"How nice of you to say that! We shall get on splendidly. Of course, you must stick up for him, being your brother; he stuck up for you before you came. It is very nice and loyal of you, and I quite understand. But, dear me! I am not likely to see much of you while you are here."
"Why not? Are you not going to stay here?"
"Oh, my dear, yes; I'll stay. School has just begun over again, you know, and I am always in hot water. I cannot help it; it is a sort of way of mine. This is the kind of way I live. Breakfast every morning; then a lecture from mother or from father. Off I go in low spirits, with a great, sore heart inside me; then comes the hateful discipline of school; and every day I get into disgrace. I have a lot of lessons returned, and am low down in my class, instead of high up, and am treated from first to last as a naughty child. By the middle of the day I am a very naughty child indeed."
"But you are not a child at all, Molly; you are a woman. Why, you are older than I."
"Oh, what have years to do with it?" interrupted Molly. "I shall be a child all my days, I tell you. I shall never be really old. I like mischief and insubordination, and—and—let me whisper it to you, little Nora—vulgarity. Yes, I do love to be vulgar. I like shocking mother; I like shocking father. Since Terence came I have had rare fun shocking him. I have learned a lot of slang, and whenever I see Terence I shout it at him. He has got quite nervous lately, and avoids me. He likes Linda awfully, but he avoids me. But, to go on with my day. I am back from school to early dinner, generally in disgrace. I am not allowed to speak at dinner. Back again I go to school, and I am home, or supposed to be home, at half-past four; but not a bit of it, my dear; I don't get home till about six, because I am kept in to learn my lessons. It is disgraceful, of course; but it is a fact. Then back I come, and mother has a talk with me. However busy mother may be, and she is a very busy woman, Nora—you will soon find that out—she always has time to find out if I have done anything naughty; and, as fibs are not any of my accomplishments, I always tell her the truth; and then what do you think happens? An evening quite to myself in my bedroom; my dinner sent up to me there, and I eating it in solitary state. They are all accustomed to it. They open their eyes and almost glare at me when by a mere chance I do come down to dinner. They are quite uncomfortable, because, you see, I am waiting my opportunity to fire slang at one of them. I always do, and always will. I never could fit into the dull life of the English."
"You must be Irish, really," said Nora.
"You don't say so! But I am afraid I am not. I would give all the world to be, but am quite certain I am not. There, now, of course I'd be awfully scolded if it was found out that I had awakened you at this hour, and had confided my little history to you. I am over sixteen. I shall be seventeen in ten months' time. And that is my history, insubordination from first to last. I don't suppose anybody really likes me, unless it is poor Annie Jefferson at school."
"Who is Annie Jefferson, Molly?"
"A very shabby sort of girl, who is always in hot water too. I have taken to her, and she just adores me. There is no one else who loves me; and she, poor child, would not be admitted inside these walls; she is not aristocratic enough. Dear me, Nora! it is wrong of me to give you all this information so soon; and don't look anxious about me, little goose, for I have taken an enormous fancy to you."
"I will tell you one thing," said Nora after a pause, "if you will never tell again."
"Oh, a secret!" said Molly. "Tell it out, Nora. I love secrets. I'll never betray; I have no friends to betray them to. You may tell me with all the heart in the world."
"Well, it is this," said Nora; "we are not at all rich at home. We are poor, and have no luxuries and the dear old house is very bare; and, oh! but, Molly, there is no place like it—no place like it. It's worth all the world to me; and when I came here last night, and saw your great, rich, beautiful house, I—I quite hated it, and I almost hated Linda too; and even my uncle, who has been so kind, I could not get up one charitable thought for him, nor for your mother, who is such a beautiful, gracious lady; and even Terence—oh! Terry seemed quite English. Oh, I was miserable! But when I saw you, Molly, I said to myself, 'There is one person who will fit me'; and—oh, don't Molly! What is it?"
"Only, if you say another word I shall squeeze you to death in the hug I am giving you," said Molly. Her arms were flung tightly round Nora's neck. She kissed her passionately three or four times.
"We'll be friends. I'll stick up for you through thick and thin," said Molly. "And now I'm off; for if Linda caught me woe betide me."
"One word before you go, Molly," called out Nora.
"Yes," said Molly, standing at the door.
"Try to keep straight to-day, for my sake, for I shall want to say a great deal to you to-night."
"Oh, yes, so I will," answered Molly. "Now then, off I go."
The door was banged behind her. It awoke Mrs. Hartrick, who turned slowly on her pillow, and said to herself, "I am quite certain that wicked girl Molly has been disturbing our poor little traveler." But she fell asleep, and Nora lay thinking of Molly. How queer she was! And yet—and yet she was the only person in the English home who had yet managed to touch Nora's warm Irish heart.
The rest of the day passed somewhat soberly. Molly and Linda both started for school immediately after an early breakfast. Terence went to town with his uncle, and Nora and her aunt were left alone. She had earnestly hoped that she might have had one of her first important talks with Mr. Hartrick before he left that morning; but he evidently had no idea of giving her an opportunity. He spoke to her kindly, but seemed to regard her already as quite one of the family, and certainly was not disposed to alter his plans or put out his business arrangements on her account. She resolved, with a slightly impatient sigh, to abide her time, and followed her aunt into the morning-room, where the good lady produced some fancywork, and asked Nora if she would like to help her to arrange little squares for a large patchwork quilt which was to be raffled for at a bazar shortly to be held in the place.
Nora gravely took the little bits of colored silk, and, under her aunt's supervision, began to arrange them in patterns. She was not a neat worker, and the task was by no means to her taste.
"What time ought I to write in order to catch the post?" she said, breaking the stillness, and raising her lovely eyes to Mrs. Hartrick's face.
"The post goes out many times in the day, Nora; but if you want to catch the Irish mail, you must have your letter in the box in the hall by half-past three. There is plenty of time, my dear, and you will find notepaper and everything you require in the escritoire in the study. You can always go there if you wish to write your letters."
"Thank you," answered Nora.
"When you are tired of work, you can go out and walk about the grounds. I will take you for a drive this afternoon. I am sorry that you have arrived just when the girls have gone back to school; but you and Linda can have a good deal of fun in the evenings, you know."
"But why not Molly too?" asked Nora. She felt rather alarmed at mentioning her elder cousin's name.
Mrs. Hartrick did not speak at all for a moment; then she gave a sigh.
"I am sorry to have to tell you, Nora, that Molly is by no means a good girl. She is extremely rebellious and troublesome; and if this state of things goes on much longer her father and I will be obliged to send her to a very strict school as a boarder. We do not wish to do that, as my husband does not approve of boarding-schools for girls. At present she is spending a good deal of her time in punishment."
"I hope she won't be in punishment to-night," said Nora. "I like her so much."
"Do you, my dear? I hope she won't influence you to become insubordinate."
Nora felt restless, and some of the bits of colored silk fluttered to the floor.
"Be careful, my dear Nora," said her aunt in a somewhat sharp voice; "don't let those bits of silk get about on the carpet. I am most particular that everything in the house should be kept neat and in order. I will get you a little work-basket to keep your things in when next I go upstairs."
"Thank you, Aunt Grace," answered Nora.
"And now, as we are alone," continued the good lady, "you might tell me something of your life. Your uncle is very anxious that your mother should come and pay us a visit. He is very much attached to his sister, and it seems to me strange that they should not have met for so many years. You have a beautiful place at home, Nora—have you not?"
"Yes," said Nora; "the place is"—she paused, and her voice took an added emphasis—"beautiful."
"How emphatically you say it, dear! You have a pretty mode of speech, although very, very Irish."
"I am Irish, you see, Aunt Grace," answered Nora.
"Yes, dear, you need scarcely tell me that; your brogue betrays you."
"But mother was always particular that I should speak correctly," continued the girl. "Does my accent offend you, Aunt Grace?"
"No, dear; your uncle and I both think it quite charming. But tell me some more. Of course you are very busy just now with your studies, Nora. A girl of your age—how old did you say you were—sixteen?—a girl of your age has not a moment to lose in acquiring those things which are essential to the education of an accomplished woman of the present day."
"I am afraid I shall shock you very much indeed, Aunt Grace, when I tell you that my education is supposed to be finished."
"Finished!" said Mrs. Hartrick. She paused for a moment and stared full at Nora. "I was astonished," she continued, "when your uncle suggested that you should pay us a visit now. I said, as September had begun, you would be going back to school; but you accepted the invitation, or rather your mother did for you, without any allusion to your school. You must have got on very well, Nora, to be finished by now. How many languages do you know?"
"I can chatter in Irish after a fashion," said Nora; "and I am supposed, after a fashion also, to know my own tongue."
"Irish!" said Mrs. Hartrick in a tone of quivering scorn. "I don't mean anything of that sort. I allude to your acquaintance with French, German, and Italian."
"I do know a very little French," said Nora; "that is, I can read one or two books in French. Mother taught me what I know; but I do not know any German or any Italian. I don't see that it matters," she continued, a flush coming into her cheeks. "I should never talk German or Italian in Ireland. I wouldn't be understood if I did."
"That has nothing to do with it, Nora; and your tone, my dear, without meaning it, of course, was just a shade pert just now. It is essential in the present day that all well-educated women should be able to speak at least in three languages."
"Then I am sorry, Aunt Grace, for I am afraid you will despise me. I shall never be well educated in that sense of the word."
Mrs. Hartrick was silent.
"I will speak to your uncle," she said after a pause. "While you are here you can have lessons. It would be possible to arrange that you went to school with Linda and Molly, and had French and German lessons while there."
"But I don't expect to be very long in England," said Nora, a note of alarm in her voice.
"Oh, my dear child, now that we have got you, we shall not allow you to go in a hurry. It is such a nice change for you, too; this is your first visit to England, is it not?"
"Yes, Aunt Grace."
"We won't let you go for some time, little Nora. Your brother is a dear fellow; your uncle and I admire him immensely, and he is quite well educated and so adaptable; and I am sure you would be the same, my dear, when you have had the many chances which will be offered to you here. You must look upon me as your real aunt, dear, and tell me anything that you wish. Don't be shy of me, my love; I can quite understand that a young girl, when she first leaves her mother, is rather shy."
"I never felt shy at home," answered Nora; "but then, you know, I was more with father than with mother."
"More with your father! Does he stay at home all day, then?"
"He is always about the place; he has nothing else to do."
"Of course he has large estates."
"They are not so very large, Aunt Grace."
"Well, dear, that is a relative term, of course; but from your uncle's description, and to judge from your mother's letters, it must be a very large place. By the way, how does she manage her servants? She must have a large staff at Castle O'Shanaghgan."
"I don't think we manage our servants particularly well," said Nora. "It is true they all stay with us; but then we don't keep many."
"How many, dear?"
"There's Pegeen—she is the parlor-maid—and there's the cook—we do change our cook sometimes, for mother is rather particular; then there is the woman who attends to the fowls, and the woman who does the washing, and—I think that is about all. Oh, there's the post-boy; perhaps you would consider him a servant, but I scarcely think he ought to be called one. We give him twopence a week for fetching the letters. He is a very good little boy. He stands on his head whenever he sees me; he is very fond of me, and that is the way he shows his affection. It would make you laugh, Aunt Grace, if you saw Michael standing on his head."
"It would make me shudder, you mean," said Mrs. Hartrick. "Really, Nora, your account of your mother's home is rather disparaging; two or three very rough servants, and no more. But I understood you lived in castle."
"Oh, a castle may mean anything; but it is not fair for you and Uncle George to think we are rich, for we are very poor. And," continued Nora, "for my part, I love to be poor." She stood up abruptly. In her excitement all her bits of silk tumbled to the floor. "May I go out and have a run, Aunt Grace?" she said. "I feel quite stiff. I am not accustomed to being indoors for so long at a time."
"You can go out, Nora, if you like," said her aunt in a displeased tone; "but, first, have the goodness to pick up all those bits you have dropped."
Nora, with flushed cheeks, stooped and picked up the bits of silk. She wrapped them in a piece of paper and put them on the table.
"You can stay out for an hour, my dear; but you are surely not going without a hat."
"I never wear a hat at home," said Nora.
"You must run upstairs and fetch your hat," said Mrs. Hartrick.
Poor Nora never felt more tried in the whole course of her life.
"I shall get as bad as Molly if this goes on," she thought to herself.
"DEAR MOTHER [wrote Nora O'Shanaghgan later on that same morning]: I arrived safely yesterday. Uncle George met me at Holyhead, and was very kind indeed. I had a comfortable journey up to town, and Uncle George saw that I wanted for nothing. When we got to London we drove across the town to another station, called Waterloo, and took a train on here. A carriage met us at the station with a pair of beautiful gray horses. They were not as handsome as Black Bess, but they were very beautiful; and we arrived here between eight and nine o'clock. This is just the sort of place you would like, mother; such thick carpets on the stairs, and such large, spacious, splendidly furnished rooms; and Aunt Grace has meals to the minute; and they have lots and lots of servants; and my bedroom—oh, mother! I think you would revel in my bedroom. It has such a terribly thick carpet on the floor—I mean it has a thick carpet on the floor; and there is a view from the window, the sort you have so often described to me—great big trees, and a lawn like velvet, and four or five tennis-courts, and a shrubbery with all the trees cut so exact and round and proper, and a peep of the River Thames just beyond. My cousins keep a boat on the river, and they often go out in the summer evenings. They are going to take me for a row on Saturday, when the girls have a holiday.
"I saw Terence almost immediately after I arrived. He looked just as you would like to see him, so handsome in his evening dress. He was a little stiff—at least, I mean he was very correct in his manner. We had supper when we arrived. I was awfully hungry, but I did not like to eat too much, for Terence seemed so correct—nice in his manner, I mean—and everything was just as you have described things when you were young. There are two girls, my cousins—Linda, a very pretty girl, fair, and so very neatly dressed; and Molly, who is not the least like the others. You would not like Molly; she is rather rough; but of course I must not complain of her. I have been sitting with Aunt Grace all the morning, until I could bear it no longer—I mean, until I got a little stiff in my legs, and then I had a run in the garden. Now I am writing this letter in Aunt Grace's morning-room, and if I look round I shall see her back.
"Good-by, dear mother. I will write again in a day or two.—Your affectionate daughter,
"There," said Nora, under her breath, "that's done. Now for daddy."
She took out another sheet of paper, and began to scribble rapidly.
"Darling, darling, love of my heart! Daddy, daddy, oh! but it's I that miss you. I am writing to you here in this could, could country. Oh, daddy, if I could run to you now, wouldn't I? What are you doing without your Light o' the Morning? I am pent up, daddy, and I don't think I can stand it much longer. It's but a tiny visit I'll pay, and then I'll come back again to the mountains and the sea, and the old, old house, and the dear, darling dad. Keep up your heart, daddy; you'll soon have Light o' the Morning home. Oh! it's so proper, and I'm wrapped up in silk chains; they are surrounding me everywhere, and I can't quite bear it. Aunt Grace is sitting here; I am writing in her morning-room. Oh! if I could, wouldn't I scream, or shout, or do something awfully wicked; but I must not, for it is the English way. They have got the wild bird Nora into the English cage; and, darling dad asthore, it's her heart that will be broke if she stays here long. There's one comfort I have—or, bedad! I don't think I could bear it—and that's Molly. She's a bit of a romp and a bit of a scamp, and she has a daring spirit of her own, and she hates the conventionalities, and she would like to be Irish too. She can't, poor colleen; but she is nice and worth knowing, and she'll just keep my heart from being broke entirely.
"How are they all at home? Give them lashins and lavins of love from Nora. Tell them it's soon I'll be back with them. You go round and give a message to each and all; and don't forget Hannah Croneen, and little Mike, and Bridget Murphy, and Squire Murphy, and the rest—all and every one who remembers Nora O'Shanaghgan. Tell them it's her heart is imprisoned till she gets back to them; and she would rather have one bit of her own native soil than all the gold in the whole of England. I declare it's rough and wild I am getting, and my heart is bleeding. I have written a correct letter to mother, and given her the news; but I am telling you a bit of my true, true heart. Send for me if you miss me too much, and I'll fly back to you. Oh! it's chains wouldn't keep me, for go I must if this state of things continues much longer.—Your
"LIGHT O' THE MORNING."
The two letters were written, the last one relieving Nora's feelings not a little. She put them into separate envelopes and stamped them.
Mrs. Hartrick rose, went over to her desk, and saw Nora's letters.
"Oh, you have written to your parents," she said. "Quite right, my dear. But why put them into separate envelopes? They could go nicely in one. That, really, is willful waste, Nora, which we in England never permit."
"Oh, please, don't change them, Aunt Grace," said Nora, as Mrs. Hartrick took the two letters up and paused before opening one of the envelopes. "Please, please, let them go as they are. It's my own stamp," she continued, losing all sense of grammar in her excitement.
"Well, my dear, just as you please. There, don't excite yourself, Nora. I only suggested that, when one stamp would do, it was rather wasteful to spend two."
"Oh, daddy does like to get his own letters to his own self," said Nora.
"Your father, you mean. You don't, surely, call him by the vulgar word daddy?"
"Bedad! but I do," answered Nora.
Mrs. Hartrick turned and gave her niece a frozen glance. Presently she laid her hand on the girl's shoulder.
"I don't want to complain or to lecture you," she said; "but that expression must not pass your lips again while you are here."
"It shan't. I am ever so sorry," said the girl.
"I think you are, dear; and how flushed your cheeks are! You seem quite tired. Now, go upstairs and wash your hands; the luncheon-gong will ring in five minutes, and we must be punctual at meals."
Nora slowly left the room.
"Oh! but it's like lead my heart is," she said to herself.
The day passed very dismally for the wild Irish girl. After lunch she and her aunt had a long and proper drive. They drove through lovely country; but Nora was feeling even a little bit cross, and could not see the beauties of the perfectly tilled landscape, of the orderly fields, of the lovely hedgerows.
"It is too tidy," she said once in a choking sort of voice.
"Tidy!" answered Mrs. Hartrick. She looked at Nora, tittered a sigh, and did not speak of the beauties of the country again.
When they got back from their drive things were a little better, for Linda and Molly had returned from school; and, for a wonder, Molly was not in disgrace. She looked quite excited, and darting out of the house, took Nora's hand and pulled it inside her arm.
"Come and have a talk," she said. "I am hungering for a chat with you."
"Tea will be ready in fifteen minutes, Molly," called out Mrs. Hartrick, then entered the house accompanied by Linda.
Meanwhile Molly and Nora went round to the shrubbery at the back of the house.
"What is the matter with you?" said Molly. She turned and faced her companion.
Nora's eyes filled with sudden tears.
"It is only that I am keeping in so much," she said; "and—and, oh! I do wish you were not all quite so tidy. I am just mad for somebody to be wild and unkempt. I feel that I could take down my hair, or tear a rent in my dress—anything rather than the neatness. Oh! I hate your landscapes, and your trim hedges, and your trim house, and your—"
"Go on," said Molly; "let it out; let it out. I'll never repeat it. You must come in, in about a quarter of an hour, to a stiff meal. You will have to sit upright, let me tell you, and not lounge; and you will have to eat your bread and butter very nicely, and sip your tea, and not eat overmuch. Mother does not approve of it. Then when tea is over you will have to leave the room and go upstairs and get things out for dinner."
"My things out for dinner?" gasped Nora. "What do you mean?"
"Your evening-dress. Do you suppose you will be allowed to dine in your morning-dress?"
"Oh, to be sure," said Nora, brightening; "now I understand. Mother did get me a white frock, and she had it cut square in the neck, and the sleeves are a little short."
"You will look sweet in that," said Molly, gazing at her critically; "and I will bring you in a bunch of sweet-peas to put in your belt, and you can have a little bunch in your hair, too, if you like. You know you are awfully pretty. I am sure Linda is just mad with jealousy about it; I can see it, although she does not say anything. She is rather disparaging about you, is Linda; that is one of her dear little ways. She runs people down with faint praise. She was talking a lot about you as we were going to school this morning. She began: 'You know, I do think Nora is a pretty girl; but it is such a pity that—'"
"Oh, don't," said Nora, suddenly putting out her hand and closing Molly's lips.
"What in the world are you doing that for?" said Molly.
"Because I don't want to hear; she did not mean me to know that she said these things."
"What a curiosity you are!" said Molly. "So wild, so defiant, and yet- -oh, of course, I like you awfully. Do you know that the vision of your face kept me good all day? Isn't that something to be proud of? I didn't answer one of my teachers back, and I did have a scolding, let me tell you. Oh, my music; you don't know what I suffer over it. I have not a single particle of taste. I have not the faintest ghost of an ear; but mother insists on my learning. I could draw; I could sketch; I can do anything with my pencil; but that does not suit mother. It must be music. I must play; I must play well at sight; I must play all sorts of difficult accompaniments for songs, because gentlemen like to have their songs accompanied for them; and I must be able to do this the very moment the music is put before me. And I must not play too loud; I must play just right, in perfect time; and I must be ready, when there is nothing else being done, to play long pieces, those smart kind of things people do play in the present day; and I must never play a wrong note. Oh, dear! oh, dear! and I simply cannot do these things. I don't know wrong notes from right. I really don't."
"Oh, Molly!" cried Nora.
"There you are; I can see that you are musical."
"I think I am, very. I mean I think I should always know a wrong note from a right one; but I have not had many opportunities of learning."
"Oh, good gracious me! what next?" exclaimed Molly.
"I don't understand what you mean," said Nora.
"My dear, I am relieving my feelings, just as you relieved yours a short time ago. Oh, dear! my music. I know I played atrociously; but that dreadful Mrs. Elford was so cross; she did thump so herself on the piano, and told me that my fingers were like sticks. And what could I do? I longed to let out some of my expressions at her. You must know that I am feared on account of my expressions—my slang, I call them. They do shock people so, and it is simply irresistible to see them shudder, and close their eyes, and draw themselves together, and then majestically walk out of the room. The headmistress is summoned then, and I—I am doomed. I get my pieces to do out of school; and when I come home mother lectures me, and sends me to my bedroom. But I am free to-night. I have been good all day; and it is on account of you, Nora; just because you are a little Irish witch; and I sympathize with you to the bottom of my soul."
"Molly! Molly!" here called out Linda's voice; "mother says it's time for you and Nora to come in to wash your hands for tea."
"Oh, go to Jericho!" called out Molly.
Linda turned immediately and went into the house.
"She is a tell-tale-tit," said Molly. "She will be sure to repeat that to mother; and do you think I shall be allowed any cake? There is a very nice kind of rice-cake which cook makes, and I am particularly fond of it. You'll see I am not to have any, just because I said 'Go to Jericho!' I am sure I wish Linda would go."
"But those kind of things are rather vulgar, aren't they?" said Nora. "Father wouldn't like them. We say all kinds of funny things at home, but not things like that. I wish you would not."
"You wish I would not what?"
"Use words like 'Go to Jericho!' Father would not like to hear you."
"You are a very audacious kind of girl, let me tell you, Nora," said Molly. She colored, and looked annoyed for a moment, then burst into a laugh. "But I like you all the better for not being afraid of me," she continued. "Come, let's go into the house; we can relieve our feelings somehow to-night; we'll have a lark somehow; you mark my words. In the meantime mum's the word."
A CHEEKY IRISH GIRL.
At tea the girls were very stiff. Molly and Nora were put as far as possible asunder. They did not have tea in the drawing room, but in the dining room, and Mrs. Hartrick presided. There was jam on the table, and two or three kinds of cake, and, of course, plenty of bread and butter.
As Molly had predicted, however, the news of her expression "Go to Jericho!" had already reached Mrs. Hartrick's ears, and the fiat had gone forth that she was only to eat bread and butter. It was handed to her, in a marked way, by her mother, and Linda's light-blue eyes flashed with pleasure. Nora felt at that moment that she almost hated Linda. She herself ate resignedly, and without much appetite. Her spirits were down to zero. It seemed far less likely than it did before she left O'Shanaghgan that she could help her father out of his scrape. It was almost impossible to break through these chains of propriety, of neatness, of order. Would anybody in this trim household care in the very least whether the old Irishman broke his heart or not? whether he and the Irish girl had to go forth from the home of their ancestors? whether the wild, beautiful, rack-rent sort of place was kept in the family or not?
"They none of them care," thought Nora. "I don't believe Uncle George will do anything; but all the same I have got to ask him. He was nice about my letter, I will own that; but will he really, really help?"
"A penny for your thoughts, Nora, my dear," said Mrs. Hartrick at this moment.
Nora glanced up with a guilty flush.
"Oh, I was only thinking," she began.
"Yes, dear, what about?"
"About father." Nora colored as she spoke, and Linda fixed her eyes on her face.
"Very pretty indeed of you, my dear, to think so much of your father," said Mrs. Hartrick; "but I cannot help giving you a hint. It is not considered good manners for a girl to be absent-minded while she is in public. You are more or less in public now; I am here, and your cousins, and it is our bounden duty each to try and make the others pleasant, to add to the enjoyment of the meal by a little graceful conversation. Absent-mindedness is very dull for others, my dear Nora; so in future try not to look quite so abstracted."
Nora colored again. Molly, at the other end of the table, bit her lip furiously, and stretched out her hand to help herself to another thick piece of bread and butter. In doing so she upset a small milk-jug; a stream of milk flowed down the tablecloth, and Mrs. Hartrick rose in indignation.
"This is the fourth evening running you have spilt something on the tablecloth, Molly. Go to your room immediately."
Molly rose, dropped a mocking courtesy to her mother, and left the room.
"Linda dear, run after your sister, and tell her that, for her impertinence to me, she is to remain in her room until dinner-time."
"Oh! please forgive her this time; she didn't mean it really," burst from Nora's lips.
"Nora!" said Mrs. Hartrick.
"Oh! I am sorry for her; please forgive her."
"Nora!" repeated her aunt again.
"It is because you do not understand her that she goes on like that; she is such a fine girl, twice—twice as fine as Linda. Oh, I do wish you would forgive her!"
"Thank you," said Linda in a mocking voice. She had got as far as the door, and had overheard Nora's words. She now glanced at her mother, as much as to say, "I told you so," and left the room.
Nora had jumped to her feet. She had forgotten prudence; she had forgotten politeness; her eyes were bright with suppressed fire, and her glib Irish tongue was eager to enter into the fray.
"I must speak out," she said. "Molly is more like me than anybody else in this house, and I must take her part. She would be a very, very good girl if she were understood."
"What are your ideas with regard to understanding Molly?" said Mrs. Hartrick in that very calm and icy voice which irritated poor Nora almost past endurance. She was speechless for a moment, struggling with fresh emotion.
"Oh! I wish——" she began.
"And I wish, my dear Nora, that you would remember the politeness due to your hostess. I also wish that you would consider how very silly you are when you speak as you are now doing. I do not know what your Irish habits are; but if it is considered in Ireland rather a virtue than otherwise to spill a milk jug, and allow the contents to deface the tablecloth, I am sorry for you, that is all."
"You cannot understand. I—I am sorry I came," said Nora.
She burst into sudden tears, and ran out of the room. In a few moments Linda came back.
"Molly is storming," she said; "she is in an awful rage."
"Sit down, Linda, and don't tell tales of your sister," answered Mrs. Hartrick in an annoyed voice.
"Dear me, mother!" said Linda; "and where is Nora?"
"Nora is a very impertinent little girl. She is wild, however, and unbroken. We must all have patience with her. Poor child! it is terrible to think that she is your father's niece. What a contrast to dear Terence! He is a very nice, polite boy. I am sorry for Nora. Of course, as to Molly, she is quite different. She has always had the advantage of my bringing-up; whereas poor Nora—well, I must say I am surprised at my sister-in-law. I did not think your father's sister would have been so remiss."
"There is one thing I ought to say," said Linda.
"What is that, dear? Linda, do sit up straight, and don't poke your head."
Linda drew herself up, and looked prettily toward her mother.
"What do you wish to say?"
"It is this. I think Nora will be a very bad companion for Molly. Molly will be worse than ever that Nora is in the house."
"Well, my dear Linda, it is your duty to be a good deal with your cousin. You are too fond of poking holes in others; you are a little hard upon your sister Molly. I do not wish to excuse Molly; but it is not your place as her younger sister to, as it were, rejoice in her many faults."
"Oh, I don't, mother," said Linda, coloring.
"Linda dear, I am afraid you do. You must try and break yourself of that very unchristian habit. But, on the whole, my dear, I am pleased with you. You are careful to do what I wish; you learn your lessons correctly; I have good reports of you from your schoolmistresses; and if you are careful, my dear, you will correct those little habits which mar the perfect whole."
"Thank you, dear mother," said Linda. "I will try to do what you wish."
"What I particularly want you to do just now is to be gentle and patient with your cousin; you must remember that she has never had your advantages. Be with her a good deal; talk to her as nicely as you can; hint to her what I wish. Of course, if she becomes quite incorrigible, it will be impossible for me to have her long with you and Molly; but the child is much to be pitied; she is a very pretty creature, and with a little care could be made most presentable. I by no means give her up."
"Dear mother, how sweetly Christian-like and forgiving you are!" said Linda.
"Oh, hush, my dear; hush! I only do my duty; I hope I shall never fail in that."
Mrs. Hartrick rose from the tea-table, and Linda soon afterward followed her. Mr. Hartrick was seen coming down the avenue. He generally walked from the station. He came in now.
"What a hot day it is!" he said. "Pour me out a cup of tea, Linda. I am very thirsty."
He flung himself into an easy chair, and Linda waited on him.
"Well," he said, "where are the others? Where is the little Irish witch, and where is Molly?"
"I am sorry to say that Molly is in disgrace, as usual," said Mrs. Hartrick.
"Oh, dear, dear!" said Mr. Hartrick; "we ought to send her to school, poor child! I am sorry for her."
"And I intended to give her quite a pleasant evening," said Mrs. Hartrick, "in honor of her cousin's arrival. She was in disgrace yesterday when Nora arrived; and I had thought of giving the girls a delightful evening. I had it all planned, and was going to ask the Challoners over; but really Molly is so incorrigible. She was very pert to me, although she did bring a better report from school; she used some of her objectionable language to Linda, and was more awkward even than usual."
"Look at the tablecloth, father," said Linda.
"I think, Linda, you had better run out of the room," said Mr. Hartrick. He spoke in an annoyed voice.
"Certainly, father, I will go; but don't you want another cup of tea first?"
"Your mother shall pour it out for me. Go, my dear—go."
"Only, mother, is it necessary that we should not ask the Challoners because Molly is naughty? The rest of us would like to have them."
"I will let you know presently, Linda," said her mother; and Linda was obliged, to her disgust, to leave the room.
"Now, then, my dear," said Mr. Hartrick, "I don't at all like to call you over the coals; but I think it is a pity to speak against Molly so much as you do in her sister's presence. Linda is getting eaten up with conceit; she will be an intolerable woman by and by, so self-opinionated, and so pleased with herself. After all, poor Molly may have the best of it in the future; she is a fine child, notwithstanding her naughtiness."
"I thought it likely you would take her part, George; and I am sorry," answered Mrs. Hartrick in a melancholy tone; "but I am grieved to tell you that there is something else to follow. That little Irish girl is quite as cheeky, even more cheeky than Molly. I fear I must ask you to say a word to her; I shall require her to be respectful to me while she is here. She spoke very rudely to me just now, simply because I found it my duty to correct Molly."
"Oh, that won't do at all," said Mr. Hartrick. "I must speak to Nora."
"I wish you would do so."
"I will. By the way, Grace, what a pretty creature she is!"
"She is a beautiful little wildflower," said Mrs. Hartrick. "I have taken a great fancy to her, notwithstanding her rudeness. She has never had the smallest care; she has simply been allowed to grow up wild."
"Well, Nature has taken care of her," said Mr. Hartrick.
"Yes, dear, of course; but you yourself know the advantage of bringing up a girl nicely."
"And no one is more capable of doing that than you are," said Mr. Hartrick, giving his wife an admiring glance.
"Thank you, dear, for the compliment; but I should be glad if you would speak to Nora. Now that she is here, I have no doubt that we shall soon discipline her; and I should like her to pay quite a long visit—that is, of course, if she becomes conformable to my ways."
"She will be sure to do that, Grace," replied the husband. "I am glad you mean to be good to her, and to take her in hand, poor little lass!"
"I thought she might have some good masters and get some valuable lessons while she is here," said Mrs. Hartrick. "Would you believe it, George?—that little girl of sixteen calmly informed me that her education was finished. At the same time, she said she knew no language but her own, and just a smattering of that dead tongue, Irish. She cannot play; in short, she has no accomplishments whatever, and yet her education is finished. I must say I do not understand your sister. I should have thought that she was a little more like you."
"There never was a more particular girl than Ellen used to be," said Mr. Hartrick; "but I must have a long talk with Nora. I'll see her this evening. I know she has a good deal she wants to talk to me about."
"A good deal she wants to talk to you about, George?"
"Oh, yes, my dear; but I will explain presently. She is a proud little witch, and must not be coerced; we must remember that her spirit has never been broken. But I'll talk to her, I'll talk to her; leave the matter in my hands, Grace."
"Certainly, dear; she is your niece, remember."
Some of Nora's words must have sunk into Mrs. Hartrick's heart, for, rather to Molly's own astonishment, she was allowed to dress nicely for dinner, and to come down. Her somewhat heavy, dark face did not look to the best advantage. She wore a dress which did not suit her; her hair was awkwardly arranged; there was a scowl on her brow. She felt so sore and cross, after what she considered her brave efforts to be good during the morning, that she would almost rather have stayed up in her room. But Nora would not hear of that. Nora had rushed into Molly's room, and had begged her, for her sake, to come downstairs. Nora was looking quite charming in that pretty white frock which Mrs. O'Shanaghgan had purchased for her in Dublin. Her softly rounded figure, her dazzlingly fair complexion, were seen now for the first time to the best advantage. Her thick black hair was coiled up becomingly on her graceful little head, and, with a bunch of sweet peas at her belt, there could scarcely have been seen a prettier maiden. When she appeared in the drawing room, even Terence was forced to admit that he had seldom seen a more lovely girl than his sister. He went up to her and began to take notice of her.
"I am sorry I was obliged to be out all day. I am studying the different museums very exhaustively," said Terence in that measured tone of his which drove poor Nora nearly wild. She replied to him somewhat pertly, and he retired once more into his shell.
"Pretty as my sister is," he soliloquized, "she really is such an ignorant girl that few fellows would care to speak to her. It is a sad pity."
Terence, the last hope of the house of O'Shanaghgan, was heard to sigh profoundly. His aunt, Mrs. Hartrick, and his cousin Linda would, doubtless, sympathize with him.
"Dinner was announced, and the meal went off very well. Molly was absolutely silent; Nora, taking her cue from her, hardly spoke; and Linda, Terence, and Mrs. Hartrick had it all their own way. But just as dessert was placed on the table, Mr. Hartrick looked at Nora and motioned to her to change seats and to come to one close to him.
"Come now," he said, "we should like to hear your account of Castle O'Shanaghgan. Terence has told us all about it; but we should like to hear your version."
"And a most lovely place it must be," said Mrs. Hartrick from the other end of the table. "Your description, Terence, makes me quite long to see it; and if it were not that I am honestly very much afraid of the Irish peasantry, I should be glad to go there during the summer. But those terrible creatures, with their shillalahs, and their natural aptitude for firing on you from behind a hedge, are quite too fearful to contemplate. I could not run the risk of assassination from any of them. They seem to have a natural hatred for the English and—why, what is the matter, Nora?"
"Only it's not true," said Nora, her eyes flashing. "They are not a bit like that; they are the most warmhearted people in the whole world. Terence, have you been telling lies about your country? If you have, I am downright ashamed of you."
"But I have not. I don't know what you mean," answered Terence.
"Oh, come, come, Nora!" said her uncle, patting her arm gently; but Nora's eyes blazed with fire.
"It's not a bit true," she continued. "How can Aunt Grace think of that? The poor things have been driven to desperation, because—because their hearts have been trampled on."
"For instance," said Terence in a mocking voice, which fell like ice upon poor Nora's hot, indignant nature—"for instance, Andy Neil—he's a nice specimen, is he not?"
"Oh," said Nora, "he—he is the exception. Don't talk of him, please."
"That's just it," said Terence, laughing. "Nora wants to give us all the sweets, and to conceal all the bitters. Now, I am honest, whatever I am."
"Oh, are you?" said Nora, in indignation. "I should like to know," she continued, "what kind of place you have represented Castle O'Shanaghgan to be."
"I don't know why I should be obliged to answer to you for what I say, Nora," cried her brother.
"You describe it now, Nora. We will hear your description," said her uncle.
Nora sat quite still for a moment; then she raised her very dark-blue eyes.
"Do you really want me to tell you about O'Shanaghgan?" she said slowly.
"Certainly, my dear."
"Certainly, Nora. I am sure you can describe things very well," said her aunt, in an encouraging voice, from the other end of the table.
"Then I will tell you," said Nora. She paused for a moment, then, to the astonishment and disgust of Mrs. Hartrick, rose to her feet.
"I cannot talk about it sitting down," she said. "There's the sea, you know—the wild, wild Atlantic. In the winter the breakers are—oh! I have sometimes seen them forty feet high."
"Come, come, Nora!" said Terence,
"It is true, Terry; the times when you don't like to go out."
Terence retired into his shell.
"I have seen the waves like that; but, oh! in the summer they can be so sweet and conoodling."
"What in the world is that?" said Mrs. Hartrick.
"Oh, it is one of our Irish words; there's no other way to express it. And then there are the cliffs, and the great caves, and the yellow, yellow sands, and the shells, and the seaweeds, and the fish, and the boating, and—and—"
"Go on, Nora; you describe the sea just like any other sea."
"Oh, but it is like no other sea," said Nora. "And then there are the mountains, their feet washed by the waves."
"Quite poetical," said Mrs. Hartrick.
"It is; it is all poetry," said Nora. "You are not laughing at me, are you, Aunt Grace? I wish you could see those mountains and that sea, and then the home—O'Shanaghgan itself."
"Yes, Nora; tell us," said her uncle, who did not laugh, and was much interested in the girl's description.
"The home," cried Nora; "the great big, darling, empty house."
"Empty! What a very peculiar description!" said Mrs. Hartrick.
"Oh, it is so nice," said Nora. "You don't knock over furniture when you walk about; and the dining-room table is so big that, even if you did spill a jug of milk, father would not be angry."
Mrs. Hartrick uttered a sigh.
"Oh, we are wild over there," continued Nora; "we have no conventionalities. We share and share alike; we don't mind whether we are rich or poor. We are poor—oh! frightfully poor; and we keep very few servants; and—and the place is bare; because it can be nothing but bare; but there's no place like O'Shanaghgan."
"But what do you mean by bare?" said Mrs. Hartrick.
"Bare?" said Nora. "I mean bare; very few carpets and very little furniture, and—and——But, oh! it's the hearts that are warm, and that is the only thing that matters."
"It must be a right-down jolly place; and, by Jehoshaphat! I wish I was there," interrupted Molly.
"Molly!" said her mother.
"Oh, leave her alone for the present," said Mr. Hartrick. "But do you mean," he continued, looking at Nora in a distressed way, "that—that my sister lives in a house of that sort?"
"Mother?" said Nora. "Of course; she is father's wife, and my mother; she is the lady of O'Shanaghgan. It is a very proud position. We don't want grand furniture nor carpets to make it a proud position. She is father's wife, and he is O'Shanaghgan of Castle O'Shanaghgan. He is a sort of king, and he is descended from kings."
"Well, Terence, I must say this does not at all coincide with your description," said his uncle, turning and looking his nephew full in the face.
"I didn't wish to make things too bad, sir. Of course, we are not very rich over there; but still, Nora does exaggerate."
"Look here, Nora," said her uncle, suddenly turning and pulling her down to sit beside him, "you and I must have a little chat. We will just go and have it right away. You shall tell me your version of the story quite by ourselves." He then rose and drew her out of the room.
"Where shall we go?" he said when they stood for a moment in the conservatory, into which the big dining room opened.
"Do you really mean it?" said Nora.
"Mean what, dear?"
"To talk to me about—about my letter? Do you mean it?"
"Certainly I do, and there is no time like the present. Come—where shall we go?"
"Where we can be alone; where none of the prim English can interrupt."
"Nora, you must not be so prejudiced. We are not so bad as all that."
"Oh, I know it. I wish you were bad; it's because you are so awfully good that I hate—I mean, that I cannot get on with any of you."
"Poor child! you are a little wild creature. Come into my study; we shall be quite safe from interruption there."
Mr. Hartrick, still holding Nora's hand, took her down a corridor, and the next moment they found themselves in a large room, with oak bookcases and lined with oak throughout; but it was a stately sort of apartment, and it oppressed the girl as much as the rest of the house had done.
"I had thought," she murmured inwardly, "that his study would be a little bare. I cannot think how he can stand such closeness, so much furniture." She sighed as the thought came to her.
"More and more sighs, my little Irish girl," said Mr. Hartrick. "Why, what is the matter with you?"
"I cannot breathe; but I'll soon get accustomed to it," said Nora.
"Cannot breathe? Are you subject to asthma, my dear?"
"Oh, no, no; but there is so much furniture, and I am accustomed to so little."
"All right, Nora; but now you must pull yourself together, and try to be broad-minded enough to take us English folk as we are. We are not wild; we are civilized. Our houses are not bare; but I presume you must consider them comfortable."
"Oh, yes," said Nora; "yes."
"Do you dislike comfortable houses?"
"Hate them!" said Nora.
"My dear, dear child!"
"You would if you were me—wouldn't you, Uncle George?"
"I suppose if I were you I should feel as you do, Nora. I must honestly say I am very thankful I am not you."
Nora did not reply at all to that.
"Ah, at home now," she said, "the moon is getting up, and it is making a path of silver on the waves, and it is touching the head of Slieve Nagorna. The dear old Slieve generally keeps his snow nightcap on, and I dare say he has it by now. In very hot weather, sometimes, it melts and disappears; but probably he has got his first coat of snow by now, just on his very top, you know. Then, when the moon shines on it and then on the water—why, don't you think, Uncle George, you would rather look at Slieve Nagorna, with the snow on him and the moon touching his forehead, and the path of silver on the water, than—than be just comfortable?"
"I don't see why I should not have both," said Mr. Hartrick after a pause; "the silver path on the water and the grand look of Slieve Nagorna (I can quite fancy what he is like from your description, Nora), and also have a house nicely furnished, and good things to eat, and——. But I see we are at daggers drawn, my dear niece. Now, please tell me what your letter means."
"Do you really want me to tell you now?"
"Do you know why I have really come here?"
"You said something in your letter; but you did not explain yourself very clearly."
"I came here," said Nora, "for a short visit. I want to go back again soon. Time is flying. Already a month of the three months is over. In two months' time the blow will fall unless—unless you, Uncle George, avert it."
"The blow, dear? What blow?"
"They are going," said Nora—she held out both her hands—"the place, the sea, the mountains, the home of our ancestors, they are going unless—unless you help us, Uncle George."
"My dear Nora, you are very melodramatic; you must try and talk plain English. Do you mean to say that Castle O'Shanaghgan—"
"Yes, that's it," said Nora; "it is mortgaged. I don't quite know what mortgaged means, but it is something very bad; and unless father can get a great deal of money—I don't know how much, but a good deal—before two months are up, the man to whom Castle O'Shanaghgan is mortgaged will take possession of it. He is a horrid Englishman; but he will go there, and he will turn father out, and mother out, and me—oh, Terence doesn't matter. Terence never was an Irishman—never, never; but he will turn us out. We will go away. Oh, it does not greatly matter for me, because I am young; and it does not greatly matter for mother, because she is an English woman. Oh, yes, Uncle George, she is just like you—she likes comfort; she likes richly furnished rooms; but she is my mother, and of course I love her; she will stand it, for she will think perhaps we will come here to this country. But it is father I am thinking of, the old lion, the old king, the dear, grand old father. He won't understand, he'll be so puzzled. No other place will suit him; he won't say a word; it's not the way of the O'Shanaghgans to grumble. He won't utter a word; he will go away, and he will—die. His heart will be broken; he will die."
"Nora, my dear child!"
"It is true," said Nora. Her face was ghastly white; her words came out in broken sobs. "I see him, Uncle George; every night I see him, with his bowed head, and his broken heart, and his steps getting slower and slower. He'll be so puzzled, for he is such a true Irishman, Uncle George. You don't know what we are—happy one day, miserable the next. He thinks somehow, somehow, that the money will be paid. But, oh, Uncle George!—I suppose I have got a little bit of the English in me after all—I know it will not be paid, that no one will lend it to him, not any of his old friends and cronies; and he will have to go, and it will break his heart, unless, unless you help him. I thought of you; I guessed you must be rich. I see now that you are very rich. Oh, how rich!—rich enough for carriages, and thick carpets, and easy-chairs, and tables, and grand dresses, and—and all those sort of things; and you will help—won't you? Please, do! please, do! You'll be so glad some day that you helped the old king, and saved him from dying of a broken heart. Please, help him, Uncle George."
"My dear little girl!" said Mr. Hartrick. He was really affected by Nora's speech; it was wild; it was unconventional; there was a great deal of false sentiment about it; but the child herself was true, and her eyes were beautiful, and she looked graceful, and young, and full of passion, almost primeval passion, as she stood there before him. Then she believed in him. If she did not believe in anyone else in the house, she believed in him. She thought that if she asked him he would help.
"Now, tell me," he said after a pause, "does your mother know what you have come here for?"
"Mother? Certainly not; I told you in my letter that you must not breathe a word of it to mother; and father does not know. No one knows but I—Nora, I myself."
"This has been completely your own idea?"
"You are a brave girl."
"Oh, I don't know about being brave. I had to do something. If you belonged to Patrick O'Shanaghgan you would do something for him too. Have you ever seen him, Uncle George?"
"Yes, at the time of my sister's wedding, but not since."
"He was as handsome a fellow as I ever laid eyes on, and Irish through and through."
"Of course. What else would he be?"
"I have not seen him since. My sister, poor Ellen, she was a beautiful girl when she was young, Nora."
"She is stately, like a queen," said Nora. "We all admire her very, very much."
"And love her, my dear?"
"Oh yes, of course I love mother."
"But not as well as your father?"
"You could not, Uncle George, if you knew father."
"Well, I shall not ask any more. You really do want me to help?"
"If you can; if it will not cost you too much money."
"And you mean that your father is absolutely, downright poor?"
"Oh, I suppose so. I don't think that matters a bit. We wouldn't like to be rich, neither father nor I; but we do want to keep O'Shanaghgan."
"Even without carpets and chairs and tables?" said Mr. Hartrick.
"We don't care about carpets and chairs and tables," said Nora. "We want to keep O'Shanaghgan, the place where father was born and I was born."
"Well, look here, Nora. I can make you no promises just now; but I respect you, my dear, and I will certainly do something—what I cannot possibly tell you, for I must look into this matter for myself. But I will do this: I will go to O'Shanaghgan this week and see my sister, and find out from the Squire what really is wrong."
"You will?" said Nora. She thought quickly. Her father would hate it; but, after all, it was the only chance. Even she had sufficient common sense to know that Mr. Hartrick could not help unless he went to the old place.
"Oh, you will do it when you see it," she said, with sudden rapture. "And you'll take me home with you?"
"Well, I think not, Nora. Now that you are here you must stay. I am fond of you, my little girl, although I know very little about you; but I do think that you have very mistaken ideas. I want you to love your English cousins for your mother's sake, and to love their home for your mother's sake also; and I should like you to have a few lessons, and to take some hints from your Aunt Grace, for you are wild, and need training. If I go to O'Shanaghgan for you, will you stay at The Laurels for me?"
"I will do anything, anything for you, if you save father," said Nora. She fell on her knees before her uncle could prevent her, took his hand, and kissed it.
"Then it is a compact," said Mr. Hartrick; "but remember I only promise to go. I cannot make any promises to help your father until I have seen him."
SHE WILL SOON TAME DOWN.
"I am going to Ireland to-morrow, Grace," said Mr. Hartrick to his wife that evening.
"To Ireland!" she cried. "What for?"
"I want to see my sister Ellen. I feel that I have neglected her too long. I shall run over to O'Shanaghgan, and stay there for two or three nights."
"Why are you doing this, George?" said Mrs. Hartrick very slowly.
Mr. Hartrick was silent for a moment; then he said gravely:
"I have heard bad news from that child."
"Yes, from Nora."
"But Terence has never given us bad news."
"Terence is not a patch upon Nora, my dear Grace."
"There I cannot agree with you. I infinitely prefer Terence to Nora," was Mrs. Hartrick's calm reply.
"But I thought you admired the child."
"Oh, I admire what the child may become," was the cautious answer. "I cannot admire a perfectly wild girl, who has no idea of self-discipline or self-restraint. And remember one thing, George: whatever she says to you, you must take, to use a vulgarism, with a grain of salt. An Irish girl cannot help exaggerating. She has doubtless exaggerated the condition of things."
"I only pray God she has," was Mr. Hartrick's reply.
"If things are even half as bad as she represents them, it is high time that I should pay my sister a visit."
"Why? What does she say?"
"She has given me a picture of the state of affairs at that house which wrings my heart, Grace. To think that my beautiful sister Ellen should be subjected to such discomforts, to such miseries, is intolerable. I intend to go to O'Shanaghgan to-morrow, and will see how matters are for myself."
Mrs. Hartrick was again silent for a moment or two; then she said gravely:
"Doubtless you are right to do this; but I hope, while you are away, you will do nothing rash."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that, from the little I have seen of Nora, she is a very impetuous creature, and has tried perhaps to wring a promise from you."
"I will tell you quite simply what she has said, Grace, and then you will understand. She says her father has mortgaged the Castle evidently up to the hilt. The mortgagees will foreclose in a couple of months, unless money can be found to buy them off. Now, it has just occurred to me that I might buy Castle O'Shanaghgan for ourselves as a sort of summer residence, put it in order, and allow Patrick O'Shanaghgan to live there, and my sister. By and by the place can go to Terence, as we have no son of our own. I have plenty of money. What do you think of this suggestion, Grace?"
"It might not be a bad one," said Mrs. Hartrick; "but I could not possibly go to a place of that sort unless it were put into proper repair."
"It is, I believe, in reality a fine old place, and the grounds are beautiful," said Mr. Hartrick. "A few thousand pounds would put it into order, and we could furnish it from Dublin. You could have a great many guests there, and—"
"But what about the O'Shanaghgans themselves?"
"Well, perhaps they would go somewhere else for the couple of months we should need to occupy the house during the summer. Anyhow, I feel that I must do something for Ellen's sake; but I will let you know more after I have been there."
Mrs. Hartrick asked a few more questions. After a time she said:
"Is Nora to remain here?"
"Yes. I was going to speak to you about that. It is a sad pity that so pretty a girl should grow up wild. We had better keep her with us for the next two or three years. She will soon tame down and learn our English habits; then, with her undeniable Irish charm and great beauty, she will be able to do something with her life."
"I shall be quite pleased to have her," said Mrs. Hartrick in a cordial tone. "I like training young girls, and Nora is the sort who would do me credit if she really were willing to take pains."
"I am sure she will be; she is an honest little soul."
"Oh, I see you are bewitched by her."
"No, not bewitched; but I admire honesty and candor, and the child has got both."
"Well, well!" said Mrs. Hartrick, "if it is arranged that Nora is to stay here, I will go and see Miss Flowers at Linda's and Molly's school to-morrow, and ask if Nora can be admitted as a pupil. There is no use in losing time, and she may as well start her lessons next week. By all means, George, go and do your best for the poor things. Of course your sister ought not to be allowed to be in money difficulties."
"I should think not," said Mr. Hartrick.
The next day Mr, Hartrick bade Nora and his own family good-by, and started on his expedition to Ireland. Nora was quivering with impatience. When she had seen the last of him she turned back into the house, and was there met by her brother Terence.
"Come here, Nora. I want to speak to you," he said.
She followed him into the nearest room. He closed the door behind them.
"May I ask what you have been saying to Uncle George?"
"You may ask, of course, Terry; but I don't mean to tell you," answered Nora.
"It is because of you he is going to Ireland?"
"It is because of something I have said."
"How do you think our mother will like it? You know how proud she is; how all these years she has determined to put a good face on things, and not to allow her relations in England to know the truth. I have followed her cue, and have been careful to make the very best of things at Castle O'Shanaghgan."
"Oh, it is easy to tell lies," said Nora, with scorn.
"Nora, you talk in a very silly way, and I often have no patience with you," answered her brother. "If I have regard to my mother's feelings, why should you despise me? You are supposed to consider our father's feelings."
"That is very different; the whole thing is different," said Nora. She flushed, bit her lip, and then turned away.
"You must hear me," said Terence, looking at her with some impatience; "you must, you shall. You are quite intolerable with your conceit and your silly, silly Irish ways."
"Well, go on. What have you to say to me?"
"That I think you were guilty of dishonor in talking as you did at dinner last night. You spoke of the place and the poverty in a way which quite put me to the blush. I hope in future, while you are here, you will cease to run the O'Shanaghgans down. It is not worthy of you, Nora, and I am ashamed of you."
"Run them down—I?" said poor Nora in astonishment.
She was silent for a moment; she was making a great effort to recover her equanimity. Was Terence right? Had she done wrong to speak before her aunt and cousins as she had done? Of course her uncle was different; it was absolutely necessary that he at least should know the truth. A distressful sense of dismay at her own impetuosity came over her. Terence watched her narrowly. He was fond of Nora in his heart of hearts, and also proud of her; and now that he saw she was really sorry he went up to her, put his arm round her neck, and kissed her.
"Never mind, little girl," he said, "you are young. Try to be guided by me in future, and do not give yourself away. We Irish wear our hearts on our sleeves, and that sort of thing does not go down in England."
"Oh, how I hate this cold England!" said the Irish girl, with passion.
"There you are again, all your feelings expressed too broadly. You will never endure life if you go on as you have begun, Nora."
"Terence," said Nora, looking up at him, "when are you going home?"
"When am I going home? Thank you, I am very comfortable here."
"Don't you think that just at present, when father is in trouble, his only son, the heir of O'Shanaghgan, ought to be with him?"
"Poor old O'Shanaghgan," said the lad, with impatience; "you think that it comprises the whole of the world. I tell you what it is, Nora, I am made differently, and I infinitely prefer England. My uncle has been kind enough to offer me a small post in his business. Did I not tell you?"
"No, no; I never knew what my uncle's business was."
"He is a merchant prince, Nora; an enormously rich man. He owns warehouses upon warehouses. He has offered me a post in one—a very good post, and a certain income."
"And you mean to accept?" said Nora, her eyes flashing fire.
"Well, I am writing to mother on the subject. I think it would be well to do so."
"You, an O'Shanaghgan, will descend to trade?" replied the girl.
"Oh, folly! folly! Nora, your ideas are really too antiquated."
Nora did not speak at all for a moment; then she walked toward the door.
"I cannot understand you," she said. "I am awfully sorry. I was born different; I was made different. I cannot understand why you should bring dishonor to the old place."
"By earning a little money to keep us all from beggary," retorted the lad in a bitter tone; but Nora did not hear him; she had left the room. Her eyes were smarting with unshed tears. She went out into the shrubbery in search of Molly.
"But for Molly I should break my heart," she thought.
Mrs. Hartrick made all necessary arrangements, and on the following Monday Nora accompanied her cousin to school. Molly was much delighted.
"Now I shall be able to work," she said, "and I won't be guilty of slang when you are by. Don't whisper it to Linda. She would be in the seventh heaven of bliss, and I detest pleasing her; but I would do anything in the world for you, Nora creena."
Nora gave her cousin's arm an affectionate squeeze.
"I have never been to school," said Nora; "you must instruct me what I am to do."
"Oh, dear, dear!" said Molly, "you won't need instruction; you are as sharp and smart as any girl could be. You'll be a little puzzled at first about the different classes, and I'll give you hints about how to take notes and all that sort of thing. But you will quickly get into the way of it, and then you'll learn like a house on fire."
"I wish you two wouldn't whisper together so much," said Linda in an annoyed voice. "I am going over my French parsing to myself, and you do interrupt me so."
"Then walk a little farther away from us," said Molly rudely.
She turned once more to her cousin.
"I will introduce you to the very nicest girls in my form," she said. "I do hope you'll be put into my form, for then in the evenings you and I can do our work together. I expect you know about as much as I do."
"But that's just it—I don't," said Nora. "I have not learned a bit in the school way. I had a governess for a time, but she did not know a great deal. Of course mother taught me too; but I have not had advantages. I should not be surprised if I were put into the lowest form."
They now arrived at the school, and a few minutes later Nora found herself in a huge classroom in which about sixty other girls were assembled. Miss Flowers presently sent a pupil-teacher to ask Miss O'Shanaghgan to have an interview with her in her private room.
Miss Flowers was about fifty years of age. She had white hair, calm, large, well-opened blue eyes, a steadfast mouth, and a gracious and at the same time dignified manner. She was not exactly beautiful; but she had the sort of face which most girls respected and which many loved. Nora looked earnestly at her, and in her wild, impulsive Irish fashion, gave her heart on the spot.
"What is your name, my dear?" said the head-mistress kindly.
Nora told it.
"You are Irish, Mrs. Hartrick tells me."
"Yes, Miss Flowers, I have lived all my life in Ireland."
"I must find out what sort of instruction you have had. Have you ever been at school before?"
"How old are you?"
"Sixteen, Miss Flowers."
"What things have you been taught?"
"English subjects of different sorts," replied Nora. "A little music—oh, I love music, I do love music!—and a little French; and I can speak Irish," she added, raising her beautiful, dark-blue eyes, and fixing them on the face of the head-mistress. That winsome face touched Miss Flowers' heart.
"I will do what I can for you," she said. "For the present you had better study alone. At the end of a week or so I shall be able to determine what form to put you in. Now, go back to the schoolroom and ask Miss Goring to come to me."
Miss Goring was the English mistress. Miss Flowers saw her alone for a minute or two.
"Do what you can for the Irish girl," she said. "She is a very pretty creature; she is evidently ignorant; but I think she has plenty of talent."
Miss Goring went back, and during the rest of the morning devoted herself to Nora. Nora had varied and strange acquirements at her finger's ends. She was up in all sorts of folk lore; she could clothe her speech in picturesque and striking language. She could repeat poetry from Sir Walter Scott, from Shakspere, from the old Irish bards themselves; but her grammar was defective, although her reading aloud was very pretty and sweet. Her knowledge of history was vague, and might be best described by the expression, up and down. She knew all about the Waldenses; she had a vivid picture in her mind's eye of St. Bartholomew's Eve. The French Revolution appalled and, at the same time, attracted her. The death of Charles I. drew tears from her eyes; but she knew nothing whatever of the chronological arrangements of history; and the youngest girl in the school could have put her to shame with regard to the Magna Charta. It was just the same with every branch of knowledge which Nora had even a smattering of.
At last the great test of all came—could she play or could she not? She had spoken often of her passionate love for music. Miss Goring took her into the drawing room, away from the other girls.
"I am not supposed to be musical," she said, "but I think I know music when I hear it. If you have talent, you shall have plenty of advantages here. Now, sit down and play something for me."
"What! At that piano?" said Nora, her eyes sparkling. Miss Goring had opened a magnificent Broadwood grand.
"Yes," she said. "It is rather daring of me to bring you here; but I want you to have fair play."
"I never played on a really good piano in my life," said Nora. "May I venture?"
"Yes. I do not believe you will injure it."
"May I play as loud as I like, and as soft as I like?"
"Certainly. You may play exactly as you please; only play with all your heart. You will be taught scientific music doubtless; but I want to know what you can do without education, at present."
Nora sat down. At first she felt a little shy, and all her surroundings were so strange, the piano was so big; she touched it with her small, taper fingers, and it seemed to her that the deep, soft notes were going to overpower her. Then she looked at Miss Goring and felt uncomfortable; but she touched the notes again, and she began to forget the room, and Miss Goring, and the grand piano; and the soul of music stood in her eyes and touched the tips of her fingers. The music was quite unclassical, quite unconventional; but it was music—a wild kind of wailing chant—the notes of the Banshee itself. Nora played on, and the tears filled her eyes and streamed down her cheeks.
"Oh, it hurts so!" she said at last, and she looked full up at Miss Goring. Behold, the cold, gray eyes of the English teacher were also full of tears.
"You terrify me," she said. "Where did you hear anything like that?"
"That is the wail of the Banshee. Shall I play any more?"
"Nothing more so eerie."
"Then may I sing for you?"
"Can you sing?"
"I was never taught; but I think I can sing." Nora struck a few chords again. She sang the pathetic words, "She is Far from the Land," and Miss Goring felt the tears filling her eyes once more.
"Upon my word!" she said, as she led her pupil back to the schoolroom, "you can play and you can sing; you have music in you. It would be worth while to give you good lessons."
Nora's musical education was now taken up with vigor. Miss Goring spoke to Miss Flowers about it, and Miss Flowers communicated with Mrs. Hartrick; and Mrs. Hartrick was extremely pleased to find that she had a musical genius in her midst, and determined to give that same musical genius every chance. Accordingly, the very best master in the school arranged to give Nora lessons, and a mistress of striking ability took her also in hand. Nora's wild music, the music that came from her heart, and the song that bubbled from her lips, were absolutely silenced. She must not sing at will; she must on no account play at will. The dullest of exercises were given to her for the purpose of molding her fingers, and the dullest of voice exercises were also given to her for the purpose of molding her voice. She struggled against the discipline, and hated it. She was essentially a child of nature, and this first putting on of the chains of education was the reverse of pleasant.
"Oh, Molly," she said, "what is the good of singing those hateful, screaming exercises, and those scales? They are too detestable, and those little twists and turns. My fingers absolutely feel quite nervous. What is the use? What is the use?"
Molly also sighed and said, "What is the use?" But then the musical mistress and the great master looked at Nora all over when she made similar remarks, and would not even vouchsafe to answer.
"Father would never be soothed with that sort of music," she said. "I think he would be very glad we had not a good piano. Oh, Molly, what does it all mean?"
"I don't know," said Molly. "It's like all other education, nothing but grind, grind; but I suppose something will come of it in the long run."
"What are you talking about, girls?" said Mrs. Hartrick, who just then appeared upon the scene. "Nora, I am pleased; to get very good reports of your music."
"Oh!" said Nora, "I am glad you have come, Aunt Grace; and I shall be able to speak to you. Must I learn what takes all the music out of me?"
"Silly child. There is only one road to a sound musical education, and that is the road of toil. At present you play by ear, and sing by ear. You have talent; but it must be cultivated. Just believe that your elders know what they are about."
Nora did not say anything. Mrs. Hartrick, after looking at her gravely for a moment, continued her gentle walk round the shrubbery. Molly uttered a sigh.
"There's no good, Nora," she said. "You'll have to go through with it. I suppose it is the only way; but it's hard to believe it."
"Well, at any rate, I enjoy other things in my school life," said Nora. "Miss Goring is so nice, and I quite love Miss Flowers; and, after all, I am in your form, Molly, and we do like doing our lessons together."
"To be sure we do; life is quite a different thing for me since you have come here," was Molly's retort.
"And you have been very good indeed about your naughty words, you know," said Nora, nestling up to her cousin.
"Have I? Well, it's owing to you. You see, now, I have someone to help me—someone to understand me."
"Ah!" said Nora; "but I won't be here very long."
"Not here very long! Why, you must. What is the use of beginning school and then stopping it?"
"School or no school, my place is by father's side. It is a long, long time since we heard from Uncle George. As soon as ever he comes back I go."
"Father has been a whole month in Ireland now," said Molly. "I cannot imagine what he is doing. I think mother fidgets rather. She has very long letters from him, and——"
"And, do you know," said Nora, "that father has not written to me once—no, not once since Uncle George went over? I am absolutely in the dark."
"I wonder you stand it," said Molly. "You are so impetuous. I cannot imagine why you don't fly back."
"I could not," said Nora.
"Could not? What is there to hinder you?"
"I have given my word."
"Your word? To whom?"
"To your father. He went to Ireland to please me."
"Oh, did he? That's exciting," said Molly. "Father went to Ireland to please a little chit like you. Now, what does this mean?"
"It means exactly what I have said. He went because I begged him to; because I explained things to him, and he said he would go. But he made a condition, and I am bound to stick to my part of it."
"And that was——How your eyes shine, Nora!"
"That was, that I am to stay patiently here, and get as English as ever I can. Oh! I must stick to my part of the bargain."
"Well, I cannot say you look very happy," said Molly, "although you are such a favorite at the school. If I was not very fond of you myself I should be jealous. If I had a friend whom I really worshiped, before you appeared on the scene, it was Stephanotie Miller, the American girl."
"Oh, isn't she charming?" said Nora. "She makes me laugh. I am sure she has Irish blood in her."
"Not a bit of it; she's a Yankee of the Yankees."
"Well, she has been sent to school to get tame, just as I have been," said Nora; "but I don't want you to lose her friendship. After all, I care very little for anyone in the school but you, Molly; only Stephanotie makes me laugh."
"We'll have her to tea tomorrow. I'll run in now and ask mother. I shan't mind a bit if you are not going quite to take her from me. After all, she can be friends with both of us. I'll run into the house this moment, and ask mother if we may have Stephanotie to tea."
Molly rushed into the house. Her mother was seated in the morning room, busily writing.
"Well, my dear, well?" she said. "I hear you—you need not bang the door. What is it, Molly?"
"Oh, mother! do look up and listen."
Mrs. Hartrick raised her head slowly.
"Yes, dear?" she said.
"I have behaved a great deal better lately—have I not, mother?"
"You certainly have, Molly; and I am pleased with you. If you would restrain some of your impetuosity, I should be glad to tell you how pleased I am."
"It is all owing to Nora."
"To Nora, my dear! Nora is as wild as you are."
"All the same, it is owing to Nora; and she is not as wild as I am. I mean that I have been downright vulgar; but if you think there is one trace of that in little Nora, it is because you do not know her a bit."
"What is your special request, Molly? I am very busy just now, and cannot discuss your cousin's character. You have improved, and I am pleased with you."
"Then, if you are pleased with me, mother, will you do me a favor?"
"What is that?"
"Stephanotie Miller has never been at our house."
"Stephanotie Miller. What an outlandish name! Who is she?"
"She is a dear, jolly, sweet, handsome American girl. She came to school last term, and she is in the same form with Nora and me; and we both adore her, yes we do. Whatever she does, and whatever she says, we think simply perfection; and we want to ask her here. She is staying with a rather tiresome aunt, in a little house in the village, and she has come over to be Englishized. May she have tea with us tomorrow?"
"I will inquire about her from Miss Flowers; and if she seems to be a nice girl I shall have no objection."
"But we want her to come tomorrow," said Molly. "It is Saturday, you know, and a whole holiday. We thought she might come to lunch, or, if you objected to that, immediately after lunch."
"And what about Linda? Does Linda like her?"
"Holy Moses, no!" said Molly.
"Oh, mother! do forgive me, and don't say she mustn't come because I said 'Holy Moses.' It's all Linda; she excites the vulgar in me always. But may Stephie come, mother? You are always having Linda's friends here."
"I will not be reproved by you, Molly."
"But, please, dear mother, let her come. Nora and I want her so badly."
"Well, dear, I will try and see Miss Flowers tomorrow morning."
"Won't you judge of her for yourself, mother? There never was a better judge than you are."
This judicious flattery had its effect on Mrs. Hartrick, She sat quite still for a moment, pondering. After all, to be a pupil at Mrs. Flowers' school was in itself a certificate of respectability, and Molly had been very good lately—that is, for her; and if she and Nora wanted a special friend to spend the afternoon with them, it would be possible for Mrs. Hartrick quickly to decide whether the invitation was to be repeated.
"Very well," she said, looking at her daughter, "for this once you may have her; and as you have wisely expressed it, Molly, I can judge for myself."
"Oh, thank you, thank you, mother!"
Molly rushed out of the room. She was flying headlong down the passage, when she came plump up against Linda.
"Now, what is up?" said that young person. "Really, Molly!"
"Oh, hurrah! I have won my way for once," said Molly. "Stephanotie is coming tomorrow to spend the whole afternoon."
"Stephanotie—that horrid Yankee?" said Linda.
"Horrid Yankee yourself!" was Molly's vulgar retort.
"But she cannot come. I have asked Mabel and Rose Armitage, and you know they cannot stand Stephanotie."
"Well, you, and your Mabel and Rose, can keep away from Stephanotie—that's all," said Molly. "Anyhow, she is coming. Don't keep me. I must tell Nora."
Linda made way for her sister to fly past her, as she afterward expressed it, like a whirlwind. She stood still for a moment in deep consideration. Stephanotie was a daring, bright, go-ahead young person, and had she ever taken, in the very least, to Linda, Linda would have worshiped her. Stephanotie was extremely rich, and the bouquets she brought to school, and the bon-bons she kept in her pocket, and the pretty trinkets she wore, and the dresses she exhibited had fascinated Linda more than once. For, rich as the Hartricks were, Mrs. Hartrick had far too good taste to allow her daughters more pocket-money, or more trinkets, or more bon-bons than their companions. Linda, in her heart of hearts, had greatly rebelled against her mother's rule in this particular, and had envied Stephanotie what she called her free life. But Stephanotie had never taken to Linda, and she had taken to Molly, and still more had she taken to Nora; and, in consequence, Linda pretended to hate her, and whenever she had an opportunity used to run her down.