Although they have little enough, the Irish at heart are a grateful and devout race, and that was one reason why Michael Dwyer never opened the door of his little hut without offering thanks for the weather.
“Ah, ’tis a grand day, thank God!” he would say if the sun were shining; or if the rain were pouring he would remark:
“Ah, a bit of mist, thank God! That’ll be fine for the crops.”
Yet another reason why Michael Dwyer loved the weather and the sky was that he had spent most of his life with them, for, until his marriage, he had been the most successful matchmaker in the south of Ireland. Up and down and across would he go, from barony to barony, bearing the parents of marriageable girl’s news of likely young men looking for wives, and to the young men stories of the property and beauty of the girls. At the wedding his fee of a pig or a calf would be given him; but it was not for this reward Michael Dwyer cared. His heart had been in his work for its own sake; but now all that was ended.
Two years since he had made a grand match for himself, who had a scant three acres of land near the Wexford seacoast, by marrying tall, red-haired Aileen Murphy, with her six cows and two calves. The red hair he did not regret, for he liked a woman with a bit of temper of her own, but the cattle he had more than once wished grazing at the bottom of the sea.
“God help us!” he thought indignantly as he leaned across his doorway; “thim six cows have changed into six curses lighting heavy on my heart, they have so.”
Though Michael was past 40 he had the ruddy face of a boy, with rippling black hair, and wide blue eyes that rippled into twinkles to match the hair. Discontent sat now in his eyes as he thought of the days since his marriage. At first he and Aileen had rented the six cows to neighbors, and had taken the open road together with their tinker’s cart and the little ass Jenny, and Michael had pursued his profession. But perhaps Aileen had disliked to hear him praising other girls to their possible suitors; or, what was more likely, all her latent domesticity had blossomed with the possession of a husband. She wanted to sit by her own hearth instead of wayfaring at the house of some acquaintance. She wanted to rent three more acres. She wanted to sell the milk and the butter from her own six cows. She had developed an unsuspected capacity for making and keeping money. Many a time when he had asked her to go for a stroll as far as the ruined church of Bannow, or only the short length of the road to Scar Castle, she had refused. Sorra a foot would she go, with the chance to get a penny more a pound for her butter if she took it and the little ass to market at the Wexford bull-ring.
He sighed impatiently as he thought of the blue yarn stocking half full of shillings and crowns that she had in a hiding-hole over the fireplace. Ah, well; it was his days of peace she had coined there. What an omadhaun he had been to promise not to go matchmaking without leave.
“Musha, if it was not an insult,” he muttered, “I’d say she was more like a Scotchwoman nor an Irishwoman.”
Aileen, he knew, had taken the cattle down the road to graze them at the expense of the Government, thus saving her own bit of grass. Ah, but the road called him, too! It called like the tune of the Good Little People — that longing to be off down the long lanes of Wexford, past Taghmun, the Flame of God, past the blue hills of Oulard and Sculloughgap to the long, shaded way that leads to Glendalough.
He should have been at work in the garden, and Aileen had propped the hoe against the door of the but as a reminder. Sighing, he took it up; then, as he saw a figure coming down Wilson’s Lane, he paused.
“’Tis the new neighbor, Mogue Sullivan,” he said. “‘Twould be indacent not to give him the good-day. Well! What at all can be the matther wid him? Has the pig died on him, I dinnaw?”
Young Mogue had the figure and lines for liveliness, but now his great length was lax, his broad face was spiritless, and his blue eyes were fixed in an unseeing gaze beyond Michael.
“God save you this good day!” called Michael. “I hope no misfortune has crossed you.”
Mogue leaned on the sunken fence and shook his head.
“Some bad luck is betther nor others,” said Michael comfortingly. “It might be worse nor the loss of a pig — “
“What talk is this of pigs? “said Mogue moodily. “’Tis natural enough, though, that you, a man of property, wid six full cows, should have your head running on riches.”
“’Tis only that you looked so heart-scorched,” said Michael placatingly, “and ’tis little enough store I set by the cows, and that’s the truth.”
Mogue felt some obscure surge of sympathy, and so he burst brokenly into a confidence.
“Ah, well; I might have seen from Ireland’s histhory that no man in her could iver have luck be daring a bit in his own affairs. I am off to the priest’s this morning; I am to tell him that ’tis not he need call my banns next Sundah. The thirrd time, too! That iver I saw this day!”
“Man alive! Is she dead?” cried Michael. “Little Oonah Canavan that I saw christhened!”
“Worse! worse!” said Mogue. “Now, I will tell you the truth, Michael Dwyer. As you know, up at Glendalough she lives, where you coorted your own wife, and what you don’t know is her father had a bit money dhropped to him this month, and he’s looking high for Oonah now. I was the great match last month wid me three acres and the pig, but now I’m not good enough. Well, when ould Canavan turrned me off, down here I came, rented the bit land next you and had the banns published widout even telling Oonah.”
“Man alive! But you’re the bowld wan! “said Michael admiringly.
“Will ye wait till I tell the full of my tale?” cried Mogue. “You’ve seen Andrew Saunders, the Scotch clerk of the hotel at Rathdrum? Fifty if he’s a day, and he the sly fox! All these years the man’s been saving money and dhriving bargains like a — like a Scotchman, and now he’s got almost enough money to buy out the owner of the hotel. In two years he expects to get it.”
“Ah, sorra on him!” mourned Michael; “ould man Canavan would niver turrn him away.”
“Not him. I had a write of hand from Oonah this very morning. This week Andrew Saunders begins his coorting, it being an off-season, and their banns will be called next Sundah.”
The young fellow dropped his head on his arms and groaned. Michael was moved by conflicting feelings. His old matchmaking precepts told him that money should go with money, and his own experience advised him that, if Aileen had been as gearless as himself, their own ways might have gone more smoothly; or, if he had had six cows, he might have been as keen on coin as she was. But when he thought of Aileen’s dear hazel eyes and her smile for him when she had the time and heart to smile, then he felt that love and not money ought to make the match.
“Well, there was the Widdy McCarthy you worked for in Macmines,” he said irritably; “why wouldn’t you have thought of marrying her? She had plenty.”
“Did I say she wanted me or I wanted her?” asked Mogue, lifting his face indignantly.
Michael divined that Mogue could have married the widow, but would not say so, and smiled.
“Well, me lad,” he said warmly, “now, I’d like to help you, I would that. As you know, I’ve left the road; I do no more matchmaking, but I will see what Aileen says. Do you say nothing to the priest. I’ll see can I go to Rathdrum and Glendalough and make terms.”
Mogue looked at him with dawning hope.
“Maybe you’d be willing to help Aileen wid the garden a bit while I am gone,” said Michael in a far-away tone. “She was counting on my work this week.”
Mogue seized the hoe eagerly.
“I will that, if she will let you go.”
Michael drew himself up.
“It’s not a question of her letting me,” he said. “I am masther yet, I belave, in me own house.”
“Of coourse; I meant you’d be by way of consulting her,” said Mogue.
“Well, I will show you where to worrk in the garden,” said Michael.
He led the way and made a stroke or two himself with the hoe before he handed it to Mogue. Then he hastened down Wilson’s Lane after Aileen and the cows. The call of the road was louder than ever in his ears. What was his hut or a few bit turnips in the garden? What were the cows? What — the Saints forgive him — what even was Aileen to that happy walk with his stick and his dreams past the blue hill of Oulard, and the softvoiced River Slaney, and Croghan Mountain, and deep Sculloughgap?
Aileen was sitting on a hummock of grass, knitting swiftly at a blue sock, casting a glance, now and then, at the cows, but never a look at the soft blue hills did she cast. Never a deep taste did she take of the salty air. The sun struck across her red hair, her quick fingers flew with the needles, and there she sat out of tune with the beauty about her, thinking only of money.
Michael hailed her with a smiling forgiveness of the sharp words they had had that morning because he would not get up to work before the sun rose.
“I’ve the bit news for you,” he said. “There’s an awful scarcity of butter at the hotel in Rathdrum, and two excursions down from Dublin this week.”
She looked at him suspiciously as he seated himself beside her.
“I was thinking you might like a chance to go; I could take care of the cows while you went up,” he suggested.
“Yes, and find the butter dropped a penny when I got there,” said Aileen. “I’ve me safe market at home here. Why aren’t you at worrk in the field?”
“I did work a while, and then I left Mogue Sullivan in my place,” said Michael. “He’s doing it for nothing.”
He chewed a spear of grass reflectively, and then told her of the trouble of Oonah Canavan and Mogue Sullivan.
“Ah, well,” said Aileen. “‘Tis too bad, ’tis so; but sure when neither of thim have anything what’s the use at all?”
Michael said nothing.
“If even wan of thim had a little,” she allowed. Michael pressed her hand, and then, relinquishing it, said briefly:
“Well, now, it occurred to me I could make something out of this and do a kindness, too. It would be far more fitting if the Widdy McCarthy and Andrew Saunders married. Then he could buy the hotel at once. She might give me that new churn you are needing, and Andrew would give a calf, maybe. Besides, I could take the little ass and the cart and sell your butter in Rathdrum.” His voice trailed into silence under her accusing gaze.
“And who’d do your worrk while you’re gone?”
“Young Mogue Sullivan says — “
“Ah, ’tis little enough love you’ve left for me!” said Aileen bitterly. “‘Tis like pulling teeth to get a stroke of work out of you, and me worrking so harrd over me six cows.”
Michael rose angrily: “Thim six cows! ‘Tis all I iver have to come home to — not a real wife, only a money machine! No wife nor child; only six cows! If you throw thim cows in my teeth agin I will go,” he said, “and I’ll niver come back till I’ve six to match thim, or am dead on a stretcher.”
“One’s like as the other,” she jeered. “Go your ways!”
Michael stared at her in amazement. A sharp word passed between them, now and then, it is true, but never such words as these. He looked down on her steadily.
“There’s times I wish I was a cow, and then you’d have your old love for me,” he said. “I’ll go now. Will you give me a good luck, gurrl?”
She turned her face away from him, and he did not guess that her shoulders were shaking with sobs, for it was not like Aileen to cry.
“Goodbye, then,” he said, “and a curse on thim cows and the stocking that’s come betune us!”
He strode back to his cottage with the feeling that the blue and gold of the day had suddenly grown dim. He presented a calm face to Mogue. Then he packed himself a lunch, found his old blackthorn stick and set off down the Wexford Road.
At first he was sure the day was spoiled for him, but, after a time, a whistle rose to his lips and he swung his stick lightly enough. The young leaves danced in the spring winds, and he was on the road again. The road seemed to race under him, for, here and there, he was given a lift in a wagon, so that it was still afternoon when he reached Macmines and found the small house of the Widow McCarthy. He hesitated, surprised at its dismantled appearance, but she put her head out of the door and welcomed him.
“Come in, Michael Dwyer; God save you!” she called. “There’s a chair and a bite and a bed for me friends yet, if I am going to move.”
She was a snappy-eyed, hearty woman of his own age, with a ready smile and a quick tongue.
“Well, and the sight of you’s good for sore eyes,” he said when they were seated over the tea-table; “and why are you moving at all?”
She told him a tale of bad luck and robbery by which she had failed in her farming, and said she had never had a taste for such life anyway, and was going to take what money there was left and keep boarders and lodgers after she had looked about a bit. While she chattered of her affairs a slow, roguish smile rippled back and forth over Michael’s face.
“Well,” he said gravely when she had finished, “why don’t you thry a place in Rathdrum? There’s a hotel to be sure, but it’s expensive. If you stharted a nice boardingplace with a tea-house attached — “
She mused: “Well, now, it’s not such a bad plan, and Rathdrum not so far from here but I could get a sight of my ould neighbors at times.”
“I wish you were a marrying woman,” he said.
“Who said I wasn’t?” she snapped.
“Well, there’s Andrew Saunders, the Scotchman. He’s going to buy the hotel out in a year or so. Now, if you were married to him he could buy that hotel at once and soon you’d be the richest woman in Rathdrum. My, but I’d like to see you crowing it over the neighbors all dressed up in black silk of a Sundah, sitting in the best pew!”
She preened herself over the picture.
“Of course, though, it’s a dream,” he sighed. “I’ve heard it said that Andrew was thinking of marrying Oonah Canavan. Of course, she’s not got your own property or your good looks. You’d not care to cut her out wid Andrew, though they do say she’s in love wid a young felly.”
“I’d cut no wan out,” said Mrs. McCarthy warmly; “but if marrying a man of property would bring two young hearrts together, does it not point me my duty, Michael? “
“Sure, it can be looked at that way,” agreed Michael, “and you ought to be married for a man’s happiness. Do you consent, thin?”
“I do,” said the widow piously.
“What comes to me, thin?” asked Michael.
They bargained long, Michael at last winning the promise of the coveted churn and two young hens. Then, after they had clinched the bargain with a fresh brew of tea, Michael obtained from the shrewd Mrs. McCarthy a statement of the property by which he was to sing her charms to Andrew Saunders.
“Musha, woman; I’d no idea you were that rich!” he cried admiringly. “No Scotchman could resist you; though an Irishman,” he added, “would be glad to take you for the sake of your own charrms.”
“Ah, then,” she said dryly, “Andrew Saunders will see thim charrms through a mist of goold.”
Next morning Michael set off early with a gay heart. He looked back at Vinegar Hill, sacred to him for its association with his ancestor, Michael Dwyer of ’98, and then the road called him; and he whistled and sang as he walked, trailing his stick along the shaded road that led to Sculloughgap. It was high noon when he reached Rathdrum. He knew that Andrew Saunders would offer him a bite and sup but grudgingly, so he ate the lunch with which Mrs. McCarthy had provided him and relinquished the thought of a cup of tea. With an assumption of fine heartiness he strode into the hotel office where Andrew sat.
“Well, and how are you?” he cried. “Man! but you look fine!”
Andrew Saunders was thin and freckled and reddish, with a sharp, suspicious face and reserved voice.
“Have you had dinner?” he asked reluctantly as he let Michael take his limp hand.
“Sure I have; ’tis slow you are. I’ll sit by you while you ate yours and then I’ll not waste your time, for I know the busy man you are, Andrew.”
Saunders led the way to a corner of the empty dining room and ate sparingly, while Michael talked of crops and friends and the good luck of the world in general. When he had cast a thoroughly optimistic atmosphere about them he said slyly:
“What’s this I hear of your marrying wan of these days?”
“I’m thinking on’t,” admitted Saunders sheepishly.
“Well, who is the big, sthrapping gurrl you’ll get? Molly Murphy, belike?”
“It’s Oonah Canavan,” said Saunders shortly.
Michael emitted a long whistle.
“Ye seem surprised,” said Saunders, offended. “Are ye thinking I’m too old for the lass?”
“Musha! No; you’re young yet, Andrew; it’s just she’s such a shmall, delicate gurrl, and with no head for management whatever. But then it’s not as if she had to worrk harrd — you’ll just keep her boarding; she’ll have nothing to do.”
Saunders looked at him sharply. “Her father said she was strong,” he remarked.
“And why wouldn’t he?” asked Michael — “if he had a good chance to marry her off to a well to-do man like you? Her wid not a tack to her name.”
Saunders ruminated. Evidently Michael had not heard of the bit property that had been left to the Canavans.
“I’m delicate-looking myself,” said Saunders, “but a hard worker.”
“Well, maybe when she’s fed up by you, Oonah will do fine,” said Michael cheerfully. “For myself, a harrd-worrking, energetic woman isn’t to my taste. They are sure to be too saving and pinching.”
“I wouldn’t call that a fault in a woman,” said Saunders.
“No? Well, we look at things different. I’ve just come from a woman that got me full wore out wid the amount of worrk she done wid my two eyes on her. Begorra, you may meet her; she’s thinking of settling here.”
“Is she? Would she be wanting to board in the hotel, or would she be taking a place of her own?” asked Saunders with interest.
Michael laughed. “Man alive, if she comes there’ll be no hotel here. She’ll have all the customers. She’s thinking of starting a boarding and tea house. My, but she’s the smarrt woman, and that attractive! Let a tourist get his eye on her and he’d have to folly her!”
“There isn’t room here fora hotel and boardinghouse, too,” said Saunders.
“Sure, she counts on that; but maybe she won’t come — not if I put through a match for her I’m thinking of. She’s a widda well left.”
“Well left? “murmured Saunders.
“Sure, she dinned in my ears what she had,” Michael said. “My idea was that, if I could match her wid some likely man with money of his own, the two of thim might buy a hotel in Dublin or somewhere. She’s a great idea for business, but I mustn’t be throubling you wid my tales of the Widda McCarthy. Tell me more about little Oonah Canavan.”
The thought of her passed through Saunders’ mind, with her shy eyes and soft, misty hair; then he gulped and said:
“What property has Mistress McCarthy got?”
“Musha! Why should I tell you?” said Michael with indignant emphasis. “The list was given to me to present to the man I’m going to make the match wid.”
“Have you got him in your mind?” asked Saunders.
“I have that,” said Michael.
There was a short pause. Saunders saw again Oonah’s little fair face and her thirty pounds dowry, but that was only a tenth part of what he still needed to buy the hotel at once, and the proprietor had that day offered it to him at a decided bargain.
“Just tell me this,” he asked huskily, “has the Widow McCarthy as much as three hundred pounds?”
“If I am violating a confidence I hope to be forgiven,” said Michael with dignity. “She have.”
“Then,” said Saunders with a rusty sigh as he relinquished the vision of Oonah, “is this man in your mind a greater match than I am?”
“I would call him the same,” said Michael gravely. “But I warn you, Andrew, I want something for myself when I make this match.”
“Well, then, you’ll do something for auld lang syne,” said Andrew. “What has Mistress McCarthy got, lad?”
Then followed a long afternoon of bargaining that Michael Dwyer often said was the hardest work he ever did. They sat in the hotel office, and Andrew whimpered and begged, ever and anon going off to serve a customer, and then coming back with fresh force to the belittling of Michael’s fee. It was only when Michael had set off for the fifth time down the road to Glendalough that Andrew ran after him, half-weeping, and said:
“Well, then, here it is in your hand. I have given you my written word to let you have a calf on the wedding day.”
Michael scrutinized the paper closely, and then said:
“So it is settled. Do you send a scrape to the widdy yourself to say when you will be down to coort her; and remember, you promised to post a scrape to the Canavan’s to-night saying the match wid thim is all off. Good-day to you.”
When Andrew was out of sight Michael slapped his knees and laughed with a glad heart for Oonah, and Mogue, and the widow, and even Saunders, for that he had done them all a good turn he had no doubt. He thought with a softened heart of Aileen. She had told him to go his ways, and he had threatened not to come back without six cows; but, sure, a churn and a calf were the next thing to six cows, and Aileen would want him home again, he hoped. He thought of the greed for money that divided them with a special sorrow, for it was upon this shaded road to Glendalough that he had discovered that he loved Aileen. Three miles more and then would appear the hill that opened its heart to send out a gush of fairy water, and here it was that they had clasped hands and said the word that made them each other’s. He could see her again as she had looked that day, with the sun on her red hair and her full lips quivering with hurt pride, for he had been slow to the wooing. If poor Aileen could have but known it, they were nearer together at that moment than they had been since the first months of their marriage.
On he walked, up hills and down, with the great trees on each side, about whose trunks climbed ivy with sharply-defined, sparsely-growing leaves, until he came in sight of the ruined church of old Saint Kevin. He stopped for a moment under the great Celtic cross which some say is over Saint Kevin’s own bones, and there he said a prayer for Aileen and himself, and then he went around the lower lake till he reached the little whitewashed cottage of the Canavans’. Out the Canavans came to welcome him — old Terence and Mrs. Canavan, slim-waisted Oonah, who always reminded him of an apple-tree in blossom, and half a dozen children. When the parents greeted him with warmth Michael felt like a traitor as he thought of the grand match he had spoiled for them, but when he turned to Oonah and saw how her cheek had paled and how sad her eyes were, he felt that there were few men who would take so much trouble for friends as he had.
The next morning Mrs. Canavan bade poor, pale Oonah put on her Sunday dress, and Michael knew that that meant Andrew Saunders was expected to come courting. When he saw the girl’s look he could not resist whispering a word of hope in her ear. She was discreet, so she asked no questions, but she sang a bit at her embroidery, and Mrs. Canavan thanked the saints her child was beginning to see her good luck at last.
They were at the noon meal when half a dozen of the young Canavans came up from the post-office with a letter, an unheard-of event for the household. Michael praised himself, for he knew this must be Saunders’ communication. Oonah, as the scholar of the family, read it, first to herself, then, after the children had been put out of the house, to her elders. Mrs. Canavan threw her apron over her head with a wild keen. Old Canavan tramped up and down the kitchen, clenching his fists and swearing. Oonah shrank back in her corner with eyes half-frightened, half-happy. When Mr. and Mrs. Canavan had somewhat exhausted their emotions Michael took a hand.
“What talk is this, Mrs. Canavan? You’d put the curse of Cromwell on any wan’d jilt any wan else, from all I gather. Yet you were making Oonah here jilt Mogue Sullivan.”
“That’s different,” said Mrs. Canavan.
“Troth, there’d be some difficulty showing the differ to Mogue,” suggested Michael.
“Oh, wirra! — and the disgrace brought on us when the neighbors hear,” mourned Mrs. Canavan. “Not a head of us can we howld up again.”
“Now, have conduct, woman,” begged Michael. “We’ll turrn the tables on Saunders; turrn them we will.”
He told them of how Mogue Sullivan had put up the banns of himself and Oonah in the Bannow Parish at Wexford, and when he had paused long enough for their indignant protests to spend themselves, he said:
“Ah, you’d thry the patience of Saint Patrick himself. Don’t you see how we can be using this? We’ll have Oonah elope.”
“What’s elope?” asked Mrs. Canavan suspiciously.
“It’s quite respectable; it’s what the gentry does,” said Michael impatiently. “A very fashionable and illigent proceeding, entirely, that poor people don’t often have the chance at. Now, I’ll tell you; the third reading of the banns’ll be to-morra. Today Oonah’ll elope down to my place and Aileen’ll take care of her the night, and she and Mogue can be married after mass to-morra.”
The parents glanced at Oonah, shy and breathless.
“Ah, she was always too good for Saunders,” said her father. “It wasn’t me pressed the match, anyway.”
“Heaven knows I always favored Mogue,” began Mrs. Canavan.
“Ah, sure, we all know ’twas Oonah that wanted Saunders,” mocked Michael. “Well, now, do you say the worrd. Let Oonah go today and both yous go tomorra. ‘Tis most romantic and unusual for parents to attend an elopement. It will be talked of for years to come, and, man alive! — think of the sour mouth of Saunders when the neighbors do be saying ’twas Oonah jilted him!”
His roar of laughter was infectious, and Oonah obeyed his nod and made herself ready for her journey southward. She got his ear and begged him to stay the day with her parents lest their minds should change and they should try to win back Saunders. Michael agreed. He had the good craftsman’s wish to see his work well done. Besides, it was pleasant enough to linger among the rums of the seven churches. Many a time had he and Aileen read the worn stones in the churchyard and wondered about the slow, quiet lives they recorded, and thought still more of the hundreds of unrecorded dead buried on this same ground for fourteen long centuries. There was not a path by the upper and lower lake that he and Aileen had not trod. He retraced them and thought of her so tenderly that he well-nigh forgot the six cows.
It was in a very softened mood that he bade good-by to the Canavans and left Glendalough to go home to Aileen. The late afternoon was as lambent as his thoughts of her. The road called him now, and he liked the taste of it under his feet as he swung his blackthorn stick and sang his songs, which were all of wistful love.
He intended to stop for the night at Rathdrum with Andrew Saunders, who would no doubt be glad to offer him supper and a lodging, considering the grand favor he had done him, but when he went into the hotel office Andrew was not there, and the proprietor told him, with many winks and digs, that Andrew had got lovesick of a sudden. The night before he had gone down to Macmines to court his lady. That very morning he had taken her up to Dublin to get married by special license.
“Begorra,” thought Michael, “so much the sooner do I get united to Saunders’ calf.”
The train from Dublin was almost due, and he started down the main street to the station to meet the bridal couple. Only Andrew got off the train, a transfigured Andrew, wild-eyed and wicked-faced, who ran up the road to Michael, beat at him with a knotty fist and called him a “thief “and a “liar.”
An Irishman strikes first and thinks afterward, but, even when Saunders, half stunned and bleeding from Michael’s assault, had had him arrested, even then Michael would not have given up the joy of his first retaliatory blows. But memories are not all-sustaining, and it was a shamed man enough that sat in the little police station, a prisoner, with the fear in his heart that Aileen could never forgive him for the disgrace he had brought on her.
Dreary enough were the hours poor Michael passed in the station. He was a stranger in Rathdrum; there was not a soul to talk to but the constabulary, whom, as they were Irish and yet in the pay of the Government, Michael considered as no better than traitors. On Sunday afternoon the hotel-keeper came to see him and explained the reason of Saunders’ wrath. Mrs. McCarthy had used her imagination in describing her possessions. A scant fifty pounds would cover them, and here was poor Saunders out thirty pounds for a special license. Mrs. McCarthy, or Mrs. Saunders, had gone to Macmines to move up her belongings. She had communicated with the hotel-keeper, and he was going to let them have the hotel if they gave a mortgage on it. He spoke of her as a fine, capable woman who would do Saunders good. Saunders himself was not in Rathdrum. He had gone, the hotel-keeper thought, to Macmines, but would probably appear against Michael in the morning when court would be held.
Though Michael’s curiosity was satisfied he had small cheer from the visit. To think the Widow McCarthy should have played him such a trick! Well, he would have the churn out of her anyway, and Saunders’ calf, if he had to steal it. To think that here he was shut up and this very day Mogue Sullivan and Oonah getting married through his kindness and Aileen looking on, wondering where he was!
Monday morning brought back his luck. Saunders did not appear against him, and as he had no money a kindly justice of the peace, for whose former cook he had made a good match, forgave him the costs of the case. He walked out of court a free man. He went to the hotel, and, showing the proprietor Andrew’s written promise that he should have a calf on the wedding day, he got the animal and set off with it down the long Wexford road. Aileen might not forgive him, but she would be glad to get the calf, anyway. A kindly farmer gave him a lift, and he reached Macmines before noon. He tethered his calf behind a friendly hedge and went to the house of the late Widow McCarthy. He pounded on her door with powerful fist. If Saunders was within he would leave his mark on him for every hour he had spent in that police court. But it was Mrs. Saunders who met him, in her arms a churn.
“Well, and I’ve been expecting you to call for this ever since me wedding, Saturday,” she said innocently. “Why didn’t you come?”
Michael glared at her. “You know right well, and if ever you want to make another match for yourself, it’s not to me you need come. You draw the long bow too harrd for my conscience.”
“Don’t forget your two hens,” she said;
“they’re tied to a post in the backyard; and Michael, avic, there’s a young cock along wid them, and the churn’s packed wid eggs, and give my love to Aileen.”
His scowl grew a shade lighter, and she pushed him into the house with a good natured laugh.
“Sure, it’ll be all the same a hundred years hence,” she said. “Come and have your dinner, lad, and then off wid you, for I’m a busy woman.”
She said no word of Saunders, nor did he ask any questions. He hurried through his dinner, and then shouldered his churn and the hens. He found his calf and set off once more to Aileen. The heavier his burdens were the surer he felt of her welcome.
The road called him, but only faintly. It was just the music by which he would be able to get himself home. The hot sun poured on him, the calf walked at cross purposes with him, the hens squawked and pecked at his shoulders, and he feared the eggs were breaking in the churn. Every step was a weariness, but he did not venture to rest till he was well past Enniscorthy.
Then, as he sat fanning himself with his hat, a man’s figure came into sight, walking northward. Michael watched it grow larger and larger as it moved rapidly toward him. Then he rose wonderingly to his feet. It was Mogue Sullivan.
“Mogue Sullivan,” he shouted. “Don’t tell me you’re afther deserting your wife like Saunders! What’s wrong at all?”
Mogue wiped his beaded face.
“Troth, it’s glad I am to see you,” he said. “I’ve been walking and walking to you since the hour of my wedding, and poor Oonah left alone.”
“What is it at all? “asked Michael.
“Just this,” said Mogue. “There was no hair nor hide of you and your wife at our wedding, and afterward we walked down from the church to your place to see was anything wrong, and there was herself white and sick on the bed.”
“Aileen sick?” cried Michael.
“Wait now, till I tell you. It was long enough before I could get anything out of her, and half of it was guesswork, and from what I saw aftherward. It seems Andrew Saunders came down to see her and told her you were arrested for half-murthering him and another man, and he’d set you free again if Aileen’d pay the piper.”
“The Hoosian!” cried Michael.
“Who did I see on the road,” went on Mogue, “but our fine Saunders a-driving of your six cows! The thief of the worrld!”
“She gave up thim six cows for me?” Murmured Michael. “God bless her!”
“And so Oonah and I talked it over and she said she’d not be afraid to stay alone, and I footed it here to meet you, for it seemed to me you’d want to get than cows back from Saunders, and clout him on the head wan besides, and so I — “
“And she gave up thim six cows for me!” murmured Michael.
Mogue stared at him resentfully. “I thought you’d be dancing wid rage like a hen on a hot gridiron,” he said angrily, “and me coming all this way and spending me honeymoon alone to tell you. Well, Saunders is back three or four miles now a-driving the cows. I cut along on the inside of the hedge past him, and a fine crick in my back I got for my pains, and little thanks that I see — “
“Six cows! And she consaves me to outweight thim,” said Michael softly.
Mogue said never a word. He got up, clenched his fists, shook his head and went back the way he had come. Michael sat dreaming in happy reverie, till, far down the road, he saw a number of dots approaching, They galvanized him into activity. He lifted his calf and the churn and the hens over the hedge, and hid till Saunders and the cows were almost abreast of him.
Then he leaped out into the road, his fists doubled, his eyes raging. He danced back and forth in front of Saunders. The Scotchman looked up and down. It was a lonely place and no one was in sight.
“I bought the cows,” he yelled.
Michael’s fists came closer.
“It was only fair when you cheated me about Mistress McCarthy’s property,” Saunders whined.
“Ah, well, Saunders,” said Michael grimly. “You’re too much of a rogue to be treated as a man. I’ll skelp you as if you were a naughty child.”
He led Saunders to the ditch and punished him vigorously, while Aileen’s cows grazed placidly and the calf lowed mournfully from behind the hedge.
“Now, you lie on your face in the ditch till I’m out of sight,” commanded Michael.
“What’s this falling out of your clothes?”
It was Aileen’s blue stocking half-full of shillings and crowns.
“She valleys me more than the cows and the stocking,” Michael murmured, and he knelt in a loving daze for several minutes over the prostrate body of Saunders.
Then he rose, turned the cows southward, got his reluctant calf, the churn and the hens, and set off for home.
If the road was calling him he did not hear. All he heard were the old songs he and Aileen used to sing when they were first married, and the old , Celtic stories they used to tell of the ancient Irishmen and saints who did not care for gold, but only for love and their souls.
“I told her I’d come back either on a stretcher or wid six cows,” he said complacently, “and I’m as good as my worrd; thim cows is mine.”
It was far past teatime when he reached the ruined church of Bannow. His heart was thankful, and he stepped inside to say a prayer. An old statue of the Virgin with her Babe in her arms stood in a mouldering niche; and there at the feet of the Mother of all mothers knelt Aileen.
He was only an Irish peasant, was Michael, but he had the mystic heart of the Celt, and he divined why she knelt to the Mother of the Child. He knelt softly beside her and whispered:
“Never again will I lave you or yours.”
She clung to him sobbing, and then they said a prayer together. When they rose to go she looked almost indifferently at the cows; her praise of the churn was perfunctory, and she hardly noticed the hens.
“Ah, what matther since I have you agin,” she said, and she would have passed by the blue stocking without seeing it. But Michael stored it in his bosom.
“Ah, but we’ll need this and more — for him,” he whispered.