"That's the last time ye're out stravagin' the roads by yer lone," said Lull. "Yez'll not have to lave the wee sowl after this," she cautioned the others. They were as frightened as Lull.
They treated Honeybird as though she had been rescued from some terrible danger. Next morning Andy was told. He questioned Honeybird closely, and said he would give a description of the man to Sergeant M'Gee. Honeybird remembered that the man had red whiskers, and carried a big stick. Later on she remembered that he had bandy legs and a squint. The more frightened the others grew at the thought of the dangers she had been exposed to the more terrible grew her description of the man's appearance. Once or twice Jane had a suspicion that Honeybird was adding to the truth, but when questioned Honeybird stuck to the same tale, and never contradicted herself.
"God be thankit no harm come to the wee sowl," said Mick when Honeybird had gone off to play, in charge of Fly and Patsy. "I'll be feared to let her out a' my sight after this."
"I'll hould ye Sergeant M'Gee'll keep a luk out for thon boy," said Jane. They were up in the loft getting hay for Rufus.
"Wasn't she the quare brave wee thing to tell the man to drap the priest's hen?" said Mick. Jane lifted a bundle of hay.
"She's an awful good wee child, anyway," she answered. "What's that scrapin' in the corner?" she added.
She stepped over the hay to look.
"What is it?" said Mick. Jane did not answer. He repeated his question, and Jane turned a bewildered face.
"Come here an' see," she said. In the corner, where a place had been cleared for the purpose, a bantam hen was tethered by a string to a nail in the floor!
"God help us," said Mick, "but why an' iver did he hide it here?"
"He!" said Jane, "don't you see the manin' af it? She's stole it herself, an' tould us all them lies on purpose."
Mick could hardly be brought to believe this.
"Did ye iver hear tell a' such badness?" said Jane.
"Mebby she niver knowed what she was doin'," said Mick.
"Didn't she just," said Jane; "she knowed enough to tell a quare good lie."
"We'd better go an' ast her if she done it," said Mick.
They found Honeybird playing on the lawn with the two others, and led her away to the top of the garden. Jane began the accusation.
"Do you know, Honeybird, we think you're a wee thief," she said.
"Dear forgive ye," said Honeybird.
"We seen the bantam," said Jane.
Honeybird looked up quickly. "Then just you lave it alone, an' mind yer own business," she said.
"Do you know that you are a thief an' a liar, Honeybird Darragh?" said Jane sternly.
"Well, what if I am?" said Honeybird. "Sure, I'm on'y a wee child, an know no better."
"Ye know the commandments an' 'Thou shall not steal' as well as I do," said Jane.
"I forget them sometimes," said Honeybird; "besides, too, I niver stole it. It as near as ninepence walked up into my pinny."
"Where was it?" Mick asked.
"It was out walkin' on the road all by its lone," said Honeybird, "an' if I hadn't 'a' tuk it mebby somebuddy else would."
"Then ye niver seen no bad man with a baldy head at all?" Mick asked.
"No, I didn't," Honeybird confessed; "but I might 'a' seen him all the same."
"Luk here, me girl," said Jane, "you've just got to walk that bantam hen back to Father Ryan."
"I will not," said Honeybird.
"Then we'll tell Lull."
Honeybird began to cry. "If ye do I'll run away, an' niver, niver come home any more," she said. Jane was dumfounded.
"Ye can't go on bein' a thief, Honeybird," she said at last. "We on'y want to make ye good."
"Then ye'll not make me good," said Honeybird. "If ye tell anybuddy I'll be as bad as bad as the divil, so I just will."
"Well, if ye don't give up the bantam Almighty God'll let ye know," said Jane.
"I'm not a bit feared a' Him," Honeybird replied. Say what they would they could not move her. Mick reasoned and Jane reasoned, but it was all to no purpose. Honeybird was determined to stick to her sin. In the end she got the better of them, for to put an end to her threats they had to promise not to tell. Later in the day Andy also discovered the bantam hen, and told Lull.
"I wouldn't 'a' believed there was that much veeciousness in the wean," he said. Andy was cross—he had been to the police barracks, and told Sergeant M'Gee to look out for Honeybird's bad man.
"God luk to yer wit, man," said Lull. "Sure, childer's always tryin' their han' at some divilment or other."
"She'd be the better af a good batin'," said Andy.
"It'd be the quare wan would lift han' to a chile like thon," said Lull. "I don't hould with batin's, anyway. Just take yer hurry, an' ye'll see what'll happen."
What did happen was that Honeybird brought an old hymn-book into the kitchen that evening, and sat by the fire singing hymns. "I am Jesus' little lamb," she was singing in a shrill voice when the others came into supper.
"Then ye're the quare black wan," said Jane.
Several days passed, and Honeybird showed no sign of repentance. She even continued the tale of the bad man to Fly and Patsy, who did not know the truth, and were still frightened of him. She said she had met him again. Where and when she was not going to tell, for he had told her he was going to America, and was never going to steal any more. He had also said that if she were a good girl he would give her a bantam hen for herself.
"He'll on'y give ye the wan he stole from Father Ryan, an' then ye'll have to take it back," said Fly.
"No; but he said it'd be wan he stole from somebuddy I niver seen or knowed," said Honeybird.
"Don't you be takin' it," Patsy warned her. "The receiver's as bad as the thief, ye know."
Honeybird was disconcerted for a moment. "Who tould ye that?" she asked.
"It's in the Bible," said Patsy.
"Well, I don't believe it," said Honeybird. "Anyway, Almighty God forgets things half His time. I seen somebuddy that done a sin wanst, an' He niver let on He knowed."
That night Mrs Darragh was ill again. The children had all gone to bed. Lull thanked God they were asleep as she sat by their mother's side listening to her wild prayers and protestations of repentance. "The childer'd make sure she was goin' to die if they heerd her," she thought, and hoped the nursery door was securely shut. She had found it was best to let Mrs Darragh cry till she had exhausted her grief. Then she would fall asleep, and forget. Tonight it was past twelve o'clock before Mrs Darragh slept. Lull made up the fire, and crept softly out of the room to go to her own bed. But when she opened the door she discovered the five children in their nightgowns sitting huddled together in the passage. They looked at Lull with anxious eyes.
"Is she dead, Lull?" Jane asked. Lull drove them off to the nursery.
"Tell us, Lull; is she dead?" Mick begged.
"Not a bit a' her," said Lull cheerfully. "She's sleepin' soun'." She tucked them into bed, and hurried back to see if they had waked their mother. All was quiet there, and she was once more going off to bed, when she heard voices in the nursery.
"I'll take it back the morra, but I think Almighty God's not fair." It was Honeybird's voice. "He might 'a' done some wee thing on me, an' instead a' that He done the baddest thing He knowed."
"Whist, Honeybird," came Jane's voice.
"I'll not whist," said Honeybird. "He's near bruk my heart. Makin' mother sick like that all for the sake of a wee bantam."
"God help childer an' their notions," said Lull to herself.
Next morning, when she was lighting the kitchen fire, a figure passed the kitchen window. It was early for anybody to be about the place, so Lull got up to see who it could be. It was Honeybird. She was running quickly down the avenue, with something under her arm. She was back again before breakfast.
"How's mother?" were her first words. Lull assured her that Mrs Darragh was better again.
Honeybird gave a sigh of relief. "Och, but I got the quare scare," she said. Lull pretended to know nothing.
"Well, I may as well tell ye it was me stole Father Ryan's wee bantam," said Honeybird. Lull expressed surprise.
"An' sez I to myself: 'Almighty God niver knows that I know right well it's a sin'"—she paused for a moment—"but He knowed all the time. 'Clare to you, Lull dear, I made sure He'd 'a' kilt mother afore I got the wee bantam tuk back."
"Did ye tell the priest that?" Lull asked.
"Troth, I tould him ivery word from the very start," Honeybird answered.
"An' what did he say to ye?" said Lull.
"He's the awful nice man," said Honeybird. "He tried to make out that Almighty God wasn't as bad as all that. But I know better. Anyhow, he's goin' to buy me a wee bantam cock and hen, all for my very own, to keep for iver."
THE DORCAS SOCIETY
The Dorcas Society was Jane's idea. She thought of it one Monday evening as they all sat round the kitchen fire watching Lull make soup for the poor. A bad harvest had been followed by an unusually wild winter. Storms such as had not been known for fifty years swept over the country, and now, after three months of storm, February had come with a hard frost and biting wind that drove the cold home to the very marrow of your bones. In winters past the poor had come from miles round to Rowallan, where a boiler full of soup was never off the kitchen fire. This winter, driven by want, some of those who remembered the old days had come back once more, and Lull, out of her scanty store, had filled once more the big boiler. On this Monday evening, as she stirred the soup, she mourned for the good days past.
"Troth, Rowallan was the full an' plenty house when the ould master was alive. Bad an' all as he was there was good in him. It was a sayin' among the neighbours that if ye'd had three bellies on ye ye could 'a' filled them all at Rowallan." Lull could have talked all night on this subject. "An' the ould mistress, God have mercy on her; she'd have blankets an' flannel petticoats, an' dear knows what all, for the women an' childer; I'm sayin' Rowallan was the full an' plenty house wanst."
"Well, I wisht it was now," said Mick. "I met Anne M'Farlane on the road the day, an' ye could see the bones of her through her poor ould duds."
"Ah, I thought a quare pity a' her myself," said Patsy; "the teeth was rattlin' in her head."
"That'll make me cry when I'm in bed the night," said Honeybird sorrowfully.
It was then that the idea of a Dorcas Society, such as their mother had told them of, came to Jane, and was taken up enthusiastically by the others. "Ye get ould clothes, an' mend them, an' fix them for people," she explained to Lull. "We could have a brave one with all them things in the blue-room cupboards."
"Is it the clothes of your ould ancestry ye're for givin' away? I'm thinkin' ye'll get small thanks for that rubbidge," said Lull.
"Why, they're beautiful things, that warm an' thick," Jane protested, "an' we'd fix them up first." Lull looked at the five eager faces watching hers. She hated to damp their ardour, but she knew what the village would think of such gifts.
"Say yes, plaze," Honeybird begged, "or I'll be awful sorry ivery time I mind Anne M'Farlane shiverin'."
"Go on, Lull; many's the time I can hardly sleep when I think the people's cowld," said Mick.
"We'd begin at wanst," said Fly eagerly, and Lull weakly gave in. "God send they don't be makin' scarecrows a' the poor," she murmured when the children had departed in joyful haste to begin their Dorcas Society. For three days they could think and talk of nothing else. Lull, watching them, regretted that she had not the heart to discourage them at the first, for they took such pleasure and pride in their society that she could not disappoint them now. She did drop a few hints, but nobody took any notice. The clothes from the blue-room cupboards represented the fashions for the past fifty years—full-skirted gowns, silk and satin, tarlatan, and bombazine calashes, areophane bonnets, Dolly Varden hats, pelerines, burnouses, shawls, tippets. At these Fly and Jane sewed from morning till night. Fly saw the hand of Providence in an attack of rheumatism that kept Mr Rannigan in bed and put off lessons for a week. The boys were at school, but directly they came home they sat down by the schoolroom fire to help. Honeybird could not sew; she unpicked torn linings and, on Lull's suggestion, ripped off all unnecessary bows and fringes, working so hard that she had two big blisters where the scissors chafed her fingers. On Wednesday evening all the sewing was done, and the children prepared to take the clothes to the village. Lull regretted her weakness still more when she saw how pleased they were with their work. They brought her into the schoolroom to show her everything before they packed.
"Look at that fine thing," said Honeybird, patting a red burnouse. "That'll keep Anne M'Farlane's ould bones from rattlin'." Patsy held up a buff-coloured satin gown, pointing out with pride where he had filled up the deficiencies of a very low neck with the top of a green silk pelerine.
"That's more like a dress now, isn't it, Lull?" he said. "I'm thinkin' whoiver wore that afore I fixed it must 'a' been on the bare stomach." They packed the clothes in ould Davy's wheelbarrow and the ould perambulator, and started off. Jane and Mick wheeled the loads. Patsy held a lantern, Fly and Honeybird carried armfuls of bonnets and hats that would have been crushed among the heavy things. Lull felt like a culprit as she watched them go. She waited with some anxiety for them to come home, but they came back as pleased as they had been when they started. Everybody was delighted, and had promised to wear their gifts.
"Anne M'Farlane cried, she was that glad," Honeybird told Lull.
"An', mind ye, the things fitted quare an' well," said Mick. "The only thing I have my doubts about was thon lilac boots ye give Mrs Cush."
"They went on her all right," said Jane.
"Ah, but I could see they hurted her all the same," said Mick; "but I suppose they'll stretch." Lull thanked God in her heart that the people had evidently taken the will for the deed. And perhaps, after all, though the clothes were not fit to wear, some of them might be useful—one of those satin dresses would be a warm covering on a bed.
Next morning she was skimming the soup when old Mrs Kelly came in. Lull turned to greet her, and saw to her surprise that Mrs Kelly wore a tight black silk jacket and a green calash. "Saints presarve us, Mrs Kelly, woman," she exclaimed, for a moment forgetting the Dorcas Society. Mrs Kelly smiled weakly.
"I suppose I look like mad Mattie; but I couldn't be disappointin' the childer. Ye'll tell them, Lull, I come up in them, won't ye? I give them my word I would." Mrs Kelly departed with her soup, and Lull sat down to face the fact that the people had taken the children seriously. "Dear forgive me, I'm the right ould fool. The village'll be like a circus the day," she murmured. A tall figure in vivid colours passed the window. "God help us, there's Anne," she gasped. The next moment Anne M'Farlane stood in the doorway. She wore a brown bombazine dress, a red burnouse, and a bonnet of bright blue areophane. Lull greeted her as though there were nothing unusual about her appearance. But Anne, in no mood to notice this, stood still in the doorway. Lull turned towards the fire.
"Come on in an' warm yerself, Anne," she said cheerfully, trying to ignore Anne's dramatic attitude. A burst of weeping was the reply from the figure in the doorway.
"Luk at me—luk!" wailed Anne. "Did ye iver see the like in all yer days?—all the childer in the streets a-callin' after me. An' when I met the priest on the road, sez he: 'Is it aff to a weddin' ye are in Lent, Anne?' sez he." Lull could find nothing to say. She tried to make Anne come in and have some tea, but Anne's woe was beyond the comfort of tea.
"Gimme the soup, an' I'll away home to my bed," she wept. "God help me, I'd be better in my grave." She dried her eyes on the burnouse, and took her soup, adding, as she turned to go: "Don't be lettin' on to the weans, Lull. Their meanin' was a' the best, but it's an image upon airth they've made a' me—me that always lived a moral life, an' hoped to die a moral death." She went away crying.
"It's the sore penance I'll get for this day's work," Lull muttered.
Teressa was the next person to arrive, and to Lull's relief she wore her own well-known green plaid shawl. On seeing this Lull took heart again. Mrs Kelly and Anne M'Farlane were both such good-natured bodies, perhaps they would be the only ones to wear the Dorcas Society's gifts. But Teressa was charged with news. She was hardly inside the door before she began. "Man, Lull, woman, but there's the quare fun in the village the day. Ye'd split yer two sides at the people. I niver laughed as many. Thon's the curiosities a' the ould-fashionedest, to be sure. Silks an' satins trailin' round the dours like tip-top quality rared in the parlour." She took a seat by the fire. "God be thanked, the childer niver come near me; mebby they'd 'a' made a kiltie a' me, like poor Mary M'Cann, the critter." Before Lull had time to reply the door was once more opened, and old Mrs Glover came in, looking very apologetic in the full-skirted, buff-coloured satin gown that Patsy had made wearable.
"Good mornin' to ye, Lull," she curtsied. "Is that yerself, Mrs O'Rorke?" She was evidently on the verge of tears. Teressa looked pityingly at her.
"Och, but the quality does be makin' fun a' the poor," she said. Mrs Glover's tears brimmed over. "The boyseys has laughed their fill at me, an' me their ould granny," she quavered. "I'd do anythin' to oblige, but I hadn't the nerve to come out in thon fur hat: Geordie said I looked for all the world like an' ould rabbit in it."
"A dacint woman like yerself. I'm sayin', I wonder the childer would do the like," said Teressa sympathetically. Lull felt her temper rising, but she was powerless to reply. Teressa invited Mrs Glover to sit down.
"They're stirrin' weans, an' I'm not aquil for them," Mrs Glover murmured.
Teressa nodded from the other side of the fire. "Families does be terrible like other," she said.
"'Deed ay; that's no lie," said Mrs Glover plaintively. "I mind their ould grandfather afore them; many's the time the people be to curse the Pope for him afore he'd let them have the wee drap a' soup."
Lull rose in wrath. "Is it the weans ye're namin' wi that ould ruffan?" she said fiercely—"an' them stitching an' rippin' for a pack a' crabbit ould women that the saints in glory couldn't plaze."
Teressa and Mrs Glover both got up hastily, full of apologies, but Lull would not be appeased. She gave them their soup, and sent them off. "People does be thinkin' quare things," she murmured as she watched them go. "How an' iver am I going to tell the childer thon?"
She had no need, however, to tell the children. The news came from an unexpected quarter. Dinner was waiting on the schoolroom table, and the children, standing by the fire, were still discussing their Dorcas Society, when there came a tap at the door, and Miss Rannigan, the rector's niece, walked in.
Miss Rannigan was a little woman, prim and bird-like in her movements. She came to stay at the Rectory about twice a year, and the children avoided the place while she was there. She had never been to Rowallan before, and they thought she must have come to tell them that Mr Rannigan was dead. Her first words dispelled this fear.
"Fie! oh, fie!" She pointed a black-kid finger at Jane. Jane quickly reviewed her life to see which sin had been discovered. "The whole village is intoxicated, you cruel child." They all stared at her. "They tell me it was you made such shocking guys of those poor, benighted old women who are now dancing in the street like drunken playactors." A scarlet flame leapt from face to face; the children turned to each other with burning cheeks. "If my uncle had been able he would have come here himself," Miss Rannigan went on.
"We—we—we——" Jane stammered; she could not tell Miss Rannigan about the Dorcas Society.
"Do not try to make excuses," said that lady.
"We make no excuses," said Patsy wrathfully. "We done it a' purpose, just for the pure divilment a' the thing."
"Wean, dear!" Lull remonstrated.
"Their meanin' was good, miss," she began. Andy's head appeared round the door.
"If ye plaze, Miss Jane, wee Cush is here, an' she says for the love of God will ye come an' take them fancy boots off her ould granny that ye put on last night, for ne'er a buddy else can. The ould woman niver got a wink a' sleep, an' the two feet's burnin' aff her."
"I should like to teach you what a mother is," said Miss Rannigan grimly.
"Do ye think she was tellin' the truth?" said Mick when she had gone.
Jane was putting on her hat. "I'm goin' to see," she said. She departed for the village, and the others went with her, in spite of Lull's entreaties to them to stay and eat their dinner first. Lull put the dinner in the oven, and then sat down and cried. They came back miserably dejected. Miss Rannigan's tale was only too true. "There's hardly wan sober," Jane explained. "Ould Mrs Cush is, 'cause the boots hurted her that much she couldn't put fut to the flure. I had to cut them off her."
"Where did they get the drink?" Lull asked.
"At the Red Lion. John M'Fall had them all in, an' made them drunk for nuthin', 'cause they looked that awful funny in our clothes." Jane put her head down on the table, and cried bitterly. Mick tried to comfort her, while Fly and Honeybird wept on Lull's lap.
"Sure, ye did it all for the best, dear," Lull said. "It's meselfs the bad ould fool not to see how it would be from the first."
Suddenly Patsy began to laugh. "I can't help it if ye are cross wi' me, Jane, but I wisht ye'd seen ould Mrs Glover in thon furry hat."
Jane raised a wrathful face. "It's awful wicked of ye, Patsy, when mebby they'll all be took up and put in gaol through us."
"They can't be that," said Patsy, "for Sergeant M'Gee's as drunk as anybody."
Jane's face cleared. "Are ye sure?" she demanded.
"Sure! didn't ye see him walasin' round in thon tull bonnet? I heard him sayin' they'd burn tar bar'ls the night." This relieved their anxiety, but it could not do away with the disgrace. The children avoided the village for weeks, and never again mentioned the Dorcas Society.
THE CRUEL HARM
Mick had made friends with Pat M'Garvey in the spring, when Jane and the others had measles, and he had been sent to the Rectory to be out of the way. The weather had been fine, and he had gone exploring nearly every day. On one of these expeditions he had come across a tall, red-haired boy setting potatoes in a patch of ground behind a cottage on tfie side of the mountain. The coast road ran below, and Mick must have passed the cottage dozens of times, but he had never seen it before. He discovered it now only because he had been up the mountain and had seen a thread of smoke below. Even then it had been hard to find the cottage, hid as it was by boulders and whins. At first Pat had not been friendly. When he straightened his long back up from the potatoes he was bending over he had looked angrily at Mick. But Mick had insisted on being friends, he was so lonely, and after a bit Pat had invited him into the garden, and allowed him to help to plant the potatoes. The next day Mick went again, and then the next. He soon discovered that Pat was not like the boys in the village: he knew things that Mick had never heard of, and told him stories of the Red Branch Knights and the time when Ireland was happy. Once when Mick tried to show off the little he knew about the Rebellion Pat took the story out of his mouth, and got so excited that his grey-green eyes looked as though they were on fire. He was twenty years old, and lived alone with his old grandmother.
The first time Mick went into the cottage a strange thing happened. Old Mrs M'Garvey was sitting by the chimney corner, her hands stretched out over the fire. She looked like a witch, Mick thought. Over the chimneypiece there was a gun that took Mick's fancy. It was nearly six feet long. Pat saw him looking at it, and took it down. He said it had been washed ashore the time of the Spanish Armada, and had been found in the sand. Mick took it into his hands to feel the weight. Suddenly the old woman looked up, and asked Pat what was the young gentleman's name. Mick answered for himself. She rose from her stool with a screech: "Michael Darragh! Is that who ye are? Mother a' God! an' yer father's gun in his han'." Mick turned in bewilderment to Pat, but he was leaning against the wall, shaking all over. "In the name of God," he was saying. Then he took the gun away, and hurried Mick out of the cottage. "I niver knew that was who ye were," he said; "I made sure you were wan a' the young Bogues." He told Mick not to think about it again—the old woman was doting, and did not know what she was saying—but he made him promise never to tell anyone what had happened, and never let anyone know they were friends—they might both get into trouble if it were known, he said. Soon after this Mick went back to Rowallan, and then he was not able to see Pat so often. If the friendship had not been a secret he could have gone, but it was hard to get away from the others without explaining where he was going. Once or twice through the summer he slipped away, and found Pat about the cottage. On one of these days Pat told him he was going away to America soon, to his father. Mick had imagined that Mr M'Garvey was dead. He thought Pat looked very miserable. "Don't ye want to go?" he asked.
"It's not so much the goin' I mind as a terrible piece a' work I have to do afore I go," he said. Then after a pause he added: "But I'll not be goin' yet a bit; I'll wait till I bury my ould granny."
Mick did not go back till one day in November. He could not see Pat anywhere outside, so he knocked at the cottage door. It was opened by Pat himself. "She's dead," he said. He came out, and they sat on the wall. "Then ye'll be off to America," Mick said sadly—he had never seen Pat look so thin and ill; "I'll be quare an' sorry to see ye go."
Pat did not answer, he was looking straight out at the line of grey sea. Mick could hear the waves beating on the rocks below. At last Pat said: "I have that bit of a job to do before I go." Mick thought he meant he must bury his granny. He tried to cheer him up. "Yer father'll be brave an' glad to see ye," he said.
"It's six years the morra since I seen him," said Pat, still looking out to sea.
"Six years the morra; why, that's just as long as my father's been dead," said Mick. Pat did not answer.
"Will ye iver come back any more?" Mick asked.
"Niver," said Pat. "I'll bury my granny the morra, an' then—then I start."
"Well, I'll niver forget ye," said Mick. Now that it had come to saying good-bye for ever Mick felt he could not let Pat go; it was like parting from Jane or Patsy; he was almost crying.
"Ye'll have no call to forget me or mine," said Pat bitterly.
"'Deed, I won't," said Mick; "ye've been quare an' kind to me. I'd like to give ye somethin' before ye go, so that ye won't forget me, but I've nothin' but my ould watch. I wisht ye'd take it, Pat."
Pat hid his face in his hands, then he gave a sound like a groan, and got up, and took Mick by the shoulders. "See here," he said, "ye'll niver forget me, an' I'll niver forget you. God forgive me, I wouldn't hurt a hair a' yer head, an' yet I'm goin' to do ye the cruel harm. An' it's tearin' the heart out of me to do it. Mind that. But I give my father my word I'd do it, an' it's the right thing for-by. It's only because it's yerself that it's killin' me." And he turned back into the cottage, and shut the door. The whole way home Mick puzzled over what he could have meant.
The next day was Honeybird's birthday, and they were all to go to take tea with Aunt Mary and Uncle Niel at the farm. This was one of their greatest treats; but at the last minute Mick said he did not want to go. All the morning, every time he remembered, tears kept coming into his eyes—Pat was burying his old granny to-day, and then he was going to leave Ireland for ever. It seemed a mean thing to go to a tea party when your best friend was going away, and you would never see him again. When he thought of how white and ill Pat had looked yesterday Mick felt a lump in his throat. But Lull said he must go to the farm whether he liked it or not, or Aunt Mary would be hurt.
The farm was nearly a mile from Rowallan. Half the way was by the open road, but the other half was through the loney—a muddy lane with a bad reputation. All sorts of tales were told about it. A murderer had been hanged, people said, on the willow-tree that grew there, and late at night his bones could be heard still rattling in the breeze; and Things that dare not go by the front road, for fear of passing the figure of the Blessed Virgin on the convent chapel, came to and from the mountains by this way. The convent wall, on one side, threw a shadow on the path, making it dark even in daylight; on the other side was a deep ditch. The children ran as fast as they could till they came to the end of the wall, when the path turned across the open fields to the farm. They knew no place that looked so clean and bright as that whitewashed house on the brow of the hill. After the gloom of the loney the low, white garden wall, the fuchsia bushes, the beds of yellow marigolds seemed to smile at them in a glow of sunlight. Aunt Mary was waiting at the half-door, quieting the dogs, that had been roused from their sleep in front of the kitchen fire. Aunt Mary was a little woman with a soft voice; she wore her hair parted down the middle, and brushed back till it shone like silk. When she had kissed them all she took them upstairs to her bedroom to take off their things. Jane always said she would be feared to death to sleep in Aunt Mary's room. The ceiling sloped down on one side, and in under it there was a window looking across the fields to the river and the big dark mountains beyond. To-day the window was open, and they could hear the noise the river made as it fell at the weir. Jane listened a minute, then turned away. "I hate it," she said; "it's like a mad, wild woman cryin'."
"Don't, Jane," Mick said sharply. That mournful sound had made him unhappy again about Pat.
"Come on out of that," said Patsy, "an' let's get some pears."
Aunt Mary always allowed them to play in the room where the apples and pears were stored. Besides apples and pears there were two wooden boxes full of clothes to dress up in—stiff, old-fashioned silks, Indian muslins, embroidered jackets, and a pair of white kid boots. Aunt Mary had worn these things when she was young and lived at Rowallan, before she turned to be a Roman Catholic and was driven out by her father. When they were tired of play they came downstairs to the parlour. This, they thought, was the most beautiful room in the world. There was a carpet with a wreath of roses on a grey ground, a cupboard with diamond panes, where Aunt Mary kept her china, and the deep window seat was filled with geraniums. Aunt Mary had a birthday present for Honeybird; she kissed her when she gave it; and said: "God and His Blessed Mother keep you, child." Then she cried a little, till they all felt inclined to cry with her. But she jumped up, and said it was time she baked the soda bread for tea. When the bread was baked and the table laid Aunt Mary went to the half-door to look out for Uncle Niel.
"I always know when he's comin' by your face, Aunt Mary," Jane said.
Aunt Mary laughed. "Indeed, I'm not surprised," she said; "for I can't remember a day when I didn't watch for his coming."
He came soon, and they had tea, and then he told them fairy tales by the kitchen fire. In the middle of a story Mick suddenly noticed Aunt Mary's face as she looked up from her knitting to watch her brother. Jane was right; her face changed when she looked at him, her eyes seemed to shine. When he and Jane were old, and lived together as they had planned to do, they would love each other like that. Uncle Niel was like their father, Lull had once told them. She said there was not a finer gentleman in Ireland, and held him up to Mick and Patsy as a pattern of what they ought to be when they were men. Mick agreed with her. Uncle Niel was the kindest person he knew; after being with him Mick always felt he would like to be more polite to the others. When he was old he would be as polite to Jane as Uncle Niel was to Aunt Mary. On the way home it was very dark, and they all walked close to Uncle Niel going through the loney. He laughed at them, but Jane said she was afraid of the murderer whose bones rattled in the breeze.
"It's the first time I've heard of him or his bones," Uncle Niel said, "and I've been through the loney at all hours of the day and night."
"Did ye niver hear tell of Skyan the Bugler?" said Honeybird, "for I'm quare an' scared of him myself."
Uncle Niel picked her up in his arms. "What would Skyan the Bugler want with you?" he said.
"'Deed, he might be after marryin' me," she said, "an' ye know I wouldn't like that."
"I'd rather be married that kilt," said Jane.
"I think one is as bad as the other," said Uncle Niel, and he laughed again. "But I tell you what," he added; "if I ever meet anything in the loney worse than myself I'll come over in the morning and tell you."
Then Patsy, who had been walking along quietly, suddenly spoke. "Uncle Niel," he said, "who was Patrick M'Garvey?"
Mick caught his breath. Where had Patsy heard that name? Uncle Niel seemed to be startled too. He stopped short on the path. "Who was telling you about him, Patsy, lad?" he said.
"It was just a man at the fair wanst. He said if Patrick M'Garvey had waited in the loney instead of at the big gates my father would be alive to this day. I ast him what his manin' was; but another man tould him to hould his tongue, an' tould me not to heed him, for he had drink on him."
"Well, don't think about it any more, Patsy," Uncle Niel said; he was not laughing now. "You and I have a lot to forgive when we think of Patrick M'Garvey, but we do well to forgive, as God forgives us."
Mick could not go to sleep that night thinking of what Uncle Niel and Patsy had said. It was a wet night, and the rain beat against the windows. After a bit Jane came into his room from the nursery; she could not sleep either, and she thought she had heard the banshee crying. But there was no sound except the pelting of heavy rain when they listened. Mick made her crawl into his bed, and then they must have fallen asleep. They were waked by the sound of voices downstairs. The rain was over, but the wind was up, and the voices seemed to die away and rise again every time there was a lull in the storm. They both got up, and dressed hurriedly, without waking the others. Something must have happened, they thought, and on such a dismal morning it could only be something bad. All the village was gathered in the kitchen when they got downstairs. Some of the women were crying, and there was a scared look on the men's faces. Mick and Jane were sure their mother must be dead. But no one took any notice of them, and they could not see Lull anywhere.
"The dog was howlin' at half-past eleven," Mick heard a man say, "an' the dour was locked and boulted when the polis tuk the body home."
Then the back door opened, and Father Ryan, the parish priest, came in.
"Go home, every one of you," he said; "talkin' won't give the man his life back."
The kitchen was soon cleared. Mick saw Lull sitting by the table, her head on her hands. Father Ryan put his hand on her shoulder.
"I've lost my best friend, Lull," he said. Lull looked up; Mick hardly knew her face, it was so small and old.
"God help us, Father," she said, and then began to cry wildly. "Miss Mary, poor Miss Mary; it'll be the death of her."
"You are right, Lull," Father Ryan said; "she'll never get over it. I've just come from her. It will just be the mistress over again—— What are the children doing here?" he added quickly.
"God forgive me, I niver seen them to this minute," said Lull.
Father Ryan called them over to him. "Do you know what's come to you?" he said.
"Somebody's dead," Mick answered.
"It's your Uncle Niel," Father Ryan said; "he was killed in the loney last night."
Father Ryan did not stay long. When he had gone Andy came in. Mick was crouching by the fire.
"Do you call to mind what day it was, Lull?" Andy said in a whisper Mick heard.
"I do, well," said Lull; "six years to the very day. God's curse on him," she added in a strange, harsh voice; "couldn't he be content with murderin' the wan, an' not hape sorra on us like this?"
"He's safe in America," said Andy, "that's the divilment of him; but them that's got childer has got the long arm. I'll hould ye he's niver let the boy forget. The ould mother was buried yesterday, an' the boy must 'a' been waitin' for that till he done it."
Mick heard no more; he slipped out down the passage to the schoolroom. He had forgotten all about Pat, but now he remembered, with a terror that overwhelmed him. For a moment he wondered if he were really himself. It could not be true that Uncle Niel was dead, and he, Michael Darragh, knew—knew what? He could not bear the thought. But it was all spread out plain before his eyes. Pat M'Garvey, his friend, whom he loved so much, had murdered Uncle Niel. He shut his eyes, and drew in his breath. "I'm goin' to do ye the cruel harm"—he could see Pat's face as he said it, so thin and miserable. Why, why had he done it? Uncle Niel was so good, and Pat was so good too, but now one was dead and the other was a murderer. Quick before his eyes horrid pictures rose up—Uncle Niel lying dead, and Pat, with blood on his hands, caught by the police; Pat going to gaol on a car, handcuffed, between two policemen, his white face—— "He didn't mane it," Mick burst out passionately. "Oh, God, I just can't bear it." Then another thought came. He himself would be brought up to give evidence. Pat had told him he was going to do it, and now on his word Pat would be hanged. What had happened that the whole world had turned against him like this?
The next minute he was off, across the wet lawn, over the road, running for his life, not on the road, in case he was seen, but on the other side of the stone wall. It was not daylight yet, but dawn was struggling through the clouds. When he came to the village he skirted it by climbing over the rocks, then on as fast as he could go, on the coast road now it was safe—he would meet no one there—then up along the little path that wound through dead whins and boulders, up to the cottage, where the rain was dripping from the thatch. Mick never stopped till he was at the door. There was no answer to his knock. "Pat," he whispered, "let me in." Still there was no answer. He looked in at the window: the fire was out, and the place looked deserted. "He's away," he muttered. But just then the door opened. "Is that you?" said Pat's voice. "Come in." Mick went in, and shut the door behind him.
"Pat," he said, "ye must be off at wanst—quick, quick—or they'll catch ye."
"Who tould ye?" said Pat.
"Nobuddy tould me. They said he was in America an' the ould mother was buried yesterday. But ye must be goin' this minute."
"Hould on a minute," said Pat; "do ye know what ye're sayin', do ye know what I've done at all?"
"I do," said Mick; "ye mur—— Ye tould me yerself ye were goin' to do me the cruel harm."
"Is that all ye know?" said Pat—"then ye know nothin'. Do ye see that gun there?" Mick saw it was still hanging over the chimneypiece. "Well, it was that gun shot your father. Do ye see what I mane?"
Mick stared at him in a dazed way. "My father?" he repeated.
"Your father," said Pat; "an' it was my father murdered him."
Mick was too dazed to take it in. All he could think of, all he could see, was that thin white face before his eyes.
"Do ye think ye'll get safe to America?" he said huskily.
"My God, are ye a chile at all?" said Pat. He gave a big sob, that made Mick jump, and then began to cry and shake all over. "What did I do it for at all at all?" he wailed.
Mick put his arm round him. "Whist, Pat, whist, man; ye must be off, now, at wanst."
Pat stopped crying. "I'm not goin'," he said. "I done what he bid me, an' now I'll give myself up, an' let them hang me: it's what I disarve."
"Listen a bit, Pat," said Mick. "Ye didn't mane it, I know that. It's not you but yer ould father that ought to be hanged——" He stopped, something came back to his mind as though out of a far-off past; but it was only last night Uncle Niel had said: "We do well to forgive him, as God forgives us." "Pat," he cried, "Uncle Niel said we were to forgive your father!" Quickly he told the whole story—what Patsy had said, what Uncle Niel had answered, with such a sense of relief as he told it that he felt almost glad. "An' I know he would forgive you for murderin' him, Pat, this very minute, if he could spake." Pat did not answer. "An' if ye don't go they'll make me give evidence, an' ye wouldn't have me an informer, would ye?"
"I'll go," said Pat.
No one had missed Mick when he got home. Their mother was ill, and the doctor had come. Lull was with her, and Teressa had come to do the work. After dinner Teressa came into the schoolroom. She said she was afraid to be by herself in the big kitchen. Jane questioned her about Uncle Niel, and she told them that one of the men had found the dead body in the loney late at night as he was coming back from Newry with one of the horses. The horse had stopped half way down the loney, and when the man looked round for a bit of a stick to beat him with he saw the body lying on its face in the ditch. "But the quare thing," Teressa said, "is that yer Aunt Mary houlds to it that he come in after seein' yez all home last night. She let him in, and boulted the dour after him, but when they took the corpse home the dour was still boulted, an' his bed had never been slep' in." Here Lull came into the schoolroom, and was cross with Teressa. "Have ye no wit, woman," she said, "sittin' there like an ould witch tellin' the childer a lock a' lies?"
The day of the funeral Mick stood at the schoolroom window in his new black coat watching the rain beating against the panes. The burden of the secret he carried weighed him down. He must have been changed into another person, he thought, since Honeybird's birthday.
"I wonder why it always rains when people die?" said Fly.
"He didn't die, he was murdered," said Jane bitterly.
Mick shivered; he felt like an accomplice. All night he had been thinking of the funeral. Lull had told him yesterday he must go to be chief mourner. But had he any right to be a mourner? What would the people think—what would Father Ryan say—if they knew that he had helped his uncle's murderer to escape?
"I wisht I could go with ye, Mick," said Jane at his elbow. "I ast Lull, but she said ladies niver went to feenerals."
Mick turned round. "I'm all right, Janie," he said. But Janie's kindness seemed to hurt him more: what would she say if she knew?
"Wouldn't it be awful nice if ye woke up this minute an' it wasn't real at all, an' we'd only dreamt it?" said Fly.
"Nip me as hard as ye can," said Jane. Fly nipped her arm. "Ye needn't nip so hard—it's true enough."
"I wonder if God could make it not true?" said Fly.
"He couldn't," said Mick, "for I'd niver, niver forget it."
"Andy's ready waitin' for ye, Mick," said Lull at the door.
When they came home from the funeral Mick was ill, and had to be put to bed. Jane came up to his room, and sat with him. "Do ye mind what Uncle Niel said to us in the loney?" she said. "Well, he couldn't come as far as this to tell us, so he went an' tould Aunt Mary; Teressa says it was his ghost come back to her."
"To tell us what?" said Mick feverishly.
"That it was wan of them Things done it."
"I thought ye meant about forgivin'," said Mick. "Mebby it was that; don't ye think it might 'a' been, Janie?" His voice was very eager.
"I niver thought a' that," said Jane; "but Uncle Niel was quare an' good. I believe he'd even forgive a buddy for murderin' him."
Mick lay down with a sigh of relief. "I thought that myself," he said.
It was not till the primroses were out that the children went to the farm again. Half way down the loney there was a rough cross scratched on a stone in the wall, and the words: Niel Darragh. R.I.P. Aunt Mary had been ill all winter, and at first they did not know her, for her hair was quite white. But nothing else was changed. The parlour looked brighter than ever; there was a bowl of primroses on the table. Through the window you could see the big cherry-trees in the orchard white with blossom. Upstairs the sun streamed into Aunt Mary's bedroom, and the river sounded quite cheerful across the fields as it raced along over the weir. When Aunt Mary had baked the soda bread for tea she went to the half-door, and looked out across the fields. "I thought I saw Niel coming," she said; "it is about time he was home." Then she turned back to the children, and welcomed them, as though she saw them now for the first time. On the way back they asked each other in whispers what could be the matter with her, but Mick walked on ahead, and said not a word. At the end of the loney they met Father Ryan.
"I was just coming to see you," he said. "It's you, Michael, I was wanting. I've got a blue pigeon for you, if you'll walk the length of the village with me."
Mick turned back with him. It was a lovely evening; the air was full of the smell of spring. They walked along silently. At their feet were tufts of primroses and dog-violets growing under the shelter of the stone wall. A chestnut-tree in the convent garden hung a green branch over the road. Before them, on one side, the sea lay like a silver mist; on the other the mountains, so ethereal that they looked as though at any moment they might melt away into the blue of the sky. But Mick had no heart for these things. Even when he heard the cuckoo across the fields, for the first time that year, it was with no answering thrill, but only with a dull sense that he had grown too old now to care—seeing Aunt Mary had brought back all the trouble he had tried so hard to forget.
When they got to Father Ryan's house they went straight into the parlour. "Mick," said Father Ryan, sitting down in his chair, "what ails you, child, this long time back?" Mick looked into his face. "It's all right," said Father Ryan; "you can tell me nothing I don't know. I had a letter from him this morning, poor boy."
"Is he all right?" said Mick.
"He's all right; that's what I wanted to tell you. But yourself, Mick, what ails you?"
"There's nothin' ails me," said Mick; "I've just got ould."
"Whist, boy, at your time of life," said Father Ryan.
"What did he do it for?" said Mike sharply. "Ye've seen her, Father; it's made her go mad." He began to cry.
"There, there, child," said Father Ryan. "It's more than you or me can say what it was done for. A better boy than Pat never lived, but the father had a bad hold on him."
"I sometimes think I done it myself," said Mick.
"You did it?" said Father Ryan. "Faith, child, you did a thing God Himself would have done."
When Mick said good-bye to Father Ryan about half-an-hour later, and was starting out, with the pigeon buttoned up inside his coat, he found Jane sitting on a stone at the presbytery gate waiting for him.
"Ye're the good ould sowl," he said, and he took her hand. "Come on, let's run home; I'm quare an' happy."
A CHIEF MOURNER
Some time after the death of Uncle Niel, Patsy's ways began to puzzle the others. Until then they had always been quite open with each other about their comings and goings, but Patsy took to disappearing for a whole day at a time, giving no reason when he came home at night for his long absence. Mick and Jane asked him one day where he went so often by himself, but his answer only made them more curious. "If I telled ye," he said, "ye'd all come, an' that'd spoil it."
About a week after this Lull took them into town, eight miles away, on a shopping expedition. Jane and Patsy were on one side of the car. Jane noticed that several people they met, and they were people she did not know, touched their hats to Patsy, and Patsy pulled off his cap each time, but said nothing. At last, while they were waiting outside a shop for Lull, a tall man came down the street. As he passed the car he started, looked at Patsy, and then with a bow took off his hat, and walked on.
"Who's that, Patsy?" Jane asked.
"He's just a man I'm acquainted with," Patsy answered, and would say no more.
A few days later something happened that made Jane still more suspicious. They were having dinner, when Lull said: "Which of ye has touched Mick's black coat and hat?"
They all denied having seen them since the day of the funeral, except Patsy, who did not speak.
"Well, that's the quare thing," said Lull, "for I've hunted the length and breadth of the house, an' can't lay my han' on them at all."
Again they declared they had not seen them. This time Patsy spoke with the others, but Jane noticed that he put his hand on the back of a chair as he spoke. After dinner she told Mick. "It was Patsy tuk yer black coat an' hat," she said.
"An' how do ye know that?" Mick asked.
"Didn't I see him touch wood when he said he niver seen it?" she said. "I wonder what he's done with it, though," she added. The more she thought about it the more bewildered she grew. But of one thing she was sure: that if she could find out where he went, and what he did on those long days away from home, she would have a key to the other mystery. So she set herself to find out. The only thing to do was to follow him some day; but Patsy seemed to know what was in her mind, for he guarded his departures so carefully that each time it was not until he had got a good start of her that she discovered he was gone.
One morning at breakfast Jane saw by the look on Patsy's face that he meant to be off that day, and she made up her mind that this time he should not slip through her fingers.
Patsy got up from the table with a yawn. "Who's seen the wee babby rabbits?" he said. No one had.
"Well, first there gets the pick," he said, and they flew to the hutches. But when they got there no baby rabbits were to be seen, and, in a fury of disappointment, Jane realised that Patsy had got the better of her again. She was so angry that she slapped Fly and Honeybird for daring to laugh at the joke, and their cries brought Lull out into the yard. Lull dried their tears on her apron, scolding and comforting at the same time.
"There now, ye're not kilt," she said. "Shame on ye, Jane, to lift yer han' again them. If ye lay finger on them more I'll tell yer mother." This was always Lull's threat, and though she never kept her word it never failed to have the same effect on the children. The thought of making their mother unhappy was the most dreadful punishment they could imagine. Jane walked out of the yard with her nose in the air and a miserable feeling in her heart. But, once out of sight, she ran to her favourite hiding-place among the sallies at the top of the garden, and sitting down with her back to the convent wall she cried with disappointment, and with repentance too. It was wicked to have slapped Fly and Honeybird, but they had no business to laugh at her; and that little brute of a Patsy was off again all by himself, and she didn't know where he was. By-and-by she heard Mick calling her. She knew he would be sure to look in the sallies for her, so she dried her eyes, and crept along by the wall, and under the fence at the top of the garden, out into the field. No good could come of letting Mick find her; for she was still in a bad temper, and she knew it would only mean more fights if she went home before her temper had gone. She wandered through the fields in an aimless way, till she began to get bored, and not any better tempered for that.
It was all Patsy's fault; if he had not put her in a temper she might have been working at the pigeon-house with Mick; but now the whole day was spoilt, for she could not, with dignity, go home before tea-time. Soon she found herself in a lane, and had to stop to choose which way she would go.
One way led to the village and the sea, the other to the big road that ran to Castle Magee and town. It was too cold to go to the sea, and she didn't want to go through the village with red eyes. Then the thought came into her mind that the snowdrops might be out in the church-yard at Castle Magee, so she turned that way.
Castle Magee was a village of about six cottages and as many bigger houses; a damp, mouldy place, that always impressed the children with a sense of hunger and death. They rarely saw anyone about but the sexton, and he seemed to be perpetually at work digging graves in the churchyard. Then, too, there was no shop, and they had no friends in the village, and after the long walk from home all that could be hoped for was a turnip out of the fields. The church, surrounded by yew-trees, stood in the middle of the village. The whitewashed walls of the Parsonage blinked through an avenue of the same trees. Lull said the church was a Presbyterian meeting-house, and on Sundays people came from miles round, and sang psalms without any tunes, and the minister preached a sermon two hours long, and then everybody ate sandwiches in their pews, and the minister preached another sermon two hours longer.
The children had often climbed up, and looked in at the church windows, and the cold, bare inside and the square boxes for pews had added to their dreary impressions of the place.
If it had not been for the snowdrops they would never have gone near Castle Magee; but at the right time of year the churchyard was a white drift of these flowers, and the sexton had often given them leave to pick as many as they pleased. With a big bunch of snowdrops Jane felt she could go straight home. Dinner would be over, of course, by that time, but there would still be the afternoon to give to the new pigeon-house. And how pleased her mother would be with the flowers. All Jane's bad temper disappeared at the thought, and she would tie up two little bunches with ivy leaves at the back for Fly and Honeybird. She skipped along the road, making up romances to herself to while away the three long miles. She was going to a ball in a blue satin dress trimmed with pearls; then it was a dinner, and she wore black velvet and diamonds; then a meet, and she had a green velvet habit, like the picture of Miss Flora Macdonald Lull had nailed on the kitchen wall.
Soon she got tired of these thoughts.
"'Deed, I won't wear any of them things," she muttered; "everybody wears them. I'll just go in my bare skin an' a pair of Lull's ould boots." She laughed, and began to run. As she got near the village the old feeling of hunger, native to the place, reminded her that turnips would now be stacked behind the Parsonage, and she remembered that it would be best to look for an open heap, for the last time she and Mick had broken into one they found they had opened a potato heap by mistake. She laughed as she thought of how cross the old farmer had been when he had caught them filling up the hole again. Luckily, the first heap she came to was open, so, picking out a good big turnip, she went on till she came to the churchyard wall, and sat down there to eat it. The village looked more desolate than usual. The slate roofs of the cottages were still wet with the rain that had fallen in the night, and a cold wind moaned in the yew-trees. There were only a few snowdrops out, and for once the sexton was not to be seen, but a heap of earth at the far corner of the churchyard showed a newly-dug grave. Jane had got through her first slice of turnip when she was startled by the sound of the bell in the church behind her.
One! It went with a harsh clang.
She looked round, but the bell had stopped. She was beginning to think she had imagined it when the bell clanged again. Then another moment's pause and another clang. Jane thought she had never heard anything so queer, when she suddenly remembered what it was. Of course, it was tolling for a funeral. It had tolled three already. Lull said it tolled one for every year of the dead person's life.
Four—five—six—went the bell.
"That might be our wee Honeybird," Jane said to herself, and remembered the slap she had given Honeybird that morning.
The sound grew more and more melancholy to her ears. Each clang of the bell died away like a moan.
"Mebby it's some person's only child," she thought.
"It'd be the awful thing to be dead," she muttered, and shivered at the thought of being buried this weather with nothing on but a white nightgown.
Twelve—thirteen—tolled the bell.
"It'd be awfuller to be goin' to Mick's feeneral," she said. The thought made her heart sick.
She jumped up to go home—she could come back when more snowdrops were out—but she caught sight of a long black line, slowly climbing up to the church by the road from town. The sight of a funeral always depressed Jane, but there was something specially gloomy about this one. The wet road looked so cold, the sky so grey, and the black hearse and six mourning carriages came heavily along, as though they were weighed down by grief.
Jane began to say her prayers. It was an awful world God had made, and He might let one of them die if she didn't pray hard to Him.
The bell went on tolling. It had got past twenty by the time her prayer was said. The funeral was so near that she could see the mourners behind the hearse. There were six tall men in black; two of them walked in front of the others. They were the chief mourners. Perhaps it was their sister who was in the hearse. The bell tolled oft till it was past thirty; the funeral came nearer and nearer.
Then all at once Jane's heart went cold with pity, for between the two chief mourners she saw a little boy. It was the little boy's mother in the hearse, of course, and one of the men was his father. Tears rolled down her face at the sight of him. He was such a little boy, in a black coat that was miles too big for him, and his head bent like his father's. This was too much for Jane's feelings; she rolled over the wall, hid her face behind a tombstone, and cried bitterly.
The bell went on tolling. The wind soughed in the yew-trees. The funeral procession came into the churchyard, the tall men carrying the coffin, and the chief mourners walking behind. The little boy walked beside his father.
"Poor, poor wee sowl," Jane sobbed. "God pity it—it might 'a' been our wee Patsy!—Ye young divil!" she added through her teeth—for it was Patsy. Sure enough, there he was in Mick's black coat and hat, walking solemnly behind the coffin, holding that strange man's hat.
"So I've catched ye, my boy," she muttered, hiding down behind the tombstone. She could watch without being seen, by lying flat on her stomach, and she determined to see the end of it now. The burial service began. She could hear voices, but could see nothing for the crowd round the grave. Then the crowd parted, and she saw the coffin lowered. The tall man began to sob. Patsy respectfully held the man's hat and gloves while he cried into a big black-bordered pocket-handkerchief. At last it was over, and they came back along the path. As they passed by the tombstone where Jane lay she heard Patsy say:
"Well, I must be goin', so I'll be sayin' good-mornin' to ye, sir."
A man's voice answered. "Ye're the remains a' them as is in their graves, sir. Good-morning to ye, sir."
When they had all passed she crept along behind the tombstone to the far wall, and jumped over it into the field. Then she ran as fast as she could to the road, climbed up the bank, and sat down behind the hedge to wait for Patsy. He came soon, whistling, with the skirts of Mick's coat tucked up under his arm. Jane waited till he came quite near, then she jumped over the hedge, and stood in front of him.
"Think I didn't see ye," he said; "jukin' down behind a tombstone with yer flat ould face? Ye very near made me laugh."
"What were ye doin', Patsy?" she said.
"'Deed, I was a mourner at the woman's feeneral, an' a very dacent woman she was by all accounts."
Jane forgot to crow over him in her interest. "What'd she die of, Patsy?" she said.
Patsy stopped. "Ye know that wee public-house as ye go into town, just as ye turn down North Street?" he said. Jane nodded. "She kep' that, the man tould me, an' she died a' hard work.'
"I niver heerd of any person dyin' of that afore," said Jane.
"Well, she did," said Patsy, "for I heard the sexton ast the man, an' he said she died a' labour."
"I wonder if it's catchin'?" said Jane.
Patsy walked on whistling.
"But what tuk ye to the woman's feeneral at all, Patsy?" Jane asked.
"I just went for the fun a' the thing," he said.
"Sure, there's no fun in that," said Jane.
"Isn't there just?" said Patsy. "That's all you know; I tell ye it's the quare ould sport." He stopped, and counted up on his fingers: "That makes two weman's, two childers', and one man's feeneral I've been chief mourner to since Christmas."
"But ye can't be chief mourner if ye're no relation," said Jane.
"Ye can just. I walked close behind the hearse of every one of them," he said. "When I see the feeneral comin' up the road I take off my hat, an' they make room for me to walk with the best."
He bound Jane over by a promise not to tell. In return for her promise he showed her where he kept Mick's coat and hat—wrapped up in a newspaper, and covered with sods, under an old bell-glass at the top of the garden—and promised, on his part, he would tell her what the people died of whose funerals he attended in the future.
But, as it happened, that was the last one he went to. When they got home they found the secret was out. Mick met them. He knew all about it, he said; and Lull knew too, and was cross. Teressa had told. Her sister, who was in service at the Parsonage at Castle Magee, had been to see her, and told her all about the little gentleman from Rowallan who came to every funeral in the churchyard.
"She sez," Mick went on, "that ye were the thoughtful wee man, Patsy, an' it'd melt the heart of a stone to see ye standin' at the grave like an' ould judge, holdin' the mourner's black kid gloves."
"Bah!" said Patsy.
But Lull threatened awful things if Patsy ever went to a funeral again. "Mind, I'll tell yer mother if I ever hear tell of it," she said; "dear knows what disease ye'll be bringin' home to us."
The lesson was impressed more deeply on Patsy's mind by Lull being ill that evening, and going to bed early with a headache. Patsy was terrified. He sat on the mat outside the door till past ten, and refused to go to bed.
"She's just the very ould one would catch it," he said when Jane tried to persuade him to go to bed, "for she works that hard herself."
"Well, I'll go in an' ast her if it's catchin'," Jane said at last.
Lull was awake when they went in. "What's the matter?" she said, sitting up in bed.
"There's nothin' the matter," said Jane; "only Patsy wants to know if what the woman died of was catchin'."
"What did she die of?" said Lull.
"She died a' labour," said Patsy in a trembling voice. "Is it catchin', Lull?"
Lull laughed so much that she could not answer.
"Patsy was afraid ye'd catched it," said Jane, laughing too, though she did not know why.
"God be thankit I have not," said Lull, and as they went joyfully off to bed they could hear her still laughing.
A SAFEGUARD FOR HAPPINESS
May was at its height; all the apple-trees were in blossom, and the crimson thorn-trees on the lawn. Through the open nursery windows a soft wind brought the smell of hawthorn and lush green grass. Bright patches of sunlight spotted the bare floor and Jane's red and white quilt. It was early, and the children were still in bed. They were wide awake—the sun had waked them an hour ago—and already they had planned how they would spend the day. It was Saturday—a whole holiday. Nobody had to do lessons to-day; the long, rich sunny hours lay before them full of happiness. They had agreed that the rocks was the place for to-day's picnic; no place would be half so beautiful. This was the weather for the sea. As they lay quiet in bed each one was thinking of the joys in store. First, there would be the walk across the soft, spongy grass—past the whins for the sake of the hot, sunny smell of the blossom. They would be tempted to stop and have the picnic there; but they would go on, towards the sea, and the sheep would move off as they came near, and rakish black crows would rise slowly, and sail away. Then the sea would come in sight: so blue this weather, how deep and full it looked, with what a soft splash it washed against the black rocks, and how it stung your naked body as you slid in for one dip and out again. Fly loved to look forward, as she called it. Pleasures were worth twice as much to her if she were able to think of them beforehand. Then there would be the long afternoon, when you lay on your face on the rocks, and watched the ships sailing far away, and now and then caught sight of a trail of smoke on the horizon, that told you a steamer was passing by. A sound of singing came from the convent garden, and in a moment all the five children were out of bed, leaning out of the window, watching the long procession of white nuns file slowly out of the convent door. The voices, low at first, grew stronger and clearer as the procession came along the cindered path. The nuns' white dresses, the black path they walked on, the delicate green of the apple-trees on each side, the blue of the banner, the shining gold of the cross, make a wonderful picture in the strong sunlight. The children watched in silence. This singing procession of white and blue was one of the things they liked best in May. It came every fine morning to remind them how happy they were now that the good weather had come. Lull said the nuns sang because May was the month of Mary.
"Ave Maris Stella Dei Mater Alma!"
They were singing hymns to the Blessed Virgin now; their voices, very sweet and clear, seemed to fill the garden. They went on along the path, paused by a black cross that marked a grave, then went round the chapel, and the children could see them no longer. They listened till the singing died away, and then began to dress quickly. Fly was always last. The others teased her about it, but they could not make her hurry. Fly had a reason for being slow. She liked to say her prayers last. If she had been dressed sooner she would have had to say her prayers at the same time as the others, and then, she thought, Almighty God could not give her His undivided attention. Fly said her prayers very carefully; sometimes when she had said them once she went all through them again, in case she had forgotten anything. When the others had gone downstairs she knelt down by her cot. She said her proper prayers first, then added: "And, please, don't let any of us have anythin' the matter with our heart our liver our lungs, or any part of our insides that I don't know the name of; please don't let any of us kill or murder anybuddy, or be hanged or beheaded; an', please, remember that it's ould Mrs Bogue's turn to die first."
She rose from her knees, and ran downstairs. The hall door was open, and the sunlight streamed into the hall. There was really no need to say your prayers at all this weather, Fly thought; for, of course, nobody ever died except in winter, when the wind howled round the house and rain lashed the window-panes. Still, she liked to be on the safe side. She was very proud of her prayer: the last petition she had thought of in the winter, when Mrs Darragh had been ill. She had reminded Almighty God that they had had a father and an uncle die, while the Bogues had never had a death in their family. Therefore it must be Mrs Bogue's turn next. Honeybird, the only one to whom she had told this petition, was so pleased with it that she prayed it too. Both children chuckled over the wisdom of it; for Mrs Bogue, in spite of her eighty years, was a strong old woman—Lull had said she would see ninety—so their turn could not come for years yet.
"It's the awful thing that people has to die at all." Jane's voice came from the schoolroom. "An it's quare that God thinks anybuddy'd like to go to heaven."
"Well, I niver want to go," said Patsy. "I'd hate the ould gold street an' glass sea; I'd far rather have a nice salt-water sea, with crabs an' herrin's in it."
Fly stood in the doorway. "What's happened?" she said.
"Ould Mrs Bogue's dead," said Jane, with her mouth full of porridge. A sharp pang of fear seized Fly. A moment before she had been altogether happy, now the light seemed to have gone from the day. She looked at Honeybird, but Honeybird was taking her breakfast calmly; she did not realise what this meant. Their safeguard was gone. If Mrs Bogue had died so suddenly and unexpectedly might it not mean that Almighty God wanted their turn to come quickly? She swallowed her breakfast, and went out into the garden. She could not go to the picnic with the others; she was too miserable for that. Why, oh, why did God make people only to kill them again? Why did He want them to go to such a dull place as heaven? Honeybird's voice called her from the garden gate, and the next minute Honeybird came running down the grassy path.
"Why didn't ye go for the picnic?" Fly asked.
"'Cause I know'd ye'd be sorry about ould Mrs Bogue," said Honeybird, sitting down beside her. "I'm thinkin' mebby Mrs Bogue wasn't as strong as we thinked. It might 'a' been better to say Mr Rannigan."
"That wouldn't 'a' been fair," said Fly; "he had a sister die. It was ould Mrs Bogue's turn right enough, only it come far sooner that I thought."
"What are ye goin' to do?" Honeybird asked.
Fly could think of nothing.
"Why don't ye pray to have ould Mrs Bogue alive again?" said Honeybird.
"That's no use wanst people's dead," said Fly.
"But couldn't God make her niver 'a' been dead at all?" Honeybird asked. "I'd try Him if I was you."
Fly thought for a moment. "We'll both pray hard, and then we'll go an' see." They knelt down under an apple-tree. Honeybird prayed first, and then Fly. Then they started for Mrs Bogue's house. Honeybird would have liked Fly to tell her a story as they went along the road, but she dare not ask, for she could tell by Fly's face that she was still praying.
The road was hot and dusty. Both the children were soon tired. Honeybird thought of the others enjoying themselves on the rocks. She wished she could have gone with them. She would have enjoyed it too, for though she pretended to Fly that she was anxious, she really was not troubled at all. She did not believe that Almighty God wanted one of them to die. Lull said their mother had not been so well for years. But she had shared Fly's prayers, and a sense of honour made her try to share Fly's trouble now that the prayer had gone wrong. Fly was still muttering. Every now and then Honeybird could hear: "For Christ's sake. Amen."
When they came to Mrs Bogue's gate Fly said they were to say a last prayer each, and then ask at the lodge. They shut their eyes.
"Make her alive an' well, Almighty God. Amen," said Honeybird.
They opened their eyes, and went up to the lodge, but while they were still knocking at the door Mrs Bogue's big yellow carriage came round the corner of the avenue. Inside the carriage was the old lady herself. Fly gave a howl of delight. The children ran forward, and the carriage pulled up.
"There ye are alive an' well," said Fly joyfully. "Och, but I'm glad to see ye."
Mrs Bogue's wizened face expressed no pleasure at seeing Fly.
"Of course I'm well; I always am," she said in a thin, high voice.
"Ye were dead this mornin', though," said Honeybird.
"Dead! who said I was dead?" Mrs Bogue demanded indignantly.
"Lull tould us that iverybuddy said ye died last night," said Fly; she was still smiling with delight.
Mrs Bogue turned to her niece. "Do you hear that, Maria? That is twice they have had me dead. I don't know what the world is coming to. They won't give people time to die nowadays."
"We'll give ye any amount a' time, Mrs Bogue," said Fly earnestly; "we want ye to live as long as iver ye can please."
"It's quare an' nice for us when ye're alive," said Honeybird. Mrs Bogue looked at them sharply. Both faces were beaming with happiness.
"You are very kind children," she said. She began to fumble in a bag by her side. "Here is a shilling each for you."
The yellow carriage went on. Fly and Honeybird looked at each other. Honeybird was thinking how glad she was that she had stayed with Fly and had not gone off with the others. Fly was thinking how good Almighty God had been to hear her prayer. They went on down the road to Johnnie M'Causland's shop, and bought lemonade and sweets, and then struck out across the fields towards the sea to find the others.
"Do ye know what?" said Fly, stopping in the middle of a field, with her arms full of lemonade bottles. "Ye're always far happier after ye're miserable. I believe He done it on purpose." She kicked up her heels. "Let's run; it's a quare good ould world, an' God's a quare good ould God, an' I'm awful happy."
JIMMIE BURKE'S WEDDING
Jimmie Burke's wife had not been dead a month, when one morning Teressa brought the news that he was going to be married again.
"The haythen ould Mormon!" said Lull. "God help the wemen these days."
At first the children could not believe it. The late Mrs Burke had been a friend of theirs. They had walked to the village every Sunday afternoon, for the whole long year that she had been ill, with pudding and eggs for her. And they thought Jimmie was so fond of her. He was heartbroken when she died. When they went to the cottage the day before the funeral, with a wreath of ivy leaves to put on the coffin, they found him sitting beside the corpse, crying, and wiping his eyes on a bit of newspaper. Even Jane, who, for some reason that she had not given the others, had always hated Jimmie, told Lull when they came home that she could not help thinking a pity of the man sitting there crying like a child.
"It bates Banagher," said Teressa, sitting down by the fire with the cup of tea Lull had given her—"an' the woman not cowld in her coffin yet; sure, it's enough to make the dead walk."
"Och, but the poor critter was glad to rest," said Lull.
"An', mind ye, he's the impitent ould skut," Teressa went on, stirring her tea with her finger; "he come an' tould me last night himself. An' sez he: 'The wife she left me under no obligations,' sez he; 'but sorra a woman is there about the place I'd luk at,' sez he."
"They'd be wantin' a man that tuk him," said Lull. "The first wife's well red a' him in glory."
"When's the weddin', Teressa?" Fly asked.
"An' who's marryin' him?" said Lull.
"He's away this mornin' to be marriet. She's a lump of a girl up in Ballynahinch," said Teressa. "Troth, ay, he lost no time; he's bringing her home the night, the neighbours say."
In the stable Andy Graham was even more indignant. "It's the ondacentest thing I iver heard tell of," he told Mick; "an' the woman be to be as ondacent as himself."
But Andy's, indignation was nothing to what Jane felt. "I knowed it," she said to the others when they were together in the schoolroom; "I knowed the ould boy was the bad ould baste. Augh! he oughtn't to be let live."
"Away ar that, Jane," said Patsy; "sure, that's the fool talk. Where's the harm in him marryin' again?"
"Harm!" Jane shouted. "It's more than harm; it's a dirty insult. Ye ought always to wait a year after yer wife dies afore ye marry again; but him!—him!—he just ought to be hung."
"It's a dirty trick, sure enough," said Mick; "but ye couldn't hang him unless he done a murder."
"An' so he did," said Jane sharply. "Think I don't know? I tell ye he murdered her, as sure as I stan' on this flure."
"Whist, Jane," said Mick; "that's the awful thing to be sayin'."
"An' I can prove it, too," she went on, "for I saw him do it with my own two eyes, not wanst, but twiced, an' she let out he was always doin' it. I promised her I wouldn't come over it, but there's no harm tellin' it now she's dead. Ye know them eggs Lull sent her?" the children nodded. "Well, do ye mane to say she iver eat them? For she just didn't; he eat ivery one himself, an' he eat the puddens, an' he drunk the milk. Augh! the ould baste, he'd eat the clothes off her bed if he could 'a' chewed them."
"Who tould ye he eat them all?" said Patsy.
"Sure, I saw him doin' it myself, I tell ye. He come home drunk one day when I was there. He was that blind drunk he niver seen me. An' he began eatin' all he could lay han' on. He eat up the jelly; an' two raw eggs, an' drunk the taste a' milk she had by her in the cup, an' he even drunk the medicine out of the bottle, an' eat up the wee bunch a' flowers I'd tuk her, an', when he'd eat up ivery wee nip he could find, he lay down on the flure, an' went asleep."
"The dirty, greedy, mane ould divil," said the others.
"An' she tould me he always done it," Jane went on. "An' I seen it was the truth, for he come in another day, an' done the same, an' he was that cross that he frightened her, an' she begun to spit blood, an' if it hadn't been for me I believe he'd 'a' kilt her; but I was that mad that I hit him a big dig in the stomach; an', mind ye, I hurted him, for he went to bed like a lamb, an' I tied him in with an ould shawl afore I come away."
The others could find no words to express their disgust. They agreed that Jane was right—such a man ought not to be allowed to live.
"If we tould Sergeant M'Gee he'd hang him," said Fly.
"That'd be informin', said Mick.
"Almighty God's sure to pay him out when he dies," Honeybird said.
"I'd rather pay him out now," said Jane. At that moment there was a flash of lightning, and a crash of thunder overhead, and then a shower of hailstones rattled against the window.
"Mebby he'll be struck dead," said Fly; "Almighty God's sure to be awful mad with him."
For three hours the rain poured in torrents. The children watched it from the schoolroom window splashing up on the path, and beating down the fuchsia bushes in the border.
But by dinner-time it had cleared up, and the sky looked clean and blue, as though it had just been washed. When dinner was over they set off to the village, expecting to hear that Jimmie had been struck by lightning, or, as Fly thought would be more proper, killed by a thunderbolt.
Mrs M'Rea was standing at her door, with a ring of neighbours round her. As they came up the street they heard her say: "There's the childer, an' they were the kin' friends to her when she was alive."
"Good-mornin', Mrs M'Rea," said Jane; "has Jimmie been kilt?"
"Is it kilt," said Mrs M'Rea; "'deed an' it's no more than he desarves—but we don't all get what we desarve in this world, glory be to God! Troth, no; it's marriet he is, an' comin' home the night in style on a ker, all the way from Ballynahinch."
"We thought Almighty God'd 'a' kilt him with a thunderbolt," said Fly.
"Do ye hear that?" said old Mrs Clay. "The very childer's turned agin him—an' small wonder, the ould ruffan; it's the quare woman would have him."
"By all accounts she is that," said Gordie O'Rorke, joining the group; "they say she's six fut in her stockin's an' as blackavised as the ould boy himself."
"We'll be givin' her the fine welcome the night," said his granny; "she'll be thinkin' she's got to her long home."
"They say she's got the gran' clothes," said Gordie, "an' a silk dress an'a gowld watch an' chain; mebby that's what tuk his fancy."
"If she doesn't luk out he'll be eatin' it," said Patsy. There was a roar of laughter.
"There's none knows better than yous what he could ate," said Mrs M'Rea. "Any bite or sup I tuk the woman I sat and seen it in her afore I come away."
"He's stepped over his brogues this time," said Gordie, "for me uncle up in Ballynahinch is well acquainted with the woman, an' he sez she's a heeler, an' no mistake."
"Well, well," said ould Mrs Glover, "I'm sayin' she'll not have her sorras to seek."
"No; nor Jimmie either," said Mrs M'Rea. "But there, where's the good a' talkin'? It's the lamentable thing entirely; but they're marriet now, an' God help both a' them."
"'Deed yis; they're marriet," said Mrs O'Rorke, "an we'll not be forgettin' it the night. It's tar bar'ls we'll be burnin'—they'll be expectin' it, to be sure—an' a torchlight procession out to meet them forby."
"Troth, then, they'll get more than they're expectin'," said Gordie.
"What time did ye say they'd be comin' back the night, Mrs M'Rea?" Mick asked.
"Ye know we'd like' to come to the welcome," said Jane.
"Och, it'd be late for the likes a' yous," answered Mrs M'Rea. "It'll be past ten, won't it, Gordie."
"Nearer eleven that ten," said Gordie. "You lave it to us, Miss Jane; niver fear but they'll get the right good welcome."
Going home they were all very quiet. No one spoke till they came to the gates. Then Patsy said: "Lull'll niver let us out at that time a' night."
"We'll just have to dodge her," said Jane; "it'd be the wicked an' the wrong thing to let ould Jimmie off."
"It'll be the quare fun," said Patsy, dancing round.
"It won't be fun, Patsy; it'll be vengeance," said Jane severely.
"Ye'll take me with ye, won't ye?" Honeybird begged.
"'Deed, we'll take the sowl," said Mick; "but ye'll be powerful tired."
"What do I care about that?" she said. "I just want to hit that bad ould man."
Lull was surprised to see them go to bed so quietly that night. "Ye niver know the minds a' childer," they heard her say as they left their mother's room after they had said good-night. "I made sure they'd be wantin' to the village to see Jimmie Burke come home." Honeybird sniggered, but Fly nipped her into silence.
The convent bell was ringing for Compline when Lull tucked them into bed, but before the schoolroom clock struck ten they were on their way to the village. When they got to Jimmie's cottage the crowd was so great that they could see nothing.
"We'll have no han' in the welcome at all," said Mick.
"An' it's that pitch dark we'll niver see them," said Patsy.
"We'd better be goin' back a bit along the road, an give them the first welcome," Jane said. "Come on, quick," she added, "an' we can stan' on the wall, an' paste them with mud as they come by."
"Hould on a minute," said Mick. "I've got a plan: we'll stick my lantern on the wall, an' shout out they're home; they'll be that drunk they'll niver know the differs; that'll make them stop, an' we'll get a good shot at them."
"Troth, we'll do better than that," said Patsy, with a chuckle. "They'll be blind drunk, I'm tellin' ye, an' it's into the ould pond we'll be welcomin' them. Yous three can stan' on the wall out a' the wet, an' me an' Mike'll assist the man an' his wife to step off the car."
The pond was at the side of the road, not more than a hundred yards from the village, and the wall ran right through the middle of it. The children climbed on the wall, and crept along on their hands and knees till they came to the deepest part. The water was up to the the top of the wall, so they had to sit with their legs doubled up to keep them out of the wet.
Soon they heard the wheels of the car coming along the road.
"Now, mind ye all screech at onst," said Patsy as he dropped off the wall. "Auch! but the water's cowld."
The car came nearer. Jane held up the lantern. "Hurrah, hurrah!" they shouted; "here ye are at last. Hurrah!"
"This way, this way," Mick shouted; "drive up to the man's own dour."
A stone from Patsy smashed the lamp on the car.
"Begorra, I can't see where I'm goin'," said the driver.
"Ye're all right," Mick shouted; "there's the lamp in the man's windy."
"Home, shweet home," said Jimmie; "no plache like home."
"Hurrah, hurrah!" they shouted as the horse splashed into the pond.
"Jump off, Mister Burke, there's a bit of a puddle by the step," said Mick.
"Home, shweet home, me darlinsh," said Jimmie; "lemme shisht ye off kersh."
"Come on, we'll help the wife off," said Mick.
But Jimmie had taken his wife's arm, and as he jumped she jumped too. Splash they went into the pond, and at the same time a shower of stones came from the wall. The horse took fright, and started off, the driver shouting "Murder!" as they raced down the road.
"In the name a' God, where am I?" shouted Mrs Burke.
But she got no answer, for Jimmie, with the help of Mick and Patsy, was taking back ducks in the pond. Mrs Burke splashed towards the light, going deeper every step.
"Ye ould villain, will ye come an' help me out?" she screamed. "Sure, it's ruinin' me dress an' me new boots I am."
Then the light went out, and a moment later there was a gurgling cry, followed by shrieks and cries of murder. In the middle of it all voices were heard coming along the road from the village, and the sound of the car coming back.
"Hist!" said Mick. "Home."
"Och, I'm wet to the skin," said Patsy as they ran along the road, "but ould Jimmie's far wetter."
"He's as dry as the wife," said Jane, "for I ducked her three times; she went down awful easy."
"It was me helpin' ye," said Fly; "I had her by the leg."
"Wasn't it quare an' good a' God to make the pond that deep?" said Honeybird. "It must 'a' been Him put it into Patsy's head to duck them."
"That's why He made it rain so hard this mornin'," said Jane, "an' me thought there was no manin' in it."
"It was the finest bit of vengeance I iver seen," said Patsy. "Ould Jimmie was as light as a cork, an' we soused him up an' down till there wasn't a breath left in him."
"I wonder what Lull'll say when she sees our clothes," said Jane; "me very shimmy's wet." But, to their surprise, when they woke next morning clean clothes had been put out for them, and when they came downstairs Lull only said: "Has any of ye tuk a cold?"
"No, we haven't," said Jane.
"Well, then, don't name it to yer mother," Lull said, and left them wondering how she had found out.
Andy Graham called them into the stable after breakfast.
"Did ye hear the news?" he said.
"What news?" said Mick.
"The news about the weddin'," Andy said. "Didn't Lull tell ye about it? Sure, the whole place is ringin' with it. Poor ould Jimmie Burke an' the wife were near kilt last night. A pack of ruffians stopped the ker at the ould pond, an' ducked both him an' the wife. He was that full a' waiter they had to hould him up by the heels an' let it run out; an' the wife covered with black mud from head to fut."
"Who done it?" said Patsy, looking Andy in the face.
"Who done it, do ye say?" said Andy—"sure, that's what I'd like to know myself. There wasn't wan out a' the village but what was waitin' at the man's own dour when the ker come up, an ne'ery a wan on it but the driver, shoutin' murder, an' when the neighbours went back along the road there was Jimmie an' the wife in the middle a' the pond, and niver a sowl else to be seen."
Mick laughed. "Ye're the fly ould boy, Andy," he said; "an' I must say ye done it right well, but didn't ye get awful wet when ye were duckin' them?"
Andy stared at him.
"It's all right, Andy; we'll niver name it," said Patsy. "An' I wouldn't 'a' blamed ye if ye'd 'a' drownded the both a' them."
Andy whistled. "Ye've as much brass as would make a dour knocker," he said. "But, see here, the next time yous are on the war pad don't be lavin' circumstantial evidence behind ye." He brought out from behind the door an old rag doll, soaking wet.
"Och a nee!" wailed Honeybird, "it was me done that. I hadn't the heart to lave her at home," she explained. "She's Bloody Mary, an' I thought she'd enjoy the vengeance."
"I thought I knowed her when I seen her lyin' at the side a' the pond this mornin," said Andy. "An', mind ye, I'm not blamin' ye, an' I'm not sayin' but what Jimmie an' the wife disarved it, but ye'd better keep a quiet tongue in yer heads. There's nobuddy but meself an' Lull knows who done it, and nobuddy'll iver know. It's all very well for a wheen a' neighbours to do the like, but it's no work for quality to be doin'."
JANE AT MISS COURTNEY'S SCHOOL
Jane hated going to school. She had begged to be allowed to go on doing lessons with Mr Rannigan, though he had said five children were too many for him at his age. Then she had begged to be allowed to go to a boys' school with Mick. But all her pleadings were in vain. Lull had arranged that she was to go to the select young ladies' school that Aunt Mary had attended when she was a girl. Lull secretly hoped that contact with the select young ladies would make Jane a little bit more genteel. Every morning, driving into town on the car with Andy, Jane mourned to Mick for the good days that were gone. Mick annoyed her by liking the change. His school was quite pleasant.
"How'd ye like to be me," she asked him, "goin' to a school where whativer ye do it's always wrong?"
She hid her unhappiness from Lull, partly because Lull had taken such pride in sending her to Miss Courtney's, partly because she could not have told Lull the offences for which she was reproved—offences no one would have noticed at home.
In spite of an eager desire to be good and polite Jane was constantly accused of being wicked and rude. Mr Rannigan had never found fault with her manners, but Miss Courtney sent her back three times one day to re-enter the room because she bobbed her head and said: "Mornin'," when she came in. Jane, in bewilderment, repeated the offence, and was punished. "I wisht I'd 'a' knowed what it was she wanted," she complained to Mick. "If I had I'd 'a' done it at wanst."
She gathered that, in school, it was considered a sin to speak like the poor. Miss Courtney said a lady should have an English accent, and a voice like a silvery wave. Jane trembled every time she had to speak to her. In other things besides pronunciation she never knew when she was doing right or wrong.
She was reproved for shaking hands with a housemaid, and sent into the corner for putting a spelling-book on the top of a Bible. School was a strange world to her. To speak with an English accent, to have a mother who wore real lace and a father who did no work, these things made you a lady, and if you were not a lady you were despised. Jane could tell the girls nothing about her father. Her pronunciation was shocking, and the girls made fun of her magenta stockings and home-made clothes. If only Mick had been with her Jane felt she could have borne anything. She was terribly home-sick every day. From the time Andy left her in the morning she counted the minutes till he would come to take her back again to Rowallan and people who were kind. But it was only to Mick she told her trouble. He said Miss Courtney was a fool, and Jane trembled lest Miss Courtney might overhear it six miles away. She was almost as frightened of the big girls as of Miss Courtney. They wore such elegant clothes, and had such power to sting with their tongues. One day when Jane, in joyful haste, was putting on her hat to go home three of the big girls came into the cloakroom. They were talking eagerly. One of them mentioned Jane's name, then asked Jane how much she was going to give towards Miss Courtney's birthday present. She explained that they always gave her a beautiful present each year. "What is the good of asking her?" said another, "she's hasn't a penny, I'm sure." The scorn in her voice seemed to scorch Jane.
"I'll give five shillin's," she said calmly. She had not as many pennies in the world, but she could not bear to be despised. The big girls were delighted. They were quite kind to her. Jane promised to bring the money next day. All the way home she prayed that God would send her five shillings. She would not ask Lull for it—Lull was too poor; Jane would rather have confessed to the big girls that she had no money than take it from Lull. She prayed earnestly before going to bed, she woke in the night to pray, but morning came, and she was on her way to school without the money. When she got off the car at the end off the street she was still praying, hoping that at the last moment she would find the money on the pavement at her feet. Suddenly Mick's voice startled her. "Ten shillin's reward! Lost, a red settler dog." He was reading a poster on the wall. Jane laughed with glee. She thanked God for His goodness before she read the poster. Here was the money, and five shillings over. She expected to see the lost dog at the end of the street. She read the poster carefully. The red setter answered to the name of Toby. Nothing could be more easy to find. Mick dropped their schoolbags over a wall among some laurel bushes, and they started on the search. They began with the street they were in, calling Toby up one side and down the other. But they got no answer. Then they went on to the next, and so on from street to street. They saw brown dogs, black dogs, white dogs, yellow dogs, but no sign of a red setter. When they had searched the principal streets they tried the back streets. Jane called the dog's name till she was hoarse, and then Mick called in his turn. They asked a policeman if he had seen Toby. "A settler dog! I niver heerd tell a' that breed," he said. "Where did you loss it?"