"Well! have you the rent for us, Conway?" said the insolent bailiff who was Mrs. Herbert's factotum; the other was merely an assistant.
"'Deed I haven't, Alick!" said poor Denis Conway trembling all over; "I told the mistress I couldn't raise a penny till I'd get it from America—I'm expectin' a letter every day from my daughter Bessy that's in New York beyant."
"Fudge!" was Alick Bowman's emphatic reply. "You might as well give us a draft on the man in the moon. As you haven't the money, Conway! we have a duty to perform--— you must march!"
"Why, sure, Mister Bowman ! it isn't turn us out you'd be doin' "—sure Mrs. Herbert wouldn't do that on an old tenant like me that's on the estate since—since the old master's time--— that's Mr. Mullady, the heavens be his bed, this day!"
"Can't help it," was the man of law's curt reply. " Come, Charlie!" to his companion, " lend a hand, will you? we've got plenty of work to do before night!—--it's like there's not much here to detain us."
In the bailiffs went, but Denis wets In before them, trying to soothe as well as he could his wife and their daughter Nancy who were sobbing and crying and wringing their hands in a paroxysm of grief. Ellen was just sitting up for the first time, propped up in her mother's old armchair, and on hearing the direful news she fell back fainting, though not insensible.
She had not strength enough to make any demonstration of her feelings.
The poor father had only time to say, "don't despair, for your lives don't! the darkest hour, you know, is the hour before day, and I tell you God won't desert us though the world may!"
The words were still on his lips when the two officials were Hard at work turning the poor menage inside out. The beds —such as the hard times had left—chairs, tables, pots, pans, and so forth, were fiying through the doorway with little regard to" loss or damage 'on the part of those who trundled them out. The family within sat looking on in hopeless anguish waiting for the moment when they, in turn, were to be sent after their goods and chattels.
"Well! God sees all this," said the afflicted father of the family as he saw his wife wrapping a thin shawl round Ellen— the blankets were gone with the rest. "God sees all this!"
"What are you about, young woman?" cried Alick suddenly. A little hand had been laid on his arm, and a soft feminine voice bade him stop. " Who the d——I are you?"
The Conways answered the question Father, mother, sisters—--even Ellen—--rushed forward with hands outstretched and the one word Bessy!" escaped the lips of each with a thrilling cry of joy.
Bessy put them all gently aside with her hand. "Let us get the bailiff out first," said she; "oh! father, father! how did it ever come to this with you?—Ellen, darling, sit down—-- you're not able to stand—oh! you haven't a seat, I see—hand in a chair!" said she to the astonished bailiff.
"Can't do it," said he scratching his head, "the things are all under seizure, and they're agoing to be sold by and by."
"They're nor going to be sold," said Bessy with quite an air of authority; "give in the chair, I say!" Mechanically the man obeyed.
"Now all the other things —-- put them in, I tell you!"
"I tell you I won't," said Bowman doggedly, "unless the old man is ready to hand out the cash." This by way of a taunt.
"How much is it, father?" demanded Bessy.
"Oh! indeed, it's little use to tell you, astore!"
"Well! well l let us hear it, anyhow."
"Why I'll soon tell you, if you want so bad to hear it," said Bowman impudently, " it's twentythree pounds, ten shillings, and seven pence halfpenny " He and his colleague looked as though they expected the young woman to be quite confounded by so startling an announcement. She was not, though, but appeared rather to enjoy it as something particularly amusing
"Go up now to Mrs. Herbert," said she with a quiet smile, " and tell her she will oblige us by sending a receipt in full— in full, mind you!—for all rent and arrears of rent due on Denis Conway's farm."
"But what'll I say to her in regard of the money?" demanded Alick. "Of course, she's not such a fool as to give a receipt without knowin' for what ?"
"I'll tell you what you'll do, father," said Bessy after a moment's thought, "I'll give you the money, and you can go up yourself with this man and pay Mrs. Herbert and get your receipt."
"An' have you that much money, Bessy?" said the father with tears in his eyes—tears of joy
"Yes, and a trifle more to the back of it," said Bessy in her gayest tone.
Hearing this the two bailiffs took off their hats, and simultaneously declared that they didn't wish to put Mr. Conway or his family to any inconvenience. They weren't to be blamed, they were only poor men earning an honest penny, and so forth. In proof of their good dispositions, Alick ordered his aidedecamp to take in the thngs as the decent
girl said, and "be sure yoa put them in their places again, Toal!"
Toal, though somewhat of the rouahest and gruffest, adtdressed himself willingly to his task, possibly influenced by a sly little whisper from Alick as he passed him to go off with Denis.
The news of Bedsy's arrival had already gone out, and a crowd of the nearest neighbors were collected in front of the door, only kept from rushing in by the imperative orders of the policemen. Denis was besieged on his way out by a multitude of eager questions, very few of which he took time to answer. He did not fail, however, to publish the fact that Bessy was paying all he owed to firs Herbert, and the old place was still to be theirs. "Here's the money in my pocket," said he slapping his thigh with honest exultation; "Ay! every penny of it—--thank God! we're out of their power!" He looked the policemen in the face as he passed them, and held ap his head with a most independent air to the great satisfaction of his delighted friends and neighbors
"Wisha God be praised, Denis!" cried one, "it's you that wasn't out of the need of that relief, anyhow!"
"Thanks be to God, Denis!" said another, "you can hould up your head now like a man!"
"More luck to you, Denis! an' God speed you!" shouted a third — "be sure you tell Madam Herbert her own!"
Whilst Denis was gone it afforded much amusement to the spectators to see Toal McGreevy replacing the household effects with much care and attention. It was something altogether new, and they relished it exceedingly, in the full belief that he did it " against his grain " Bailiffs are always obnoxious to the people, and Toal was particularly so on account of his harsh, sullen disposition
"That's it, Toal! put them pewter plates on the dresser ! now the noggins! I declare you're doin' it beautifully!"
"Here's the beds, Toal! won't you make them up, agra? do now!"
"Well now, who'd think he was so handy?"
"He's takin' more pains puttin' them in than he did puttin' them out."
Toal looked savage, and shook his fist at the rustic wags, but they only laughed, and went on just the same. The policemen strove to silence them, but it was no use. There was no law against talking, anyhow, they knew that — and so they talked and laughed incessantly, the crowd increasing every moments till Denis came back with his receipt in his hand, and then they all pressed up to the door after him to get a sight of Bessy. The policemen no longer opposed any resistance, their duty being at an end.
The scene that followed may be better imagined than described. Whilst Bessy and her parents and sisters were ex. changing their fond and joyous greeting, their friends outside were dismissing the bailiffs and policemen with derisive cheers, and sundry expressions of mock condolence for their disappointment. This was as much, perhaps, with a view to leave those within time to give expression to their feelings as anything else. That delicacy of feeling intuitive in the Irish heart in its natural state kept the people from docking in till the reunited family had enjoyed the bliss of their meeting for a few moments without witnesses, no matter how friendly. Furthermore, there was that love of fun, also inherent in the Irish nature, and which no circumstances can ever wholly destroy, and then such a glorious opportunity of having a lauah at the expense of their official tyrants could not possibly be let Hip. The others bore the ironical merriment of the people with more good nature than might have been expected. Alick Bowman was particularly free and easy, and "humored the joke" in a way that was quite refreshing to see in a man of such high official authority. He even condescended to throw out divers " quirks and quibbles" for the amusement of the crowd as he marched an ay, pretty much in the same way as a bear showing off his steps to a gaping crowd at a country fair.
Meanwhile the Conways were enjoying the exquisite sense of present happiness, all the laughter for the cloud that had just passed. The mother sat in an ecstasy of joy silent and tearful, with the hand of her newly recovered daughter clasped in hers. Ellen was on the other side with her languid head resting on Bessy's shoulder, whilst Nancy sat at her sister's feet looking up in her face, scrutinizing every feature with the tenderest expression of interest. The old man planted himself on a long seat behind Nancy and the tears of joy were rolling unheeded down his furrowed cheeks.
"Now, didn't I tell you, Bridget, astore!" said he, "that Bessy would bring light to us some dark day when we most needed it?— didn't I tell you God would never desert us!"
Bridget only nodded assent—she was too happy for much talking.
"But, father dear!" said Bessy, "why didn't you let me know how things were going at home? — what came over you at all, that you didn't write to me?"
"There now!" said Denis exultingly to the others, "you see she never got one of the letters!—we were all wrongin' poor Bessy !"
"Then you did write!" said Bessy in great surprise.
"Write! why to be sure we did?—didn't we know well enough that you'd ask no better use for your money than helpin' us in our sore need; oh ! indeed we wrote three letters to you since the hard times came on us."
"And you got ne'er a letter from me all that time ?"
"Not as much as one scroll."
"Well! I'll tell you what it is, father," said Bessy with a thoughtful look, " they couldn't all go astray."
"That's just what I think myself, Bessy!"
"Why, Lord bless me ! what could come of them?" cried Nancy, "sure nobody ever steals letters? what use would they be to them?"
Bessy looked at her father and her father looked at her.
"That's what we can't tell," said Denis, "but I heard a riddle the day that'll maybe throw some light on it, when I get it read."
The curiosity excited by these words was suspended for the time by the influx of friends and neighbors, anxious to offer their felicitations tothe family, and still more so to see the live lion all the way from America. The house vas hardly empty that whole day, one set of visitors making their appearance, perhaps, before the others had made their exit If Bessy had been the owner of half a dozen tongues she could hardly have answered all the questions put to her, not only about hey own affairs but those of every person that had left that part of the country for more years than Bessy had been im America.
"Nancy dear!" said Bessy taking her sister aside, "I want to speak to you a moment." What passed between them was a secret, thouah many ears were open to hear, but whatever it was, Nancy threw a shawl around her attenuated form and vanished, after in turn whispering her mother. Up rose Bridget with alacrity, and made the best fire she could and over it hung a large pot of water, bustling her way through the sitters with an air half consequential, half goodnatured.
Denis watched his wife's movements with a curious eye, and so did Ellen, too, but neither asked any questions. After a little Nancy returned with a lal ge basket of baker's bread, whilst a boy from the village carried another containing tea, sugar, butter and meat. By that time the water was boiling, and Bessy said to her mother:
"Now you sit down, and Nancy and I will do the rest!"
"'Deed an' I'll not sit down, then," said Bridget jocosely, "it's long since I had any cookery to do, an' do you think I'll let you an' Nancy have It all to yourselves, now when it is to be done?"
Bessy laughed and said, "leave your own way, then!" and tucking up the sleeves and skirt of her brown merino dress, she went to work to assist her mother, telling Nancy to gather up all the cups and saucers and plates she could find, and set the table for supper. "I want to surprise the boys," said she " and have something nice ready for them comin' in."
Many a hungry eye was cast on the savory smelling meat "fizzing" by the fire, and the piles of white bread which rose at either end of the table, with tempting looking butter in proportionate quantity. It was long since any one there had seen such preparations for a meal, and it was pitiful to see the greedy eyes with which they gazed on the sumptuous fare Strict propriety would have urged a general move, but some how the farther the preparations advanced, the less the visitors seemed inclined to leave. Fast and faster they talked, ar.d every one appeared to ransack his or her memory for some other question to put to Bessy, some scrap of information yet to be elicited.
Denis tried to catch his daughter's eye several times, but failed, for Bessy seemed rather to avoid meeting his glance It seemed very strange to the hospitable old man that the girls and their mother should make such a parade of their eatables at a time v. hen the whole country was starving. " I wish they had waited," said he to himself, "till the poor creatures were gone That's always the way with these women, wantino to make a show."
The night was closing in when the word went round that the boys were coming up the boreen. "Run, Bessy! run and hide!" said her father—" we'll take arise out of them, if they haven't heard of your comin'."
This suggestion was unanimously applauded, and Bessy, having cast a glance over the table, and the cooking apparatus, to see that all was in readiness, stationed herself just within the door of the room—at the lower end of the kitchen, opposite the fireplace, where, by keeping the door ever so little open, she had a view of all that passed.
When the young men came in they could scarce believe their
eyes, and they stood looking round them like persons recovering from some strange dream, Where they expected to see only penury, and want, and woe, there was comfort and plenty and smiling faces. A bright fire burned on the hearth, the table was spread for a feast, and the place was redolent with the grateful smell of frying beef. The kitchen was full of friends and neighbors, all looking as gay as could be in anticipation of the good cheer, which they began to suspect was not all for family consumption. The young men looked at their father, then at their mother. More wonders: the wobegone look of the morning had vanished, and hope and joy were beaming in the eyes but late so dull and heavy. There was a twinkle of sly humor, too, that brought old times vividly back, and made the brothers smile they knew not why. Even Ellen was no longer the same—the pinched, parched look was gone, and the ghastly paleness of the sweet features was tinted with a more lifelike hue. Ellen was smiling, too, and smiling cheerfully and hopefully as she used to do in the days when peace and plenty were their lot. It was strange, passing strange. Every object was so changed that it seemed as if a magician's wand had waved over all.
A chorus of glad welcome greeted the bewildered brothers, but they heeded it not Their attention was riveted on their parents. V" Father ! mother ! what's the meaning of this ?" cried one.
"We heard as we came along," said the other, " that something had happened at home, but nobody would tell us what it was!"
"Can't you guess?" said their father pleasantly.
" Well! either Bessy's come home, or the fairies have been at work here since we left."
A shout of laughter followed and a general clapping of hands.
"You may as well come out, Bessy!" cried her mother, "these lads are too good at guessin' to be kept in the dark."
A moment more and Bessy was in the arms of the brothers so long unseen, so fondly remembered, and the tears that years of suffering and privation could not squeeze from their hearts, now gushed from their manly eyes and rolled unheeded down their cheeks. Their emotion was shared by all present. If ever there was a moment of unclouded happiness that was one. Oh! beautiful is the love that unites the sister and the brother! The human heart knows no feeling holier or more tender
"So you came back to us, Bessy !" said her elder brother, looking at her as though he were but half sure of her identity. Well! we had most given you up."
"How is that, Tommy?"
"Why, we thought you had got to be like the rest of the world: ' otst of sight, out of mind,' and—and—but no matter now what we thought," he added cheerfully, " I see you're the same Bessy still !"
"Bedad you're out there, Tom!" saidlame Jack the fiddler with a knowing wink; " I'm thinking there's a mighty great difference."
"What's that you say, Jack," said Denis, taking the pipe out of his mouth, wiping the shank carefully, and handing it to the man of music; " what difference do you find in the little girl?"
"Little girl, enough !" retorted Jack with his first puff of the pipe; "haith it's the droll little girl she is now !—why man alive! how could Bessy or any one else live so long in America beyant and come back the same as she went?—' pon my credit, if she did, it wouldn't say much for her sharpness. I'll go bail, that very girl," and he pointed at Bessy, " knows more now than any one in the parish—barrin' the priests, and Master Leary—come now, Bessy ! what do you say yourself?—didn't you learn more since you went to America than you did in your whole life before ?"
"Well! I declare I don't knw, ,Jack!" said Bessy with a smile. " I suppose I learned something, anyhow; experience is the best teacher, they say, and I've had a good deal of it since I saw you all before. But that's not the question now ! sit over to the table all of you and have some supperjust a snack, you know !"
"To be sure, to be sure!" said her father; "sit over every one of you!"
And Denis rubbed his hands in a little ecstacy of hospitality; then taking his place at the table, renewed the invitation by an imperative gesture, which, of course, had the desired effect, every one protesting, however, that "they hadn't the least occasion;" most of them were "just after ea1in' when they left the house," and indeed, to hear Bessy aonway's guests on that evening as they drew their seats to the table, you would think it was all a mistake about the famine, and that times were particularly good just then and provisions in the greatest abundance in that part of the country. Before the meal was over, the company was increased by the arrival of other friends, and, of course, room was made for them, too; the greater the crush, the more fun there was, for, as Denis jocosely observed, " the more the merrier." So a cordial welcome awaited all comers.
Of course, Bessy was the great centre of attraction, and every one was more than anxious to hear her adventures in America .
"I had no adventures," said Bessy so shortly that it took them all aback.
"Well ! well ! anything you seen that was new and strange."
"I hadn't much time to see sights," said Bessy again, "I was busy enough most of my time."
"Lord bless us, isn't she mighty short !" said a big woman to Jack; " wouldn't you think she'd be glad herself to tell what she had seen."
"It's plain she doesn't want to be questioned," returned Jack in a whisper, " espaycially about her own affairs. It's
my opinion there's some secret in it." He winked at the big woman and she winked at him.
"But what about Ned Finigan, Bessy?" said her father suddenly. "It's reported here that he doesn't know the end of his own riches."
"And is that all you know about it?" exclaimed Bessy, with a start, and the color faded from her cheek. "Ned did make some money, but I'm afraid it's little good he ever got of it. I wish to the Lord he had never left Ardfinnan!"
"Why, dear bless us! what happened him" asked her elder brother. "What's amiss with poor Ned?"
"I'm loth to tell it," said Bessy in a husky voice. " Poor Ned ! '— her voice sank to a whisper and her eyes filled with tears—" he died about a month before I left New York."
A universal chorus of lamentation followed this announcement, for Ned had been a general favorite
"Ned Finigan dead!" said Denis Conway in a voice choking with emotion, " him that was so stout and strong ! Ah, then, what did he die of, Bessy ?"
"Well! it's hard to say," was the answer, and Bessy gave her father a look that made him change the subject immediate]y.
"And what came of Paul Brannigan ?" was the next question, Shell it wns clearly ascertained that nothing more was to be learned about Ned.
"Oh! Paul's doing firstrate—there's no fear of him but he'd do well. I suppose you all heard of the money be fell heir to—"
Yes, most of them had heard of the rich old lady that took a fancy to Paul, and shared all she had with him.
Bessy smiled as the image of poor Dolly Sheehan arose before her. "Well ! she wasn't a lady," said she, "nor yet to say very rich, but what she had is Paul's now, for she's gone, I hope, to a better world, and left it all to him. And good right she had, for no son could be better to a mother than he
was to her. He's as comfortable now as he could va sh himself, and has a nice little shoestore of his own, and I tell you he's making money fast. God increase his store, for it's him that doesn't hide his face from the poor, anyhow ! He boards with the Murphys "
" Oh ! that's true, and how are they doin' ?"
" Well ! pretty fair. Peery and the boys are very steady and they're most of the time in good work. They have some money saved, and live very nice and comfortable. I believe Ally is going to give up the business, and it's it was the unlucky business to her !—and go and live with the father and mother Don't you mind what I wrote to you, father, about Mary marrying Luky Mulligan!"
" To be sure I mind it well, Bessy ! but I was forgettin' to ask you how it turned out I"
All eyes and ears were open to know what came of such a match. Nothing good could come of it, every one said.
" Well ! you're not far wrong there," said Bessy, " they were only a few months married when Luky went off and 'listed, and was sent away out to Mexico, I believe it was, and Mary had no other shift but going out for a day's work, on account of a poor cripple of a little girl she had that was born after the father went away. Sometimes she used to get leave to take the poor child with her to work, and there she'd be all tidy t, sing to mind it and mind her work; if she left it in the tenement house where she had part of a room it was worse still, for she'd be fretting about it all the time. So that's the way it went on until she was fairly heartbroken, with poverty, and want, and the height of wretchedness, for the pride that was in her wouldn't let her go to her own to look for help. At last, she took to drink, and her unfortunate child was burned to death one day when she was out for something at the grocery, and she didn't live long herself after it: I believe she died over on Blackwell's Island, where prisoners are sent for
stealing, or anything of that kind that doesn't entitle them to States Prison."
There was a general murmur of pity and regret on hearing this doleful tale. There was no one there that did not remember Mary Murphy, the prettiest girl about Ardfinnan, ay ! and the merriest, too! Soon after the neighbors began to drop off, saddened by the fate of Ned Finigan and Mary Murphy. When the last was gone, Bessy told her father what she did not choose to tell before so many, that Ned had died a dreadful death of delirium tremens; that it took four men to hold him in the bed, and he fancying he saw all kinds of horrible shapes, and fairly out of his senses,
"And that's the way he died, Bessy?"
"That's the way he died!"
No prayer was breathed in response, nothing but sighs and groans.