Knocknagow - CHAPTER VIII.



THE kettle was just beginning to join its song to the song of the old linnet when Mrs. Lahy or Honor Lahy, as she was more generally called by her neighbours returned from the Station. She was a comfortable-looking dame, enveloped in a blue cloth cloak, with the hood drawn over her head, and her hands encased in grey worsted mittens.

During the greater part of her life, Honor Lahy had found it hard enough to make both ends meet. For honest Phil used to "take a drop," and his earnings seldom did more than clear off the weekly score at the public-house. His customers dropped off one by one, the few who remained faithful to him having often to keep their purchases for weeks and even months till they could catch him in their own houses; and then Phil Lahy and his goose and lap-board were jealously guarded till the "new shoots" were finished off, when the artist was set at liberty, looking fat and healthy after a week or two of good fare and enforced sobriety. His wife eked out the necessaries of life by rearing poultry and fattening a pig; the pig going the way of most Irish pigs to the landlord. In spite of all her exertions, however, she grew poorer and poorer, till at last she and her husband returned one fine evening from the fair of Ballymullin, and all the neighbours remarked that, instead of the "slip" which, as usual, they expected to see trotting before them, and which was sure to be a good one for Phil Lahy was acknowledged to be "the best judge of a pig" in the county Phil on this May evening carried a "bonneen" under his arm.

When the next gale day came round 'twas an "admiration" how fast and sure gale days did come round in Knocknagow "Berky," in spite of the care lavished on her including scratching her sides during meal times, to keep her in good humour was little better than a "slip"; and poor Honor looked into her sick child's face with a heart almost breaking.

One fine morning, however, Barney Brodherick tumbled himself out of the little blue donkey cart in which he made his daily journeys to town, and announced to Honor the startling piece of news that there was an American letter for her at the post-office.

Honor flung her old cloak on her head, and set off to town in a very excited state of mind, a proceeding which caused every soul of a pretty numerous female crowd, who were "bittling" in the little stream, to "wonder" where she was going. There was a feeling of anxiety among the younger girls lest it might be that Norah had got suddenly worse. and that her mother was hastening for the priest or the doctor. But a girl standing on the bridge, with a child in her arms, removed their anxiety on this point by assuring them that she could see Norah from where she stood, sitting in her straw chair under the beech tree, reading a book with "Friskey" on his haunches "grug" was the word she used on the "bench," snapping at the flies.

When Honor came back from the post-office she passed Norah without uttering a word. She took off her cloak and hung it on its own proper peg, and sat upon a chair, for she was rather out of breath, and waited patiently and in silence till her husband had dismissed a boy who was looking into the tailor's face, and evidently awaiting an answer of some kind to a message which he had just delivered with a pair of trousers, which, as Phil held them up to the light, seemed very suitable to drape the limbs of a scarecrow.

"Who sent this?" Phil asked, holding up the garment with both hands.

"Mr. Andrews, sir."

"Well, tell him," said Phil, in a tone of the blandest politeness "tell him I don't mend. I only make and repair."

The boy tucked the dilapidated garment under his arm and disappeared.

Mrs. Lahy took the letter from her bosom, and let the hand which held it drop down by her side, looking into Phil's face as if she suspected he knew all about it, and was playing off some trick upon her.

"Read it," she said at last calmly, and sat down again after handing him the letter.

Phil put on his spectacles, and studied the superscription and the post-marks with great deliberation, a proceeding which Honor seemed to consider quite necessary, for when she saw him baffled by a blotted post-mark, she stood up and pulled aside the little window-curtain to give him more light.

"'Twas posted in Boston, United States," said Phil, "on either the first or fourth of September, eighteen hundred and "

"Maybe, wud the help uv God, 'tis from Larry," said she, leaning affectionately on Phil's shoulder. "Open it, Phil, in the name uv God."

Phil did so, and holding back his head, read: "My dear sister "

"'Tis Larry," she exclaimed, giving Phil a shake that made him request she would "be easy."

"Thanks be to God! 'Tis Larry. He's alive. What did I tell you? Eh, Phil?"

And she gave him another shake, which had the effect, of making Phil deliberately push back his chair and lean against the wall, thereby preventing further assaults from behind. He glanced at the end of the letter, and said after a pause:

"'Tis from Larry."

But on separating the leaves of the large sheet of letter-paper a slip fell from between them on his knees.

"There's ten pounds in id," said Phil, looking at the writing on the slip.

"Arra whist, Phil! Where is id?"

"Take this to the bank to-morrow, an' you'll get ten goold sovereigns for id."

Honor fixed her eyes upon his face, as if his words were quite beyond her comprehension.

"Phil achorra," said she, in a reproachful tone, and trying to recover her breath, "Phil, achorra, read the letter."

She drew a low stool towards her, and gently pushing the dog from between Phil's legs, sat down in front of him with her hand under her chin. Phil read the letter in a steady monotonous tone, stopping occasionally to comment upon its contents, and leaving off altogether at one place, and fixing his eyes on the opposite wall, as if he were addressing a rather numerous audience, delivered an interesting lecture on the rapid growth of American cities; dwelling particularly on the fact that the man was still alive when the book from which be had his information was printed, who sold the ground upon which the city of Cincinnati was built for a "pony-horse" greatly to the edification of his wife, who had a profound respect for his erudition.

"Put that in your hussif," said Phil, handing her the cheque.

She did so; and set about preparing Norah's boiled bread and milk without speaking a word.

"Are you goin' to get that cheque cashed?" Phil asked next morning after breakfast, as he unfolded a newspaper the schoolmaster had just given him on his way to school.

"Arra whist, Phil," was her only reply.

"Don't be makin' an oonshugh uv yourself," said Phil. "Go get yourself ready, and as soon as I finish this speech uv the counsellor's I'll go with you."

During the afternoon of that day Mat the Thrasher observed Honor and Phil from the roof of Tom Hogan's barn, which he was thatching, slowly wending their way up the hill towards the hamlet. When they came opposite the first house Honor went in, and Phil slackened his pace to wait for her. There was nothing extraordinary in this, and Mat proceeded with his work. But when he saw the same thing occur at every house they passed, his curiosity was excited; and instead of looking over his shoulder, he turned round and sat upon the ladder to observe them more conveniently. He now saw that Honor, both on entering and leaving each house, held out her hand as if she were begging for alms. By the time she reached Tom Hogan's there was quite a crowd at her heels, the looks of most of whom expressed wonder and delight; but Mat did not fail to notice a dark scowl of envy in the faces of a few which only showed, how ever, that human nature in Knocknagow was like human nature all the world over. Mat came down from the roof of the house to see what it was all about.

"Wisha, more uv that to you, Honor; an' didn't I always tell you the luck'd come when you laste expected id," exclaimed Tom Hogan's wife, as she followed Honor outside the door, with the stirabout stick smoking in her hand.

And now Mat's own face assumed the look of astonishment which it so puzzled him to account for in the faces of those around him. For spread over the palm of Honor Lahy's extended hand he beheld ten bright gold sovereigns shining in the sun.

Honor and Phil spent nearly the whole of that night discussing the important question of how their capital might be invested to the greatest advantage. Phil was divided between the purchase of a "new-milk's cow" and turning corn merchant.

"As you won't agree to the cow," said Phil, "what do you think of buying oats? The loft 'd be very handy, by gettin' the holes mended. I always thought it a pity to see such a loft goin' astray. An' since the new school-house was built 'twasn't worth a penny to us except the five shillings from the dancing-master, an' whatever trifle Biddy Murphy gave you for her benefit party."

But Honor had her own plan, and was resolved upon following it.

I'll talk to Mat Donovan to-morrow," said she, "an' he'll tell me what things'll be wanted to fit the place up properly."

So Mat was consulted; and the second next day after, Wattletoes stopped his little blue cart at Phil Lahy's door again; but this time Phil was called out to assist in carrying in several inch and half-inch deal-boards. Tom Carey, the carpenter, was employed inside the house during the remainder of the week. And on a certain memorable Tuesday morning a straw basket heaped up with meal, with a bright tin measure on the top of the heap, was seen in the window of Phil Lahy's old house; a stand of the finest salt herrings that eye ever beheld to judge from the three that glistened on the segment of the top of the barrel that was left stood outside the door; and Honor Lahy stood behind her new counter, upon which was laid a huge square of salt as white as her cap.

From that day forward the world went well with Honor Lahy: so well, indeed, that dark hints were thrown out by some people that the ten sovereigns were part of the contents of a "crock" found under the hearthstone in the "barrack," at the left-hand side of the fire. There were no fewer than five living witnesses but four of them happened to be in America who could bear testimony to an important circumstance in connection with the story of the crock. The circumstance referred to was this: Three years before the year of the big snow, in fact Phil Lahy, while removing a projection of the hob, that encroached too far upon the fireplace, found a bad halfpenny all encrusted with mortar, which was so hard that Phil altogether failed to remove it from the coin by the application of his thumb. But when it was recollected that Phil himself had told his neighbours that the halfpenny was one of James the Second's the truth of the story of the crock of gold was considered beyond all reasonable doubt.

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