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HOME > Short Stories > Light O' The Morning > CHAPTER X. — THE INVITATION.
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 Squire O'Shanaghgan came home in a couple of days. He entered the house in noisy fashion, and appeared to be quite cheerful. He had a great deal to say about Dublin, and talked much of his old friends during the evening that followed. Nora, however, try as she would, could never meet his eye, and she guessed, even before he told her, that his mission had been a failure. It was early the next morning that he gave her this information.  
“I tried them, one and all, colleen,” he said, “and never were fellows more taken aback. 'Is it you to lose your property, O'Shanaghgan?' they said. They wouldn't believe me at first.”
“Well, father, and will they help?” said Nora.
“Bless you, they would if they could. There's not a better-natured man in the length and breadth of Ireland than Fin O'Hara; and as to John Fitzgerald, I believe he would take us all into his barrack of a house; but they can't help with money, Nora, because, bedad, they haven't got it. A man can't turn stones into money, even for his best and dearest friends.”
“Then what is to be done, father?”
“Oh, I'll manage somehow,” said Squire O'Shanaghgan; “and we have three months all but a week to turn round in. We'll manage by hook or by crook. Don't you fret your pretty little head. I wouldn't have a frown on the brow of my colleen for fifty O'Shanaghgans, and that's plain enough. I couldn't say more, could I?”
“No, father dear,” answered Nora a little sadly.
“And tell me what you were doing while I was away,” said the Squire. “Faith! I thought I could never get back fast enough, I seemed to pine so for you, colleen; you fit me down to the ground.”
Nora began to relate the small occurrences which had taken place. The Squire laughed at Mrs. O'Shanaghgan's sudden desire that Nora should be an educated lady.
“I don't hold with these new fashions about women,” he said; “and you are educated enough for me.”
“But, father, I like to read, I like to learn,” said the girl. “I am very, very anxious to improve myself. I may be good enough for you, dear father, for you love me with all my faults; but some day I may pine for the knowledge which I have not got.”
“Eh! is it that way with you?” said the Squire, looking at her anxiously. “They say it's a sort of a craze now amongst women, the desire to beat us men on our own ground; it's very queer, and I don't understand it, and I am sorry if the craze has seized my girleen.”
“Oh! never mind, father dear; I wouldn't fret you for all the learning in Christendom.”
“And I wouldn't fret you for fifty estates like O'Shanaghgan,” said the Squire, “so it strikes me we are both pretty equal in our sentiments.” He patted her cheek, she linked her hand in his, and they walked together down one of the sunny meadows.
Nora thought of Neil, but determined not to trouble her father about him just then. Notwithstanding her cheerfulness, her own heart was very heavy. She possessed, with all her Irish ways, some of the common sense of her English ancestors, and knew from past experience that now there was no hope at all of saving the old acres and the old house unless something very unexpected turned up. She understood her father's character too well; he would be happy and contented until a week before the three months were up, and then he would break down utterly—go under, perhaps, forever. As to turning his back on the home of his ancestors and the acres which had come to him through a long line, Nora could not face such a possibility.
“It cannot be; something must happen to prevent it,” she thought.
She thought and thought, and suddenly a daring idea came into her mind. All her life long her mother's relations had been brought up to her as the pink of propriety, the souls of wealth. Her uncle, George Hartrick, was, according to her mother, a wealthy man. Her mother had often described him. She had said that he had been very angry with her for marrying the Squire, but had confessed that at times he had been heard to say that the O'Shanaghgans were the proudest and oldest family in County Kerry, and that some day he would visit them on their own estate.
“I have prevented his ever coming, Nora,” said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan; “it would be such a shock to him. He thinks we live in a castle such as English people live in, with suites of magnificent rooms, and crowds and crowds of respectably dressed servants, and that we have carriages and horses. I have kept up this delusion; he must never come over to see the nakedness of the land.”
But now the fact that her Uncle George had never seen the nakedness of the land, and that he was attached to her mother, and proud of the fact that she had married an Irish gentleman of old descent, kept visiting Nora again and again. If she could only see him! If she could only beg of him to lend her father a little money just to avert the crowning disgrace of all—the O'Shanaghgans leaving their home because they could not afford to stop there, Nora thought, and the wild idea which had crept into her head gathered strength.
“There is nothing for it; something desperate must be done,” she thought. “Father won't save himself, because he does not know how. He will just drift on until a week of the fatal day, and then he will have an illness. I cannot let father die; I cannot let his heart be broken. I, Nora, will do something.”
So one day she locked herself in her room. She stayed there for a couple of hours, and when she came out again a letter was thrust into her pocket. Nora was not a good letter-writer, and this one had taken nearly two hours to produce. Tears had blotted its pages, and the paper on which it was written was of the poorest, but it was done at last. She put a stamp on it and ran downstairs. She went to Hannah's cabin. Standing in front of the cabin was her small admirer Mike. He was standing on his head with the full blaze of the sunlight all over him, his ragged trousers had slipped down almost to his knees, and his little brown bare legs and feet were twinkling in the sun. His bright sloe-black eyes were fixed on Nora as she approached.
“Come here, Mike,” said the girl. Mike instantly obeyed, and gave a violent tug to one of his front locks by way of salutation. He then stood with his legs slightly apart, watching Nora.
“Mike, I want you to go a message for me.”
“To be sure, miss,” answered Mike.
“Take this letter to the post-office; put it yourself into the little slit in the wall. I will give you a penny when you have done it.”
“Yes, miss,” answered Mike.
“Here is the letter; thrust it into your pocket. Don't let anyone see it; it's a secret.”
“A saycret, to be sure, miss,” answered Mike.
“And you shall have your penny if you come up to the Castle tonight. Now good-by; run off at once and you will catch the mail.”
“Yes, to be sure,” said Mike. He winked at Nora, rolled his tongue in his cheek, and disappeared like a flash down the dusty road.
The next few days seemed to drag themselves somehow. Nora felt limp, and not in her usual spirits. The Squire was absent a good deal, too. He was riding all over the country trying to get a loan from his different friends. He was visiting one house after another. Some of the houses were neat and well-to-do, but most of them sadly required funds to put them in order. At every house Squire O'Shanaghgan received a hearty welcome, an invitation to dinner, and a bed for the night; but when he made his request the honest face that looked into his became sorrowful, the hands stole to the empty pockets, and refusals, accompanied by copious apologies, were the invariable result.
“There's no one in all the world I would help sooner, Pat, if I could,” said Squire O'Grady; “but I have not got it, my man. I am as hard pressed as I can be myself. We don't get in the rents these times. Times are bad—very bad. God help us all! But if you are turned out, what an awful thing it will be! And your family the oldest in the place. You're welcome, every one of you, to come here. As long as I have a bite and sup, you and yours shall share it with me.” And Squire Malone said the same thing, and so did the other squires. There was no lack of hospitality, no lack of good will, no lack of sorrow for poor Squire O'Shanaghgan's calamities; but funds to avert the blow were not forthcoming.
The Squire more and more avoided Nora's eyes; and Nora, who now had a secret of her own, and a hope which she would scarcely dare to confess even to herself, avoided looking at him.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan was a little more fretful than usual. She forgot all about the lessons she had set her daughter in her laments over her absent son, over the tattered and disgraceful state of the Castle, and the ruin which seemed to engulf the family more and more.
Nora, meanwhile, was counting the days. She had made herself quite au fait with postal regulations during these hours of waiting. She knew exactly the very time when the letter would reach Mr. Hartrick in his luxurious home. She thought she would give him, perhaps, twelve hours, perhaps twenty-four, before he replied. She knew, then, how long the answer would take on its way. The night before she expected her letter she scarcely slept at all. She came down to breakfast with black shadows under her eyes and her face quite wa............
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