BILLY HEFFERNAN'S TRIUMPH.
"OH, is that you, Billy?" exclaimed Father Hannigan. "Come, sit down here and play that tune you made yourself, for Mr. Flaherty. He's not inclined to believe that you made it at all."
"Begor, I don't know whether I did or not, sir," replied Billy, as he sat down. "'Twas to dhrame id I did, sir."
"Come, do ye sit down, and rest for awhile; we're going to get a tune from Billy Heffernan," said Father Hannigan, addressing those who had taken their places for the next dance, and were patiently waiting for the music. "Sit over here, Mr. Lowe," he continued, "and listen to this."
Mr. Lowe left Miss Lloyd's side, and sat near Billy Heffernan.
"Maybe, sir," said Billy Heffernan, looking reverentially at the silver-mounted bagpipes, "maybe Mr. Flaherty wouldn't like me to play."
"Oh, play," said the old man, patronisingly.
Billy looked at his flute, and seemed to hesitate. The rustle of Miss Lloyd's dress was plainly audible, as she left her chair and sat on the corner of a form, intending to resume operations against Mr. Lowe as soon as possible; and this stillness added to the musician's embarrassment.
"Come, Billy, don't you see they're all waitin'? Up wud id," said Mat the Thrasher.
"Give us a tune yourse'f," returned Billy, offering him the flute.
"I thought Mat only understood the big drum," said Father Hannigan.
"Faith, then, he do so, sir; and a right good player he is," replied Billy.
"Don't mind him, sir," returned Mat Donovan. " I'm on'y a whaiten garden player." By which Mat intended to convey that his music was only suitable for the open air, and the harvest field.
"I believe every one in Knocknagow is a musician," said Father Hannigan. "But what's delaying you Billy? I never saw you so long about it before."
"Well, you see, sir," he replied with another glance at the silver keys and the crimson-velvet bag, "Mr. Flaherty is such a fine player, I feel somewhat daunted."
"Oh, don't mind, don't mind," returned Mr. Flaherty.
Thus encouraged, Billy Heffernan commenced to play; and as he went on, the incredulous expression in the old blind musician's face gave place to a look of surprise, which quickly changed again into one of delight. He caught up his chanter, but without inflating the velvet bag, and mentally accompanied the performer, who soon gave his whole soul to the melody; and, as he concluded, Mr. Flaherty exclaimed with emphasis, with his face turned up towards the ceiling:
Billy Heffernan — you are a musician."
What did I tell you?" said Father Hannigan, who was evidently proud of his judgment. "I always said Billy was a first-rate player."
Every one was delighted at Billy Heffernan's triumph — particularly Nelly Donovan, who stood leaning against the door with her arms akimbo, and could scarcely resist the impulse to jump into the middle of the floor, and call for "three cheers for Knocknagow, and the sky over it."
Mr. Flaherty adjusted his pipes, and Father Hannigan held up his hand as a signal for silence. And now it was Billy Heffernan's turn to be astonished; for the blind musician played the tune in a manner which almost made the hair of the composer's head stand on end.
"For God Almighty's sake, sir," Billy exclaimed imploringly, "didn't you ever hear id before?"
"No, I never heard it before," replied Mr. Flaherty.
"Oh," exclaimed Billy, with a deep sigh, "I can't b'lieve I ever med it."
"I'll play 'Heffernan's Frolic' for Father M'Mahon to morrow," said Mr. Flaherty. And Billy Heffernan felt that he was famous.
Miss Lloyd found it impossible to keep quiet any longer. She left her seat with a skip, and actually sat down upon Billy Heffernan's knee, who occupied the nearest chair to Mr. Lowe.
"Mamma will be so delighted," she began, resuming the conversation which Father Hannigan had interrupted, "when I tell her that Mrs. Lowe remembers her." She glanced carelessly at Billy Heffernan, who leant back in his chair; and Miss Lloyd could not help smiling at the thought that poor Billy Heffernan was quite overpowered by the honour she had done him. She even stole a look at Mr. Lowe to see if he did not envy Billy Heffernan.
"And now, Mr. Lowe, won't you promise to come and see us before you leave the country?"
"You're an inconvaniance to me, Miss," said Billy Heffernan.
"What!" exclaimed Miss Lloyd, turning round, and staring at the speaker.
"You're an inconvaniance to me," he repeated, quietly. Mr. Lowe, in spite of all he could do, was obliged to laugh.
"Oh, really!" she exclaimed, jumping up, and retreating backwards, with her eyes fixed on Billy Heffernan, as if he had been miraculously metamorphosed into a boiled goose.
And Billy Heffernan, having got rid of the "inconvaniance," quietly unscrewed the joints of his flute and put them in his pocket.
On seeing Father Hannigan look at his watch, Mat Donovan started up and hastily left the room. He soon returned with a plate in each hand.
"Here, Mr. Hugh," said he, presenting one of the plates to Hugh Kearney, "let us not forget the music."
"That's right, Mat," said Father Hannigan; "make the collection for the musicians before we go. 'Tis near twelve o'clock."
Hugh took the plate and went round to make the collection, Mat keeping close to him, and transferring to his own plate the half-crowns, and shillings, and sixpences — we don't mind including the fourpenny-bits, they were so few — as fast as they were dropped on Hugh's. Each person's contribution was thus plain to be seen, which would not be the case if the silver were allowed to accumulate on the plate upon which it was dropped.
'Tis a fine collection," said Mat. "We won't mind the barn for another hour or two; but what about the beggars?"
"Don't mind the collection for the poor people," said Nelly, "till by-and-by. Sure there's no wan goin' away but the Miss Lloyds, an' the priest, an' the two Mr. Kearneys, an' the strange gentleman."
The collection for the beggars was accordingly put off to a later hour, and Mat beckoned to a genteel-looking young man, who was serving his time to the grocery business, to help him with the negus.
"Maybe Mr. Lowe an' yourse'f would like a dhrop uv somethin' before goin' out in the cowld," said Mat Donovan to Hugh Kearney, who was standing near the door with Miss Isabella Lloyd's shawl on his arm.
"Will you have something?" Hugh asked.
"Oh, no, no," Mr. Lowe replied. "I'd rather not."
"Let us be all together as far as the cross," said Father Hannigan. "Come, Mr. Flaherty."
When they were gone, it was agreed upon all hands that one of the fiddlers should be brought in from the barn, and the dance kept up in the parlour. Jugs of punch were "shared" round at intervals, and, on the whole, Ned Brophy's wedding gave general satisfaction. It was some what remarkable, however, that the two principal dramatis personae were almost entirely lost sight of.
"Where is Ned?" Mat asked, looking around in every direction for the bridegroom.
"Smokin' at the kitchen fire wud Phil Morris," replied his sister. "An' there's herse'f in the corner beyand, an' not a stir in her."
"Bring a glass of this to her," said Mat.
"Wisha, faith I won't," returned Nelly, who was under the impression that the bride slighted her as a poor relation. "His mother tould me to have an eye about me, and lend a hand to keep things to rights; but the new misthress, I'm thinkin', thinks I'm makin' myse'f too busy. If she knew but the half uv id!" added Nelly, with a toss of her head.
The white muslin jacket flitted by while Nelly was speaking, and Mat gazed after it; and, catching the eye of its owner he beckoned to her.
"Come over here," said he, "an' bring a glass of wine to Mrs. Ned, an' talk to her; and if anything will put her in humour that will."
Four young men rushed after the white jacket with a view of getting possession of it for the next dance.
"Here, be off wud ye!" exclaimed Mat. "'Tis the laste I can have her for a minute to myse'f. How do you think she can hould dancin' always?"
The "boys" laughed; and scratching their heads in their disappointment, went in search of partners elsewhere.
"I didn't taste a dhrop uv anything to-night," said Mat; "an' here, now, sweeten this for me."
She took the glass, and, with her eyes laughingly raised to his, put it to her lips.
"A little sup," he continued.
She took a sip and handed back the glass to him.
"Here is luck," said Mat Donovan. "An' that we may be all alive an' well this day twelve-months," he added, laying the empty glass on the table.
There was something in his tone which brought that serious, inquiring look we have before noted, into Bessy Morris's eyes.
"Is there anything the matter with Mat?" she asked in a whisper, turning to Nelly.
"No; why so?" Nelly replied, looking surprised.
"He's not so pleasant as he used to be," said Bessy Morris. "Why then, as you spoke uv that," returned Nelly, "I noticed the same thing myse'f this while back. He's gettin' careless about diversion an' everything. All he wants is an excuse not to go to the hurlin' or a dance, or fun uv any soart. Thanks be to God 'tisn't his health at any rate," she added, turning round to look at him, "for I never see him lookin' betther."
Bessy Morris looked at him, too, and thought that he was not only looking well, but that he was the finest and honestest looking fellow in the world. But why that scrutinizing, and at the same time melancholy glance with which she regarded him? Did she think that she herself had anything to do with the change she noticed in him?
"How do you like Ned's wife?" Nelly asked.
"I on'y spoke a few words to her," replied Bessy. "She seems in bad spirits."
"I wondher is id Ned's story wud her?" said Nelly.
"What is that?"
"Well, I think he had an ould grá for Nancy Hogan."
"Oh, I see," said Bessy Morris, thoughtfully, as she looked earnestly at the bride, who was sitting alone near the bed room door. "After all, Nelly, marrying for money is a queer thing."
"Bring her the glass uv wine," said Nelly, "an' thry an' cheer her up. If any wan can get good uv her 'tis yourse'f."
The compliment was really deserved, for it could be easily seen that Bessy Morris was a universal favourite. The only exception to this rule, so far as the present company were concerned, was a stout young lady, chiefly remarkable for yellow kid gloves, which she did not take off during dinner. This young lady regarded Bessy with sulky looks because a certain young man from the mountain would keep gadding after the white jacket, though the yellow-gloved hand and four hundred pounds were at his service for the asking. But Bessy Morris had had experience enough of the world to enable her to estimate the "warring sighs" and amorous glances of the young man from the mountain at their true value. They simply meant that the young man from the mountain was sorry — all but heart-broken indeed — that it wasn't she had the four hundred pounds; and if it was, etc., etc., etc.
"Well, we must try what we can do for Mrs. Ned," said Bessy.
Mrs. Ned took the glass of wine and folded her hands about it, but showed no symptom of any intention to drink it.
"This is a pleasant night we have," said Bessy, sitting down next the bride.
Mrs. Ned looked straight before her, and made no reply.
"Ah," thought Bessy, "I fear it is Ned's story with her."
"You'll like this place very much," she continued, "when you become acquainted with the people. They are very nice and neighbourly."
Mrs. Ned said nothing.
"To be sure one cannot help feeling lonely after leaving one's own home," said Bessy. "But it must be a great comfort to you to have your family so near you."
"What soart is the cows?" said Mrs. Ned, turning round suddenly, and looking straight into Bessy Morris's face.
"Oh," she stammered, quite taken by surprise, "I really don't know."
Because," rejoined Mrs. Ned, "I never see such miserable calves as them two that was in the yard when we wor comin' in. Maybe 'tis late they wor," she added, after a short silence, and looking anxiously at Bessy again.
"Perhaps so," Bessy replied, not well knowing what to say.
"I'd be long sorry to rear the likes uv 'em," said Mrs. Ned.
"Won't you drink the wine?" said Bessy.
Mrs. Ned did drink the wine; and hazarded a hope that the two-year olds were not the same breed as the two angishores she saw in the yard.
"There's no fear of her," said Bessy Morris to herself, as she took the empty glass back to the table. "She won't die of a broken heart."
In fact, Mrs. Ned Brophy was a very sensible young woman. Matches innumerable had been proposed and rejected, and "made" and "broke off" for one reason or another, in her case; which gave her very little concern, as she knew there was wherewithal in the old saucepan to secure her a husband — or rather "a nice place" — sooner or later. There were two competitors in the field this Shrovetide; and, in the difference, she was better pleased that Ned Brophy was the one "settled with"; though the fact that the other "had an uncle a priest" gained him the favour of her mother. But Ned's lease carried the day with old Larry Clancy. The circumstance which made the young woman herself incline more to Ned Brophy than to the priest's nephew, was, that Ned wore a cravat, and was more respectable-looking than his rival. Strange to say, however, the rejected wooer of the old saucepan actually fell in love afterwards with a young lady — we use the word advisedly — in his uncle's parish, who had been educated in a convent, and married her. And though she did not bring him a single sovereign, her husband was wont to declare that she was worth her weight in gold — which he persisted in pronouncing "goold," in spite of all she could say to the contrary.
"Nelly, will you be home wud Phil Lahy, an' have an eye to him?" said Billy Heffernan to Nelly Donovan, who was busy preparing tea — or "the tay," as Nelly herself was pleased to call that pleasant beverage.
"Why so?" she asked, rather sharply, "won't you be wud him yourse'f?"
"I must be goin'," he replied. "I ought to be on the road an hour ago."
"You'll be kilt," returned Nelly, in a softened tone, "wudout gettin' a wink uv sleep. Couldn't you put id off for wan day?"
"Well, as they're reg'lar customers I wouldn't like to disappoint them."
"Well, you won't go till you're afther takin' a sup uv this, at any rate," returned Nelly. "You that never dhrank a dhrop uv anything."
She filled out a cup of tea, and, after tasting it and pronouncing it, "hot, strong, and sweet," presented it to Billy Heffernan.
"The old woman," she continued, while Billy was drinking his cup of tea, "wants me to stop a day or two, and help to put the place to rights, an' pack up the borrowed things. But I'll warn Mat not to lose sight uv Phil till he laves him safe at home."
"I won't take any more," said Billy, stopping her hand as she was about filling his cup again.
"Now, Billy, don't be makin' an omadhaun uv yourse'f," she replied, pouring out the tea at the risk of scalding his hand, with which he attempted to cover the tea-cup.
"Don't you be lonesome," she continued, sitting down near him, "thravellin' be yourse'f this way every night?"
"I don't mind id," he replied. "'Tis some way uneasy I do be when I'm comin' near the town, an' I think every minute an hour till I'm out uv id agin."
"But sure 'tis lonesomer in the summer time," she continued, "in the bog by yourse'f from mornin' till night."
"That's what I do be longin' for," said Billy Heffernan. "I'm King uv Munster when I'm in the bog, an' the phillibeens whistlin' about me. No, begor," continued Billy, smacking his lips after emptying his cup; "when I'd sit on a bank uv a fine summer's evenin', and' look about me, I wouldn't call the queen my aunt."
"But why wouldn't you sell your turf in Kilthubber, an' not be goin' all the ways to Clo'mel, in the hoighth uv winther?"
"The divil a betther little town in Ireland to buy turf," replied Billy, "but there's too many goin' there."
"I'm looking for you this hour, Nelly," said a voice that made her start. "I'm after tiring them all down. Come and have another dance."
"Oh! Mr. Lory, I thought you wor gone home wud Mr. Kearney two hours ago."
"What a fool I am," replied Lory. "Come."
"Sure I'm goin' to get the tay," replied Nelly.
"Leave that to the old woman," he exclaimed, catching her hand and pulling her off to the barn.
"Come, Mr. Lloyd," said Lory, "get a partner."
But just then he discovered that the dancing was suspended, and that Mr. Lloyd, who had a good voice as well as a correct ear, was in the act of favouring the company with a song. Mr. Lloyd's song was the "Soldier's Tear," and on coming to the refrain, "and wiped away a tear," at the end of each verse, Mr. Lloyd suited the action to the word, by seeming to pluck out his left eye with his finger and thumb, and fling it on the floor, in a most moving manner.
Mr. Lloyd's song was so highly appreciated that the cheering and clapping were kept up for several minutes, during which the vocalist untied his hunting-whip, and in the calmest manner possible commenced attempting the feat of snuffing a candle at the other end of the table with the lash.
"Well, will you dance now?" said Lory, whose knees were beginning to work involuntarily.
"Another song, Lory. Sit down near me here, Nelly."
Nelly Donovan sat down near him and Mr. Lloyd sang "My Dark-haired Girl," casting admiring glances at her as he went on, particularly at the lines — .
"Thy lip is like the rose, and thy teeth they are pearl,
And diamonds are the eyes of my dark-haired girl";
which really applied very well to Nelly Donovan.
A still louder storm of applause followed this effort, and Nelly exclaimed:
"Faith, 'tis no wondher that so many are dyin' about you, sir," as she jumped up to rejoin her partner.
The bridegroom sat all this time in the corner by the kitchen fire, listening to old Phil Morris's reminiscences of '98, and quietly smoking his pipe. But as the guests began to leave, and came to bid him good morning, he would start up suddenly to shake hands with them; and after scratching his head with a puzzled look, Ned Brophy would seem to remember that he was at his own wedding, and then sit down again and forget all about it, till another "Good mornin', Ned, I wish you joy," would recall the circumstance to his mind.
At last, old Phil Morris himself thought it time to go home, and striking his stick against the hearthstone, he said:
"Mat, will you see about my ass, and tell that little girl uv mine to get ready. She ought to have enough uv the dancin' by this time, at any rate."
And to be sure, how Mat Donovan did start off, and how soon the ass was put to the cart, and what a quantity of fresh straw — oaten straw, too, for which he had to run to the haggard — was packed into the said cart, and then shaken up loosely, and patted and smoothed, till a sultana might have reclined on it.
Bessy soon appeared in her cloak and bonnet, looking, if possible, more captivating than ever. Half-a-dozen "boys" contended for the honour of handing her into the car; one of whom contented himself with placing a chair for her to step upon, which he held firm with all his might, as if the slightest shake would endanger her life. Mat handed the reins to old Phil, and led the ass out of the yard, and a little way along the narrow boreen.
"Why don't you ever come to see us, now?" Bessy asked, when he stopped to say good night.
"I don't have time," he replied, "except uv a Sunday. And the days are so short yet."
"Well, they'll soon be getting long," said she, clasping his hand very warmly; "and I'm sure grandfather would like to have a shanahus with you."
"Well, I'll shortly take a walk over."
"Next Sunday," said Bessy, in a distractingly coaxing tone.
"Well, the b'ys will be expectin' me to hurl o' Sunday," replied Mat. "An' besides, Captain French wants to have a throw uv a sledge wud me. He's askin' me ever since he came home to go over to the castle some week-day; but I couldn't spare time. And they're so d—n exact," he added, "about breakin' the Sabbath, that he wouldn't agree to appoint a Sunday. But, now, as the regiment is goin' abroad, he wouldn't be satisfied wudout havin' a throw wud me."
"Is the regiment going abroad?" she asked, with an interest that took Mat by surprise.
"They're not the same sogers," he replied, "that's in Kilthubber. They're dragoons."
"Oh! I know. I know Captain French's regiment."
"An' who cares where they go?" old Phil exclaimed under his teeth, as he jerked the reins and dealt a blow of his stick to the ass — for which that patient animal had to thank the English army.
Mat Donovan slowly retraced his steps to the house, feeling as if Bessy Morris's departure had suddenly turned the wedding into a wake, and singing, almost unconsciously
Oh! I'd rather have that car, sir,
With B — ahem! — Peggy by my side,
Than a coach-an'-four an' goold galore,
An' a lady for my bride."
He turned into the barn, and stood with folded arms leaning against the wall.
"I didn't see Mat dance to-night," said Mr. Lloyd to Nelly Donovan, as she sat down after another jig with Lory Hanly.
"I'll go myse'f and haul him out," returned Nelly, who was allowed to be the best dancer among the girls at Knocknagow.
"Stir yourse'f, you big lazy fellow," she exclaimed, taking hold of his arm and leading him out to the middle of the floor.
This movement was hailed with general satisfaction, and a dozen voices at once called upon the musicians to play "The Wind that shakes the Barley."
It was really a sight worth looking at. The athletic, but at the same time lithe and graceful form of the Thrasher was set off to the best advantage by Phil Lahy's chef d'oeuvre, the blue body-coat with the gilt buttons; and his sister was a partner every way worthy of him.
"What is id?" a stranger to the locality asked on finding the barn-door blocked up by a crowd of eager spectators.
"A brother and sister," was the reply; and it could be inferred from the tone and look of the speaker that the relationship between the great dancer, Mat Donovan, and his equally famous partner added greatly to the interest with which their performance was regarded. The excitement rose higher and higher as the dance went on, and a loud shout followed every brilliantly executed step. After each step the dancers changed places, and, moving slowly for a few seconds, commenced another which threw the preceding one quite into the shade, and, as a matter of course, called out a louder "bravo!" and a wilder "hurro!" When the enthusiasm was at its height, two men carrying a large door crushed their way through the crowd. Two more quickly followed bearing another large door. And, without causing any interruption, the doors were slipped under the feet of the dancers, which now beat an accompaniment to the music, as if a couple of expert drummers had suddenly joined the orchestra. There was a hush of silence as if the spectators were spell-bound, till Mat Donovan joined hands with his sister, and both bowed at the conclusion of the dance. And while a Tipperary cheer is shaking the roof of Ned Brophy's barn, we let the curtain drop on Ned Brophy's wedding.