Volume One


3


BUT whether or no these loose courses of Mr. Aby Nowlan were attended with the results hinted at by his neighbours, remained more than doubtful; for no symptom of declining grandeur yet appeared: the house might still be found full of company; as much wine and whiskey-punch were drunk in it as the oldest tenant could remember; the "Mrs. Nowlan" of the day rode as bravely to mass as any Mrs. Nowlan before her; and, to come to our point, our good Daniel, and more especially his spouse, saw no reason yet to forego their long cherished hope that their son John might find favour in the staring eyes of his bachelor uncle.

     Indications of a liking for the boy have been attributed to "Masther Aby:" they were vague, indeed, and, in the person of any other man, would have passed for nothing, or else unnoticed; yet Mrs. Nowlan thought there was something in them. About a year after he had stood godfather to his little nephew, Aby happened to ride up to the door, one day, on his way from Limerick; and, as was his wont, while he there sat in his saddle, mute and motionless after his usual greetings, that, we believe, he meant in a dull kind of pleasantry, such as "Well, ma'am," to the maid-servant who first appeared, "how's all wid you to-day?"—and "Well, Masther Daniel," when his brother advanced—and, "Sarvent, madam," as the woman of the house followed her husband;—while, these words uttered, he remained, like a statue, on his horse's back, staring from one to another of his humble relatives, as they fluently told him all the news they thought he would like to hear, an old woman came out with the little Johnny in her arms, placed him on the horse's neck, vis-a-vis to Aby, and desired to know—"Wouldn't he just spake a civil word to his godfather?" whereupon the crowing infant jumped up and down in great glee on its novel seat, and laughed and stretched forth its fat arms to its sponsor; and Aby, first bestowing on it a puzzled frown, was thought to glare with more than usual placidity at "his own little godson," as the old woman said; nay, after a few minutes, his heavy lips puckered themselves up into the form they always assumed when, in his very best humour, "Masther Aby" gave vent to a kind of half-uttered, half-breathed whistle; and, his eyes still fixed on the child, (which, strange to say, never grew frightened) he groped about from pocket to pocket, and at last presented it with a nice new halfpenny. And this was the first groundwork of Mrs. Daniel Nowlan's hopes of the advancement of her second son.

     In the course of another year, Aby again appeared at the door of the farm-house; again had a similar interview with his nephew and godchild; as they stared at each other, again suffered a low confidential whistle to escape him, and (most important circumstance) bestowed on Johnny Nowlan a penny trumpet. Some discussion took place as to whether or no this gift had been intended expressly for Johnny, or for some other Johnny, or Dickey, or Davy, of whom it will be recollected there were many entitled to put in a prior claim. If, in pure recollection of his nephew, "Masther Aby" had, indeed, purchased it at the fair or the market, no rarer proof of affection could possibly be expected; or even if he had destined it for a rival, yet could own so much inward fascination as to intercept his own first intent, and thus part with it on his way home, surely the case was just as favourable one way as the other.

     Upon the third yearly visit to his brother's door, Johnny was able, almost without assistance, to remain on the neck of Aby's roadster, to feel pleasantly conscious of his situation, to prattle a few words, and, as he was naturally a fine free-spirited boy, to address some of them to his uncle. Upon this occasion they confronted each other longer than usual; and, at parting, Aby slipt a golden guinea into his hand, and turned from the house, saying, with great good-humour, to the delighted mother, "Put a breeches on the fellow, Madam." Up to Johnny's fifth or sixth year, their meetings grew more frequent, and now Aby always added to his former round of salutations,—"Well, Masther Johnny," or, "Well, lad;" but about this very critical time he discontinued his visits altogether, and years elapsed without "Masther Aby's" appearance at the open kitchen-door. The cause could not escape Mrs. Daniel Nuwlan's sagacity, quickened as it was by her affection; she soon discovered it to originate in the jealousy and cabals of some of Aby's numerous favourites, each of whom had her own brood to interest her, and naturally heard with alarm of his reputed fondness fur his nephew, and as naturally set to work to counteract it. And, whatever means had been used, the result was certain. He brought Johnny no more toys from the fair; he no longer expressed a wish to see him in any particular dress; and, half in offended pride, half because it was thought impossible, after many curtain councils, to remedy the misfortune, Daniel and his wife began to give up all hopes of seeing their second-born adopted by his rich uncle.

     The next plan proposed, was to make a priest of Johnny. After having been allowed to run about like a little Indian, for so many years, without any literary instruction, save what his mother conveyed to him by means of a gingerbread alphabet, he was now sent to a "hedge-school" to learn every thing at once, and particularly "the Latin," in order to qualify him betimes for a transplantation, at the proper age, to "the Bishop's school," a seminary in the neighbourhood of Limerick, where, in lieu of a Maynooth education, young men could fully prepare themselves for "the mission." During four or five years, the boy visited, as a day-scholar, the former mentioned academy; and, under the frown and ferula of a curious old pedagogue, acquired the art of writing a good plain hand, of reading good plain print, of casting up accounts, and, last and best of all, of tolerably well grinding his way, to the great edification of his father and mother, through about a third of Lilly's grammar: so that, at twelve, the work of making him a priest seemed half-done, clean out of hand. Many of his father's workmen called him, indeed, "the young soggarth." John himself began to feel his growing character, and, under the guidance of his cousin, the neighbouring parish priest, a good, though stern old man, to study the self-command, quietness, and gravity which were necessary to his future career, but at the same time unnatural, if not inimical to the ardency of his constitution; and his father had just made arrangements to send him as a boarder to a higher order of school in Limerick, from which he was at once to step to the bishop's school, when something happened to change his intention.

     Upon a certain Sunday, after Mr. Aby Nowlan's reigning sultana had set off, flaunting in the gayest colours, on a pillion, to last mass, Mr. Aby himself mounted his horse, and, as was usual with him about three times a-year, thought he also would have "a mouthful of prayers:" not, indeed, that he suspected his lady and he were to meet at the same chapel; no such thing; on the contrary, he believed she had taken her way to another chapel a little farther off, which he knew she preferred;—but fame left him uninformed that, upon the preceding Sunday, despairing of the effect of many previous and private exhortations, the parish priest had "called" the dame by her maiden name, off the altar of that favourite chapel, pointed out to her, before a numerous congregation, the enormity of the life she was leading, exhorted her to change it, and finally, giving way to a fit of virtuous indignation, ordered her never again to profane, by her presence, the house of God over which he had control, or to insult his parishioners or him with her flaunting visits, until she should return as a penitent prepared to offer some atonement for the crying scandal she had given.

     The lady left the chapel at the instant, as much out of necessity as humble submission, for the parish priest was a strong, hale old man, and stood on the altar, with his eye watching her, long after his exhortation had ended. On the same principle, she determined literally to obey the first part of his commands, and never again set her foot inside his "beggarly chapel;" but there was a new fire-stone tabinet to be exhibited next Sunday, a new black beaver hat and a plume of feathers: a particular pique ought not, in this case, to affect her general respect for religious observances; she knew where to find a better chapel, every Sunday in the year; and so braving the dread and terror that had really kept her, in the first instance, from the place of worship most convenient to her residence, she brazened her way to a front seat in its front gallery, upon the Sunday when Aby, owning a fit of his periodical piety, had also betaken himself thither.

     There was no danger they should meet during the service. For certain reasons, Aby never ventured his person further than the common entrance to "the body of the chapel," where he could stand or kneel, with his horse's rein flung over his arm, and occasionally thrust in his head out of view of the priest, and yet to have it to say that he did "hear mass" under the holy roof. So, all was very well, until towards the time for exhortation, when two or three respectable parishioners were seen to withdraw their wives and daughters from the front gallery, pass down to the sacristy, behind the altar, and send out a message to the officiating clergyman. The aged parish priest, flushing red with anger, turned round to the poor gaudy Jezebel; although he was nearly related to her protector, commenced an overwhelming attack; and Aby, somewhat to his consternation, just heard, with his head inside the dour, the peremptory orders given to turn her out of the chapel, when he undid the rein from his arm, and disposed himself to mount and gallop away in any direction that would soonest bear him from a scene he was by no means anxious to witness.

     As he put his foot in the stirrup, some women near the door, young and old, who had family reasons for not loving or respecting him, recognized his person, and, their feelings roused by the thundering denunciations of the priest, which still rang through the chapel, set up a shrill guttural growl at the conscious sinner. A crowd of boys and lads, also at hand, shared the feelings of their mothers, sisters, and gossips, and with loud cries surrounded poor Aby, and threw pebbles at his horse and him. The startled animal reared and plunged under this unusual treatment, and, just as his master passed his leg over the saddle, pitched him off to some distance, where Aby, falling on his head, lay rather stunned for a moment. When he was able to stand up, he saw a fine-looking boy, of about thirteen, engaged in a pugilistic contest with another boy, evidently his elder, for he was taller and stronger made than he; yet the younger hero had already bestowed some hard knocks on the face of his antagonist; and, at a second glance, Aby beheld that antagonist brought down in a condition that unfitted him for further battle; while the victor, standing over him, said, "Now, you'll let my uncle Aby alone, the next time."

     At these words, Nature inspired with a momentary vivacity the lethargic feelings and muscles of Aby, particularly when he recognized in the prostrate foe the young peasant who had been foremost in insulting him. He walked rather rapidly towards his champion, took his hand, shook it violently, and, while his large dull eyes fixed in unwonted expansion on his face, repeatedly asked, "Are you Phelim, or Johnny? are you Phelim, or Johnny, Sir?"

     "I am your godson, John Nowlan, Sir," replied the lad, modestly.

     "Good fellow, good feIlow!" continued Aby, still shaking the hand; "aha, Masther Johnny? aha, lad?—well;"—An uproar at the door of the gallery diverted his interest; he let the boy's hand go, snatched the reins of his horse, which was now held by a tenant, clambered into the saddle, yet, ere he spurred off, repeated, "Good fellow, good fellow! well, we'll see, Masther Johnny, lad; we'll see."

     The next day he presented himself and his horse at the old place, outside the kitchen-door of Daniel Nowlan's farm-house; and his old salutations went on with the usual form, but, towards the end, with unusual warmth.

     "Well, ma'am, how's all wid you to-day? where's the masther?—Well, Masther Daniel, where's the misthress?—Sarvent, madam;—where's Masther Johnny?—where's the lad, ma'am?—where's my godson, Masther Daniel?"

     "Musha, God bless you an' thanks for askin, where 'ud he be but at his schoolin' under Jack Delany beyant, Misther Nowlan?" was the mother's answer.

     Aby only stared enquiringly, from one to the other.

     "An' is to be soon at the Latin school in Limerick, far away from us, an thin at the bishop's own school, God presarve him, to stay from us entirely, 'till they make a priest iv him, an' never to see our faces again after that, only iv an odd time, may be."

     At the words "Latin school" and "bishop's school," Aby changed his eyes from Mrs. Nowlan to her husband; then to the servant-maid; then to the two healthy-looking little girls, Peggy and Anty, who had run out to wonder at him; and, after again staring at his brother and his sister-in- law, he turned his horse's head and rode homeward.

     It was difficult precisely to interpret all this. Upon the whole, it looked, however, promising; and hopes sprang up anew in the old people's hearts. The next day, on which, after due cautious enquiries, it was ascertained he intended to pass near their house, John received commands to stay at home. The morning wore away without a visit from Aby; a subtle emissary was despatched to see if he had left his house, and returned with an affirmative. This seemed gloomy; but about three o'clock the measured tread of his horse sounded in the little yard; in a few seconds Aby appeared on his back outside the threshold; John stepped out at the proper time; and, strange to say, his uncle gave him but a cold greeting; ashamed, it would seem, when he recollected the warmth of his former behaviour, called up by a sight of its object, again to commit himself in words or acts of unwonted vivacity.

     Yet he lingered at the door, staring at John, and occasionally saying, "Well, Masther Johnny," or, "aha, lad," or, "an' so, sir; the Latin, I hear? eh?"—until Mrs. Nowlan, inspired by a happy thought, plumply asked "Misther Nowlan 'to come in and take pot-loock' with them, as, sure he must be hungry after his ride to Limerick, and getting up so early and all, and he might as well 'kill the hungry worm' under his brother's roof for once in his life, as to ride farther at that hour of the day." "Why then, Madam, I believe we may's well"—and Aby slowly dismounted.

     John was placed opposite to him at dinner, in order that he might indulge, with the least possible inconvenience, his only method of manifesting a good-will towards the boy, that is, by fixing his eyes on him. And Aby did, indeed, favour his godson with as much of this kind of attention as was agreeable; scarcely ever removing his stare from John's face, even while eatiog or drinking, except to follow the motions of his hands, and occasionally himself, as he arose and attended to something about the apartment. Yet, although such kindness proved most flattering, it ended, for the present, in nothing certain. As the time for departure drew near, Aby rose up, walked out to his horse, mounted him, and rode slowly away, only saying,—"Well, Masther Johnny; we'll see, sir."

     The ice thus broken, he returned, however, again and again, to dine with the family, and showed a wish to enter into conversation with his nephew, chiefly touching the process of "the Latin," and how it was taught and to be learned in his school, and what kind of a hand the master was; what his temper, and how he treated the boys. But day after day, month after month elapsed, without further approaches to the desired point, and Mrs. Nowlan began again to despair; when, one morning, Aby made his appearance with the marks of five nails visible in more than one part of his face, an approach to vigour in his manner, and a certain fidgettiness, nothing of which was lost on the good dame. Who had inflicted the scratches, she thought she could guess; why inflicted, she hoped, was equally obvious. In fact, Mrs. Nowlan concluded they had arisen out of a domestic quarrel, which again had arisen out of Aby's hint of an intention to do what she most hoped and wished he would do; and prematurely acting on this conviction, she ventured, with a knowing smile, to say—" My heavy hathred on the nails that spiled your face, Masther Aby." But the reply that came—"Why, then, I was just playin' a-bit wid the little pusheen cat, an' you see how she sarved me, madam"corrected the dame's impetuosity, and cautioned her to wait for a more natural developement of Aby's humour.

     "Masther Daniel, isn't it good law for a man of a house to be a man of a house?"—was the next sentence, which, after dinner, the guest uttered, and which gave Mrs. Nowlan's heart stronger assurance than ever: and when Daniel had fitly answered, and even his spouse had supplied her comment in more humility than her sex ought to thank her for, or than her conscience perhaps warranted, the "Well! we'll see,"—and the timid pretence to a smile which ventured over Aby's features, told the comfort of his breast. Next his eyes fastened in extraordinary contemplation on John; and, "Well, lad; well, Masther Johnny!" broke out, between every pause over his tumbler of punch, in a way that argued certainty. As at last he rose up, "Johnny, sir, maybe you'd jist see us home?" said Aby;—"An' maybe he would, faith," answered Mrs. Nowlan, scarce able to contain herself: "run and saddle the bay for yourself, John; and d'ye hear me, John—take care o' yourself, my boy, on the road back again, as the night 'ill be pitch-dark by the time you're for biddin' your uncle good-bye; take care of the sand-pit, at the right, near the turn by the Foil-dhuiv; and, thin, there's sich a flood over the road, a bit on, an' only to be foorded in one part; take care, I tell you." "Couldn't he just stop out for the night, undher the roof wid myself, Ma'am?" queried Aby; and John went and did stop the night; and the next night, too; and from that hour was, or seemed to be, the adopted heir of his uncle.

     But before he mounted "the bay," his mother contrived to hold him by the button a few moments, outside the kitchen door, while she gave him this parting exhortation: "You're for goin', Johnny, a-graw;" the tears standing in her eyes; "you're for goin' to be made a man of, at last, if it's no fault o' your own; an' mind me, on the head o' that Johnny; mind me well; whin your onct in, stay in till the poor omadhaun bids you go out; an' that he'll never do, while his two eyes do be wide open, or I have obsarved him, off an' on, for nothin', this seventeen years;—an' Johnny, mind another thing; turn your hand to an' odd matther, now an' then, that you'll think 'ill plase him; if he sends you afther more o' the larnin' an' the Latin, well an' good; if not, you have more iv it than any o' your father's family ever had afore you; that's a comfort; and more than any o' your mother's either, barrin' it was the cousin o' me, Square Wilkins, of Rose- Lodge, esquire, rest his sowl in glory, that could read it in a buke, from one end o' the night to the other, blessed be the hearers;—an' a priest's a good thing, Johnny, more betoken at the end of a score years, or so, whin he's snug in the glebe-house—the parish-priest's house, I mane; bud a gintleman is a good thing, too, at the head o' the thousands iv acres, an', if he likes to live a life as good as a priest, an' not curse or swear, or dhrink, or do other things, like some one we know, an' goes to his church dour to mass every Sunday, an' goes to his duty every sacrament Sunday, why, thin, Johnny, he's as good as the priest in one regard, an' betther in another; an', Johnny, take no notice iv what you see in the house that doesn't concarn you, an that we can't help; only shun the doin' o' the same thing, a-chorra-ma-chree, an' larn by' id, an' so desarve the poor mother's blessin';—whoever spakes to you, you may keep a civil word for them; civil words from the mouth costs nothing; maybe you could say or do a little, iv an odd time, jist to make a friend of them that 'ud like to be a foe, for you're a louchy boy, Johnny, an' can plase whin you like id;—only, if she ever spakes a word comparin' herself wid your mother, or comparin' you wid her brats, as often she does, I hear, jist slap her in the face from me, come what will;—bud wait till it's too bad, entirely; an' thin, the little cratures you'll see on the same flure wid you, why, God pity 'em, it's no fault o' theirs, an' they're God's childher as much as you, only not come honestly by; an' you can jist pass 'em, civilly, you know, or, maybe they'd come round you to play wid you, an' then what's the harum, barrin' they're not any o' the grown brats, as ould or oulder than yourself, that you're behoulden to keep at a distance;—an' so, the blessin' o' the Lord on your head, Johnny, a-vourneen; an' make a good man o' you, as well as a rich one; an' mark you wid his grace; an' tache you how to shun"—the mother's tears, springing from the mother's apprehensions, again started to her eyes—"An' I'll say no more, Johnny; lade the horses to the dour; the poor man is waitin'; only"—she sprang to his neck—"God forever keep my oun good bouchal from harum!"

     The prayer—perhaps in punishment for the hidden spirit of avarice that tore her good son from the ways of good, to plunge him into temptation—the prayer was not heard.