"But won't he let you off, father? Must you really pay it in three months?"
"God help me, Norrie! I can't, not just now; but I will before the time comes."
"But what did he say, father? I don't understand."
"It's this, Nora. Ah, you have a wise little head on your shoulders, even though you are an Irish colleen. He said that he had sold my mortgage to another man, and had got money on it; and the other man—he is an Englishman, curse him!—and he wants the place, Nora, and he'll take it in lieu of the mortgage if I don't pay up in three months."
"The place," said Nora; "O'Shanaghgan—he wants O'Shanaghgan?"
"Yes, yes; that's it; he wants the land, and the old house."
"But he can't," said Nora. "You have not—oh! you have not mortgaged the house?"
"Bless you, Nora! it is I that have done it; the house that you were born in, and that my father, and father before him, and father before him again, were born in, and that I was born in—it goes, and the land goes, the lake yonder, all these fields, and the bit of the shore; all the bonny place goes in three months if we cannot pay the mortgage. It goes for an old song, and it breaks my heart, Nora."
"I understand," said Nora very gravely. She did not cry out; the tears pressed close to the back of her eyes, and scalded her with cruel pain; but she would not allow one of them to flow. She held her head very erect, and the color returned to her pale cheeks, and a new light shone in her dark-blue eyes.
"We'll manage somehow; we must," she said.
"I was thinking of that," said the Squire. "Of course we'll manage." He gave a great sigh, as if a load were lifted from his heart. "Of course we'll manage," he repeated; "and don't you tell your mother, for the life of you, child."
"Of course I will tell nothing until you give me leave. But how do you mean to manage?"
"I am thinking of going up to Dublin next week to see one or two old friends of mine; they are sure to help me at a pinch like this. They would never see Patrick O'Shanaghgan deprived of his acres. They know me too well; they know it would break my heart. I was thinking of going up next week."
"But why next week, father? You have only three months. Why do you put it off to next week?"
"Why, then, you're right, colleen; but it's a job I don't fancy."
"But you have got to do it, and you ought to do it at once."
"To be sure—to be sure."
"Take me with you, father; let us go tomorrow."
"But I have not got money for us both. I must go alone; and then your mother must not be left. There's Terence gallivanting off to England to visit his fine relations, and that will take a good bit. I had to give him ten pounds this morning, and there are only forty now left in the bank. Oh, plenty to tide us for a bit. We shan't want to eat much; and there's a good supply of fruit and vegetables on the land; and the poor folk will wait for their wages. Of course there will be more rents coming in, and we'll scrape along somehow. Don't you fret, colleen. I declare it's light as a feather my heart is since I told you the truth. You are a comfort to me, Norrie."
"Father," said Nora suddenly, "there's one thing I want to say."
"What is that, pet?"
"You know Andy Neil?"
"What! Andrew Neil—that scoundrel?" The Squire's brow grew very black. "Yes, yes. What about him? You have not seen him, have you?"
"Yes, father, I have."
"Over at Murphy's? He knew he dare not show his face here. Well, what about him, Nora?"
"This," said Nora, trembling very much; "he—he does not want you to evict him."
"He'll pay his rent, or he'll go," thundered the Squire. "No more of this at present. I can't be worried."
"But, oh, father! he—he can't pay it any more than you can pay the mortgage. Don't be cruel to him if you want to be dealt with mercifully yourself; it would be such bad luck."
"Good gracious, Nora, are you demented? The man pays his rent, or he goes. Not another word."
"Father, dear father!"
"Not another word. Go in and see your mother, or she'll be wondering what has happened to you. Yes, I'll go off to Dublin to-morrow. If Neil doesn't pay up his rent in a week, off he goes; it's men like Andrew Neil who are the scum of the earth. He has put my back up; and pay his rent he will, or out he goes."
EDUCATION AND OTHER THINGS.
The next day the Squire and Terence went off together. Mrs. O'Shanaghgan was very angry with her husband for going, as she expressed it, to amuse himself in Dublin. Dirty Dublin she was fond of calling the capital of Ireland.
"What do you want to go to Dirty Dublin for?" she said. "You'll spend a lot of money, and God knows we have little enough at the present moment."
"Oh, no, I won't, Ellen," he replied. "I'll be as careful as careful can be; the colleen can witness to that. There's a little inn on the banks of the Liffey where I'll put up; it is called the 'Green Dragon,' and it's a cozy, snug little place, where you can have your potheen and nobody be any the wiser."
"I declare, Patrick," said his lady, facing him, "you are becoming downright vulgar. I wish you wouldn't talk in that way. If you have no respect for yourself and your ancient family, you ought to remember your daughter."
"I'm sure I'm not doing the colleen any harm," said the Squire.
"That you never could, father," replied Nora, with a burst of enthusiasm.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan surveyed her coldly.
"Go upstairs and help Terence to pack his things," she said; and Nora left the room.
The next day the travelers departed. As soon as they were gone Mrs. O'Shanaghgan sent for Nora to come and sit in the room with her.
"I have been thinking during the night how terribly neglected you are," she said; "you are not getting the education which a girl in your position ought to receive. You learn nothing now."
"Oh, mother, my education is supposed to be finished," answered Nora.
"Finished indeed!" said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan.
"Since Miss Freeman left I have had no governess; but I read a good bit alone. I am very fond of reading," answered Nora.
"Distasteful as it all is to me," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, "I must take you in hand myself. But I do wish your Uncle George would invite you over to stay with them at The Laurels. It will do Terence a wonderful lot of good; but you want it more, you are so unkempt and undignified. You would be a fairly nice-looking girl if any justice was done to you; but really the other day, when I saw you with that terrible young person Bridget Murphy, it gave my heart quite a pang. You scarcely looked a lady, you were laughing in such a vulgar way, and quite forgetting your deportment. Now, what I have been thinking is that we might spend some hours together daily, and I would mark out a course of instruction for you."
"Oh, mammy," answered Nora, "I should be very glad indeed to learn; you know I always hated having my education stopped, but father said—"
"I don't want to hear what your father said," interrupted Mrs. O'Shanaghgan.
"Oh, but, mother dear, I really must think of father, and I must respect what he says. He told me that my grandmother stopped her schooling at fourteen, and he said she was the grandest lady, and the finest and bonniest, in the country, and that no one could ever put her to shame; for, although she had not much learning to boast of, she had a smart answer for every single thing that was said to her. He said you never could catch her tripping in her words, never—never; and he thinks, mother," continued Nora, sparkling and blushing, "that I am a little like my grandmother. There is her miniature upstairs. I should like to be like her. Father did love her so very, very much."
"Of course, Nora, if those are your tastes, I have nothing further to say," answered Mrs. O'Shanaghgan; "but while you are under my roof and under my tuition, I shall insist on your doing a couple of hours' good reading daily."
"Very well, mother; I am quite agreeable."
"I suppose you have quite forgotten your music?"
"No, I remember it, and I should like to play very much indeed; but the old piano—you must know yourself, mother dear, that it is impossible to get any music out of it."
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan uttered a groan.
"We seem to be beset with difficulties at every step," she said. "It is such a mistake your father going to Dublin now, and throwing away his little capital. Has he said anything to you about the mortgage, by the way, Nora?"
"A little," she answered in a low voice.
"Ah, I see—told it as a secret; so like the Irish, making mysteries about everything, and then blabbing them out the next minute. I don't want, my dear, to encroach upon your father's secrets, so don't be at all afraid. Now, bring down your Markham's History of England and Alison's History of Europe, and I will set you a task to prepare for me for to-morrow."
Nora went slowly out of the room. She hated Markham's History of England. She had read it five or six times, and knew it by heart. She detested George and Richard and Mary, and their conversations with their mother were simply loathsome to her. Alison's History, however, was tougher metal, and she thought she would enjoy a good stiff reading of it. She was a very intelligent girl, and with advantages would have done well.
She returned with the books. Her mother carelessly marked about twenty pages in each, told her to read them in the course of the day, and to come to her the next morning to be questioned.
"You can go now," she said. "I was very busy yesterday, and have a headache. I shall lie down and go to sleep."
"Shall I draw down the blind, mother?"
"Yes, please; and you can put that rug over me. Now, don't run shouting all over the house; try to remember you are a young lady. Really and truly, no one would suppose that you and Terence were brother and sister. He will do great credit to my brother George; he will be proud of such a handsome young fellow as his nephew."
Nora said nothing; having attended to her mother's comforts, she left the room. She went out into the sunshine. In her hand she carried the two books. Her first intention was to take them down to one end of the dilapidated garden and read them steadily. She was rather pleased than otherwise at her mother's sudden and unlooked-for solicitude with regard to her education. She thought it would be pleasant to learn even under her mother's rather peculiar method of tutelage; but, as she stood on the terrace looking across the exquisite summer scene, two of the dogs, Creena and Cushla, came into view. They rushed up to Nora with cries and barks of welcome. Down went the books on the gravel, and off ran the Irish girl, followed by the two barking dogs. A few moments later she was down on the shore. She had run out without her hat or parasol. What did that matter? The winds and sea-breezes had long ago taken their own sweet will on Nora's Irish complexion; they could not tan skin like hers, and had given up trying; they could only bring brighter roses into her cheeks and more sweetness into her dark-blue eyes. She forgot her troubles, as most Irish girls will when anything calls off their attention, and ran races with the dogs up and down the shore. Nora was laughing, and the dogs were barking and gamboling round her, when the stunted form of Hannah Croneen was seen approaching. Hannah wore her bedgown and her short blue serge petticoat; her legs and feet were bare; the breezes had caught up her short gray locks, and were tossing them wildly about. She looked very elfin and queer as she approached the girl.
"Why, then, Miss Nora, it's a word I want with you, a-colleen."
"Yes—what is it, Hannah?" answered Nora. She dropped her hands to her sides and turned her laughing, radiant face upon the little woman.
"Ah, then, it's a sight for sore eyes you are, Miss Nora. Why, it is a beauty you are, Miss Nora honey, and hondsomer and hondsomer you gets every time I see yez. It's the truth I'm a-telling yez, Miss Nora; it's the honest truth."
"I hope it is, Hannah, for it is very pleasant hearing," answered Nora. "Do I really get handsomer and handsomer? I must be a beauty like my grandmother."
"Ah, she was a lady to worship," replied Hannah, dropping a courtesy to the memory; such ways as she had, and her eyes as blue and dark as the blessed night when the moon's at the full, just for all the world like your very own. Why, you're the mortal image of her; not a doubt of it, miss, not a doubt of it. But there, I want to say a word to yez, and we need not spend time talking about nothing but mere looks. Looks is passing, miss; they goes by and leaves yez withered up, and there are other things to think of this blessed morning."
"To be sure," answered Nora.
"And it's I that forgot to wish yez the top of the morning," continued the little woman. "I hear the masther and Masther Terry has gone to foreign parts—is it true, miss?"
"It is not true of my father," replied Nora; "he has only gone to Dublin."
"Ah, bless him! he's one in a thousand, is the Squire," said Hannah. "But what about the young masther, him with the handsome face and the ways?—aye, but he aint got your nice, bonny Irish ways, Miss Nora—no, that he aint."
"He has gone to England for a time to visit some of my mother's relations," replied Nora. "I am, sure it will do him a great deal of good, and dear mother is so pleased. Now, then, Hannah, what is it?"
Hannah went close to the girl and touched her on her arm.
"What about your promise to Andy Neil?" she asked.
"My promise to Andy Neil," said Nora, starting and turning pale. "How do you know about it?"
"A little bird told me," replied Hannah. "This is what it said: 'Find out if Miss Nora, the bonniest and handsomest young lady in the place, has kept her word to Andy.' Have you done it, Miss Nora? for it's word I have got to take the crayther, and this very night, too."
"Where?" said Nora. "Where are you going to meet him?"
"In the haunted glen, just by the Druid's Stone," replied the woman.
"At what hour?"
"Tin o'clock, deary. Aw, glory be to God! it's just when the clock strikes tin that he'll be waiting for me there."
"I have no message," said Nora.
"Are you sure, Miss Nora?"
"When will you have?"
"Miss Nora, you don't mane it?"
"Yes, I do, Hannah. I have nothing to do with Andy Neil. I did what I could for him, but that little failed. You can tell him that if you like."
"But is it in earnest you are, Miss Nora? Do you mane to say that you'll let the poor crayther have the roof taken off his cabin? Do you mane it miss?"
"I wouldn't have the roof taken off his cabin," said Nora; "but father is away, and he is Andy's landlord, and Andy has done something to displease him. He had better come and talk to father himself. I kept my word, and spoke; but I couldn't do anything. Andy had better talk to father himself; I can do no more."
"You don't guess as it's black rage is in the crayther's heart, and that there's no crime he wouldn't stoop to," whispered Hannah in a low, awestruck voice.
"I can't help it, Hannah; I am not going to be frightened. Andy would not really injure me, not in cold blood."
"Oh, wouldn't he just? The man's heart is hot within him; it's the thought of the roof being taken off his cabin. I have come as his messenger. You had best send some sort of message to keep him on the quiet for a bit. Don't you send a hard message of that sort, heart asthore; you'll do a sight of mischief if you do."
"I can only send him a true message," replied the girl.
"Whisht now, Miss Nora! You wouldn't come and see him yourself tonight by the Druid's Stone?"
Nora stood for a moment considering. She was not frightened; she had never known that quality. Even in the cave, when her danger was extreme, she had not succumbed to fear; it was impossible for her to feel it now, with the sunlight filling her eyes and the softest of summer breezes blowing against her cheeks. She looked full at Hannah.
"I won't go," she said shortly.
"Miss Nora, I wouldn't ask yez if I could help myself. It's bothered I am entirely, and frightened too. You'll come with me, Miss Nora—won't yez?"
"I will not come," answered Nora. "My mother is alone, and I cannot leave her; but I tell you what I will do. Just to show Andy that I am not afraid of him, when father returns I will come. Father will be back in a couple of days; when he returns I will speak to him once more about Andy, and I will bring Andy the message; and that is all I can promise. If that is all you want to say to me, Hannah, I will go home now, for mother is all alone."
Hannah stood with her little, squat figure silhouetted against the sky; she had placed both her arms akimbo, and was gazing at Nora with a half-comical, half-frightened glance.
"You're a beauty," she said, "and you has the courage of ten women. I'll tell Andy what you say; but, oh, glory! there's mischief in that man's eyes, or I'm much mistook."
"You can't frighten me," said Nora, with a laugh. "How are the children?"
"Oh, bless yez, they're as well and bonny as can be. Little Mike, he said he'd stand and wait till you passed by the gate, he's that took up with you, Miss Nora. You'd be concaited if you heard all he says about you."
Nora thrust her hand into her pocket.
"Here," she said, "is a bright halfpenny; give it to Mike, and tell him that Nora loves him very much. And now I am going home. Hannah, you'll remember my message to Andy, and please let him understand that he is not going to frighten me into doing anything I don't think right."
Squire O'Shanaghgan came home in a couple of days. He entered the house in noisy fashion, and appeared to be quite cheerful. He had a great deal to say about Dublin, and talked much of his old friends during the evening that followed. Nora, however, try as she would, could never meet his eye, and she guessed, even before he told her, that his mission had been a failure. It was early the next morning that he gave her this information.
"I tried them, one and all, colleen," he said, "and never were fellows more taken aback. 'Is it you to lose your property, O'Shanaghgan?' they said. They wouldn't believe me at first."
"Well, father, and will they help?" said Nora.
"Bless you, they would if they could. There's not a better-natured man in the length and breadth of Ireland than Fin O'Hara; and as to John Fitzgerald, I believe he would take us all into his barrack of a house; but they can't help with money, Nora, because, bedad, they haven't got it. A man can't turn stones into money, even for his best and dearest friends."
"Then what is to be done, father?"
"Oh, I'll manage somehow," said Squire O'Shanaghgan; "and we have three months all but a week to turn round in. We'll manage by hook or by crook. Don't you fret your pretty little head. I wouldn't have a frown on the brow of my colleen for fifty O'Shanaghgans, and that's plain enough. I couldn't say more, could I?"
"No, father dear," answered Nora a little sadly.
"And tell me what you were doing while I was away," said the Squire. "Faith! I thought I could never get back fast enough, I seemed to pine so for you, colleen; you fit me down to the ground."
Nora began to relate the small occurrences which had taken place. The Squire laughed at Mrs. O'Shanaghgan's sudden desire that Nora should be an educated lady.
"I don't hold with these new fashions about women," he said; "and you are educated enough for me."
"But, father, I like to read, I like to learn," said the girl. "I am very, very anxious to improve myself. I may be good enough for you, dear father, for you love me with all my faults; but some day I may pine for the knowledge which I have not got."
"Eh! is it that way with you?" said the Squire, looking at her anxiously. "They say it's a sort of a craze now amongst women, the desire to beat us men on our own ground; it's very queer, and I don't understand it, and I am sorry if the craze has seized my girleen."
"Oh! never mind, father dear; I wouldn't fret you for all the learning in Christendom."
"And I wouldn't fret you for fifty estates like O'Shanaghgan," said the Squire, "so it strikes me we are both pretty equal in our sentiments." He patted her cheek, she linked her hand in his, and they walked together down one of the sunny meadows.
Nora thought of Neil, but determined not to trouble her father about him just then. Notwithstanding her cheerfulness, her own heart was very heavy. She possessed, with all her Irish ways, some of the common sense of her English ancestors, and knew from past experience that now there was no hope at all of saving the old acres and the old house unless something very unexpected turned up. She understood her father's character too well; he would be happy and contented until a week before the three months were up, and then he would break down utterly—go under, perhaps, forever. As to turning his back on the home of his ancestors and the acres which had come to him through a long line, Nora could not face such a possibility.
"It cannot be; something must happen to prevent it," she thought.
She thought and thought, and suddenly a daring idea came into her mind. All her life long her mother's relations had been brought up to her as the pink of propriety, the souls of wealth. Her uncle, George Hartrick, was, according to her mother, a wealthy man. Her mother had often described him. She had said that he had been very angry with her for marrying the Squire, but had confessed that at times he had been heard to say that the O'Shanaghgans were the proudest and oldest family in County Kerry, and that some day he would visit them on their own estate.
"I have prevented his ever coming, Nora," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan; "it would be such a shock to him. He thinks we live in a castle such as English people live in, with suites of magnificent rooms, and crowds and crowds of respectably dressed servants, and that we have carriages and horses. I have kept up this delusion; he must never come over to see the nakedness of the land."
But now the fact that her Uncle George had never seen the nakedness of the land, and that he was attached to her mother, and proud of the fact that she had married an Irish gentleman of old descent, kept visiting Nora again and again. If she could only see him! If she could only beg of him to lend her father a little money just to avert the crowning disgrace of all—the O'Shanaghgans leaving their home because they could not afford to stop there, Nora thought, and the wild idea which had crept into her head gathered strength.
"There is nothing for it; something desperate must be done," she thought. "Father won't save himself, because he does not know how. He will just drift on until a week of the fatal day, and then he will have an illness. I cannot let father die; I cannot let his heart be broken. I, Nora, will do something."
So one day she locked herself in her room. She stayed there for a couple of hours, and when she came out again a letter was thrust into her pocket. Nora was not a good letter-writer, and this one had taken nearly two hours to produce. Tears had blotted its pages, and the paper on which it was written was of the poorest, but it was done at last. She put a stamp on it and ran downstairs. She went to Hannah's cabin. Standing in front of the cabin was her small admirer Mike. He was standing on his head with the full blaze of the sunlight all over him, his ragged trousers had slipped down almost to his knees, and his little brown bare legs and feet were twinkling in the sun. His bright sloe-black eyes were fixed on Nora as she approached.
"Come here, Mike," said the girl. Mike instantly obeyed, and gave a violent tug to one of his front locks by way of salutation. He then stood with his legs slightly apart, watching Nora.
"Mike, I want you to go a message for me."
"To be sure, miss," answered Mike.
"Take this letter to the post-office; put it yourself into the little slit in the wall. I will give you a penny when you have done it."
"Yes, miss," answered Mike.
"Here is the letter; thrust it into your pocket. Don't let anyone see it; it's a secret."
"A saycret, to be sure, miss," answered Mike.
"And you shall have your penny if you come up to the Castle tonight. Now good-by; run off at once and you will catch the mail."
"Yes, to be sure," said Mike. He winked at Nora, rolled his tongue in his cheek, and disappeared like a flash down the dusty road.
The next few days seemed to drag themselves somehow. Nora felt limp, and not in her usual spirits. The Squire was absent a good deal, too. He was riding all over the country trying to get a loan from his different friends. He was visiting one house after another. Some of the houses were neat and well-to-do, but most of them sadly required funds to put them in order. At every house Squire O'Shanaghgan received a hearty welcome, an invitation to dinner, and a bed for the night; but when he made his request the honest face that looked into his became sorrowful, the hands stole to the empty pockets, and refusals, accompanied by copious apologies, were the invariable result.
"There's no one in all the world I would help sooner, Pat, if I could," said Squire O'Grady; "but I have not got it, my man. I am as hard pressed as I can be myself. We don't get in the rents these times. Times are bad—very bad. God help us all! But if you are turned out, what an awful thing it will be! And your family the oldest in the place. You're welcome, every one of you, to come here. As long as I have a bite and sup, you and yours shall share it with me." And Squire Malone said the same thing, and so did the other squires. There was no lack of hospitality, no lack of good will, no lack of sorrow for poor Squire O'Shanaghgan's calamities; but funds to avert the blow were not forthcoming.
The Squire more and more avoided Nora's eyes; and Nora, who now had a secret of her own, and a hope which she would scarcely dare to confess even to herself, avoided looking at him.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan was a little more fretful than usual. She forgot all about the lessons she had set her daughter in her laments over her absent son, over the tattered and disgraceful state of the Castle, and the ruin which seemed to engulf the family more and more.
Nora, meanwhile, was counting the days. She had made herself quite au fait with postal regulations during these hours of waiting. She knew exactly the very time when the letter would reach Mr. Hartrick in his luxurious home. She thought she would give him, perhaps, twelve hours, perhaps twenty-four, before he replied. She knew, then, how long the answer would take on its way. The night before she expected her letter she scarcely slept at all. She came down to breakfast with black shadows under her eyes and her face quite wan.
The Squire, busy with his own load of trouble, scarcely noticed her. Mrs. O'Shanaghgan took her place languidly at the head of the board. She poured out a cup of tea for her daughter and another for her husband.
"I must send to Dublin for some better tea," she said, looking at the Squire. "Can you let me have a pound after breakfast, Pat? I may as well order a small chest while I am about it."
The Squire looked at her with lack-luster eyes. Where had he got one pound for tea? But he said nothing.
Just then the gossoon Mike was seen passing the window with the post-bag hung over his shoulder. Mike was the postman in general for the O'Shanaghgan household for the large sum of twopence a week. He went daily to fetch the letters, and received his money proudly each Saturday night. Nora now jumped up from the table.
"The letters!" she gasped.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan surveyed her daughter critically.
"Sit down again, Nora," she said. "What is the matter with you? You know I don't allow these manners at table."
"But it is the post, mammy," said the girl.
"Well, my dear, if you will be patient, Margaret will bring the post in."
Nora sat down again, trembling. Mrs. O'Shanaghgan gave her a cold stare, and helped herself languidly to a small snippet of leathery toast.
"Our cook gets worse and worse," she said as she broke it. "Dear, dear! I think I must make a change. I have heard of an excellent cook just about to leave some people of the name of Wilson in the town. They are English people, which accounts for their having a good servant."
At that moment the redoubtable Pegeen did thrust in her head, holding the post-bag at arm's length away from her.
"Here's the post, Miss Nora," she said; "maybe you'll fetch it, miss. I'm a bit dirty."
Nora could not restrain herself another moment. She rushed across the room, seized the bag, and laid it by her father's side. As a rule, the post-bag was quickly opened, and its small contents dispersed. These consisted of the local paper for the Squire, which was always put up with the letters, a circular or two, and, at long intervals, a letter for Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, and perhaps one from an absent friend for the Squire. No one was excited, as a rule, about the post at the Castle, and Nora's ill-suppressed anxiety was sufficiently marked now to make even her father look at her in some surprise. To the girl's relief, her mother unexpectedly came to the rescue.
"She thinks, perhaps, Terence will write," she said; "but I told him not to worry himself writing too often. Stamps cost money, and the boy will need every penny to keep up a decent appearance at my brother's."
"All the same, perhaps he will be an Irish boy enough to write a letter to his own sister," said the Squire. "So here goes; we'll look and see if there is anything inside here for you, my little Norrie."
The Squire unlocked the bag and emptied the contents on the table. They were very meager contents; nothing but the newspaper and one letter. The Squire took it up and looked at it.
"Here we are," he said; "it is for you, my dear."
"For me," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, holding out her hand. "Pass it across, Nora."
"No, it is not for you, my lady, as it happens. It is for Nora. Here, Norrie, take it."
Nora took it up. She was shivering now, and her hand could scarcely hold it. It was addressed to her, beyond doubt: "Miss O'Shanaghgan, Castle O'Shanaghgan," etc.
"Read it at once, Nora," said her mother. "I have not yet had any letter to speak of from Terry myself. If you read it aloud it will entertain us. It seems to be a thick letter."
"I don't think—I don't think it—it is from Terence," answered Nora.
"Nonsense, my dear."
"Open it, Norrie, and tell us," said the Squire. "It will be refreshing to hear a bit of outside news."
Nora now opened the envelope, and took a very thick sheet of paper out. The contents of the letter ran as follows:
"My Dear Nora—Your brother Terence came here a week ago, and has told us a great deal about you. We are enjoying having him extremely; but he has made us all anxious to know you also. I write now to ask if you will come and pay us a visit at once, while your brother is here. Ask your mother to spare you. You can return with Terence whenever you are tired of us and our ways. I have business at Holyhead next Tuesday, and could meet you there, if you could make it convenient to cross that day. I inclose a paper with the hours that the boats leave, and when they arrive at Holyhead. I could then take you up with me to London, and we could reach here that same evening. Ask my sister to spare you. You will be heartily welcome, my little Irish niece.—Your affectionate uncle,
Nora could scarcely read the words aloud. When she had finished she let the sheet of paper flutter to the floor, and looked at her mother with glowing cheeks and sparkling eyes.
"I may go? I must go," she said.
"My dear Nora," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, "why that must?"
"Oh, mammy! oh, daddy! don't disappoint me," cried the girl. "Do—do let me go, please, please."
"Nora," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan again, "I never saw you so unreasonable in your life; you are quite carried away. Your uncle, after long years, has condescended to send you an invitation, and you speak in this impulsive, unrestrained fashion. Of course, it would be extremely nice for you to go; but I doubt for a single moment if it can be afforded."
"Oh, daddy, daddy! please take my part!" cried Nora. "Please let me go, daddy—oh, daddy!" She rushed up to her father, flung her arms round his neck, and burst into tears.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan rose from the table in cold displeasure. "Give me your uncle's letter," she said.
Nora did not glance at her; she was past speaking. So much hung on this; all the future of the O'Shanaghgans; the Castle, the old Castle, the home of her ancestors, the place in which she was born, the land she loved, the father she adored—all, all their future hung upon Nora's accepting the invitation which she had asked her uncle to give her. Oh! if they ever found out, what would her father and mother say? Would they ever speak to her again? But they must not find out, and she must go; yes, she must go.
"What is it, Nora? Do leave her alone for a moment, wife," said the Squire. "There is something behind all this. I never saw Light o' the Morning give way to pure selfishness before."
"It isn't—it isn't," sobbed Nora, her head buried on the Squire's shoulder.
"My darling, light of my eyes, colleen asthore, acushla machree!" said the Squire. He lavished fond epithets upon the girl, and finally took her into his arms, and clasped her tight to his breast.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, after staring at the two in speechless indignation for a moment, left the room. When she reached the door she turned round.
"I cannot stand Irish heroics," she said. "This is a disgraceful scene. Nora, I am thoroughly ashamed of you."
She carried her brother's letter away with her, however, and retired into the drawing room. There she read it carefully.
How nice it would be if Nora could go! And Nora was a beauty, too—an Irish beauty; the sort of girl who always goes down in England. She would want respectable dress; and then—with her taking ways and those roguish, dark-blue eyes of hers, with that bewitching smile which showed a gleam of the whitest and most pearly teeth in the world, with the light, lissome figure, and the blue-black hair—what could not Irish Nora achieve? Conquests innumerable; she might make a match worthy of her race and name; she might—oh, she might do anything. She was only a child, it is true; but all the same she was a budding woman.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan sat and pondered.
"It seems a great pity to refuse," she said to herself. "And Nora does need discipline badly; the discipline of England and my brother's well-ordered home will work wonders with her. Poor child, her father will miss her. I really sometimes think the Squire is getting into his dotage. He makes a perfect fool of that girl; to see her there speaking in that selfish way, and he petting her, and calling her ridiculous names, with no meaning in them, and folding her in his arms as if she were a baby, and all for pure, downright selfishness, is enough to make any sensible person sick. Nora, too, who has always been spoken of as the unselfish member of the family, who would not spend a penny to save her life if she thought the Squire was going to suffer. Now she wants him to put his hand into his pocket for a considerable amount; for the child cannot go to my brother without suitable clothes—that is a foregone conclusion. But, dear me! all women are selfish when it comes to mere pleasure, and Nora is no better than the rest. For my part, I admire dear Terence's downright method of asking for so-and-so, and getting it. Nora is deceitful. I am much disappointed in her."
THE DIAMOND CROSS.
But although Mrs. O'Shanaghgan spoke of her daughter to herself as deceitful, she did not at all give up the idea of her accepting her uncle's invitation. George Hartrick had always had an immense influence over his sister Ellen. He and she had been great friends long ago, when the handsome, bright girl had been glad to take the advice of her elder brother. They had almost quarreled at that brief period of madness in Ellen Hartrick's life, when she had fallen in love with handsome Squire O'Shanaghgan; but that quarrel had long been made up. Mrs. O'Shanaghgan had married the owner of O'Shanaghgan Castle, and had rued her brief madness ever since. But her pride had prevented her complaining to her brother George. George still imagined that she kept her passionate love intact for the wild Irishman. Only one thing she had managed ever since their parting, many years ago, and that was, that her English brother should not come to see her in her Irish home. One excuse after the other she had offered, and at last she had told him frankly that the ways of the Irish were not his ways; and that, when he really wanted to see his sister, he must invite her to come to England to visit him.
Hartrick was hurt at Ellen's behavior, and as he himself had married about the same time, and his own young family were growing up around him, and the making of money and the toil of riches were claiming him more and more, he did not often think of the sister who was away in the wilds of Ireland. She had married one of the proud old Irish chiefs. She had a very good position in her way; and when her son and daughter required a little peep into the world, Hartrick resolved that they should have it. He had invited Terence over; and now Nora's letter, with its perplexity, its anguish, its bold request, and its final tenderness, had come upon him with a shock of surprise.
George Hartrick was a much stronger character than his sister. He was a very fine man, indeed, with splendid principles and downright ways; and there was something about this outspoken and queer letter which touched him in spite of himself. He was not easily touched; but he respected the writer of that letter. He felt that if he knew her he could get on with her. He resolved to treat her confidence with the respect it seemed to him it deserved; and, without hesitation, he wrote her the sort of letter she had asked him to write. She should pay him a visit, and he would find out for himself the true state of things at Castle O'Shanaghgan. Whether he would help the Squire or not, whether there was any need to help him, he could not say, for Nora had not really revealed much of the truth in her passionate letter. She had hinted at it, but she had not spoken; she would wait for that moment of outpouring of her heart until she arrived at The Laurels.
Now, Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, standing alone in her big, empty drawing room, and looking out at the summer landscape, thought of how Nora might enter her brother's house. Fond as Mrs. O'Shanaghgan was of Terence—he was in truth a son after her own heart—she had a queer kind of pride about her with regard to Nora. Wild and untutored as Nora looked, her mother knew that few girls in England could hold a candle to her, if justice were done her. There was something about the expression in Nora's eyes which even Mrs. O'Shanaghgan could scarcely resist at times, and there were tones and inflections of entreaty in Nora's voice which had a strange power of melting the hearts of those who listened to her.
After about an hour Mrs. O'Shanaghgan went very slowly upstairs. Her bedroom was over the drawing room. It was just as large as the drawing room—a great bare apartment. The carpet which covered the floor was so threadbare that the boards showed through in places; the old, faded chintz curtains which hung at the windows were also in tatters; but they were perfectly clean, for Mrs. O'Shanaghgan did her best to retain that English cleanliness and order which she felt were so needed in the land of desolation, as she was pleased to call Ireland.
A huge four-post bedstead occupied a prominent place against one of the walls; there was an enormous mahogany wardrobe against another; but the whole center of the room was bare. The dressing-table, however, which stood right in the center of the huge bay, was full of pretty things—silver appointments of different kinds, brushes and combs heavily mounted in silver, glass bottles with silver stoppers, perfume bottles, pretty knick-knacks of all sorts. When Nora was a little child she used to stand fascinated, gazing at her mother's dressing-table. It was the one spot where any of the richness of the Englishwoman's early life could still be found. Mrs. O'Shanaghgan went up now and looked at her dressing-table, sweeping her eyes rapidly over its contents. The brushes and combs, the bottles of scent, the button-hooks, the shoe-horns, the thousand- and-one little nothings, polished and bright, stood upon the dressing-table; and besides these there was a large, silver-mounted jewel-case.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan was not at all afraid to leave this jewel-case out, exposed to view day after day, for no one all round the place would have touched so much as a pin which belonged to the Squire's lady. The people were poor, and would think nothing of stealing half a bag of potatoes, or helping themselves to a good sack of fruit out of the orchard; but to take the things from the lady's bedroom or anything at all out of the house they would have scorned. They had their own honesty, and they loved the Squire too much to attempt anything of the sort.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan now put a key into the lock of the jewel-case and opened it. When first she was married it was full of pretty things—long strings of pearls, a necklet of very valuable diamonds, a tiara of the same, rings innumerable, bracelets, head ornaments of different kinds, buckles for shoes, clasps for belts, pins, brooches. Mrs. O'Shanaghan, when Nora was a tiny child, used on every one of the little girl's birthdays to allow her to overhaul the jewel case; but of late years Nora had never looked inside it, and Mrs. O'Shanaghgan had religiously kept it locked. She opened it now with a sigh. The upper tray was quite empty; the diamonds had long ago been disposed of. They had gone to pay for Terence's schooling, for Terence's clothes, for one thing and another that required money. They had gone, oh! so quickly; had melted away so certainly. That first visit of her son's to England had cost Mrs. O'Shanaghgan her long string of pearls, which had come to her as an heirloom from her mother before her. They were very valuable pearls, and she had sold them for a tenth, a twentieth part of their value. The jeweler in Dublin, who was quite accustomed to receiving the poor lady's trinkets, had sent her a check for fifty pounds for the pearls, knowing well that he could sell them himself for at least three hundred pounds.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan now once more rifled the jewel case. There were some things still left—two or three rings and a diamond cross. She had never wanted to part with that cross. She had pictured over and over how it would shine on Nora's white neck; how lovely Nora would look when dressed for her first ball, having that white Irish cross, with its diamonds and its single emerald in the center, shining on her breast. But would it not be better to give Nora the chance of spending three or four months in England, the chance of educating herself, and let the cross go by? It was so valuable that the good lady quite thought that she ought to get seventy pounds for it. With seventy pounds she could fit Nora up for her English visit, and have a little over to keep in her own pocket. Only Nora must not go next Tuesday; that was quite impossible.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan quickly determined to make the sacrifice. She could still supply Nora with a little, very simple pearl necklet, to wear with her white dress during her visit; and the cross would have to go. There would be a few rings still left; after that the jewel case would be empty.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan packed the precious cross into a little box, and took it out herself to register it, and to send it off to the jeweler who always bought the trinkets she sent him. She told him that she expected him to give her, without the smallest demur, seventy pounds for the cross, and hoped to have the money by the next day's post.
Having done this and dispatched her letter, she walked briskly back to the Castle. She saw Nora wandering about in the avenue. Nora, hatless and gloveless, was playing with the dogs. She seemed to have forgotten all about her keen disappointment of the morning. When she saw her mother coming up the avenue she ran to meet her.
"Why, mammy," she said, "how early you are out! Where have you been?"
"I dislike extremely that habit you have, Nora, of calling me mammy; mother is the word you should address your parent with. Please remember in future that I wish to be called mother."
"Oh, yes, mother!" answered Nora. The girl had the sweetest temper in the world, and no amount of reproof ever caused her to answer angrily. "But where have you been?" she said, her curiosity getting the better of her prudence.
"Again, Nora, I am sorry to say I must reprove you. I have been to the village on business of my own. It is scarcely your affair where I choose to walk in the morning."
"Oh, of course not, mam—I mean mother."
"But come with me down this walk. I have something to say to you."
Nora eagerly complied. There was something in the look of her mother's eyes which made her guess that the usual subject of conversation—her own want of deportment, her ignorance of etiquette—was not to be the theme. She felt her heart, which had sunk like lead within her, rise again to the surface. Her eyes sparkled and smiles played round her rosy lips.
"Yes, mother," she said; "yes."
"All impulse," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan—she laid her hand on Nora's arm—"all impulse, all Irish enthusiasm."
"I cannot help it, you know," said Nora. "I was born that way. I am Irish, you know, mammy."
"You are also English, my dear," replied her mother. "Pray remember that fact when you see your cousins."
"My cousins! My English cousins! But am I to see them? Mother, mother, do you mean it?"
"I do mean it, Nora. I intend you to accept your uncle's invitation. No heroics, please," as the girl was about to fling her arms round her mother's neck; "keep those for your father, Nora; I do not wish for them. I intend you to go and behave properly; pray remember that when you give way to pure Irishism, as I may express your most peculiar manners, you disgrace me, your mother. I mean you to go in order to have you tamed a little. You are absolutely untamed now, unbroken in."
"I never want to be broken in," whispered Nora, tears of mingled excitement and pain at her mother's words brimming to her eyes. "Oh, mother!" she said, with a sudden wail, "will you never, never understand Nora?"
"I understand her quite well," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, her voice assuming an unwonted note of softness; "and because I do understand Nora so well," she added—and now she patted the girl's slender arm—"I want her to have this great advantage, for there is much that is good in you, Nora. But you are undisciplined, my dear; wild, unkempt. Little did I think in the old days that a daughter of mine should have to have such things said to her. Our more stately, more sober ways will be a revelation to you, Nora. To your brother Terence they will come as second nature; but you, my dear, will have to be warned beforehand. I warn you now that your Uncle George will not understand the wild excitement which you seem to consider the height of good breeding at O'Shanaghgan."
"Mother, mother," said Nora, "don't say anything against O'Shanaghgan."
"Am I doing so?" said the poor lady. She stood for a moment and looked around her. Nora stopped also and when she saw her mother's eyes travel to the rambling old house, to the neglected lawn, the avenue overgrown with weeds, it seemed to her that a stab of the cruelest pain was penetrating her heart.
"Mother sees all the ugliness; she is determined to," thought Nora; "but I see all the beauty. Oh! the dear, dear old place, it shan't go if Nora can save it." Then, with a great effort, she controlled herself.
"How am I to go?" she said. "Where is the money to come from?"
"You need not question me on that point," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan. "I will provide the means."
"Oh, mother!" said Nora; "no, I would rather stay." But then she remembered all that this involved; she knew quite well that her mother had rifled the jewel-case; but as she had done so over and over again just for Terence's mere pleasure, might she not do so once more to save the old place?
"Very well," she said demurely; "I won't ask any questions."
"You had better not, for I have not the slightest idea of replying to them," answered Mrs. O'Shanaghgan. "I shall write to your uncle to-day. You cannot go next week, however."
"Oh! why not? He said Tuesday; he would meet me at Holyhead on Tuesday."
"I will try and provide a fit escort for you to England; But you cannot go next Tuesday; your wardrobe forbids it," answered Mrs. O'Shanaghgan.
"My wardrobe! Oh, mother, I really need not bother about clothes!"
"You may not bother about them, Nora; but I intend to," replied Mrs. O'Shanaghgan. "I must buy you some suitable dress."
"But how will you do it?"
"I have not been away from Castle O'Shanaghgan for a long time," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, "and it will be a nice change for me. I shall take you to Dublin, and get you what things are necessary. I will then see you off on board the steamer."
"But would not father be best?"
"Your father can come with us or not, just as he pleases; but I am the person who will see to your wardrobe for your English visit," replied her mother.
Nora, excited, bewildered, charmed, had little or nothing to oppose to this plan. After all, her mother was coming out in a new light. How indifferent she had been about Nora's dress in the past! For Terence were the fashionable coats and the immaculate neckties and the nice gloves and the patent-leather boots. For Nora! Now and then an old dress of her mother's was cut down to fit the girl; but as a rule she wore anything she could lay hands on, made anyhow. It is true she was never grotesque like Biddy Murphy; but up to the present dress had scarcely entered at all as a factor into her life.
The next few days passed in a whirl of bewildered excitement. Mrs. O'Shanaghgan received, as she expected, by return of post, seventy pounds from the Dublin jeweler for her lovely diamond cross. This man was rapidly making his fortune out of poor Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, and he knew that he had secured a splendid bargain for himself when he bought the cross.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, therefore, with a full purse, could give directions to her household during her brief absence, and altogether was much brightened and excited at the thought of Nora's visit. She had written herself to her brother, saying that she would be very glad to spare her daughter, and giving him one or two hints with regard to Nora's manners and bringing up.
"The Irish have quite different ideas, my dear brother," she wrote, "with regard to etiquette to those which were instilled into us; but you will bear patiently with my little wild Irish girl, for she has a very true heart, and is also, I think you will admit, nice-looking."
Mr. Hartrick, who read between the lines of his sister's letter, wrote to say that business would bring him to Holyhead on the following Tuesday week also, and, therefore, it would be quite convenient for him to meet Nora on that day.
The evening before she was to depart arrived at last. The Squire had spent a busy day. From the moment when Nora had told him that her mother had provided funds, and that she was to go to England, he had scarcely reverted to the matter. In truth, with that curious Irish phase in his character which is more or less the inheritance of every member of his country, he contrived to put away the disagreeable subject even from his thoughts. He was busy, very busy, attending to his farm and riding round his establishment. He was still hoping against hope that some money would come in his way long before the three months were up, when the mortgagee would foreclose on his property. He was not at all unhappy, and used to enter his house singing lustily or whistling loudly. Nora sometimes wondered if he also forgot how soon she was going to leave him. His first call when he entered the house had always been "Light o' the Morning, where are you? Come here, asthore; the old dad has returned," or some such expression. It came to the excited girl's heart with a pang how he would miss her when she was no longer there; how he would call for her in vain, and feel bewildered for a moment, and then remember that she was far away.
"But I shan't be long away," she thought; "and when I come back and save him and the old place, oh, how glad he will be! He will indeed then think me his Light o' the Morning, for I shall have saved him and the old home."
But the last evening came, and Nora considered whether she ought to recall the fact that she was going away, perhaps for a couple of months, to her father. He came in as usual, sat down heavily on the nearest settee, and stretched out his long legs.
"I wonder if I am getting old?" he said. "I declare I feel a bit tired. Come along here, Nora, and cheer me up. What news have you this evening, little woman?"
"Oh, father! don't you know?"
"Well, your eyes look bright enough. What is it, girleen?"
"I am going away to Dublin to-morrow."
"You? Bless you! so you are," said the Squire, with a hearty laugh. "Upon my soul I forgot all about it. Well, and you are going to have a good time, and you'll forget the old dad—eh?—you'll forget all about the old dad?"
"Father, father, you know better," said Nora—she flung her arms round his neck and laid her soft cheek against his—"as if I could ever forget you for a single moment," she said.
"I know it, a-colleen; I know it, heart's asthore. Of course you won't. I am right glad you are going; it will be a nice change for you. And what about the bits of duds—eh?—and the pretty trinkets? Why, you'll be going into grand society; you'll be holding your little head like a queen. Don't you forget, my pet, that you're Irish through and through, and that you come of a long line of brave ancestors. The women of your house never stooped to a shabby action, Nora; and never one of them sacrificed her honor for gold or anything else; and the men were brave, girleen, very brave, and had never fear in one of them. You remember that, and keep yourself upright and brave and proud, and come back to the old dad with as pure and loving a heart as you have now."
"Oh, father, of course, of course. But you will miss me? you will miss me?"
"Bedad! I expect I shall," said the Squire; "but I am not going to fret, so don't you imagine it."
"Have you," said Nora in a low whisper—"have you done anything about-about the mortgage?"
"Oh, you be aisy," said the Squire, giving her a playful poke; "and if you can't be aisy, be as aisy as you can," he continued, referring to the old well-known saying. "Things will come right enough. Why, the matter is weeks off yet. It was only yesterday I heard from an old friend, Larry M'Dermott, who has been in Australia, and has made a fine pile. He is back again, and I am thinking of seeing him and settling up matters with him. Don't you have an uneasy thought in your head, my child. I'll write to you when the thing is fixed up, as fixed it will be by all that's likely in a week or fortnight from now. But look here, Norrie, you'll want something to keep in your pocket when you are away. I had best give you a five-pound note."
"No, no," said Nora. "I wouldn't touch it; I don't want it."
"Why not? Is it too proud you are?"
"No; mother is helping me to this visit. I don't know how she has got money. I suppose in the old way."
"Poor soul!" said the Squire. "To tell you the truth, Norrie, I can't bear to look at that jewel-case of hers. I believe, upon my word, that it is nearly empty. She is very generous, is your mother. She's a very fine woman, and I am desperate proud of her. When M'Dermott helps me to tide over this pinch I'll have all those jewels back again by hook or by crook. Your mother shan't suffer in the long run, and I'll do a lot to the old place—the old house wants papering and painting. We'll dance a merry jig at O'Shanaghgan at your wedding, my little girl; and now don't keep me, for I have got to go out to meet Murphy. He said he would look around about this hour."
Nora left her father, and wandered out into the soft summer gloaming. She went down the avenue, and leaned for a time over the gate. The white gate was sadly in need of paint, but it was not hanging off its hinges as the gate was which led to the estate of Cronane. Nora put her feet on the last rung, leaned her arms on the top one, and swayed softly, as she thought of all that was about to happen, and the glorious adventures which would in all probability be hers during the next few weeks. As she thought, and forgot herself in dreams of the future, a low voice calling her name caused her to start. A man with shaggy hair and wild, bright eyes had come up to the other side of the gate.
"Why, then, Miss Nora, how are ye this evening?" he said. He pulled his forelock as he spoke.
Nora felt a sudden coldness come over all her rosy dreams; but she was too Irish and too like her ancestors to feel any fear, although she could not help remembering that she was nearly half a mile away from the house, and that there was not a soul anywhere within call.
"Good-evening, Andy," she said. "I must be going home now."
"No, you won't just yet," he answered. He came up and laid his dirty hand on her white sleeve.
"No, don't touch me," said Nora proudly. She sprang off the gate, and stood a foot or two away. "Don't come in," she continued; "stay where you are. If you have anything to say, say it there."
"Bedad! it's a fine young lady that it is," said the man. "It aint afeared, is it?"
"Afraid!" said Nora. "What do you take me for?"
"Sure, then, I take yez for what you are," said the man—"as fine and purty a slip of a girleen as ever dwelt in the old Castle; but be yez twice as purty, and be yez twice as fine, Andy Neil is not the man to forget his word, his sworn word, his oath taken to the powers above and the powers below, that if his bit of a roof is taken off his head, why, them as does it shall suffer. It's for you to know that, Miss Nora. I would have drowned yez in the deep pool and nobody would ever be the wiser, but I thought better of that; and I could here—yes, even now—I could choke yez round your pretty soft neck and nobody would be any the wiser, and I'd think no more of it than I'd think of crushing a fly. I won't do it; no I won't, Miss Nora; but there's thim as will have to suffer if Andy Neil is turned out of his hut. You spake for me, Miss Nora; you spake up for me, girleen. Why, the Squire, you're the light of his eyes; you spake up, and say, 'Lave poor Andy in his little hut; lave poor Andy with a roof over him. Don't mind the bit of a rint.' Why, then, Miss Nora, how can I pay the rint? Look at my arrum, dear." As the man spoke he thrust out his arm, pushing up his ragged shirt sleeve. The arm was almost like that of a skeleton's; the skin was starting over the bones.
"Oh, it is dreadful!" said Nora, all the pity in her heart welling up into her eyes. "I am truly, truly sorry for you, Andy, I would do anything in my power. It is just this: you know father?"
"Squire? Yes, I guess I know Squire," said the man.
"You know," continued Nora, "that when he takes what you might call the bit between his teeth nothing will move him. He is set against you, Andy. Oh, Andy! I don't believe he will listen."
"He had betther," said the man, his voice dropping to a low growl; "he had betther, and I say so plain. There's that in me would stick at nothing, and you had best know it, Miss Nora."
"Can you not go away, Andy?"
"I—and what for?"
"But can you?"
"I could, but I won't."
"I don't believe father will yield. I will send you some money from England if you will promise to go away."
"Aye; but I don't want it. I want to stay on. Where would my old bones lie when I died if I am not in my own counthry? I'm not going to leave my counthry for nobody. The cot where I was born shall see me die; and if the roof is took off, why, I'll put it back again. I'll defy him and his new-fangled ways and his English wife to the death. You'll see mischief if you don't put things right, Miss Nora. It all rests with yez, alannah."
"I am awfully sorry for you, Andy; but I don't believe you would seriously injure father, for you know what the consequences would be."
"Aye; but when a man like me is sore put to it he don't think of consequences. It's just the burning wish to avenge his wrongs; that's what he feels, and that's what I feel, Miss Nora, and so you had best take warning."
"Well, I am going away to-morrow," said the girl. "My father is in great trouble, and wants money very badly himself, and I am going to England."
"To be out of the way when the ruin comes. I know," said the man, with a loud laugh.
"No; you are utterly mistaken. Andy, don't you remember when I was a little girl how you used to let me ride on your shoulder, and once you asked me for a tiny bit of my hair, that time when it was all in curls, and I gave you just the end of one of my curls, and you said you would keep it to your dying day? Would you be cruel to Nora now, and just when her heart is heavy?"
"Your heart heavy? You, one of the quality—'taint likely," said the man.
"It is true; my heart is very heavy. I am so anxious about father; you won't make me more anxious—will you? You won't do anything—anything wrong—while I am away? Will you make me a promise that you will let me go with an easy mind?"
"You ask your father to give me three months' longer grace, and then we'll see."
"I will speak to him," said Nora very slowly. "I am sorry, because he is worried about other things, and he does not take it kindly when I interfere in what he considers his own province; but I'll do my best. I cannot stay another moment now, Andy. Good-by."
She waved her hand to him, and ran down the avenue, looking like a white wraith as she disappeared into the darkness.
A FEATHER-BED HOUSE.
Before she went to sleep that night Nora wrote a tiny note to her father:
"For the sake of your Light o' the Morning, leave poor Andy Neil in his little cottage until I come back again from England. Do, dear dad; this is the last wish of Nora before she goes away.
She thought and thought, and felt that she could not have expressed herself better. Fear would never influence the Squire; but he would do a good deal for Nora. She laid the letter just where she knew he would see it when he entered his ramshackle study on the following day; and the next morning, with her arms clasped round his neck and her kisses on his cheeks, she gave him one hearty hug, one fervent "God bless you, dad," and rushed after her mother.
The outside car was ready at the door. Mrs. O'Shanaghgan was already mounted. Nora sprang up, and they were rattling off into the world, "to seek my fortune," thought the girl, "or rather the fortune of him I love best."
The Squire, with his grizzled locks and his deep-set eyes, stood in the porch to watch Nora and her mother as they drove away.
"I'll be back in a twinkling, father; never you fret," called out his daughter, and then a turn in the road hid him from view.
"Why, Nora, what are you crying for?" said her mother, who turned round at that moment, and encountered the full gaze of the large dark-blue eyes swimming in tears.
"Oh, nothing. I'll be all right in a moment," was the answer, and then the sunshine broke all over the girl's charming face; and before they reached the railway station Nora was chatting to her mother as if she had not a care in the world.
Her first visit to Dublin and the excitement of getting really pretty dresses made the next two or three days pass like a flash. Mrs. O'Shanaghgan with money in her pocket was a very different woman from Mrs. O'Shanaghgan without a penny. She enjoyed making Nora presentable, and had excellent taste and a keen eye for a bargain. She fitted up her daughter with a modest but successful wardrobe, bought her a proper trunk to hold her belongings, and saw her on board the steamer for Holyhead.
The crossing was a rough one, but the Irish girl did not suffer from seasickness. She stood leaning over the taffrail chatting to the captain, who thought her one of the most charming passengers he ever had to cross in the Munster; and when they arrived at the opposite side, Mr. Hartrick was waiting for his niece. He often said since that he would never forget his first sight of Nora O'Shanaghgan. She was wearing a gray tweed traveling dress, with a little gray cap to match; the slender young figure, the rippling black hair, and the brilliant face flashed for an instant on the tired vision of the man of business; then there came the eager outstretching of two hands, and Nora had kissed him because she could not help herself.
"Oh, I am so glad to see you, Uncle George!" The words, the action, the whole look were totally different from what his daughters would have said or done under similar circumstances. He felt quite sure that his sister's description of Nora was right in the main; but he thought her charming. Drawing her hand through his arm, he took her to the railway station, where the train was already waiting to receive its passengers. Soon they were flying in The Wild Irish Girl to Euston. Nora was provided with innumerable illustrated papers. Mr. Hartrick took out a little basket which contained sandwiches, wine, and different cakes, and fed her with the best he could procure. He did not ask her many questions, not even about the Castle or her own life. He was determined to wait for all these things. He read something of her story in her clear blue eyes; but he would not press her for her confidence. He was anxious to know her a little better.
"She is Irish, though, and they all exaggerate things so dreadfully," was his thought. "But I'll be very good to the child. What a contrast she is to Terence! Not that Terence is scarcely Irish; but anyone can see that this child has more of her father than her mother in her composition."
They arrived at Euston; then there were fresh changes; a cab took them to Waterloo, where they once again entered the train.
"Tired, my dear niece?" said her uncle as he settled her for the final time in another first-class compartment.
"Not at all. I am too excited to be tired," was her eager answer. And then he smiled at her, arranged the window and blind to her liking, and they started once more on their way.
Mr. Hartrick lived in a large place near Weybridge, and Nora had her first glimpse of the lovely Surrey scenery. A carriage was waiting for the travelers when they reached their destination—a carriage drawn by a pair of spirited grays. Nora thought of Black Bess, and secretly compared the grays to the disadvantage of the latter. But she was determined to be as sweet and polite and English as her mother would desire. For the first time in her whole existence she was feeling a little shy. She would have been thoroughly at home on a dog cart, or on her favorite outside car, or on the back of Black Bess, who would have carried her swift as the wind; but in the landau, with her uncle seated by her side, she was altogether at a loss.
"I don't like riches," was her inward murmur. "I feel all in silken chains, and it is not a bit pleasant; but how dear mammy—oh, I must think of her as mother—how mother would enjoy it all!"
The horses were going slowly uphill, and now they paused at some handsome iron gates. These were opened by a neatly dressed woman, who courtesied to Mr. Hartrick, and glanced with curiosity at Nora. The carriage bowled rapidly down a long avenue, and drew up before a front door. A large mastiff rose slowly, wagged his tail, and sniffed at Nora's dress as she descended.
"Come in, my dear; come in," said her uncle. "We are too late for dinner, but I have ordered supper. You will want a good meal and then bed. Where are all the others? Where are you, Molly? Where are you, Linda? Your Irish cousin Nora has come."
A door to the left was quickly opened, and a graceful-looking lady, in a beautiful dress of black silk and quantities of coffee lace, stood on the threshold.
"Is this Nora?" she said. "Welcome, my dear little girl." She went up to Nora, laid one hand on her shoulder, and kissed her gravely on the forehead. There was a staid, sober sort of solemnity about this kiss which influenced Nora and made a lump come into her throat.
This gracious English lady was very charming, and she felt at once that she would love her.
"The child is tired, Grace," said her husband to Mrs. Hartrick. "Where are the girls? Why are they not present?"
"Molly has been very troublesome, and I was obliged to send her to her room," was her reply; "but here is Terence. Terence, your sister has come."
"Oh, Terry!" cried Nora.
The next moment Terence, in full evening dress, and looking extremely manly and handsome, appeared upon the scene. Nora forgot everything else when she saw the familiar face; she ran up to her brother, flung her arms round his neck, and kissed him over and over.
"Oh, it is a sight for sore eyes to see you!" she cried. "Oh, Terry, how glad, how glad I am that you are here!"
"Hush! hush! Nonsense, Nora. Try to remember this is an English house," whispered Terence; but he kissed her affectionately. He was glad to see her, and he looked at her dress with marked approval. "She will soon tame down, and she looks very pretty," was his thought.
Just then Linda was seen coming downstairs.
"Has Nora come?" called out her sweet, high-bred voice. "How do you do, Nora? I am so glad to see you. If you are half as nice as Terence, you will be a delightful addition to our party."
"Oh, but I am not the least bit like Terence," said Nora. She felt rather hurt; she did not know why.
Linda was a very fair girl. She could not have been more than fifteen years of age, and was not so tall as Nora; but she had almost the manners of a woman of the world, and Nora felt unaccountably shy of her.
"Now take your cousin up to her room. Supper will be ready in a quarter of an hour," said Mrs. Hartrick. "Come, George; I have something to say to you."
Mr. and Mrs. Hartrick disappeared into the drawing-room. Linda took Nora's hand. Nora glanced at Terence, who turned on his heel and went away.
"See you presently, sis," he called out in what he considered a very manly tone; and Nora felt her heart, as she expressed it, sink down into her boots as she followed Linda up the richly carpeted stairs. Her feet sank into the velvety pile, and she hated the sensation.
"It is all a sort of feather-bed house," she said to herself, "and I hate a feather-bed house. Oh, I can understand my dad better than ever to-night; but how mother would enjoy this!"
As they were going upstairs Linda suddenly turned and looked full at her cousin.
"How very grave you are! And why have you that little frown between your brows? Are you vexed about anything?"
"Only I thought Terry would be more glad to see me," replied Nora.
"More glad!" cried Linda. "I saw you hugging him as I ran downstairs. He let you. I don't know how any one could show gladness more. But come along; this is your room. It is next to Molly's and mine. Isn't it pretty? Molly and I chose it for you this morning, and we arranged those flowers. You will have such a lovely view, and that little peep of the Thames is so charming. I hope you will like your room."
Nora entered one of the prettiest and most lovely bedrooms she had ever seen in her life. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined anything so cozy. The perfectly chosen furniture, the elegant appointments of every sort and description, the view from the partly opened windows, the view of winding river and noble trees—all looked rich and cultivated and lovely; and the Irish girl, as she gazed around, found suddenly a great, fierce hatred rising up in her heart against what she called the mere prettiness. She turned and faced Linda, who was watching her with curiosity in her somewhat small blue eyes Linda was essentially English, very reserved and quiet, very self-possessed, quite a young lady of the world. She looked at Nora as if she meant to read her through.
"Well, don't you think the view perfect?" she said.
"Have you ever been in Ireland?" was Nora's answer.
"Never. Oh, dear me! have you anything as pretty as this in Ireland?"
"No," said Nora fiercely—"no." She left the window, turned back, and began to unpin her hat.
"You look as if you did not care for your room."
"It is a very, very pretty room," said Nora, "and the view is very, very pretty, but I am tired to-night. I did not know it; but I am. I should like to go to bed soon."
"So you shall, of course, after you have had supper. Oh, how awfully thoughtless of me not to know that you must be very tried and hungry! Molly and I are glad you have come."
"But where is Molly? I should like to see her."
Linda went up to Nora and spoke in a low whisper.
"She is in disgrace."
"In disgrace? Has she done anything naughty?"
"Yes, fearfully naughty. She is in hot water as usual."
"I am sorry," said Nora. She instantly began to feel a strong sensation of sympathy for Molly. She was sure, in advance, that she would like her.
"But is she in such dreadful disgrace that I may not see her?" she asked after a pause.
"Oh, I don't know. I don't suppose so."
Just then there was heard at the room door a gay laugh and a kind of scamper. A knock followed, but before Nora could answer the door was burst open, and a large, heavily made, untidy-looking girl, with a dark face and great big black eyes, bounded into the apartment.
"I have burst the bonds, and here I am," she said. "How do you do, Nora? I'm Molly. I am always and always in hot water. I like being in hot water. Now, tell-tale-tit, you can go downstairs and acquaint mother with the fact that I have burst the bonds, for kiss little Irish Nora I will."
"Oh, I am glad to see you," said Nora. Her depression vanished on the spot. She felt that, naughty as doubtless Molly was, she could get on with her.
"Come, let's take a squint at you," said the eldest Miss Hartrick; "come over here to the light."
Molly took Nora by both hands over to the window.
"Now then, let's have a category of your charms. Terence has been telling us that you are very pretty. You are. Come, Linda; come and look at her. Did you ever see such black hair? And it's as soft as silk."
Molly put up a rather large hand and patted Nora somewhat violently on the head.
"Oh, don't!" said Nora, starting back.
"My dear little cousin, I am a very rough specimen, and you must put up with me if you mean to get on at The Laurels. We are all stiff and staid here; we are English of the English. Everything is done by rule of thumb—breakfast to the minute, lunch to the minute, afternoon tea to the minute, dinner to the minute, even tennis to the minute. Oh! it's detestable; and I—I am expected to be good, and you know there's not a bit of goodness in me. I am all fidgets, and you can never be sure of me for two seconds at a time. I am a worry to mother and a worry to father; and as to Terence—oh, my dear creature, I am so truly thankful you are not like Terence! Here I drop a courtesy to his memory. What an awfully precise man he will make by and by! I did not know you turned out that kind of article in Ireland."
Nora's face, over which many emotions had been flitting, now looked grave.
"You know that Terence is my brother?" she said slowly.
Molly gazed at her; then she burst into a fit of hearty laughter.
"You and I will get on," she said. "I like you for sticking up for your brother. But now, my dear, I must go back. I am supposed to stay in my bedroom until to-morrow morning. Linda, if you tell— well, you'll have to answer to me when we are going to bed, that's all. By-by, Nora. I'll see you in the morning. Do get her some hot water, Linda. She's worth waiting on; she's a very nice sort of child, and very, very pretty. If that is the Irish sort of face, I for one shall adore it. Good-by, Nora, for the present."
Molly banged herself away—her mode of exit could scarcely be called by any other name. As soon as the door had closed behind her Linda laughed.
"I ought to tell, you know," she said in her precise voice; "it is very, very wrong of Molly to leave her bedroom when mother is punishing her."
"But what has she done wrong?" asked Nora.
"Oh, went against discipline. She is at school, you know, and she would write letters during lessons. It is really very wrong of her, and Miss Scott had to complain; so mother said she should stay in her room, instead of being downstairs to welcome you. She is a good soul enough; but we none of us can discipline her. She is very funny; you'll see a lot of her queer cranks while you are here."
"How old is she?" asked Nora.
"Between sixteen and seventeen; too old to be such a romp."
"Only a little older than I am," said Nora. "And how old are you, Linda?"
"Fifteen; they all tell me I look more."
"You do; you look eighteen. You are very old for your age."
"Oh, thank you for the compliment. Now, then, do brush your hair and wash your hands; there's the supper-gong. Mother will be annoyed if we are not down in a jiffy. Now, do be quick."
Nora washed her hands, brushed her hair, and ran downstairs with her cousin. As she ate during the somewhat stiff meal that followed she thought many times of Molly. She felt that, naughty as Molly doubtless was, she would make the English house tolerable. Terence sat near her at supper, by way of extending to her brotherly attentions; but all the time he was talking on subjects of local interest to his aunt and uncle.
Mr. Hartrick evidently thought Terence a very clever fellow, and listened to his remarks with a deference which Nora thought by no means good for him.
"He wants one of the dear old dad's downright snubs," was her inward comment. "I must have a talk with him to-morrow. If he progresses at this rate toward English refinement he will be unbearable at O'Shanaghgan when he returns; quite, quite unbearable. Oh, for a sniff of the sea! oh, for the wild, wild wind on my cheeks! and oh, for my dear, darling, bare bedroom! I shall be smothered in that heavily furnished room upstairs. Oh, it is all lovely, I know—very lovely; but I'm not made to enjoy it. I belong to the free, and I don't feel free here. The silken chains and the feather-bed life won't suit me; of that I am quite sure. Thank goodness, however, there's Molly; she is in a state of rebellion, too. I must not sympathize with her; but I am truly glad she is here."
BITS OF SLANG.
Early the next morning Nora was awakened from a somewhat heavy sleep by someone pulling her violently by the arm.
"Wake up! wake up!" said a voice; and then Nora, who had been dreaming of her father, and also of Andy Neil, started up, crying as she did so, "Oh, don't, Andy! I know father will let you stay a little longer in the cot. Don't, don't, Andy!"
"Who, in the name of fortune, is Andy?" called the clear voice of Molly Hartrick. "Do wake up, Nora, and don't look so dazed. You really are a most exciting person to have staying in the house. Who is Andy, and what cot are you going to turn him out of? Is he a baby?"
Nora now began to laugh.
"I quite forgot that I was in England," she said. "Am I really in England? Are you—are you——Oh, now I remember everything. You are Molly Hartrick. What is the hour? Is it late? Have I missed breakfast?"
"Bless you, child! lie down and keep quiet; it's not more than six o'clock. I wanted to see some more of you all by myself. I am out of punishment now; it ended at midnight, and I am as free as anybody else; but as it is extremely likely I shall be back in punishment by the evening, I thought we would have a little chat while I was able to have it. Just make way for me in your bed; I'll nestle up close to you, and we'll be ever so jolly."
"Oh, do," said Nora, in a hearty tone.
Molly scrambled in, taking the lion's share of the bed, Nora lay on the edge.
"I am glad you are facing the light, for I can examine your features well," said Molly. "You certainly are very nice-looking. How prettily your eyebrows are arched, and what white teeth you have! And, although you have that wonderful black hair, you have a fair skin, and your cheeks have just enough color; not too much. I hate florid people; but you are just perfect."
"I wish you would not flatter me, Molly," said Nora; "nobody flatters me in Ireland."
"They don't? But I thought they were a perfect nation of flatterers. I am sure it is always said of them."
"Oh, if you mean the poor people," said Nora; "they make pretty speeches, but nobody thinks anything about that. Everybody makes pretty speeches to everybody else, except when we are having a violent scold by way of a change."
"How delicious!" said Molly. "And what sort of house have you? Like this?"
"No, not the least like this," answered Nora.
"With what emphasis you speak. Do you know that father told me you lived in a beautiful place, a castle hanging over the sea, and that your mountains and your sea and your old castle were things to be proud of?"
"Did he? Did your father really say that?" asked Nora. She sat up on her elbow; her eyes were shining; they assumed a look which Nora's eyes often wore when she was, as she expressed it, "seeing things out of her head." Far-off castles in the clouds would Nora look at then; rainbow-tinted were they, and their summits reached heaven. Molly gazed at her with deepening interest.
"Yes, Nora," she said; "he did say it. He told me so before Terence came; but I—do forgive me—I don't care for Terence."
"You must not talk against him to me," said Nora, "because he happens to be my brother; but I'll just whisper one thing back to you, Molly—if he was not my brother he would not suit me."