling wish slip out in his surprise as
involuntarily as he would have blinked at a flash of lightning. But next
moment he remembered Nicholas, and fell silent; Nicholas, who had not
looked him in the face since that snowy evening weeks ago. The dream
seemed to stop coming true.

"There's no need to make up your mind in a hurry," said Mr. Willett,
"you can be thinking it over between this and Monday."

Dan did think it over deeply that night and the next day and the day
after. He thought how fine, if rather fearful, it would be to go on such
a journey; and what a splendid thing to learn the doctoring business,
and some day come home again able to cure everybody of anything that
ailed them. "For out in the States, like enough, they had all manner of
contrivances the people over here had never taught Dr. Hamilton," whose
skill was occasionally baffled. He imagined the neighbours' surprise
when he came driving up on his car; if possible he would be driving a
little blue-roan mare like Farmer Finucane's Rosemary, with whom he had
made friends in the course of many shoeings. He thought he would be
sorry to miss seeing them all for so long; and yet it would certainly be
very pleasant, in a way, to get to a place where things were a bit
different sometimes, not like here where when you were getting up in the
morning you knew what was bound to be happening all day just as well as
you did when you were going to bed that night. And next he thought that
such days would be coming to Nicholas, while he himself was away seeing
and learning "all manner of everything;" and that if he had held his
tongue that time, maybe Nicholas would have got his chance with Mr.
Polymathers's money, instead of its all being spent away on nothing. And
he thought that it wasn't his fault, for what else could he say when he
was asked all of a minute, except the first thing that came into his
head? And he wondered how it would be if anything happened to his
grandfather. Nicholas wasn't over-strong, and too young altogether
besides. And then he thought again that Mr. Willett was cleverer than
anybody he had ever seen, and more good-natured; it was a pleasure to go
about with him; and people were great fools to give up their chances.
Maybe Nicholas might get another some day. And maybe Mr. Polymathers had
been mistaken in thinking that he was the one best worth teaching.

All these things Dan thought, and the result of his cogitations was that
on the Monday he stole a sheaf of Nicholas's most complicated
cobweb-like diagrams from their hiding-place in the wall, and brought
them with him when he went by appointment to meet his patron off beyond
Knockfinny. And when Mr. Willett said to him: "Well, Dan, what about the
States and the doctoring?" he replied inconsequently by holding out the
sheets of paper with the explanation: "It's me brother, Nicholas, sir,
does be doin' them mostly out of his own head."

Mr. Willett looked at them for some minutes with interested
ejaculations. "Upon my word," he then said, "if these were done out of
his own head, he must have about as much mathematics located in it by
nature as a spider."

"Aren't they good for anythin' at all then, sir?" said Dan, not knowing
exactly what he hoped and feared.

"Good? They're astonishing," said Mr. Willett. He asked some questions
about Nicholas's age, schooling, and so forth; after which he said: "You
must take me to see this brother of yours, Dan. I expect he'll have got
to come right along with us."

But Dan stared round and round the spacious brown-purple floor they were
standing on, and after a far-off flight of wild fowl, and up at the sky,
where the clouds travel without let or hindrance, before he answered
hesitatingly: "The two of us couldn't ever both go, sir. How could we
be lavin' the forge and all on me ould grandfather? And Nicholas never
makes any great hand of the work."

"Ah! is that the way the land lies?" said Mr. Willett, as if half
impatient, and half amused, but not best pleased. He looked hard at Dan,
and thought he saw how matters stood, "You've no mind to leave the old
grandfather and the rest of the concern, but you think it would be more
in the other lad's line."

As a matter of fact Dan was at that particular moment feeling strongly
how easily he could have reconciled himself to the separation, and how
entirely it would be the making of him to do so. But he did not gainsay
Mr. Willett's statement. To himself he said, "He's a right to have his
chances; and the one of us is bound to stop in it"--a mode of expressing
his sentiments which showed that he had much need of culture; and aloud:
"Nicholas always had a powerful wish to be gettin' some larnin'; and I'm
a fool to him at the geomethry anyway."

The upshot of it all was that when some six weeks later Mr. Alfred B.
Willett sailed for New York, Nicholas O'Beirne accompanied him, and Dan
O'Beirne remained at Lisconnel. It was on a gleamful April day that they
set out, with soft gusts roaming all around, as if they had come from
very far off, and were eagerly exploring the strange places, and many
light clouds flitting by swiftly above, as if they had a long journey
before them, and were in a joyous flurry over it. Dan spent the
slow-paced hours in the forge, where he hammered loud and long, and
seldom looked across the threshold. The pleasantest thought in his mind
was the remembrance of a short conversation which he had had with
Nicholas while they were tying up Mr. Polymathers's old books at the
kitchen-door just as the grey chink in the east filled with rose-light,
and the earliest breeze came over the bog waving the withered grasses.
Dan had said to Nicholas: "Sure I wouldn't be grudgin' you e'er a bit of
good luck, lad." And Nicholas had replied: "And never did."

After Nicholas's departure many days bad and good rose on Lisconnel, but
few of them brought any tidings of the absent. Letters passed now and
then, laggard and uninstructive as such letters must be, and they grew
rarer and briefer as time went on. Perhaps a dozen years had gone by,
when Dan one day received simultaneously an American newspaper and a
parcel. The newspaper was marked with large blue chalk crosses at a
paragraph which related how the degree of D.Sc. had been conferred.
_Honoris Causâ_ upon Mr. Nicholas O'Beirne by the University of
Sarabraxville. And in the parcel, more astonishing still, was a
brown-covered book, lettered on the back: _A Treatise on Conic Sections,
by Nicholas O'Beirne_. By this time Dan had been left alone at the
forge; but he was courting Mary Ryan, Mick Ryan's daughter, so he
naturally conveyed to her this remarkable news. It produced a profound
impression. Old Paddy her grandfather was with difficulty brought to
realise the fact that "they were after makin' a doctor of young Nicholas
O'Beirne, him that went out to the States the year before the Famine."
And when he had got the idea into his head, it seemed to act like a
swivel-joint, and set him nodding to the tune of: "Well tub-be sure;
glory be to God; young Nicholas O'Beirne."

"I wish to goodness he'd come over and cure Mick, poor man," said Mick's
wife. "For he hasn't been worth pickin' up off the road ever since he
was bad with the fever last year, and he might as well be dhrinkin' so
much ditch-wather as the ould stuff Dr. Carson's givin' him."

"Ah but it's not the medical doctorin' Nicholas has gone to," said Dan,
the shadow of a shadow crossing his face, "there'd be diff'rint letters
for that." And he proceeded to read out the report of the degree
conferred _honoris causâ_ upon the distinguished young Irishman, Mr.
Nicholas O'Beirne, whose recent contributions to the study of the higher
mathematics had roused so much interest in scientific circles.

"Ay, true for you, Dan," said Mary; "you don't hear them callin' Dr.
Carson an Honory-causy."

Dan's shred of Latin had grown rustier than the oldest iron in his
stock, but was not yet utterly worn away. "The manin' of that," he
explained, "would be, _be raison of honour_, and I should suppose,
they've gave it to him for the sake of what all he's after doin'."

"Bedad then, Dan," said Mrs. Mick, "some one had a right to be givin'
you an Honory-causy yourself, considherin' the cure you're after makin'
on Mr. Finucane's ould mare, and everybody of the opinion she'd never
stand on four feet again to the ages' ind."

"Och blathers, ma'am," Dan said, modestly, "sure anybody wid the sight
of their eyes might aisy enough ha' seen what ailed the crathur. That
was no great comether. And look at what Nicholas is after doin'; he's
wrote a book, no less."

The "Treatise on Conic Sections" created an even stronger sensation than
the news of the honorary degree, especially among those who had letters
enough to spell out the familiar name on the title-page. Dan's Mary was
not one of these scholars, but she found another page to admire, saying
that the circles "drew in and out of aich other like a lot of
soap-bubbles, had an oncommon tasty look, and so had all them weeny
corners, wid the long bames between, the moral of a chain-harrow, you
couldn't mistake it. Sure it's proud of it anybody might be."

Probably Nicholas was very proud of this first heir of his invention,
diagrams, and all. Whether it ever had any successors seems doubtful;
certainly none of them arrived at his old home. But his Treatise is
still safely stowed away there in a corner of the dresser. Most likely
it is the only copy of "O'Beirne on Conic Sections" existing in Ireland;
and who would expect to find it lodged in a smoke-stained cabin on the
wild bogland between Duffclane and Lisconnel?



CHAPTER IX

BOYS' WAGES


One leaden-roofed morning in the winter after his brother Nicholas had
gone to the States, young Dan O'Beirne was in rather low spirits, and
rather out of humour. It was not unnatural that such a mood should
occasionally overtake him, since he had reached apparently a straight
and monotonous tract of road, which would have looked interminable to
the eyes of seventeen had not his household companions been now all
declining folk, whose presence brought under his constant observation
the last stages of "a long journey in December gone." Half a century or
so of smithy work, even with some unlicensed doctoring and illicit
distilling thrown in, was not by any means the future that he would have
liked his oracle to predict for him. And though he forecast it
accurately enough without the intervention of any soothsaying, this no
more helped him to avoid it than if he had been an old-world tragical
hero, whose friends were seeking by vain devices to circumvent the
promulgated decrees of his destiny. Dan, indeed, took no steps of that
sort. For him, as for most of us, the skirts of circumstance were as the
meshes of the net in which Fate holds us, and his evil star was an
object of which it seemed very hard to get a good grip. I have always
wondered myself how people set about it. At any rate, Dan continued to
walk under his; that is to say, if it were really bad luck that kept him
at the forge. Upon this point there might be differences of opinion.
Terence Kilfoyle, for instance, who dropped in to escape from a
snow-shower in the course of that morning, would not, evidently, have
taken such a view. For when Dan said something grumblingly about
Lisconnel being "a slack sort of a place, where one didn't get much
chance of doin' anythin' at all;" he replied, "Bedad now, if I'd the
fine business you and your grandfather have to be puttin' me hand to, I
wouldn't call the Queen me aunt."

In those times the district around our bogland was more thickly
inhabited than it is at present, and the blacksmith's jobs were
proportionately plentier. Nowadays the forge is liable to long spells
of silence, but Dan, who as young Dan has been superseded, philosophises
over them, and talks no more about chances. On this occasion his remarks
were overheard by his grandfather, perhaps because the old man had begun
to have thoughts of chances which made him sensitive to signs of
discontent in his assistant. And by and by when Terence had gone, he
said, "Terence said a very sinsible word; a lad might aisy get a worse
start in life, ay indeed he might so, if it was twyste as slack. But
anyhow there's them here that 'ud be hard set to make a shift for
themselves if the two of us was out of it; and I'm apt to be quittin'
before Biddy at all events." To which Dan replied, "Why what talk was
there of quittin'?" and the subject ceased out of the conversation.
During the subsequent silence Dan thought, among other things, that it
was "aisy for his grandfather to be talkin';" but in this he made a
mistake. For old O'Beirne remembered vividly that he had once had his
own restless ambitions, and his chances, too, of realising them, in
times when he did more stirring things than merely forge pike-heads.
Therefore he guessed what lent an unnecessary vehemence to his
grandson's hammering, and if he could have thought of any consolatory
remark, he would have made it. But it only occurred to him to say that
the days would soon be len'thenin' now, anyway; and even to himself this
seemed cold comfort. Dan replied, "Och, they're plinty long enough," and
sent a thick swarm of fiery bees flitting up the dark-throated chimney.

That evening when Dan closed the broad-leaved forge doors, he shut
himself out into a world as black and white as moonlight on turf and
snow could make it. Though the morning's flutter of snow had left but a
meagre sprinkling on that great bogland, the moonbeams touching every
scattered flake, seemed to gather it all up widely in one stark spectral
gleam. Far away towards the horizon this dulled off into a shadowy zone
of mist, where the wind was muttering and moaning to itself, dimly heard
across the hushed floor of the night. Beyond that Dan was aware
wistfully of regions unknown, with all their possibilities fascinating
and mysterious. But he had small scope for speculation about what he
should find when he opened the house door fast by; and in fact he
discovered everything and everybody just as he could have foretold. The
fire-lit room was filled with the busy weaving of the web that ruddy
gleams and russet shadows never got finished, swiftly as they glanced,
and overhead the black spaces between the rafters gloomed down like
inlets of a starless sky. There sat his great-grandmother smoking her
dudeen in her nook by the hearth, and her big cloak--a very little of
wizened old woman to a great many heavy, dark-blue folds. There, too,
knitted her grey-haired daughter Bridget, who said, as she did every
evening, "Well, Dan, so you're come in," and would have not much more to
say for herself that night except the Rosary. And his grandfather, who
had come in just before him, was lighting his pipe in the opposite
chimney-corner. A year ago his brother Nicholas would have thrust a
head, all eyes and rumpled hair, into a patch of bright flickerings, to
pore over the tattered arithmetic-book; but by this time his absence had
become a matter of course. The only at all unusual feature was Joe
Denny, the blind fiddler, who had called in on his way home and had a
drop of poteen and a farrel of wholemeal cake. Yet Joe was indeed a
tolerably common incident, and his jokes altered not. He had begun his
parting one, which was to the effect that sorra a man in the counthry of
Connaught could see clearer than himself if the night was dark enough,
when Dan's arrival interrupted him, and made him declare, taking out his
fiddle, that 'twould be a poor case if the lad didn't get e'er a tune at
all. Dan was not much in the humour for tunes, but he said, "Ay, Joe,
give us a one, man-alive," and Joe struck up with twangle and squeak.

He was playing--

    "Over the hills and far away,
    Over the hills and beyond the say,
    Over the hills and a great way off,
    And the wind it blew--"

when a thudding knock on the door seemed to beat down the shriller
sounds and stop the sliding bow. Dan went to see who it was, and found
standing on the threshold a tall, lean old man in a long, ragged coat,
with a thick, knotted blackthorn in his hand. A few hard-frozen granules
pattered in at the opened door, which admitted a glimpse of the moon,
tarnished by a thin drift of scudding cloud.

"God save all here," said the old man, who was a stranger.

"Good-evenin' to you kindly, sir," responded old Felix from his fireside
corner; "and wudn't you be steppin' widin?"

"I'm on'y axin' me way to the place below there--Ballybrosna beyond
Duffclane," said the old man; "it's the road I must be steppin', for I'm
more than a thrifle late."

But he came slowly forward into the room as if lured by the fire, at
which he looked hungrily. He stooped and limped very much, and when he
took off his black caubeen, the sharp gleam of his white hair seemed to
comment coldly on those infirmities.

"I'm widin a mile or so of it, or maybe less, by now, I should suppose,"
he said.

"Faix, then, it's the long mile," said the fiddler. "Put half a dozen to
it, and you'll be nearer; and bedad it's aisier work doin' that in your
head than on your feet. Be the same token I must be leggin' it, or
they'll consait I'm lost at our place." And he stepped out darkly into
the veiled moonlight.

"Wirrasthrew and weary on it," the old man said to himself; and then to
the others, "Is it that far as he says?"

"Ay is it, every inch," said old O'Beirne. "And too long a thramp for
you altogether, sir, if I might make so free."

"For the matther of that," said the ragged old man, proudly, "I've
walked the double of it, and more, times and agin, widout so much as
considherin'. But your road's a bit heavy to-night, wid the snow--and
could."

"That's the worst of the roads," said the little old woman, peering
suddenly out of her corner; "the longer you walk them, the longer
they'll grow on you, till you begin to think there's no ind to them. And
after that, the best conthrivance is to keep off of them clivir and
clane, the way I do. Then they're no len'th at all."

"Ah, ma'am, but 'twouldn't be very handy if the young folk took to
thryin' that plan," the old man said. "_We_'re bound to keep steppin'
out."

A short silence followed this remark, because the hearers felt uncertain
whether he meant the pronoun for a jest. To evade the difficulty, old
O'Beirne bade Dan fetch a mug for a drop of poteen, and meanwhile said
to the stranger:

"Sit you down, sir, and take a taste of the fire. Where might you be
thravellin' from this day?"

"I was livin' over at Innislone," said the old man, sitting down on a
creepy stool.

"Musha, then, you didn't ever come that far all on ind--sure it's miles
untould."

"'Twas the day afore yisterday I quit. Last night I slep' at Sallinbeg,
and this mornin' I met a man who loaned me a grand lift in his cart."

"I used to know a man lived at Innislone," said old O'Beirne, "be the
name of Brian English. He come by here of an odd while after the stuff."

"Ay, bedad, and a very dacint ould crathur he was. Meself's one of the
Dermodys--young Christie they call me--but ould Christie that was me
poor father's dead this while back. Thank you kindly, lad," the old man
said to Dan, who now handed him a little delft mug half full of whisky.
"Why, you're nigh as long a fellow as meself. Are you good at the
wrestlin'?"

"Och, I'm no great things whatever," Dan replied with becoming modesty.

"There's not many heavy weights in the parish 'ud care to stand up to
me," said this young Christie, holding the mug in a gaunt tremulous
hand. "Faix, it's noways forrard they've been about it since the time I
come near breakin' Rick Tighe's neck. I've noticed that. Begorrah, now,
ivery sowl thought I had him massacred," he said, with a transient gleam
of genuine complacency. "You might have heard tell of it, belike?"

"It 'ud ha' happint before my recollections, sir, maybe," said Dan,
looking at him perplexedly, "if 'twas apt to ha' been a longish while
ago."

"'Twasn't long to say," said the old man. He drank the spirits
lingeringly, in slow sips, and seemed to sit up straighter as he did so.
Then he set down the empty mug on the table, and said, "_Boys' wages_."

But he had scarcely uttered the words when he perceived that he had
thought aloud irrelevantly, and made haste to cover the slip. "I'd
better be gettin' on wid meself," he said, rising, "Thank you, kindly.
That's an iligant fire you have." He looked at it regretfully, but
turned resolutely towards the door, still open, and framing the broad
dim whiteness out away to the bounding curtain of gloom. "It's a grand
thing," he said defiantly, "to have all the world before you."

The sentiment was not accepted without qualification.

"That depinds," said old O'Beirne. "Somewhiles I question wud you find
anythin' in it better than a warm corner and a pipe of 'baccy, if you
thramped the whole of it. And you might happen on a dale worse. What do
you say, mother?"

She was knocking ashes out of her pipe-bowl against the wall, and nodded
in assent.

"It's no place for people that can keep shut of it," she said.

"If you've ne'er a chance of gettin' into it," said Dan, "I dunno what
great good it does you bein' there afore or behind."

"Or if you knew there was nothin' left in it you wanted to be goin'
after," said his great-aunt, half to herself.

"Well, whatever way you look at it," said the strange old man, "I've a
notion I've a right to be gettin' somethin' more out of it be now than
boys' wages. Ay, it's time I was. Boys' wages; the lyin' spalpeen."

"If you axed me, sir," said old O'Beirne, "I'd say 'twas time somebody
else would be gettin' the wages. Isn't there any childer to be earnin'
for you? Haven't you e'er a son, that you need be thrampin' the counthry
that fashion, let alone talkin' about all the world, wild like?"

"I've a son, troth have I, if that was all," said the old man, turning
away, angrily.

"Then it's that much better off than me you are. The only one I had, he
took and died on me, himself, and his poor wife a couple of days after
him--God be good to them--when the lad there wasn't scarce the height of
that stool, and a less size on his brother, that's away now in the
States gettin' all manner of a fine edication. Very dacint poor childer
they always was, too; but it was a bad job."

"He might ha' done worse agin you than that," said Christie Dermody, "be
the powers he might." He had retreated as far as the door, but now he
faced round, and stood on the edge of the thin snow, leaning his right
shoulder against the post, and looking in at the other old man by the
fire. "He might ha' fooled you for years and years, and made a
laughin'-stock of you wid everybody about the place--and me wid ne'er a
thought of any such a thing--he might so, and bad luck to him....
'Foostherin' about and consaitin' to be doin' a fair day's work, when
he's the creep of a snail on him, and the stren'th of a rat.' That's
what I heard Tim Reilly sayin' and I goin' home on the Saturday night.
But if I come creepin' after him, the young baste, he'd maybe ha' ráison
to remimber it.... And himself and the wife lettin' on there was nothin'
like me; and he callin' me to come into his room--I heard him plain
enough all the while, no fear, but I wudn't be lettin' on. There's
ne'er a hap'orth ailin' him. Troth he may call till he's choked afore
iver I'll come next or nigh him. And sendin' the little girl slutherin'
to say her daddy wanted me. I tould her want might be his master. Sure
they're all the one pack, and the widest width there is in this world
I'll be keepin' between them and me. Shut of them I'll be for good and
all--and I'll make me fortin' yet, and no thanks to him. What talk have
they of ould men? Boys' wages. Good-night to you all."

To those in the room it seemed as if he dropped away back into the wan
dusk behind him, and next moment they saw him in motion a few paces
distant, limping fast, and gesticulating as though he were still
carrying on his monologue.

"That old crathur's asthray in his mind, I misdoubt," said old O'Beirne,
"and I wouldn't won'er if he was after gettin' bad thratement among his
own people."

"Goodness pity him," said his sister Bridget. "It's a cruel perishin'
night, and snowin' thicker. Where'll he get to at all? And carryin'
nought but an old stick. We'd better ha' kep' him."

"Sure we couldn't ha' stopped him anyhow," said the blacksmith, "no
more than one of them flustherin' blasts goin' by. When a body's took up
wid onraisonable notions, you might as well be hammerin' could iron as
offerin' to persuade him diff'rint. But he'll maybe turn in at the
Gallahers'."

They watched him until the dark imprints of his receding steps in the
thin snow-sheet could no longer be distinguished, and then Dan closed
the door, shutting out the wide world and the fortune seeker. "Things is
quare and conthráry," he said to himself.

Some two hours afterwards they were all sitting round the fire still. It
was nearly nine o'clock, which is late in Lisconnel, but they found it
hard to detach themselves from the cordial grasp of the warm glow.
Bridget, however, had put by her needles, and begun to tell her beads,
when another knock broke in upon them.

"He's come back belike," said old O'Beirne; but when Dan opened the
door, the person who stood there, though likewise tall and gaunt and
ragged, had grizzled black hair, and was not more than middle-aged. His
face was hollow-cheeked and drawn, and his eyes glittered while he
shivered and panted. The night had grown wilder as the moon sank low,
and the snow went past the door like rapid wafts of ghostly smoke. This
newcomer stumbled into the room without ceremony, as if half blinded,
and said breathlessly--

"Did any of yous be chance see an ould man goin' this road to-day? An
ould ancient man, somethin' lame; be the name of Christie Dermody?"

"Ay, sure enough, himself was in it not so long ago," said old O'Beirne.
"If it hadn't been you, 'twas very apt to ha' been him come back."

In the man's face one trouble seemed to be relieved by another at the
tidings.

"Glory be to goodness, then, that I've heard tell of him at last," he
said. "But God help the crathur, what's to become of him streelin' about
this freezin' night? The snow's as dhry as mail-dust. Perished he'll be.
Och, he's the terrible man to go do such a thing on us. What way did he
quit? It's me ould father, sir, that's over eighty years of age."

"And is he after strayin' away on you?" said old O'Beirne.

"Follyin' him since yisterday mornin' I am," said the other, "when it's
in me bed I should be be rights, for I'm that distroyed wid the could
on me chest I've scare a bit of breath in me body. But sure what matter
if I can come be the crathur agin. Is it that a-way he went, did you
notice?"

"You're bound to wait till the flurry of the win's gone by," said old
O'Beirne, for his visitor pointed out into a shrieking whirl, shrilling
higher and fiercer. "Sorra a minyit you'll lose, for you couldn't stir a
step in that or see a stim. Sit you down a while. What was it set him
rovin'?"

"Did he say anythin' agin us? Anythin' of bein' thrated bad?"

"Well, I wouldn't say he seemed altogether satisfied in himself," said
old O'Beirne, remembering his suspicions. "Somethin' he said of bein'
made a fool of, and tould lies to----"

"And gettin' boys' wages," said Dan.

"Ay, ay, wirrasthrew, that was the very notion he had, goodness help us.
What will we do at all wid him? You see, sir, me father's a won'erful
proud-minded man; he is that. And a great big man, and as strong as ten
he was, ontil he got rael ould entirely. So it's cruel bad he thinks of
not bein' able for everythin' the way he used to be; and he won't let on
but he is, be no manner of manes he won't. 'Deed no, he sez he's as good
a man as ever he was in his life."

"Belike now he's of the opinion the sun doesn't dhrop down out of the
sky of an evenin'," said little old Mrs. O'Beirne, with sarcasm. "What
does the ould body expec'?"

"I dunno, ma'am, I dunno. Sure it's agin nathur and raison. There's
meself gettin' as grey as a badger, and noways that supple as I was. But
me father's a terrible cliver man. You'd niver get the better of an
argufyment wid him, for he wouldn't listen to a word you'd be sayin'. So
you see the way of it was, the two of us is workin' this great while on
Mr. Blake's lan', that's a dacint man enough; and it might be three year
ago, he sez to me one Saturday night--for be good luck 'twas me and not
me father he'd mostly be payin'--sez he to me, 'Look it here, Ned, it's
the last time I'll be givin' man's wages to your father, for bedad an
infant child 'ud do as much as he any day of the week. So I'll put him
on boys' wages,' he sez, 'that'ill be three shillin's, and every penny
as much as he's worth,' sez he. And sure I knew it was the truth he was
sayin', but 'twould break me father's heart.

"So nought better could I do on'y to make out 'twas he would be gettin'
the man's wages, and meself the boy's. Diff'rint raisons I conthrived,"
he said, with some natural pride in the details of his strategy, "but
mostly I let on 'twas because of me bein' such a fool about the horses
they couldn't trust me wid any except the ould ones. Anyway me father
was contint enough; faix, some whiles he seemed a bit set up like,
considherin' he had the pull over me, and he'd be sayin' what at all 'ud
we do without him, and I such an omadhawn. Niver a cross word we had
until last week I got laid up wid this mischancy could and the pain in
me chest, so sorra a fut could I go to me work; and I well knew the
whole thing 'ud come out, if he went when I didn't. Bedad I dhramed it
all the night asleep and awake, till I was fairly moidhered in me head."

"Tub-be sure," said old O'Beirne, "that's the worst of lettin' on. If
anythin' goes crooked, it's like the bottom bursted out of a sack of
mail; you're carryin' about nothin' at all before you know what's
happint you."

"Well, we done the best we could, me wife and me, to dispersuade him off
of goin' on Saturday. Bad wid the could too, we said he was; but och not
a fut of him but would go. So Barney McAuliffe was tellin' me wife, when
the men was payin' in the yard, me father he ups and says to Mr. Blake:

"'Beg pardon, sir, but you're after givin' me no more than me son's
money, and it's meself was workin' this week, not him.'

"And Mr. Blake sez, just goin' off in a hurry, 'What are you talkin'
about, man? Whethen now, you don't suppose I've been payin' you full
wages, that hasn't done a stroke of work worth namin' this half-dozen
year? That'ill have to contint you till Ned's back agin.'

"And Barney sez my father had ne'er a word out of him, but just went
home dazed like. And me wife sez when he come in, he sits down on the
form be the door, and niver opens his lips. So she knew right well what
ailed him, and she said iverythin' she could think of--how it's
disthroyed we'd be on'y for him now I was laid up, and the won'erful man
he was, and this way and that way. But niver a word he heeded, nor near
the fire he wouldn't come, and had her heart-scalded seein' him sittin'
there in the draught of the door. And I meself was tired callin' him to
come in and spake to me, and I lyin' in bed, but next or nigh me he
niver come, not even for little Maggie that he always thought a hape
of. And the next mornin' if he wasn't quit out of it early, afore
anybody knew, in the bitter black frost, and a quare threatinin' of
snow. So then as soon as I heard tell, I up wid me and come after him.
Troth, I left the wife frettin' wild, the crathur, thinkin' I'd get me
death; but what else could I do? And now I must be steppin' on again.
Och no, thank you, lad, if I took a dhrop of spirits, I'd be choked wid
coughin'. But you might just set me on the right road."

"I'll go along wid him," said Dan, aside to his grandfather, "and if I
can bring him, or the both of them, back here, I will. It's my belief
he's as bad as he can stick together."

So Dan and old Dermody's son went out into the night. A lull in the wind
had come, and the light of the moon, hung near the horizon's rim,
flickered out dimly ever and anon as the edge of the drifting mist
lapped up wave-like and touched her. It was piercingly cold. Ned Dermody
leaned heavily on Dan as they walked, only till he fetched back his
breath, he said, but it was slow in coming. They had not gone many
hundred yards, yet vast tracts of solitude seemed to have folded round
them, before Dan caught sight of something that somehow startled and
shocked him--a group of boulders by the road, with a shadow under one of
them strangely like a human form. A few paces further on he became aware
that it really was a man--the old man--sitting huddled up under the big
glimmering stone. Thus far had he carried his forlorn quest after
Fortune, and mutiny against Fate. His snaggy stick lay at a little
distance, a black line on the snow, and the sight of that made Dan's
heart stumble. But Ned Dermody shouted out hoarsely and loud: "Be the
Lord it's himself," and, as Dan afterwards used to tell, "took a flyin'
lep at him, as if he'd a mind to ha' lep over the world."

"Musha now, and is it there you would be sittin' to catch your death of
could?" he began, in a tone of gleeful reproach, shaking the old man by
the shoulder. "Goodness forgive me for sayin' so, but it's yourself's
the pernicious ould miscreant. Fine thrampin' over the counthry I've had
after you--forby givin' us the greatest fright altogether. Sure I give
you me word the whole of them at home was runnin' in and out of the
house on Sunday mornin' like so many scared rabbits about a bank. And
ne'er a man-jack of them, you persaive, had the wit to find out where
you was off to till meself riz out of me bed to go look. And now,
man-alive, git up wid yourself and come along, for it's mortal could
here, and there's tons' weight of snow this instiant minyit ready to
dhrop down on our heads. Come along. Sure it's niver disthressin'
yourself you'd be about ould Blake and his wages? Musha sure Norah and
meself was sayin' on'y on Saturday night that there wasn't many
stookawns like me had fathers to be bringin' them home shillin's every
week as regular as the clock, and givin' prisints to the childer, and
all manner. There's little Maggie frettin' woful to be missin' you out
of it. Don't be keepin' me standin' on me feet, there's a good man, for
it's quare and bad I've been, and the doctor was sayin' he couldn't tell
what ruination mightn't be on me if I didn't mind what I was at. And
here's the dacint lad waitin' to show us the road. We're just comin'
along this instant, boyo. Look-a-daddy, 'twas all a mistake, and we'll
settle it up next week, when we're both workin' agin. Very belike Mr.
Blake didn't rightly know what he was sayin'. Wake up and come along....
Daddy darlint, don't you hear what I'm tellin' you? It's raisin' your
wages they'll be after Lent, I wouldn't won'er, raisin' them a shillin'
belike--rael grand it'ill be--God Almighty!"

He stood up suddenly and looked towards Dan, but at neither him nor
anything else. The moon began to shine clearer in a chink between two
straight leaden bars, and the great white bog seemed to grow wider and
stiller under the strengthening light. The very wind had forsaken them,
and gone off keening into the far distance. It seemed to Dan that even a
flake fluttering down would have been some company, but not a single one
was in the air. He felt himself seized by a nameless panic, such as had
not come over him since he was a small child a dozen years ago.

"What's the matter at all?" he said futilely to Ned Dermody, knowing
well enough.

"Gone he is," said Ned, "the life was vexed out of him among us all.
He's gone. And it's follyin' him I'd liefer be, on'y for them crathurs
at home."

But in another moment he came staggering against Dan, and clutched his
arm, saying wildly: "Ah, lend me a hand--for pity's sake--a hand for a
minyit. Don't let go of me." And he leant such a heavy dead weight on
him that all Dan could do was to let it slip down and down as softly as
might be, until the snowy earth took it from him.

Ned had followed in spite of the crathurs at home.



CHAPTER X

CON THE QUARE ONE


Among the unfamiliar faces that show themselves now and then at
Lisconnel, some make no second appearance, never coming our way again,
but passing out of our ken as utterly as if their route lay along a
tangent, or the branch of an hyperbola, or other such unreverting line.
We seldom, it is true, get proof positive, as in the case of the
Dermodys, father and son, that they will no more return. Generally their
doing so any day may be supposed possible as long as anybody remembers
to suppose it. But some come back at more or less regular intervals,
like periodic comets, so that if a certain time elapses without bringing
one of them, the neighbours say they wonder what's took him at all,
while some reappear erratically enough to preclude any calculations upon
the subject. Of this latter class was Con the Quare One, who, after his
first arrival, on a summer's evening, now more than a quarter of a
century since, became a rather frequent visitor, usually stopping for a
few days at least, before he resumed his travels. It was conjectured
that these were very extensive, though perhaps less so than Mad Bell's.
But it was even more difficult to obtain a satisfactory report of them
from him than from her. Mrs. M'Gurk said he was "so took up with his own
notions, that he mostly knew no better where he'd been, or what he'd
been doin', than a baste drivin' home from a fair; you might as soon be
axin' questions of one as the other; though when Con chose to give his
mind to it, he knew what he was about as well as anybody else. Sure if
you wanted to know which way he was after comin', as likely as not he'd
talk about nothin' on'y the sorts of clouds he'd been watchin' goin' by
over his head; and 'twould take a cliver body to tell from that what
road he might ha' had under his feet." This incommunicativeness made him
a disappointing guest sometimes by the firesides, where he was finding a
night's lodging; though he might eke out his conversation with a little
twangling on his fiddle, in which the melody would be quite as vague as
his narratives. As for his own earlier history, he never gave any clear
account of it, probably having none to give, and the neighbours'
speculations upon this point were somewhat wide of the mark, which was
not surprising, as what stray hints he did let fall could be very
deviously construed. The opinion most commonly received held that he had
"took and run off from home, and he but a gossoon, be raison of doin'
some quare bit of mischief, and had a mind yet to be keepin' out of his
people's way; though, like enough, they weren't throublin' their heads
about him be now;" a theory which was not entirely in accordance with
facts.

Con was not, I believe, an especially quare one at his first start in
life, begun under the thatch of a little whitewashed cottage, dotted
down among grass-fields beside a clear, brown river, which kept his
mother busy exhorting him and his half-dozen brethren to not be falling
in and drowning themselves on her. Her days were haunted by
apprehensions of that catastrophe, which, however, was not included in
the plot of her life's drama. Con's chosen bugbear was the bridge which
bestrode the river close by, and beneath the arch of which he had once
happened to be while a cart passed overhead. For the lumbering rumble
had been an appalling experience, which he shuddered to repeat. Yet he
lacked the moral courage to rouse his elders' derision by an avowal, so
he followed, and did not let on, whenever their wading and dabbling
brought them into the hollow-sounding shade. Despite this daily anxiety,
Con spent his earliest years light-heartedly enough, with no stinting of
pitaties--none at least that reached the childer--and ample scope for
sports and pastimes. But when he was still very small, his grandmother,
lately widowed and on her way to a new abode, stopped a night with her
married daughter, and begged that she might bring home one of the
grandchildren with her, "just to take the could edge off her
lonesomeness," a request which could not well be refused. And Con seemed
the appropriate person to go, as the old woman considered that "the dark
head of hair he had on him was the moral of his poor grandfather's afore
it turned white." Therefore the swiftly running mysteriously murmuring
river flowed away out of his life, and with it vanished all the faces
and voices and comradeship that had made up his world.

At first he fretted for them rather persistently, but after a time
adapted himself to circumstances, and contented himself with the
grass-bordered, hedge-muffled lane, which had become the scene of his
adventures, fraternizing with the reserved fawn-coloured goat and
demonstrative terrier, who alone took an intelligent interest in them.
For his grandmother was satisfied with the sense of having him "playin'
around handy," and could not be counted company.

But after nearly a twelvemonth had passed, Con seemed one day to be
seized with a fresh fit of homesickness. It was a brilliant late summer
morning, yet to old Mrs. Quin's perplexity, he continued to sit on his
little stool, with his slice of griddle-cake half-crumbled in his lap,
and answered her suggestions that he should finish his breakfast, and
run out to play, by irrelevant requests for his own ould mammy. He
wanted her cruel bad, he said, and there was nothin' ailed him, and he
wouldn't like to look for blackberries along the hedge--or to throw
stones for Bran--or even to be given a whole ha'penny to go buy himself
a grand sugarstick down at the shop--he only wanted his mammy. Such was
his attitude and refrain all that day and the next. After which his
grandmother said to her neighbour, Judy Ahern, that she couldn't tell
what had come over the child, and he had her fairly distracted
listening to him.

And Mrs. Ahern said: "Maybe he might be gettin' somethin'; there's a
terrible dale of sickness about. But he doesn't look very bad to say.
Arrah now, Con avic, why wouldn't you run out and play a bit this lovely
mornin'? Wantin' your mammy? Sure that's foolish talk, and she nobody
can tell how far away this minyit. It's just a notion you have....
'Deed, ma'am, I dunno, but maybe you'd a right to let him home to her,
or else he might get frettin' and mopin' himself into the fever. He's a
poor little crathur; the face of him this instant isn't the width of a
ha'penny herrin'."

"And he so continted," said Mrs. Quin, "until he took his fantigue. Rael
quare it is."

"Most things do be quare and ugly these times," said Mrs. Ahern,
"Goodness help us all. There's poor Mrs. Duff thravellin' off to-morra,
to go stay wid her brother at Gortnakil. Very belike she'd take him
along; and he'd be aisy landed home, once he'd got that far."

And on the morrow Con did actually set off with Mrs. Duff, feeling half
appeased and half compunctious, as people do when they get what they
have clamoured for; sorry a little to lose sight of Bran, staring
open-mouthed after him down the lane; and relieved through all by a
vague sense that he was going whither his heart-strings pulled. If he
had been a more experienced traveller, he might have noticed some signs
that things were, as Judy Ahern had said, out of joint. It was
harvest-time, and the weather was not wet, though dull and chilly, but
nobody was working in the fields. Nothing seemed to move in them, as
they lay deserted, except trails of a white mist that drifted low among
the furrows, where the potato-haulms looked strangely discoloured,
speckled and blackened, as if a shrivelling flame had run through them
all, charring and strewing pale ashes. The air was full of a peculiar
odour, heavy and acrid, the very life-breath of decay. The roads were
deserted too. For miles nobody would be met, and then a small stationary
crowd of people would appear, collected it would seem without any more
purpose than cattle huddled together in a storm, and as dumb as they,
not giving so much as a "fine mornin'" to the passer-by. Other crowds
they fell in with now and again, pacing slowly along, and these always
had a heavy burden carried among them, and sometimes women keening.
Once the car-horse shied violently at some dark, long thing, that was
stretched out by the footpath, and Mrs. Duff crossed herself and said,
"God be good to us," and the driver said without looking off his reins:
"He's lyin' there since yisterday, and I seen another above about the
four-roads, and I comin' past this mornin'."

Con did not give much heed to these incidents; but one scene in his
journey impressed him strongly. It was at the small town where they
slept the night, and it happened while they waited in the broad main
street next morning for their car to pick them up, as Mrs. Duff
travelled by a rather disjointed system of lifts in vehicles that were
going her road. There were few people about, and Con was intensely
admiring a gaudy tea-chest in the window of the shop before which they
stood, when a great roar began to swell up round the corner, with a
lumbering of wheels heard fitfully through it. Presently a large crowd
came struggling into sight; a street full of men, women, and children,
surrounding a blue, red-wheeled cart, piled high with dusty-looking
white sacks. Half-a-dozen dark-uniformed policemen were trying to haul
on the horse, and keep between the cart and the crowd, whose shout
generally sounded like: "Divil a fut its to quit--divil a fut." It was a
crowd that looked as if it had somehow got more than its due share of
glittering eyes--in mistake, apparently, for other things.

As the cart came crawling past where Mrs. Duff and Con stood, a furious
rush so tilted it over that the horse fell, breaking a shaft, and some
of the topmost sacks tumbled off, dropping with dull thuds, like dead
bodies, upon the damp cobblestone pavement. Con saw a little cloud of
white dust rise up over each as it dumped down, and melt away on the
air, making him wonder to himself: "Is it smokin' hot they are?" But in
another moment they were hidden for a while by a wild wave of the crowd,
which threw itself tumultuously upon them. One of the sacks burst,
spilling the soft flour in flakes, and round it the jostling and
writhing grew fiercest. The faces that got nearest to it looked hardly
the whiter for their smears and powdering.

A young woman, all black eyes and elf locks, with a baby wrapped in her
shawl, crouching low and making a desperate long arm, grasped a covetous
handful, which spirted away wastefully between her clenched fingers. She
moistened some of this in a puddle as she knelt, and held the paste to
her baby's mouth. But its head was drooping wearily aside, and its lips
did not move when she touched them. "Ait it up, me heart's jewel," she
said; "ait it up, mother's little bird. 'Deed, then, but you're the
conthráry little toad. It's breakin' me heart you'll be roarin' when
I've ne'er a bit to give you, and sleepin' dead, when I've the chance to
feed you." She was beginning to shake it, but a young man who stood
behind her put his hand on her shoulder, saying: "Whisht, whisht, you
crathur, for God's sake. It's done wid wantin' and cryin', and a good
job for it too, the Lord knows." Then the girl shrieked again and again,
and the people about her said from one to the other: "It's her child's
starved on her." And an old man caught up the little body, and held it
high over his head, shouting, "Boys, boys--look yous at that. There's
the way Henderson's cartin' off the childer's bit of food to make his
fine fortin in England." And the crowd shouted back through a surge of
curses: "Divil a fut will he this day."

A very little old woman seized hold of an outlying sack and tried to
lift it, a ludicrously impossible feat, at witnessing which a cripple
leaner than his crutches laughed boisterously, saying, "Och, good luck
to you, granny. You're makin' a great offer at it entirely. Is it often
you do be liftin' up the Hill of Howth? More power to your elbow." And
the crowd yelled with laughter too.

At this moment there was a prodigious clatter of hoofs on the stones,
and round the corner whirled a squadron of hussars, all in their blue
and yellow like a flight of macaws, coming to the rescue of Mr.
Henderson's sacks. But Con saw scarcely more than the first confused
onset, for somebody snatched him up and hurried him into a dark passage.
The last sight he had of the fray was of a glossy black horse plunging
frantically back from a cloud of the flour flung into his face, and
rearing higher and higher, until he fell over with a terrific scrambling
crash. Con particularly noticed the white gloves of the rider, and
thought to himself, "He's been grabbin' the flour too." And the women
about him said, "Och, murdher, the baste--the man's apt to be kilt!"

When Mrs. Duff and Con emerged again all was quiet in the street--two or
three women had even stolen back, and were scraping up the white
patches--and he was driven away on a car for what seemed to him a vast
length of time. But at last, as he peered listlessly out on glimpses of
the dreary, strange road caught between the shawled heads of two other
passengers, his eyes suddenly fell on something delightfully familiar.
It was a grey ruined mill which stood by the river, not many hundred
yards from his home. All at once he seemed to be set down in the middle
of his old life as if he had never left it, only with a charming
freshness superadded. A delicious feeling came over him as he watched
the clear, sky-glinting loops unwind themselves in the grass while the
car jogged along. There were the big stones over the edges of which the
brown water broke into dancing crests of crystal bubbles when the river
was full, and the deep pools under the hollow banks where they had seen
the trout that was the size of a young whale, and the twisted wild
cherry tree from beneath which the eddies sometimes twirled away bearing
fleets of frail, snowy petals. And Johnny and Katty and the rest might
all come into view paddling round any corner. When the car stopped at
the gap through which you got into the field just behind his cottage, he
was almost beside himself with joy, as his fellow-travellers, who were
less elated, lifted him down and handed him his bundle, and bade him
run straight in to his mother like an iligant child.

He did run down the steep little footpath at the top of his speed, and
round the corner of the house, and in through the open door. The room
looked very dusk to him coming in from the mellow afternoon sunshine,
and the first thing he noticed was that the fire had gone out. The
hearth was a blackness sprinkled with white ashes, which made him think
of the flour spilt on the dark ground. Next he saw his mother sitting on
a stool by the hearth with her head leaned against the wall, and his
father's old caubeen hanging on its nail above, a very unusual sight at
that hour. Con rushed at her head-foremost, saying, "Och, mammy darlint,
I'm come home this long way, and they was fightin' wid all the soldiers
and spillin' the flour, and his horse rared up on his hind legs till he
fell off his feet. And where's daddy if he isn't workin'? And musha what
for is Nannie and Johnny in bed?" He pulled her shawl because she did
not look round at him, and immediately she dropped down prone on the
floor as heavily and helplessly as he had seen the white sacks fall. She
had in truth been dead for hours, but Con ran out screaming that he was
after killing his mammy, and nothing would persuade him otherwise.
Vainly the neighbours averred that "the crathur was starvin' herself
this great while to keep a bit for the childer, let alone her heart
bein' broke frettin' after her poor husband and little Pat, who were
took from her wid the fever, both of them the one day." Con's mind was
shut fast into the dreadful moment when he had pulled her shawl and she
had fallen down, and therein it abode, sorely afflicted, until a spell
of brain fever intervening let it loose into a region of vaguer and more
varied dreams.

And when he had struggled through this illness, nobody well knew how or
why, he woke up to find his world swept very bare. Father, mother, and
all his brethren, except little Katty, were vanished out of it, and as
it came looming back to him thus depeopled, its aspect was immeasurably
desolate. Nor did his loss end here, for from this time dated the
springing up among his neighbours of a suspicion that he was not all
there, a suspicion which developed into an accepted article of belief,
the more readily, perhaps, because nobody remained for whom such a fact
would have had a personal bitterness, the old grandmother having slipped
away out of her lonesomeness before his recovery. It would not be easy
to explain how it was that Con grew up into that privileged and
disfranchised person who is spoken of as "a crathur," and whose
proceedings are more or less exempt from criticism. People often said of
him that he had plenty of sense _of his own_, and the remark was to some
extent explanatory, as a certain singularity in his way of viewing
things even more than an occasional inconsequence and flightiness in his
sayings and doings tended to establish the reputation for eccentricity
which followed him closely as a shadow, and set an impalpable barrier
between himself and his kind. As he advanced in life this was
strengthened by his increasing fondness for his own society, but he did
not take to his solitary wanderings until after his sister Katty married
young Peter Meehan and emigrated to New York. It was suggested to him
that he should accompany them, but he sat looking meditative for a
while, and then said, "How far might it be from this to the States?"

"I dunno rightly," said his informant, "but a goodish step it's apt to
be, for people's better than a couple of weeks sailin' there, I'm
tould."

Con meditated a little more before he put another question. "Would you
be widin hearin' out there of the folk talkin' foolish?" he inquired.

"Why, tub-be sure, man, what 'ud hinder you that you wouldn't hear them
talkin' same as anywheres else?"

"Bedad, then," said Con, "it seems a long way to be thravellin' to a
counthry as close as that. Sure, if you take out for a stravade over the
bog here, you'll be throubled wid nothin' the len'th of the day on'y the
curlew, or maybe a couple of saygulls skirlin'--raisonable enough. I'll
be apt to stay where I am."

Con, who was a person of many moods, happened to be in an unusually
cynical one just then; however, he adhered to his resolution, and when
his sister had gone he adopted a life of long tramps. Somebody had given
him an old fiddle, and this he carried with him, though chiefly as a
sort of badge, as his performances were but feeble, and he could turn
his hand to many other things when he found it necessary to do so. His
rovings had gone on for several years before they led him to Lisconnel.
In those days he was a strange, small figure, who wore a coat too large
for him, and a hat set so far back on his head that its brim made a sort
of halo to frame his face, which had a curious way of looking fitfully
young and old, with a shining of violet blue eyes and a puckering of
fine-drawn wrinkles. A small boy and a little old ancient man would seem
to change places half a dozen times in the course of a single
conversation. Even his hair was a puzzle, regarded as an indication of
age, because its black had become streaked with white in such a fashion
that its apparent hue varied according to what came uppermost in
accidents of ruffling and smoothing. A neighbour once said of him that
he was the living moral of a little ould lepreehawn that they were after
making a couple of sizes too big by mistake; and my own impression is
that further opportunities for observing specimens of the race would be
likely to bear out this statement.

The summer evening on which he was first seen at Lisconnel had followed
a very fine day. In the heart of its golden afternoon Mrs. O'Driscoll
trusted her youngest son Terence out on the bog with his brothers and
sisters and some other children, the eldest of whom, Johanna Harvey, the
Ryans' orphan niece, was credited with wit enough to keep the party out
of the holes. They wandered off rather more widely than usual, along the
foot of the hill, lured on by a sprinkling of dainty white mushrooms,
which they found, generally with yells, studded here and there. At last
they sat down on a bank to peel their delicate, pink-quilted buttons,
all of them except Terence, who was not yet of an age to have acquired a
taste for mushrooms. He had been carried most of the way, still he had
toddled further than he was accustomed to do, and his unwonted exertions
led him to curl himself up behind a sun-smitten rock and fall asleep
with a quietness which presently brought upon him the fate of out of
sight out of mind. After a while, however, Johanna did bethink herself
of him, and was just on the point of wondering aloud where little
Terence had gone to, when her cousin Thady turned her thoughts into a
different channel by suddenly saying, "What was there in it before the
beginnin' of everythin'?"

Thady was a small, anxious-looking child, whose pale and peaky face his
mother often likened regretfully to a hap'orth of soap after a week's
washing. He had spent a surprisingly considerable part of his six years
in metaphysical speculations, and was always disposed to make a personal
grievance of the difficulties in which they constantly landed him. His
tone was now rather peremptory as he repeated, "What was there in it
before the beginnin' of everythin'?"

"Sure, nothin' at all," said his elder brother Peter, to whom the answer
seemed quite simple and satisfactory. But Johanna looked as if she had
caught sight of some distant object which provoked hard staring.

"Then what was there before the beginnin' of nothin'?" pursued Thady.

"Dunno," said Peter, indifferently, "unless it was more nothin'."

"Sure not at all; that wouldn't be the way of it," Johanna said,
dreamily, yet with decision. "If there was nothin' but nothin' in it,
there'd ha' been apt to not be e'er an anythin' ever. Where'd it ha'
come from? Don't be tellin' the child lies, Peter. Why, for one thing,"
she said, her tone sharpening polemically and taking a touch of triumph,
"there was always God Almighty in it, and the Divil. Maybe that's what
you call nothin'."

Peter evaded this point, saying, "Well, anyway, those times, if there
was just the two of them in it, and no harm to be doin', let alone any
good people to know the differ, it's on'y a quare sort of Divil he'd
get the chance of bein'. I wouldn't call him anythin' _much_."

"He wouldn't be so very long, you may depind," Johanna pronounced.
"Musha, sure the Divil couldn't stay contint anywhile at all till he'd
take to some manner of ould mischief 'ud soon show you the sort of
crathur he was--it's his nathur. I should suppose the first thing he'd
go do 'ud be makin' all the sorts of hijjis roarin' great bastes and
snakes and riptiles that he could think of, and the disolit black wet
bogs wid the could win' over them fit to cut you in two when you're
sleepin' out at night," said Johanna, whose ten years of life had
brought her into some rough places before her adoption by her Aunt
Lizzie Ryan, "and the workhouses--bad luck to the whole of them--where
there's rats in the cocoa, and mad people frightenin' you, and the cross
matrons, and the pólis, and the say to dhrownd the fishin'-boats in, and
dirty ould naygurs that put dacint people out of their little
places----"

"If it had been me," said Peter, "I'd ha' been very apt to just hit him
a crack on the head when I noticed what he was at, and bid him lave thim
sort of consthructions alone."

"I dunno the rights of it entirely," Johanna admitted, "but it's a
cruel pity he ever got the chance to be carryin' on the way he's done."

"Ah, sure it can't be helped now at all events," said Peter, who was for
the time being not inclined to quarrel seriously with the scheme of
things, as he basked on the warm grassy bank, where the wild bees were
humming in the thyme, happily remote from the grim House and the hungry
sea.

"Belike it can't," said Johanna; "but 'twould be real grand if it could.
Suppose I was out on the hill there some fine evenin', and I not
thinkin' of anythin' in partic'lar, and all of a suddint I'd see a
great, big, ugly, black-lookin' baste of a feller, the size of forty,
skytin' away wid himself along the light of the sky over yonder, where
the sun was about goin' down, and his shadder the len'th of an awful
tall tree slippin' streelin' after him, till it was off over the edge of
the world like, and that same 'ud be just the Divil, that they were
after bundlin' out of it body and bones, the way he wouldn't get
meddlin' and makin' and annoyin' people any more. So wid that I'd take a
race home and be tellin' you all the iligant thing was after happenin'.
And in the middle of it who'd come landin' in but me father and mother,
and little Dan. And then, if it isn't the grand cup of tay I'd be
makin' her, ay begorra would I, and a sugarstick to stir it wid."

Johanna's vision of the millennium was broken in upon querulously by
Thady. "Sure I know all about God Almighty and the Divil," he said
comprehensively, "I was on'y axin' what was in it before the beginnin'
of everythin', and you're not tellin' me that."

"There's a dale of things little spalpeens like you wouldn't be tould
the rights of at all," said Peter, loftily, being rather annoyed at the
interruption. He would have liked to hear some further details about the
felicity to be inaugurated by that exquisite cup of tea. "Go on
romancin', Han."

But Johanna, who felt that this assumption of superior knowledge was an
uncandid subterfuge, and yet had not magnanimity enough to disclaim it
on her own part, remained uneasily silent for a moment, and then only
said: "Sure it's time we was gettin' home." This they accordingly
proceeded to do, and had gone most of the distance before it occurred to
anybody that little Terence O'Driscoll was not with them. Then, after a
superficial and unproductive search among the scattered stones and
bushes, they thought it expedient to run back in a fright, and report
that the child had gone and got lost, unless by any odd chance he'd come
home along wid himself.

Thus it was that when Terence wakened from his nap, he found himself
deserted, and thrown completely upon his own resources. As he had not
been quite three years in amassing these, they were on the whole but
scanty. In fact, he was helplessly unable to realise a world with
nothing in it except endlessly swelling up slopes of furzy grass, no
Molly nor Micky for him to trot after, and to carry him wherever they
were going, whenever he intimated the desirability of that step by
abruptly plumping down on the way. So he set off in a great hurry to
escape from such a wilderness. He still walked with a wobbling stagger,
and his long frock of whity-brown homespun kept on tripping him up,
which retarded his progress. But he was not at all long in mentally
reaching the precincts of a wild panic which rose up and seized him in a
grip never to be quite forgotten, though only a few desperate minutes
ensued before he stumped blindly against Con's legs. It was so
unutterable a relief to have come on somebody who could hear him roar,
that Terence ceased roaring immediately, and let Con pick him up
without demur. The appearance of Molly or Micky would, no doubt, have
been more satisfactory, but this stranger man might serve well enough at
a pinch to carry him home, which it was inconceivable that anybody of
such a size could be unable or unwilling to do. As for Con, the
inference he drew from Terence's dimensions was that his family and
friends were probably not far to seek; and he recognised the shrewdness
of the conjecture when he presently espied a shawled figure coming
swiftly towards him over the edge of a slope, with the amber of the
sunset glowing behind her, and her long shadow sliding on far below her,
as if it were in an even greater hurry than herself.

Mrs. O'Driscoll's head was among the golden sunbeams, but her heart had
gone down to the very bottom of the blackest and deepest hole in the
bog. For towards that dreadful goal she had seen a small form toddling
ever since the other children came home alarmingly late with the news
that Terence had got lost on them, and they couldn't find a bit of him,
high ways or low ways. She was so overjoyed at her rescue that her
delighted gratitude cast a sort of glamour around Con, which never
wholly faded away. Ever after the appearance of his queer figure called
up in her mind a dim reminiscence of the moment when she had seen it for
the first time come into view, laden with what she well knew was Terence
sitting bolt upright in a manner that betokened him to have experienced
neither drowning nor any other disaster.

As Con put the child into her arms, where it seemed to fit into a niche
specially designed for it, he said: "Sure now, ma'am, when I seen him
stumpin' along his lone, and he about the heighth of a sizable boholawn
(ragweed), sez I to meself there was apt to be somebody lookin' after
him. For bedad it seems to me mostwhiles the littler a thing is the more
people there'll be consaitin' they can't get on widout it; and that's
lucky, belike, or else it might aisy get lost entirely, like a
threepenny bit rowled away into a crack. But if you come to considher,"
Con said, hurrying on lest his allusion to the coin should be construed
as a hint that he thought of payment for his services, "most people's
lookin' out for somebody, or else somebody's lookin' out for them. It's
on'y a few odd ones like meself that makes no differ here or there. I
won'er now is the raison that it's after losin' ourselves we are in a
manner--I've I've me notions about that. For first I think I dunno if
anythin's rightly lost that nobody's lookin' to find, and then I think I
dunno but you might as well say you couldn't find anythin' you weren't
after losin' and lookin' for, and that's not the truth be no manner of
manes."

"And you after findin' the child," said Mrs. O'Driscoll.

"Sure not at all, ma'am," said Con, modestly, deprecating not the
statement but the implied praise. "Small thanks to me for that, when the
woful bawls of it you might have heard a mile o' ground. You could as
aisy ha' missed a little clap of thunder, if a one was be chance comin'
tatterin' along between the furzes, wid the head of it bobbin' up now
and agin, and makin' all the noise it could conthrive. Troth it's the
quare bawls _I_ might be lettin' these times afore the rest of them 'ud
hear me, for if it's lost I am, I'm strayin' a terrible long while;
they're apt to disremimber they ever owned me. I do be thinkin', ma'am,
that if you forgit what you've lost, 'tis maybe all the one thing as if
you'd found it; and after that agin I do be thinkin' maybe 'twould be
liker losin' it twyste over. It's quare the diff'rint notions there is
about most things. And a good job too, or else what would you be
considherin' in your mind, when you was thrampin' around? 'Deed now if
you couldn't be supposin' they were this way and that way, and argufyin'
over them wid yourself in your own mind, 'twould be like as if you took
and swallied down a lump of 'baccy instead of chewin' it, and what sort
of benefit or plisure 'ud you git out of that?"

This was Con's first bit of philosophising at Lisconnel, and it was not
his last by many, as the place became one of his favourite resorts. His
liking for it was perhaps partly due to the fact that its inhabitants
received him on more equal terms than were generally accorded to him
elsewhere; and this again may be largely attributed to the influence of
Mrs. O'Driscoll. For her grateful feelings towards the restorer of
Terence made her loth to recognise any deficiencies in him, and her
neighbours, soon perceiving that she seemed vexed if Con was spoken of
as cracked or crazy or "wantin' a corner," were ready enough to modify
their language, and even their judgment, in accordance with her view.
Still it was convenient to distinguish him from another resident Con,
about whom there were no very striking features. Therefore her little
Rose having been heard to say that she was "after seein' Con, not Con
Ryan, but the quare one," they caught up and applied the epithet, which
in Lisconnel is regarded as a safely colourless term, not likely to hurt
the most sensitive feelings.

Con, on his part, formed the highest opinion of Mrs. O'Driscoll, and
often took counsel with her about perplexing points which had presented
themselves to him in the course of his meditations. In one practical
matter, however, he showed an obstinacy that did not further her in her
wish to uphold him on a footing with quite sensible people. This was his
fancy for adorning the band of his broad-brimmed caubeen with a garnish
of feathers and flowers. Mrs. O'Driscoll disapproved of the freak,
rightly judging that it often created irrevocable first impressions, and
fixed his standing at a glance. In this age and clime the Seven Sages
could hardly maintain among them a reverend aspect, under the frivolity
of a single flaunting blossom, much less the gaudy bunches and fantastic
plumes upon which Con recklessly ventured. So at last, having hinted and
remonstrated ineffectually, she contrived somehow to find time and stuff
among her laborious days and scanty stores, and fashioned for him a
round cloth cap of a severely plain design, which she thought would
give no scope for any unseemly appendages. Upon being presented with
this headgear, Con dutifully assumed it, and went about wearing it for a
day or two in a depressed frame of mind. Then he appeared in the morning
at the O'Driscolls', cheered, and crested with a remarkably long
gannet's feather stuck upright in the crown of his cap, through which he
had bored a hole to admit of the insertion. He was resolved to brazen
out the matter, so he presently took off his cap, and twirling it round
with an unconcerned air as he leaned against the door, said to Herself:
"Well, ma'am, what do you think of that?"

"To tell you just the truth, Con," said Herself, whose countenance had
fallen as she saw the failure of her little plot, "I was thinkin' it
looked a dale better before you cocked that ould gazabo on top of it.
'Deed now it gives you the apparance of a head of cabbage that's
sproutin' up and goin' to seed. Sure you niver see the other lads
trapesin' about wid the like on them."

Con, who seemed rather cast down by this criticism, was about to reply,
when young Ned Keogh took the cap out of his hand and affected to
examine it closely, saying: "Glory be to goodness, what sort of thing
is it at all at all? Bedad it's the won'erful conthrivance--ah, tub-be
sure; _I_ see what it is. He's about growin' a pair of wings for his wit
to fly away wid. But musha good gracious, he needn't ha' throubled
himself to be gettin' them that sizable. Somethin' the bigness of a
hedge-sparrer's, or maybe a weeny white butterfly's, 'ud ha' plinty
stren'th enough for the job, if that was all they had to do." Ned meant
no harm, but his witticisms did not fall in with Con's humour, so he
snatched back the cap and went off affronted, nor did he call at the
O'Driscolls' again for some weeks.

The next time he came, however, Herself had espied him a bit down the
road, and was standing at the door to receive him with his discarded
caubeen in her hand. "You'd be better wearin' it, Con, after all," she
said, "for the eyes are scorched out of your head under the sun widout
e'er a scrap of brim." And as Con took it, he observed with glee that
she had fastened into the band a dove-coloured kittiwake's wing-feather,
a somewhat cherished possession of her own, which she used to keep over
her best picture on the wall. Thus did she seek to make amends for the
speech about the sprouting cabbage-head, which had been weighing
heavily upon her conscience.

The kittiwake's feather had to weather rain and sunshine for many a year
in Con the Quare One's old caubeen; but it is now on a room-wall again,
the Kilfoyles' this time. Con brought it to Mrs. Kilfoyle one autumn
evening in the year Mrs. O'Driscoll died. It was much longer than usual
since he had wandered into Lisconnel, illness and one thing and another
having detained him in the North for the last twelvemonth and more--all
her blackest days of childless widowhood--so that this was his first
visit since the departure of his earliest friend.

"Could you be keepin' it somewheres safe for me, ma'am?" he said,
showing the soft grey feather to Mrs. Kilfoyle, who was sitting by the
fire with her sons and her future daughter-in-law, and Ody Rafferty's
aunt, and the Widow M'Gurk. "I'll be wearin' it no more. 'Twas she
herself stuck it in for me, but sure I knew well enough all the while
she'd liefer I wouldn't be goin' about wid such things on me head, and
sorra a bit of me will agin."

"Whethen now but yourself's the quare man, Con," said Ody Rafferty's
aunt, "to be takin' up wid that notion these times, when ne'er a differ
it'ill make to her. There might ha' been some sinse in it, if you'd done
it to plase her, but now you're more than a trifle too late wid that. A
day after the fair you are. Sure she'll never set eyes on you or your
old caubeen agin," she said, as if announcing some unthought-of
discovery of her own, "no matter what ould thrash you might take and
stick in it. You might be wearin' a young haystack on your head for
anythin' she could tell."

"That may be or mayn't be," said Con. "But at all evints the next body
that goes there out of this countryside 'ill be very apt to bring her
word. Discoorsin' together they'll be of all the news, and as like as
not he--or it might be she--'ill say to her--'I seen Con the Quare One
goin' the road a while back, and he wid ne'er a thraneen of anythin' in
his hat, good or bad; the same way the other boys are; lookin' rael
dacint and sinsible.' Belike she might be axin' after me herself, and
that 'ud put it in the other body's head. Yourself it may be, Moggy.
Faix now, I wouldn't won'er a bit if it was, for there must be a
terrible great age on you these times. Sure you looked to be an ould,
ould woman the first day I ever beheld you, and that's better than a
dozen year ago."

"Troth then there's plinty of oulder ould people than me, let me tell
you," protested Moggy, who was about ninety, "that you need be settlin'
I'm goin' anywheres next. Musha cock you up. And your own hair turned as
white as sheep's wool on a blackthorn bush."

She seemed so much put out by Con's statement and inference that young
Thady Kilfoyle, always a good-natured lad, sought to soothe her.

"Sure there's no settlin' any such a thing, and for the matter of goin',
the young people often enough get their turn as fast as anybody else.
It's meself," he said, "might be sooner than you bringin' news of yous
all, and Con's ould caubeen, and everythin' else to Heaven the way he
sez."

"I dunno if you've any call to be talkin' that fashion," said the Widdy
M'Gurk, disapprovingly, "as if you could be walkin' permisc-yis into
Heaven widout wid your lave or by your lave. Maybe it isn't there any of
us'ill be bringin' our news."

"Might you know of e'er a better place then, ma'am?" said Con.

"Heard you ever the like of that?" said Ody Rafferty's aunt, not
unwillingly scandalised, "I should suppose nobody, unless it was a born
haythen, 'ud know of any place better than Heaven."

"That's where she is then," said Con, stroking his feather. "For the
best place ever was is none too good for her, God knows well."

"And thrue for you, man," said the Widdy M'Gurk. "But she's one thing,
and we're another. It's not settin' ourselves up we should be to have
the same chances."

"Ah, well, sure maybe we're none of us too outrageous altogether," said
Mrs. Kilfoyle, looking hopefully round at her company. "And if they can
put up wid us at all at all, they will. We'll get there yet, plase God.
And anyway I'll be takin' good care of your feather, Con. Ay will I so;
same as if it was dropped out of an angel's wing."

"So good-night to you kindly, ma'am," said he. "I'll be steppin' back to
Laraghmena. I on'y looked in on you to bring you that, and give you news
of Theresa. And I question will I ever set fut agin in Lisconnel."

He did not, however, leave it quite immediately. A little later, when
Brian Kilfoyle was escorting Norah Finnegan home, they saw him sitting
on the bank near the O'Driscolls' roofless cabin. Its mud walls were
fast crumbling into ruin. Already the little window-square had lost its
straight outline, and would soon be as shapeless as any hole burrowed in
a bank. Con sat with his back turned to it until the dusk had muffled up
everything in dimness, and then he stole an armful of turf-sods from the
nearest stack, and groped his way in through the deserted door. The
shadows within were folded so heavily that he could scarcely more than
guess where the hearth had been. One of Con's peculiarities was a
strange horror of a fireless hearth. At the sight of its hoarily
sprinkled blackness he always felt as if he were standing on the verge
of some frightful revelation; a vague reminiscence, no doubt, from the
scene of his life's tragedy, all distinct memory of which had been
blurred away by his illness. Now he piled and crumbled his sods with
practised skill, and set them alight in well-chosen places. But he
stayed only for a minute or so, till the little fluttering flames had
fairly taken a hold, and were sending golden threads running along the
netted fibres. Then he groped his way out again, and returned to his
seat on the bank. Presently, as he watched, he saw a red light
beginning to flicker through window and door, and growing steadier and
stronger. When it was at its brightest, he got up and turned away.
"That's the very way it would be shinin'," he said, "and I comin' along
the road to see Herself and Himself and the childer--God be good to them
all, wherever they may be. And that's the notion of it I'll keep in me
mind."

And Con the Quare One came no more to Lisconnel.



CHAPTER XI

MAD BELL


Not so very long before the sound of Con the Quare One's fiddle ceased
to enliven Lisconnel any more, Mad Bell's singing had begun to be heard
there occasionally, as it has been at intervals ever since she arrived
with her two housemates, Big Anne and the Dummy, and took up her abode
in the last of the cabins that you pass on the left hand, going towards
Sallinbeg. Perhaps Lisconnel should not reckon her among its residents,
so much of her time is spent on the tramp as an absentee. Still, she
sometimes has tarried with us for a long while, and she is understood to
have some property in the house-furniture, so it seems natural to
consider the place her home.

From the first it appeared obvious to all that the dementedness which
characterised the little wizened yellow-faced woman was of a much more
pronounced type than Con the Quare One's. Any attempt to spare people's
feelings by ignoring the fact would have been very futile, and it was
therefore lucky that the three new-comers, Mad Bell herself included,
were quite content to accept the situation. The neighbours were at first
inclined to commiserate Big Anne, who was pronounced to be "a dacint,
sinsible, poor woman," for the oddities of her household, the
incalculable flightiness of Mad Bell, and the impenetrable silence of
the Dummy. But to their condoling remarks she was wont to reply in
effect--"Ah sure, ma'am, that's the way I'm used to them, the crathurs.
Why, if Mad Bell said anythin' over-sinsible, or poor Winnie said
anythin' at all, it's wond'rin' I'd be what was goin' to happin us
next." And Big Anne evidently looked upon this as an uncomfortable frame
of mind. At first, too, they speculated much about the circumstances
which had brought the curious trio together beneath one thatch, and
found it especially hard to conjecture how the daft little vagrant had
come into possession of sundry tables and chairs. All its members,
however, being incommunicative persons, no satisfactory elucidation of
these points was arrived at in Lisconnel.

The coalescence of Big Anne's and the Dummy's fortunes is a simple
history enough. Anne Fannin, while yet a youngish woman, was left alone
in the world to do for herself in her little wayside cabin. Without a
dowry to recommend her rough-hewn features and large-boned ungainliness,
she never had any suitors, and she found it as much as she could
contrive to make out her single living by means of her "bit of poultry"
and her pig. Nevertheless, when her nearest neighbours--the
Golighers--died, leaving their daughter Winnie, "who had niver got her
speech, the crathur," to live on charity or the rates, what else was a
body to do except take her in? Anne would have put this question to you
with a sincere want of resource. So Winnie Goligher transferred to Anne
Fannin's house, herself and all her worldly goods, which consisted of
the clothes she had on, and a prayer-book, and a lame duck, and
thenceforward the two "got along the best way they could."

Mad Bell's history has more complications in it. They began one pleasant
April day when she was only a slip of a lass, who had taken a little
place at the Hunts' farm near her home, for the purpose of saving up a
few pounds against her marriage with Richard McBirney. She had been
given an unexpected holiday, and was running home across the fresh,
spring-green grass-fields, thinking to take her people by surprise, when
she came to a hedge-gap whence you look down into a steep-banked lane.
And at the foot of the bank Richard McBirney was sitting with his arm
round her sister Lizzie's waist.

To a dispassionate observer this transference of his attentions might
have seemed a matter of small moment. Most of their acquaintances, for
example, were just as well satisfied that he should court Eliza as
Isabella. But the sight turned all the current of her life awry. For it
set her off rushing away from it across the same sunny green fields, and
she never came home again. Nor ever again would she settle down quietly
anywhere. She had a strong, clear voice and a taste for music, and this
led her to take to singing ballads about the country at markets and
fairs. The harder she was thinking about fickle Richard McBirney, the
louder and shriller she sang. A very few years of such wandering
shrivelled up her plump "pig-beauty," so that in her little sallow,
weather-beaten face her own mother would scarcely have recognised pretty
Isabella Reid. Then, after a long spell of illness in a Union
infirmary, she began to grow noticeably odder and stranger in her looks
and ways; until at length the children shouted "Mad Bell" as she passed,
and that became her recognised style and title.

Such, briefly, had been her experience of life, when one September
evening she came by chance to Big Anne and the Dummy's door. She had got
a very bad cold, and felt hardly able to drag herself along between the
berried hedges, and was so hoarse that she could with difficulty ask for
the night's lodging, which they granted without demur. Their times had
been unusually bad of late. In fact, their room was looking several
sizes larger than they were accustomed to see it, because they had sold
any articles of furniture for which "e'er a price at all" could be
obtained. But to whatever accommodation this bareness permitted they
made Mad Bell kindly welcome, the crathur being sick and crazy, and she
stayed with them for three or four days. By that time, finding herself
recovered, she resumed her journey, setting off early in the morning
with the abruptness and absence of circumlocution which, as a rule,
distinguished her proceedings. A friendly nod and grimace she made serve
for announcement of departure and leavetaking all in one. As her
hostesses watched her out of sight down the road, Big Anne said--

"Well, now, I never seen that quare little body in this counthry before,
and we're very apt to not set eyes on her agin. God be good to us all,
but the likes of her is to be pitied. She's worse off than the two of
us. But bedad, Winnie, if thim hins there don't prisintly take to layin'
a thrifle, it's in a tight houle we'll be ourselves. I dunno what's
bewitchin' them. And the sorra an ould stick have we left in it that man
or mortal 'ud give us the price of a pullet's egg for--and small blame
to him, unless he was as deminted as herself that's quittin'."

Mad Bell's tramp that day was all along a sequence of lonesome winding
lanes, where few dwellings were dotted among the green and gold of the
fields. The bustle of the harvest, its reaping and binding, was over in
them, and they lay without stir or sound. In some of them the stooks
were still encamped, but some were smooth stubble, empty, except where a
flock of turkeys filled it with dark, bunchy shapes. She walked steadily
on the whole day without any adventure, but when the dew was beginning
to fall through the twilight she came to a short, shady reach of lane,
at the end of which stood, in a green nook, a small, prim white cottage
with two peaked windows and a door to match. That, at least, is how it
would under ordinary circumstances have presented itself to a passer-by.
Just then, however, nobody would have noticed anything about it except
the fact that out of the open door thick coils of woolly black smoke
were rolling and rolling, stabbed through every now and again by thrusts
of flame, which even in the lingering daylight gleamed strongly fierce
and red. The house was evidently on fire. As Mad Bell drew nearer, she
became aware of a wheaten-coloured terrier standing in front of it; and
when he saw her he began to bark vehemently. She was used to being
barked at, though not in this way, for howls were interspersed, and it
was clearly meant not for a menace but an appeal. No other live creature
was visible about the place, until she had come quite close to the
surging door, when a small gossoon jumped up out of the ditch on the
opposite side of the road and rushed across to her.

"What 'ill I do at all, then?" he said, whimperingly, catching hold of
her shawl. "If them childer's burnt up widin there, Mr. Wogan 'ill be
in a fine way. It's for killin' the whole of us he'll be. And it wasn't
me set it afire. Sorra the match was I meddlin' wid, I could swear it. I
wasn't out of it any time, gettin' a few ripe berries to pacify them
childer, agin they would be wakin' and roarin', and when I come back,
there it is all a smother of smoke. Divil a thing else was I doin' on'y
mindin' them childer, and not meddlin' wid the matches, and goin' after
a couple of blackberries. And Mr. Wogan himself's away to
Ballymacartrican wid his boxes in the ass-cart. And all of them goin' to
quit out of it to-morra, if it wasn't for them childer bein' burnt up
inside--or maybe it's smothered they are. It's as unhandy as anythin'.
It went afire of itself. And he'll be ragin'."

He bawled all this louder and louder in competition with the clamour of
the dog, who kept on jumping up at each alternately, and evidently
considered his remarks better entitled to a hearing. But Mad Bell merely
replied, "Whisht gabbin', and hould that," thrusting, as she spoke, her
little handkerchief bundle into his arms. And thereupon, making a sudden
dive, she vanished among the flame-sheathing smoke.

Scarcely had she disappeared when an empty donkey-cart came round the
turn of the lane, led by a rather dejected-looking middle-aged man,
whose countenance, nevertheless, had for some time back been gradually
clearing up at every wind of the way that brought him nearer to this
particular point of view. But as he caught sight of the black smoke
drifting and rolling, his aspect of reasonable melancholy changed to one
of a despair that could not have been wilder if the reek of hell-mouth
had blown into his face. He dropped the bridle, and hurled himself down
the road like the distracted body that he well might be. For a
twelvemonth ago he had lost his wife and both his elder children in one
week, and his pair of two-year-old twins were now all that stood between
himself and world-wide desolation. At the front door his frantic rush
was met and baffled by a choking puff, which sent him fleeing round in
hopes that entrance might be more possible through the back; and on the
way he came face to face with the wrathful visages of his son and
daughter, whom Mad Bell was carrying in the disregardful manner that
betides a cumbrous load snatched up in a mortal hurry. She had escaped
by the back door.

If the most radiant of guardian angels, in snowy plumes and golden
tresses, had restored his children to him with a befitting speech, poor
Matthew Wogan could not well have been more joyfully relieved from his
terror than he was when this odd little yellow-faced woman, with a red
handkerchief wisped round her head, and a singed grimness generally
pervading her, handed over to him Minnie and Tom, casually remarking,
"Bedad, it's the big heavy lumps they are." Minnie and Tom both were
crying and coughing loudly, because the smoke had got into their eyes
and throats, which they resented; and when their father returned with
them to the front of the house, this noise was swelled by the gleeful
yap-yapping of the terrier and the voices of a few other people who had
appeared upon the scene--a matronly looking woman and two or three
sun-burnt harvestmen. From Mrs. Massey's observations it could be
gathered that she had been minding the Wogan twins by deputy, and
further that she entertained the gloomiest views about the mental and
moral qualities of her son little Larry, who replied to her
animadversions with over-reaching protestations about matches and
theories of spontaneous combustion. While they wrangled in the
background, the young men inspected the conflagration, which proved to
be less extensive than it looked, though undoubtedly serious enough to
have soon put the sleeping children past waking, if rescue had not come.
A heap of blankets and other bedding, that smouldered and blazed near
the front door, was the source of the most stiffling smoke; and when it
had been subdued by many buckets of water, everybody began to drag what
bits of the furniture they could out of harm's way. There was not much,
because, as Wogan explained, he had sent "the marrow of it" to his
sister at Ballymacartrican; and the legs of the largest table were
charred so badly that it collapsed with a crash "the instiant minyit it
set its four feet on the ground," as Mrs. Massey said. However, there
were two smaller ones not much the worse, and three or four chairs, and
a couple of stools, and some pots and pans, and a small clothes-horse,
and a wagging clock, whose round white face glimmered through the dusk
like a fallen moon as it lay flat on the grass. All these things made a
little crowd on the plot of sward by the door.

"And what will you be doin' wid them now?" said Mrs. Massey. "There's
my place below you'd be welcome to stand them in as long as you plase.
'Deed would you, sir. The dear knows I'm not throubled wid too many
sticks of furnitur'. That's a very handy-sized washin'-tub Larry's after
carryin' out for you. I was noticin' to-day ours has a lake in it this
long while back that dhrips over everythin'. I must get himself to thry
mend it."

"That's a _lovely_ table," suddenly said Mad Bell, who had hitherto made
no remarks. "A rael grand one it is," she repeated, in a wistful sort of
way, smoothing the leaf fondly with her hand.

"And very welcome you'd be to have it in a prisint, ma'am, if you've
e'er a fancy for it; ay, or for the matter of that to the whole lot of
them altogether," said Matthew Wogan, who, with his arms full of the
smoky twins, felt a weight of gratitude which he would gladly have
expressed in deeds. "Little vally there is on them--it's a small thing
after what you're after doin' for us. I wouldn't like to be payin' away
me bit of money from the childer, or else--But if I auctioned them
things off the way I was intindin' it's on'y a thrifle of a few
shillin's they'd be bringin' me. Welcome you are to them, ma'am."

"Sure what use at all 'ud such a thing be to the likes of her?" put in
Mrs. Massey. "It's on'y annoyed you'd be, woman, wid tables and chairs.
And she thrampin' about, you may depind, wid ne'er a place to be
bringin' them to, if she had them twyste over, let alone any way of
movin' them. It's very convanient we are, just round the turn of the
road."

"She might take the little cart and the ould ass along," said Matthew
Wogan, looking at his equipage, which was straying towards them
intermittently as the beast grazed the green border of the lane.
"They're no use to me now. Then there'd be nothin' delayin' her that she
couldn't be cleanin' out of it wid them right away--You needn't throuble
yourself to be liftin' the little stool, Mrs. Massey. What wid fire and
water, that'll be no place to sleep in," he said, pointing to the still
smoking door. "The Mahonys 'ud take us in for to-night, and to-morra
early we're off to me sister's and next day to Queenstown. 'Twill be a
grand thing for the childer to be settled near their uncle Tom, that's
doin' right well in New Jersey, in case anythin' happint me. So I'd as
lief be shut of all that collection, supposin' they'd be any benefit to
this crathur."

"Saints bless us, but you're givin' away all before you, Mr. Wogan,"
said Mrs. Massey, with a discomfited laugh.

"Have you e'er a house you could be puttin' them in?" one of the
harvestmen asked of Mad Bell.

"Ay, bedad," she said. And with that she picked up a chair, and dumped
it down into the cart, which had come to a halt at the door.

This promptitude on her part seemed to settle the question. Without more
ado the rest of the salvage was loaded in, all except the handy-sized
washing-tub, which by means of an adroitly taken up position Mrs. Massey
contrived to have overlooked and left behind, when Mad Bell drove away
with her newly acquired property.

On through the gloaming she drove, till the white dust flakes gathered
up by the wheels grew damp and fragrant with dew, and till the moonlight
was glimmering among the golden sheaves silverly, and till live embers
were fanned out of the ashes low in the east. The small hours had a
frosty chill, and old Ned's short steps were leisurely, and his halts
for refreshment frequent; still Mad Bell continued to sit with serene
patience. She was retracing her route of the day before, but at so much
slower a rate of progress that the sun had been up for more than an hour
when she stopped in front of Big Anne and the Dummy's little house. They
were disturbed at their breakfast by the sound of the arrival, and when
they came to the door, saw their visitor in the act of depositing a
second chair upon the ground beside the cart.

"Whethen now and is it yourself back agin?" said Big Anne. "And what at
all have you got there?"

"Inside they're goin'," said Mad Bell, pointing to the cart-load with an
elated air. "It's a dale handier to have some chairs and tables."

This was a fact which Big Anne might well have admitted, considering
that she had just been squatting on her heels to eat her plate of
stirabout. However, she only continued her perplexed catechism: "Where
at all was you after bringin' them things from, and who might be ownin'
them?"

"Out of a house burnin' down," said Mad Bell.

"Och between us and harm. What house is it then? And how did it get
burnin'?"

"Sure it's aisy enough settin' a house on fire," said Mad Bell with a
grin, which to Big Anne who at this time was not familiar with her
manners, looked rather sinisterly significant. "Flarin' up rael strong,"
she said, pushing towards her, as if in confirmation of the statement,
the little wooden clothes-horse, whose rails were blackened and charred.

"Aisy it may be," Big Anne said, looking aghast at it, "but dreadful
divilment it is to do such a thing, wid the misfort'nit people very apt
to lose their lives, let alone everythin' else."

"There was nobody in it on'y the couple of fat little childer," said Mad
Bell.

"The saints be among us all, woman," said Big Anne, "what sort of talk
have you? It's not streelin' about the counthry you are, wid them ould
sticks of furnitur', and lavin' the little childer in the house blazin'
up? The Lord pity the crathurs, what 'ud become of them if they was left
thataway? Burnt to cinders be now very belike."

"Stufficated," said Mad Bell, with a complacent nod.

Big Anne and the Dummy stared at one another in great horror. The Dummy
could express her feelings only by crossing herself and gasping; but
Big Anne spoke volubly: "May God forgive me for openin' me lips to the
likes of you. Och but you're the unnatural wicked woman to go do such a
thing, if you was twyste as cracked and crazy itself. Git along out of
this, yourself and your ould cart, afore the pólis comes after you. Och
the misfort'nit little crathurs. And don't be offerin' to darken our
doors agin wid the ojis sight of you."

"Gimme a hand wid liftin' in them two tables," said Mad Bell. Whereupon
Big Anne whisked away from her, and banged the door in her face.

Mad Bell, however, did not appear to be discouraged by this reception.
She finished unloading the cart of all except the tables, which she
found unwieldy single-handed. Then she unharnessed old Neddy, and went
and seated herself on the low wall beside the house. She was seemingly
quite content with the situation. But to the two women indoors it was a
dreadful experience. Their minds were firmly persuaded that the daft
little woman had designedly set fire to some dwelling, and made off with
what household gear she could lay hands on, leaving the hapless children
to perish amid the flames. It shocked and enraged them that their
premises should be infested by the presence of such a criminal, and that
her ill-gotten goods and chattels should be brought to their very
threshold, not to speak of her outrageous proposal to harbour them under
their roof. Big Anne declared that wid the legs of them chairs and
tables glimpsing through the door, as if they were on'y turned out to be
airin' a bit, she and the Dummy seemed as good as a pair of murderers.

Every now and then they went to the door and peered out, and the
incendiary always greeted them with cheerful nods. On these occasions
Big Anne sometimes said: "Oh, very well, me good woman. Just you sit
brazenin' there till the patrol comes round this way, and then if I
don't give you in charge as sure as the sun's shinin' crooked over our
heads.--Begone out of that, and take them things out of litterin' about
our place." Or she would remark loudly to her companion: "Just stop a
minyit, Winnie, till I sling me ould shawl over me head, and run down to
the barracks. It's not very long they'll be puttin' her out of it, and
bundlin' her into jail, instead of to be sittin' there, wid ne'er a
spark of shame in her, annoyin' dacint people." But neither mode of
address produced any effect. The morning sunbeams still slanted down on
the small pile of furniture, and old Neddy went on munching the blades
off which they were drying the dew, and Mad Bell continued to sit upon
the wall, as if placidly waiting for events.

Such was the posture of affairs until towards noon, when an outside-car
came trotting quickly down the lane. On one side of it sat a
black-whiskered man in his best clothes, with each hand tightly grasping
a small, fat, wrigglesome child. And the three were Matthew, Tom, and
Minnie Wogan. On catching sight of Mad Bell, he made the driver pull up.

"Well, ma'am," he called to her, "so you're after gettin' home. Bedad
it's the fine long step you've took th'ould donkey; one while he'd be
doin' it. And you're about gettin' in the few things? Very welcome she
is to the whole of them," he continued to Big Anne, who had now emerged.
"And begorrah nobody else had a better right to any trifle might be
saved out of it. She'll ha' tould you, ma'am, the way the place was set
on fire on me last night--some little divil of a spalpeen playin' wid
matches it seems. But anyhow, there it was in blazes, and me galloppin'
home like a deminted cow, consaitin' these two imps of the mischief here
would be smotherin' inside it. And, troth, if herself over there hadn't
them fetched out safe into the yard, when it was as much as your life
was worth to put your head in at the door, for the stiflin' of the
smoke. I dunno how she conthrived it. Maybe the crathur isn't altogether
over sinsible," he said in a confidential tone; "but if she'd had all
the wit ever was thought of, she couldn't ha' done better be the
childer. So it's kindly welcome she is to the bits of furniture, and the
ould baste. And dhrivin' on we must be. Good mornin' to yous all."

Mad Bell listened to this praise with the same equanimity as to Big
Anne's threats and reproaches. But when the car had trotted on, she came
up to her, saying just as before, "Gimme a hand wid liftin' in thim
tables;" and Matthew Wogan, jogging down the long lane, may have caught
the last glimpse of one of them as it vanished in at the doorway.

Thus it was that Mad Bell came to be domiciled with Big Anne and the
Dummy in the pauses between her wanderings. The arrangement seemed
equitable in view of her substantial contribution to the plenishing of
the house. The donkey-cart, likewise, was found very serviceable,
enabling them to turn a penny occasionally by fetching and carrying. And
the coalition worked well upon the whole. But after a few years of such
prosperity that they were seldom without a bit of food in the house, and
sometimes had bacon on Sunday, things took a turn for the worse. Old Ned
died under the burden of his many years, and a sort of murrain among the
fowl cut off several promising pullets in the heyday of their youth.
Then arose difficulties about "rint," while their landlord, who was new
to the property, had a natural zeal for sweeping it clear of encumbering
tenants. And the end of it was that the three women transferred
themselves to Lisconnel, where they became not the least respected of
its inhabitants.

But these particulars about their antecedents were never learned by the
neighbours there; and the joint ownership of the furniture still
presents itself as one of our unsolved problems. Another of them was
propounded somewhat later, when Mad Bell returned from an unusually long
ramble, during which she had crossed the Liffey by the spacious
O'Connell Bridge, and had heard the boom of the big College bell, and
with her wizened-lemon face had half-scared the smallest-sized children
in villages round about Dublin. For she was wearing an elaborately
fantastic piece of headgear, which moved everybody's curiosity so
strongly that it cannot have been for want of wondering if we failed to
find out how she had come thereby. Strangely incongruous it did
undoubtedly look; yet the stages by which it had descended from its
stand in the milliner's show-room and alighted upon the head of the
little wandering-witted tramp, were much fewer than might have been
supposed probable.

One blustery March morning when Mrs. M'Bean was on her way along by the
low sea-wall to buy a bit of bacon at Donnelly's shop in Kilclone, the
east wind did her the shrewd turn of whisking off her hat and dropping
it into the water. It was a most shabby old black straw, rusty and
battered, and torn, yet Mrs. M'Bean, a labourer's wife, who had nothing
at all handsome about her, seemed to think it worth a serious risk. For
she mounted on the broad wall-top, and thence made so unwary a snatch
that she overbalanced herself and splashed headlong into the heaving
high-tide, where she would very soon have perished beneath the cold
olive-gray swell, had not the brothers Denny, fishing for bass hard by,
noticed the perilous accident, and pulled timely to the rescue.

When they disembarked her, gasping and dripping, at the nearest
landing-place, she was understood to say, "Sure me heart's broke," a
remark which Police-sergeant Young, who formed one of the group gathered
by the disaster, considered sufficient grounds for marching her off to
the handiest J. P. on a charge of attempted suicide. Mrs. M'Bean
vehemently repelled the accusation. She explained that she had said her
heart was broke only "because she had lost her ould hat, and every
thread of a rag on her had been dhrenched and ruinated with the salt
water. How could she go for to do such a sin as destroy herself, she
urged, and she wid a houseful of little childer waitin' for her at home,
the crathurs?" Her arguments proved convincing, and the charge was
summarily dismissed, not without strictures upon Sergeant Young's
excessive zeal, by which he, recking nothing of Talleyrand's maxim, felt
himself puzzled and aggrieved.

The incident, however, brought some more agreeable consequences to Mrs.
M'Bean, as the J. P.'s ladies, commiserating her half-drowned plight,
sent her that same evening a goodly bundle of cast-off clothes, over
which her eyes grew gleefully bright in her careworn face. At one of the
articles included they widened with almost awe. This was an enormous hat
made of white fluffy felt, with vast contorted brims, and great blue
velvet rosettes and streamers. Its fabric was very stout and
substantial, and withal quite new, for its original owner had speedily
found it so stiff and heavy that to wear it gave her a headache and a
crick in her neck. Mrs. M'Bean, for her part, could not entertain the
idea of carrying anything so sumptuous upon her grizzled head; and when
she tried it on her eldest daughter, it totally extinguished and nearly
smothered the child. So she stowed it away in a corner, where it
remained unseen for several weeks.

But next month, on the afternoon of Easter Day, Mrs. M'Bean had two
visitors over from Ballyhoy: Annie Cassidy, elderly and rather grim,
with her young friend Nelly Walsh.

"Nelly's bound to be havin' bad luck this year of her life," Annie
observed in the course of conversation, "for not a new stitch has she
put on her to-day, and it Easter. That's an unlucky thing, accordin' to
the sayin'."

"Ne'er a bit am I afraid of me luck," averred Nelly, cheerful and
threadbare, not to say ragged. But Mrs. M'Bean was pricked by a sudden
thought up the ladder to the little attic aloft, whence she creaked down
again, bringing with her the great white hat. "There, Nelly," she said,
"just clap that on your head, and then nobody can pass the remark that
you didn't get the wear of somethin' new, any way."

Nelly took the hat, which struck her nearly dumb with admiration, but as
she tried to catch a glimpse of it in the shred of looking-glass on the
wall, her delighted expression waxed so eloquent that Mrs. M'Bean was
impelled to say: "You're to keep it, girl alive, if you've e'er a fancy
for it. Sure it's fitter for you than the likes of me, that 'ud look a
quare old scarecrow if I offered to go about in such a thing." She had
not at first intended this generosity, her worldly goods being so few
that she could not lightly part with even a very unpromising possession.

Nelly, on her side, could hardly believe in her high fortune, when,
after some polite demur, she found herself carrying off the splendid
hat. To wear it on an ordinary walk would have seemed profane, so she
held it under her old shawl all the way home to her cabin on the shore
at the foot of the Black Banks, a good step beyond Ballyhoy. But when
she reached the door, she could not forbear the pleasure of making her
entrance in the glory of her new adornment. Her reception was altogether
disappointing. For her mother's and grandmother's voices rose up shrill
and shriller, demanding what at all hijjis gazabo she'd got on her.
Billy, her eldest brother, said: "Musha, she's put a pair of blinkers on
her like an ould horse;" and Larry, his junior, remarked with terse
candour, "Och, the fright." More mortifying still, Joe Tierney, her
sweetheart, who had called to conclude arrangements about the morrow's
holiday, said in a disgusted tone: "Tare and ages! I hope to goodness,
Nelly, you're not intindin' to make that show of yourself at the circus
to-morra. Bedad, I niver seen such a conthrivance; you might as well be
walkin' alongside some sort of deminted musharoon." This rather aptly
described the effect of the huge white brim upon Nelly, who was small
and short of stature; but it hurt her feelings badly.

The only upholder of the hat was Annie Cassidy, who is fond of
controverting the opinions of other people, and who despises men. She
said: "Don't be lettin' them put you out of consait with it, Nelly; it
suits you lovely. Sure if anyone doesn't think your app'arance is good
enough for them, you needn't throuble them wid your company. Circuses,
to my mind, is thrash--to be watchin' folks figurandyin' on a pack of
ould horses' backs. There's a lot of us goin' over to-morra to Rathbeg,
where they've merry-go-rounds you can ride in yourself, and all manner,
if you'd just step down to the Junction station and come along wid us on
the early train."

"'Deed then I might," said Nelly; not that she had the least intention
of doing any such thing, but because, being somewhat of a belle, she was
unaccustomed to uncomplimentary criticisms and much affronted by them.
Furthermore, for the same reason, she escorted Annie home, and stayed so
long talking, that Joe before she returned had to go off about his
milking, which annoyed him a good deal.

However, he had quite forgotten his vexation next morning, as he hurried
through his early tasks with a day's pleasuring before him. He worked at
the Kellys', whose land is bounded north and south by the Junction lane
and the sea; and as he walked about the fresh April fields he was in
view of Howth, dark pansy-purple against the eastern amber, confronting
the sweep of the Dublin mountains, outlined in wild hyacinth-coloured
mist, across the dancing silver of the bay. The calves had been fed so
expeditiously that Joe found he could spare time to stop at the starred
bank under the hedge and pick a bunch of primroses, some of which
Nelly's mother would proudly keep in a jam-pot on the window-stool,
while Nelly herself might like to wear a few at the circus, brightening
up her brown-striped shawl.

But when he was compressing a thick sheaf of the cool soft stalks in one
hard hand, he chanced to look up, and saw what thrilled him with dismay.
Bobbing along over the jagged edge of the wall, a short way down the
lane went a gleaming white object, which he at once recognised as
Nelly's new hat. He ran aghast to look through the gate, and despite
intercepting road-curves and obstructive hedges, the hat it unmistakably
was, making for the Junction station. So Nelly, intending a serious
quarrel, had thrown him over and joined the Rathbeg party. A pleasure,
hoarded in anticipation for many a month, shrivelled into dead leaves
suddenly like fairy gold, as he perceived how certainly this must be the
case.

His first angry impulse was a resort to Haskin's Public at Portbrendan,
where he might spend his spoilt holiday taking drinks and making bets in
the society of some cronies. What hindered him from immediately acting
upon it was a compunctious forecast of the concern which would prevail
in his family, if he absented himself contrary to expectation. "There's
me mother's never aisy," he reflected, "unless she's persuadin' herself
some of us are kilt on her." This made him resolve to postpone
Portbrendan till after breakfast, and he turned lothfully homewards. As
he passed along the Kellys' yard-wall, he relieved his feelings by
tossing his nosegay over it at the place where he heard the grunting of
their pigs, who on that occasion fared almost as delicately as Marvel's
rose-lined fawn.

It was early still when he reached his cabin, one in the Walshes' row;
and he sat down listlessly on a bank, to wait for nothing in particular.
Presently Mrs. Walsh, senior, came by with a twinkling can of water.
"Och, there you are, Joe," she said: "Nelly's been lookin' out for you
this good while."

"Whethen it's quare lookin' out she had," said Joe, "and she took off
wid herself to ould Annie Cassidy--bad manners to her for her
interfarin'."

"What's the lad talkin' about at all?" said Mrs. Walsh, standing amazed;
"Nelly's widin there this instiant of time, readyin' herself up."

"Maybe you'll tell me," said Joe, "that I didn't see her streelin' down
the Junction lane afore I was lavin' Kellys'."

"And maybe _you_'ll tell _me_," said Nelly's grandmother, "that she
wasn't just now callin' to me they were wantin' wather. It's a fine bawl
she'd ha' had to let out of her, if I was to be hearin' her, and she up
beyond Kellys'."

"There she was anyway," Joe said, doggedly. "Wouldn't I know that dad
fetched-lookin' ould new caubeen she's stuck on her a mile o' ground?"

"You great gomeral," said Mrs. Walsh. "If that's all you might aisy
enough ha' seen the big hat goin' the road--but have you the notion it's
growin' on Nelly's head? Why, you omadhawn, you hadn't quit ten minyits
last night, and Nelly was just after gettin' back, when who should come
by but poor Mad Bell. Och now the raggedy objick the crathur was, wid
nothin' over her misfort'nit head but an ould wisp as full of houles as
a fishin'-net. So little Larry sez, jokin' like, 'Look here, Nelly,'
sez he, 'you'd a right to be lettin' Mad Bell have a loan of your grand
nappy hat to keep the sun out of her eyes.' But belike Nelly'd took a
turn agin the thing wid the way they'd all been makin' fun of it; for
sez she, 'Will you have it, Bell?' sez she, houldin' it out to her. And
if she did, Mad Bell grabbed it in her two hands--it's not often she'll
have a word for anybody--and no more talk about it, but cocked it on,
and tied it firm under her chin wid the sthramers, as tasty as you
plase. Musha good gracious, to see the len'th she drew the bow out on
aich side of her bit of a yeller face, and the nod she gave her ould
head when she'd got it done. So that's what's gone wid the hat. Goodness
guide us, if she wasn't the poor crazy-witted body she is, 'twould be a
sin to let her go makin' such a show of herself; but sure no one 'ud
think to mind anythin' the likes of the crathur might have on her, the
saints may pity her. Ay, bedad, them kind of quare consthructions do be
fit for nothin' unless Quality and mad people," old Mrs. Walsh
continued, without malice, soliloquising, as Joe had caught up the can,
and was hurrying it with prodigal splashes towards his sweetheart's
door.

The circus, with its flaring lights and whirl of tinselled prancing
marvels, was so rapturous an experience to Nelly that she had not a
regret for her discarded hat, which at this time was moving on beneath a
soft dappled sky, between greening hedges, westward along quiet roads
and lanes. It found shelter for the night under the ley of a tall
hayrick near Santry, thus ending the first stage of Mad Bell's tramp
home to the wide brown bogland of Lisconnel.



CHAPTER XII

A FLITTING


Among the latest of the strangers that have visited Lisconnel were some
who came at a time when the neighbours stood rather in need of
distraction. For the summer following Mrs. Kilfoyle's death was, between
one thing and another, a drearyish season with us. That little old woman
had left a great gap; and then there were many long spells of gloomy bad
weather, which seemed to beat people's troubles down upon them as the
damp drove the turf-reck back through their smoke-holes into the dark
rooms, where they could scarcely see how dense the blue haze was
growing. Stacey Doyne's marriage also had removed something young and
pleasant, and at times, when the thatch dripped without and within,
neighbours were apt to talk about her in tones of commiseration, and
say, "Sure, her poor mother's lost entirely." So that towards autumn
the diversion of some new residents' arrival happened opportunely
enough. It was made possible by the fact that Big Anne had given up her
holding and entered into partnership with the widow M'Gurk, thus leaving
her late abode empty for another tenant, who appeared much sooner than
any one might have anticipated from the aspect of the cabin.

Except as a fresh topic of conversation, however, the strangers gave
small promise of proving an acquisition to the community. Lisconnel did
not like their appearance by any means, and further acquaintance failed
to modify unfavourable first impressions. These were mainly received in
the course of the day after their arrival, which took place on a night
too black for anything beyond a shadowy counting of heads, and a
perception that the bulk of the new-comers' household stuff had jogged
up on one donkey, and must therefore be small. A portion of Big Anne's
furniture had remained behind her in the cabin, owing to certain arrears
of rent. Her heart was scalded, she said, wid the prices she'd only get
for her early chuckens, and they the weight of the world, if you'd feel
them in your hand; and poor Mad Bell, that 'ud mostly bring home a few
odd shillin's wid her, was away since afore last Christmas, and might
never show her face there agin, the crathur; and the poor Dummy gone,
that was great at the knittin' if she got the chance--a bit of narration
which would look funny enough in anybody's rental. Mrs. Quigley, who
went to the door with the offer of a seed of fire, found it shut, and a
voice inside called, "as onmannerly as you plase," "No, we've got
matches;" whereupon another voice, further in the interior, quavered,
"Thank'ee kindly, ma'am." So she departed little wiser than she had
come. But daylight showed that the party consisted of an old man, and
his son, and his son's wife, and her sister, and three small children,
besides some cochin-china fowl, and a black cat with vividly green eyes.
This much was apparent on the surface. Also that the old man was frail,
bent, shrivelled, and civil spoken, that the son was "a big soft gomeral
of a fellow," that both the women were sandily flaxen-haired, with
broad, flat cheeks and light eyes, and that two of the children
resembled them, while the third--a girl a trifle older--was a
dark-haired, disconsolate-looking little thing, "wid her face," Mrs.
Brian said, "not the width of the palm of your hand, and the eyes of
her sunk in her head." As for the fowl, there could be no doubt that
their "onnathural, long, fluffety legs were fit to make a body's flesh
creep," and the cat looked "as like an ould divil as anythin' you ever
witnessed, sittin' blinkin' atop of the turf-stack."

Other less self-evident facts came out by degrees--more slowly than
might have been expected, as the strangers were generally close and
chary of speech. They came from the north, where their affairs had not
prospered--in fact, they had been "sold up and put out of it," as the
young man divulged one day to Brian Kilfoyle. They were a somewhat
intricately connected family, by the name, predominantly, of Patman. The
sister-in-law was Tishy M'Crum, which seemed simple enough, but the two
light-haired boys were Greens, Mrs. Patman having been a widow, while
the little girl was the child of a wife whom Tom Patman had already
buried; for though he looked full young to have embarked upon matrimony
at all, this was his second venture. "And it's a quare comether she must
ha' been after puttin' on him," quoth Mrs. Quigley, "afore he took up
wid herself, that's as ugly as if she was bespoke, and half a dozen year
oulder than the young bosthoon, if she's a minyit." It is true that at
the time when Mrs. Quigley expressed this unflattering opinion she and
her neighbours had been exasperated by an impolite speech of Mrs.
Patman, who had said loudly in their hearing, "Well, for sartin if I'd
had a notion of the blamed little dog-hole he was bringin' us into,
sorra the sole of a fut 'ud I ha' set inside it;" and had then proceeded
to congratulate herself upon having prudently left "all her dacint bits
of furniture up above at her mother's, so that she needn't be bothered
wid cartin' them away out of a place that didn't look to have had ever
e'er a thing in it worth the throuble of movin', not if it stood there
until it dropped to pieces wid dirt." Mrs. Quigley rejoined (to Judy
Ryan) that "it would be a great pity if any people sted in a place that
wasn't good enough for them, supposin' all the while they was used to
anythin' a thraneen better--maybe they might, in coorse, and maybe they
mightn't. It was won'erful to hear the talk some folks had, and they wid
every ould stick they owned an aisy loadin' for Reilly's little ass."
But Judy Ryan, with a flight of sarcastic fancy, hoped that Mrs. Patman
and her family "were about goin' on a visit prisintly to the Lady
Lifftinant, because it was much if they'd find any place else where
there'd be grandeur accordin' to their high-up notions."

Skirmishes such as this, however, were a symptom rather than a cause of
the Patmans' unpopularity. That sprang from several roots. For one
thing, both the women had harsh, scolding voices, and it was even
chances that if you passed within earshot of their cabin you would hear
them giving tongue. Their objurgations were, as a rule, addressed to the
young man or the old, the latter of whom soon grew into an object of
local compassion as "a harmless, dacint, poor crathur," while his son
came in for the frank-eyed looking-down-upon which is the portion of an
able-bodied man, shrew-ridden through sheer supineness and
"polthroonery." But what Lisconnel often said that it "thought badder
of" was the stepmotherly treatment which seemed to be the lot of the
little girl Katty. Of course the situation was one which, under the
circumstances, would have made people believe in such a state of things
upon the slenderest evidence. Still, even to unprejudiced eyes, it was
clear that Katty's rags were raggeder than those of her small
step-brothers, and that she crept about with the mien of a creature
which has conceived reasonable doubts respecting the reception it is
likely to meet in society. When the autumn weather began to grow wintry,
little Katty Patman, "perishin' about out there in the freezin' win',"
became a spectacle which was viewed with indignant sympathy from dark
doorways whence she received many an invitation to step in and be
warmin' herself. Her hostesses opined that she was fairly starved just
for a taste of the fire, and didn't believe she was ever let next or
nigh it in her own place. Often, too, the consideration that she had no
more flesh on her bones than a March chucken led to the bestowal of a
steaming potato or a piece of griddle-bread; but the result of this was
sometimes unsatisfactory to the giver, Katty being apt to dart away with
her refreshments, which she might presently be seen sharing among Bobby
and Stevie, for whom she entertained a strong and apparently
unreciprocated regard.

"I wouldn't go for to be sayin' anythin' to set her agin them," Mrs.
Brian Kilfoyle remarked on some such occasion. "But, goodness forgive
me! I've no likin' for them two little brats. I'd misthrust them."

"Ah, sure they've no sinse," said Biddy Ryan. "Where'd they git it? And
the biggest of them, I'd suppose, under four year ould."

"Sinse!" said Mrs. Quigley. "Bedad, then, if sinse was all that ailed
them, the pair of them is as 'cute as a couple of young foxes. I mind
on'y a day or so after they'd been in it, I met the laste one on the
road, and I comin' home wid be chance a sugarstick in me basket. So,
just to be makin' friends like, I gave it a bit for itself, and a bit
for the other that I seen comin' along. Well, now, ma'am, if it had took
and ate up the both of the bits, I'd ha' thought ne'er a pin's point of
harm--'twould ha' been nathural enough to the size of it. But I give you
me word, when it seen it couldn't get the two of them swallied down
afore its brother come by, what did it go do but clap the one of them
into a crevice in the wall, and cover it under a blackberry laif. And
wid that down it squats, and begins sayin', 'Creely-crawly
snail--where's the creely-crawly snail I'm after huntin' out of its
houle?'--lettin' on to be lookin' for somethin' creepin' in the grass.
And a while after it come slinkin' back, when it thought nobody was
mindin', to poke the bit out of the wall where I was gatherin'
dandelions under the bank. So while it was fumblin' about, missin' the
right crevice, sez I, poppin' up, thinkin' to shame it, 'Maybe the
crawly snail's after aitin' it on you,' sez I. 'Och, yis; I seen it,'
sez the spalpeen, as brazen as brass. 'Gimme 'noder bit instid.' There's
a schemin' young rapscallion for you!"

"They're too like their mother altogether to plase me," said Judy Ryan.
"The corners of their eyes do be as sharp as if they were cut out wid a
pair of scissors. Not that I'd mind if they'd e'er a sthrake of
good-nathur in them; but I misdoubt they have. The little girl, now, is
as diff'rint as day and night."

"If _she_ takes after her father, she's a right to want the wit
powerful, misfort'nit little imp," said Mrs. Brian. "For if he isn't a
great stupid gomeral and an ass, just get me one. Why, if he was worth
the dust blowin' along the road, he'd purvint of his own child bein' put
upon."

"Och, they have him _frighted_," said Mrs. Quigley, with scornful
emphasis. "They won't let him take an atom of notice of her, they're
that jealous. Sure, if he gets talkin' to her outside the house there,
one of them 'ill let a bawl and send him off to be carryin' in turf or
wather. I've seen it times and agin."

"If he'd take and sling it about their ears some fine day he'd be doin'
right, and it might larn them to behave themselves," said Judy.

"But the ould man would disgust you," pursued Mrs. Quigley, "wid the
romancin' he has out of him about his son Tom. You'd suppose, to listen
to him, that the omadhawn's aquil never stepped. He'll deive you wid it
till you're fairly bothered. Troth, he thinks the young fellow's doin'
somethin' out of the way if he just walks down the street, and expec's
everybody to stand watchin' him goin' along. It's surprisin' the foolery
there does be in people."

"Och, murdher, women alive!" said Ody Rafferty, whose pipe went out at
this moment, "there's no contintin' yous at all. It's too cute they are,
and too foolish they are. Musha, very belike they're not so much off the
common if you'd a thrifle more exparience of them; there's nothin' to
match that for evenin' people. Bedad, now, there's some people _I_ know
so well that I can scarce tell the one from the other."

Lisconnel, however, generally declined to fall in with Ody's
philosophical views, and the Patmans, whether suspected of excessive
cuteness or folly, remained persistently unpopular. There was only one
exception to this rule. The widow M'Gurk has a certain fibre of
perversity in her which sometimes twists itself round unlikely objects,
for no apparent reason save that they are left clear by her neighbours,
and this peculiarity renders her prone upon occasion to undertake the
part of Devil's Advocate. When, therefore, she had once delivered
herself of the opinion that the newcomers were "very dacint folks," she
did not feel called upon to abandon it because it stood alone. As
grounds for it she commonly alleged that they were "rael hard-workin'
and industhrious," which was obviously true enough, since Mrs. Patman
and her sister might constantly be seen tilling their little field with
an energy far beyond the capacity of its late tenant. Her neighbours'
unimpressed rejoinder, "Well, and supposin' they are itself?" did not in
the least disconcert the widdy, nor yet their absence of enthusiasm when
she stated that it was "a sight to behould Tishy M'Crum diggin' over a
bit of ground; she'd lift as much on her spade as any two strong men."
As for little Katty, "she'd never seen anybody doin' anythin' agin the
child; it might happen by nature to be one of those little _crowls_ of
childer that 'ud always look hungry-like and pinin', the crathurs, if
you were able to keep feedin' them wid the best as long as the sun was
in the sky." In short, something more than talk was usually needed to
put the widow M'Gurk out of conceit with any notion she had taken up.
Perhaps the comparative aloofness of her hillside cabin helped to
maintain the Patmans at their original high level in her estimation. At
any rate they had not sunk from it by the time that they had been nearly
three months in Lisconnel, and when Mrs. Patman and her sister were on
terms of the very glummest civility with all the other women in the
place. Even towards the widow M'Gurk they were tolerant rather than
expansive. She said "they had done right enough to not be leppin' down
people's throaths."

One morning not long after Christmas, the widow, being bound on an
errand down below, called in at the Patmans' with a view to possible
commissions. Meal was wanted, and, while Tishy M'Crum stitched up a rent
in the bag, Mrs. M'Gurk noticed where little Katty, who had been "took
bad wid a could these three days," rustled uncomfortably among wisps of
rushes and rags in an obscure corner. Fever made her bold and
self-assertive, for she was wishing nothing less than that her daddy
would get her an orange--"An or'nge wid yeller peel round it"--Katty
laid stress upon this point--"like the one her mammy got her a long time
ago. And daddy'd be a good daddy and get her another now. And she'd keep
a bit for Bobby and Stevie and all of them--a big yeller or'nge."
Katty's eyes blazed with excitement as she reiterated these extravagant
desires.

"She's got an oncommon fancy for a one," said her daddy, looking
wistfully from the child to his wife.

"They have them down below," suggested the widow, "pence apiece."

Mrs. Patman's hand was slipping towards her pocket. "If it was just for
wunst," she had begun, when Tishy tweaked her sleeve viciously and
interpolated a rapid whisper, "It wont _be_; there'll be no ind to it if
you begin humourin' them," so the sentence was badly dislocated. "She'll
do a dale better widout any such thrash," Mrs. Patman concluded, and
walked off to throw sods on the fire.

Just then the widow became aware that old Joe Patman was grimacing at
her from a corner fast by in a way that might have startled her had she
not been familiar with such modes of beckoning. But when she obeyed his
summons, what she saw did astound her outright, for Joe was stooping low
over a leathern pouch which he had drawn from a wall-cranny, and which
seemed to contain marvellous depths of silver money, with here and there
a golden gleam among it, as he warily stirred it up, circling a hurried
forefinger. She had only the briefest glimpse ere he shoved back the
pouch and thrust a sixpence into her hand, muttering, "Git her the
orange--don't be lettin' on for your life."

As she turned away with a reassuring nod, she perceived that Tishy
M'Crum was standing unexpectedly near, and looking towards them over the
top of the meal-bag. Tishy was bitting off a loose end of thread, which
gave her a determined and ferocious expression, but whether she could
have seen anything or not the widow felt uncertain. She thought not.

About ten days after this Mrs. M'Gurk was roused at a very early hour by
a thumping on her door. When she opened it she found some difficulty in
recognising her visitor, as the dawn had scarcely done more than dim a
few stars far away in the east, which is an ineffective form of
illumination. "Whethen, now, Joe Patman, is it yourself?" she said,
peeringly. "And what's brought you out at all afore you can see a step
or a stim? Is the little girl took worse?" For Katty's illness still
continued, and had grown rather serious.

"Sure, no," said the old man; "Katty's just pretty middlin'. But it's
waitin' I've been the len'th of the mornin', till 'twould turn broad
daylight, before I'd be disturbin' of you, ma'am, to tell you the quare
sort of a joke they're after playin' on me down yonder."

"Saints above, man, what talk have you of jokin' at this hour of the day
or night?" said Mrs. M'Gurk, feeling the unseasonableness acutely as a
bitter gust came swooping up the slope and indiscriminatingly ruffled
the rime-dusted grass-tufts and her own grizzled locks.

"Och, bejabbers, it's a great joke they have agin me whatever," said old
Patman, who was shivering much, with cold partly, and partly perhaps
with amusement. "You see the way of it was, last night, no great while
after we'd all gone asleep, I woke up suddint, like as if wid the crake
of a door or somethin', but, whatever it might be, 'twas slipped beyond
me hearin' afore I'd got a hould of me sinses rightly. So I listened a
goodish bit, and somehow everythin' seemed unnathural quiet, till I
heard Katty fidgettin', and I went over to see would she take a dhrink
of wather. The Lord presarve us and keep us, ma'am, if all the rest of
them hadn't quit--quit out of it they have, and left us cliver and
clane."

"Ah, now, don't be romancin' man," said the widow, remonstrantly. "What
in the name of the nation 'ud bewitch any people to go rovin' out of
their house in the middle of the black night, wid the frost thick on the
ground?"

"Quit they are," said the old man. "Tom's gone, and the wife, and every
man-jack of them. They've took the couple of chuckens I noticed Tishy
killin' of yisterday. Begorrah, I believe they've took Tib the cat, for
ne'er a sign of it I see about the place, that would mostly be sittin'
cocked up atop of the dresser. Goodness guide us, sorra a sowl there is
in the house but the two of us, me and the child, and she's rael bad.
It's a quare ould joke."

"It 'ud be the joke of a set of ravin' mad people," said the widow.

"But the best of it is," he went on, "do you mind, ma'am"--he looked
round him suspiciously and lowered his voice--"the leather pouch you
might ha' seen wid me the other day?"

"Whoo!" said Mrs. M'Gurk, "are they after takin' that on you? Sure, man,
I thought you had it unbeknownst."

"Aye, it's took," old Patman said, "but how she grabbed it I dunno,
onless, I was thinkin', be any chance you mentioned somethin' about it?"

"Divil a bit of me did," the widow averred, with truth, which her hearer
accepted. "And how much might you have had in it at all?"

"Troth, I couldn't be tellin' you," he said; "I never thought to count
it. 'Tis just for a pleasure to meself I keep it. This long while back
I've put ne'er a penny in it, but when we used to be livin' up at
Portnafoyle I'd slip in the odd shillin's now and agin, and sometimes
I'd think 'twould be handy for buryin' me, and other times I'd think I'd
give it to Tom as soon as I'd gathered a thrifle more, on'y some way the
thought of partin' wid it 'ud seem to go agin me, and since poor Tom
made a match with Martha M'Crum 'tis worse agin me it goes. 'Tis that
good-for-nought weasel of a slieveen Tishy's after conthrivin' it on me,
I well know, and bad luck to her," quoth the old man, with a sudden
spasm of resentment. "Tom 'ud never play such a thrick--I mane it wasn't
he invinted the joke; he doesn't throuble himself wid much jokin'; he's
too sinsible, and steady, and perspicuous, and oncommon set on me and
the child, all the while. There's no better son in Ireland. Och, but the
rest of them mane no harm wid it; they're just schemin' to dhrop in
prisintly and be risin' a laugh on me."

Steps which were promptly taken to verify old Joe Patman's strange story
proved it to be correct in every particular. The only fresh fact which
investigations brought to light was the presence of a five-shilling
piece lying on the dresser, where Joe had overlooked it in the early
dusk. All the other inmates, chuckens and cat included, had disappeared,
and with them most of the few movables, the old man and the sick child
being left as forlorn fixtures. Lisconnel at large was neither slow nor
circumlocutory in forming and expressing its opinion as touching the
nature of the joke, a firm belief in which old Joe resolutely opposed to
his troubles as they thickened around him. For no tidings came from the
absentees, nor were any heard of them, while Katty's fever ran so high
that it seemed likely her grandfather would be at small further charges
on her account--a prospect which, however financially sound for a
capitalist of five shillings or under, none the less filled his soul
with grief. Then, one night, when Katty was at her worst, a great gale
came rushing and roaring across the bog, and when the day broke it
discovered the Patmans' brown thatch-slope interrupted by a gaping
crevasse, over which a quick-plashing rain-sheet quivered.

The widow M'Gurk had less spare room than heretofore at her disposal now
that she harboured a co-tenant, with a slight accession of tables and
chairs. Yet she made out a dry corner for the child and her grandfather,
who accepted these quarters in preference to any others, because the
widow, whatever may have been her private views, was prevented by a
mixture of contrariness and magnanimity from joining in the general
denunciation of her former allies, compromising as were the
circumstances under which they had elected to take their departure. In
her society, therefore, he was not obliged to overhear trenchant
criticisms upon his Tom's behaviour, and could dilate, at least
uncontradicted, upon those gifts and graces in the young man, which
recent events had certainly placed in some need of exposition.

Other disquieting voices there were, however, which he could not dodge,
and they spoke louder every day. For his five shillings were melting,
dwindling--had vanished; and Lisconnel, with the best will in the world,
could ill brook a burden of two incapables more laid upon its winter
penury. No word on the subject had reached the old man's outer ears; but
as Katty struggled slowly and fractiously towards convalescence, it
became clearer in his mind that unless something happened, she must,
when well enough to be moved, seek change of air away at the big House.
Perhaps this prospect was now more constantly before him than even the
thought of Tom's filial virtues, as he sat drearily on the bank by the
widow M'Gurk's door. He might often be seen to shake his head
despondently, and then he was probably saying to himself: "Belike he
thought bad of me, keepin' the bit of money unbeknownst."

By that time he had abandoned the joke theory, and fixed his hopes upon
the arrival of a letter to explain the mysterious nocturnal flitting,
and say whither they had betaken themselves after passing through
Duffclane, the furthest point to which the detective forces of the
district had tracked the party. Young Dan O'Beirne, whose work brought
him daily up from down below to the forge a long way on the road toward
Lisconnel, had safely promised to convey this letter so far whenever it
came; and on many a day the neighbours nodded commiseratingly to one
another as they saw "the ould crathur, goodness may pity him, settin'
off wid himself" in quest of it. The prompt January dusk would have
already fallen before he struggled up the Knockawn, to be greeted by the
widow in the tone of marked congratulation which our friends sometimes
adopt when all reason for it is conspicuously absent: "Well, man alive,
there wouldn't be ere a letter in it this day anyway."

"Och tub-be sure, not at all," he would answer cheerfully, "I wouldn't
look to there bein' e'er a one sooner than to-morra. I hadn't the notion
of expectin' a letter whatever. 'Twas just for the enjoyment of the bit
of a walk I went."

"Why tub-be sure it was. But be comin' in, man, for you're fit to dhrop,
and be gettin' your ould brogues dhried. Och man, you're dhrownded
entirely; 'tis a mighty soft evenin' it's turnin' out."

"And here's Katty lookin' out for you this great while," Big Anne would
say, "she's finely this evenin', glory be to goodness."



CHAPTER XIII.

A RETURN.


Affairs were much in this posture, when the widow M'Gurk was one day
perplexed by the occurrence of two small incidents. In the first place,
as she was starting on an expedition to the Town she saw at a little
distance something run across the road which looked uncommonly like the
Patmans' black cat Tib. Lisconnel owns no other cats for which she might
have mistaken it; still, as she was puzzled to think how the creature
should have hidden itself away for more than a fortnight, she concluded
that she had been deceived by some fluttering bird or glancing shadow.
In the next place, she happened in the Town upon one Larry Donnelly, who
in the course of conversation remarked: "So you've that young Patman
back wid yous agin. What took him to be leggin' off wid himself that
way?"

"And what put that in your head at all?" said the widow. "Light nor
sight we've seen of him, or a one of them, or likely to. It's off out of
the counthry he is belike, and he after robbin' his ould father, that's
niver done talkin' foolish about him, and lavin' his innicent child to
go starvin' into the Union--bad luck to him." She found a free
expression of her sentiments rather refreshing after the restrictions
under which she was placed at home.

"Well now," said Donnelly, "I'd ha' bet me best brogues I seen that chap
a couple of nights ago streelin' along the road down about our place;
but 'twas darkish enough, and I might aisy be mistook."

The widow pondered much over this statement on her homeward way, but had
the forbearance to say nothing about it. She was still undecided whether
or no she would communicate it to anybody, when, next morning, on her
way for a can of water, she saw the black cat, unmistakable this time,
run across the road, and, as on the day before, make off over the bog
towards the little river. Widow M'Gurk stood staring after it for a few
minutes, and came to a resolution. Then she looked about her, and was
aware of Andy Sheridan's head leaning against his doorpost. Of Andy her
opinion was, as we have seen, rather low, but she could descry no other
person available for her purpose, so she called to him: "Andy, lad, I'm
goin' after me two pullets that's strayed on me; come and be givin' me a
hand." Andy lounged over to her goodnaturedly, and they turned into the
bog, where Ody Rafferty presently joined them. The widow thought her
fowl might be among the broken ground, where the stream runs at the back
of the Knockawn, and the three went in that direction. It was a mild
soft grey morning, and they met with neither stir nor sound, till they
came abruptly upon a grassy hollow, shut in by furzy banks, and fronted
by the running water, and then the widow, who alone had been expecting
the unexpected, uttered a suppressed screech, and said: "Och, boys dear,
goodness gracious guide us!"

What they saw was the figure of a man in a long great-coat, "crooched
all of a hape" under the bank. Near him were ranged in a row half a
dozen oranges, strikin' up a wonderful golden glow. A small grimy scrap
of paper was spread out near them, covered with several piles of
shillings and pennies, and a silver thimble. Beside these Tib the black
cat sat severely tucked up, apparently dissatisfied, and irked by the
situation. At the widow's exclamation the man raised his head, and was
seen to be Tom Patman, looking haggard and dazed, and as hollow-eyed as
little Katty herself. Widow M'Gurk and Ody and Andy stood in a line
facing him.

"Whethen now, Tom Patman," said Ody, "and what might _you_ be doin' wid
yourself?"

"I'm sittin' here," said Tom.

"Och musha, tell us somethin' we don't know then. Sittin' there you are,
sure enough, but what the mischief are you after, might I politefully
ax? or what you mane _by_ it at all at all?"

"I'm sittin' here," said Tom again, "and starvin' I am; and sittin' and
starvin' I'll be morebetoken till the ind of me ould life. Sure what
else 'ud I be doin', and meself to thank for it, wid niver a sowl left
belongin' me in the mortal world, nor a place to be goin' to?"

"Well tub-be sure," said Mrs. M'Gurk, "if that talk doesn't bate all
that iver I heard! And himself after trapesin' off as permisc-yis as an
ould hin that won't sit on her eggs, and lavin' his own flesh and blood
behind him as if they were the dust on the road. And then he ups and
gives chat about niver a sowl bein' left him."

"'Twas Tishy--bad cess to her," said Tom. "Och, but it's the
mischievious ould divil-skins is Tishy M'Crum, and it's herself stirred
up Martha, that wouldn't be too bad altogether if she'd be let alone,
till the two of them had me torminted wid tellin' me th' ould man had
pots of money he'd niver spend as long as he had us to be livin' on; and
that we'd all do a dale better if some of us slipped away aisy widout
risin' a row, and left him for a bit, while we'd be sellin' Martha's
things, and seein' about gettin' into a dacint little place, instid of
the whole of us to be starvin' alive up at Lisconnel, that's nothin'
more than a bog bewitched; and he after lettin' us be sold up, they
said, and all the while ownin' mints of money, so that we'd no call to
be overly partic'lar about lavin' him to make a shift along wid the
child, if 'twas a convanience; on'y he'd be risin' a quare whillabaloo,
if he knew we were goin' off anywheres. Troth, I couldn't tell you all
the gabbin' they had day and night--and showin' me the place he kep' his
bag hidden in, and this way and that way. Och bedad themselves 'ud
persuade the hair on your head it grew wrong side out, if they'd a mind
to it."

"They might so," said Ody, "supposin' I was great gomeral enough to be
mindin' a word they'd say, or the likes of them." In his subsequent
reports of the interview, Ody always alleged that he had replied: "Aye,
very belike, supposin' it grew on the head of an ass," which was
certainly neater. But Ody Rafferty's repartees, like those of other
people, are occasionally belated in this way.

"So the ind of it was," Tom went on, "nothin' else 'ud suit them except
gettin' all readied up for us to be slinkin' out in the evenin' late.
Faith, I'd twenty minds in me heart agin quittin' little Katty, and she
that bad. Howane'er they swore black and white that me father'd be
spendin' all manner of money on her when he got us out of it, and we
were to be writin' for them to come after us as soon as we were settled,
and iverythin' agreeable--so I went along. But if I did, ma'am, sure
when they'd got the bits of furniture sold, the on'y notion they had was
to be settin' off to make fortins in the States, and ne'er a word about
Katty and th' ould man. Och they had me disthracted; outrageous they
were; and that ould thief of the world, Tishy, allowin' me sorra a
penny, so as I mightn't ha' been bound to stop wheriver they was. But
one day they thought they had me asleep in the room-corner, and the two
of them was colloguin' away at the table, so all of suddint Tishy whips
out me poor father's bag, that I knew the look of right well, when he
used to keep his 'baccy in it, and down she slaps it, and it jinglin'
wid money. 'What's that for you?' sez she, and: 'The laws bless us,' sez
Martha, 'is it after takin' that you are? And what's to become of them
crathurs up at Lisconnel?' 'Och blathers,' sez Tishy, 'you needn't be
lettin' on you didn't well know all this while I had it. Sure th'ould
one might ha' plinty more hidden away on us. Anyway, I left them
somethin' to get along wid,' sez she."

"The five shillin's," said the widow. "Och but that one's a caution."

"Rael hard-workin' and industhrious she is," observed Andy.

Tom resumed his narrative: "'Them two'll do as well inside as out,' sez
Tishy. 'I'll just be countin' the bit of silver,' sez she. But bedad I
was fairly past me patience, and up I leps, and I grabbed a hould of the
little bag. Och it's a quare fright I gave them that time, and they not
thinkin' I was mindin', rael terrified they were," said Tom, sitting up
more erect, and recalling this rare experience with evident complacency.
"And 'Lave that, you omadhawn,' sez Tishy, wid the look of a divil on
her,' what foolery are you at now?' 'You thievin' miscreant,' sez I to
her, 'it's shankin' off to the pólis I'll be, and layin' a heavy charge
agin you for robbin' and stealin', and you after lavin' the innicent
child there and th' ould man to starve widout a penny to their names,'
sez I. 'Faugh!' sez she, 'for that matter the fever's liker to have took
her off agin now wid no throuble to be starvin', and maybe a good job
too for iverybody.' And 'Be this and be that,' sez I, 'if I thought
there was e'er a fear of it, 'tis wringin' your ugly neck round I'd be
this instiant.' 'Let go of that bag,' sez she, sweepin' up some of the
shillin's that was spilt. 'The pólis,' sez I, 'and a heavy charge, if
there's another word out of your hijjis head.' 'I vow and declare,' sez
Martha, 'I believe 'twould be the chapest thing we could do wid him, to
let him take it and go. Sure he'd be divil a ha'porth more use for an
immigrant than the ould cat there I was ape enough to bring along to
pacify the childer.' So then Tishy gave some more impidence, but the
last ind of it was we come to an agreement that I'd take the note and
the silver, and they'd keep what bits of gould was in it, and they'd go
off wid themselves wheriver they plased at all, and I'd thramp straight
back here to be lookin' after the child and th' ould man. Ay, bedad, we
settled it up civil enough. And afore I went Martha handed me out th'
ould thimble, and bid me bring it to Katty. ''Twas her mother's,' sez
she, 'I was keepin' for her; and thick it is wid houles be the same
token; but don't say I'd be robbin' it off her.' And they tould me to
take Tib along, or else they'd be lavin' her to run wild; so I put her
in the basket. Begorrah, I believe Bobby had a notion to be comin' wid
me and the cat, for he was lettin' sorrowful bawls the last thing I
heard of him.

"So away I come wid the best of me haste; och I knocked the quare
walkin' out of meself entirely. And I stopped at the last big place I
was passin' to get Katty the oranges. And I was thrampin' it all the
night after, till just when there was a sthrake of the mornin' over the
bog, I come into Lisconnel. But och wirra wirra--the roof's off of the
house--och the look of the black houle wid the rafters stickin' thro'
it, and ne'er a breath of smoke, till me heart was sick watchin' to see
might there be an odd one; and the door clap-clappin'. Sure be that I
well knew the child was dead, and me father quit out of it, or maybe
buried himself, and I after lavin' them dyin' and starvin'. So for
'fraid somebody'd be comin' out and tellin' me, off I run away into the
bog, till I was treadin' here in the could wather. And then I tumbled
th' ould cat out of the basket, that was scrawmin' and yowlin' disp'rit,
and I took and slung the basket into the sthrame--there's the handle
among them rushes--and down I sat under the bank. I dunno how many
nights and days it is at all--but here I'll stop; niver a fut I'll stir
to be lookin' for bite or sup, or lettin' on I'm in it--and anybody may
take the bit of money and welcome; I'd as lief be pickin' up the dirt on
the road--for I'll just give me life a chance to ind out of the world's
misery and disolation."

"Now, may goodness forgive you," said the widow M'Gurk, "it's a poor
case to want the wit. Troth, and yourself's the quare ould
child-desertin', mane-spirited, aisy-frighted slieveen of a young
bosthoon; but what sort of a conthrivance is it you have on you at all
at all be way of a head that you couldn't have the sinse to considher
the roof blowin' off a body's house 'ud be raison enough for them to be
quittin' out of it, and no signs of dyin' in the matter? D'you think the
win' was apt to be waitin' till there happened to be nobody widin, afore
it got scatterin' the thatch? God help us all, you've little to do to be
squattin' there talkin' about disolations and miseries, wid the two of
them this instiant minyit sittin' be the fire up at my place, and sorra
a hand's turn ailin' them, forby Katty's a thrifle conthráry now and
agin, thro' not bein' entirely strong yet."

"And bedad at that hearin'," reports of the occurrence used to proceed
from this point, "the lep he gathered himself up wid, and the rate he
legged it off--musha, he was over the hill while we were pickin' up his
things for him. And as for th' ould cat that he tripped over, it rowled
three perch of ground before it got a hould of its four feet."

"Sure we were sittin' there as quite as could be consaived"--the
conclusion of this precipitate rush was thus recounted--"when all of a
suddint we couldn't tell what come bouncin' in at the door, as if it had
been shot out of the inds of the earth, and had us all jumpin' up and
screechin', till we seen it was on'y Tom Patman, and he in such a takin'
you might suppose he thought somethin' 'ud swally up ould Joe and the
child on him before he could get at them."

Lisconnel's opinion was divided as to whether Tom would actually have
stayed and starved in his hiding-place had he not been discovered. Mrs.
M'Gurk thought it likely enough. "The cat goin' back and for'ards that
way," she said, "gave her an idee there was somethin' amiss in it, and
that was why she took Andy along. 'Deed and she got a quare turn when
first she spied the chap croochin' under the bank--she couldn't tell but
he might ha' been a corp."

Brian Kilfoyle's view was: "Divil a much! Sure if he'd had e'er a notion
to be doin' anythin' agin himself, there was plinty of deep bog-houles
handy for him to sling himself into, and have done wid it." Whereupon
Mrs. Sheridan crossed herself and said deprecatingly: "Ah, sure, belike
the crathur wouldn't have the wickedness in him to go do such a thing."
Her husband didn't know but he might. "Them soft sort of fellers 'ud
sometimes stick to anythin' they took into their heads, the same as a
dab of morthar agin a wall." And Ody Rafferty supposed the fact of the
matter was, "that if be any odd chance they got a notion of their own,
they mistook it for somebody else's."

On one point, however, the neighbours, Mrs. M'Gurk not excepted, were
practically unanimous, the utter flagitiousness, namely, of Tishy
M'Crum. There was a tendency to begrudge her the trivial merit of having
voluntarily left behind her the five-shilling piece. For this marred
that perfect symmetry of iniquity which is so pleasant to the eye when
displayed by people of whom we "have no opinion." Only Mrs. Brian said
it was a mercy she had that much good nature in her itself. But even she
added that the fewer of them kind of folks she saw comin' about the
place, the better she'd be pleased, and she hoped they'd got shut of
them for good and all.

This aspiration seemed the more likely to be fulfilled, when within a
week or so the Patmans heard from the family of Tom's first wife, who
held out prospects of work for himself, and a home for Katty and his
father--a proposal which was gladly accepted. Their departure left as
the single trace of their sojourn in Lisconnel, Tib the cat, which
remained behind, a somewhat unwelcome bequest to the widow M'Gurk.
Indeed, I fear the creature became a source of some annoyance to her,
because Andy Sheridan contracted a habit of addressing it by the name of
Tishy, and bestowing upon it the same laudatory epithets with which the
widow had been wont to justify her admiration for the energetic sisters.

It was on a hushed February morning that the Patmans finally departed.
The smell of spring was in the air, and filmy silvery mist had begun to
float off the dark bogland in vanishing wreaths, soft and dim as the
frail sloe-blossom, already stolen out over the writhen black branches
up on the ridge. A jewel had been left in the heart of every groundling
trefoil and clover-leaf, and the long rays that twinkled to them were
still just tinged with rose. Here and there a flake of gold seemed to
have lit upon the clump of sombre green furze-bushes, by which
neighbours in a small knot stood watching the three generations of
Patmans dwindle away down the road with its narrow dewy grass-border,
threading the vast sweep of sky-rimmed brown. Father and son walked,
while little Katty bobbed along, balanced in a swaying donkey-pannier.
The widow M'Gurk, who felt a good deal of concern about the destiny of
her late lodgers, hoped "they were goin' to dacint people, for there
wasn't as much sinse among the three of them as you'd put on a fourpenny
bit." And Mrs. Quigley thought "'twould be hard to say which the young
man or ould one was the foolishest; for the blathers ould Joe talked
about Tom, and the gaby Tom made of himself over the child, now that he
had his own way wid her, was past belief."

"And I can tell you," said Ody Rafferty, "there's folks goin' about that
you'll want all the wits you iver had, and maybe a thrifle tacked on, to
get the better of rightly."

"Augh, I question will they iver do any great things, goodness help
them," said Mrs. Sheridan. "'Twill be much if he keeps them outside the
House."

"Well, anyway," said Biddy Ryan, "I'd liefer be in their coats, for
fortin or no fortin, than like them two ugly-tempered women, settin' off
to the dear knows where, after robbin' and plunderin' all before them."

"Thrue for you, then, Biddy," said Mrs. Brian, turning away from her
wide outlook, "we're none so badly off, when we're stoppin' where we
are, instid of streelin' about wid the notion of such black villinies
in our minds. For sure enough," she said, as she faced round towards the
grey-peaked end-walls, and smoke-plumed thatch of Lisconnel, "the
world's a quare place to get thravellin' thro', take it as you will."



CHAPTER XIV

GOOD LUCK


Although Laraghmena is no great distance from Lisconnel as the crow
flies, but little intercourse takes place between the two hamlets. For
the crow's flight would be over a rugged mountain ridge, sinking into a
trackless expanse of bog, which often spreads rough and wet walking
before wayfarers who have to experience it at closer quarters than those
who merely throw down a flapping shadow as they pass. And round by the
road is a good long tramp, not to be lightly undertaken. So it does not
happen half a dozen times in the year, perhaps, that anybody comes from
thence to Lisconnel, and our visits thither are fewer still. The
neighbours say that the people up there do be very poor entirely, and
are wont to use a commiserating tone when speaking of them. But their
knowledge of the locality and its inhabitants is by no means intimate,
and would be even less so, were it not that Theresa Joyce and her
brother Mick, the remnant of Mrs. Kilfoyle's family, are now living
there, which makes a connecting link.

Laraghmena is scattered rather wildly over the slopes of a grey mountain
that shoulders the sea at the point where its foam comes nearest to
Lisconnel. Some of the cabins stand so low along the shore that the
shingle knocks clatteringly at their doors when the tide is full and
rough; and other some are perched so high up on the hillside that they
constantly disappear from view behind a curtain of the pale mists which
haunt its summit, creeping to and fro. When one of these little white
dwellings, with its field-fleck beside it, emerges from the clouds, you
feel as if the slightly improbable had happened, since at such a height
you would have expected nothing but the appropriate rocks and swampy
patches. There was once a French princess who would no doubt have
wondered why on earth any people should choose to live and farm in such
unchancy places. Rather than that she would have ploughed herself up a
little bit of the rich green land which spreads in broad tracts round
about, with sometimes sheep nibbling over it, and here and there a few
deer. But the views of this young lady are represented as having been so
far in advance of her age that she seems hardly possible as an
historical personage, and withdraws into the myth-mists. To that region
certainly belongs the ancient chronicle in which we read how the Irish
Nemedians, revolting against the intolerable deal of cream and butter
and wheaten meal exacted from them by their oppressors, the Fomorians,
those ferocious African pirates, emigrated to Hellas, in hope of better
things, but were at last driven back home to escape the heavier yoke of
the Athenians, who compelled them to: "Dig clay in the valleys, and
carry it in leathern bags to the top of the highest mountains, and the
most craggy rocks, in order to form a soil upon those barren places, and
make them fruitful, and able to bear corn." That history should repeat
itself is, of course, to be recognised as merely a commonplace fact; but
a myth reproducing itself in the shape of events happening visibly
before our eyes, is a rarer phenomenon. And it seems to be occurring
whenever a string of Laraghmenians come plodding up their winding
mountain-path under the burden of heavy creels filled with earth, or
oftener with slippery brown sea-wrack and leathery weed. For it is in
this way that whatever scanty foothold their starveling crops may find,
has been fashioned and maintained in the stony little fields. Year by
year, as the blustery days of late autumn darken into winter, the
steep-ledged path is wetted all along with sea-water, and bestrewn with
dark trails and tough tawny pods out of the dripping creels, until it
grows as sharply ocean-odorous as the beach, while the many bare feet
are continually toiling slowly up and quickly pattering down it. Yet
their efforts are rewarded by only meagre and stunted growths; so
intractable is the material upon which they are expended. Micky Joyce
has been heard to declare, as he took a despondent bird's-eye view of
his holding, that "you might as well be thryin' to raise crops in the
crevices of the stone walls."

However, as we were just now shown, these dwellers at Laraghmena have
another resource to fall back upon. In fact, they have nothing less than
the wide sea as a supplement to their bit of land. The queer small boats
hauled up on the strand, and the dark-brown net festooning the rafters,
betoken that, as does also the bit of salt-fish hung against the wall,
pallid and juiceless, a shadowy, wraith-like looking viand. But the
bounty of the sea has limits; it does not yield up its stores for
nothing, but takes as well as gives. And it helps itself sometimes on a
liberal scale. Some years ago, for instance, it took poor Thady Joyce
and several of his companions, who had gone off in a couple of luggers
after the herrings. The event is remembered with awe at Laraghmena,
because in that wild March gloaming Con the Quare One had met Thady
himself face to face stepping up the winding path, and had given him
good evening, and asked him how he had got all dripping wet, just at the
very time when the unlucky lad must have been lying drowned miles and
miles from there, among the surges of Galway Bay. Other such toll has
often been levied since then; for the curraghs and pookawns in which
Laraghmena goes to sea are frail craft to cope with the billows come
rolling, maybe, from the fogbanks of Newfoundland, and blasts that have
cooled their breath among hills of ice before they sweep across the
Atlantic. Now and then a boat comes to grief even on the short voyage
made for the purpose of cutting wrack from the shelves of the black-reef
that lies a bit off the shore. So, on the whole, the inhabitants of
Laraghmena may be considered to pay dearly for their supplies of fish
and seaweed; and we at Lisconnel, though we live beyond reach of such
things, and have few substitutes for them, are not far wrong in speaking
of the people up there as "rael poor entirely."

Yet they themselves would not by any means have it supposed that they
"think bad," as they call it, of their fortunes and habitation. On the
contrary, whatever their private opinion may be, they are disposed to
uphold the merits of the place in public, and to prove themselves sudden
and quick in resentment of any outsiders' disparaging criticism. The
most deadly insult that can be offered to a Laraghmenian as such, is an
allusion to the libellous report which has somehow become current to the
effect that his Riverence at Drumroe, the nearest parish, always sends
over a special messenger on Saturday night to remind them of the
morrow's Mass; the innuendo being that Laraghmena's out-of-the-way
situation, and general want of culture, preclude its inhabitants from
knowing the day of the week. This is why an innocent-seeming remark such
as, "Well, boys, it's Tuesday this mornin'," has been known to set
blackthorns whirling wildly.

Something of the sort occurred at Sallenmore fair, one day in last
September, when Matt Doyne and Andy Sheridan from Lisconnel fell in with
their acquaintances, Larry Sullivan and Felix Morrough, from Laraghmena.
After they had fought as long as seemed good to them, they exchanged
what news they had. The most important piece was that Larry and Felix
were presently setting off to the States. They were rather urgent in
advising the other two lads to join their party; but Andy said that
everything would go to sticks at home if he was out of it, and Matt
averred that his mother would be of the opinion she was lost and kilt
entirely, if he so much as mentioned any such an idea. "And herself wid
your brother Terence at home to be keepin' her company," objected Felix.
"Sure there's me mother wid ne'er another crathur in the world, you may
say, but meself, and she's never done this last six months persuadin' me
to go along."

"Then it's the quare woman she must be, bedad," said Matt, "unless it's
yourself's the quare bosthoon on her entirely, and maybe that's liker;"
a rejoinder which brought on a renewal of hostilities.

Just at this time a spell of fine weather, very bright and serene, had
been brooding over Lisconnel. It was the early spring of autumn, when
leaves and berries here and there were taking a blossom-like vividness;
the frost-touched brier-sprays seemed to have found and dipped in the
same red that had dyed the young buds and shoots of April. The air was
so still that the seeded dandelions stood day after day with their fairy
globes unbereft of a single downy dart, like little puffs of vapour
among the grasses. A soft mist rounded off all the bogland, holding in a
drowse the sunbeams that steeped it, and letting them waken to their
full golden glory at the very heart of noon. But one morning the haze
began to thicken and darken on the horizon, as if wafts of murky smoke
were blown through it, and towards evening massy shapes of black clouds
came slowly lifting themselves up, some with outlines curved like bosky
clumps of wood, some ruggedly ledged and angled like a drift of begrimed
icebergs. By sunset the far west was all a sullen gloom veined with
lurid, tawny streaks, and mottled with deeper stains. Old Peter
Sheridan, who is reputed to have "a great eye for the weather," turned
it forebodingly upon the prospect, and said the sky was "the moral for
all the world of the back of an ould brindled bull, and he'd never
known any good come of that manner of apparance."

And true for him. Before sunrise next morning Lisconnel was roused by
the réveille of a crashing thunder-peal, which preluded a violent storm.
It is seldom that one booms and rattles so loudly over our bogland, or
glares with so fierce a flame. Brian Kilfoyle, taking a rapid
observation through his door, said, "Be the powers of smoke, I never
seen the aquil of that. You might think they was after whitewashin' the
whole place wid blindin' fire. Here's out of it, sez I." And he
retreated blinking to his dark corner. At the height of it, even Andy
Sheridan, who is probably our freest thinker, felt secretly relieved to
know that his stepmother and his sisters were saying their prayers. The
arrangement seemed to give him a sense of security without claiming any
concessions from his superior strength of mind. But in the end the
perilous clouds rolled away growling and gleaming towards the mountains
and the sea, leaving only one victim behind--the Quigley's little goat,
who had been struck dead by a lightning flash, to the sorrow of her
owners, and the awe of all Lisconnel in contemplation of the black and
white body stretched out still on her wide grazing-ground.

The storm, however, seemed to have broken up the fair weather, and the
days that followed it were blustery and rainy. On the next of them Larry
Sullivan and Felix Morrough were seen passing through Lisconnel,
evidently equipped for a journey. Larry, who had parted from no near
friends, was apparently in good spirits; but Felix looked so much cast
down that his contemporaries refrained from any references to the days
of the week, and the pair went on their way unmolested amongst the
lengthening shadows. They reported the storm to have been terrific
altogether up at Laraghmena. The Widdy Bourke's thatch was set in a
blaze, "and it was a livin' miracle that the whole of them wasn't
frizzled up like a pan of fryin' herrin's."

It may have been ten days or so after this that a good many of the
neighbours had dropped in one evening at Mrs. Doyne's. She had been
ailing of late, and old Dan O'Beirne had stepped up from the forge to
prescribe for her, and cheer her with accounts of how finely young Dan
and her daughter Stacey were getting on at their place down below in
Duffclane. The rest of the party had assembled merely for company and
conversation. It included members of nearly all our families--Kilfoyles
and Quigleys and Ryans and Raffertys and the Widdy M'Gurk and Big Anne.
Presently Judy Ryan, who was looking out of the door, had an
announcement to make.

"Whethen now, and who might yous be when you're at home? There's two
women comin' along the road from Sallinbeg ways, I dunno the looks of at
all, I should say; but the rain's mistin' thick between me and them.
Carryin' bundles they are. If they're not any of the Tinkers we're right
enough. One of them's a little ould body, and the other's a good size
bigger. Strangers they are. Och, mercy on me, have I eyes in me head at
all? How strange she is! Sure it's Theresa Joyce herself. But we haven't
seen her this great while, and who she has along wid her I couldn't be
tellin' you. A feeble sort of crathur she looks to be, accordin' to the
way she's foostherin' along."

When these two travellers arrived at the Doynes' door, nobody failed to
recognise Theresa Joyce, notwithstanding the estrangement of a long
absence; and she hastened to introduce her unknown companion, who kept a
tight clutch on her arm, as if afraid to let go, and looked at nobody's
face, but seemed to listen from one to the other. She was, it appeared,
the widow Morrough from Laraghmena, who had been struck blind by the
lightning in the great storm Friday was a week--the sight of her eyes
clean destroyed with one flash as she was throwing a bit of food to the
fowl at her door. And the last child she had belonging to her set off
the next morning to the States. And now she herself was going into the
Union down at Moynalone, for what else could she be doing, that couldn't
see her hand before her face? So Theresa was bringing her down, and they
thought they might have got as far as Duffclane against night; but the
creature wasn't well used yet to walking in the dark, so they were slow
coming, and they'd hardly do it.

Such was the outline of Mrs. Morrough's history up to date, and its
rehearsal had at once the effect of arousing a sympathetic bustle about
her, which did not subside until she sat a wet and wayworn guest, in the
most comfortable hearth-corner, and had been provided with a cup of the
tea that Mrs. Doyne had made herself in her character of an invalid. She
now sat on one side of the blind woman, and stirred her tea for her, and
on the other Dan O'Beirne shook his head in regretful confirmation of
the opinion pronounced by the Drumroe doctor, which was reported to be
that mortal man couldn't do her a thraneen of good. Meanwhile Theresa
Joyce, who was likewise bedrenched and weary, found a seat in the
opposite corner, where her nearest neighbours were Ody Rafferty, and her
niece-in-law, Mrs. Brian Kilfoyle, with her daughter Rose.

"Well, Theresa, it's the long while since you've stepped over to see
us," Ody said, starting the conversation, "and it's the soft evenin'
you've chose to be comin'. Your shawl's dhreeped. Take it off, and I'll
give it a shake above the fire. Bedad, Theresa, the two of us has been
wearin' the dusty male-bags on our heads since the time I seen you
first. As black as a sloe you was; but now it's liker the blossom it's
turned."

"And time for it," said Theresa. "Sure I'm over sivinty year of age now,
any way, every day of it--and the long days there was among them, God
knows."

"But wid all that, ne'er a one of them was long enough for you to be
findin' a man to your mind in it," said Ody. "And I declare to goodness
I dunno but maybe it's the very sinsible woman you were for that same.
Sure meself was a great while afore ever I thought of axin' Biddy, and
for anythin' I can tell I might ha' done better if I'd held me tongue a
bit longer and then said nothin', as the sayin' is. I was ould enough to
know me own mind any way. But, musha, for that matter, Rose there 'ill
prisintly be settin' up to think she's ould enough to know hers, and
it's twinty chances if she has as much wit as you."

"And why would she," said Theresa, "or anybody be wishin' it to her? Oh,
let that alone. There's a dale of diff'rint sorts of wit, and no raison
why one of them shouldn't be as good as another. Look at her
grandmother, me sister Bessy, it's plinty of paice and comfort she had
wid her marryin'."

This was quite true, as although she had been rather early widowed, and
her only daughter had married an emigrant, her son and his wife had
taken such care of her, and made so much of her, that the neighbours had
never thought of calling her the widdy, a title reserved for a woman
left struggling alone; and she had remained Mrs. Kilfoyle to the end of
her days.

"And look at the poor crathur there, what she's come to," said Ody,
instancing the tragical figure of the widow Morrough.

"Ah, the saints may pity her," said Theresa. "But the likes of such bad
luck happins few people married or single, thank God."

"It's a quare unnathural young villin her son must be," said Mrs. Brian,
"to skyte off and lave her that-a-way. Sorra the bit he can be good
for."

"'Deed, now, Norah woman, that's the very notion is disthressin' me,"
said Theresa, "for I dunno but it's after usin' him ill, I am. You see
the way of it was the poor sowl--poor Mrs. Morrough--had the great dread
of the say upon her, be raison of her husband and her father gettin'
dhrowned at the fishin', so she'd always the fear in her mind of the
same thing happ'nin' her couple of boys. Howane'er, the eldest of them
went off to California a good few years back, and was doin' pretty
middlin' well out there the last she heard of him, but that's a long
while ago now; about gettin' married he was. But Felix, the lad she had
at home wid her until the other day, often enough he was bound to be on
the wather, after the fish and the sayweed, if he was to get his livin'
at all. And disthracted she was seem' him goin' out in their ould boat,
that's laiks enough in her to sink the biggest ship ever set sail, and
herself wid scarce the width to hould a sizable flounder. Sez I to Felix
one wild evenin', when we was argufyin' wid him, that sure the little
loadin' he could be puttin' in her 'ud never be worth losin' his life
for. But sez he to me, the bit of food they'd put in their mouths was
littler agin, and yet they might be losin' their lives for want of it.
And ne'er a word had I to say to that. But one night last winter he was
as nearly lost as anythin' in a squall, and after that his mother would
be tormintin' herself worse than she was before. So she set her heart
entirely on gettin' him to take off to the States, and be out of the way
of fishin' and dhrowndin'. She'd ha' gone wid him herself, on'y they
said she was too ould, and spoilin' his chances she'd be. A long while
it was before he'd hear any talk of it. The whole summer she was
persuadin' him; but at last he made up his mind he would. 'Twas no
notion of his own to be lavin' her, I'll say that for him."

"Whethen now, but that was as curious a plan as ever I heard tell of for
keepin' a person from dhrowndin'," said Ody; "to be sendin' him off over
the rowlin' says, sailin' goodness can tell you how many hunderds and
tousands of miles. What was she dhramin' of at all at all to go do such
a thing?"

"Ah, but sure it's a diff'rint sort of sailin'," said Theresa. "Why,
they say one of them big stamers 'ud carry a couple of our little boats
along wid her, and you'd scarce notice she had them on board. Terrible
safe they must be if they're that size."

"And morebetoken," said Mrs. Brian, "there's such a sight of ships
comin' and goin' between this and the States, wouldn't you think that
agin now they'd ha' got a kind of track line, crossin' over, as if it
was a manner of road they was follyin' that nothin's apt to happen them
on, and not sthrayin' about permisc-yis in the storms?"

"_Thrack?_" said Ody, shrilly. "Bedad, then, its the quare thrack, and
the quare places it brings them into. D'you know that, for one thing,
they go slap through the Bay of Bisky?"'

"And is that an ugly bay?" said Mrs. Brian.

"You may call it that. I wouldn't be sayin' so to herself over there,"
said Ody, with much careful mystery. "For it might be on'y discouragin'
the crathur worse than she is already. But it's the place where the
Seven Oceans of the World meet. Ay, indeed, ma'am--but don't be lettin'
on to her. I was spakin' to a man who had a brother went through it, and
he said the ragin' and tearin' of them all flowin' together 'ud terrify
the sinses out of King Solomon. They had the great big stamer he was in
whirlin' round and round and round, the same as if it was a float on one
of its own paddlewheels, he couldn't tell how many days and nights.
Thracks, how are you. It's a very ready one there is in it to the bottom
of the say."

"Still a good few people gets through it safe enough," said Theresa,
"ay, and comes back through it of an odd while."

"But how many's lost in it that you never hear tell of?" said Ody. "And
besides that, the man I was talkin' to tould me his brother was never
right in his head after the tossin' he got. It's a poor case to be
landin' ravin' mad in a sthrange counthry, supposin' you get there
itself. But me own notion is that if people's well off, they've a right
to stop where they are, and if they're misfort'nit, they've a chance any
way of better bad luck stayin' at home."

Ody stated his own notion authoritatively, and Theresa looked depressed
by the dilemma in which it seemed to place the emigrant.

"'Deed, now, maybe it's a bad turn I'm after doin' the two of them," she
said; "but poor Mrs. Morrough, many a time she sez to me it 'ud be the
greatest comfort to her at all to get quit of the fear she was in
continyal wheniver he went out wid the ould boat. Sure she might be a
bit lonesome, she'd say, but after all what great company was he to her
when half the time she would be drowndin' him under the rowl of the say,
like his poor father and grandfather? And wid the most he could do it's
hard set he was to make what 'ud keep him. So she'd planned she'd be
able to conthrive well enough wid her hins and her spriggin' work, till
Felix could be sendin' her over a thrifle. A very cliver woman she was
at the spriggin'; the handkercher corners she'd work was rael iligant.
Pence a-piece she got for them, and I've known her finish a dozen in
three days.

"Och, but I got a turn on the Friday mornin' when I stepped down to her
place to see what way they were after the storm, and there she was
sittin' crouched up in a corner, and screechin' to me to know who was
comin' in, and I standin' before her eyes in the middle of a sun-bame.
And 'Glory be to God,' sez she, 'that it's yourself, for you'll have the
sinse to give me a hand wid endeavourin' to keep the knowledge of what's
after happenin' me from Felix, the way he won't be purvinted of goin'
to-morra. Sorra a fut would he if he knew aught ailed me; and then sure
he might stay at home for good and all; and dhrownded he'll be, and
meself'ill go deminted.' And sure I thought it was maybe no thing to be
doin', and so I said to her. But it seemed the heart of her was to be
broke altogether if anythin' 'ud hinder him gettin' out of it. And then
I was mindin' the father and grandfather of him, the way they went, and
me brother, poor Thady, and I couldn't tell but I might ha' raison to
think bad of biddin' him stay; and if he did, sure perhaps he couldn't
be keepin' her at all, and she so helpless; it's better able he might be
to help her out in the States. And sorry I'd ha' been to disappoint the
crathur of the first wish she'd took a thought of sittin' in the dark of
her misfortin. So the ind of it was I settled I'd stop wid her for that
day, and thry could we let on there was nothin' amiss when Felix come
in, that was out somewhere since early in the mornin' before the storm
began.

"But 'deed now it was the quare conthrivin' we had after he'd come home.
And where'd he been but off down to Drumroe gettin' her an iligant big
taypot for a keepsake? So the sorra a stim of it, in coorse, could she
see; and I done me best biddin' her look at the grand gilt handle, and
the wrathe of pink roses on it, and she'd say the same thing after me;
but sure its noways very aisy to fall into an admiration of a taypot
you've never set eyes on; and I misdoubt the poor lad thought she wasn't
so much plased with it as he expected. And then he'd be walkin' in and
out, and axin' for this and that he was to put in his bundle; and she
could on'y be tellin' him where to look for them, instid of readyin'
them up for him herself. And the pair of socks she'd promised him she
couldn't get to finish--rael fretted she was wid it all. Howsome'er one
way or the other we made a shift, till poor Felix went off in the grey
of the mornin' wid ne'er a notion of anythin'. Sez he to her: 'You'll be
seem' me steppin' in agin one of these days;' and sez she: 'Ay will
I--as sure as I'll see the sun shinin';' so he consaited she was well
enough contint--but the two of them was thinkin' diff'rint things.

"Ne'er a word of it we said to anybody before Felix was gone, or else
somebody 'ud ha' been safe to ha' tould him, for there's plinty of
people couldn't be goin' about widout tellin' everythin' they hear any
more than a wasp could fly widout buzzin' its wings. And then we got the
docther to her, but he couldn't do e'er a hand's turn. Sure what could
anybody do agin the lightnin', that's a sort of miracle, you may say,
unless it was wid another one?"

"And I dunno has people any call to be settin' themselves up to thry do
them," said Mrs. Brian. "We'd better lave the like to Them that
understands the nathur of such things."

"Ah, I should suppose we'd a right to be thryin' whativer we get the
chance to," said Theresa, "and that's little enough, the Lord knows.
Plinty of things there is kep' up out of the raich of our meddlin' wid
them."

"Ay bedad, or else it's the quare regulatin' we'd be givin' them now and
agin--we would so," said Ody, regretfully. "Och, but there's an odd few
good jobs I'd give more than a thrifle to be puttin' me hand to this
minyit if I could get a hould of them."

"And that's the way it is, I'm afeared, wid the lightnin'-blindin',"
said Theresa. "Howane'er, up at Laraghmena we'd ha' done the best we
could for her, if she'd ha' been contint to ha' sted there; we'd ha'
conthrived among us all to keep her well enough. But not a bit of her
would for all we could do or say. She wouldn't be a burden on the
neighbours she said. You see she's proud in her mind, the crathur,
that's what it is, goodness help her."

"And when a body has that sort of a notion," said Ody, "you might as
aisy crack an egg ind-ways as get it out of their head."

"So that's the way of it," said Theresa. "But if you could be tellin' me
whether it's wrong I done or right, you know more than meself. Felix 'ud
be for killin' me if he knew, that's sartin, and small blame to him I
was thinkin' part of the while comin' along. For bad work there's apt to
ha' been, sure enough, in anythin' that inds in landin' a body in the
Union."

The blind woman in her corner across the hearth seemed to have caught
the last word, for she abruptly said, "Ay, ay, it's there I'm goin', and
the first of the Morroughs iver wint on the rates, or the Conroys
aither. But I'm not takin' their name along wid me; troth no; sorra the
Ellen Morrough 'ill they find in it."

"Sure not at all, woman dear," said Theresa. "Why, Mrs. Doyne, it's
great work the two of us had this day comin' along the road, plannin' a
fine name for Mrs. Morrough to have in the Union', for she sez it's none
any dacint poor people own she'll be bringin' into it. So we've settled
she's to be Mrs. Skeffington Yelverton. That's an iligant soundin' one,
isn't it, ma'am?"

Everybody expressed admiration, and a forlorn glimmer of complacency at
the arrangement passed over even the sorrowful countenance of Mrs.
Skeffington Yelverton herself, as she sat in her ragged old wisp of a
shawl. She was holding under it her grand new delft teapot, whose
beauties she should never see; though by this time much fingering had
made her familiar with the outlines of its raised pink-rose wreath. Then
Theresa Joyce said, "We ought to be steppin' on wid ourselves, if we're
to get to Duffclane before dark. The evenin's took up a bit. I see the
sky there turnin' like goulden glass agin the windy-pane." But the
neighbours protested against their setting forward again; and it was
agreed that they should sleep the night at the Kilfoyles'.

When this point had been decided, Mrs. Morrough said, "Would that be
the say--the rustlin' I hear outside there?"

Upon this people looked ruefully at her and at each other, as if the
question had given them a glimpse into the darkness in which she was
sitting.

"Ah, no, ma'am," said Mrs. Doyne, "that's on'y the sedge-laves in the
win' round the big pool just back of the house. Few days of the year
there is, summer or winter, but they'll be shoosh-sooin' that way. A
dhrary sort of noise it is to my mind. I do be tired listenin' to it in
the night sometimes."

"Sure there's ne'er a dhrop of say-wather nearer us, ma'am, than the
place you're after quittin' out of," said Judy Ryan, "it's the quare
whillaloo it 'ud have to be risin' before we'd hear it that far."

"Well, well," said the blind woman, "yous are the very lucky people, I'm
thinkin', all of yous, that see the shinin' of the sun, and live beyond
the sound of the say."

Her remark was followed by a short silence, during which her hearers
were, perhaps, questing for consolatory rejoinders rather than
congratulating themselves upon their own luckiness. It was Big Anne who
broke the pause, saying, with the best intentions, "Ah, sure, ma'am
dear, plase God, _you_ won't be so, and _we_ won't be so;" a sentiment
which apparently did not meet with the approval of Ody Rafferty, as he
frowned bushily at her and said in a testy undertone, "Musha, good
gracious, woman, what talk have you out of you at all?"

Just at this moment sounds, the nature of which could not easily be
mistaken, rose up close by--shouts and laughter and thumps and trampling
of feet. People who ran quickly to the door were in time to see a knot
of youths fall confusedly out of the house over the way--the
Quigleys'--obviously, to judge by their subsequent proceedings, for the
purpose of continuing a scuffle with ampler elbow room. But it was only
for a very brief space that their wrestling and skirmishing among the
puddles held anybody's attention. That was speedily diverted to the far
more extraordinary and astonishing behaviour of their visitor, Mrs.
Morrough. For she suddenly sprang up off her chair, exclaiming, "Saints
above--it's Paddy--that's Paddy's voice--him that I haven't set eyes on
for nine year next Easter--and there's Felix yellin' too! The both of
them's come back, glory be to God!" And so saying out of the house she
ran, and across the road as straight as a dart, she who not an hour
before had been led gropingly in, and would have put her foot among the
glowing hearth-sods, if her guides had not pulled her away.

The neighbours could at first look on in only mute amazement, but in any
case the two boys and she were for some time so intricately entangled
that any attempt to elicit any explanation would have been futile. When
at last questions and answers were possible, no very lucid account of
the matter was forthcoming. To the many voices that demanded: "Is it
seein' you are, woman alive? Is it seein' you are?" all Mrs. Morrough
could answer was: "Ay, bedad am I, and as well as iver I done in me
life--praise be to goodness. Sure I dunno what way it was, but me sight
came back to me all of a flash, the same as it went, just the very
minyit I was hearin' the lads shoutin'. Och, Paddy, avic, but you're the
grand man grown; and Felix, och now, to be seein' you agin, and
everythin' else as clear as clear. It's meself's the lucky woman this
day--glory be to God and Mary."

In short, the marvellous restoration of her sight is to this day a
miracle, very freshly in remembrance at Lisconnel and Laraghmena, where
the inhabitants know little about paralysed optic nerves, and might
perhaps continue to wonder none the less even if they knew more. Beside
it the unexpected reappearance of the two young Morroughs seemed almost
a commonplace incident, though Paddy's fine new suit and gold
watch-chain were, indeed, very exceptional things at Lisconnel. His
story ran that he had prospered highly of late out in California, having
made enough to set him up grandly on a good bit of land in the old
country, and give Felix a fair start, and keep the old mother in comfort
all the rest of her life. With which objects in view they had landed at
Queenstown, he and his wife, a girl belonging to very respectable,
decent people in the county Wicklow. "So next mornin', walkin' along the
Quay, who should I see but me gintleman there, and another chap along
with him, and both of them lookin' as wild as if they'd been caught. And
says I to Sally, 'You bet, that's Felix from our place at home;' and
right I was, and just slick in time to stop him goin' on board." Paddy
had then left his wife with her family in Wicklow, where he had seen a
promising farm; and he and Felix were now on their way to fetch their
mother thither.

"And it's in the quare consternation you'd ha' been," said Theresa
Joyce, "if you'd landed up at Laraghmena, and found her quit out of it
the way she was."

"And that would ha' happint us," said Felix, "if it hadn't been for
young Dan Ryan in there just now passin' the remark that we couldn't
expec' Father Martin to be sendin' us notices all the way to the County
Cork, and supposin' I'd very belike missed the right day for the stamer
be raison of it. For if we hadn't got fightin' and tumblin' out of the
house, you might aisy ha' gone along wid yourselves, and niver known we
were in the place at all. 'Twas great luck entirely."

Fortune, in truth, had seemingly taken Mrs. Morrough and her affairs
into the highest favour. Even the luck-insurance of a trivial loss was
not wanting to her, as in her hasty exit she had dropped her new teapot,
which broke into many pieces on Mrs. Doyne's floor. So that, as has been
said, she never beheld it in its beauty. But the very skies had cleared
above her head, swept by a waft of wind that scattered the clouds faster
and further than a drift of withered leaves, and the sinking sun
broadened in splendour before the eyes that had lost sight of him
through ten interminable days. The wet stones on the road glistened like
jewels, and the shallowest pools between them held unfathomed deeps of
blue, when the Morroughs set off for Laraghmena, where they intended to
sleep the night, and bid their friends farewell. "And if it's themselves
won't be in the fine astonishment when they set eyes upon you, woman
dear!" said Theresa Joyce, "for if you'd been twenty year away
thravellin' the world crooked and straight, you couldn't ha' come back a
diff'rinter crathur from what you were, and we settin' out this woeful
mornin'. Little notion you had what was comin' to you, and it all the
while runnin' up your road, so to spake, like the sun racin' the shadows
on a windy day. 'Deed now, I'd be goin' along wid you to hear what
they'll say to it, but I'm ould you see, and ivery step I've thramped I
have the feel of in ivery bone of me body; so I'll stop this night up at
Brian's."

"And bedad, ma'am, it's well off you are, if you've the feel of nothin'
worse in them," said the querulous voice of old Peter Sheridan, whose
acquaintances describe him as being "terrible gathered up with the
rheumatism this great while," so great, in fact, that everybody except
himself has by this time become accustomed to his condition.

For the most part, however, they were rather pleased faces that watched
the three strangers out of sight, the last long beams from the sunset
making blink the eyes of nearly all Lisconnel. The west dispread its
fiery golden bloom wider every moment as the swelling scarlet disc
wheeled lower, burning with orbed flame a hollow path through the
kindled haze. One laggard cloud, a great, soft nest of snow, drifted
into the heart of it, and out of it again, flushed and glistering, and
sailed on, a radiant shape, to meet and eclipse the misty white
ghost-moon, faint and dim in the east. Far away over the level bog the
light was stealing about in streams like water spilt on a floor.

"Well now, I declare," said Mrs. Brian, "it does one's heart good to see
a bit of luck like that happenin' to a body."

"Ay, does it," said Judy Ryan, "the crathur to be gettin' back her sight
just in the right minyit of time to see her son comin' home to her. Sure
now one might take a plisure in plannin' such a thing, if one had the
managin' of them."

"Ah, dear, but I wish somebody 'ud be conthrivin' a bit of good luck for
us then," said Mrs. Quigley.

"Maybe there's plinty more where that's comin' from," suggested Brian
Kilfoyle, hopefully.

"It's apt to stay there, then," quoth Mrs. Quigley, "for any signs I can
see."

"Ay, ma'am, that's me own notion," said Peter Sheridan, bitterly; "I'm
thinkin' we'll have to be goin' there, wheriver it is, and lookin' after
it for ourselves, if it's good luck we're a-wantin'."

"And I dunno what better we could be doin'," said Theresa Joyce, "than
goin' where it is, when we get the chance. Ah, there's the last of the
sun," she said, as a quivering red shaft shot up suddenly, and trembled
away into nothing on the air. "Ay, for sure, he goes down a great way
off out on the bog; the crathur 'ud ha' been plased to see it. 'Deed no,
I dunno anythin' better we could be doin' than goin' after our good
luck."

So all through that gathering twilight Mrs. Morrough and her two sons
were journeying away with their high fortune to Laraghmena. They were
still on the road long after the clear moon had filled the air with
shimmering silver, and sent their shadows stretching darkly far over the
frosted grass. But Lisconnel had gone to seek, for the time being, its
good luck in the land of dreams.



Transcriber's Notes:

This book contains inconsistent use of "'ill" contracted with the
previous word.  See Page 29: "The lads 'ill be" and Page 87: "the
Union'ill be shut."  These have been left as in the original.

There are also some inconsistent spellings in the dialect that have been
left alone. For instance, iligant and illigant.





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