Volume One


4


MRS. NOWLAN mistook in saying it would prove a pitch-dark night; on the contrary, an autumn moon shone bright, as, turning off the main road, at about three miles distance from her residence, Aby and John Nowlan approached the place of their destination. For some time they proceeded along the brink of a rough mountain stream, over a way so unshaped and uneven that almost at every step John's bay tripped and stumbled; or else presenting no footing save the bare surface of a stretch of slaty rock, than which a sheet of ice could scarce be more difficult for horses. Another turn to the left delivered them from this trying passage, and ushered them upon the direct approach to the house. It was a change for the better; and that's all can be said for it. The low walls, at either hand, sometimes patched with dry stone-work, were much dilapidated, and their fragments remained strewed over the narrow road; ruts, as old as the memory of the oldest tenant, strayed amongst them; and dock-leaves, nettles, brambles, and weeds of all kinds, further assisted in choking up the way.

     Gradually ascending, for about sixty yards, they at last entered a little square enclosure before the house, unornamented by shrub or flower, or even by a blade of grass; a few meagre and sickly trees alone, planted irregularly around it. The house two stories high, had four windows in the first story, with the hall-door between, gained by three shattered steps; and all the lower windows were crossed with iron bars, an inch square. Thus, to an eye prepared by contrast for the scene, nothing could be more sad and dreary than the whole outside appearance of the mansion, and, indeed, the approach to it; but a roar of jovial voices, coming from the parlour, and caught at some distance, seemed to promise a different kind of scene within doors.

     The sound of their horses' feet, clanking among the stones that strewed the approach, brought out, by the side of the house, as if from some back tenements, three or four big, half-dressed fellows, two young serving-wenches, two or three children, two watch-dogs, till then slumbering by the kitchen hearth, half a dozen spaniels, setters, greyhounds, terriers, harriers, and, at their heels, "the mistress's" lap-dog; and, at the same moment, a bacchanalian cheer from the parlour greeted the return of Misther Aby Nowlan to his own house. The men seized the reins of their horses; the women coming sufficiently close to make a decision, cried out, "Faith yis, lads, it's the masther, sure enough," and galloped round in great glee, to let him in at the front door; the dogs separately made their compliments to him, and growled or snarled or barked their queries to John; the children remained shouting, "Clap hands, clap hands, daddy's come home!" and thus attended and greeted, Aby soon marshalled his nephew to the cracked flag before the hall-door without a rapper, there to await the admittance which the retreat of the tomboy girls had seemed to promise.

     They were left standing longer than was necessary; and, during the pause, a window was suddenly lifted up immediately over them; the head and shoulders of a fine woman, about thirty, halœdressed, thrust out of it, and a voice, musical even in anger, demanded, "An' who's your sthokack* to-night, Misther Nowlan?"

     "A friend, ma'am, a friend," replied Aby, in a tone that, for him, meant fear, firmness, and good humour strangely mingled.

     "But what's the name is on him, Misther Nowlan?"

     "A good name, ma am; an' you often said so yourself."

     "What!" rejoined the lady, "the brat you spoke of last night?—an' will you daare——" She interrupted herself as the hall-door opened, and admitted Aby and John into the house.

     "Possession is nine parts o' the law, sir," remarked Aby to his nephew, as they crossed the threshold.

     "Shet the dour in their faces!" screamed the fair one, now from the head of the stairs; and she immediately appeared in the hall, her dress and face suggesting that she had just arisen from an evening nap, rendered familiar, if not necessary, by some over-indulgence during and after dinner.

     "Now, it's a shame fo' you, ma'am, an' the strangers in the house, resumed Aby, getting between her and John.

     "Turn him out, I tell you, or you'll rue it!" continued the beauty.

     "I can't, ma'am, this hour o' the night, when a body wouldn't turn a dog from the dour: it's a shame fo' you, I say again, ma'am."

     "Oh, you poor simpleton, you, an' is this the way you're goin' to thrate me? let me near the brat, an' I'll soon show you and him—"

     "Keep off, ma'am, keep off—"

     "What, Misther Nowlan!" sticking her nails in him—

     "Keep off, ma'am, as I tould you before," swinging her far off—"I got enough o' that, last night, an' enough is as good as a faste—an' go to your bed now, and keep yourself asy, an' the sthrangers in the house, or I vow to my God, ma'am, you'll send me for the bit iv a switch, you know.—Take her up to the bed, Poll," to an old, gaunt woman, looking older, though not stronger than she really was, who had been the first of the "Mrs. Nowlans," and therefore, in every way useful on occasions like this—"jist put poor Kitty to bed, poor thing," advancing to where she lay motionless, neither hurt nor in a swoon, and yet, from causes he suspected, with a right to be motionless—"see how she's fairy-sthruck all in a sudden;—ha!"—the particle, fully pronounced, invariably serving him for his utmost approach to a laugh, "You're fairy- sthruck, Kitty, so you are; ha!—come in to the company, Masther Johnny, Sir."

     Leaving the insensible unfortunate to the care of her fit duenna, Aby opened a door at the left of the hall, and John followed him into an apartment, in which, at a table dimly lighted, sat five or six bacchanalians, to whom the preceding scene seemed to have given no disturbance; they were so used to it.

     A second hospitable cheer welcomed Aby into his own parlour, and hands were patronizingly held out to him, no one standing up.

     "Well, Masther Bob," to one of "Magistrate Adams's sons;" and, "Well, Masther Tom," to a second; and, "Well, Masther Dick, an' Masther Sam," to a third and fourth; and, "Sarvent, Docthor Cassidy," to a village quack, who had come out early in the day to attend one of the women of the house, and thus put himself in for a breakfast, a dinner, ten tumblers of punch, and a bed; and finally, "Aha, Masther Tony Ferrit," to a poor relation of the magistrate, who had "once been in a great way," was not now worth a penny, but by a certain "handiness" about dogs, horses, fishing-tackle, fowling-pieces, &c., as well as by a certain smooth pliancy of tongue, that no man but a mean, poor Irish "gentleman" can equal, or, indeed, well understand, contrived to live handsomely from one house to another of his patron's friends—seldom, be it added, at the patron's own house: and thus Aby got through his compliments to his guests.

     "So, here you find us, come over for the grouse early to-morrow morning, ould boy," said Masther Tom Adams, slapping the table as Aby and John sat down.

     "Aha!" answered Aby.

     "An' sportin'er packs isn't to be had in Tipperary county," said Masther Tony Ferret, before he guzzled off a hot tumbler.

     "Nor in the next county to it," added Docthor Cassidy, who was stupidly tipsy.

     "So they tell me," remarked Aby.

     "An' I know where to find a puss, I believe," said Masther Bob Adams, whose genius addicted him to coursing.

     "I say, Tony," demanded Masther Dick, of the toad-eater, "what's that you were saying while ago, about the magistrate's pointer pup, an' Aby Nowlan's pointer pup?"

     "Ay," echoed Masther Sam, "now's the time to put that to rights," winking on the company.

     "Why, what did I say, Master Dick?" queried Tony, in some uneasiness.

     "Just a comparison you were drawin' between 'em," resumed the brothers.

     "No comparisons to de disparagement of one pup or de oder pup, I'll be bound, an' Master Tom 'ill bear me out in dat."

     "Well, but what did you say? what do you say, now?—down with your dust, Tony."

     "Why, den, I say dat de magistrate's pup is a very purty pup, an' dat Master Aby Nowlan's pup is a very purty pup, too; only de magistrate's pup has his nose so nicely marked, not sayin' dat Mister Aby's pup hasn't it nicely marked, too; an' dat's what I said, an' what I say, an' I'll stand by id, by dad, so I will."

     "Ha," was Aby's contribution to the roar which this explanation sent round the table.

     "But who do you bring among us?" resumed two or three of the brothers, turning at last to John:—"eh? isn't this the young soggarth?—eh, Aby?—Welcome, Father Nowlan; your reverence must give us your blessin'; with the chalice in your fist tho';—where is it?"

     While his uncle sat unmoved at this silly, and perhaps, unintended, insult offered to the creed they both professed, John's brow reddened, and he remained silent, steadfastly regarding the young gentleman.

     "I say, Aby, continued Masther Tom, "where's 'the tumbler'* for Priest John?—Hallo, Peg!" starting to the door—" bring us the conveniences for the masther and the soggarth.—Stir your stumps, you sthreel."

     Two additional "tumblers" were soon placed on the table by a barelegged vixen; Aby mixed his, John remained inactive.

     "Don't know how, yet?"—continued Masther Tom—"then we'll jist show you;" and he manufactured "a tumbler."

     "I'm not used to it, uncle," said John, turning round to Aby, "and would rather let it alone, if it's all the same to you, Sir."

     "Bother," cried Masther Sam; and—"Hallo, Peg!"—again roared Masther Tom;—"Faith, Peg must tache your reverence with a spoon, if you don't find the way yourself—Hallo, Peg!—and bring Nance with you—But she's sick."

     "Nance must take the bolus to-night," mumbled Doctor Cassidy, his head now sunk on the table—" and the draught early in the morning; "—and having spoken, he fell, like a sack of wheat, off his chair.

     More roaring went on at the parlour door, for two or three men to lift him;" and the same big fellows that had met John and his uncle outside the house, quickly entered, and, undertaker-like, bore off "the corpse," as the young gentleman called it, to a barrack-room. Exhortations were then renewed to John, to take "a sup out of his red-hot tumbler;" his uncle chiming in, and adding that "there was not a head-ache in a hogshead of it;" and the placid, simple-hearted, and hitherto temperate boy, chiefly influenced by his mother's instructions, not to do any thing to gainsay his uncle, soon drank enough of the potent compound to turn his brain, and, for the first time in his life, to degrade his nature.

     The room swam round; every face became two faces; four candles instead of two burned on the table; and it might be about two o'clock in the morning, he heard a yelling cry for—

     "The divil! the divil!—come, Aby, you must give us a divil!—there's the half o' the goose we had to-day, and the beef can be sliced up with it, and plenty of gizzards, and livers, and lots of mustard and pepper;—run, you ugly mother's daughter!"—to the girl who, since their first "screech," had been in attendance—"run! an' if it isn't a right divil, may the divil entirely take you home an' slice you for his own supper."

     She disappeared. John had afterwards a confused apprehension of loud voices in his ears; of his uncle and a double sitting bolt upright, by his side, while the seasoned toper emptied into himself tumbler after tumbler, with as little effect as if he had been pouring them into an empty tun; and then "the divil" went round, shoved from one to another on a large cracked dish; and, a few moments after he had swallowed some of it, and subsequently, a draught of malt liquor, a sensation arose in his abdomen and stomach as if they were a great serpent winding up within him; and in his head, as if the roof of it was flying off; and down he "tumbled," and so closed, at fourteen years, his first night's initiation into his uncle's domestic habits.

     Next morning, at a late hour, he found himself in a large room, containing three beds, exclusive of that in which he lay; all of them in disorder, as if they had been recently occupied; and his own, too, appearing as if one companion, at least,—perhaps two—had, during the night, shared it with him. Remorse and fear possessed the boy's mind at a recollection of the debauch of which he had been guilty; remorse for the sin; fear of the anger of his uncle, and, more than that, of the anger of his mother, whose instructions he had thus so soon outraged. Added to the nausea of his stomach, the reeling and throbbing of his head, and the whole horrible fever in which Bacchus wraps, the morning after their first essays, his boyish votaries, poor John Nowlan was made, by these thoughts, utterly miserable; and when he had dressed himself, and was about to enter the parlour, he grew almost faint at the idea of confronting his uncle.

     But this part of his unhappiness was superfluous. The young sportsmen having, soon after daybreak, hurried off after Aby's grouse, John found him standing alone at the parlour window, breathing his low whistle, with a cup of tea in one hand and an old almanack in the other; and he was no sooner conscious of his nephew's presence, than he turned round in perfect good humour, and only saying "Well, lad; hope your early risin' 'ill do you no harm;—would a bit o' breakfast lie in your vay, I wondher ?" pointed to the table, and turned round, to look out at nothing through the barred and dirty window.

     John proceeded to fill himself some tea, out of a tea-pot, once, and very recently too, of a good kind of English china, but that now had a wooden lid, and only half a snout; and he poured it into a saucer which was no match to his cup, and added to it some rich but dabbled cream, found in an ewer, the remnant of a suit differing from every other article of tea-equipage on the table, as each individual article differed from the other. He required some water for his tea-pot, and discovered it in a tin saucepan, covered down with a wooden platter, by the hearth, "for the copper kettle wanted a bottom, and the tin kettle a handle this half-year;" his eye rested on the table-cloth; it was full of holes and rents, though not of an old texture; stained and creased, and yellow, out of the last wash. His tea tasted weak, after the dilution of greasy water, but the remedy was at hand, in a saucerful of black-and-green, lying on the mantel-piece; more than a pound of dirty butter was scattered on scraps of small plates over the table; more than four pounds of bread, served on nothing at all; a silver spoon was left to boil away in an egg- saucepan, on the fire; while a leaden one (the pig having eaten more than half a dozen of the silver set in her mess, from time to time,) served for his cup; and, to finish the pleasing display, five or six cups and saucers, or (in the same service) bowls and plates, together with as many dinner plates and dishes, knives and forks, were huddled together at the far end of the table, all still at variance in size, shape, or pattern, and all showing slops, or half picked bones and egg- shells, that told what a breakfast had been despatched, partly by their agency', at an earlier hour that morning.

     John looked around him. The parlour was of a good size and shape, but, though begun twenty years ago, had never been finished. The walls, smoothly prepared for painting or papering, remained bare; the surbases and door frames were just as the carpenter had nailed them up, except that the deal had turned brownish from time and smoke; the furniture, once of a good, substantial, and not inelegant, fashion, was covered with dust; some of the chairs wanting a leg, some a back, some a bottom: yet none thus reduced from regular service, but rather from hard usage, in the kitchen, or up stairs, or when "the company" knocked them about, or played "leap- frog" over them of an evening; or when the dogs scratched the hair out of them; or "Mrs. Nowlan's" pet raven picked it out;—and ever since, although every day promising to send them to be mended, or to send for some one to mend them, "the masther" had let them stand, or totter, rather, as they were, with abundance of means, and facilities too, to attend to their reduced condition. And then the carpet, of an expensive description, had not been nailed down, and was always crumpled at the door, so that every one that went in or out should stoop, with a curse, to arrange it; and the holes scraped in it by the dogs, or by the hob-nails of many brogues, ran riot for want of a darn, and the dust came up through it for want of a shaking. In a word—all was expensive waste, indolent wreck, and miserable mismanagement.

     His uncle invited him to walk out, and John, attending him, was supplied with abundant evidences of the same presiding spirit of thoughtless and careless ruin.

     As they sauntered down the rugged, half-choked avenue, two of the men who had taken their horses the night before, appeared leaning over a crumbled wall, in attitudes of luxurious ease, as they alternately smoked and handed to each other "the dooden," or short pipe.

     "Sarvent, gentlemen," said Aby, addressing them in what he would himself call "a gibing way."

     "God save you kindly, Sir."

     "And what are ye for doing with yourselfs to-day, gentlemen?"

     "Why, Masther Aby, we war upon thinkin' iv' goin' down to the bottom (valley), to see what way is the hay goin' on."

     "An' take your time, a-vouchal; it's a bad thing to be over-hasty—an' things are apt to spile wid hurry."—These words were volunteered in a jeering tone, with a voice that sounded like the interrupted growl of a bear, by a big fellow, with a bull neck, rolling, unmanageable eyes, broad caricature features, and tattered apparel, visibly the fragments of Aby's cast-off wardrobe, as, his uncouth person shambling along, almost sideways, he made his appearance over a stile, from the post-office.

     "What's that you're sayin', you bosthoon, you?" queried Aby, with a smile on the new comer, such as kings of yore were wont to bestow on their admired jesters.

     "I say, so I do, there's loock in lesure: as the boys well knows, an' yourself can bear witness to the same along wid 'em."

     "No talk wid you, Matthew," said one of the idle men, adroitly turning off "the masther's" observation, and taking up the cue often given before—" no talk wid you, Matthew, an' beg o' th' ould bouchal to let you alone."

     "Can't you jist ax him for yoursef, Yomen; by all accounts he'll give you a betther hearin."

     "Hah!" ejaculated Aby, in a laugh, (as he thought,) quite amused by his fool's elegant irony: "Hah! you're come off only second best, Yomen."

     "Only middlin', like the small praties," continued Matthew.

     "It'll cost the duoul a thrial or he'll have you in the long run," again tried Yomen, not willing to be outdone in the cleverness that so much pleased the "masther."

     "An' he'll have some one that's near yoursef, widout cost or throuble at all, Yomen."

     "Och, sweet bad loock to you, Matthew!" as Yomen commenced a lounging retreat with his fellows.

     "An' sweet good loock to you, Yomen, an' that both prayers may miss."

     And our young friend John, contrasting the industry about his father's house with the idleness he now saw, perceived that his uncle paid his workmen for spending three parts of their time in thinking over the work that was to employ them for the fourth portion.

     "Hould your wisht, you born fool, you," resumed Aby, most lavish of words in a contest of wit with his graceful jester—"an' gi' me the letthers you have in your pocket, within."

     "An' that's the way now wid you," answered the absurd fellow, assuming a face and tone of mock whine and reproach—" an' it's ever an' always the way, so it is, scouldin' me, an' atin' me off o' my two legs, when the poor brogues—God send us another pair a' them—" (alternately holding them up to view, and exhibiting, through one of them, a great toe and its companion, "looking," as he said, "at the daylight," and showing the sole of the other, ground away in such sort that the more durable ball of his foot came in contact with the rough and uncommiserating avenue)— "when the poor brogues is rubbed from the houghs iv us, an' the heart broke in our body within, thrapsin' the world on your arrands."

     "Get out, you baste you, an' hand me any letthers you have:—where is the whole coat I gave you?"

     " Avoch, there 'ud be open skhandal to go an' put it on, the one day wid the other ould duds; sure the rest iv us 'ud be jealous wid our back; and so, waitin' for such time as we'd have the loock to make off a middle-aged breeches, an' dacent covering to match, we hung id up by the nape o' the neck, so we did."

     "Don't spake o' hangin'—don't meddle wid edge tools, you gallows-bird you.—Where's the letthers?"

     "Where's the fippenny I'm to get for bringin' 'em home to you so arly? "—It was one o'clock, and the letters had come to the office overnight.

     "Call to-morrow, Masther Matthew."

     "Avoch, cows far off have long horns."

     "Gi' me, I say, or I'll take the stick to you."

     "Avoch, here then; hard to dhrag a breeches off iv a Highlander, an' as hard to get a fippenny out iv an empty pocket."

     "Go along, an' the dhunnus* on you," having at last received the letters—" go out o' my sighth, or" —stooping for a large stone;—and at this Matthew, affecting the utmost terror, and crying—" See there now—the Lord save us!"—put his big unwieldy person into full speed, and ran off, his part played, to join the idle fellows who had preceded him, leaving "the masther" to pick his steps through stones, ruts, and weeds, down the avenue, that half an hour's trouble each day for a week, from him and them, would soon metamorphose into a level practicable road.

     John saw his uncle deliberately thrust, unread, into his surtout pocket, crumpled hard or torn across, two or three letters out of a batch he had received, with the soliloquizing remark— "Know enough about that, an' that, an' that;" but one particular epistle seemed more to interest him. He looked long on the superscription; then at the seal; then at vacancy, as he held the letter in his hand: at last he opened it; fixed his back against the avenue wall; read and spelt it, though it contained but a few lines, over and over again; put it slowly into his pocket; took it out a second time; conned it a twentieth; and more than an hour elapsed before it was finally put up, and he in motion from the wall towards a door, that, at the top of the avenue, led into the garden.

     In about half an hour afterwards, " How do you like our garden, Masther Johnny?" he asked, as they were obliged to come to a halt in the middle of a walk, rendered impassable by weeds, creepers, and a capsized wheel-barrow; while all around lay beds of vegetables, suffered to rot and run to seed, and never trenched upon for Aby's own table, or that of any neighbour who might prize a present of such things, and be thankful for it.

     John fitly answered, adding, "Maybe you'd have any commands for my father, Sir, as I'm thinking it's time to be going home."

     "Home!" echoed Aby, staring at him; "can't you as well stay here?—If it's the Latin you want, we'll spake about that to-morrow or next day, Masther Johnny, to a good hand in Limerick; a good hand, depend on it, Sir; for there's some in Limerick—if they're alive yet—we wouldn't send the dog to, let alone you, lad."

     John was thankful, and said so. Retracing their steps along the forbidden path, Aby led the way through other tangled mazes of the neglected garden: and perhaps in another hour again spoke. "Masther Johnny."

     "Well, Sir."

     Aby stared at him; moved his lips; but turned off in a secret whistle. Again he addressed his nephew; again got a response; again was silent. The third attempt was, however, more successful. "Are you as handy at the figures as at the Latin, Masther Johnny? "

     "Pretty well, I believe, Sir."

     "Aha!" pause again. "You are, are you?" Again. "Aha!—well—maybe you could tell a body what's the manin' of all this;" taking out the letter that had so much puzzled him, and presenting it to his nephew.

     John looked over the letter; and saw with astonishment, that it was from the agent of the head landlord pressing for an arrear of four years' head rent, together with the costs of a distress brought, some time before, for non-payment of two years' rent, but which had been arranged by giving security for a speedy settlement, and a promise of more care in future. The boy's astonishment arose from reflecting that the claim was, originally, so very trifling, nothing but absolute lethargy could have left it a moment undischarged. He explained to his uncle the import of the half dozen rows of figures that seemed to have been a little too complex for his talents or recollections, and Aby said—"Aha; four years! no; they're out, wise as they are; no such thing; can't be; but we'll see, Johnny lad; to-morrow or next day we'll write them a letter together, Sir." The "to-morrow or next day" never arrived; the letter was never written.

     A perfectly beautiful girl, about twelve years old, ran into the garden, screaming out, at a good distance,—"Father, father! mammy wants you."

     Aby, with an "Aha! ma'am," slowly obeyed this summons. The child lingered after him, shily sidling towards John; and at last asked, "Arn't you our cousin?"

     John, quite disarmed of any dislike to the girl on her mother's account, replied kindly to the question.

     "An' I'm Maggy," continued his new acquaintance;—"will you bate me, if I stay?"

     "No, Maggy, nor let another do it."

     "That's quare! they said you would: do you hate me?"

     "No good Christian hates any body, Maggy."

     "What's that?—is a good Christian a priest? och, ay; I hard you were a priest, an' 'ud be for killin' us all; only you're very little to be a priest, I'm thinkin'."

     John placidly explained, and his mild, steady voice and acquired manner, naturally pleased the little wild Hebe.

     "What are you doin' here?—will you come an' pull me some apples, in the orchard?—I stole all I could jump up to, laughing roguishly—" bud there's the best o' the tree, ever so high at the top:—come, if you're any good at climbing."

     "Wait, Maggy, till we ask your father."

     "My father! no one ever axes him any thing, poor fool of a man; an' there's no use to ax mammy—for myself, I mane,—for she lets me do every thing aforehand—won't you come?—what's this?" seizing a book that peeped out of John's pocket—"och, ay; a buke; can you read out of it?"

     "Yes, Maggy; can you?"

     "Avoch, no; how could I?"—carelessly; yet the poor girl blushed.

     "Will you let me teach you?"

     "How? you'd bate me then, in arnest; I never got sich batins from poor Aby Nowlan, an' from Mammy hersef, as whin they thought to larn me the spellin' lessons, that they knew little of, their ownsefs."

     "But I can teach you, Maggy, in another way; a pleasant way; an' then you can soon read out of this book, or any other, you know;—wouldn't you like that? "—

     "Och, ye-a, to be sure, an' God knows I would:—but show me; show me how, now.

     "To-morrow, or this evening, Maggy, when we can get a little book to begin with."

     "Very well; but now I must go to mammy, or she'll pick my bones wid such a scouldin'—arn't you John? isn't it that they call you?"

     John answered.

     "Well; I'll go to mammy an' tell her you're not half so—bud no, I won't tell her any thing yet—wait till you tache me some o' the readin', an' thin—yes, Nance, yes!—I'm comin'!"—interrupting herself as the shrill voice of a servant rang through the garden:—and she raced off, saying—" God be wid you, John—an' don't say you seen me.

    






 








* An uninvited guest.










 








* The tumbler—Irish for a large drinking glass—supposed to he derived from the effect wrought by its usual contents upon those who patronize it—that is, tumbling them off their chairs.










 








* Ill luck.