DISCONTENT AND RESIGNATION
TOM HOGAN grasped the gate with his trembling hand, after Mat Donovan had closed and fastened it, and resting his forehead upon his arm, remained standing there for some minutes like a man overcome by fatigue or weakness. Rousing himself, he looked round the yard — at the stacks in the haggard, and the snug thatched dwelling-house, and the new slated barn, of which he was particularly proud. There was a look of blank anxiety, if we may use the expression, in his face, till his eyes rested on the new slated barn; and then pride seemed to gain the ascendancy over every other feeling, and Tom Hogan stood erect and looked more like a man than he had done since Phil Lahy placed his helpless dependence so vividly before him. From that moment, until his eye kindled with pride as he took in the outline of the slated barn — which was equal in every way to Attorney Hanly's, and superior, except in size, to Maurice Kearney's — Tom Hogan was the very picture of a crushed and spirit-broken slave. He tried to banish from his mind the dread thought that so unmanned him, and crossing the yard, went into the cowhouse, and laid his hands upon the cows, one by one, as if to assure himself that they were safe, and that he was in very deed the owner of six cows — "as good milkers," he muttered, "as you'd find in the parish." He lifted the latch and pushed against the barn door to see that it was locked; and after paying a visit to the old brown mare and the colt, which he intended putting to the plough that spring, Tom Hogan pushed in the kitchen-door, and entered with a show of haste and bustle, as if he were in capital spirits, and in quite a hearty mood that evening. His wife, who was as thrifty and hardworking as himself, was "scalding tubs," and his daughter drying a pail, which she had just scoured, opposite the fire, turning it round and round, and occasionally rubbing the iron hoops with a woollen cloth till they shone like bands of bright steel. His son, Jemmy, lay upon his back on a form, with his hands clasped over his face; while Ned Carrigan, the servant boy, was driving a few "pavers" in the toe of his old brogue, by the light of the fire — for candles were made to go far by Mrs. Hogan. Tom Hogan sat down and commenced holding his hands to the fire, and drawing them quickly through the blaze, and rubbing them together — as if he thought it very pleasant to sit by one's own fireside on a winter's night. No word, however, was spoken by any one, except the short sentence, "Get up, Spot," which Tom Hogan himself, who was evidently casting about for a pretext for conversation, addressed to the dog, and which that drowsy animal, lying at full length upon the hearth, responded to by lazily wagging his tail, thereby causing the ashes to fly up into Ned Carrigan's eyes, who, at the moment, was stooping to admire the row of nails he had driven into the toe of his brogue, the sole of which seemed one sheet of iron, that shone quite as brightly as the hoops on the pail. The tubs having been scalded and rubbed dry, and the pail laid upon the stilling, and Ned Carrigan having put his foot into his brogue and retired to his sleeping apartment — for it was after supper when Tom Hogan had walked out for a chat with Phil Lahy — Mrs. Hogan lighted a candle, remarking that it was "time for honest people to be in their beds." But no sooner had she lighted the candle and snuffed it, and carefully removed a little ashes that adhered to it with a large brass pin by which her shawl was fastened, than she exclaimed in accents of surprise and alarm — "Tom, what's the matther wud you?"
Jemmy flung himself off the form, looking quite frightened; and Nancy turned quickly round and fixed her eyes upon her father's face.
"Nothin' is the matther wad me," replied Tom Hogan, looking up at his wife as if he wanted an explanation of her question.
"Tom," said she, "you're as white as the wall. Maybe you're not well. Or might id be anything you're afther seein'? God betune us an' all harm."
I didn't see anything worse than myse'f," he replied. "An', glory be to God, I was never in betther health in my life."
"Well, you must be afther gettin' a change, an' let me give you a drop out uv the bottle; there was some left since the last night James was here." Mrs. Hogan alluded to a visit her brother had paid them some months before, when Tom Hogan partook not only of "a bit of his own butter," but of a stiff tumbler of whiskey punch in his own house.
"I don't want anything," he answered impatiently, as he took the candle from her hand.
"Maybe 'tis nothin', wud the help uv God," Mrs. Hogan observed; "but I didn't see him look so bad since the cow fell in the dyke. Jemmy, what are you doin' there? You ought to be in bed an hour ago. Get him a bit uv a candle, Nancy. An' don't be stayin' up yourse'f, makin' a fool uv yourse'f. 'Tis no wondher for you not to be fresh an' sthrong."
Nancy assured her she would make no unnecessary delay, and Mrs. Hogan followed her husband to the bedroom.
"I think you ought to go to bed, Jemmy," said Nancy Hogan, in a sweet low voice.
"I don't know what I ought to do," he replied fretfully, as he dropped his chin on his hand, and stared into the fire.
He was a singularly handsome young man, with a fresh, clear complexion and light blue eyes. His crisp golden curls, like his sister's, had a tinge of red in them, and it was a common remark among the neighbours that Jemmy Hogan was "too handsome for a boy." He certainly appeared delicate and effeminate to strangers; but such a thought never occurred to his acquaintances, for it was well known that he could do as good a day's work as any man in the parish except Mat Donovan; and that at the hurling he was often the first, and always among the first, to be "called" when the match was making. He was generally good-humoured and amiable; but it was remarked that when strongly moved, all colour would fly from his lips, which were of so bright a red as to make the paleness of his face more striking, and his white, regular teeth seem literally of pearl.
His sister, who bore a strong resemblance to him, looked at him now with the deepest sympathy, the tears welling into her gentle eyes, and seemed at a loss for something to say that might cheer him. She approached him almost timidly, and laid the tips of her fingers lightly on his shoulder. He took no notice, and after a moment's hesitation, she pulled one of his hands from under his chin, and, sitting in his lap, looked playfully into his face.
"Tell me something about the fair," she said. "Did you meet many people you knew?"
"I didn't meet any wan you'd care to hear about," he replied.
"Did you call into Mrs. Burke's?"
"I did; an' I don't know what business I have to call in anywhere."
Her countenance fell at this, but forcing a smile, she said, "How is Alice?"
She's very well," be replied, with assumed indifference.
"Oh, yes! pretend you don't care which!"
"You know very well, Nancy," he said, after a short silence, " "'tis no use for me to be thinkin' uv any wan."
"Well, maybe you're too young to think uv gettin' married yet awhile, but that's no raison why you wouldn't be thinkin' uv somebody. An' if you knew how light they are about you," she added laughingly.
"That's all nonsense," he replied, trying to look displeased, while a smile of gratified vanity played upon his red lips.
"Nancy," said he, after a pause, "I have my mind made up."
"Not to stay here any longer."
"O Jemmy, don't talk that way."
"Where is my use in stayin' here? My father don't want me. An' what am I betther than a common labourer? — nor so good. So there's no use in talkin'; go I will. An', for God's sake, don't say anything to throuble me, for 'tis throuble enough that's on me."
"O Jemmy!" she wailed, resting her head upon his shoulder, and trembling violently. "O Jemmy! I'd rather be dead."
"That's all foolishness," he replied, encircling her waist with his arm. "'Twill be the best for all uv us. You know yourse'f you never could be settled if I stopped at home, unless I got married and got a fortune to give you; an' the Lord knows when that might be. So 'tis betther for you to have the place; an' then there'll be enough comin' to look for you."
"I'll never marry, Jemmy. All I'd ever ask is to have us all live together as long as God spared us to each other. An' oh! how happy we'd be. An' wouldn't you take a delight in improvin' the place, like my father? An' afther a time you'd have some money uv your own. You might have a few heifers or cows — I'll give you my lamb!" she exclaimed suddenly, as if she were sure that the lamb, beyond all doubt, would banish discontent from his mind for evermore.
"You'll never have sinse," he replied, smiling. "But why do you say you'll never marry? Is id on account of that blackguard, Ned Brophy? I don't know what kep me from — well, no matther."
"Don't blame him, Jemmy. Maybe he couldn't help it."
"Didn't he know all along what he had to expect?" Jemmy asked, indignantly. "An' when he knew be couldn't marry wudout a fortune, where was he keepin' gaddin' afther you, an' makin' you the talk uv the counthry?"
"I don't care about the talk of the counthry," his sister replied, with tears in her eyes. "Let 'em talk away."
"But why do you say he's not to be blamed?"
"Well, I don't say he's not; only not so much as a person might think. I think," she continued, with a sigh, "it was partly my mother's fault. She was so anxious for him that the minute she saw he took notice of me, she was always huntin' him, an' pressin' him, an' nearly makin' him come whether he'd like it or not. I know I was foolish myse'f. But when every one used to be jokin' about him, an' when I see him so fond of me, I couldn't help it," poor Nancy added, blushing deeply, and struggling to keep down the sob that swelled up into her throat. "'Tis all over now," she continued, plaintively, but more calmly, "an' my mind is at rest, an' I'm satisfied. But I don't think I could ever care for any wan again — that way. Miss Kearney stopped a whole hour wud me to-day, an' 'twould do any wan good to talk to her. She says that, no matter what our lot may be, we all have duties to do; an' so long as we don't neglect 'em, an' if we do our best to be contented, we can be happy. An', as she said, what, afther all, is this world, that we should set our hearts on it? We ought to think of eternity; an' that needn't keep us from enjoyin' whatever of the blessings of this life God is pleased to bestow on us. I couldn't explain it as she did; but every word she said went to my heart. 'Tis a shame for us to be frettin' about every disappointment, an' so much terrible misery in the world."
"Well, that's thrue," returned her brother. "But, for all — ." And he continued gazing into the fire.
"Are you there, Jemmy?" Tom Hogan called out. "I'm just goin'," he replied, imagining that his father meant to order him to bed. But instead of that Tom Hogan continued, "Run out, Jemmy, and see who is afther stoppin' outside the gate. I hear a step." It was said that Tom Hogan knew by instinct when a strange foot, of man or beast, approached that little farm in which "his heart was stuck." Jemmy went out to the gate, and returned in a minute or two, saying that it was "only Mick Brien."
"Mick Brien," returned his father, apparently both surprised and troubled — for Mick Brien had a larger and a better farm than his own only a few years ago — and "look at him now," thought Tom Hogan, beginning to tremble.
"God help him," his wife remarked; "his poor wife tould me this mornin' that she was afraid 'twas the faver her little girl had, and she was goin' for a ticket for the docthor, to Mr. Kearney. An' where was he goin', Jemmy, this hour uv the night?" she asked, raising her voice so as to be heard by her son, who was in the act of kicking Spot into the yard, before barring the kitchen door.
"He didn't well know that himse'f, when I axed him," Jemmy answered; "but he said he b'lieved he was goin' over the short-cut to Pender's."
Tom Hogan started up in his bed, to the great bewilderment of his wife, who fancied he was going to start off in pursuit of Mick Brien.
"To Pender's!" gasped Tom Hogan, whose breath seemed quite taken away by the intelligence. "An' Darby Ruadh tould me to-day they wor goin' to throw down the cabin. An' Wat Corcoran remarked he didn't like the job at all." Tom Hogan was quite a confidential friend and crony of the two bailiffs, who were wont to assure him that the master — meaning Mr. Isaac Pender — had more respect for him (Tom Hogan) "than for any man in the parish."
Nevertheless, it was not fear, but hope that took Tom Hogan's breath away.
"I know, Jemmy," his sister murmured, 'tis that young man of Captain French's that's puttin' these notions in your head."
"No," he replied, " I'm thinkin' uv it this long time. Don't be a fool. Sure I can write to ye, an' maybe I might come home afther a few years in flyin' colours."
"Is it to America?" she asked.
"Well, no," said Jemmy, stopping to gaze into the fire again, though he was half-way to his own room when she asked the question — "my father would never give me what would pay my passage."
Nancy bowed her head in sorrow, perhaps in shame — for she felt that he had spoken only the truth — and remained silent.