During the following week, Bessy went up to see Mrs. Finigan . She found the Castle Inn and every one in it in a state of exuberant hilarity. The merry sound of the fiddle was heard from the large room off the bar, mingled with snatches of songs and " voices in their glee," and laughter that rang pleasantly on the ear. Ally was behind the bar with Ned, and both seemed as though their hearts were overflowing with content and they reveling in the sense of fortune's favors. They were both glad to see Bessy, and Ally, inviting her in behind the bar, told her she was just in time for a dance .
" How is that, Mrs. Finigan?"
"Well ! the club meets to-night, you know, and they have elegant music and everything first-rate."
" What's the club!"
"Why, the Smoking Club, to be sure I thought you knew all about it. They meet here once a week."
"Well ! but what have l to do with them?" inquired Bessy.
"Bad cess to you, Bessy, is there ne'er a spree in you, at all q Didn't I tell you you were just in for a dance, and its what you question me like a lawyer."
"Why dear me! Ally, do you think I'd go in among a room full of people that's all strangers to me, and step out on the floor before them all? Sure enough I'd be fond of a dance when I'd do that !"
"Don't be botherin' me now with your airs !" and Ally gave her a push in sportive mood. " Won't Ned go in with you himself, and its glad enough the boys will be to get such a partner! why our Mary comes every meeting night and she wouldn't miss the fun for anything ! Come here, Ned !"
Ned came accordingly and joined his persuasions to Ally's,
but Bessy was proof against them all. They were forced to leave her to go to their business, and Ned especially was very angry, knowing what a stir her pretty modest face would make in the club-room.
" You may go to the mischief, then!" he said testily as he hurried back to the bar; " if Herbert was there, she'd go in a minute," he added in an under tone, " but her own equals aren't good enough for her ladyship since she has a squireen running after her !"
Vexed as Ally was, she gave Bessy a seat near where she was standing. "But maybe you'd rather go up stairs," said she in an ironical tone, " my mother is above."
Bessy was rather amused, however, by the view which she had of the club-room through the open door, and she said she would wait a little where she was before she went up to see Mrs. Murphy. It was, indeed, a scene where mirth and jollity abounded, and where the hilarious elasticity of the Celtic nature was strikingly manifested. The Smoking Club of that day is now with the past, for twenty years throws many a custom off the stage of popular favor into the gulf of things obsolete.
At the room-door sat an odd-looking genius with the drollest expression of countenance and that ceaseless flow of humor only to be found amongst those of his class and country. This individual held a plate on which was deposited, by each one on entering, the silver key which obtained him admission, in the likeness of a York shilling. Each member, it seemed, had the privilege of bringing a partner, and the pile of shillings on the plate was appropriated, first of all to paying the musicians, the remainder to be spent at the bar in refreshments for the company. The smoking-members had another room appropriated to themselves, their pipes and tobacco—cigars were held in sovereign contempt, and by common consent excluded the club-room.
Bessy enjoyed the fun mightily for some time. The whole scene was familiar, and as she watched each:
And the merry antics of the young men and the simpering shyness of the girls, as they gaily footed the floor to the tune of "The Rocky Road to Dublin," or "Jackson's Morning Brush," or some other traditional favorite, she could almost forget the thousands of miles that lay between her and " the big barn" where many a time she tripped it on the bare earthen floor. When the recollection of where she was did recur to her mind, a sigh and a tear were given to the lightsome heart and the homely joys of that Auld Lang Syne which seemed to have fallen a score of years back into the past, though Bessy's years were but a score.
It soon got about in the room that " old Denis Conway's daughter from Ardfinnan" was somewhere in the vicinity, and one after another, full half a dozen "Tipperary boys" made their bow and scrape before her, asking the pleasure of her company to dance. Bessy was fain to refuse them all, but no one could take offense, her smile was so sweet, and her excuses so plausible.
She was just thinking of going up stairs, when a well known voice, speaking to Ned at the bar, made her turn quickly, and there she saw Henry Herbert, his face flushed either with liquor or some strong excitement. He had just come in, accompanied by a tall showy man, whom Bessy recognized with a sinking heart as the same who had so impudently accosted her that well-remembered night in Chatham square.
The pair of friends were passing on to the smaller room adjoining the club-room, and Ned Finigan looked anxiously round in search of Bessy. To his great relief no Bessy was there.
Continue to Chapter 12