THE HAULING HOME. — "IS NORAH LAHY STRONG?"
"GOOD evening, Barney," said Mr. Lloyd, as he was passing Mrs. Burke's shop-door, where Barney Brodherick was fixing sundry baskets and parcels in his donkey-cart. "What news?"
"Nothin' strange, sir," replied Barney; "barrin' that I'm in a divil uv a hurry."
"Barney, maybe you'd carry this as far as Honor Lahy's for me?" said Judy Brien, who stood by the donkey-cart with a new cradle she had just purchased from a travelling vendor.
"An' welcome. Judy, an' yourse'f on the top uv id"
"Oh, I must wait for Tim, an' he'll carry me behind him. I was goin' to lave the cradle here at Mrs. Burke's, till I met you. I thought you wor gone home hours ago."
"All right," said Barney. "Put id on top uv this hamper, an' I'll tie id down wud this bit of coard."
"Hallo! Bill," shouted Mr. Bob Lloyd, who watched the fixing of the cradle with great interest, and even held it in its place while Barney was tying it — "hallo, Bill, where are you bound for?"
It was Billy Heffernan upon his mule. The saddle was very far back towards the animal's tail, and kept in its place by a crupper. He was obliged to put both hands to one side of the rein in order to bring his steed to a stand, which he effected by very nearly riding through Mrs. Burke's shop window. This catastrophe was only prevented by Bob Lloyd hitting the mule on the nose with his whip.
"Comin' home wud Ned Brophy, sir," replied Billy. "He sint me — wo, Kit! — on afore 'em to tell them to sind for another gallon uv whiskey an' some ginger cordial, as there's more comin' from that side than he expected."
"All right, Bill," said Mr. Lloyd, turning the mule's head towards the road.
And moving back a pace or two, Mr. Lloyd drew his hunting-whip from under his arm and deliberately lashed the mule several times under the flanks, which had the effect of making Kit fling out her hind legs as if she wanted to fling her shoes at the head of her assailant. But finding that this was impracticable, Kit put her head between her fore legs, and after a minute's debate with herself as to the proper course to be pursued under the circumstances, she clattered up the main street at a canter, with her nose to the ground, after the manner of mules and donkeys with a pack of canine tormentors at their heels.
"Begob, sir," exclaimed Barney, as if a bright idea had struck him, "I b'lieve I might as well wait an' be home wad the weddin'."
"Ay, faith, Barney," replied Mr. Lloyd.
And there being neither peep-show, nor ballad-singer, nor Punch and Judy in Kilthubber on that day, Ned Brophy's wedding was a regular god-send to Barney; for were it not for the wedding, in spite of his ingenuity in finding temptations to keep him from being home at a proper time, Mrs. Kearney might possibly have been able to have the "nice steak" for dinner.
A wedding party is always an object of interest; and Ned Brophy being well known in Kilthubber and along the whole line of march, men, women, and children were on the look-out for his.
The procession comprised some ten or fifteen "carriages of people," including jaunting cars and "common cars," and a considerable troop of equestrians, among whom Mat the Thrasher, in his blue body-coat, mounted upon Ned Brophy's colt, was the observed of all observers. They were greeted with a cheer from a considerable crowd collected at the corner of the street, which compliment was attributed to the fact that several boon companions of the bridegroom's were in the crowd. But when they got a cheer at every cross road and cluster of houses they passed after leaving the town behind them, so unusual a circumstance began to excite surprise.
Mat Donovan, however, having to alight to pick up the bridegroom's hat, which somehow had got the habit of being blown off his head every ten minutes or so, the whole procession rattled past him before he could remount; and as he came up with them just as they were passing the cross of Dunmoyne, he discovered that they were indebted to Barney Brodherick for turning Ned Brophy's hauling home into what the newspaper reporters call "a regular ovation." Barney was standing with a foot on each shaft, belabouring his donkey to keep him at a gallop, and behind him, on the top of his load, was Judy Brien's new cradle. It was naturally supposed that Ned Brophy had provided himself with a cradle at this early stage of his matrimonial journey; and such an instance of foresight was hailed with shouts of applause from Kilthubber to Knocknagow.
Barney stopped at Honor Lahy's to leave the cradle there. "What is this?" a gentleman asked, putting his head out of a chaise that stood near the beech tree while the driver was repairing a break in the harness, pointing to the cars and horsemen as they passed.
"Ned Brophy's funeral, sir," replied Barney as he pitched the cradle down on the ground.
"Don't mind him, sir," said Honor Lahy, "'tis his weddin'."
"The difference is not much," returned the gentleman — who must have been an incorrigible old bachelor — as he pulled up the window and leant back in his seat.
Mary Kearney, and Grace, and Ellie were out walking, and on hearing the shouts, and catching a glimpse of the wedding party, they ran into Mat the Thrasher's house, where they could see without being seen, from the little window, the light from which was wont to cheer the belated traveller as he plodded along the bleak bog road.
Nelly Donovan was arraying herself in her best finery for the wedding.
"Come here, Nelly," said Mary, "and point out the bride to us."
"I never see her myself, Miss," replied Nelly, running from the room with her hair about her shoulders; "but that's Ned's first cousin on the same side of the car wad him; so, I suppose the tall wan at this side is the wife."
"The cousin is very nicely dressed," Grace remarked. "That's a very pretty bonnet she has. In fact, she is quite lady-like. What is her name?"
"Bessy Morris, Miss."
"Is that Bessy?" said Mary, looking at the owner of the pretty bonnet with increased interest. "So it is; I see her now." For Bessy Morris had turned round and looked over the clipped hedge, and up at the old cherry-tree, and then down towards the school-house beyond the quarry, with a wistful gaze that Mary interpreted into a sigh for the times that were gone.
"She has all the latest fashions, Miss," said Nelly, "after coming from Dublin. But she was always tasty."
"Ned looks as if he were going to be hanged," Grace observed. "I should not like to see such an expression as that in my husband's face on the wedding-day."
The matter-of-fact way in which she spoke of her husband made them all laugh; while old Mrs. Donovan stopped her knitting and raised her hands in wonder.
"Ah, I wouldn't say," said Nelly, as if to herself, "but that house below in the threes is after bringin' some wan to Ned's mind that put the heart across in him the night uv the party long ago."
"And did she refuse him?" Grace asked.
"No, Miss; she was fond uv the slob — but she hadn't the fortune."
"The bride is a fine-looking girl," said Mary.
"Faith, then, she's nothin' short uv id," returned Nelly with an assenting notion of the head as she stooped down and pushed back her hair to get a better view, "though Billy Heffernan tould me she was a step-laddher."
"Oh, a step-ladder!" exclaimed Grace. "What did he mean by that?"
"Long and narrow, Miss," replied Nelly, laughing, "like huxter's turf."
"Come, Grace;" said Mary; "it is getting late, and we have to call at Mrs. Lahy's yet. I didn't like to go in when I saw the chaise at the door. I hope all the wedding people are after passing."
"They are, Miss," replied Nelly. "An' maybe you'd tell Phil Lahy not to delay, as I promised to wait for him."
"Is Phil to be at the wedding?"
"Faix, 'twouldn't be a weddin' wudout him," said Nelly.
"You're in great style, Nelly," Mary remarked with a smile. "I suppose you are determined to break half-a-dozen hearts at least before morning?"
Nelly sighed, and shook her head; but recovering herself, she replied in her wild way:
"Well, I must thry an' do some good for myse'f among the strangers. There'll be some likely lads there to-night, an' who knows what luck I might have."
Mary was welcomed, as usual, by Norah and her mother. But Phil seemed to have a weight upon his mind, and was as full of importance as if he were about to engage in some undertaking upon which the very existence of his little helpless family depended.
"Good evening, Miss," said he in a subdued tone. He paced up and down the kitchen, as if it were a sick chamber, rubbing his newly-shaven chin, and occasionally feeling the high stiff collar of his clean shirt in a hurried way, as if the thought were continually occurring to him that he had forgotten to put it on.
"Nelly Donovan desired me to tell you, Mr. Lahy, that she was waiting for you."
Phil Lahy took down his hat, and putting it on with the air of a humane judge assuming the black cap, he left the house without uttering a word.
"Is Mr. Hugh goin' to the weddin'?" Honor inquired.
"Yes, he and Mr. Lowe are going."
"Wisha, Miss, maybe you'd tell him to have an eye to Phil."
"How so?" asked Mary in surprise.
"Well," replied Honor, thoughtfully, "he's afther promisin' me an' Norah not to take anything stronger than cordial; an' if Mr. Hugh'd have an eye on him and remind him uv id now an' then, I know he'd be all right."
"Well, I'll tell him," said Mary, with a smile.
Grace was becoming a great favourite with Norah. Grace needed only to try to become a favourite with anybody. And how glad she was to see by Honor Lahy's smile that the poor woman harboured no prejudice against her, after all.
"Are you glad that spring is coming?" she asked, turning to Norah.
"Oh, yes, Miss; I'm longing for the fine days, when I can sit outside under the tree."
"Are you fond of reading?"
"I am, Miss; an' when I'm not strong enough myself, Tommy reads for me, an' so does my father sometimes."
"I think I have some books at home you would like. And when I go home I'll send them to you the first opportunity I get."
Norah looked her thanks, and perhaps there was a little pleased surprise in the look.
"You are fond of music, too, I am told?"
"I am, Miss, very. I'm told you play the piano beautiful?"
"Well, I do play; but not near so well as I could wish. I played some Irish airs for Mat Donovan this morning."
"Mat is a fine singer, Miss."
"Yes, I have often caught snatches of his songs from the barn. But he would not sing for us to-day when we asked him."
Ellie here interrupted them. She came to exhibit Tommy's new paper; but Grace motioned her away as if just then she had no time for trifling.
"You showed me that before."
"No, that was his old copy-book. But he is in Voster now."
"In what?" She took the paper in her hand and read:
"THE RULE OF THREE DIRECT.
"Commenced by Thomas Lahy, January the 8th,
"Anno Domini, One thousand Eight
"Hundred and . . . ."
This was written at the top of the first page in the school-master's most magnificent large hand, and under this the page was divided by a black stroke down the middle into two equal parts. In these double columns Tommy Lahy had copied each question and answer fully and fairly from the book — and the sums, fully and fairly worked out, were given under the questions and answers. Several pages of the book were filled in this way; and Tommy told them proudly, though somewhat bashfully, that he'd be "in Fractions after Easter." At which Grace looked astonished, evidently thinking that "fractions" and "smithereens" were convertible terms.
"Show her your Voster, Tommy," said Ellie.
Tommy brought the book, and, on looking at the title page, Grace nodded, and said:
"Oh, yes; now I understand; but I never saw this book before."
"Maybe 'tis a Gough you have, Miss?"
Grace contented herself with nodding again by way of reply.
"Could you work the piece of plank, Miss?"
"What is that?"
Tommy licked his thumb, and turned over the leaves till he came to a problem requiring the dimensions of a piece of plank of certain length, breadth, and thickness.
Grace glanced at the problem and looked wise. But she began to think that Tommy Lahy could teach her some useful things of which she was altogether ignorant. She happened however, to glance at the fly-leaf of Tommy's "Voster," and her pleasant laugh made Norah turn round and look at her.
"'Thomas Lahy, of Knocknagow, His Book,'" she read.
"And listen to this: —
"Steal not this Book, my honest Friend,
For fear the Gallows might be your End;
The Gallows is High, and you are low.
And when you'd be up you'd be like a crow.
If this Book be lost or Stole,
I pray the finder will send it home
To Thomas Lahy, of Knocknagow."
Grace laughed again and held up the book, with her finger pointing to the bottom of the page, where Mary, by leaning forward and straining her eyes a little, was able to read
"Thomas Lahy, Copy Dated,"
And under this, in a different hand —
"On'y for me the pigs would ate it."
"The schoolmaster says, Miss," observed Honor, "that Tommy has a great turn for — what's that he says you have a turn for, Tommy?"
"For science," replied Tommy.
"Oh, I always said that Tommy was a very intelligent boy," said Mary.
"On'y for he's so wild, Miss," returned Honor, with a sigh, and a glance at the beech-tree.
"I am very glad, Norah," said Mary, rising from her chair, "to see you getting on so well. When the weather gets fine I hope you will be much better. And, when the flowers are in bloom, I won't be satisfied till we get you up to show you the garden."
"Thank, you, Miss," replied Norah, with that worshipping look with which she always regarded her.
"An' sure you won't forget, Miss," said Honor, "to tell Mr. Hugh to keep Phil in mind uv the cordial?"
"Oh, never fear. I'll tell him."
"O Mary," said Grace on their way home, "how much mistaken I was.
"In what were you mistaken?"
"About Norah Lahy. I believe now she is the happiest girl I ever saw."
"Have you found that out?" Mary asked, with a delighted look. "I knew you would."
"Oh, yes; I am sure of it."
"And so am I."
They walked along in silence for some time, till Ellie, who had lingered behind them, came running up and said there was a gentleman with a red coat riding slowly after them. It was Mr. Robert Lloyd; and, on finding that they were aware of his proximity, he put his horse to a quicker walk in order to pass them.
"He had his hand to his hat to salute you," said Grace, "but you did not look at him. Do you know, I always thought there was affectation in that not looking at people."
"I am not sure but you are right," replied Mary.
"It looks like vulgar pride, or sulky ignorance," said Grace. "Oh, those are very hard words," said Mary, laughing.
"But do you never turn up your nose at people yourself?"
'Oh wad some power the giftie gie us,
To see ourselves as ithers see us,'"
replied Grace. "Yes, I do plead guilty to the charge. But, my dear Mary, we can all see the mote in our neighbour's eye much easier than the beam in our own. But with regard to the gentleman on the grey horse, would you not have returned his salute?"
"I am not personally acquainted with him," Mary replied. "But I would have returned his salute, though I might rather avoid it if I could do so without laying myself open to the charge of — what's that you said it looked like?"
"I believe I said vulgar pride, or sulky ignorance."
"Well, if I could not pass the gentleman without being open to such a charge, I would, of course, return his salute. And yet," she added, with a smile, "if I were a lady he would scarcely have saluted me without some previous acquaintance or introduction."
"Why, what on earth do you mean by saying if you were a lady?"
"Oh, I see you don't know what our notions are respecting ladies or gentlemen in the country."
"Well, tell me."
"Did you never hear your papa tell what Sally Egan said to Mrs. French?"
"No, I don't remember; but I recollect Sally Egan very well. It was she nursed me."
"Well, your papa gave her an excellent character when she was leaving you, and Mrs. French asked her what place she was in before that. 'I was with a gentleman, ma'am,' she replied. 'And was not your last master a gentleman?' asked Mrs. French. 'Oh, no, ma'am,' said Sally, 'he's only a doctor.'"
Grace reddened with indignation, and pronounced Sally Egan's conduct an instance of the basest ingratitude.
"You mistake altogether," said Mary. "She did not mean to make little of the doctor at all."
"If papa is not a gentleman," exclaimed Grace, "I don't know who is."
"That's my way of thinking, too," replied Mary; "but you see it was not Sally Egan's. It is only what are called 'estated men' are gentlemen in Ireland, and their wives and daughters are the only ladies. Tom Maher thought he was paying me a great compliment the other day by saying that I was 'like a lady.'"
"What must be the reason?" said Grace, musingly.
"Try and find the solution of the mystery," replied Mary, laughing.
Grace put her finger to her lips and knit her brows. "It is because they are slaves!" she exclaimed, with emphasis.
"I believe you have guessed it," replied Mary, quietly. They came up again with Mr. Lloyd, who had gone into a house to light his pipe. It was plain he meant to be respectful, for he took the pipe from his mouth and put it behind his back while they were passing. Mary returned his salute this time.
"Do you know, Mary," said Grace, "I think it is because he knows Richard so well."
"You are quite right," she replied, quickly; "that never occurred to me before."
"There is something good-natured looking about him," Grace observed. "And he is a fine, handsome man, though, I should say, somewhat foolish."
"You are not very flattering," said Mary.
"Well, now," said Grace after another interval of silence, "tell me candidly what you think of him?" She pointed to Mr. Lowe, who was walking with the doctor in the lawn.
"Well, I think he improves on acquaintance," Mary replied. "The more I know of him, the better I like him."
"It is just the contrary with me. I was ready to worship him as a superior being at first. His elegant, gentleman-like manner quite fascinated me. But now I feel there's some thing wanting. There is something milk-and-waterish about him. He is not strong."
Mary looked at her with surprise, as indeed she often did.
"And is Richard, for instance, strong?" she asked.
"No, not strong; but he has animation, or something that the other wants."
"Yes," she replied, compressing her lips, and with a movement of the head. "Yes; Hugh is strong. He has a strong face."
"Is Norah Lahy strong?"
The question seemed to surprise her at first, but, after a moment's thought, she replied:
"Yes: Norah Lahy is strong. There are different kinds of strength. I fear I am not strong myself. In some ways I know I am; but if I were afflicted like Norah Lahy, I never could endure it as she does."
"You could," replied Mary, "God would give you strength."
"You could bear it," returned Grace, "just the same as she does."
"Oh, I fear I never could, with such cheerful resignation. But if it ever should be my lot to be tried with affliction, how much I shall owe to Norah Lahy!"
"Mary," said Grace, after another pause, "I am beginning to feel quite nervous. That is why I can never meditate on such things. It makes me think that I shall soon die, and that frightens me."
"It is a thought that ought to frighten us all," returned Mary. "But I need not preach to you, Grace. You understand these things very well. And I am sure you do some times meditate on death."
"I try — sometimes."
"I seldom talk in this way," said Mary. "I scarcely know how you managed to introduce the subject. But we must hurry in and deliver Mrs Lahy's injunctions to Hugh before they go."
"They seem to be in no hurry," Grace remarked. "There is Adonis vaulting over the gate, and, I suppose, challenging Apollo to follow him. But Apollo prefers opening the gate. And now he sees us, and is sorry he has not bounded over it like an antelope."
"Well, let us hurry," said Mary. "They are waiting for us."
"I hope," she remarked, on reaching the gate, "I hope you will find a great deal to amuse you at the wedding to-night."
"I am all impatience to see a real Irish wedding," he replied. "And to judge from the glimpses we are after getting of the party as they drove by, this is to be a genuine affair."
"Yes, 'twill be the correct thing," the doctor observed. "By Jove! only for an engagement I have I'd be tempted to go with you. Nelly Donovan's ankles would make a saint forget the sky as she tripped by just now."
"But not a sinner forget the important duty of spending a long winter evening telling an appreciative circle what he would do with the bars of the grate," said Grace.
The doctor pulled his moustache and tried to laugh.
"What do you mean by the bars of the grate?" Mary asked.
"Oh, don't you know? 'What will you do with this one?' 'I'll ask her to sing a song.' 'And what will you do with this one?' 'I'll adore her.'"
"Oh, I suppose you are too wise," returned Mary, "for such things. But I must not forget Phil Lahy and the cordial."
She quickened her pace in order to meet Hugh, who was dismounting from his horse, after returning from the out-farms. And as Mr. Lowe gazed after her, he thought to himself that if some accident occurred to prevent their attendance at Ned Brophy's wedding he would bear the disappointment like a philosopher, and spend the evening by the fireside.