BILLY HEFFERNAN AND HIS FLUTE.
HONOR LAHY, however, went on prospering; and on this fine frosty morning, after returning from the Station at Maurice Kearney's, we find her a perfect picture of comfort, good health, and good humour.
"How is Norah? How is ma lanna machree? she asked, stooping down and looking into Norah's pale face.
"Finely, mother," she replied, with a languid smile. "Will the priest come?"
"He will — Father M'Mahon himself, God bless him! He was goin' over to Boherbeg to answer a call, but the minute I tould him you wanted to go to confession to himself, he said he'd send Father O'Neill to answer the call."
She pulled off her worsted mittens, and throwing back the hood of her cloak, thereby displaying a snow-white cap, a little crushed and crumpled by the weight of the hood, with a gorgeous broad ribbon as a band over the crown of her head and tied in a bow-knot under her chin, she sat on a low stool in front of Norah.
"Give a guess what I have for you," she said, taking one of Norah's wasted hands between her own.
"I don't know, mother."
"Somethin' Miss Mary sent you for a Christmas-box."
She put her hand into her ample pocket and took out a pair of handsome embroidered slippers.
Norah's large eyes expressed the utmost surprise; for such a pair of slippers she had never seen before.
Her mother slipped the wasted hand into one of them.
"Isn't id cosy an' warm?" she asked, looking fondly in Norah's face, "lined with beautiful fur."
She ran to the fire and held the slippers close to the blaze — which was purely a matter of form, for, even if they required warming, she allowed no time for the least heat to be imparted to them.
Gently removing Norah's shoes, she put on the embroidered slippers, and looked up with a smile of delight. But the smile quickly vanished, giving place to a look of amazement and alarm. Norah's lips trembled and the tears gushed from her eyes.
Surprise kept the poor woman passive for a moment; but recovering herself, she put her arm round her daughter's shoulder.
"What is id, Norah? "she asked. "What ails my darlin'?" But it was after a long struggle Norah was able to answer. "Oh, mother," said she, "she is too good."
And, pressing her face against her mother's breast, she sobbed so violently that the poor woman became quite alarmed.
Phil Lahy hastened in from the shop door; where he had stopped to repeat his promise to Mat Donovan that he would not "disappoint him."
"What ails her? " he asked.
"Oh, wisha, what but she's so thankful to Miss Mary for the slippers," Honor replied. "I don't know what in the world to do wud her."
"Have sense, Norah, have sense," said her father, gently. She recovered herself by an effort, and resumed her usual position with her head leaning against the back of her chair.
"'Twill do me good, mother," said she.
"Maybe so, wud the help uv God. An' Miss Mary tould me Doctor Kiely'll be out next week, an' she'll bring him over to see you; an' who knows, wud the blessin' uv God but he might be able to do somethin' for you. An' now," she continued, resuming her usual cheerful manner, "I'll go and get the breakfast ready. Sit down on that chair, Phil, an' talk to her, an' tell her all Father Hannigan said; and 'tis he's the dhroll Father Hannigan. He'd have you laughin' wan minit an' cryin' the next. I wish we had Billy Heffernan to play a tune for her. That's what'd rise her heart. An', be all the goats in Kerry, but here he is himself. Sit down there in the corner, Billy, an' play a tune for Norah. She was so lonesome all the mornin', wud no wan but Tommy and Friskey to keep her company, a tune'll do her all the good in the world."
Billy sat down on a bench near the window under the linnet's cage, and taking the joints of an old flute from his pocket, commenced screwing them together, without uttering a word. Norah preferred "the soft complaining flute" to the "ear-piercing fife;" and because she did, Billy Heffernan — though he never said so — invested the proceeds of a load of turf in the purchase of this one, and patched up his old brogues to make them last another winter; to which last mentioned circumstance an occasional hiatus in his performance on this occasion — caused by a hurried application of the coat cuff to the nose — is, we think, to be attributed.
"Billy, a chora," Mrs. Lahy exclaimed, remonstratively, laying down her cup without tasting it — for she and Phil were now at breakfast — "Billy, a chora, stop that. Her heart is too full to-day, for thim grievous ould airs. Play 'I buried my wife an' danced o' top uv her' — or somethin' lively."
The musician took the hint, and delighted his audience with a succession of jigs and planxties that might "cure a paralytic."
So captivated were they all that Father M'Mahon was actually standing with folded arms behind Norah's chair before any one was aware of his presence. A sudden break-off in the middle of a bar of "Paudheen O'Rafferty," and a sheepish dropping of the musician's under-jaw made Phil and Honor look around.
Father M'Mahon at once relieved them from their evident embarrassment, by saying in a kindly way:
"So, Billy, you are playing for Norah. That's right; that's right. I hope she'll soon be able to come to Mass and hear the organ." And he laid his hand softly on her head. She trembled as he did so, and in order to set her at ease he sat down on the chair which Honor carefully wiped with her apron, and said:
"Come, Billy; 'Paudheen O'Rafferty' is a favourite of mine, so go on with it."
Billy Heffernan, turning his head towards the wall, gave his troublesome nose a vigorous tweak, and obeyed.
"Thank you, Billy. Thank you. Very good, indeed," said the priest.
And with a gratified, though by no means cheerful, smile, and another assault upon his troublesome nose, Billy Heffernan left the house as silently as he entered it.
"And now, Phil," said Father M'Mahon, "I want to have a serious word or two with you. After the promise you made me I was exceedingly sorry to hear that you were under the influence of drink on Thursday at the fair."
"An' you were tould I was under the influence of drink at the fair."
"An' would it be any harm to ax who tould you?"
"Oh, I am not bound to give you my authority. But it was a person on whose word I can rely."
"An' a person on whose word you can rely tould you that Phil Lahy was at the fair on Thursday — and that Phil Lahy was drunk?
"Yes," said the priest, for Phil paused for a reply.
"An' now, will you tell me, did that person who tould you that Phil Lahy was at the fair and that Phil Lahy was dhrunk, tell you that Phil Lahy bought two pigs?"
"Well, no; he did not mention that."
"I'll be bound he didn't; for the devil a thing these people, on whose word yon can rely, ever think of telling but the bad thing."
Father M'Mahon rubbed his hand over his face and tried o look very grave. But thinking it best not to pursue the argument further, he turned to Honor and said:
"I think, Mrs. Lahy, I had better hear Norah's confession now."
Phil and Honor left the kitchen, and Father M'Mahon put on his stole and drew his chair close to the sick girl to hear her confession.
"Phil," said his wife, when the priest, was gone, "you may as well cut out that coat for Mat. 'Twould be too bad disappoint him, an' he goin' to be such a decent b'y's sidesman."
"I won't disappoint him," Phil replied. "But I feel too wake to do anything to-day. I think I must take a stretch the bed."
"Well, if you don't like the work, go out an' take a walk, 'twill do you good."
"I can't do anything when this wakeness comes over me." And Phil did manage to look so faint, that a stranger would never have suspected that he had just eaten a very hearty breakfast.
"Tommy," he continued, "reach me the looking-glass."
Tommy brought him a small looking-glass with the frame painted a bright red, and a brass ring in it to hang it up by; and after surveying his visage for some time, and pulling up his shirt collar, which was of the highest and stiffest, Phil aimed with his eyes still fixed on the glass:
"Honor, I look very bad."
"Now, Phil, don't be makin' a fool uv yourself. I never see you lookin' better in my life. Ax Norah."
"You don't look bad at all, father," said Norah.
"I feel very wake," said he, making a movement to rise, but looking as if he could not do so without assistance.
"Wisha, wisha, what am I to do wud him at all at all?" Honor muttered to herself. "If wance he lies down there, he'll stay till Sunday mornin', at any rate. An' I don't like to sind for Miss Mary the day uv the Station, an' all — an' moreover a strange gintleman in the house."
Honor had found from experience that no one but Miss Kearney could talk Phil out of his "weaknesses," and on critical occasions she was in the habit of sending for her unknown to the patient. Mary would come in, as it were, accidentally, and after a chat with Phil about "Columbkill's Prophecies," or some other interesting subject, she always succeeded in convincing him that he was perfectly well, that it was only his nerves — and that even the "inward pain" was imaginary.
"I think, Honor," said Phil, "I'll try the spirits o' turpentine. This pain is comin' at me."
This decided Honor, and she whispered Tommy — to his great delight — to run and ask Miss Mary to take a walk over in the course of the day if she could at all.