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HOME > Short Stories > Light O' The Morning > CHAPTER XXXV. — THE COT WHERE HE WAS BORN.
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 Nora avoided Molly that night. On reflection, it occurred to her that it would be best for Molly to know nothing of her design. If she were in complete ignorance, no amount of questioning could elicit the truth. Nora went into her bedroom, and changed her pretty jacket and skirt and neat sailor hat for a dark-blue skirt and blouse of the same material. Over these she put a long, old-fashioned cloak which at one time had belonged to her mother. Over her head she tied a little red handkerchief, and, having eaten a small portion of Mrs. Shaw's provisions, she left the room. It was already night-time; and Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, Molly, and the servants had gone to bed. Nora now locked her door from the outside, slipped the key into her pocket, and her basket of provisions partly hidden under the falls of her cloak, ran downstairs. The dogs generally slept in the big hall; but they knew Nora's step, and rose slowly, wagging their heavy tails. Nora patted them on their heads, gave them each an endearing word, and stooped to kiss pretty Cushla on her black forehead. She then softly unbolted one of the windows, lifted the sash, and got out. She carefully shut the window as noiselessly as she had opened it. She now found herself on the grassy sward in the neighborhood of the drawing-room. Under the old régime that sward was hard, and knotty tufts of weed as well as grass grew up here and there in profusion; but already, under the English government, it was beginning to assume the velvet-like appearance which a properly kept lawn ought to have.  
Nora hated to feel such softness; she disliked everything which seemed to her to flavor of the English and their ways. There was a hot, rebellious feeling in her heart. Why should these things be? Why should not her Irish land and her Irish people be left in their wild freedom? She ran round to the yard. Angus had received instructions to leave the little postern door on the latch, and Nora now opened it and went softly in. The moon was beginning to rise, but was not at the full. There was, however already sufficient light for her to see each object with distinctness. She went and sat down in the shadow made by the great barn. She sat on the step to the barn, wrapping her warm cloak tightly round her, and keeping her basket of provisions by her side. Here she would sit all night, if necessary. Her vigil might have no result, but at any rate it would insure her father from danger. For now only over Nora's dead body could the wild Andy Neil approach the Squire.
“Andy shall kill me first,” she thought; “and if I die, I will scream and father will awaken. Angus is on the watch; the alarm will be given; at least my father's life will be spared. But why do I think of danger of this sort? Andy will not kill me. I place my trust in God. I am doing the right thing—I know I am doing the right thing.”
When Nora had let herself in at the postern door she had immediately drawn the bolt at the other side, thus preventing anyone else from entering the great yard by the same way; but she knew that, although Andy could not now enter the yard, in all probability he was already hiding there. There were no end to the ways and devices of a wild Irishman of Andy's sort. He was so thin and emaciated, too, that he could squeeze himself into the tiniest space. It lay in his power to remain motionless all night, until the moment when his revenge was ripe. Nora sat on. She heard the old clock in the ancient tower of the Castle strike the hours. That old clock had been severely animadverted on by Mrs. O'Shanaghgan on account of the cracked sound in the bell; but Nora felt relieved to find that, amongst all the modern innovations, the old clock still held its own; it had not, at least, yet, been removed from the tower. It struck solemnly now the hour of midnight.
“The witching hour,” thought the girl. “The hour when the Banshee walks abroad. I wonder if I shall see her. I should like to see her. Did she hear me when I called to her in the cave? Would she help me if she came to my rescue now? She belongs to us; she is our own Banshee; she has belonged to our family for many, many generations.”
Nora thought these thoughts; but then the feeling that Someone else who never fails those who trust Him was also watching her during this silent hour came to her with a sense of comfort. She could hear her father turning once or twice in the creaky old wooden bed. She was glad to feel that, unknown to him, she was his guardian angel. She began to think about the future, and almost to forget Andy and the possible and very great peril of the present, when, shortly before the hour of one, all her senses were preternaturally excited by the sound of a footfall. It was a very soft footfall—the noise made by a bare foot. Nora heard it just where the shadow was deepest. She stood up now; she knew that, from her present position, the one who was making this dead sort of heavy sound could not possibly see her. She waited, her breath coming hard and fast. For a minute, or perhaps more, there was again absolute and complete silence. The night was a breathless one; there was not a sound abroad; overhead the sky was of an inky blue-black, the stars were shining gloriously, and the moon was growing brighter and more clear, and more nearly approaching her meridian each moment. The girl stood with her hand pressed against her beating heart; she had flung aside her little red handkerchief, and her hair had fallen loose and was tumbling over her shoulders; she raised her other hand to her left ear to listen more intently—she was in the attitude of one about to spring.
Again there came the sound which she expected, and which, now that it had arrived, caused her heart to beat no longer with fear, but with a sort of wild exultation. Her suspicions had been right—the danger was real; her father's most precious life was in peril. The steps came quicker and more quick; they approached the other window of the barn. This window lay in complete shadow. Nora now stepped out of her hiding place, and, going with two or three quick strides down the yard, waited within a foot or two of the man, who now proceeded to lift himself up by the window ledge preparatory to opening the barn window. With the aid of a claspknife he could very easily push back the quaint and imperfect fastening; then it was but to push in the glass, and he could enter the barn. He sat on the window ledge with his back to Nora. His huge, gaunt form looked larger than ever, intensified now by the light of the moon. He breathed quickly; his breathing proclaimed that he himself was in physical suffering.
“Andy,” said Nora in a low, very low whisper.
But this low tone was as startling to the madman on the window as though a pistol shot had been sounded in his ears.
“Be the powers!” he said, and he tumbled so quickly off the window sill that Nora herself held out her hand to help him. Then he turned fiercely and faced the girl. She saw the light of madness gleaming in his sunken eyes; his wild face looked more cadaverous than ever; his great, skinny, long hand shook. He raised it as if to fell the girl to the ground, but paused to look in her face, and then his hand hung feebly to his side.
Nora had enacted all this scene beforehand to herself; she now thrust into Andy's face, within an inch or two of his nose, a great lump of bread and a slab of cold pie.
“Before you do anything more, eat,” she said; “eat quickly; make no noise.”
It was as impossible for the famished man to resist the good and tempting food as it would have been impossible for a needle to resist the influence of a powerful magnet. He grasped the bread, thrust the knife into his wretched shirt, and, tearing the bread in fragments, began to stuff it into his mouth. For a couple of minutes there was no sound but that of the starved creature tearing the bread and feeding himself. When he had slightly satisfied the first cravings of his starved body Nora took his hand.
“You have not had enough yet,” she said. “You have fasted long, and are very hungry; there is more where this came from.”
She took his hand quite unresistingly, and led him round to the entrance of the barn.
“I am up,” she said, “but no one else. No one else knows of this. You have come without a gun?”
“I have a knife instead,” he said. His eye glittered strangely.
“Give me your knife,” said the girl. “I will give you food in exchange for it.”
The famished creature began to gibber now in the most horrible manner; he pointed to his breast and uttered a laugh.
“Laugh again, and I will call those who will soon put a stop to your wild and terrible purposes, Andy,” said the girl, “Here's food—fruit, jelly, bread. You shall have them all—all, when you give me that knife.”
The man looked at the food, and now his eyes softened. They became full not only of rapture, but also of laughter. He gave a low guttural sound, sank down on the ground, and held out both his hands imploringly for some of the nourishment.
“The knife,” said Nora.
He thrust his hands into his bosom and held the knife out to her. It was a huge clasp knife, and Nora noticed with a shudder that it had all the appearance of having been newly sharpened. The moment she got it she put it in her pocket, and then invited the man to feed. He sat now quite humbly. Nora helped him to pie. She had already taken the precaution to hide the knife which Mrs. Shaw had supplied her with. The man ate and ate, until his consuming hunger was satisfied. Nora now gave him a very little of the brandy mixed with water. He lay back at last, exhausted and also satisfied.
“It's wake I am, it's wake I am—it's wake I am entoirely,” said he. “Why are you so good to me, Miss Nora? It was to take the life of the Squire I was afther to-night.”
“I knew that,” said Nora, “and I thoug............
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