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Title: Candle and Crib
Author: Purdon, Katherine Frances, 1852-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Candle and Crib" ***

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                            CANDLE AND CRIB

                             [Illustration]

                            By K. F. PURDON.

                      Illustrated by BEATRICE ELVERY.



                            _BY THE SAME AUTHOR_

                           THE FOLK OF FURRY FARM


                [Illustration: "AS SOON AS HE WAS GONE,
                DIDN'T THE WOMAN THROW DOWN HER KNITTING,
                AND LAID HER HEAD UPON HER KNEES, AND CRIED"]

                           MAUNSEL & COMPANY, LTD.

                          DUBLIN AND LONDON · 1914



                                  CONTENTS

      CHAP.                                                    PAGE

       I. MOLONEY'S                                               1

      II. THE STABLE                                             10

     III. THE LETTER                                             18

      IV. THE CRIB                                               34



                              CANDLE AND CRIB



                                 CHAPTER I

                                 MOLONEY'S


It would be hard to find a pleasanter, more friendly-looking place in
all Ardenoo than Moloney's of the Crooked Boreen, where Big Michael and
the wife lived, a piece up from the high-road. And well might you call
the little causey "crooked" that led to their door! for rough and stony
that _boreen_ was, twisting and winding along by the bog-side, this way
and that way, the same as if it couldn't rightly make up its mind where
it wanted to bring you. So it was all the more of a surprise when you
did get to Moloney's, to find a house with such an appearance of comfort
upon it, in such a place.

Long and low that house was, and very old. You could tell the great age
of it by the thickness of the thatch, as well as by seeing, when you
were standing inside upon the kitchen floor and looking up, that that
same thatch was resting, not upon common planks, sawn with the grain and
against the grain and every way, but upon the real boughs themselves,
put there by them that had to choose carefully what would be suitable
for their purpose, because there were few tools then for shaping timber.
So that's how the branches were there yet, the same as ever, bark and
twigs and all; ay, and as sound as the day they were put there, two
hundred years before.

As for the walls at Moloney's ... mud, I'm not denying it! but the
thickness of them! and the way they were kept white-washed, inside and
out! They'd dazzle you, to look at them; especially in the kitchen of an
evening, when the fire would be strong. And that was a thing that
occurred mostly always at Moloney's. For Herself was a most notorious
Vanithee; and there's no better sign of good housekeeping than a clean,
blazing hearth. Sure isn't that, as a body might say, the heart of the
whole house? Heart or hearth, isn't it all the one thing, nearly? For if
warmth and comfort for the body come from the one, doesn't love and
pleasant kindness come from the other? Ay, indeed!

And now, here was the Christmas Eve come round again, when every one
puts the best foot foremost, whether they can or not. And so by
Moloney's. The darkness had fallen, and a wild, wet night it was, as
ever came out of the heavens. But that only made the light seem the
brighter and more coaxing that the fire was sending out over the
half-door, and through the little, twinkling bulls'-eyes windows, as if
it was trying to say, "Come along in, whoever you are that's outside in
the cold and the rain! Look at the way the Woman has the floor swept,
till there isn't a speck upon it! and the tables and stools scoured like
the snow, and the big old pewter plates and dishes upon the dresser
polished till they're shining like a goat's eyes from under a bed! Come
in! Sure every one is welcome here to-night, whether they come or not!"

And still in all...!

Well, one look round would tell you, with half an eye, that something
was wrong at Moloney's, Christmas Eve and all as it was. For Big Michael
himself was standing there in the kitchen, cracking his red, wet fingers
one after the other, and looking most uncomfortable. The wet was running
down from his big frieze coat, but it wasn't that he minded. He was too
well used to soft weather to care about wet clothes. Beside him upon the
floor was the big market-basket, with all manner of paper parcels, blue
and brown, sticking out from under the lid that wouldn't shut down, he
had brought home so much from Melia's shop. But that basket had a
forgotten look about it, because there beside it stood Herself, and she
not asking to unpack it or do a thing with it. She was a little bit of a
woman, that you'd think you could blow off the palm of your hand with
one puff of your breath. As thin as a whip she was, and as straight as a
rush; and she was looking up now at Michael with flaming cheeks and eyes
like troubled waters.

"No letter!" she was saying; "and is it that you brought home no letter,
after you being to the post! Sure it can't be but they wrote to say were
they coming or not, after they being asked here for the Christmas! Sure
I thought you'd surely have word to say when to expect them; and was
thinking even that they might be coming with yourself! Only I suppose
the little ass and dray wouldn't be grand enough for the wife! Of coorse
I didn't think of _her_ writing; she may know no better, and isn't to be
blemt if she has no manners; she can't help the way she was brought up!
But Art! Sure there must be a letter from him...!"

"Wait and I'll try again!" said Big Michael slowly; and then he took to
feel through his pockets again for the letter their son was to have sent
them. But when he had done this, he could only shake his head, so that
the rain-drops fell from his hair and beard--turning brackety grey, they
were, Michael being on in years.

"No, in trath! not as much as one letter have I this night!" he said
slowly.

At this the Woman began to laugh, in spite of the great annoyance that
was on her.

"Sure," she said, "if Mrs. Melia had a letter for us, wouldn't she have
given it to you? What use would _she_ have for it? And if she hadn't,
and told you so, where's the sense in you feeling your pockets over and
over? A body'd think you expected letters to grow there, the same as
American apples in barrels! How could you have there what you didn't put
there? But let you go on off ou'er this now! Look at the state you have
the clean floor in, with the rain dreeping from your _cota-mor_!"

"Coming down it is, like as if it was out of a sieve!" said Michael;
"and wasn't it God that done it, that I took the notion to cut the
holly'n'ivy while the day was someways fine, afore I started off to the
shop! Has it safe below ... so I'll just go for it now, the way we can
be settling out the Crib and all ..."

"There'll no holly'n'ivy go up on these walls to-night, if I'm to be let
have a say in the business!" said Mrs. Moloney. "Sich trash and
nonsense! making mess and trouble for them that has plenty to do without
that! And as for the Crib, let it stop where it is ..."

On the word she went back to her stool in the chimney-corner, where she
always sat bolt upright, and took up her knitting, the same as if it
wasn't the Christmas Eve at all. For Art, their only child, that
stocking was meant. But her hands were shaking so much that she dropped
more stitches off the needles than she made, and still she persevered.
Big Michael looked at her for a bit, very pitiful; even opened his mouth
once, as if he wanted to say something; a nice, silent person he was,
very even-going in himself. But he must have thought better of it, for
he only shook his head again, and turned and went off out of the door
into the wild storm and darkness, with the wind howling and threatening
all about the bog and country-side, the shockingest ever you knew.

And as soon as he was gone, didn't the Woman throw down her knitting,
and laid her head upon her knees, and cried and cried, till her blue
checky apron was like as if it was after being wrung out of a tub of
suds.

"Och, Art!" she'd cry, "isn't this the queer way for you to be going on!
To say you never answered the letter that was wrote to you! This very
day five-and-twenty years you came here to us! as lovely as a little
angel you were! The grand big blue eyes of you! and the way you'd laugh
up at me and put out the little hand...! And you the only one ever God
sent us! And never a word between us, only when you took the notion to
go off to Dublin; sure it near broke our hearts, but what could we do,
only give you our blessing! And ... and then hearing the good accounts
of the way you were going on.... But it's the wife that done it all, and
has him that changed...! Too grand she is, no doubt, for the likes of
us! Och, grand how-are-ye! no, but not half good enough for Art! He that
was always counted a choice boy by all that knew him! And any word them
that saw the wife beyant in Dublin with him brought back, was no great
things. A poor-looking little scollop of a thing, they tell me she is;
and like as if she'd have about as much iday of taking butter off a
churn, or spinning a hank of yarn, as a pig would have of a holiday!
What opinion could any sensible body have of that kind of a wedding,
without even a match-maker to inquire into the thing, to see was it
anyways suitable or not! Och, Art! Art! it's little I thought, this day
five-and-twenty years, the way the thing would be now!"



                                 CHAPTER II

                                 THE STABLE


While poor Mrs. Moloney was fretting like this, and it Christmas Eve and
all, Big Michael was making his way through the wind and the sleety rain
to where he had his stable, a piece off from the house. It was
pitch-dark, so that he couldn't see his hand before his eyes, if he held
it up; but he had his lantern, and anyway he knew his way about
blindfold. But even in daylight you might pass by that stable ready,
unless you knew it was there. For it was very little, and being roofed
with heather it looked only like a bit of the bog that had humped itself
up a bit higher than the rest.

Poor-looking and small as it was, Big Michael was very proud of that
stable. He and Art had built it together, just before Art leaving home.
It was wanted to keep the little wad of hay or straw safe from the
weather, as well as to shelter the cow of a hard night. And after Art
had gone off to the Big Smoke, and for no other reason only getting
restless, as young hearts often do, many and many a time Michael would
slope off to the stable, and sit down there to take a draw of the pipe
and to wish he had his pleasant, active young boy back at home again. He
missed Art full as much as the mother, and maybe more.

In fact, it was getting into a habit with Michael to go off to the
stable. He had the best of a wife, but still there were times when he'd
wish to be with himself somewhere, so that he could take his ease, and
still not be feeling himself an annoyance to a busy woman. Big Michael
himself, the people said, always looked as if he thought to-morrow would
do. But the Woman that owned him was of a different way of thinking,
always going at something. So he got the fashion of keeping out of her
way.

When he got to the stable this night, a bit out of breath with the great
wind, he took notice first of the cow, and he saw that she was
comfortable, plenty of straw to lie upon, and plenty of fodder before
her. So then he bethought him of the little ass that was outside under
the dray yet.

"I'll put her in too!" he thought. "Destroyed she is and quite weakly
with the wet, like all donkeys, God help them! let alone the mud and
gutter she's after travelling through, all that long ways from the shop!
And carrit the things we were in need of, too! I'll let her stand here
near the cow. A good dry bed I'll put under her, and give her a grain of
oats to pet her heart. It'll not go astray with her, and she has it well
earned, the creature!"

So he unyoked the ass and led her into the stable, and rubbed down her
shaggy coat, all dripping like his own clothes, and fed her, and watched
with a curious satisfaction the nice way, like a lady, that she took the
feed he put before her.

"Poor Winny!" he said, rubbing a finger up and down her soft ears;
"many's the time Art laughed at you, and said it was only one remove
from a wheel-barra to be driving you! Ling-gerin' Death is what he used
to call you! But sure you do your best! and if you were the fastest
horse ever won the Grand National, you could do no more!"

He looked round then, with a very satisfied feeling. There he had them,
the two poor animals that depended out of him, but that served him and
his so well, too; had them safe and warm from the storm and rain
outside. He swung the lantern to and fro, so that he could see
everything that was in the stable. One end of it was filled with hay and
straw. The light gleamed here, gleamed there upon the kind, homely
plenty he had stored. Then it fell upon a heap of something else;
something that glistened from many points, green and cheerful.

"The holly'n'ivy," Big Michael thought, "that I cut this morning, and
has it here, the way it would be handy to do out the place in greenery
against Art and the wife would be here! Well, well! I wouldn't wish to
go against Herself, and she so fretted; but sure I might as well not
have cut it at all!"

He stood and stared at it, very mournful in himself. For the best part
of the Christmas to Michael was not the good feeding Herself always
provided, though he could take his share of that, as well as another;
no, but the holly and ivy and the Candle and the Crib; and now she had
set her face against them all. And it wouldn't be Christmas at all, he
thought, without them!

A sudden thought came into his mind.

"Why can't I have it Christmas here," he said to himself, "and not be
letting all these beautiful green branches go to waste! That's what I'll
do!"

And with that, he laid down the lantern, and began to decorate the
little stable. He moved slowly, but the work grew under his hands. He
put the bright, glistening holly in the rack that the cow fed from, and
over the door. And he flung the long curving trails of ivy over the
rafters, so that they hung down, and the whole place became the most
loveliest bower of green that you might ask to see.

He had just put up the last of his green stuff, when the lantern
flickered up and then quenched; it was burnt out.

[Illustration: "BIG MICHAEL CONTRIVED TO LIGHT THE CANDLE"]

"Dear, dear!" thought Michael; "a pity it is to say there's no light to
see it by; even if there's no one to look at it, itself!"

He stood still a bit. It always took Michael a good while even to think.
Then he said to himself, "Wait a bit! go aisy, now, will ye!" as if the
wife was there to be prodding him on. And then he began slowly to
unbutton his coat, and then another under that, and another, and so on,
much like peeling skins off an onion, till at last he came to something
that he drew out very carefully; something long and slim, and that
gleamed white in the light of a match he struck against the wall.

"_There's_ a Christmas Candle for ye!" he said, looking admiringly at
it; "two foot long if it's an inch! Mrs. Melia does the thing right, if
she goes to do it at all, the decent nice poor woman that she is! Gave
me that Candle in a Christmas present; her Christmas box she said it
was, and says she, 'It'll do to welcome Art and the young wife home!'
says she. And so of course it would, if only it was a thing that they
were coming.... But sure, God knows what happened to stop them.... But I
thought it as good say nothing about the Candle, foreninst Herself, to
be making her worse, when I seen the way she was about the Crib itself!
It's a pity she not to see it ..."

Slowly and awkwardly Big Michael contrived to light the Candle and to
set it up in a bucket that was there handy. He steadied it there by
melting some of the grease around it, and made it firm so that it could
not upset to do damage to the stable. Then when it was burning well he
went off, turning when he got out into the storm and darkness outside to
look again at the Candle that was shedding a ray of lovely light far
into the night.

"Ay, indeed!" thought he to himself, with great satisfaction, "it is a
grand fine Christmas Candle, sure enough! And it would be noways right
for us, even if we are only with ourselves to-night, not to have one
lit, the same as every other house in Ardenoo has, the way if any poor
woman with a child in her arms was wandering by, far from her own place,
she'd see the light and know there was room and a welcome waiting there
for them both! Ay, indeed! a great Candle that is, and will last well
and shine across the whole bog! But I wish Mrs. Melia had given me the
letter as well!"



                                CHAPTER III

                                THE LETTER


The queer thing is that Big Michael, slow and all as he was, happened to
be right about the letter from Art. It had been written, and, moreover,
it had reached Ardenoo post-office. But no one knew that for certain, or
what became of it, only a small little pup of a terrier dog belonging to
one of the Melia boys. This pup was just of an age that it was a great
comfort to his mouth to have something he could chew. He was lying
taking his ease, just under the counter where the letters got sorted.
And when, as luck would have it, Art's letter slipped down, of all
others! from the big heap of papers and all sorts that came very plenty
at that Christmas season, this little dog had no delay, only begin on
the letter. In two minutes he had "little dan" made of it!--nothing left
of it only a couple or three little wet rags that got swep' out the next
morning, and never were heard of again. Sure, why would they, when only
the pup knew anything about them? And he couldn't explain the thing,
even if he had wanted to. He escaped a few kicks by that. Still, dogs
often get into trouble the same way, God help them! without having
earned it at all.

Yes, the invitation for the Christmas was answered. The wife, Delia her
name was, had said nothing at first when it came. To tell the truth, she
was well satisfied where she was, with Art and the child all to herself,
in their one room in a back street. Up a lot of stairs it was, too, and
the other people in the house not to say too tasty in their way of going
on. But poor Delia thought it was all grand, with the little bits of
furniture herself and Art would buy according as they could manage it,
and the cradle in the corner by the fire.

Poor Art would smother there betimes, nigh-hand, when he'd think of the
Crooked Boreen, and the wide silence of the bog, with the soft sweet
wind blowing across it, and the cows and all, and the neighbours to pass
the time of day with, let alone the smell of the turf-fire of an
evening! Homesick the poor boy was, and didn't know it.

The way it came about that Art left home was, he got tired of things
there, the very things he wanted now. And there was some said, the
mother was too good and fond with him. She'd lay the two hands under his
feet any hour of the day or night; thought the sun shone out of him, so
she did. And Art was always good and biddable with her; never gave any
back-talk, or was contrary. But all the time he wanted to be himself. He
was much like a colt kept in a stall, well fed and minded, but he wants
to get out to stretch his legs in a long gallop all the time.

So there's why Art went off from Ardenoo to the Big Smoke, and got on
the best ever you knew. He was very apprehensive about machinery, could
understand it well, and got took on by a great high-up doctor to mind
his motor for him. The old people were that proud when they heard of it.

"Sure it's on the Pig's Back Art is now, whatever!" they said, "with his
good-lookin' pound a week!"

Wealth that sounded, away off in Ardenoo. But the sorra much spending
there is in it in a city, where you're paying out for everything you
want. Delia did the best she could with it, but it wouldn't do all she
wanted.

Still, she pleased Art. Small and white in the face she was, as Mrs.
Moloney had imagined her. Sewing she used to be, a bad life for a girl
to be at it all day. But she flourished up well after getting married.
And what Art had looked into, when he was courting, was the big,
longing-looking dark eyes of her, and the gentle voice and ways, and the
clouds of soft brown hair ... well, sure every eye forms a beauty of its
own. But Art might have done worse nor to marry Delia Fogarty that never
asked to differ from a word he said, till the notion came up of they
going to Ardenoo for the Christmas. When the letter asking them came, he
near riz the roof off the house, the shout he gave, he was that
delighted in himself to be going back home.

"But what's a trouble to you, Delia?" he says, when he had time to take
notice that she wasn't looking as rejoiced as he expected, only sitting
there with her eyes upon the child in her arms; "a body'd think you
didn't care about going at all!" he says, half vexed.

"I ... I'd like to go, Art," says Delia, "only I don't know do I want to
go or not.... I ... do you see ..."

"Well ... what?"

"Sure ... maybe ... how do I know will they like me or not! And me coat
all wore ... and ... and, moreover, I never got to get a right sort of a
hood for the child ... or a cloak...."

"Och, what at all, girl dear!" says Art, that was so excited at the
thoughts of getting home that nothing was a trouble to him; "not like
you! What else would they do! And the child ... well, now, isn't it well
we told them nothing about him, the way he'll be a surprise to them now?
The fine big fellah that he is! Sure it would be a sin to go put any
clothes on him at all, hiding the brave big legs of him!"

Delia had to laugh at that; and then Art went out and bought a grand
sheet of note-paper with robins and red berries and "The Season's
Compliments" at the top of it. And Delia wrote the letter upon this,
because she could write real neat and nice. Art told her every word to
say.

     "DEAR FATHER AND MOTHER," it began, "I have pleasure in taking up
     my pen to rite yous those few lines hopping they find yous in good
     health as they leave us at this present thank you and God. I would
     wish my love and best wishes to ..." and there were so many to be
     remembered that Art told Delia to put in "all inquiring friends,"
     and even shortened like that, the list hardly left room for saying,
     "and we will go home for the Christmas and is obliged for the
     kindness of asking and we will go by the last train Christmas Eve
     and let yous meet that with Ling-gerin' Death and the cart and
     we're bringing a Christmas box wid us that yous will be rejoiced to
     see so I will end those few lines from your

                                             "SON AND NEW DAUGHTER."

When that letter was finished and posted, Delia made no more of an
objection to going, only did the best she could, washing and mending her
own little things and the baby's. But let her do her best and they were
poor-looking little bits of duds! And many's the time, when Art was
away, that she'd cry, and wish to herself that there was no such a place
as Ardenoo on the face of this earthly world. But what could she do,
only please Art!

Well, the very evening before they were to start for Ardenoo, didn't Art
come home to her in great humour. "Look at here, Delia!" says he, with a
big laugh; "see the fine handful of money," and he held it out to her,
"that Himself is after giving me in a Christmas box! Now we'll do the
thing in real style! Come along out now, before the shops shut, and
we'll buy all before us!"

Well, if you were to see the two of them that night! the three, indeed,
for Delia wouldn't ever leave the child, only took him with her. To see
them looking in at the grand bright windows full of things! and going
in, Delia half afraid, but Art as loud and outspoken as a lord, spending
free as long as it lasted! To see him then going home with her and the
child, and he all loaded down with parcels! and opened them all out, the
minute they got back! All the things they bought out of that money! A
pipe and tobacco for Michael; a lovely cake with "Merry Christmas" in
pink sugar upon it, for Herself; the grandest of brown shoes and a hat
and feather for Delia, and as for the baby!... Delia could scarce
believe her eyes, all they had got for him, things she had been
wanting....

Art made her fit them all on, and when she held up the child to be
admired, with the loveliest of a soft white shawl rolled round him, "He
becomes it well," says Art; "and I suppose you think to make him look
better nor he is, by all that finery!"

"Your mother'll think him terrible small," said Delia, looking very
fretted again; but she kissed the baby, as much as to say, "Little I
care what she thinks!"

She said nothing about that part of it, though, only looked up at Art
with the beseeching eyes I mentioned before.

"Let that go round!" says Art; and he lifted the two of them in his arms
and kissed them both; and then when he had let Delia go, says he, "Me
mother is the smallest little crathureen herself, that ever you saw! So
she needn't talk! And sure what can you expect from a child not a month
old yet! And there's an ould saying and a true one, in Ardenoo, 'It's
not always the big people that reaps the harvest!' and so by this boy of
ours! We won't feel till he'll be working!"

"Working!" said Delia. And she unclasped the baby's fingers and kissed
the tiny hands inside, that were as soft and pink as rose-leaves, first
one hand and then the other. She never thought that every hand, no
matter how rough and strong, begins by being a baby's hand like the one
she was after kissing.

"Ay, work!" says Art, very determined; "it would amaze you or any one
that didn't know, the way the children grow up and get sense at Ardenoo!
the way if the old people seemed wishful for us to stop at home with
them, this little fellah of ours would soon ... but whisht!" before poor
Delia had time to say a word one way or other about this iday, "whisht!
what's this at all! A telegram! for me!"

[Illustration: HE KISSED THEM BOTH]

A telegram! Poor Delia turned gashly pale at the word, and hugged the
child closer to her, as if she thought that little bit of an
orange-coloured envelope might be going to do some destruction on her
treasure.

Art read it slowly to himself, while his face grew as long as to-day and
to-morrow; and says he, "Well, it can't be helped! The Master that's
after getting a hurried call to the country and will want me to drive
him ... so I'll not be at read'ness to go...." He looked anxiously at
Delia.

Not go to Ardenoo! Delia's heart leaped up.

"Sure, can't we stop where we are?" says she, with dancing eyes.

"Och, not at all!" says Art; "it wouldn't answer at all to be
disappointing them. And besides, it's down that side he wants to go ...
some sick child ... the Master I mean ... I'll likely be at Ardenoo
before you!"

"But, Art! ... is it go wid meself? What will I do at all at all?" and
Delia begins to cry.

"See here now," says Art, "don't be taking on, that way! You wouldn't
have me disappoint the Master ... after he being so good to us, too! The
fine grand little clothes we're after getting!... You'll be as right as
rain! Just wait till you're at Ardenoo, where every one knows me! Why,
you'll be with friends, that very minute! And you wrote it in the letter
yourself, what train to meet you at.... You wouldn't be fretting me
mother and she thinking to have us for the Christmas ... to make no
mention of the child at all!"

"To be sure not!" says Delia. And she dried her eyes and said no more,
only got ready and went off the next day with the little child, as
smiling and gay as she could appear, waving her hand to Art that saw her
off at the Broadstone station, and did all he could to put her in heart.
But it's a long, long ways from the Big Smoke to Ardenoo. Hours and
hours it took that wet, wild day to get there. And Delia wasn't too well
accustomed to trains and going about. She managed to keep the child warm
and comforted all through, but when the train stopped at Ardenoo she was
that tired and giddy herself, that she scarcely knew what she was doing
or where she was to go.

She stood a minute on the platform, with the wind and rain beating down
upon her, till it had her even more confused. And the day was nearly
done, and no lamps lit yet. But she made out a porter and asked him, as
Art had bid her, for Mr. Moloney's ass-cart.

"Moloney's ass and dray? Ay," says the man, "Big Michael was in the Town
to-day at Melia's, and buying all before him, by what I hear. And not
too long ago it was ..."

"Would I ... could I find him ... where's that place you're after
mentioning?"

And Delia took a grip of the big hat, that the wind was getting at.

"Melia's shop? You can't miss it! There's ne'er another.... He should
have left it by now ... but let you go on along that road ..." and he
showed her where it lay, stretching off into the darkness, "and you'll
overtake him, ready! That ass is middling slow!"

The man guessed who this was speaking to him, for they all had heard
about Art and the wife being expected for the Christmas. And he had no
call to tell her to go off like that. Big Michael was nigh-hand at home
again by then. But he had a sup taken at that present, as often happens
at Christmas. Only he was a bit "on," he'd never have put such an iday
into Delia's head. To think of letting her start after Michael like
that!

But poor Delia knew no better than to follow fool's advice; how could
she? So she just asked some directions about the road, and then she
changed the child from one arm to the other and faced out in the night
and rain, and a wind that would blow the horns off a goose to overtake
the ass-cart. Little she thought that it was back at the Crooked Boreen
by then, near five good miles away!

For a while, she wasn't in too bad a heart at all. She was glad to be
out of the train, and she was expecting every step to get some signs of
Michael on in front. But the little light there was went altogether
before long; quenched, like, by the great rain and the heavy clouds that
hung low and dark in the skies. Delia began to feel it very lonesome!
But she kept going on; what else could she do?

At this time, what she thought worst of was, that the wet was spoiling
her good hat, after Art spending his money upon it, the way she could
make some kind of appearance foreninst his mother and the neighbours.
But what could she do to save it?

"The cut I'll be!" she thought; "all dreeped with rain!" And indeed the
hat, with its grand feather all broken and draggled, was a poor-looking
thing enough before she was half-ways to the Crooked Boreen. As for the
grand shoes with the high heels, they were like sponges upon her feet,
and she slipping in them as she stumbled along through mud and gutter to
her ankles.

But she kept going on! The baby lay warm and snug upon her heart. She
managed to keep him sheltered, anyway! Now and then she'd stop and put
her face down to his, to feel his sweet warm breath upon her cheek. Then
she'd go on again. That ass-cart! If only she could catch it! Wouldn't
it be Heaven to be taken off her aching feet and be carried along,
herself and the child, with some one that knew the way, and not to be
feeling lost, as she did now.

For by degrees that's what Delia had to think; she was lost. Still she
struggled on, the poor little bet-down thing that she was; so tired that
she only kept moving at all by clenching her teeth hard and saying out
loud, "I must! I must! A nice thing it would be for Art to not find me
when he gets home! I must keep going on! The baby would die if I was to
lie down..." for that is what she was more inclined for than anything
else.

The wind was coming in great gusts now, hindering her far worse than the
rain. It caught her skirts like the sails of a ship; it snatched at her
hat. She tried to hold it on, but a sudden strong blast came, just as
she was shifting the child again in her arms. Like a spiteful hand, it
tore the hat from her head and furled it away; and what could be done,
to get it again, in the storm and darkness? Delia cried at first,
thinking of the loss it was. But she minded nothing long, only the
tiredness and that still she must keep going on.

Suddenly she began to sing to the child:

    I laid my love in a cradley-bed,
        _Lu lu lu lu la lay_.
    Little white love with a soft round head,
        _Lu lu lu lu la lay_.

Before she had it done, she thought to see a light a piece off from her.
She made towards it. Out upon the bog itself she was now; and them that
saw her tracks after, said one of the holy Angels must have been guiding
her then, that she wasn't drownded, herself and the child, in a
bog-hole. She slipped here and she fell there on the wet, rough ground;
but she kept on till she reached the light. It was the Christmas Candle,
in Michael's stable, burning there, mild and watchful.



                                CHAPTER IV

                                 THE CRIB


While all this was going on, Big Michael was sitting, snug and
comfortable, in the chimney-corner, opposite the wife, and she knitting,
knitting away still. Not a word was passing. She had Michael's supper
ready for him, hot and tasty, the same as ever. But he had no _goo_ for
it. What did he care was it good or bad! How could he feel gay and riz
up in himself, the way a body should at the Christmas, when he knew well
Herself had been crying away while he had been down at the stable?

If only she'd cheer up! If only she'd agree to have the place dressed
out, and the Crib and all the other little things done the same as ever!
It would do herself good, and they might be having a happy Christmas
after all, even if there was only the two of them there with themselves!
But he said nothing. Big as Michael was, and little as the Woman was
that owned him, it was she had the upper hand in the house. And good
right, too; she being a very understanding person, and considered to be
a good adviser of a woman all over Ardenoo. Michael was slow, but he was
wise enough to give in to the wife. So now when she showed no wish for
any of the things he was so made upon, he said no more about them; only
after a while says he, "I believe it's what I'll take a streel off to
see is the cow all right in the stable below...."

But what he really wanted was, to get away from the queer, unhappy feel
of the silent kitchen. He thought, too, he'd like another sight of the
dressed-out stable and the big Candle he had lit there. He meant to stop
a bit with those Christmas signs, and the ass, and the munch, munch of
the cow, filling the place with her fragrant breath.

Wasn't it a pity of the world that Herself was having none of the
pleasure? If only he could tell her what he had been doing! If only he
could get her to come too, and see how lovely the stable looked!

As he passed out on the door, the Vanithee looked after him. A kind of
pity rose warm in her heart, as she saw the fretted appearance was upon
the big man, like a cowed dog, with his tail drooping between his legs.

All the bygone Christmas Eves they had put in there together! Kind,
pleasant times, with little old nonsense and laughing, that no one
understood, only themselves! Art had been there, to be sure! He had been
the delight of the first of their Christmases, and the same always, till
he went off. But was it Michael's fault that the son wasn't there yet?
Sure poor Michael had done nothing to fret her! It wasn't he had
neglected to write! And wasn't it full as bad for him, Michael, that had
always been the fond father to Art! and had never rightly overed the
boy's quitting off the way he did! Oh, if only they had Art there again!
To have him going off with the father of a morning, cutting turf, or
making hay, or doing a bit of ploughing! and the two of them in to their
dinners and off again!... Why, to have that good time back, she'd even
welcome the poor-lookin' little scollop of a thing, and give her share
of the old home!...

Poor Michael! He that loved the Christmas! Like a child, he was! Most
men are, if they have any good in them; and God help them if they get a
woman that doesn't understand that, and can't make allowances when they
don't grow up!

Mrs. Moloney was as quick as Michael was slow. So, while he'd be
thinking about it, she had a stool over at the dresser and was up on it,
feeling for the Crib on the top shelf.

It was there, safe enough, and it wrapped in a newspaper. A small little
contraption of a thing it was, that she had bought off Tommy the Crab,
the peddling man, years before. Paid sixpence for it, too; and cheap he
told her it was at that money.

To see it first, it was no more than a middling sizeable Christmas card.
But it was really in three, or maybe four, halves that drew out like a
telescope. The first part showed the Kings kneeling with their offerings
and crowns upon their heads; then you could see the Shepherds, with
their crooks and they kneeling too; and in the middle of them all, the
Mother herself, with the Holy Child upon her knee. St. Joseph was at one
side, and the ox and the ass at the other; all complete, even to a grand
Star of silver paper, shining on the top of it all.

Mrs. Moloney put the Crib into one of the small square windows and drew
it out. Then she went back to the dresser for the candles to light it up
with. It looked nothing wanting them.

Not common candles she was going to use, but what had been blessed at
Candlemas, and that she had kept put by very carefully.

"I mustn't take them all," she thought, "the way, if one of us was to
take and die sudden, there would be a Candle ready to put into the dying
hand, to light the soul on its way! But there's a good few, and so ..."

Four she took for the four evangelists, and was just lighting them up,
when suddenly the door burst open, and with a rush and a laugh in came
... Art!

[Illustration: THE MOTHER WITH HER CHILD LYING VERY STILL]

"Mother!" he said; and in a moment had his arms round her, and was
kissing her lips.

"Oh, Art! so you did come, after all!" says she, with a catch in her
breath and a gush of joy to her heart. She had her son, her own son
again! And for a minute she forgot everything else--the missed letter,
Art's wife....

"Come? And why wouldn't I come? What else? Och, but it's grand, the
smell of the turf! And the Crib the same as ever! Och, mother, mother!
But where's Delia? Some tricks you and her is up to! Has them hid 'on'
me? Delia! Delia! where at all are you?"

At that the mother drew a piece away from him. Her face that had been
smiling and rosy even, like a girl's face, grew stiff and white.

"Delia! Delia! he can think of nothing else," she thought. It all came
back upon her, like a bad dream. Her son had a wife now! And she had
held out her hand to them, and they had slighted it!

What did Art mean, coming in like a strong wind? Gay and pleasant as
summer air at first, but his face changed and became black and stormy
and his voice was a strange, fierce voice, asking again, "Where's
Delia?"

"I know nothing about her! How could I?"

"Sure she was to be here ..."

"We got no word ..."

"No word! Is it that no one met them at the train? My God! what has
become of her and the child? And the night it was!"

The child? What child? the mother was trying to ask, but the words were
stopped on her lips, and Art was stopped at the door, in his mad rush
forth to look for his wife and baby, by the appearance before them of
Michael. Stopped them both, I say, but without a word being spoken. It
was just the look in the old man's face that made them both fall back a
step and stand still, looking at Michael in a sort of wonder and fright.
His eyes were shining, as if he had been in another world, and had
scarcely got back to earth again. He stood facing them for a minute with
the same far-away look; then he took each of them by the hand, and just
breathed out, "Come! come with me and see what's in the stable ..."

They went. The wind had fallen and the rain had ceased. A beautiful moon
had risen, and was shining, but you could not see her, only the light
she shed down from her throne on high through the soft white mist that
had risen from the wet ground and was wavering and dancing solemnly to
and fro, filling the space between heaven and earth, as if to veil the
sacred sights of the Holy Eve from mortal eyes. The father and mother
and son moved silently through the misty, gleaming silence, till they
reached the stable, where the Candle was burning steadily, and sending
forth its pure white light into the moonlit vapour.

Michael stepped on and was at the door first. He put his great arm
across, as if to ensure caution and reverence.

"Go easy, go easy, the both of yous! but sure, they might be gone back
already, and no one to have seen them, only meself!" he said in the same
awed whisper.

They peered in, for beyond the Candle were dusky spaces; yet its light
was enough to show them two figures there; a girl-mother with her child,
lying very still.

Was she asleep, or.... She was so white and small! The long dark hair
had been loosened and fell about her like a soft mantle; and close,
close to her heart lay the little child.

"Delia, Delia!" said Art.

"The Child!" said his mother.

Delia unclosed her eyes and looked up with a little smile. "I have him
here, safe!" she said.

And Michael, only half comprehending, fell on his knees and sobbed
aloud.


                                THE END


            _Printed by_ R. & R. Clark, Limited, _Edinburgh_.





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