HOME TO KNOCKNAGOW. — A TENANT AT WILL.
A HAND was laid on his shoulder, and on looking round, he saw the dragoon standing close to him.
"Come and have a drink," said the dragoon.
"I don't take anything; thank you all the same," replied Billy Heffernan.
"Oh, d—n it," returned the dragoon, "as we were comrades on the road, don't refuse a treat."
"Well, I'm a teetotaller," rejoined Billy Heffernan; "but if you'd have no objection to come over beyand the Wesht gate, I know a place where they have peppermint."
"All right," said the dragoon; and they continued on their way through the drays and carts.
"Is this all corn?" the dragoon asked.
"All whate," replied Billy Heffernan.
"I never saw so much corn at a market," returned the dragoon; "and yet ye Irish are always talking of starving. How is that?"
"Begob," said Billy Heffernan, "'tis many's the time I said thim words to myse'f."
"Where does it all go?" the dragoon asked.
"Some uv id is ground in the mills here an' up the river," replied Billy Heffernan; "an' more uv id is sent off wudout bein' ground. But ground or not ground off id goes. If you'll take a walk down to the quay, you'll see 'em loadin' the boats wud id. They brin' id on to Carrick, and from that down to Waterford, an' the divil a wan uv me knows where id goes afther that. 'Tis ould Phil Morris that could explain the ins an' outs uv id for you. But 'tis the corn that's makin' a town uv Clo'mel; so there's that much got out uv id afore id goes, as ould Phil says; besides the employment uv tillin' the land and reapin' id. But 'tis the big grass farms that's the ruination uv the counthry. 'Twas on account of thryin' to put a stop to 'em that they made up the plan to hang Father Sheehy. So ould Phil Morris tells me."
The mention of Phil Morris's name seemed to have put political economy completely out of the dragoon's head, and he did not again speak till Billy Heffernan roused him from his reverie after they had passed the West Gate.
"This is the house," said he.
"Come in," returned the dragoon.
"Here's luck, any way," said Billy Heffernan, as he tossed off his glass of peppermint.
The dragoon blew the froth from his mug of porter, and took him by the hand.
"Good morning, friend," said he, laying his empty mug on the counter.
"Have another," said Billy.
"No; no," returned the dragoon. "Good morning."
"Oh, begob," rejoined Billy Heffernan, getting between him and the door, and putting his hand against the soldier's broad chest, "we don't undherstand that soart o' work in Ireland."
"Yes, yes, I understand your custom," returned the dragoon smiling. "And," he added, "I will take another."
Billy Heffernan sold his creel of turf, and, after breakfasting upon a brown loaf and a bowl of coffee in a cellar, was returning through the Main Street, thanking his stars that the big town with its noise and bustle would be soon left behind him, when his eye caught the big dragoon standing with folded arms opposite a shop window, and seeming absorbed in the examination of the articles there displayed. Happening to look round, he recognised his companion of the morning and beckoned to him. Billy Heffernan stopped his mule, and waited till the dragoon had crossed over to the middle of the street.
"Going home?" said the dragoon.
"Yes," replied Billy; "I have the turf sowld."
"Would you," the dragoon asked, after a pause, "would you bring a message from me to Bessy Morris?"
"Well, I will," said Billy; but he felt, he couldn't tell why, as if he would rather not.
"Wait for a minute," said the dragoon, and he walked quickly back to the shop.
He soon returned, and handed to Billy Heffernan what seemed a small box wrapped in paper.
"What will I say?" Billy asked, as he put the parcel in his waistcoat pocket.
"Well, I don't know," returned the dragoon, as if he felt at a loss.
Billy Heffernan very naturally looked at him with some surprise.
"Say," said he, at last, "that it is from a friend."
"Begob," thought Billy Heffernan, "he is a bad case. I wondher what do she think uv him? 'Twould be d—n dhroll if Bessy Morris, above all the girls in the parish, would marry a soger. Begob, ould Phil 'ud choke her afore he'd give her to a redcoat. Come, Kit, be lively, or they'll be all in bed afore we get to Knocknagow."
Billy Heffernan and his mule had left the busy town with the cloud over it some miles behind them when the sun was disappearing behind the hills upon which the dragoon turned round to gaze when his companion would have called his attention to the Waterford mountains — by which piece of eccentricity the reader has lost an exciting legend of those mountains, which Billy Heffernan was about relating for the amusement and instruction of his military friend. But it was all owing to Bessy Morris — who we fear has much more than that to answer for. As the stars began to peep out one by one — and there was one star that shone with a pure, steady lustre, and Billy Heffernan felt sure it was looking through the beech-tree into a face as mild and beautiful as itself — he began to wonder why he felt so tired and sleepy; but, recollecting that he had had no rest the night before, he turned to his mule, and said, "Wo! Kit," in a manner that made that sagacious animal not only stop, but turn round till her nose touched the shaft, and look at him. The fact was, Billy Heffernan was in the act of yawning as he pronounced the word "Wo!" and a stiffness in his jaw as he attempted to add the other word suggested dislocation, which so alarmed Billy Heffernan that his mule's name escaped from him with a cry, as if some one were choking him. And hence Kit not only halted at the word of command, but looked round to see what was the matter. And, finding that there was no rude hand on her master's windpipe, Kit expressed her satisfaction by advancing her fore-leg as far as possible, and rubbing her nose to it.
Billy Heffernan placed one foot on the nave, and then the other on the band of the wheel, and climbed up till he stood on the side of his car. He put back his hand several times, and attempted to catch the skirt of his barragain coat under his arm. But the skirt was too short; and, after two or three unsuccessful attempts, Billy Heffernan looked down at himself with a look of drowsy surprise. He first thought of the elk's horn fixed to the rafter in his own house; then Phil Morris's old goat came to his assistance; and at last Billy Heffernan thought of Mick Brien, and a shake of the head signified that he was satisfied. In fact, Billy Heffernan, before climbing into his creel, was attempting to tuck the skirt of his ratteen riding-coat under his arm, and was much astonished on finding that trusty companion of his journeyings missing for the first time in his life; for the ratteen riding-coat, its owner averred, was as good to keep out the heat as the cold, and, consequently, he was never known, winter or summer, to take the road without it. For a moment he thought he must have left it at home, but then that glimpse at the half-moon through the rent in the skirt occurred to him, and he knew he had the riding-coat as far as Phil Morris's. Then the idea of the half-moon shining through the rent in the riding-coat brought the roofless cabin to his mind, and the pale faces upon which the moonlight fell so coldly, and Billy Heffernan shook his head as he remembered how he had wrapped his riding-coat around poor Mick Brien.
Billy Heffernan climbed into his creel; and, resting his arms on the front, and leaning his chin on his arms, waited patiently till the mule was done rubbing her nose against her leg; and as the mule continued rubbing her nose against her leg rather longer than usual, her master began rubbing his nose against the sleeve of his coat. There was, in fact, a remarkable sympathy between Billy Heffernan and his mule in the matter of rubbing the nose.
The mule at last moved on of her own accord, for which piece of considerate civility her master resolved to give her an extra fistful of bran when they got home, for he was so tired and drowsy that he felt it would be a task to say "Yo-up, Kit." Indeed, the mere thought of being obliged to speak brought on another yawn, and Billy Heffernan turned his open mouth to his thumb — which required less exertion than moving his hand to his mouth — and made the Sign of the Cross. To neglect making the Sign of the Cross over the mouth while yawning would be even worse in Billy Heffernan's eyes than to forget saying "God bless us" after sneezing, and almost as bad as going to bed without saying his prayers, or sprinkling himself with holy water.
The mule jogged on quite briskly, as if she knew her master's good intentions regarding the additional fistful of bran, while he leant over the creel, with his cheek resting on his arm, as a weary traveller might rest upon a gate, and looked lazily along the road before him in a somewhat confused state of mind. Becoming too sleepy to maintain his standing position, he dropped down in the bottom of the car; and after a pantomimic wrapping of himself in the ratteen riding-coat, resolutely resolved to keep wide awake till he reached home. In spite of his firm resolves, however, it occurred to him that he must have dozed for half a minute or so, as he opened his eyes on missing the rumble of the wheels.
"Yo-up, Kit," said he, but Kit never stirred.
He turned upon his elbow; and, looking through the laths of the creel, saw that the mule was drinking from a little stream that ran across the road.
Billy Heffernan rubbed his eyes, and thought he must be either dreaming or bewitched. But there could be no mistake about it. There was the identical little stream over which he had lifted Norah Lahy that bright summer evening long ago, and in the middle of which he stood the night before and wept.
"Well, that bangs Banagher," exclaimed Billy Heffernan, rising to his feet, and rubbing his eyes again. "I thought I wasn't wudin tin mile uv id. I wondher what time uv the night might it be?"
He was wide awake now, and there was an anxious expression in his face as he looked about him, while the mule moved on briskly, seeming quite refreshed and lively after her draught at the little stream. An old fear, by which he was always haunted when descending that hill on his way home, fell upon Billy Heffernan. Most people, we suspect, have experienced some such feeling when approaching home after a lengthened absence. But it weighed upon Billy Heffernan's heart after the absence of a single day. True, he was alone in the world. He had no father or mother, sister or brother, wife or child, to awaken that feeling of dread. Yet he never descended that hill on his way from the busy town with the cloud over it without fearing that, just after passing Mat the Thrasher's clipped hedge, the children would run out from one of the next group of houses to the middle of the road, exclaiming, "O Billy! poor Norah Lahy is dead!"
The light shone brightly, as usual, in Mat Donovan's window, so that it could not be very far advanced in the night. And when he passed the clipped hedge, and saw Honor Lahy's window giving the hamlet quite the look of a town, Billy Heffernan's heart began to beat as pleasantly as when he discovered that his assailant of the night before was Phil Morris's old goat, and not the ghost of a Hessian. He climbed out of the creel at his own door; and, taking the key from under the thatch, let himself in.
There was not as much as a cat to welcome him home, nor a spark upon the hearth. Yet Billy Heffernan felt that he was at home, and was happy in his own way. Taking the mule from the car, he let her find her way to her crib, and went himself for "the seed of the fire" to the next house. Having lighted the fire, he took the tackling off the mule and hung it on the bog-wood pegs. The elk's horn reminded him of his riding-coat; and after a glance at the fire, which seemed between two minds whether it would light or go out, Billy Heffernan shrugged his shoulders, and, sitting down in the chimney-corner on his antediluvian block, fixed his eyes on the moonlight that shone through the open doorway on the floor. Kit seemed to find some attraction in the moonlight, too, for she left her crib and smelled that portion of the floor upon which it fell, all round, and over and over, and then Kit deliberately lay down in the moonlight and tumbled. After which invigorating recreation, Kit sat up, and, instead of going back to her crib, remained where she was, winking at the moon. And Billy Heffernan, leaning back against the wall in the chimney-corner, began to wonder what Kit was thinking of. Whatever the subject of her thoughts might be, she got up after awhile and returned to her crib; and the working of her jaws reminded her master that he could not live upon moonshine either. So, taking his old gallon in his hand, he went to the well for water, thereby frightening Kit Cummins, who happened to be at the well for water, too, almost out of her life; she, by some process of reasoning peculiar to herself, having mistaken him for "the black dog," because his barragain coat happened to be nearly white. Having convinced Kit Cummins that he was not the black dog, and disgusted her by "insinuating" a doubt of that creature's very existence — though it was a well-known fact the well was haunted by him time out of mind — Billy Heffernan returned home with his gallon of water, and, pouring some of it into a small pot which he must have filled with washed potatoes before going to Ned Brophy's wedding, hung it on the fire to boil. Then closing his door behind him, he walked down to Honor Lahy's to purchase a half penny herring. He was agreeably surprised to see Phil Lahy sitting by his own fireside, holding serious discourse with Tom Hogan and Mat Donovan, as he had almost made up his mind that the "cordial" at Ned Brophy's wedding would have proved the commencement of a protracted "spree," which would cost Norah much anxiety and suffering. But her smiling face, as she listened to her father expounding the various political questions of the day, satisfied Billy Heffernan that his apprehensions on this occasion were groundless. Honor, too, was the very picture of happiness, and in the excess of her pride and delight was actually obliged to put away her knitting, and give herself up wholly to the enjoyment of Phil's eloquence.
"Good-night, Billy; sit down," said Phil Lahy, mildly, the words being thrown in parenthetically to the peroration of his discourse on home manufactures, which, he contended, could never be revived under a foreign government.
Billy Heffernan was about declining the invitation, but seeing it was seconded by Norah Lahy's dark eyes, he couldn't.
"I don't know," was Tom Hogan's comment at the conclusion of the speech. "I never minded them soart uv things. An' though I gave my shillin' as well as another to O'Connell, to plaise the priest, I never could see the good uv id. If people'd mind their business an' industhre, they'd be able to hould on, barrin' sich as'd be turned out be the landlord."
"Tom," said Phil Lahy, with a sort of solemn indignation, "'tis wastin' words to be talkin' to you."
"'Tis thirty years now," continued Tom Hogan, "since I came into my little spot, an' so long as God spared me my health I never lost half a day; an' signs on, look at id, an' where would you find a more compact little place in the country? An' what was id but a snipe farm the day I came to id. But I worked airly an' late, wet an' dhry, an' glory be to God, I'm milkin' six cows now where Billy Heffernan's mule'd perish the day I came into id. An' if others done the same they'd have the same story."
"An' Tom, what rent are you paying now?"
"Well, 'tis a purty smart rint," replied Tom Hogan seriously. "But the land is worth id," he added proudly.
"An' who made id worth id, Tom? Answer me that."
"I did," he replied, with something like a swagger. "Thim two hands did id for the first ten years, barrin' what help my wife gave me; an', begor, so far as diggin' stubbles and work uv that sort, she done ridge for ridge wud me of'en an' of'en. But I made the dhrains, an' sunk the dykes, an' riz the ditches single hand. But now," he continued consequentially, "I can keep a servant boy, an' hire a few men. An' I ate my own bit uv butther now an' then," added Tom Hogan, with the air of a lord.
"An' what rent are you payin'?"
"Well, thirty-eight shillin's, since the last rise."
"An' suppose the next rise puts it up to forty-eight."
Tom Hogan stared at his questioner with a frightened look.
"If he was the divil," he exclaimed, after a pause, "he couldn't put id up to forty-eight shillin's an acre."
"An' what was id when you came there first?"
"About fifteen shillin's an acre all round. But 'tis betther worth thirty-eight now."
"Have you a lase?"
"No, nor I don't want a lase so long as I have a gentleman for my landlord that won't disturb any poor man that'll pay him his rent fair and honest."
"An' as fast as you improve your land, putting the whole labour uv your life into id, he'll rise the rint on ye."
"An' why not, so long as he don't rise id too high?"
"Tom Hogan," said Phil Lahy, surveying him from head to foot, and then looking him steadily in the face — "Tom Hogan, I'll see you scratch a beggarman's back yet."
Tom Hogan looked astonished, quite unable to comprehend why he should be called upon to perform such an office for a beggarman or any one else. But Phil Lahy meant to convey, in this figurative and unnecessarily roundabout way, that Tom Hogan would be a beggar himself.
"I partly see what Phil is at," observed Mat Donovan. "Whin 'tis his own labour an' his own money made the land what id is, the rint had no right to be riz on him. Sure he has his place just as if he took a piece uv the Golden Vale an' laid id down among the rishis an' yallow clay all around id. An' because he wint on dhrainin', an' limin', an' fencin', an' manurin' for thirty years, is that the raison the rint should be riz on him, wherein more uv 'em that never done any thing at all is on'y payin' the ould rint? That's a quare way to encourage a man."
"An' Tom," said Phil Lahy, "what would you take for the good-will of that farm?"
"I wouldn't take a million uv money," he replied, in a husky voice. "My heart is stuck in id."
His chin dropped upon his chest, and his hands began to tremble as if he had the palsy.
Ah, though we cannot help sharing Phil Lahy's contempt for Tom Hogan's slavishness, we heartily wish he had a more secure hold of that little farm in which "his heart was stuck" than the word of a gentleman who went on raising the rent as fast as Tom Hogan went on with his draining, and fencing, and liming, and manuring — to say nothing of the new slated barn and cow-house.
Norah looked at him with surprise, as if she could scarcely believe he was the same Tom Hogan who, a few minutes before, seemed so full of consequence as he boasted of eating his own butter now and then. She then turned an appealing look to her father, which checked the sarcasm and the bitter laugh that Phil Lahy was on the point of indulging in at the expense of the poor tenant-at-will, who tried so hard to persuade himself and others that he was not only satisfied with his serfdom, but proud of it.
"Good-night to ye," said Tom Hogan, rising from his chair. "'Tis time to be goin' home."
"'Tis time for all uv us," said Mat Donovan. "I'll come down to-morrow night," he added, "and lend a hand to that chair of Norah's. 'Tis sinkin' too much at the side."
Norah thanked him with a grateful look. Every little act of kindness made her happy.
"Come out, Honor, and get me a herrin'," said Billy Heffernan. "Faith, I'm afeard the spuds'll be broke. I hung 'em down to bile when I was comin' out."
"Good-night," said Torn Hogan, when he came to his own gate. His hand trembled so much that he could not raise the hasp, and Mat Donovan stopped and opened and closed the gate for him.
"God help him," said Mat, as he rejoined Billy Heffernan, "if ever it comes to his turn."
"To be turned out."
"There's no danger uv that," Billy replied. "He's the snuggest man in the place."
"All he's worth in the world," returned Mat, "is buried in the land. He couldn't give a fortune to Nancy. An' as for Jemmy, he tells me he'll run away an' list, he makes him work so hard, and wouldn't give him a shillin' for pocket-money. An' 'tis a hard timing, Billy, to think that any man could come up to you and tell you to walk out uv the house an' place you wor afther spendin' the labour uv your life on."
"Begor, Mat," returned Billy, "I could stick the man, as ould Phil Morris says he'd do, that'd turn me out of that mild cabin there, not to say a snug house and farm like Tom Hogan's."
"Peg Brady was tellin' me," said Mat, "that you called into Phil Morris's last night when you wor passin'."
"I turned in to redden the pipe whin I see the doore open."
"She was goin' on about somethin' that I couldn't pick head or tail out uv," continued Mat Donovan. "On'y she said if I knew id I'd be surprised. She said you kem in to light the pipe afther, but I couldn't understand her. But she was dhrivin' at somethin'."
Billy Heffernan put his finger and thumb into his waist-coat pocket, and was on the point of saying that he had passed Phil Morris's without remembering to give the little box to Bessy, but he felt instinctively that he ought not to speak of it, though he had no particular reason for supposing that it concerned Mat Donovan more than anybody else.
"Did you see Bessy?" Mat asked, seeing that his companion had offered no remark upon what he had just said.
"I did," Billy replied; "the two uv 'em wor sittin' at the fire."
"Peg an' Bessy."
"Wasn't there any wan else?"
"Divil a wan — whin I wint in. The ould man was in bed."
"Peg is sich an innocent soart uv a girl," said Mat, as if to himself. "I suppose she wanted to take a rise out uv me. She was hintin' at somethin' or other, but the not a wan uv me knows what id was. She tould me," he added, after a pause, "that Bessy was comin' over to cut a new gown or somethin' for Miss Mary to-morrow."
"Begor," said Billy Heffernan, putting his hand again in his pocket, "I may as well give you a message I have for her."
"What is id?" Mat asked.
"I won't mind id," returned Billy, as it occurred to him that if he gave the box to Mat, he should tell from whom he got it.
Billy Heffernan was in the habit of making little purchases for his neighbours in Clonmel, and Mat Donovan attributed his change of mind regarding the message, to what he considered a very natural desire on Billy's part to deliver it to the fascinating Bessy himself.
"Come in an' rest," said Billy, when they had come to his house.
"Oh, 'tis all hours. My mother'll think the mickilleens is afther ketchin' me," replied Mat, as he quickened his pace with all the appearance of a man in a great hurry. But Billy saw him stop almost immediately, and, after hesitating for a moment as if he thought of turning back to renew the conversation, walk on again very slowly towards his own house.
"By my word," thought Billy Heffernan, as he took the "spuds" off the fire — which "spuds," to his great relief, he found were not broken, owing, perhaps, to the length of time the fire had taken to kindle — "by my word I'm afeard he's a bad case, too."
He lighted his bog-pine candle, and examined the little package the dragoon had given him with considerable curiosity.
"Now, I wondher what might be in id," he thought, as he tried to judge of its weight by moving his hand up and down. "'Tisn't heavy, whatever id is. But what is id to me what's in id? I'll give id into her own hands, for maybe if any wan else got id they might make harm uv id, as little as id is. An'," added Billy Heffernan, with a shake of his head, " 'tis a d—n little thing some people couldn't make harm uv. Well, 'twouldn't be aisy to make me b'lieve any bad uv Bessy Morris; though she is the divil for coortin'."
He strained the water off the "spuds" into the pool outside the door, and leaving the pot on the floor to let them cool, he sat upon his block and shook the little box close to his ear.
"Now, as sure as I'm alive," said he, "'tis a thimble. An' sure Nelly Donovan tould me 'twas to larn to be a manty maker that Bessy stopped in Dublin so long. But 'tis thinkin' uv my two-eyed beefsteak I ought to be."
And, considering that he had eaten nothing since he breakfasted in the cellar in Clonmel, it was not surprising that Billy Heffernan should now think of his supper. And while he is roasting his herring on the tongs, we will go back for a moment to Bessy Morris, whom we left sitting in her grandfather's arm-chair, with a flush upon her forehead, and nervously tapping with her fingers on the table.
"When did he come?" she asked, without raising her eyes.
"A little start afther you goin'," replied Peg Brady, who had returned to her seat, and was occupied in taking some of the partially burnt turf from the fire and quenching it in the ashes in the corner. "I was goin' to tell him to run afther ye, an' have his share uv the fun."
Bessy looked at her with surprise, and, drawing a long breath, as if she had escaped a great danger — for she shrank from the idea of the sensation the dragoon's appearance in search of her would have created at the wedding — she said with forced calmness, "You had no right to let him stay."
"Was id to turn him out the doores I was? An' how was I to know that ye'd stay so late. I thought you'd be home before twelve o'clock at the farthest. An' he afther comin' for nothin' else in the world but to see you."
"But didn't you know how my grandfather hated the sight of a soldier? There's no knowing what he might say or do if he saw him."
"There's my thanks for sendin' him into your own room till your grandfather was gone to bed, whin I hear ye comin'."
"Peg, you are very foolish." And Bessy commenced tapping the table more nervously than ever. "What would be said if he was seen in my room?"
"Faith, you're losin' your courage," returned Peg Brady. "I thought you wouldn't mind what any wan 'd say."
Bessy Morris closed her lips tightly and gazed into the fire.
"He said he wrote a letter to you from Dublin," said Peg Brady.
"So he told me," Bessy replied, absently. "But I did not get it. Maybe 'tis at the post-office."
"Begor, he's a fine, handsome man, anyhow; an' he's a sergeant. He said that in all his thravels he never see the like uv you."
The compressed lips parted, and a flash of light shot from Bessy Morris's eyes; and, bending down her head, she covered her face with her hands as if she wished to hide these symptoms of gratified vanity from her companion.
"I don't know how you manage to come round the whole uv 'em," said Peg Brady, with a sigh. "I wish you'd make up your mind an' take wan an' put the rest out uv pain. An' maybe thin some uv us might have a chance."
"Well, Peg," said Bessy, as she rose from her chair, " don't say anything about it. You don't know how hard the world is."
"Oh, yes; that's the way. Purtend to the whole uv 'em there's no wan but himse'f, and keep 'em all on your hands."
"There it is," said Bessy, stopping, before she had reached the door of her room, as if Peg's remark was a foretaste of what she had to expect.
"Well, you may depend on me," returned Peg, "I'll say nothin'."
Bessy Morris retired to her room greatly excited.
"But what is there to be frightened at?" she thought. "Sure he's not the first bachelor that ever came to see me. But people are so bad-minded."
Yet it never occurred to her that if she had not been such a "divil for coortin'," as Billy Heffernan had expressed it, the dragoon, in all probability, would never have heard of the existence of Knocknagow, where he found himself the previous evening, and learned from Mat Donovan's mother that he had passed Phil Morris's house and left it a mile or two behind him.
"May heaven direct me!" exclaimed Bessy Morris, as she knelt down to say her prayers. " I feel as if some misfortune was hanging over me."
"I wish to the Lord," said Peg Brady, as she raked the ashes over the embers on the hearth, "that he was afther whippin' her away. An' sure what betther match could she expect? An' who knows but — well, there's no use in countin' our chickens afore they're hatched. What a fool poor Mat is!" And Peg Brady broke off with a sigh as she put the back-stick to the door.