Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > Light O' The Morning > CHAPTER IV. — THE INVITATION.
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 Bridget and Nora began to climb up a very steep and narrow winding path. It was nothing more than a grass path in the midst of a lot of rock and underwood, but the girls were like young chamois, and leaped over such obstacles with the lightness of fawns. Presently they arrived at the back entrance of Cronane, the Murphys' decidedly dilapidated residence. They had to cross a courtyard covered with rough cobbles and in a sad state of neglect and mess. Some pigs were wallowing in the mire in one corner, and a rough pony was tethered to a post not far off; he was endeavoring, with painful insistence, to reach a clump of hay which was sticking out of a hayrick a foot or two away. Nora, seeing his wistful eyes, sprang forward, pulled a great handful of the hay, and held it to his mouth. The little creature almost whinnied with delight.  
“There you are,” said Bridget. “What right have you to give our hay to that pony?”
“Oh, nonsense,” said Nora; “the heart in him was starving.” She flung her arms round the pony's neck, pressed a kiss on his forehead, and continued to cross the yard with Biddy. Two or three ragged urchins soon impeded their path; one of them was the redoubtable Neil, the other Mike.
“Is it to-morrow night you want the boat, Miss Biddy?” said Neil.
Bridget dropped her voice to a whisper.
“Look here, Neil,” she said, “mum's the word; you are not to let it out to a soul. You and Mike shall come with us, and Miss Nora is coming too.”
Neil cast a bashful and admiring glance at handsome Nora, as she stood very erect by Biddy's side.
“All right, miss,” he said.
“At ten o'clock,” said Bridget; “have the boat in the cove then, and we'll be down there and ready.”
“But they say, miss, that the Banshee is out on the nights when the moon is at the full.”
“The O'Shanaghgans' Banshee,” said Biddy, glancing at Nora, whose face did not change a muscle, although the brightness and wistfulness in her eyes were abundantly visible. She was saying to herself:
“I would give all the world to speak to the Banshee alone—to ask her to get father out of his difficulty.”
She was half-ashamed of these thoughts, although she knew and almost gloried in the fact that she was superstitious to her heart's core.
She and Biddy soon entered the house by the back entrance, and ran up some carpetless stairs to Biddy's own room. This was a huge bedroom, carpetless and nearly bare. A little camp-bed stood in one corner, covered by a colored counterpane; there was a strip of carpet beside the bed, and another tiny strip by a wooden washhand-stand. The two great parliament windows were destitute of any curtain or even blind; they stared blankly out across the lovely summer landscape as hideous as windows could be.
It was a perfect summer's evening; but even now the old frames rattled and shook, and gave some idea of how they would behave were a storm abroad.
Biddy, who was quite accustomed to her room and never dreamed that any maiden could sleep in a more luxurious chamber, crossed it to where a huge wooden wardrobe stood. She unlocked the door, and took from its depths a pale-blue skirt trimmed with quantities of dirty pink flounces.
“Oh, you are not going to put that on,” said Nora, whose own training had made her sensitive to incongruity in dress.
“Yes, I am,” said Biddy. “How can I see your lady-mother in this style of thing?”
She went and stood in front of Nora with her arms akimbo.
“Look,” she said, “my frock has a rent from here to here, and this petticoat is none of the best, and my stockings—well, I know it is my own fault, but I won't darn them, and there is a great hole just above the heel. Now, this skirt will hide all blemishes.”
“But what will your mother say?”
“Bless her!” said Biddy, “she won't even notice. Here, let's whip on the dress.”
She hastily divested herself of her ragged cotton skirt, and put on the pale blue with the dirty silk flounces.
“What are you looking so grave for?” she said, glancing up at Nora. “I declare you're too stately for anything, Nora O'Shanaghgan! You stand there, and I know you criticise me.”
“No; I love you too much,” replied Nora. “You are Biddy Murphy, one of my greatest friends.”
“Ah, it's sweet to hear her,” said Biddy.
“But, all the same,” continued Nora, “I don't like that dress, and it's terribly unsuitable. You don't look ladylike in it.”
“Ladylike, and I with the blood of——”
“Oh, don't begin that,” said Nora; “every time I see you you mention that fact. I have not the slightest doubt that the old kings were ruffians, and dressed abominably.”
“If you dare,” said Biddy. She rushed up to the bed, dragged out her pillow, and held it in a warlike attitude. “Another word about my ancestors, and this will be at your devoted head!” she cried.
Nora burst into a merry laugh.
“There, now, that's better,” said Biddy. She dropped the pillow and proceeded with her toilet. The dirty skirt with its tawdry flounces was surmounted by a bodice of the same material, equally unsuitable.
Biddy brushed out her mop of jet-black hair, which grew in thick curls all over her head and stood out like a mop round her shoulders. She was a plain girl, with small, very black eyes, a turned-up nose, and a wide mouth; but there was an irresistible expression of drollery in her face, and when she laughed, showing her milk-white teeth, there were people who even thought her attractive. Nora really loved her, although the two, standing side by side, were, as far as appearances were concerned, as the poles asunder.
“Now, come along,” said Biddy. “I know I look perfectly charming. Oh, what a sweet, sweet blue it is, and these ducky little flounces! It was Aunt Mary O'Flannagan sent me this dress at Christmas. She wore it at a fancy ball, and said it might suit me. It does, down to the ground. Let me drop a courtesy to you, Nora O'Shanaghgan. Oh, how proper we look! But I don't care! Now I'm not afraid to face anyone—why, the old kings would have been proud of me. Come along—do.”
She caught Nora's hand; they dashed down the wide, carpetless stairs, crossed a huge hall, and entered a room which was known as the drawing room at Cronane. It was an enormous apartment, but bore the same traces of neglect and dirt which the whole of the rest of the house testified to. The paper on the walls was moldy in patches, and in one or two places it had detached itself from the wall and fell in great sheets to the ground. One loose piece of paper was tacked up with two or three huge tacks, and bulged out, swaying with the slightest breeze. The carpet, which covered the entire floor, was worn threadbare; but, to make up for these defects, there were cabinets of the rarest and most exquisite old china, some of the pieces being worth fabulous sums. Vases of the same china adorned the tall marble mantelpiece, and stood on brackets here and there about the room. There were also some exquisite and wonderfully carved oak, a Queen Anne sofa, and several spindle-legged chairs. An old spinet stood in a distant window, and the drab moreen curtains had once been handsome.
Standing on the hearth, with his elbow resting on the marble mantelpiece close to a unique vase of antique design, stood Squire O'Shanaghgan. He was talking in pleasant and genial tones to Mrs. Murphy, a podgy little woman, with a great likeness to Biddy.
Mrs. Murphy wore a black alpaca dress and a little three-cornered knitted shawl across her shoulders. She had gray hair, which curled tightly like her daughter's; on top of it was a cap formed of rusty black velvet and equally rusty black lace. She looked much excited at the advent of the Squire, and her cheeks testified to the fact by the brightness of their color.
Mr. Murphy was doing penance opposite to Mrs. O'Shanaghgan. He was dreadfully afraid of that stately lady, and was glancing nervously round at his wife and the Squire from moment to moment.
“Yes, madam,” he was saying, “it's turnips we are going to plant in that field just yonder. We have had a very good crop of hay too. It is a fine season, and the potatoes promise to be a sight for sore eyes.”
“I hate the very name of that root,” said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan in her most drawling tones.
“Why, then, ma'am, you don't say so,” answered Murphy; “it seems hard on the poor things that keep us all going. The potheen and the potatoes—what would Ireland be without 'em? Glory be to goodness, it's quite awful to hear you abusing the potato, ma'am.”
“I am English, you know,” said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan.
On this scene Nora and Biddy entered. Mr. Murphy glanced with intense relief at his daughter. Mrs. O'Shanaghgan slightly raised her brows. It was the faintest of movements, but the superciliousness of the action smote upon Nora, who colored painfully.
Biddy, taking her courage in her hand, went straight up to the august lady.
“How do you do?” she said.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan extended her hand with a limp action.
“Oh, dear!” panted Biddy.
“What is up, my dear Bridget?” said her mother, turning round and looking at her daughter. “Oh, to goodness, what have you put that on for? It's your very best Sunday-go-to-meeting dress, and you won't have another, I can tell you, for six months.”
“There now, mother, hush, do,” said Biddy. “I have put it on for a purpose. Why, then, it's sweet I want to make myself, and I believe it's sweet I look. Oh, there's the mirror; let me gaze at myself.”
She crossed the room, and stood in front of a long glass, examining her unsuitable dress from the front and side; and then, being thoroughly satisfied with the elegance of appearance, she went back and stood in front of Mrs. O'Shanaghgan.
“It's a request I want to make of you, ma'am,” she said.
“Well, Biddy, I will listen to it if you will ask me properly,” said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan.
“Yes, to be sure,” said Biddy. “How shall I say it?”
“Speak quietly, my dear.”
“Yes, Biddy, I do wish you would take pattern by Nora, and by Mrs. O'Shanaghgan,” said Mrs. Murphy, who in her heart of hearts envied Mrs. O'Shanaghgan's icy manners, and thought them the most perfect in all the world. She was in mortal fear of this good lady, even more terrified of her than her husband was.
“Well, Biddy,” said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan.
“May Nora come and spend tomorrow night here?”
“No,” was on Mrs. O'Shanaghgan's lips; but just then the Squire came forward.
“To be sure she may; it will do her a sight of good. The child hardly ever goes from home.”
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan raised displeased eyes to her husband's face.
“Girls of Nora's age ought to stay at home,” she said.
“Yes, to be sure, to be sure,” said the Squire; “and we would miss her awfully if she was away from us; but a day or two off duty—eh, madam?” He glanced at his wife.
“You have your answer, Biddy,” said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan; “her father wishes Nora to accept your invitation. She may stay away for one night—no longer.”
Biddy winked broadly round at Nora.
“Now, then,” she said, “come along.” She seized her friend by the arm, and whisked her out of the room.
“It was the dress that did it,” she said; “it is the loveliest garment in all the world. Come along now, and let's take it off. I want to gather those eggs for you.”
She ran upstairs again, followed by Nora. The dress was disposed of in the large wooden wardrobe, the old torn frock readjusted on Biddy's stout form, and the girls went out into the lovely summer air. The eggs which Nora required were put into the little basket, and in half an hour the O'Shanaghgans' party were returning at full speed to Castle O'Shanaghgan. Nora glanced once into her father's face, and her heart gave a great leap. Her high spirits left her as if by magic; she felt a lump in her throat, and during the rest of the drive hardly spoke.
The Squire, on the contrary, talked incessantly. He talked more than ever after Nora had looked at him. He slapped his wife on the shoulder, and complimented her on her bravery. Nora's driving was the very best in all the world; she was a born whip; she had no fear in her; she was his own colleen, the Light o' the Morning, the dearest, sweetest soul on earth.
Mrs. O'Shanaghan replied very briefly and coldly to her husband's excited words. She treated them with what she imagined the contempt they deserved; but Nora was neither elated just then by her father's praise nor chilled by her mother's demeanor. Every thought of her heart, every nerve in her highly strung frame, was concentrated on one fact alone—she had surprised a look, a look on the Squire's face, which told her that his heart was broken.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved