Knocknagow - CHAPTER XXV.



BILLY Heffernan, on reaching his own door, was about bidding his companion good-night, when it occurred to him that Phil might take it into his head to pay a visit to Jack Delaney's forge, from the door of which, late as it was, a gleam of light shone out at intervals, indicating that the blacksmith had some work in hand which it was necessary to finish before morning.

Billy Heffernan's suspicion proved well founded; for, after reflecting for a minute or two, Phil said:

"Billy, I'll wish you good-night. I'll take a walk down to the forge. I want to talk to Jack Delaney about about a little business."

"Sure you can see him to-morrow, or any time," replied Billy.

Phil put his finger and thumb into his waistcoat-pocket, and taking out the last shilling of what Mat the Thrasher had given him, he fell into a deep reverie.

"Faith, I b'lieve 'tis burnin' you," said Billy Heffernan to himself. "'Tis gettin' late," he observed aloud; "an' maybe if you stopped out any longer Norah might be frettin'."

This decided Phil, who walked off so quickly that Billy found himself standing alone in the middle of the road.

He was about turning towards his own door a little disappointed, perhaps when Phil was at his side again as suddenly as he had left it.

"Billy," said he, "you may as well come in for a minute."

This invitation was not prompted by politeness on Phil Lahy's part. Perhaps if it were, Billy Heffernan would have declined it. But he knew Phil shrank from meeting his wife alone which may appear strange, for it was quite true that she "wouldn't say a word to him no matter what he'd do," as he said at Mat Donovan's. But perhaps this forbearance was the secret of her influence.

"Norah, you ought to be in bed," said Phil Lahy in a mild, parental tone, as he laid his hat on the top of the press near his shop-board, with the air of a man who had been labouring hard since daybreak to maintain his family respectably.

For Phil Lahy really seemed to be quite satisfied that he was the prop of the household. And when he did happen to do anything useful such, for instance, as transferring a customer's account from his wife's board, where it was chalked in the shape of "strokes and O's," to the account book, or buying a couple of "slips" at the fair Phi Lahy had the look of a martyr who was slaving from year's end to year's end to keep a roof over the heads of his wife and children. He was apt to get those "weaknesses," too, to which he was subject on these occasions, and his hints as to the necessity of a little "nourishment" were both strong and frequent.

At certain seasons, too, he was wont to take sudden fits of industry, which usually lasted half-an-hour at a time, and evinced themselves in "digging the haggart"; and 'twas wonderful how often the handle of his spade would get loose, and how every one would be in his way while he searched for the hammer, or sharpened a knife, to make a wedge, on the brown flag at the shop door. In reference to this peculiarity Mat the Thrasher was heard to declare that if Phil Lahy "on'y turned a dog up from the fire you'd think the whole house was dependin' on him."

"You know, Norah," he continued, in a tone of mild reproach, "it doesn't answer you to be up late."

"An' sure you know," replied his wife, "that she wouldn't go to bed till you'd come home; and if she did itself she couldn't sleep."

"I was readin' an American paper over at Mat's," said he. "Billy Heffernan and myself happened to be there, an' we didn't feel the time passin'. I told Nelly how much obliged to her you were for the fresh eggs."

This was a deep stroke of Phil's; and he began to feel that he had been discharging an important duty during the evening which placed them all under an obligation to him.

"I think," he continued, as if he thought he might law fully allow himself a little relaxation at last, " I think I'll look over the bishop's speech."

He sat down by the end of the table next the fire, and snuffed the candle with his fingers.

There were cups and saucers and a loaf of bread cut into substantial slices on the table; and as soon as Billy Heffernan observed them he was moving silently towards the door. No one noticed him but Norah, who turned round in her chair and followed him with her eyes. Such an effort was so unusual with her, that her mother looked up in surprise to see what had happened. But observing nothing but Billy Heffernan's retreating figure, she turned to Norah for, an explanation; and her look of inquiry was met by one of mild reproach from Norah's dark eyes.

Mrs. Lahy was for a moment quite at a loss to understand what had gone wrong; but the real state of affairs suddenly flashed upon her, and starting up she seized Billy Heffernan by the shoulder before he had reached the door.

"Wisha, Billy," said she, "what did we do to you?"

"Nothin'," he replied," quite taken by surprise. "Who said ye did anything to me?"

Here, go over there to the corner and sit down, an' have cup uv tay wud us."

Billy hesitated; but Mrs. Lahy pushed him by main force to the seat in the corner; and a glance from Norah decided him.

"I'll first run up," said Billy, "to throw a sop uv hay to he mule, and I'll be back in a minute."

"How bad she is!" returned Honor Lahy. "She can wait till you go home."

"Well," said Billy Heffernan, scratching his head uneasily, I haven't the flute.'

This remark made Norah smile; and she gave him one of those looks those melancholy, grateful looks that always brought something into Billy Heffernan's throat.

"You're sure you'll come back now?" said Honor Lahy, keeping her position between him and the door.

"Well, I will," he replied. And she let him pass, and returned to her stool to finish the toasting and buttering of a thin piece of bread which she had left on a plate on the hearth when she started up to prevent Billy Heffernan's exit. Billy was soon back with his flute; but before he had time to screw the joints together, Mrs. Lahy snatched them from him, and laid them aside with Phil's American paper. And taking the sturdy little black tea-pot from the hearth, having first placed the table in front of the fire, she poured out the tea.

Billy Heffernan reached for his cup without leaving his seat in the chimney-corner. Norah's was laid with her toast on a chair near her, and Honor and Phil sat at the table, having the full benefit of the turf fire. Altogether it was a pleasant little party.

Phil Lahy was not insensible to the comforts by which he as surrounded and their influence lost nothing by the reflection that he himself was the source and creator of them all. He was more than half sober by the time the first cup of tea was discussed, and talked so wisely, and learnedly, and feelingly upon various subjects that his wife's admiration actually shone in her face till it rivalled the turf fire in brightness; and poor Norah, as she looked at him with a kind of wondering fondness, said to herself:

"Ah! if he never came home any worse than he is now, how happy we'd all be!"

Supper over, Mrs. Lahy handed Phil his newspaper, and Billy Heffernan his flute; but just as Phil had adjusted his spectacles on his nose, and as Billy was in the act of blowing the first note of the" Humours of Glyn," the half-door opened and Mr. Beresford Pender's servant came in with one of the lamps of his master's tax-cart in his hand.

"The wind is afther quenchin' the lamp on us," said he, "as we wor passin' the quarry, and I came in for a light."

Honor Lahy made 'the Sign of the Cross on her forehead. She and Mrs. Donovan had more than once compared notes in reference to that same quarry, and the conclusion arrived at was that certain folk who need not be mentioned had "a passage" through it.

Honor Lahy handed the candle to the man, but as he found some difficulty in lighting the lamp, Mr. Beresford Pender himself made his appearance.

"What's delaying you?" he asked in his tremendous voice.

The delay was not much; but minutes seemed hours to Mr. Beresford Pender when he happened to be left alone at night, particularly in the neighbourhood of those properties with which his father had any connection as agent or assist ant agent. He began at once to bluster as he examined his pistols, and muttered of murderers, and robbers, and Papists and rebels, till poor Norah became quite frightened. But the oaths with which he interlarded his blustering were so shocking that the poor girl shuddered to listen to them. One was so horribly impious that she put her hands to her ears with a low cry, which she was unable to suppress.

He turned round and glared at her, but swore no more till the servant came in to say the lamps were lighted.

After looking again at Norah, Mr. Beresford Pender said, almost in a kind voice:

"Good-night, Mrs: Lahy, I'm obliged to you. I hope I didn't disturb your daughter."

"Oh, no, sir," Honor replied in a low tone, not at all like her usual hearty good-natured way of addressing people.

And Norah looked up in surprise, as if she could scarcely believe he was the same man whose language had so shocked her.

Perhaps he was not the same man. Who knows? Be sure, however, that Norah Lahys are not sent into this busy world for nothing.

This unlooked-for intrusion cast a gloom over the little party.

Honor Lahy could not shake off the feeling that Mr. Beresford Pender's appearance was a "sign of bad luck." But, notwithstanding, Billy Heffernan played the "Humours of Glyn," with variations, and several other melodies, grave and gay, before he bade them good-night.

"Oh, wisha!" exclaimed Honor Lahy, "he put Tommy's cup out uv my head. And now," she added, after tasting it, "'tis cowld."

But, though not as hot as might be wished, Tommy relished the cup of tea very much, and smacked his lips as he despatched it, with the heel of the loaf, sitting up in bed; for Tommy had been sound asleep for a couple of hours, when he opened his eyes and commenced whistling the "Humours of Glyn" in excellent accord with Billy Heffernan's flute till Billy came to the variations, which so aggravated Tommy Lahy that he pulled the blankets over his head, and turned round with his face against the bolster, in order to shut out the tantalizing vagaries of the musician altogether. And in this position his mother found him when she brought him his share of the feast.

I'm afeard you'll be tired after stayin' up so late."

"Oh, no, mother, I was never so happy."

"Well, come, alanna."

She took Norah in her arms and carried her to her bedroom.

"Put up that newspaper now, Phil. You know 'tis all hours."

"Five minutes," returned Phil. "I have the speech finished all but a quarter of a column."

"What's that?" Honor exclaimed in a whisper, with a frightened look.

Don't mind," replied Phil as he read on. "'Tis on'y a slate that's after bein' blown off the house.'!

'Tis a terribly stormy night," said Honor. "Listen."

"I hear it," said Phil, as he folded his newspaper. "The almanac mentioned that we were likely to have either storms or heavy rain this month, or frost and snow, unless the wind happened to be from the south, or east, or north-west, and then tolerably fine weather was to be expected, with occasional showers."

"Wisha, now," said Honor, as if her fears were quite dissipated by this explanation. "Go to bed now, Phil, an' let me ready-up the place."

"I'll kneel down here," replied Phil, "and read my penance. Hand me the prayer-book."

"Remind me to-morrow," said he, as he closed the door behind him, "of Tom Donnelly's breeches."

"I will," replied Honor; "an' I hope you'll finish id at wance. His wife was complainin' to-day that he hadn't a stitch uv dacency."

"Well, he won't have that to say much longer," replied Phil, "so far as the breeches goes." And Phil sprinkled himself with the holy water, and lay down to sleep with a mind at peace with himself and the world.

"I tell you what," he muttered to himself, as he wrapped the blanket tightly over his shoulders, "Phil Lahy is is is a fine fellow!" With which comfortable reflection Phil Lahy began to snore.

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