12

How Fortune Brings Two Old Friends Together

THE SITUATION of the little vessel was in reality terrific. A fierce westerly wind, encountering the receding tide, occasioned a prodigious swell in the centre of the channel; and even near shore, the waves lashed themselves with so much fury against the rocky head-land before mentioned, that Kyrle and his servant were covered with spray and foam. There was yet sufficient twilight in the sky, to enable them to discern objects on the river, and the full autumnal moon, which ever and anon, shot, like a flying ghost, from one dark mass of vapour to another, revealed them at intervals with a distinctness scarcely inferior to that of day. The object of the pleasure-boat seemed to be that of reaching the anchorage above alluded to, and with this view the helmsman held her head as close to the wind as a reefed mainsail and heavy swell would allow him. The white canvass, as the boat came foaming and roaring towards the spectators, appeared half drenched in brine from the breaking of the sea against the windward bow. The appearance of the vessel was such as to draw frequent ejaculations of compassion from Lowry and the boatmen, and to make Kyrle Daly's heart sink low with fear and anxiety. At one time, she was seen on the ridge of a broken wave, showing her keel to the moonlight, and bending her white and glistening sails over the dark gulf upon her lee. At another, the liquid mountain rolled away and left her buried in the trough, while her vane alone was visible to the landsmen, and the surges leaping and whitening in the moonshine, seemed hurrying to overwhelm and engulf their victim. Again, however, suddenly emerging into the light, she seemed to ride the waters in derision, and left the angry monsters roaring in her wake.

    "She never'll do it, I'm in dread," said Lowry, bending an inquisitive glance on the boatman. The latter was viewing intently, and with a grim smile, the gallant battle made by the little vessel against the elements.

    "'Tis a good boy that has the rudder in his hand," he said; "and as for their lives, 'tis the same Lord that is on the water as on the land. When their hour is come, on sea or shore, 'tis all the same to 'em. I wouldn't wondther if he done it yet. Ah, that swell put him off of it. He must make another tack. 'Tis a right good boy that houlds the rudder."

    "What?" exclaimed Kyrle, "do you think it will be necessary for them to pot out into the tide again?"

    "Indeed I don't say she'll ever do without it," said the old boatman, still keeping his eyes fixed on the Nora Creina. "There she comes round. She spins about like a top, God bless her!" Then putting his huge chapped hands at either side of his mouth, so as to form a kind of speaking trumpet, he cried out in a voice as loud and hoarse as that of the surges that rolled between them, "Ahoy! Ahoy! Have an oar out in the bow, or she'll miss-stay in the swell."

    "Thank you, thank you, it is done already!" shouted the helmsman in answer—"Kyrle, my boy, how are you? Kyrle, have a good fire for us when we go in. This is cold work."

    "Cold work?" repeated Lowry Looby. "Dear knows, its true for you. A' then, isn't it little he makes of it after all, God bless him, an' it blowing a parfect harico."

    Notwithstanding the vigour and confidence which spoke in the accents of the hardy helmsman, Kyrle Daly, when he saw the vessel once more shoot out into the deep, felt as if he had been listening to the last farewell of his friend. He could not return his gallant greeting, and remained with his head leaning forward, and his arm outstretched, and trembling, while his eyes followed the track of the pleasure-boat. Close behind him stood Lowry—his shoulder raised against the wind, and his hand placed over that ear on which it blew—clacking his tongue against his palate for pity, and indulging in many sentiments of commiseration for "Masther Hardress!" and "the family," not forgetting "Danny the Lord," and his sister, "Fighting Poll of the Reeks."

    We shall follow the vessel in her brief but daring course. The young helmsman has been already slightly introduced to the reader in the second chapter of this history, but the change which circumstances had since effected in his appearance, renders it well worthy of our pains to describe his person and bearing with more accuracy and distinctness. His figure was tall, and distinguished by that muscularity and firmness of set, which characterizes the inhabitants of the south-west of Europe. His attitude, as he kept one hand on the rudder, and his eye fixed upon the foresail, was such as displayed his form to extreme advantage. It was erect, composed and manly. Every movement seemed to be dictated by a judgment perfectly at ease, and a will that, far from being depressed, had caught a degree of fire and excitement from the imminent dangers with which it had to struggle. The warm and heroic flush upon his cheek could not be discovered in the pale and unequal light that shone upon him, but the settled and steady lustre of his large dark eye, over which, not even the slightest contraction of the arched brow could he discerned; the perfect calmness of his manner, and the half smiling expression of his mouth, (that feature, which of all others is most traitorous to the dissembling coward) bespoke a mind and heart that were pleased to encounter danger, and well calculated to surmount it. It was such a figure as would have at once awakened associations in the beholder's mind, of camps and action, of states confounded in their councils, and nations overrun by sudden conquest. His features were brightened by a lofty and confident enthusiasm, such as the imagination might ascribe to the Royal Adventurer of Sweden, as he drew his sword on his beleaguers at Belgrade. His forehead was ample and intellectual in its character; his hair "coal-black" and curling; his complexion of that rich deep Gipsy yellow, which, shewing as it did the healthy bloom beneath, was far nobler in its character than the feminine white and red. The lower portion of his physiognomy was finely and delicately turned, and a set of teeth as white as those of a young beagle, gave infinite vivacity to the expression of his lips. The countenance was such an one as men seldom look upon, but when once beheld can never be forgotten.

    On a seat at the weather side sat a young girl, her slight person wrapped in a blue cloak, while her eyes were raised to the cheerful face of the helmsman as if from him she derived all her hope and her security. The wind had blown back the hood from her shoulders and the head and countenance which thus "unmasked their beauty to the moon" were turned with a Sylph-like grace and lightness. The mass of curly hair which was blown over her left temple, seemed of a pale gold, that harmonized well with the excelling fairness and purity of her complexion; and the expression of her countenance was tender, affectionate and confiding.

    In the bow sat a being who did not share the beauty of his companions. He bore a prodigious hunch upon his shoulders, which however did not prevent his using his limbs with agility and even strength, as he tended the foresail, and bustled from side to side with an air of the utmost coolness and indifference. His features were not disagreeable, and were distinguished by that look of pert shrewdness which marks the low inhabitant of a city, and vents itself in vulgar cant, and in ridicule of the honest and wondering ignorance of rustic simplicity.

    Such were the individuals whom the spirit of the tempest appeared at this moment to hold environed by his hundred perils; and such was the manner in which they prepared to encounter their destiny.

    "Mind your hand, Mr. Hardress," said the boatman, in a careless tone, 'we are in the tide."

    It required the hand of an experienced helmsman to bring the little vessel through the danger which he thus announced. An immense, overtopping billow, capped in foam, came thundering downward like an avalanche upon her side. In spite of the precautions of Hardress, and the practised skill with which he timed the motion of the wave, as one would take a ball upon the bound, or a hunter on the rise—the bowsprit dipped and cracked like a withered sapling, a whole ton of water was flung over the stern, drenching the crew as completely as if they had been drawn through the river. The boat seemed to stagger and lose her way like a stricken hart, and lay for a moment weltering in the gloomy chasm in which the wasted wave had left her. A low and smothered scream was breaking from the female, when her eye again met that of Hardress Cregan, and her lip though pale and quivering was silent. "That was right well done, sir:" said Danny Mann, as the boat once more cleft the breakers on her landward course.

    "A minute sooner, or a minute later, up with the hand, would put it all into her."

    "A second would have done it," said Hardress, "but all is well now. A charming night this would be" he continued smiling on the girlXX" for beaver and feathers."

    This jest produced a short hysteric laugh, in answer, which was rather startling than agreeable to the person who addressed her. In a few minutes after, and without any more considerable disaster, the vessel dropped her peek, and ran alongside the rocks on which Kyrle Daly was expecting them.

    "Remain in the boat," said Hardress, addressing the girl: while he fastened the hood over her head;—"I see that talkative fellow, Looby, above on the rocks. I will procure you an unoccupied room, if possible, in the cottage, as a neighbour and relative of Danny Mann. Endeavour to conceal your countenance, and speak as little as possible. We are ruined, if I should be seen paying you any attention."

    "And am I not to see you to-night again?" said the girl, in a broken and affectionate accent.

    "My own love, I would not go to rest without taking leave of you for all the world. Be satisfied" he added, pressing her hand tenderly, and patting her upturned cheek. "You are a noble girl. Go, pray—pray and return thanks for your husband's life as he shall do for your's. I thought we should have supped in heaven. Dan!" he continued aloud, calling to the boatman "take care of your sister."

    "His sisther!" echoed Lowry Looby on the rocks. "Oh, murther, is Fighting Poll of the Reeks aboard too? Why then he needn't bid Danny to take care of her, for she is well able to do that job for herself."

    Hardress leaped out upon the shore and was received by Kyrle Daly with a warmth and delight proportioned to the anxiety which he had previously experienced.

    "My dear fellow, I thought I should have never seen you on your feet again. A thousand and a hundred thousand welcomes! Lowry, run to the house, and get dinner hastened—Stay!—Hardress, have you any things on board?"

    "Only a small trunk and my gun—you would for ever oblige me, Kyrle, by procuring a comfortable lodging—if you have no room to spare, for this poor fellow of mine and his sister. He is sickly, and you know he is my foster brother."

    "He shall be taken care of—I have a room—come along—you are dripping wet. Lowry, take up Mr. Cregan's trunk and gun to the cottage. Come along, Hardress, you will catch your death of cold. Pooh! are you afraid Fighting Poll will break her tender limbs that you look back and watch her so closely?"

    "No—no, my dear Daly—but I am afraid that fellow—Booby— Looby—(what's his stupid name?)—will break my trunk;— he is watching the woman and peering about her, instead of minding what he is doing. But come along!—Well, Kyrle, how are you? I saw you all in the window to-day when I was sailing by."

    "Yes—you edified my mother with that little feat you performed at the expense of the fishermen."

    "Ah, no—was she looking at that, though? I shall not be able to show my face to her this month to come. Hallo, you sir, Booby! Looby, come along! Do you remain long in the west, Kyrle?"

    "As long as you will take a bed in the cottage with me. But we will talk of this when you have changed your dress and dined. You came on the very point of time. Rem acu tetigisti, as our old college tutor Doyle would say. Mrs. Frawley was just preparing to dish me a roast duck. I bless the wind, all boisterous as it was, that blew you on these shores, for I thought I should have spent a lonesome evening, with the recollections of merry old times, like so many evil familiars, to dine, and sup, and sleep with me. But now that we are met again, farewell the past! The present and the future shall furnish our entertainment, after we have done with the roast duck."

    "The fume of which salutes my sense at this moment with no disagreeable odour" said Hardress, following his friend into the little hall of the cottage. "Mrs. Frawley, as fat and fair and rosy as ever! Well, Mrs. Frawley, how do you and the cows get on? Has any villainous imp been making pishogs over your keelers? Does the cream mount? Does the butter break? Have you got the devil well out of your churn?"

    "Oh, fie, masther Cregan, to go spake of such a thing at all. Oh, vo, a vich-o, you're drown'ded wet, an' that's what you are. Nelly, eroo, bring hether the candle. Oh, sir, you never will get over it."

    "Never mind, Mrs. Frawley. I'll be stout enough to dance at your wedding yet." "My wedding, a-vourneen!" returned the buxom dairy-woman, in a gentle scream of surprise, not unqualified however by a gracious smile, "Oyeh, if you never fut a moneen till then!—Make haste hether with the candle, Nelly, eroo, what are you doing?"

    Nelly, not altogether point device in her attire, at length appeared with a light to conduct the gentlemen to their chamber; while Mrs. Frawley returned to the kitchen. This accident of the stranger's arrival was of fatal consequence to three individuals in the cottage; namely, two fat chickens and a turkey pout, upon whom sentence of death was immediately pronounced and executed, without more form of law than might go to the hanging of a Croppy. Mrs. Frawley, meantime, fulfilled the office of Sheriff on the occasion, ejaculating, out of a smiling reverie, while she gazed listlessly on the blood of the innocent victims, "Why then I declare that Misther Hardress is a mighty pleasant gentleman."

    In the meantime, Lowry Looby was executing the commission he had received with regard to Mr. Cregan's trunk. Lowry, who was just as fond of obtaining, as of communicating strange intelligence, had his own good reasons for standing in awe of the far-famed Fighting Poll of the Reeks, who was renowned in all the western fairs, as a fearless, whiskey drinking virago, over six-feet in her stocking vamps, and standing no more in awe of the gallows than she might of her mother's arms. It may at once be seen that a character of this description was the very last that could have been personated with any success by the lovely young creature who accompanied Hardress, and indeed her only chance of escaping detection consisted in the unobtrusiveness of the attempt she made, and the care she used in concealing her features. The first circumstance that excited the astonishment of Lowry, as he stood bowing with his hat off, upon the rocks, while Danny the Lord assisted her to land, was the comparative diminutiveness of her stature, and the apparent slightness of her form.

    "Your sarvent, Mrs. Naughten," he said in a most insinuating accent. "I hope I see you well in your health, ma'am. You wouldn't remember a boy of the Looby's at all, you met of a time at Nelly Hewsan's wake, westwards, (heaven rest her soul this night!) That was the place where the great giving-out was, surely."

    To this gentle remembrance of old merry times, the female in the blue cloak only answered by a slight, short courtesy, while she drew the hood closer about her face, and began, though with a feeble and tottering step, to ascend the rocks.

    "Bread, an'—beef, an'—tay an'—whiskey an'—turkies an'—cakes—an' every thing that the heart could like," the officious Lowry continued following the pseudo amazon among the stones and sea-weed and marvelling not a little at her unaccustomed taciturnity. "The Hewsans could well afford it, they were strong, snug farmers, relations o' your own, I'm thinking, ma'am. Oh, vo! sure I forgot the trunk and there's Mr. Hardress calling to me. Larry Kett," he continued, addressing the old boatman beforementioned, "will you show Mrs. Naughten the way to the house while I'm getting the thrunk out o' the boat; an' if you want a fire o' turf or a gwal o' piatees, Mrs. Frawley will let you have 'em an' welcome."

    The old boatman willingly came into terms so easy and advantageous; and the fair counterfeit hurried on, well pleased at the exchange of companions. Lowry in the meantime returned to the boat, and stole into conversation with Danny the Lord, whom, in fear of his sneering satirical temper, he always treated with nearly as much respect as if his title were not so purely a thing of courtesy. Danny Mann, on the other hand, received his attentions with but little complaisance; for he looked on Lowry as a foolish, troublesome fellow, whose property in words (like the estate of many a young absentee) far overbalanced his discretion and ability in their employment. He had often told Looby in confidence, "that it would be well for him he had a bigger head an' a smaller mouth," alluding to that peculiar conformation of Lowry's upper man with which the reader has been already made acquainted. The country people, (who are never at a loss for a simile) when they saw this long-legged fellow, following the sharp-faced little hunch-back from place to place, used to lean on their spades, and call the attention of their companions to "the wran an' the cuckoo, goen' the road."

    The "cuckoo" now found the "wran" employed in coiling up a wet cable on the fore-castle, while he sang in a voice that more nearly resembled the grunting of a pig at the approach of rain, than the melody of the sweet songstress of the hedges above named:—


    "An' of all de meat dat ever was hung,
         A cheek o' pork is my fancy,
    'Tis sweet an' toothsome when 'tis young.
        Fait, dat's no lie, says Nancy.
    'Twill boil in less dan half an hour,
        Den wit your nail you may try it,
    'Twill taste like any cauliflower,
        'Tis better do dat dan to fry it.
            "Sing re-rig-i-dig-i-dum-derom-dum."

    "How does the world use Misther Mann this evening?" was the form of Lowry's first greeting, as he bent over the gun-wale of the stern, and laid his huge paws on the small trunk.

    "As you see me Lowry," was the reply.

    "A smart evening ye had of it."

    "Purty fair for de matter o' dat."

    "Dear knows, its a wondther ye worn't drown'ded. 'Twas blown' a harico. An' you singen' now as if you wor comen' from a jig-house, or a wake, or a weddin'. A' then tell me, now, Misther Mann, wasn't it your thought when you wor abroad, that time, how long it was since you were with the priest before?"

    "I tought o' dat first, Lowry, an' I tried to say a prayer, but it was so long from me since I did de like before, dat I might as well try to talk latin, or any oder book-larning. But sure if I tought o' myself rightly, dere wasn't de laste fear of us, for I had a book o' Saint Margaret's confessions in me buzzom, an' as long as I'd have dat, I,tnew dat if de boat was to go down under me itself, she'd come up again."

    "Erra, no!"

    "Iss, dear knows."

    "I wisht I had one of 'em," said Lowry, "I do be often goen' in boats across the Cratloe, an' them places."

    "You'd have no business of it, Lowry. Dem dat's born for one death, has no reason to be afeerd of anoder."

    "Gondoutha! You're welcome to your joke this evening. Well, if I was to put my eyes upon sticks, Misther Mann, I never would know your sisther again."

    "She grew a dale, I b'lieve."

    "Grew?—If she did, its like the cow's tail, downwards. Why, she isn't, to say, taller than myself, now, in place o' being the head an' two shoulders above me. An' she isn't at all the rattlen' girl she was of ould. She didn't spake a word."

    "An' dat's a failing, dat's new to both o' ye," said his lordship, "but Poll made a vow again talken' of a Tuesday, bekeys it was of a Tuesday her first child died, an' dey said he was hoist away be de good people, while Poll was gossiping wit Ned Hayes, over a glass at de public."

    "And that's her raison!"

    "Dat's her riason."

    "An' in regard o' the drink?"

    "Oh, she's greatly altered dat way too, dough 'twas greatly again' natur. A lime-burner's bag was notten to her for soaken formerly, but now she'd take no more dan a wet spunge."

    "That's great, surely. An' about the cursen' an' swearen'?"

    "Cursen'? You'd no more find a curse after her, dan you would after de clargy. An' tisn't dat itself, but you wouldn't get a crooked word outside her lips, from year's end to year's end."

    "Why then, it was long from her to be so mealy-mouthed when I knew her. An' does she lift a hand at the fair at all now? Oyeh, what a terrible 'oman she was, comen' again a man with her stocken off, an' a stone in the foot of it!"

    "She was. Well, she wouldn't raise her hand to a chicken, now."

    "That flogs cock-fighting."

    "Only, I'll tell you in one case. She's apt to be contrary to any one dat would be comen' discoorsen' her of a Tuesday at all, or peepen' or spyen' about her, she's so vexed in herself not to be able to make 'em an answer. It used to be a word an' a blow wit her, but now as she can't have de word, 'tis de blow comes mostly first, and she did n't make e'er a vow again' dat."

    "Shasthone!" exclaimed Lowry, who laid up this hint for his own edification. "Great changes, surely. Well, Misther Mann, an' will you tell me now if you plase, is your master goen' westwards in the boat to-morrow?"

    "I don't know, an' not maken' you a short answer, Lowry—I don't care. And a word more on de hack o' dat again, aldough I have a sort of a rattlen' regard for you, still an' all, I'd rader be taking a noggin o' whiskey, to warm de heart in me dis cold night, dan listening to your talken' dere. Dat I may be happy, but I would, an' dat's as good as if I was after taking all de books in Ireland of it."

    This hint put an end to the conversation for the present, and Danny the Lord (who exercised over Lowry Looby an influence somewhat similar to that which tied Master Matthew to the heels of Bobadil) adjourned with that loquacious person to the comforts of Mrs. Frawley's fire-side.