THE BLUE BODY-COAT WITH GILT BUTTONS ABSENCE OF MIND. "AULD LANG SYNE."
MAT," exclaimed Barney, brightening up suddenly, "ye'll have a great night uv id at Ned Brophy's weddin'. Is id at the young woman's house the weddin' is to be?"
"No," Mat replied, putting on his coat; "they're on'y going to be married there. The weddin' is to be at Ned's."
"'Twas said there was to be no weddin'," observed Tom Maher; "how was that?"
"Well, the girl's father is hard," replied Mat, "an' the priest is chargin' a show of money for marryin' 'em, and so the ould fellow wouldn't agree to the weddin'."
"Some people do be very cute," said Tom Maher. "And," Mat continued, "Ned's mother stood out agin him till I brought her round, and she gev into id at last."
"She'd skin a flint," returned Tom Maher.
"The divil a lie in that," replied Mat, shaking his head.
"Sure the divil a bone in her body I don't know," continued Tom; "an' good raison I had, livin' in one house wud her for two years an' three months."
"I won't contradict you," said Mat, "though she's my own fust and second cousin."
"Do you remember what you tould her about the stirabout?" Tom asked, eyeing the Thrasher with a smile.
"What was that?" said Mat.
"You told her to bring out the pot an' empty it on the top of Corrigeen Hill, an' the divil a greyhound in the barony would be able to ketch id afore id got to the bottom. We got betther stirabout ever afther."
"Well, to give her her due," returned Mat, "she always minded anything I'd say. Ned himself could get no good uv her about the weddin' till I persuaded her. Not that I cared about it myself, only I didn't like to have Ned get the name of bein' a screw."
"A bad right any wan would have to call Ned a screw," said Tom Maher. "There's not a dacenter man from this to himself for his manes."
"He is that," replied Mat.
"No sign of anything here this turn," Tom observed, with a motion of his thumb towards the house. "Though they say there's many an eye after her. Faith, Kitty tells me," he added, dropping his voice, "that she has the heart across in this young fellow from England. An', begor, a nice fellow he is, although he has no property, on'y what'll buy a commission for him."
"I don't say Miss Mary 'd think uv him," replied Mat, "no matther what he had."
"I don't know that," returned Tom with a wink. "She's mighty sweet on him. But Kitty tells me," he added, "she'll never think of any man but the wan."
"Who is that?"
"Begor, that's what I can't make out. What are you delayin' for?"
"I "was thinkin' of waitin' till the master 'd be home to know how is pigs. If there was a stir I'd sell them two I have, male is so dear."
"I'd' like to see you in a farm of your own," said Tom, like every wan belongin' to you."
" I don't know that, Tom," Mat rejoined. "A man ought to be continted; an', thanks be to God, I was never in the want uv a shillin'. An' maybe if I had what you say, I wouldn't lie down to-night wud as aisy a mind as I have now."
"Here is the masther," exclaimed Barney, running out to take the horse.
Mat followed, to inquire about the price of pigs; and after being satisfied on that head, he turned to Tom Maher, who was locking the barn-door, and asked him to "take a walk over."
"I can't stir till Mr. Richard and Mr. Lowe comes home," Tom replied. "I must put up the horses. An' a dd hard job I'll have uv id, for I must have 'em like a new pin."
Mat Donovan went on his way alone. There was a feeling of melancholy upon him which he could not shake off; and instead of "shortening the road" with snatches of old songs he fell into deep thought.
For the first time in his life he began to feel discontented with his lot. It was quite true, as he had just said to Tom Maher, that he never wanted for a shilling. He had constant employment, and as he was never a "spender," he found his earnings sufficient for his wants. His mother and sister were "good managers," and their poultry and eggs went far to keep them decently clothed with the addition of even a little inexpensive finery for Nelly, who was a belle in her way and a couple of fat pigs paid the rent. The little "garden" he held by which we do not mean the "haggart" where Tommy Lahy had his crib set among the "curly" gave him potatoes every second year, and a crop of wheat or barley in the intervals. The year he had the wheat or barley on his own "little spot," the potatoes were supplied by a half-acre of "dairy ground" or "dung ground." The dung ground, we may inform the uninitiated reader, is ground upon which the peasant puts his own manure, in return for which he has the potato crop the farmer being repaid for the use of his land for one season by the corn crop of the next, for which the land, owing to the peasant's manure, is in proper condition. For the dairy ground the peasant pays a rent and often an unconscionably high rent the land in this case either being manured by the farmer, or capable of yielding potatoes without manure generally a "bawn" or newly-ploughed pasture field.
Mat Donovan laboured cheerfully during the six days of the week, returning generally at night to his own house, where he sat by the bright little hearth as happy as a king. But this evening we find him returning to that happy fire side with something very like a heavy heart. Let us listen to him, and we may be able to divine the cause of this:
"I know," said Mat Donovan, looking towards a hill on the left-hand side of the road "I know she has a respect for me, an' always had; an' she was never a-shy or ashamed to show id either, She kem and sot next to me the night at Mrs. Murphy's, an' her grandfather an' a lot uv farmers and dacent people there." And here Mat raised his head with a decidedly consequential look; for he remembered when the reckoning was called after "the night at Mrs. Murphy's," he, Mat Donovan, flung down a half-crown, while many of the farmers gave only a shilling, and it required some screwing to get an additional sixpence out of them when it was found the collection fell short of the sum required. "She did then," continued Mat, "an' didn't mind 'em wan taste; but talked to myself so pleasant and friendly; and reminded me uv the time, long ago, when she was a little thing goin' to school, when I used to throw the churries over the hedge to her. An' faith," he added, "I b'lieve 'tis lookin' at her copy paper, when I'd meet her on the road in the evenin', that made me able to read writin', as Barney said I was for 'tis little I minded id whin I was goin' to school myself. My heart warmed to her when she kem up to me at Mrs. Murphy's, wud such a smile, and shook hands wud me, after not seem' a sight uv her for goin' an two years, while she was at her aunt's, in Dublin. But, sure, I know a poor man like me have no right to think uv her. An' for all, her smile is before me every hour uv the day; an' bad cess to me but I think, this blessed minit, 'tis her hand I have a hoult uv instead uv this flail that I am bringin' home to put a new gad on id. 'Tis droll," he continued, shaking his head. "I, that had my fling among 'em all, an' never lost a wink uv sleep on account uv any girl that ever was born, to be this way! Sally Mockler called me a rag on every bush, no later than last night. Faith, I wish it was thrue for her but for all that," he added, with another shake of the head and a sorrowful smile, "I b'lieve if I could dhrive her from my mind in the mornin' I wouldn't thry."
"God save you, Mat!" exclaimed two or three young men who came up with him. "Faith, you're takin' your time."
"God save you kindly, b'ys. I am takin' the world aisy."
"Any strange news?"
"No, then," Mat replied; "nothin' worth relatin'."
"Is Ned Brophy's match settled for certain?"
"Well, I b'lieve so."
"Sure, you ought to know. But there was talks uv id bein' broke."
"Well, no; 'tis all settled. They're to be married next Wednesday."
"People wor sayin' he was thinkin' uv Nancy Hogan but she hadn't the shiners."
"People say many things," replied Mat, as if he wished to dismiss the subject.
"Begor, Nancy 'd be good enough for him; she's the purtiest girl in the parish. Was he long afther this wan he's gettin'?"
"I don't say there was much coortship between 'em," said Mat. "But as you're afther remindin' me uv id I'll run into Phil Lahy's to see have he my coat made as I'm to be Ned's sidesman."
"Wisha, now!" exclaimed one of the young men, looking at Mat with evident surprise; for it was somewhat unusual for a snug farmer, like Ned Brophy, to pay such a compliment to a "labouring man."
"Good night, b'ys," said Mat, on coming to the beech-tree opposite Phil Lahy's door.
"Good night, Mat good night," they responded, cheerily, as they quickened their pace and passed on through the hamlet without stopping.
"Now, I wondher what are they up to?" said Mat to himself. "I thought 'twas goin' to play for the pig's head they wor, but there they're off be the bog road. A wondher they never said where they wor goin'. Might id be for the lend uv long John's greyhound?"
Guessing was no use, however; so putting his arm over Honor Lahy's half-door, and pushing back the bolt, he passed through the shop into the kitchen, which was also the tailor's workshop.
Mat was gratified to find Phil Lahy sitting cross-legged on his shop-board. But his smile gave way to a rather blank look of inquiry when he saw that Phil, instead of plying his needle, was poring over a soiled and dog-eared volume which rested on his knee.
"God save all here!" said Mat, looking around him as if he didn't know well what to think,
"God save you kindly, Mat," replied Honor Lahy, placing a chair for him near the well-swept hearth. "Sit down an' rest."
But Phil was too deeply absorbed in his book to take any notice whatever of the visitor.
"Phil," said Mat, after a moment's silence, "are you goin' to disappoint me?"
"Is that iron hot?" Phil asked, without raising his eyes from his book.
Tommy, who was reading too crouching upon his elbows and knees on the shop-board jumped down, and seizing the padding of an old coat-collar, which served the purpose of "holder," snatched the iron from the fire. Testing whether it was heated in a manner which we do not deem it necessary to describe though we grieve to say we have seen the same test applied when the smoothing-iron was of smaller dimensions than the tailor's goose, and when the hand that held it was very much fairer than Tommy Lahy's he brought it to his father, who attempted to take hold of the handle with its woollen cover without raising his eyes from the dog-eared volume. But his finger coming in contact with the hot iron, Phil Lahy said "hop," and commenced slapping his thigh in a rather frantic fashion. After rubbing the burned finger in the hair of his head, Phil reached to the further end of the shop-board, and to Mat Donovan's great relief and comfort pulled from under some other articles, by which it had been accidentally concealed from view, a new blue body-coat with gilt buttons. Seizing his lap-board he commenced "pressing" the coat with great energy and briskness of action.
Mat Donovan left his chair and stood close to the shop-board, trying to look unconcerned and perfectly indifferent.
We'd like to see the individual who ever was indifferent under such circumstances.
Mat took up the dog-eared book and made believe to be reading it while not a twinkle of the gilt buttons escaped him, as Phil turned the blue coat over and over, smoothing every seam, and plucking out the basting threads with his teeth.
Mat at last did read a line or two of the book, and remarked:
"This is the Prophecies."
"Yes, Mat," replied Phil and the words seemed to have been jerked out of him, as the iron came down with a thump upon the sleeve of the blue body-coat. "But," he continued leaning his whole weight upon the iron and working with his wrist as if he were grinding something "but 'tisn't the genuine wan afther all. I got id from Andrew Dwyer, an' as id belonged to his grandfather I thought id might be genuine. But," added Phil Lahy as he drew the lap-board out of the sleeve, "I was disappointed."
"Do you think there's any truth in 'em?" Mat asked.
"Mat," replied Phil, solemnly, "there's a great dale," here he snapped viciously at a basting thread which held its ground so tenaciously that when one end was plucked from the sleeve of the blue coat, the other was stuck fast between Phil Lahy's front teeth "there's a great dale in 'em comin' to pass; Mat."
"Now, what sinse could you pick out uv this?" And Mat read a sentence which it would, indeed, be hard to pick sense out of.
"That's James the Second's time," replied Phil, as if it were all as plain as that two and two make four. "Come," he added, pushing away his goose and lap-board, and blowing away the yellow basting threads from the coat, which he held up by the collar as high as his hand could reach "Come, throw off that ould coat."
Mat Donovan proceeded to divest himself of his old frieze making desperate efforts to look grave and even sorrowful.
He got himself into the blue body-coat, and Phil Lahy, standing behind him, wrapped his arms round the Thrasher, as if he were trying to span the "big tree" at Gloonavon, and buttoned the coat in front.
Then feeling him all over, and rubbing him down the arms and back, Phil Lahy, slapping the Thrasher on the shoulder, said
"'Tis a grand fit," exclaimed Honor, moving the candle all round Mat to the imminent danger of the new coat.
Norah, turned round her head and said, too, while there was something almost like humour in the sad, black eyes:
"Well wear, Mat."
"Thank'ee, Norah, thank'ee," replied Mat, as he unbuttoned the new coat.
"What way is she comin' on?" he asked, turning to her mother.
"Elegant," was her reply, as she looked into Norah's face. And what a look that was!
"The divil a dacenter man'll be there," said Billy Heffernan, who sat, silently as usual, in the corner, with his flute across his knees.
"'Tis thrue for you," replied Honor Lahy; "an' if some farmer's daughter takes a fancy to him, 'twould be no wondher in life."
After putting on his old frieze again, Mat pulled a purse from the breast pocket of his waistcoat, and commenced unwinding the long string with which it was tied.
Phil Lahy began carefully folding the new coat, seemingly unconscious of the unwinding of the string.
Mat Donovan counted some pieces of silver and dropped them into Phil Lahy's hand. His wife fixed her eyes upon him, but Phil was so pre-occupied putting his spectacles in his waistcoat pocket, that in a moment of absence of mind he put the silver in with them.
"Mat," said Phil Lahy, "I'll want you to do a little job for me."
"What is id?" Mat asked.
Phil looked straight in his face, but remained so long silent that Mat's face indicated considerable surprise.
"We'll talk about id another time," said Phil, at length. "Did you hear the news?"
"No," replied Mat, bluntly. "What is id?"
"I'm tould" and here Phil looked so hard at his questioner that Mat began to feel alarmed, and somehow the image of "somebody" flashed across his mind, though there was no earthly reason why it should "I'm tould," said Phil, "that there's likely to be a change in the Ministry."
"Oh, is that all!" returned Mat with a sigh of relief. "There's talk uv that in the papers these three weeks."
Now, the fact was, that Phil Lahy having in a fit of absence of mind put the money in his pocket, wanted to turn away his wife's attention from it, by saying something; and so he began with the "little job" that he wanted Mat to do for him. But being abruptly asked what the little job was, Phil's invention failed him; and not being able to name any job, big or little, be put the subject off to "another time," and took refuge in the "news." And being abruptly asked for particulars again, Phil grasped at "the Ministry" as a drowning man will grasp at a straw. But scarcely were the words out of his mouth, when he reproached himself for his stupidity for never once having thought of the bull-bait, which was comparatively a fresh subject. However, the Ministry did very well, and Phil felt greatly relieved when he heard his wife say, without having alluded in any way to his forgetfulness in reference to the silver:
"What hurry are you in, Mat? Can't you rest a start?"
"I must be goin'," Mat replied; "I on'y called in on my way over from Mr. Kearney's."
"Miss Mary was here to-day, and stopped a whole hour wud Norah."
"I partly guessed," he replied, "'twas to see Norah they wor goin' when I see 'em comin' in this way instead of turnin' up to the forth."
Mat Donovan said, "Good night to ye," and walked out with his new blue body-coat under his arm. And Phil Lahy suddenly became very busy folding and putting away the things on his shop-board.
"Come, Billy," said he, as he drew a chair to the fire, "can't you give us a tune to put a stir in us these dull times?"
He spoke in an unusually cheerful tone, and holding his hands over the fire, seemed disposed to be sociable, and, in fact, mildly jolly.
Billy Heffernan immediately struck up "The Priest in his Boots."
"A mighty purty tune that is, Billy; but I think it goes better on the pipes."
Taking the tongs in his hand, he built up the fire very carefully, and seemed anxious to make himself both agreeable and generally useful. But some thought struck him, and putting his hand to his forehead, he said:
"See how I should forget telling Mat that message!"
"What message?" his wife asked.
"About goin' to throw the sledge wud the captain," replied Phil.
"There wasn't anything said about a message," returned his wife.
"Didn't he say that out of eight hundred men in the regiment he couldn't get one he wasn't able to bate; an' that 'd like to have a throw wud Mat the Thrasher?"
"He did," rejoined Honor; "but not be way uv a message.
You don't understand these things. I'll take a walk up and tell him about id. Maybe he's out uv practice; and 'twould be a bad job if he was called on too sudden."
Honor Lahy shook her head as if there were no help for it. "Wisha, Billy," said she, after plying her knitting needles in silence for five minutes, "why don't you talk?"
Billy looked into the fire, and blew C natural by way of reply. He might have said, with the poet:
"Why should feeling ever speak,
When thou canst breathe her soul so well?"
Norah raised her eyes and smiled.
She looked much less sickly by the firelight than on the cold, frosty day, when her pale face so shocked Mr. Lowe and Grace Kiely.
"Play 'Auld Lang Syne,' Billy!"
Billy snatches up his old flute to comply; but something had got into his throat which he was obliged to gulp down before he could get out a single note.
Was it the melancholy music of her voice or her look?
Or did he know the words of the Scotch song, and remember that they had
"paidled i' the burn
Frae morning's dawn till dine?"
Whatever the cause was, Billy Heffernan had a struggle with the knob in his throat before he could play "Auld Lang Syne" for Norah Lahy.
Scotch tunes were very popular at Knocknagow, but we have heard none played and sung so often as "Auld Lang Syne," not the words, but the air; for the words usually sung to the tune were something about
The river Suir that runs so pure
Through charming, rare Clonmel."
Billy Heffernan played on with his eyes shut, for a few minutes: and then, affecting to think there was something wrong with his flute, screwed off one of the joints and converted it into a telescope, through which he endeavoured to make out some object in the fire.
"How do you like the book Miss Grace lent you, Tommy?" Norah asked, while Billy prosecuted his researches in the fire.
"'Tis grand," was Tommy's reply.
"I think she's nicer than you said she was," continued Norah.
"Well, she is," he replied reluctantly, as if unwilling to give up his first impression. "An' a dale handsomer," he added, as if a sense of justice extorted the admission from him.
"I think she's very nice," returned Norah.
She is, then, nice," said her mother, "an' a darlin' little thing."
"She wants me to write down the 'Frolic' for her," Billy observed, meaning, of course, "Heffernan's Frolic," that he composed in a dream. "But I don't know how to write music, though I could tell her the names uv the notes wan by wan."
"Wisha, Billy," said Mrs. Lahy, on seeing him about to leave, "would you take a walk up as far as Mat's, an' see is Phil there, an' be home wud him? An' sure I know 'tisn't there Phil is," she thought to herself.
Billy promised to do as she required; and, after leaving his flute at his own house, he walked up the hill to Mat Donovan's.