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HOME > Short Stories > Light O' The Morning > CHAPTER III. — THE WILD MURPHYS.
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 Terence made his appearance at the tea table. In every respect he was a contrast to Nora. He was very good-looking—strikingly handsome, in fact; tall, with a graceful elegance of deportment which was in striking contrast to the burly figure of the old Squire. His face was of a nut-brown hue; his eyes dark and piercing; his features straight. Young as he was, there were the first indications of a black silky mustache on his short upper lip, and his clustering black curls grew in a high ridge off a lofty brow. Terence had the somewhat languid air which more or less characterized all his mother's movements. He was devoted to her, and took his seat now by her side. She laid her very thin and slender hand on his arm. He did not respond by look or movement to the gesture of affection; but had a very close observer been present he would have noticed that he drew his chair about the tenth of an inch nearer to hers.  
Nora and her father at the other end of the table were chattering volubly. Nora's face was all smiles; every vestige of that little cloud which had sat between her dark brows a few moments before had vanished. Her blue eyes were sparkling with fun.
The Squire made brilliant sally after sally, to which she responded with all an Irish girl's aptitude for repartee.
Terence and his mother conversed in low tones.
“Yes, mother,” he was saying, “I had a letter from Uncle George this morning; he wants me to go next week. Do you think you can manage?”
“How long will you be away, Terence?”
“I don't know; a couple of months, perhaps.”
“How much money will it cost?”
“I shall want an evening suit, and a new dress-suit, and something for everyday. These things are disgraceful,” said the lad, just glancing at the frayed coat-sleeve, beneath which showed a linen cuff of immaculate whiteness.
Terence was always the personification of fastidiousness in his dress, and for this trait in his character alone Mrs. O'Shanaghgan adored him.
“You shall have it,” she said—“somehow.”
“Well, I must reply tonight,” he continued. “Shall I ask the governor, or will you?”
“We won't worry him, Terry; I can manage.”
He looked at her a little anxiously.
“You are not going to sell any more of them?” he said.
“There is a gold chain and that diamond ring; I never wear either. I would fifty times rather think that you were enjoying yourself with my relations in England. You are fitted to grace any society. Do not say another word, my boy.”
“You are the very best and noblest mother in the world,” said the lad with enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, Nora and her father continued their gay conversation.
“We will take a basket with us,” said Nora, “and Bridget shall give me a couple of dozen more of those little brown eggs. Mrs. Perch shall have a brood of chicks if I can manage it.”
“Trust the girleen for that,” said the Squire, and then they rose from table.
“Ellen,” he continued, addressing his wife, “have you and Terence done colloguing together? for I hear Black Bess coming to the front door.”
“Oh, hasten, mother; hasten!” said Nora. “The mare won't stand waiting; she is so fresh she is just ready to fly.”
The next few moments witnessed a scene of considerable bustle. Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, with all her English nerves, had plenty of pluck, and would scorn to show even a vestige of fear before the hangers-on, as she called the numerous ragged urchins who appeared from every quarter on each imaginable occasion. Although she was shaking from head to foot with absolute terror at the thought of a drive behind Black Bess, she stepped into her seat in the tall dog-cart without a remark. The mare fidgeted and half reared.
“Whoa! whoa! Black Bess, my beauty!” said the Squire. The groom, a bright-faced lad, with a wisp of yellow hair falling over his forehead, held firmly to the reins. Nora jumped up beside her mother.
“Are you going to drive?” asked that lady.
“Yes, mummy; you know I can. Whoa, Black Bess! it's me,” said the girl. She took the reins in her capable little hands; the Squire sprang up behind, and Black Bess flew down the avenue as if on the wings of the wind.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan gave one hurried pant of suppressed anguish, and then sat perfectly still, her lips set, her hands tightly locked together. She endured these drives almost daily, but had never yet got accustomed to them. Nora, on the contrary, as they spun through the air, felt her spirits rising; the hot young blood coursed through her veins, and her eyes blazed with fun and happiness. She looked back at her father, who nodded to her briefly.
“That's it, Nora; keep her well in. Now that we are going uphill you can give her her head a bit. Whoa, Black Bess! Whoa!”
The mare, after her first wild canter, settled into a more jog-trot gait, and the dog-cart did not sway so violently from side to side. They were soon careering along a wide, well-made road, which ran for many miles along the top of some high cliffs. Below them, at their feet, the wild Atlantic waves curled and burst in innumerable fountains of spray; the roar of the waves came up to their ears, and the breath of the salt breeze, the freshest and most invigorating in the world, fanned their cheeks. Even Mrs. O'Shanaghgan felt her heart beating less wildly, and ventured to put a question or two to Nora with regard to the clucking hen, Mrs. Perch.
“I have not forgotten the basket, mammy,” said the girl; “and Hannah will put the eggs under the hen tonight.”
“I am quite certain that Hannah mismanaged the last brood,” said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan; “but everything goes wrong at the Castle just now.”
“Oh, mother, hush! he will hear,” said Nora.
“It is just like you, Nora; you wish to keep——”
“Oh, come, now,” said the Squire; “I hear the grumbles beginning. No grumbles when we are having our ride—eh, Ellen? I want you to come back with a hearty appetite for dinner, and a hearty inclination to sleep tonight.”
They drove faster and faster. Occasionally Nora touched the mare the faintest little flick with the end of her long whip. The creature responded to her touch as though girl and horse were one.
At last they drew up outside a dilapidated gate, one hinge of which was off. The Squire jumped down from his seat, came round, and held the horse's head.
“Whoa! whoa!” he said. “Hullo, you, Mike! Why aren't you in your place? Come and open the gate this minute, lad.”
A small boy, with bare feet and ragged trousers, came hurrying, head over heels, down the road. Mrs. O'Shanaghgan shuddered and shut her eyes. The gate was swung open. Nora led the mare skillfully round a somewhat sharp corner, and the next instant they were dashing with headlong speed up a steep avenue. It was neglected; weeds grew all over it, and the adjacent meadows were scarcely distinguishable from the avenue itself.
The Squire ran after the dog-cart, and leaped up while the mare was going at full speed.
“Well done, father!” called back Nora.
“Heaven preserve us!” thought Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, who still sat speechless, and as if made of iron.
At last they reached a long, rambling old house, with many small windows, interspersed with a few of enormous dimensions. These were called parliament windows, and had been put into many houses of that period in order to avoid the window-tax. Most of the windows were open, and out of some of them ragged towels were drying in the evening breeze. About half a dozen dogs, most of which were of mongrel breed, rushed forward at the sound of the wheels, barking vociferously. Nora, with a dexterous touch of her hand, drew the mare up just in front of the mansion, and then sprang lightly to her feet.'
“Now, mother, shall I help you down?”
“You had better find out first if Mrs. Murphy is in,” said the Squire's wife.
A ragged urchin, such as seemed to abound like mushrooms in the place, came and held the reins close to the horse's mouth. The creature stood trembling from the violence of her exertions, and pouring down moisture at every pore. “She wants to be well rubbed down,” said the Squire. “She doesn't get half exercise enough; this will never do. What if I have to make money on her, and she is spoiled?”
The low words which came to his lips were not heard by anyone; there was a frown, very like Nora's own, between his brows. The next moment a small man, with reddish hair, in a very shabby suit of half-worn tweed, appeared on the steps of the front door.
“Hullo, O'Shanaghgan, is that yourself?” he called out. “How are you, Mrs. O'Shanaghgan? Right glad to see you. You'll step inside—won't you? I believe the wife is somewhere round. Neil, my man, go and look for the missus. Tell her that Madam O'Shanaghgan is here, and the Squire. Well, Nora, I suppose you are wanting a chat with Bridget? You won't find her indoors this fine evening.”
“Where is she, Mr. Murphy?” asked the girl. “I do want to have a talk with her.”
“Ah! what's the basket for?”
“I want her to give me some of the pretty brown eggs.”
“Well, go right down there by the sea-path, and you'll find her, as likely as not.”
“Very well,” answered Nora. Slinging her basket on her arm, she started for her walk. As soon as she was out of sight she began to run. Presently she stopped and began whistling “The Wearing of the Green,” which was responded to in a moment by another voice, sweet as that of a blackbird. She looked to right and left, and presently saw a pair of laughing black eyes looking down at her from beneath the shelter of a huge oak tree.
“Here I am. Will you climb up?” said the voice of Bridget Murphy.
“Give me a hand, and I'll be up with you in a moment,” said Nora. She tossed her basket on the ground; a very firm, little brown hand was extended; and the next moment the girls were seated side by side on a stout branch of the tree.
“Well, and what has brought you along here?” said Bridget.
“I came with father and mother in the dog-cart,” replied Nora. “Father let me drive Black Bess. I had a jolly time; but she did pull a bit—my wrists are quite stiff.”
“I am glad you have come,” said the other girl. “I was having a concert all by myself. I can imitate the thrush, the blackbird, and most of the birds round here. Shall I do the thrush for you?”
Before Nora could speak she began imitating the full liquid notes of the bird to perfection.
“I declare you have a genius for it,” said Nora. “But how are you yourself, Biddy?”
“What should ail me?” replied Biddy. “I never had a care nor a worry nor a trouble yet; the day is long, and my heart is light. I am at peace, and I never had an ache in my body yet. But what is up with you, Nora alannah?”
“It's that mortgage, you know,” said Nora, dropping her voice. “What is your father going to do?”
“Oh, the mortgage,” said Bridget. “Mr. Morgan came down from Dublin yesterday; he and father had a long talk. I don't know. I believe there's worry in the air, and when there is I always steer clear of it.”
“Your father, you mean?”
“I can't tell you; don't question me. I am glad you have come. Can't you stay for the night?”
“No, I can't. I must go back with father and mother. The fact is this, Bridget, I believe your father would do anything in the world for you.”
“I suppose he would. What do you want to coax out of me now? Oh, Nora alannah! don't let us talk of worries. Come down to the sea with me—won't you? I have found the most lovely cave. I mean to explore it with lanterns. You go into the cave, and you can walk in nearly half a mile; and then it takes a sudden turn to the right, and they say there's an entrance into another cave, and just beyond that there's a ghost supposed to be. Some people say it is the home of the O'Shanaghgans' Banshee; but whatever it is, I mean to see all about it.”
“Do you mean the Sea-Nymphs' Cave?” said Nora. “But you can only get to that by crossing the bay.”
“Yes. Well, I am going tomorrow night; the moon is at the full. You will come over and go with me—won't you?”
“Oh! I wish I could.”
“But why can't you? Don't let us worry about fathers and mothers. We're a pair of girls, and must have our own larks. There's Neil and there's Mike; they will get the boat all ready, and we can start off for the cave just when the tide is high; we can only get in then. We'll run the boat in as far as it will go, and we'll see what we'll see. You will come—won't you, Nora?”
“I should like it of all things in the world,” said Nora.
“Well, why not? You can come over tomorrow afternoon, and stay the night here. Just say that I have asked you.”
“But mother does not much like my sleeping out.”
“You mean that she does not like you to sleep at the house of the wild Murphys—that's what you mean, Nora. Then, get away; I don't want to force my company on you. I am as good as any other girl in Ireland; I have the blood of the old Irish kings in my veins; but if you are too proud to come, why——”
“I am not, and you know it,” said Nora; “but mother is an Englishwoman, and she thinks we are all a little rough, you and I into the bargain. All the same, I'll come to-morrow. I do want to explore that cave. Yes, I'll come if you give me a proper invitation before mother.”
“Oh, mercy me!” said the girl, “must I go back to the house? I am so precious shabby, and your lady-mother has got such piercing eyes. But there, we can smuggle in the back way. I'll go up to my room and put on my bits of finery. Bedad! but I look as handsome as the best when I am dressed up. Come along, Nora; we'll get in the back way, and I'll give the invitation in proper style.”

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