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Light O' The Morning by L. T. Meade

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LIGHT O' THE MORNING

_The Story of an Irish Girl_

BY

L. T. MEADE

CONTENTS.

CHAPTER

I. NORA

II. "SOME MORE OF THE LAND MUST GO"

III. THE WILD MURPHYS

IV. THE INVITATION

V. "I AM ASHAMED OF YOU"

VI. THE CAVE OF THE BANSHEE

VII. THE MURPHYS

VIII. THE SQUIRE'S TROUBLE

IX. EDUCATION AND OTHER THINGS

X. THE INVITATION

XI. THE DIAMOND CROSS

XII. A FEATHER-BED HOUSE

XIII. "THERE'S MOLLY"

XIV. BITS OF SLANG

XV. TWO LETTERS

XVI. A CHEEKY IRISH GIRL

XVII. TWO DESCRIPTIONS

XVIII. A COMPACT

XIX. "SHE WILL SOON TAME DOWN"

XX. STEPHANOTIE

XXI. THE ROSE-COLORED DRESS

XXII. LETTERS

XXIII. THE BOX OF BON-BONS

XXIV. THE TELEGRAM

XXV. THE BLOW

XXVI. TEN POUNDS

XXVII. ADVENTURES--AND HOME AGAIN

XXVIII. THE WILD IRISH

XXIX. ALTERATIONS

XXX. THE LION IN His CAGE

XXXI. RELEASE OF THE CAPTIVE

XXXII. ANDY

XXXIII. THE CABIN ON THE MOUNTAIN

XXXIV. A DARING DEED

XXXV. THE COT WHERE HE WAS BORN

XXXVI. "I'M A HAPPY MAN"

CHAPTER I.

NORA.

"Why, then, Miss Nora--"

"Yes, Hannah?"

"You didn't see the masther going this way, miss?"

"What do you mean, Hannah? Father is never at home at this hour."

"I thought maybe--" said Hannah. She spoke in a dubious voice,
backing a little away.

Hannah was a small, squat woman, of a truly Irish type. Her nose was
celestial, her mouth wide, her eyes dark, and sparkling with fun.
She was dressed in a short, coarse serge petticoat, with what is
called a bedgown over it; the bedgown was made of striped calico,
yellow and red, and was tied in at the waist with a broad band of
the same. Hannah's hair was strongly inclined to gray, and her
humorous face was covered with a perfect network of wrinkles. She
showed a gleam of snowy teeth now, as she looked full at the young
girl whom she was addressing.

"Ah, then, Miss Nora," she said, "it's I that am sorry for yez."

Before Nora O'Shanaghgan could utter a word Hannah had turned on her
heel.

"Come back, Hannah," said Nora in an imperious voice.

"Presently, darlint; it's the childer I hear calling me. Coming,
Mike asthore, coming."

The squat little figure flew down a side walk which led to a paddock:
beyond the paddock was a turnstile, and at the farther end of an
adjacent field a cabin made of mud, with one tiny window and a
thatched roof. Hannah was making for the cabin with rapid, waddling
strides. Nora stood in the middle of the broad sweep which led up to
the front door of the old house.

Castle O'Shanaghgan was a typical Irish home of the ancient regime.
The house, a great square pile, was roomy and spacious; it had
innumerable staircases, and long passages through which the wind
shrieked on stormy nights, and a great castellated tower at its
north end. This tower was in ruins, and had been given up a long
time ago to the exclusive tenancy of the bats, the owls, and rats so
large and fierce that the very dogs were afraid of them. In the
tower at night the neighbors affirmed that they heard shrieks and
ghostly noises; and Nora, whose bedroom was nearest to it, rejoiced
much in the distinction of having twice heard the O'Shanaghgan
Banshee keening outside her window. Nora was a slender, tall, and
very graceful girl of about seventeen, and her face was as typical
of the true, somewhat wild, Irish beauty as Hannah Croneen's was the
reverse.

In the southwest of Ireland there are traces of Spanish as well as
Celtic blood in many of its women; and Nora's quantities of thick,
soft, intensely black hair must have come to her from a Spanish
ancestor. So also did the delicately marked black brows and the
black lashes to her dark and very lovely blue eyes; but the clear
complexion, the cheeks with the tenderest bloom on them, the softly
dimpled lips red as coral, and the little teeth white as pearls were
true Irish characteristics.

Nora waited for a moment after Hannah had left her, then, shading
her eyes from the westerly sun by one hand, she turned slowly and
went into the house.

"Where is mother, Pegeen?" she said to a rough-looking, somewhat
slatternly servant who was crossing the hall.

"In the north parlor, Miss Nora."

"Come along, then, Creena; come along, Cushla," said the girl,
addressing two handsome black Pomeranians who rushed to meet her.
The dogs leaped up at her with expressions of rapture, and girl and
dogs careered with a wild dance across the great, broad hall in the
direction of the north parlor. Nora opened the door with a somewhat
noisy bang, the dogs precipitated themselves into the room, and she
followed.

"Ah, then, mother dear! and have I disturbed you?" she said.

A pale-faced lady, who was lying full-length on a very old and hard
sofa, rose with a querulous expression on her face when Nora entered.

"I wish someone would teach you thoughtfulness," she said; "you are
the most tiresome girl in the world. I have been two hours trying to
get a wink of sleep, and just when I succeed you come in and wake
me."

"It's sorry I am to my heart's core," said Nora. She went up to her
mother, dropped on one knee, and looked with her rosy face into the
worn and faded one of the elder woman. "Here I am, mammy," she said
again, "your own little Nora; let me sit with you a bit--may I?"

Mrs. O'Shanaghgan smiled faintly. She looked all over the girl's
slim figure, and finally her eyes rested on the laughing, lovely
face. Then a cloud crossed her forehead, and her eyes became dim
with tears.

"Have you heard the last thing, Nora?"

"There are so many last things, mother," said Nora.

"But the very last. Your father has to pay back the money which
Squire Murphy of Cronane lent him. It is the queerest thing; but the
mortgagee means to foreclose, as he calls it, within three months if
that money is not paid in full. I know well what it means."

Nora smiled. She took her mother's hand in hers, and began to stroke
it gently.

"I suppose," she said, "it means this. It means that we must part
with a little more of the beloved land, every sod of which I love.
We certainly do seem to be getting poorer and poorer; but never
mind--nothing will ever alter the fact that--"

"That what, child?"

"That we O'Shanaghgans are the proudest and oldest family in the
county, and that there is scarcely an Englishman across the water
who would not give all he possesses to change places with us."

"You talk like a silly child," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan; "and please
remember that I am English."

"Oh, mummy, I am so sorry!" said the girl. She laid her soft head
down on the sofa, pressing it against her mother's shoulder.

"I cannot think of you as English," she said. "You have lived here
all, all my life. You belong to father, and you belong to Terence
and me--what have you to do with the cold English?"

"I remember a time," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, "when I thought Ireland
the most desolate and God-forsaken place on the earth. It is true I
have become accustomed to it now. But, Nora, if you only could
realize what my old home was really like."

"I don't want to realize any home different from this," said the girl,
a cloud shading her bright eyes for the moment.

"You are silly and prejudiced," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan. "It is a
great trial to me to have a daughter so unsympathetic."

"Oh, mummy! I don't mean to be unsympathetic. There now, we are
quite cozy together. Tell me one of the old stories; I do so love to
listen."

The frown cleared from Mrs. O'Shanaghgan's forehead, and the peevish
lines went out of her face. She began to talk with animation and
excitement. Nora knew exactly what she was going to say. She had
heard the story so often; but, although she had heard it hundreds
and thousands of times, she was never tired of listening to the
history of a trim life of which she knew absolutely nothing. The
orderly, well-dressed servants, the punctual meals, the good and
abundant food, the nice dresses, the parties, the solid education,
the discipline so foreign to her own existence, all--all held their
proper fascination. But although she listened with delight to these
stories of a bygone time, she never envied her mother those periods
of prosperity. Such a life would have been a prison to her; so she
thought, although she never spoke her thought aloud.

Mrs. O'Shanaghgan began the old tale to-night, telling it with a
little more _verve_ even than usual. She ended at last with a
sigh.

"Oh, the beautiful old times!" she said.

"But you didn't know father then," answered Nora, a frown coming to
her brows, and an angry feeling for a moment visiting her warm
heart. "You didn't have father, nor Nora, nor Terry."

"Of course not, darling, and you make up for much; but, Nora dear,
although I love my husband and my children, I hate this country. I
hate it!"

"Don't, mother," said Nora, with a look of pain. She started to her
feet. At that moment loud, strong steps were heard in the hall; a
hearty voice exclaimed:

"Where's Light o' the Morning? Where have you hidden yourself,
witch?"

"It's father," said Nora. She said the words with a sort of gasp of
rejoicing, and the next moment had dashed out of the room.

CHAPTER II.

"SOME MORE OF THE LAND MUST GO."

Squire O'Shanaghgan was a tall, powerfully built man, with deep-set
eyes and rugged, overhanging brows; his hair was of a grizzled gray,
very thick and abundant; he had a shaggy beard, too, and a long
overhanging mustache. He entered the north parlor still more noisily
than Nora had done. The dogs yelped with delight, and flung
themselves upon him.

"Down, Creena! down, Cushla!" he said. "Ah, then, Nora, they are as
bewitching as yourself, little woman. What beauties they are
growing, to be sure!"

"I reared them," said Nora. "I am proud of them both. At one time I
thought Creena could not live; but look at her now--her coat as
black as jet, and so silky."

"Shut the door, won't you, Patrick?" said his wife.

"Bless me! I forgot," said the Squire. He crossed the room, and,
with an effort after quietness, closed the door with one foot; then
he seated himself by his wife's side.

"Better, Eileen?" he said, looking at her anxiously.

"I wish you would not call me Eileen," she said. "I hate to have my
name Irishized."

The Squire's eyes filled with suppressed fun.

"Ah, but you are half-Irish, whether you like it or not," he said.
"Is not she, colleen? Bless me, what a day it has turned out! We are
getting summer weather at last. What do you say to going for a drive,
Eileen--Ellen, I mean? Black Bess is eating her head off in the
stables. I want to go as far as Murphy's place, and you might as well
come with me."

"And I too?" said Nora.

"To be sure, child. Why not? You run round to the stables, Norrie,
and give the order."

Nora instantly left the room, the dogs following her.

"What ails her?" said the Squire, looking at his wife.

"Ails her, Pat? Nothing that I know of."

"Then you know very little," was his answer. "I never see that sort
of anxious frown between the colleen's brows without knowing there's
mischief in the wind. Somebody has been worrying her, and I won't
have it." He put down his great hand with a thump on the nearest
table.

"Don't, Pat. You quite shatter my nerves."

"Bless you and your nerves, Ellen. I want to give them all possible
consideration; but I won't have Light o' the Morning worried."

"You'll spoil that girl; you'll rue it yet."

"Bless her heart! I couldn't spoil her; she's unspoilable. Did you
ever see a sweeter bit of a thing, sound to the core, through and
through?"

"Sweet or not," said the mother, "she has got to learn her lesson of
life; and it is no good to be too tender with her; she wants a
little bracing."

"You have been trying that on--eh?"

"Well, not exactly, Pat; but you cannot expect me to keep all our
troubles to ourselves. There's that mortgage, you know."

"Bother the mortgage!" said the Squire. "Why do you harp on things
the way you do? I'll manage it right enough. I am going round to see
Dan Murphy now; he won't be hard on an old friend."

"Yes; but have you not to pay up?"

"Some day, I suppose."

"Now listen, Patrick. Do be reasonable. Whenever I speak of money
you fight shy of the subject."

"I don't--I don't," said the Squire restlessly; "but I am dead tired.
I have had a ride of thirty miles; I want my tea. Where is Nora? Do
you mind my calling her? She'll order Pegeen to bring the tea here."

"No; I won't have it. We'll have tea in the dining room presently. I
thought you objected to afternoon tea."

"So I do, as a rule; but I am mighty dhry--thirsty, I mean, Ellen.
Well, all the better; I'll get more to drink in the dining room.
Order the tea as soon as you please."

"Ring the bell, Patrick."

The Squire strode to the mantelpiece, pulled a bell-cord which hung
from the ceiling, a distant bell was heard ringing in noisy fashion,
and a moment afterward Pegeen put in her head.

"Come right in, Margaret," said her mistress.

"Aw! then, I'm sorry, ma'am, I forgot," said the girl. She came in,
hiding both her hands under her apron.

Mrs. O'Shanaghgan uttered an impatient sigh.

"It is impossible to train these creatures," she said under her
breath. Aloud, she gave her order in quiet, impassive tones:

"Tea as soon as possible in the west parlor, and sound the gong when
it is ready."

"Why, then, wasn't I getting it?" said Pegeen. She left the room,
leaving the door wide open.

"Just like them," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan. "When you want the door
open they invariably shut it, and when you want it shut they leave
it open."

"They do that in England too, as far as I can tell," said the
Squire, with a slightly nettled tone in his voice.

"Well, now, Patrick, while we have a few moments to ourselves, I want
to know what you mean to do about that ten thousand pounds?"

"I am sure, Ellen, it is more than I can tell you."

"You will have to pay it, you know."

"I suppose so, some day. I'll speak to Dan to-night. He is the last
man to be hard on a chap."

"Some more of the land must go," said the wife in a fretful tone.
"Our rent-roll will be still smaller. There will be still less money
to educate Terence. I had set my heart on his going to Cambridge or
Oxford. You quite forget that he is eighteen now."

"Cambridge or Oxford!" said the Squire. "Not a bit of it. My son
shall either go to Old Trinity or he does without a university
education. Cambridge or Oxford indeed! You forget, Ellen, that the
lad is my son as well as yours."

"I don't; but he is half an Englishman, three parts an Englishman,
whatever his fatherhood," said the Squire's wife in a tone of triumph.

"Well, well! he is Terence O'Shanaghgan, for all that, and he will
inherit this old place some day."

"Much there will be for him to inherit."

Eager steps were heard on the gravel, and the next instant Nora
entered by the open window.

"I have given the order," she said; "Angus will have the trap round
in a quarter of an hour."

"That's right, my girl; you didn't let time drag," said her father.

"Angus wants you and mother to be quite ready, for he says Black
Bess is nearly off her head with spirit. Now, then, mother, shall I
go upstairs and bring down your things?"

"I don't mind if you do, Nora; my back aches a good bit."

"We'll put the air-cushion in the trap," said the Squire, who,
notwithstanding her fine-lady airs, had a great respect and
admiration for his wife. "We'll make you right cozy, Ellen, and a
rattle through the air will do you a sight of good."

"May I drive, father?" said Nora.

"You, little one? Suppose you bring Black Bess down on her knees?
That horse is worth three hundred pounds, if she's worth a penny."

"Do you think I would?" said the girl reproachfully. "Now, dad, that
is about the cruelest word you have said to your Nora for many a day."

"Come and give me a hug, colleen," said the Squire.

Nora ran to him, clasped her arms round his neck, and kissed him
once or twice. He had moved away to the other end of the room, and
now he looked her full in the face.

"You are fretting about something?"

"Not I--not I," said the girl; but she flushed.

"Listen to me, colleen," said the Squire; "if it is that bit of a
mortgage, you get it right out of your head. It's not going to worry
_me_. I am going this very evening to have a talk with Dan."

"Oh, if it is Dan Murphy you owe it to," said the girl.

"Ah, he's all right; he's the right sort; a chip of the old block--eh?
He wouldn't be hard on a brother in adversity?"

"He wouldn't if he could help it," said Nora; but the cloud had not
left her sensitive face. Then, seeing that father looked at her with
intense anxiety, she made a valiant effort.

"Of course, I believe in you," she said; "and, indeed, what does the
loss of money matter while we are together?"

"Right you are! right you are!" said the Squire, with a laugh. He
clapped her on the shoulder. "Trust Light o' the Morning to look at
things in the right direction," he said.

CHAPTER III.

THE WILD MURPHYS.

Terence made his appearance at the tea table. In every respect he was
a contrast to Nora. He was very good-looking--strikingly handsome, in
fact; tall, with a graceful elegance of deportment which was in
striking contrast to the burly figure of the old Squire. His face was
of a nut-brown hue; his eyes dark and piercing; his features straight.
Young as he was, there were the first indications of a black silky
mustache on his short upper lip, and his clustering black curls grew
in a high ridge off a lofty brow. Terence had the somewhat languid air
which more or less characterized all his mother's movements. He was
devoted to her, and took his seat now by her side. She laid her very
thin and slender hand on his arm. He did not respond by look or movement
to the gesture of affection; but had a very close observer been present
he would have noticed that he drew his chair about the tenth of an inch
nearer to hers.

Nora and her father at the other end of the table were chattering
volubly. Nora's face was all smiles; every vestige of that little
cloud which had sat between her dark brows a few moments before had
vanished. Her blue eyes were sparkling with fun.

The Squire made brilliant sally after sally, to which she responded
with all an Irish girl's aptitude for repartee.

Terence and his mother conversed in low tones.

"Yes, mother," he was saying, "I had a letter from Uncle George this
morning; he wants me to go next week. Do you think you can manage?"

"How long will you be away, Terence?"

"I don't know; a couple of months, perhaps."

"How much money will it cost?"

"I shall want an evening suit, and a new dress-suit, and something
for everyday. These things are disgraceful," said the lad, just
glancing at the frayed coat-sleeve, beneath which showed a linen
cuff of immaculate whiteness.

Terence was always the personification of fastidiousness in his
dress, and for this trait in his character alone Mrs. O'Shanaghgan
adored him.

"You shall have it," she said--"somehow."

"Well, I must reply tonight," he continued. "Shall I ask the
governor, or will you?"

"We won't worry him, Terry; I can manage."

He looked at her a little anxiously.

"You are not going to sell any more of them?" he said.

"There is a gold chain and that diamond ring; I never wear either. I
would fifty times rather think that you were enjoying yourself with
my relations in England. You are fitted to grace any society. Do not
say another word, my boy."

"You are the very best and noblest mother in the world," said the
lad with enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, Nora and her father continued their gay conversation.

"We will take a basket with us," said Nora, "and Bridget shall give
me a couple of dozen more of those little brown eggs. Mrs. Perch
shall have a brood of chicks if I can manage it."

"Trust the girleen for that," said the Squire, and then they rose
from table.

"Ellen," he continued, addressing his wife, "have you and Terence
done colloguing together? for I hear Black Bess coming to the front
door."

"Oh, hasten, mother; hasten!" said Nora. "The mare won't stand
waiting; she is so fresh she is just ready to fly."

The next few moments witnessed a scene of considerable bustle. Mrs.
O'Shanaghgan, with all her English nerves, had plenty of pluck, and
would scorn to show even a vestige of fear before the hangers-on, as
she called the numerous ragged urchins who appeared from every quarter
on each imaginable occasion. Although she was shaking from head to
foot with absolute terror at the thought of a drive behind Black Bess,
she stepped into her seat in the tall dog-cart without a remark. The
mare fidgeted and half reared.

"Whoa! whoa! Black Bess, my beauty!" said the Squire. The groom, a
bright-faced lad, with a wisp of yellow hair falling over his forehead,
held firmly to the reins. Nora jumped up beside her mother.

"Are you going to drive?" asked that lady.

"Yes, mummy; you know I can. Whoa, Black Bess! it's me," said the
girl. She took the reins in her capable little hands; the Squire
sprang up behind, and Black Bess flew down the avenue as if on the
wings of the wind.

Mrs. O'Shanaghgan gave one hurried pant of suppressed anguish, and
then sat perfectly still, her lips set, her hands tightly locked
together. She endured these drives almost daily, but had never yet
got accustomed to them. Nora, on the contrary, as they spun through
the air, felt her spirits rising; the hot young blood coursed through
her veins, and her eyes blazed with fun and happiness. She looked
back at her father, who nodded to her briefly.

"That's it, Nora; keep her well in. Now that we are going uphill you
can give her her head a bit. Whoa, Black Bess! Whoa!"

The mare, after her first wild canter, settled into a more jog-trot
gait, and the dog-cart did not sway so violently from side to side.
They were soon careering along a wide, well-made road, which ran for
many miles along the top of some high cliffs. Below them, at their
feet, the wild Atlantic waves curled and burst in innumerable
fountains of spray; the roar of the waves came up to their ears, and
the breath of the salt breeze, the freshest and most invigorating in
the world, fanned their cheeks. Even Mrs. O'Shanaghgan felt her
heart beating less wildly, and ventured to put a question or two to
Nora with regard to the clucking hen, Mrs. Perch.

"I have not forgotten the basket, mammy," said the girl; "and Hannah
will put the eggs under the hen tonight."

"I am quite certain that Hannah mismanaged the last brood," said
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan; "but everything goes wrong at the Castle just
now."

"Oh, mother, hush! he will hear," said Nora.

"It is just like you, Nora; you wish to keep----"

"Oh, come, now," said the Squire; "I hear the grumbles beginning. No
grumbles when we are having our ride--eh, Ellen? I want you to come
back with a hearty appetite for dinner, and a hearty inclination to
sleep tonight."

They drove faster and faster. Occasionally Nora touched the mare the
faintest little flick with the end of her long whip. The creature
responded to her touch as though girl and horse were one.

At last they drew up outside a dilapidated gate, one hinge of which
was off. The Squire jumped down from his seat, came round, and held
the horse's head.

"Whoa! whoa!" he said. "Hullo, you, Mike! Why aren't you in your
place? Come and open the gate this minute, lad."

A small boy, with bare feet and ragged trousers, came hurrying, head
over heels, down the road. Mrs. O'Shanaghgan shuddered and shut her
eyes. The gate was swung open. Nora led the mare skillfully round a
somewhat sharp corner, and the next instant they were dashing with
headlong speed up a steep avenue. It was neglected; weeds grew all
over it, and the adjacent meadows were scarcely distinguishable from
the avenue itself.

The Squire ran after the dog-cart, and leaped up while the mare was
going at full speed.

"Well done, father!" called back Nora.

"Heaven preserve us!" thought Mrs. O'Shanaghgan, who still sat
speechless, and as if made of iron.

At last they reached a long, rambling old house, with many small
windows, interspersed with a few of enormous dimensions. These were
called parliament windows, and had been put into many houses of that
period in order to avoid the window-tax. Most of the windows were
open, and out of some of them ragged towels were drying in the
evening breeze. About half a dozen dogs, most of which were of
mongrel breed, rushed forward at the sound of the wheels, barking
vociferously. Nora, with a dexterous touch of her hand, drew the
mare up just in front of the mansion, and then sprang lightly to her
feet.'

"Now, mother, shall I help you down?"

"You had better find out first if Mrs. Murphy is in," said the
Squire's wife.

A ragged urchin, such as seemed to abound like mushrooms in the
place, came and held the reins close to the horse's mouth. The
creature stood trembling from the violence of her exertions, and
pouring down moisture at every pore. "She wants to be well rubbed
down," said the Squire. "She doesn't get half exercise enough; this
will never do. What if I have to make money on her, and she is
spoiled?"

The low words which came to his lips were not heard by anyone; there
was a frown, very like Nora's own, between his brows. The next
moment a small man, with reddish hair, in a very shabby suit of
half-worn tweed, appeared on the steps of the front door.

"Hullo, O'Shanaghgan, is that yourself?" he called out. "How are you,
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan? Right glad to see you. You'll step inside--won't
you? I believe the wife is somewhere round. Neil, my man, go and look
for the missus. Tell her that Madam O'Shanaghgan is here, and the
Squire. Well, Nora, I suppose you are wanting a chat with Bridget?
You won't find her indoors this fine evening."

"Where is she, Mr. Murphy?" asked the girl. "I do want to have a
talk with her."

"Ah! what's the basket for?"

"I want her to give me some of the pretty brown eggs."

"Well, go right down there by the sea-path, and you'll find her, as
likely as not."

"Very well," answered Nora. Slinging her basket on her arm, she
started for her walk. As soon as she was out of sight she began to
run. Presently she stopped and began whistling "The Wearing of the
Green," which was responded to in a moment by another voice, sweet
as that of a blackbird. She looked to right and left, and presently
saw a pair of laughing black eyes looking down at her from beneath
the shelter of a huge oak tree.

"Here I am. Will you climb up?" said the voice of Bridget Murphy.

"Give me a hand, and I'll be up with you in a moment," said Nora.
She tossed her basket on the ground; a very firm, little brown hand
was extended; and the next moment the girls were seated side by side
on a stout branch of the tree.

"Well, and what has brought you along here?" said Bridget.

"I came with father and mother in the dog-cart," replied Nora.
"Father let me drive Black Bess. I had a jolly time; but she did
pull a bit--my wrists are quite stiff."

"I am glad you have come," said the other girl. "I was having a
concert all by myself. I can imitate the thrush, the blackbird, and
most of the birds round here. Shall I do the thrush for you?"

Before Nora could speak she began imitating the full liquid notes of
the bird to perfection.

"I declare you have a genius for it," said Nora. "But how are you
yourself, Biddy?"

"What should ail me?" replied Biddy. "I never had a care nor a worry
nor a trouble yet; the day is long, and my heart is light. I am at
peace, and I never had an ache in my body yet. But what is up with
you, Nora alannah?"

"It's that mortgage, you know," said Nora, dropping her voice. "What
is your father going to do?"

"Oh, the mortgage," said Bridget. "Mr. Morgan came down from Dublin
yesterday; he and father had a long talk. I don't know. I believe
there's worry in the air, and when there is I always steer clear of
it."

"Your father, you mean?"

"I can't tell you; don't question me. I am glad you have come. Can't
you stay for the night?"

"No, I can't. I must go back with father and mother. The fact is
this, Bridget, I believe your father would do anything in the world
for you."

"I suppose he would. What do you want to coax out of me now? Oh,
Nora alannah! don't let us talk of worries. Come down to the sea
with me--won't you? I have found the most lovely cave. I mean to
explore it with lanterns. You go into the cave, and you can walk in
nearly half a mile; and then it takes a sudden turn to the right,
and they say there's an entrance into another cave, and just beyond
that there's a ghost supposed to be. Some people say it is the home
of the O'Shanaghgans' Banshee; but whatever it is, I mean to see all
about it."

"Do you mean the Sea-Nymphs' Cave?" said Nora. "But you can only get
to that by crossing the bay."

"Yes. Well, I am going tomorrow night; the moon is at the full. You
will come over and go with me--won't you?"

"Oh! I wish I could."

"But why can't you? Don't let us worry about fathers and mothers.
We're a pair of girls, and must have our own larks. There's Neil and
there's Mike; they will get the boat all ready, and we can start off
for the cave just when the tide is high; we can only get in then.
We'll run the boat in as far as it will go, and we'll see what we'll
see. You will come--won't you, Nora?"

"I should like it of all things in the world," said Nora.

"Well, why not? You can come over tomorrow afternoon, and stay the
night here. Just say that I have asked you."

"But mother does not much like my sleeping out."

"You mean that she does not like you to sleep at the house of the
wild Murphys--that's what you mean, Nora. Then, get away; I don't
want to force my company on you. I am as good as any other girl in
Ireland; I have the blood of the old Irish kings in my veins; but if
you are too proud to come, why----"

"I am not, and you know it," said Nora; "but mother is an Englishwoman,
and she thinks we are all a little rough, you and I into the bargain.
All the same, I'll come to-morrow. I do want to explore that cave. Yes,
I'll come if you give me a proper invitation before mother."

"Oh, mercy me!" said the girl, "must I go back to the house? I am so
precious shabby, and your lady-mother has got such piercing eyes.
But there, we can smuggle in the back way. I'll go up to my room and
put on my bits of finery. Bedad! but I look as handsome as the best
when I am dressed up. Come along, Nora; we'll get in the back way,
and I'll give the invitation in proper style."

CHAPTER IV.

THE INVITATION.

Bridget and Nora began to climb up a very steep and narrow winding
path. It was nothing more than a grass path in the midst of a lot of
rock and underwood, but the girls were like young chamois, and
leaped over such obstacles with the lightness of fawns. Presently
they arrived at the back entrance of Cronane, the Murphys' decidedly
dilapidated residence. They had to cross a courtyard covered with
rough cobbles and in a sad state of neglect and mess. Some pigs were
wallowing in the mire in one corner, and a rough pony was tethered
to a post not far off; he was endeavoring, with painful insistence,
to reach a clump of hay which was sticking out of a hayrick a foot
or two away. Nora, seeing his wistful eyes, sprang forward, pulled a
great handful of the hay, and held it to his mouth. The little
creature almost whinnied with delight.

"There you are," said Bridget. "What right have you to give our hay
to that pony?"

"Oh, nonsense," said Nora; "the heart in him was starving." She
flung her arms round the pony's neck, pressed a kiss on his
forehead, and continued to cross the yard with Biddy. Two or three
ragged urchins soon impeded their path; one of them was the
redoubtable Neil, the other Mike.

"Is it to-morrow night you want the boat, Miss Biddy?" said Neil.

Bridget dropped her voice to a whisper.

"Look here, Neil," she said, "mum's the word; you are not to let it
out to a soul. You and Mike shall come with us, and Miss Nora is
coming too."

Neil cast a bashful and admiring glance at handsome Nora, as she
stood very erect by Biddy's side.

"All right, miss," he said.

"At ten o'clock," said Bridget; "have the boat in the cove then, and
we'll be down there and ready."

"But they say, miss, that the Banshee is out on the nights when the
moon is at the full."

"The O'Shanaghgans' Banshee," said Biddy, glancing at Nora, whose face
did not change a muscle, although the brightness and wistfulness in
her eyes were abundantly visible. She was saying to herself:

"I would give all the world to speak to the Banshee alone--to ask
her to get father out of his difficulty."

She was half-ashamed of these thoughts, although she knew and almost
gloried in the fact that she was superstitious to her heart's core.

She and Biddy soon entered the house by the back entrance, and ran up
some carpetless stairs to Biddy's own room. This was a huge bedroom,
carpetless and nearly bare. A little camp-bed stood in one corner,
covered by a colored counterpane; there was a strip of carpet beside
the bed, and another tiny strip by a wooden washhand-stand. The two
great parliament windows were destitute of any curtain or even blind;
they stared blankly out across the lovely summer landscape as hideous
as windows could be.

It was a perfect summer's evening; but even now the old frames
rattled and shook, and gave some idea of how they would behave were
a storm abroad.

Biddy, who was quite accustomed to her room and never dreamed that
any maiden could sleep in a more luxurious chamber, crossed it to
where a huge wooden wardrobe stood. She unlocked the door, and took
from its depths a pale-blue skirt trimmed with quantities of dirty
pink flounces.

"Oh, you are not going to put _that_ on," said Nora, whose own
training had made her sensitive to incongruity in dress.

"Yes, I am," said Biddy. "How can I see your lady-mother in this
style of thing?"

She went and stood in front of Nora with her arms akimbo.

"Look," she said, "my frock has a rent from here to here, and this
petticoat is none of the best, and my stockings--well, I know it is
my own fault, but I _won't_ darn them, and there is a great
hole just above the heel. Now, this skirt will hide all blemishes."

"But what will your mother say?"

"Bless her!" said Biddy, "she won't even notice. Here, let's whip on
the dress."

She hastily divested herself of her ragged cotton skirt, and put on
the pale blue with the dirty silk flounces.

"What are you looking so grave for?" she said, glancing up at Nora.
"I declare you're too stately for anything, Nora O'Shanaghgan! You
stand there, and I know you criticise me."

"No; I love you too much," replied Nora. "You are Biddy Murphy, one
of my greatest friends."

"Ah, it's sweet to hear her," said Biddy.

"But, all the same," continued Nora, "I don't like that dress, and
it's terribly unsuitable. You don't look ladylike in it."

"Ladylike, and I with the blood of----"

"Oh, don't begin that," said Nora; "every time I see you you mention
that fact. I have not the slightest doubt that the old kings were
ruffians, and dressed abominably."

"If you dare," said Biddy. She rushed up to the bed, dragged out her
pillow, and held it in a warlike attitude. "Another word about my
ancestors, and this will be at your devoted head!" she cried.

Nora burst into a merry laugh.

"There, now, that's better," said Biddy. She dropped the pillow and
proceeded with her toilet. The dirty skirt with its tawdry flounces
was surmounted by a bodice of the same material, equally unsuitable.

Biddy brushed out her mop of jet-black hair, which grew in thick curls
all over her head and stood out like a mop round her shoulders. She was
a plain girl, with small, very black eyes, a turned-up nose, and a wide
mouth; but there was an irresistible expression of drollery in her face,
and when she laughed, showing her milk-white teeth, there were people
who even thought her attractive. Nora really loved her, although the
two, standing side by side, were, as far as appearances were concerned,
as the poles asunder.

"Now, come along," said Biddy. "I know I look perfectly charming. Oh,
what a sweet, sweet blue it is, and these ducky little flounces! It
was Aunt Mary O'Flannagan sent me this dress at Christmas. She wore
it at a fancy ball, and said it might suit me. It does, down to the
ground. Let me drop a courtesy to you, Nora O'Shanaghgan. Oh, how
proper we look! But I don't care! Now I'm not afraid to face anyone--why,
the old kings would have been proud of me. Come along--do."

She caught Nora's hand; they dashed down the wide, carpetless stairs,
crossed a huge hall, and entered a room which was known as the
drawing room at Cronane. It was an enormous apartment, but bore the
same traces of neglect and dirt which the whole of the rest of the
house testified to. The paper on the walls was moldy in patches, and
in one or two places it had detached itself from the wall and fell
in great sheets to the ground. One loose piece of paper was tacked
up with two or three huge tacks, and bulged out, swaying with the
slightest breeze. The carpet, which covered the entire floor, was
worn threadbare; but, to make up for these defects, there were
cabinets of the rarest and most exquisite old china, some of the
pieces being worth fabulous sums. Vases of the same china adorned
the tall marble mantelpiece, and stood on brackets here and there
about the room. There were also some exquisite and wonderfully
carved oak, a Queen Anne sofa, and several spindle-legged chairs. An
old spinet stood in a distant window, and the drab moreen curtains
had once been handsome.

Standing on the hearth, with his elbow resting on the marble
mantelpiece close to a unique vase of antique design, stood Squire
O'Shanaghgan. He was talking in pleasant and genial tones to Mrs.
Murphy, a podgy little woman, with a great likeness to Biddy.

Mrs. Murphy wore a black alpaca dress and a little three-cornered
knitted shawl across her shoulders. She had gray hair, which curled
tightly like her daughter's; on top of it was a cap formed of rusty
black velvet and equally rusty black lace. She looked much excited
at the advent of the Squire, and her cheeks testified to the fact by
the brightness of their color.

Mr. Murphy was doing penance opposite to Mrs. O'Shanaghgan. He was
dreadfully afraid of that stately lady, and was glancing nervously
round at his wife and the Squire from moment to moment.

"Yes, madam," he was saying, "it's turnips we are going to plant in
that field just yonder. We have had a very good crop of hay too. It
is a fine season, and the potatoes promise to be a sight for sore
eyes."

"I hate the very name of that root," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan in her
most drawling tones.

"Why, then, ma'am, you don't say so," answered Murphy; "it seems
hard on the poor things that keep us all going. The potheen and the
potatoes--what would Ireland be without 'em? Glory be to goodness,
it's quite awful to hear you abusing the potato, ma'am."

"I am English, you know," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan.

On this scene Nora and Biddy entered. Mr. Murphy glanced with intense
relief at his daughter. Mrs. O'Shanaghgan slightly raised her brows.
It was the faintest of movements, but the superciliousness of the
action smote upon Nora, who colored painfully.

Biddy, taking her courage in her hand, went straight up to the
august lady.

"How do you do?" she said.

Mrs. O'Shanaghgan extended her hand with a limp action.

"Oh, dear!" panted Biddy.

"What is up, my dear Bridget?" said her mother, turning round and
looking at her daughter. "Oh, to goodness, what have you put that on
for? It's your very best Sunday-go-to-meeting dress, and you won't
have another, I can tell you, for six months."

"There now, mother, hush, do," said Biddy. "I have put it on for a
purpose. Why, then, it's sweet I want to make myself, and I believe
it's sweet I look. Oh, there's the mirror; let me gaze at myself."

She crossed the room, and stood in front of a long glass, examining
her unsuitable dress from the front and side; and then, being
thoroughly satisfied with the elegance of appearance, she went back
and stood in front of Mrs. O'Shanaghgan.

"It's a request I want to make of you, ma'am," she said.

"Well, Biddy, I will listen to it if you will ask me properly," said
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan.

"Yes, to be sure," said Biddy. "How shall I say it?"

"Speak quietly, my dear."

"Yes, Biddy, I do wish you would take pattern by Nora, and by Mrs.
O'Shanaghgan," said Mrs. Murphy, who in her heart of hearts envied
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan's icy manners, and thought them the most perfect
in all the world. She was in mortal fear of this good lady, even
more terrified of her than her husband was.

"Well, Biddy," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan.

"May Nora come and spend tomorrow night here?"

"No," was on Mrs. O'Shanaghgan's lips; but just then the Squire came
forward.

"To be sure she may; it will do her a sight of good. The child
hardly ever goes from home."

Mrs. O'Shanaghgan raised displeased eyes to her husband's face.

"Girls of Nora's age ought to stay at home," she said.

"Yes, to be sure, to be sure," said the Squire; "and we would miss
her awfully if she was away from us; but a day or two off duty--eh,
madam?" He glanced at his wife.

"You have your answer, Biddy," said Mrs. O'Shanaghgan; "her father
wishes Nora to accept your invitation. She may stay away for one
night--no longer."

Biddy winked broadly round at Nora.

"Now, then," she said, "come along." She seized her friend by the arm,
and whisked her out of the room.

"It was the dress that did it," she said; "it is the loveliest
garment in all the world. Come along now, and let's take it off. I
want to gather those eggs for you."

She ran upstairs again, followed by Nora. The dress was disposed of in
the large wooden wardrobe, the old torn frock readjusted on Biddy's
stout form, and the girls went out into the lovely summer air. The
eggs which Nora required were put into the little basket, and in
half an hour the O'Shanaghgans' party were returning at full speed
to Castle O'Shanaghgan. Nora glanced once into her father's face, and
her heart gave a great leap. Her high spirits left her as if by magic;
she felt a lump in her throat, and during the rest of the drive hardly
spoke.

The Squire, on the contrary, talked incessantly. He talked more than
ever after Nora had looked at him. He slapped his wife on the
shoulder, and complimented her on her bravery. Nora's driving was
the very best in all the world; she was a born whip; she had no fear
in her; she was his own colleen, the Light o' the Morning, the dearest,
sweetest soul on earth.

Mrs. O'Shanaghan replied very briefly and coldly to her husband's
excited words. She treated them with what she imagined the contempt
they deserved; but Nora was neither elated just then by her father's
praise nor chilled by her mother's demeanor. Every thought of her
heart, every nerve in her highly strung frame, was concentrated on
one fact alone--she had surprised a look, a look on the Squire's
face, which told her that his heart was broken.

CHAPTER V.

"I AM ASHAMED OF YOU."

It was late that same evening, and the household at the Castle had
all retired to rest. Nora was in her own room. This room was not
furnished according to an English girl's fancy. It was plain and
bare, but, compared to Biddy Murphy's chamber, it was a room of
comfort and even luxury. A neat carpet covered the floor, there were
white dimity curtains to the windows, and the little bed in its
distant recess looked neat and comfortable. It is true that the
washhand-stand was wooden, and the basin and jug of the plainest
type; but Mrs. O'Shanaghgan herself saw that Nora had at least what
she considered the necessaries of life. She had a neat hanging-press
for her dresses, and a pretty chest of drawers, which her mother
herself had saved up her pin-money to buy for her.

Nora now stood by one of the open windows, her thick and very long
black hair hanging in a rippling mass over her neck and shoulders.
Suddenly, as she bent out of the window, the faint, very faint
perfume of a cigar came up on the night air. She sniffed excitedly
for a moment, and then, bending a little more forward, said in a low
tone:

"Is that you, Terry?"

"Yes--why don't you go to bed?" was the somewhat ungracious
response.

"I am not sleepy. May I come down and join you?"

"No."

"Will you come up and join me?"

The answer was about to be "No"; there was a moment's hesitation,
then Nora's voice said pleadingly, "Ah, do now, Terry; I want to say
something so badly."

"But if anybody hears?"

"They can't hear. Father and mother's room is at the other end of
the house."

"All right; don't say any more; you'll wake people with that chatter
of yours. I'm coming."

In a couple of minutes there was a knock at Nora's door. She flew to
open it, and Terence came in.

"What do you want?" he said.

"To talk to you; I have got something to say. Come over and sit by
the window."

Terence obeyed.

"The first thing to do is to put out that light," said Nora. She ran
to the dressing table, and before her brother could prevent her had
extinguished the candle.

"Now, then, there is the dear old lady moon to look down upon us,
and nothing else can see us."

"Why don't you go to bed, Nora? Hannah would say that you are losing
your beauty-sleep sitting up at this, hour."

"As if anything about me mattered just now," said Nora.

"Why, what's up?"

"The old thing, Terry; you must know what's up."

"What old thing? I am sure I can't guess."

"Well, then, if you can't you ought. Father is in a peck of trouble--a
peck of trouble."

Nora's voice broke and trembled. Terence, who disliked a scene beyond
anything, fidgeted restlessly. He leaned out of the window, and dropped
his cigar ash on the ground beneath.

"And you are his only son and the heir to Castle O'Shanaghgan."

"The heir to a pack of ruins," said the boy impatiently.

"Terry, you don't deserve to be father's son. How dare you speak
like that of the--the beloved old place?"

"Come, come, Nora, if you are going into heroics I think I'll be off
to bed," said Terence, yawning.

"No, you won't; you must listen. I have got something most important
to say."

"Well, then, I will give you five minutes; not another moment. I
know you, Nora; you always exaggerate things. You are an Irishwoman
to your backbone."

"I am, and I glory in the fact."

"You ought to be ashamed to glory in it. Don't you want to have
anything to do with mother and her relations?"

"I love my mother, but I am glad I don't take after her," said Nora;
"yes, I am glad."

The moon shone on the two young faces, and Nora looked up at her
brother; he put on a supercilious smile, and folded his arms across
his broad chest.

"Yes," she replied; "and I should like to shake you for looking like
that. I am glad I am Irish through and through and _through_.
Would I give my warm heart and my enthusiasm for your coldness and
deliberation?"

"Good gracious, Nora, what a little ignorant thing you are! Do you
suppose no Englishman has enthusiasm?"

"We'll drop the subject," said Nora. "It is one I won't talk of; it
puts me into such a boiling rage to see you sitting like that."

Terence did not speak at all for a moment; then he said quietly:

"What is this thing that you have got to tell me? The five minutes
are nearly up, you know."

"Oh, bother your five minutes! I cannot tell you in five minutes.
When my heart is scalded with unshed tears, how can I measure time
by _minutes_? It has to do with father; it is worse than
anything that has ever gone before."

"What is it, Norrie?" Her brother's tone had suddenly become gentle.
He laid his hand for a moment on her arm; the gentleness of the tone,
the unexpected sweetness of the touch overcame Nora; she flung her
arms passionately round his neck.

"Oh, and you are the only brother I have got!" she sobbed; "and I
could love you--I could love you like anything. Can't you be
sympathetic? Can't you be sweet? Can't you be dear?"

"Oh, come, come!" said Terence, struggling to release himself from
Nora's entwining arms; "I am not made like you, you know; but I am
not a bad chap at heart. Now, what is it?"

"I will try and tell you."

"And for goodness' sake don't look so sorrowfully at me, Nora; we
can talk, and we can act and do good deeds, without giving ourselves
away. I hate girls who wear their hearts on their sleeves."

"Oh! you will _never_ understand," said Nora, starting back
again; all her burst of feeling turned in upon herself. "I can't
imagine how you are father's son," she began. But then she stopped,
waited for a moment, and then said quietly, "There is a fresh
mortgage, and it is for a very big sum."

"Oh, is that all?" said Terence. "I have heard of mortgages all my
life; it seems to be the fashion at O'Shanaghgan to mortgage to any
extent. There is nothing in that; father will give up a little more
of the land."

"How much land do you think is left?"

"I am sure I can't say; not much, I presume."

"It is my impression," said Nora--"I am not sure; but it is my
impression--that there is _nothing_ left to meet this big thing
but the--the--the land on which"--her voice broke--"Terry, the land
on which the house stands."

"Really, Nora, you are so melodramatic. I don't know how you can
know anything of this."

"I only guess. Mother is very unhappy."

"Mother? Is she?"

"Ah, I have touched you there! But anyhow, father is in worse
trouble than he has been yet; I never, _never_ saw him look as
he did tonight."

"As if looks mattered."

"The look I saw tonight does matter," said Nora. "We were coming
home from Cronane, and I was driving."

"It is madness to let you drive Black Bess," interrupted Terence. "I
wonder my father risks spoiling one of his most valuable horses."

"Oh, nonsense, Terry; I can drive as well as you, and better, thanks,"
replied Nora, much nettled, for her excellent driving was one of the
few things she was proud of. "Well, I turned round, and I saw father's
face, and, oh! it was just as if someone had stabbed me through the
heart. You know, or perhaps you don't, that the last big loan came
from Squire Murphy."

"Old Dan Murphy; then we are as safe as we can be," said Terence,
rising and whistling. "You really did make me feel uncomfortable,
you have such a queer way; but if it is Dan Murphy, he will give
father any amount of time. Why, they are the best of friends."

"Well, father went to see him on the subject--I happen to know that--and
I don't think he has given him time. There is something wrong, anyhow--I
don't know what; but there _is_ something very wrong, and I mean
to find out tomorrow."

"Nora, if I were you I wouldn't interfere. You are only a young girl,
and these kind of things are quite out of your province. Father has
pulled along ever since you and I were born. Most Irish gentlemen
are poor in these days. How can they help it? The whole country is
going to ruin; there is no proper trade; there is no proper system
anywhere. The tenants are allowed to pay their rent just as they
please----"

"As if we could harry them," said inconsistent Nora. "The poor
dears, with their tiny cots and their hard, hard times. I'd rather
eat dry bread all my days than press one of them."

"If these are your silly views, you must expect our father to be badly
off, and the property to go to the dogs, and everything to come to an
end," said the brother in a discontented tone. "But there, I say once
more that you have exaggerated in this matter; there is nothing more
wrong than there has been since I can remember. I am glad I am going
to England; I am glad I am going to be out of it all for a bit."

"You going to England--you, Terry?"

"Yes. Don't you know? Our Uncle George Hartrick has asked me to stay
with him, and I am going."

"And you can go? You can leave us just now?"

"Why, of course; there will be fewer mouths to feed. It's a good
thing every way."

"But Uncle George is a rich man?"

"What of that?"

"I mean he lives in a big place, and has heaps and heaps of money,"
said Nora.

"So much the better."

"You cannot go to him _shabby_. What are you going to do for
dress?"

"Mother will manage that."

"Mother!" Nora leaped up from the window-ledge and stood facing her
brother. "You have spoken to mother?"

"Of course I have. Dear me, Nora, you are getting to be quite an
unpleasant sort of girl."

"You have spoken to mother," repeated Nora, "and she has promised to
help you? How will she do it?"

Terence moved restlessly.

"I suppose she knows herself how she will do it."

"And you will let her?" said Nora--"you, a man, will let her? You
know she has no money; you know she has nothing but her little
trinkets, and you allow her to sell those to give you pleasure? Oh,
I am ashamed of you! I am sorry you are my brother. How can you do
it?"

"Look here, Nora, I won't be scolded by you. After all, I am your
elder, and you are bound, at any rate, to show me decent outward
respect. If you only mean to talk humbug of this sort I am off to
bed."

Terence rose from his place on the window-ledge, and, without
glancing at Nora, left the room. When he did so she clasped her
hands high above her head, and sat for a moment looking out into the
night. Her face was quivering, but no tears rose to her wide-open
eyes. After a moment she turned, and began very slowly to undress.

"I will see the Banshee tomorrow, if it is possible," she whispered
under her breath. "If ruin can be averted, it shall be. I don't mind
leaving the place; I don't mind starving. I don't mind _anything_
but that look on father's face. But father's heart shall not be broken;
not while Nora O'Shanaghgan is in the world."

CHAPTER VI.

THE CAVE OF THE BANSHEE.

At ten o'clock on the following evening two eager excited girls
might have been seen stealing down a narrow path which led to
Murphy's Cove. Murphy's Cove was a charming little semicircular bay
which ran rather deeply into the land. The sand here was of that
silvery sheen which, at low tide, shone like burnished silver. The
cove was noted for its wonderful shells, producing many cowries and
long shells called pointers.

In the days of her early youth Nora had explored the treasures of
this cove, and had secured a valuable collection of shells, as well
as very rare seaweeds, which she had carefully dried. Her mother had
shown her how to make seaweeds and shells into baskets, and many of
these amateur productions adorned the walls of Nora's bedroom.

All the charm of these things had passed away, however; the time had
come when she no longer cared to gather shells or collect seaweeds.
She felt that she was turning very fast into a woman. She had all an
Irish girl's high spirits; but she had, added to these, a peculiarly
warm and sensitive heart. When those she loved were happy, no one in
all the world was happier than Nora O'Shanaghgan; but when any gloom
fell on the home-circle, then Nora suffered far more than anyone
gave her credit for.

She had passed an anxious day at home, watching her father intently,
afraid to question him, and only darting glances at him when she
thought he was not looking. The Squire, however, seemed cheerful
enough, plodding over his land, or arranging about the horses, or
doing the thousand-and-one small things which occupied his life.

Mrs. O'Shanaghgan seemed to have forgotten all about the mortgage,
and was eagerly discussing ways and means with Terence. Terence
avoided Nora's eyes, and rode off early in the evening to see the
nearest tailor. It was not likely that this individual could make a
fitting suit for the young heir to O'Shanaghgan; but the boy must
have something to travel in, and Mrs. O'Shanaghgan gave implicit
directions as to the London tailor whom he was to visit as soon as
he reached the Metropolis.

"For you are to look your best, and never to forget that you are my
son," was her rejoinder; and Terence forgot all about Nora's words
on the previous evening. He was to start in two days' time. Even
Nora became excited over his trip and in her mother's account of her
Uncle Hartrick.

"I wish you were going, Nora," said the mother. "I should be proud
of you. Of course you are a little rough colt; but you could be
trained;" and then she looked with sudden admiration at her handsome
daughter.

"She has a face in a thousand," she thought, "and she is absolutely
unconscious of her beauty."

At five o'clock Nora had started off in the pony-trap to visit her
friend Biddy. The trap had been brought back by one of the numerous
gossoons who abounded all over O'Shanaghgan, and Biddy and Nora had a
few hours before the great secret expedition was to take place. And
now the time had come. The girls had put on thick serge petticoats,
short jackets, and little tight-fitting caps on their heads. There
was always a breeze blowing round that extreme corner of the Atlantic.
Never did the finest summer day find the waves calm there. Nora and
Biddy had been accustomed to these waves since their earliest girlhood,
and were not the least afraid. They stood now waiting in the little
cove, and looking round wonderingly for the appearance of Mike and
Neil upon the scene. They were to bring the boat with them. The girls
were to wade through the surf to get into it, and Biddy was stooping
down to take off her shoes and stockings for the purpose.

"Dear, dear!" she cried. "Do you see that ugly bank of clouds just
behind the moon? I hope my lady moon is not going to hide herself;
we can do nothing in the cave if we have not light."

"But the cave is dark, surely?"

"Yes. But don't you know there is a break in the cliffs above, just
in the center? And it is down there the moon sends its shafts when
it is at the full; it is there the Banshee will meet us, if we are
to see her at all. The shafts from the moon will only enter the cave
at midnight. I have counted the times, and I know everything."

"I want to see the Banshee so badly," said Nora.

"You won't be frightened, then, Nora?"

"Frightened? No. Not of our own Banshee."

"They say," began Biddy, "that if you see a spirit, and come face to
face with it, you are good for--"

"What?" said Nora.

"If you hold out during the year you have seen the spirit, you are
good to live for another ten; but during that first year you are in
extreme danger of dying. If you escape that fate, however, and are
whole and sound, you will be quite safe to live for ten more years.
They say nothing can send you out of the world; not sickness, nor
accidents, nor fire, nor water; but the second year you are liable to
an accident, and the year after to a misfortune; then in the fourth
year your luck turns--in the fourth year you find gold, in the fifth
year health, in the sixth year beauty. Oh, I would give anything to
be beautiful!"

"You are very well as you are, Biddy."

"Very well as I am? What nonsense! Look at my turned-up nose." Here
Biddy pressed her finger on the feature in question.

"It looks very racy," answered Nora.

"Bedad, then, it does that," replied Biddy. "I believe I got it
sound and safe from one of the old----"

"You needn't go on," cried Nora. "I know what you are going to say."

"And why shouldn't I say it? You would be proud enough to be
descended from----"

"Oh, I have a very fine descent of my own," answered Nora, with spirit.

"Now, if I was like you," began Biddy, "wouldn't I be proud, just?
But dear, dear! there never were two Irish girls farther asunder as
far as appearance goes. See here, let me describe myself, feature by
feature. Oh, here's a clear pool. I can get a glimpse of myself in
it. You come and look in too, Nora. Now, then, we can see ourselves.
Oh, holy poker! it's cruel the difference between us. Here's my
forehead low and bumpy, and my little nose, scarcely any of it, and
what there is turned right up to the sky; and my wide mouth, and my
little eyes, and my hair just standing straight up as rakish as you
please. And look at you, with your elegant features and your--oh,
but it's genteel you are!--and I love you, Nora alannah; I love you,
and am not a bit jealous of you."

Here the impulsive girl threw her arms round her friend's neck and
kissed her.

"All the same," she added, "I wish those clouds were not coming up.
It has been so precious hot all day that I should not be the least
surprised if we had a thunderstorm."

"A thunderstorm while we are in the cave would be magnificent," said
Nora.

"Does anything ever frighten you, Nora?"

"I don't think anything in nature could frighten me; but there are
some things I am frightened at."

"What? Do tell me. I should like to know."

"You'll keep it a secret--won't you, Biddy?"

"To be sure I will. When did I ever blaze out anything you told me?
If I am plain, I am faithful."

"Well, I am afraid of _pain_," said Nora.

"Pain! You? But I have seen you scratch yourself ever so deep and
not so much as wink; and I mind that time when you twisted your
ankle and you didn't even pretend you were hurt."

"Oh, it is not that sort of pain. I am terrified of pain when it
affects those I love. But there! don't ask me any more. Here are the
boys; we'll jump into the boat and be off. Why, it is half-past ten,
and it will take half-an-hour's good rowing to cross the bay, and
then we have to enter the cave and----"

"I don't like those clouds," said Biddy. "I wonder if it is safe to
go."

"Safe?" said Nora. "We must go. Mother won't allow me to spend another
night here, and I shall lose my chance. I am determined to speak to the
Banshee or die in the attempt."

The splash of oars was now distinctly audible, and the next moment a
four-oared gig swiftly turned the little promontory and shot with a
rapid movement into the bay.

"Why," said Biddy, running forward, "who's in the boat?"

A lad and a man now stood upright and motioned to the girls.

"Where's Neil?" said Biddy.

"Neil could not come, Miss Biddy, so I'm taking his place," said the
deep voice of a powerful-looking man. He had a black beard down to
his waist, flashing black eyes, a turned-up nose, and a low forehead.
A more bull-dog and ferocious-looking individual it would be hard to
find. Biddy, however, knew him; he was Neil's father--Andy Neil, as
he was called. He was known to be a lawless and ferocious man, and
was very much dreaded by most of the neighbors around. Neither Nora
nor Biddy, however, felt any reason to fear him and Nora said almost
cheerfully:

"As we are to have such a stiff row, it is just as well to have a
man in the boat."

"Faix, now, young ladies, come along, and don't keep me waiting,"
said Andy, rising and brandishing one of his oars in a threatening
way. "There's a storm coming on, and I want to be out of this afore
it overtakes us. Oh, glory be to goodness, there's a flash of
lightning!"

There came a flash on the edge of the horizon, lighting up the thick
bank of rapidly approaching clouds.

"Nora, had we better go tonight?" said Biddy. She had as little fear
as her friend, but even she did not contemplate with pleasure a wild
storm in the midst of the Atlantic.

The man Neil looked gravely round.

"Och! good luck to ye now, young ladies; don't be kaping me waiting
after the botheration of coming to fetch yez. Come along, and be
quick about it."

"To be sure," said Nora. She splashed bravely into the surf, for the
boat could not quite reach the shore. The waves reached high above
her pretty, rosy ankles as she stepped into the boat.

Biddy followed in her wake; and then Nora, producing a rough towel,
began to dry her feet. Both girls put on their shoes and stockings
again in absolute silence.

Neil had now faced the boat seaward, and with great sweeps with a pair
of sculls was taking it out to sea. The tide was in their favor, and
they went at a rapid rate. The man did not speak at all, and his face
was in complete shadow. Nora breathed hard in suppressed excitement
and delight. Biddy crouched at the bottom of the boat and watched the
clouds as they came up.

"I wish I hadn't come," she muttered once or twice.

The boy Mike sat at the stern. The two girls had nothing whatever to
do.

"Shall I take an oar, Andy?" said Nora at last.

"You, miss?"

"I can take a pair of oars and help you," said the girl.

"If it plazes you, miss." The man hastily stepped to the back of the
boat. Nora took her place, and soon they were going at greater speed
than ever. She was a splendid oarswoman, and feathered her oars in
the most approved fashion.

In less than the prescribed half-hour they reached the entrance to
the great cave.

They were safe. A hollow, booming noise greeted them as they came
close. Andy bent forward and gave Nora a brief direction.

"Ship your oars now, miss. Aisy now; aisy now. Now, then, I'll take
one pull; pull your left oar again. Now, here we are."

He spoke with animation. Nora obeyed him implicitly. They entered the
shadow of the cave, and the next instant found themselves in complete
darkness. The boat bobbed up and down on the restless water, and just
at that instant a flash of vivid lightning illuminated all the outside
water, followed by a crashing roar of thunder.

"The storm is on us; but, thank the Almighty, we're safe," said
Mike, with a little sob. "I wish to goodness we hadn't come, all the
same."

"And so do I," said Biddy; "it is perfectly awful being in a cave
like this. What shall we do?"

"Do!" said Neil. "Hould your tongues and stay aisy. Faix, it's the
Almighty is having a bit of a talk; you stay quiet and listen."

The four oars were shipped now, and the boat swayed restlessly up
and down.

"Aren't we going any farther?" said Nora.

"Not while this storm lasts. Oh, for goodness' sake, Nora, do stay
quiet," said Biddy.

Andy now produced out of his pocket a box of matches and a candle.
He struck a match, applied it to the candle, and the next moment a
feeble flame shot up. It was comparatively calm within the cave.

"There! that will light us a bit," said Andy. "The storm won't last
long. It's well we got into shelter. Now, then, we'll do fine."

"You don't think," said Biddy, in a terrified tone, "that the cave
will be be crashed in?"

"Glory be to Heaven, no, miss--we have cheated the storm coming here."
The man smiled as he spoke, showing bits of broken teeth. His words
were gentle enough, but his whole appearance was more like that of a
wild beast than a man. Nora looked full at him. The candle lit up her
pale face; her dark-blue eyes were full of courage; a lock of her
black hair had got loose in the exertion of rowing, and had fallen
partly over her shoulder and neck. "Faix, then, you might be the Banshee
herself," said Andy, bending forward and looking at her attentively.

"If the moon comes out again we may see the Banshee," whispered
Nora. "Can we not go farther into the cave? Time is flying." She
took her watch from her pocket and looked at the hour. It was
already past eleven o'clock.

"The storm will be over in good time," said the man. "Do you want to
get the gleam of moonlight in the crack of the inner cave? Is that
what you're afther, missy?"

"Yes," said Nora.

"Well, you stay quiet; you'll reach it right enough."

"Nora wants to see the Banshee, Andy," called out Biddy. "Oh, what a
flash! It nearly blinded me."

"The rain will soon be on us, and then the worst of the storm will
be past," said the man.

Mike uttered a scream; the lightning was now forked and intensely
blue. It flashed into every cranny in the cave, showing the barnacles
on the roof, the little bits of fern, the strange stalactites. After
the flash had passed, the darkness which followed was so intense that
the light of the dim candle could scarcely be seen. Presently the
rain thundered down upon the bare rock above with a tremendous sound;
there were great hailstones; the thunder became less frequent, the
lightning less vivid. In a little more than half an hour the fierce
storm had swept on to other quarters.

"Now, then, we can go forward," said Andy. He took up his oars. "You
had best stay quiet, missies; just sit there in the bottom of the
boat, and let me push ahead."

"Then I will hold the candle," said Nora.

"Right you are, miss."

She took it into her cold fingers. Her heart was beating high with
suppressed excitement; she had never felt a keener pleasure in her
life. If only she might see the Banshee, and implore the spirit's
intercession for the fortunes of her house!

The man rowed on carefully, winding round corners and avoiding many
dangers. At last they came bump upon some rocks.

"Now, then," he said, "we can't go a step farther."

"But we must," said Nora. "We have not reached the chasm in the
rock. We must."

"We dare not, miss; the boat hasn't water enough to float her."

"Well, then, I shall wade there. How far on is the chasm?"

"Oh, Nora! Nora! you won't be so mad as to go alone?" called out
Biddy.

"I shan't be a scrap afraid," said Nora.

"But there's water up to your knees; you dare not do it," said
Biddy.

"Yes, I dare; and the tide is going down--is it not?"

"It will be down a good bit in half an hour," said the man, "and
we'll be stranded here as like as not. These are bad rocks when the
tide is low; we must turn and get out of this, miss, in a quarter of
an hour at the farthest."

"Oh, I could just do it in a quarter of an hour," said Nora.

She jumped up, and the next moment had sprung out of the boat into
the water, which nearly reached up to her knees.

"Oh, Nora! Nora! you'll be lost; you'll slip and fall in that awful
darkness, and we'll never see you again," said Biddy, with a cry of
terror.

"No, no; let her go," said Andy. "There ain't no fear, miss; you
have but to go straight on, holding your candle and avoiding the
rocks to your left, and you'll come to the opening. Be as quick as
you can, Miss Nora; be as quick as you can."

His voice had a queer note in it. Nora gave him a look of gratitude,
and proceeded on her dangerous journey. Her one fear was that the
candle might go out; the flame flickered as the air got less good; the
hot grease scalded her fingers; but suddenly a breeze of fresher air
reached her, and warned her that she was approaching the aperture.
There came a little puff of wind, and the next moment the brave girl
found herself in total darkness. The candle had gone out. Just at that
instant she heard, or fancied she heard, a splash behind her in the
water. There was nothing for it now but to go forward. She resolved
not to be terrified. Perhaps it was a water-rat; perhaps it was the
Banshee. Her heart beat high; still she had no fear. She was going to
plead for her father. What girl would be terrified with such a cause
in view? She walked slowly and carefully on, and at last the fresher
air was followed by a welcome gleam of light; she was approaching the
opening. The next moment she had found it. She stood nearly up to her
knees in the water; the shaft of moonlight was piercing down into the
cave. Nora went and stood in the moonlight. The hole at the top was
little more than a foot in width; there was a chasm, a jagged chasm,
through which the light came. She could see a bit of cloudless sky,
and the cold moonlight fell all over her.

"Oh, Banshee!--Lady Spirit who belongs to our house, come and speak
to me," cried the girl. "Come from your home in the rock and give me
a word of comfort. A dark time is near, and we implore your help.
Come, come, Banshee--it is the O'Shanaghgans who want you. It is
Nora O'Shanaghgan who calls you now."

The sound of a laugh came from the darkness behind her, and the next
instant the startled girl saw the big form of Andy Neil approaching.

"Don't you be frightened, Miss Nora," he said. "I aint the Banshee,
but I am as good. Faix, now, I want to say something to you. I have
come here for the purpose. There! don't be frightened. I won't hurt
ye--not I; but I want yez to promise me something."

"What is that?" said Nora.

"I have come here for the purpose. _She_ aint no good." He
indicated with a motion of his thumb the distant form of Biddy
within the dark recess of the cave.

"Does Miss Murphy know you have followed me?" said Nora.

"No, she don't know it; she's in the dark. There's the little lad
Mike will look after her. She won't do nothing until we go back."

"Oh, I did want to see the Banshee!"

"The Banshee may come or not," said the man; "but I have my message
to yez, and it is this: If you don't get Squire O'Shanaghgan to let
me keep my little bit of land, and to see that I aint evicted, why,
I'll--you're a bonny lass, you're as purty a young lady as I ever
set eyes on, but I'll drownd yez, deep down here in this hole. No
one will ever know; they'll think you has fallen and got drowned
without no help from me. Yes, I'll do it--yes, I will--unless you
promises that Squire O'Shanaghgan shan't evict me. If I go out, why,
you goes out first. Now, you'll do it; you'll swear that you'll do
it? You'll leave no stone unturned. You'll get 'em to leave me my
cabin where I was born, and the childer was born, and where the wife
died, or I'll drownd yez deep down here in the Banshee's hole.
Look!" said the man as the moon nickered on a deep pool of water;
"they say there is no bottom to it. Just one shlip, and over you
goes, and nobody will ever see Nora O'Shanaghgan again."

"I'm not going to be frightened; you wouldn't do it, Andy," said the
girl.

"Wouldn't I just? You think that I'd be afraid?"

"I don't think so. I am sure you are afraid of nothing."

"Then why shouldn't I do it?"

"Because you wouldn't be so bad, not to an innocent girl who never
harmed you."

"Oh! wouldn't I just? Ain't I a-stharving, and aint the childer
stharving, and why should they turn us out of our bit of a cabin?
Swear you'll do it; swear you won't have me evicted; you has got to
promise."

"_I_ wouldn't evict you--never, never!" said Nora. "Oh, never!"
she added, tears, not of fright, but of pity, filling her eyes. "But
how can I control my father?"

"That's for you to see to, missy; I must go back now, or we'll none
of us leave this cave alive. But you'll just shlip into that water,
and you'll never be heard of again unless you promises. I'll go
back; they none of 'em will know I followed yez. You'll be drowned
here in the deep pool, and I'll go back to the boat, or you promises
and we both goes back."

"But, Andy, what am I to promise?"

"That you won't have me evicted. You say solemn here: 'Andrew Neil,
I would rather die myself or have my tongue cut out, and may the
Holy Mother cast me from her presence forever, and may the evil
spirits take me, if I don't save you, Andy.' You has to say that."

"No, I won't," said Nora with sudden spirit. "I am not afraid. I'll
do my very, very best for you; but I won't say words like those."

The man looked at her attentively.

"I was a little frightened at first," continued Nora; "but I am not
now. I would rather you pushed me into that pool, I would rather
sink and die, than take an awful vow like that. I won't take it.
I'll do my very best to save you, but I won't make a vow."

"Faix, then, miss, it's you that has the courage; but now if I let
yez off this time, will ye do yer best?"

"Yes, I'll do my best."

"If yer don't, bonny as you are, and the light of somebody's eyes,
you'll go out of the world. But, come, I trust yez, and we must be
turning back."

The man took the matches from his pocket, struck one, and lit the
candle. Then, Andy going in front of Nora, they both turned in the
direction where the boat was waiting for them.

CHAPTER VII.

THE MURPHYS.

It was between two and three in the morning when the girls found
themselves back again in the desolate mansion of Cronane. Biddy had
left a window open; they had easily got in by it and gone up to
Biddy's big room on the first floor. They were to sleep together in
Biddy's small bed. Personally, discomforts did not affect them; they
had never been accustomed to luxury, and rather liked the sense of
hardship than otherwise.

"I brought up a bit of supper beforehand," said Biddy. "I am real
hungry. What do you say to cold bacon and taters--eh? I went down to
the larder and got a good few early this morning. I put them in the
cupboard in a brown bowl with a plate over it. You're hungry--aren't
you, Norrie?"

"No, not very," answered Nora.

"What's come to you, you're so quiet? You have lost all your spirit.
I thought we would have a real rollicking time over our supper,
laughing and talking, and telling our adventures. Oh! it was awful
in that cave; and when you were away talking to the lady Banshee I
did have a time of it. I thought that awful Andy was going to murder
me. I had a sort of feeling that he was getting closer and closer,
and I clutched hold of little Mike. I think he was a bit surprised;
I'll give him a penny to-morrow, poor gossoon. But aren't you
hungry, and won't you laugh, and shan't we have a jolly spree?"

"Oh, I shall be very glad to eat something," said Nora; "and I am a
little cold, too. I took a chill standing so long in that icy
water."

"Oh, dear, oh, dear! it's the rheumatics you'll be getting, and then
you'll lose your beautiful straight figure. I must rub your legs.
There, sit on the bed and I'll begin."

Nora submitted to Biddy's ministrations. The room was lit by a small
dip candle, which was placed in an old tin candlestick on the
mantelpiece.

"Dear, dear! the light will be coming in no time, and we can quench
the glim then," said Biddy. "I've got to be careful about candles.
We're precious short of everything at Cronane just now. We're as
poor as church mice; it's horrid to be so desperately poor as that.
But, hurrah for the cold taters and bacon! We'll have a right good
meal. That will warm you up; and I have a little potheen in a black
bottle, too. I'll put some water to it and you shall have a drink."

"I never touch it," said Nora, shuddering.

"But you must tonight, or you'll catch your death of cold. There,
the best thing you can do is to get right into bed. Why, you're
shivering, and your teeth are chattering. It's a fine state Mrs.
O'Shanaghgan will be in tomorrow when you go back to her."

"I must not get ill, Biddy; that would never do," said Nora, pulling
herself together with an effort. "Yes, I'll get into bed; and I'll
take a little of your potheen--very, very weak, if you'll mix it for
me--and I'll have some of the bacon and potatoes. Oh! I would eat
anything rather than be ill. I never was really ill in my life; but
now, of all times, it would never do."

"Well, then, here you go. Tumble into bed. I'll pile the blankets on
you. Now, isn't that better?"

Biddy bustled, intent on hospitality. She propped Nora up with
pillows, pulled a great rug over her shoulders, and heaped on more
and more blankets, which she pulled expeditiously from under the
bed. "They always stay here in the summer," said Biddy. "That's to
keep them aired; and now they're coming in very handy. You have got
four doubled on you now; that makes eight. I should think you'd soon
be warm enough."

"I expect I shall soon be too hot," said Nora; "but this is very
nice."

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