Live to be Useful/Chapter VI

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Great was the uproar in Biddy Dillon's cottage when it was found that Annorah was not coming to make her usual Saturday evening visit to her mother.

Preparations had been made by Father M'Clane for holding a regular confessional; and an hour before sunset, he had taken his seat in the little darkened chamber, behind a table on which four tallow-candles were burning, with an uncertain, flickering light.

It had been decided in the council of relatives and friends that Annorah's only chance of salvation lay in speedy confession, and it was very reasonably supposed, that could she be brought back to that Popish duty, a great point would be gained in the way to her perfect restoration.

It was, therefore, no affectionate, loving circle that had now assembled to "bear a hand" in Annorah's restoration to the faith. One after another went reverently on their knees up the short, steep stairway, and came down lighter in purse, and, as the priest wickedly taught them, absolved of all offences, but swelling with wrath against the poor girl whose coming was so long delayed. And when, at last, it became apparent that she would not come, a storm of abuse was poured upon Biddy, who, it was evident to all, did not cordially join in their violent measures.

Now, Biddy Dillon had too much of the national character to sit down quietly and receive their abuse, and soon a regular quarrel ensued, which would have speedily become a fight, but for the descent of Father M'Clane into their midst, and his imperative command that each one should sit down quietly and "hould his tongue."

"Whisht! whisht! Of what are ye thinking, ye silly gossoons? Will ye bring down the peace officers upon ye, and take out the bit o' the night in the prison, instead o' drinking me health, as ye may, and me helping to do that same? Arrah! Why should ye glower and snarl at each other, like a kennel o' mad puppies, when it's the brave frolic ye may have together? It's the soft looks and the fine words ye must use, an' ye would win the young heretic back; ye may fight over her till the great day o' all, and it will be but a sorrowful waste o' the powther, barrin' the swate chance ye are losing now o' a comfortable frolic. Arrah, now, Dennis darlin', a sup o' the whisky for me, a thrifle sthrong, an' ye plaze. It's a could night to be out wi' an empty stoomach."

"Stay till the morning, father," said Biddy, coming up to him with an anxious face; "we cannot kape peace an' ye do not bide wi' us; the frolic will be all the better an' ye stay to the orderin' o' it,--and the best bed is waitin' yer riverence's convanience. There's Sandy and Mike will fight an' ye lave, and Katy there is ready to tear out the eyes o' big Nelly Murphy. It's quarrelling they've been the whole blessed day. Bide with us, lest the dear childer who is the cause o' it all should be kilt and murdered intirely, an' she sthrays home to-night."

She spoke in a low voice, and he replied in the same tone, drawing her back from the crowd, who were all talking together.

"Look here, Biddy Dillon," he said; "the girl must lave that grand house and come home to live here with you."

"Lave Miss Annie, do ye mane, sir?"

"Small hope for her sowl an' she do not."

"And few are the pennies I can bring to yer riverence when the child has no wages to bring home o' a Saturday. Sorra a hap'orth to spare will I find; it's no me two hands alone can find bread for the mouths o' all, and--"

"Stuff and nonsense!" interrupted the priest; "there's many another place can be had for a sthrong, likely lass like her. Good servants are not over plenty, and she can be better placed."

"But where, I would like ye to tell? It's in a Protestant family she must be, an' she goes out to service at all."

"Yes; but they'll let her alone in some houses. Sorra a bit do the most o' them care what becomes o' the sowl, an' the work be done to their liking. Our Lady be praised! it's to the far counthrees that the Protestant missionaries are sent, and the silver is given; for one-half o' the pains taken wi' the poor crathurs who work in their kitchens would have ruined us all."

"Yer riverence spakes thrue, to be shure," said Biddy; "but for all that, it will never be a bit o' use to thry to make a good Catholic o' Norah, now that she can read the big books and talk so bravely herself. An' it were to be the savin' o' her life, she would never confess to a praste again, or take the holy wafer from his hands. But if ye would take it aisy and lave it to me, and persuade these meddlesome boobies to mind their own particular business, and throuble us no more, it's meself would be sure to bring the handsome sum to yer riverence when I come to confession. Contrariwise, you see, and you kape fussing, and they kape fussing, it's all loss it is to ye, and no gain."

The priest's countenance brightened perceptibly. He seemed much impressed with Biddy's view of the case, and was not slow to perceive its worldly wisdom. So, after addressing the waiting company to some purpose, he left them.

But Biddy sat thoughtfully in a corner, with her lame boy. She had, in her conversation with the priest, cunningly hit on an expedient to propitiate him for a time, but she was ill at ease. She could not at once throw off the chains of teaching that had bound her all her life; and so dim was the light that she had received, that she dared not yet follow it.

"Oh, then, it's a jewel she is, core o' me heart, Norah dear!"

The last two words were whispered so loud that Phelim heard them, and he said, "I've seen her to-night, mother."

"Who? Spake aisy, mavourneen."

"Our Norah."

"When?" questioned his mother, with an anxious glance at the unheeding revellers.

"Afther dusk. I thought ye would like her to kape away to-night."

"Now blessings on ye for a handy callant as ye are," said Biddy, patting his shoulder approvingly. "An' how is she?"

"Well as ever, mother, and kind-tempered and good too. A power of good things she has sent, and they're safe hid in the cellar. The money is in me coat pocket, mother. Shall I give it ye?"

"Not now. Kape it till all be gone. Was she sorry or mad, Phelim?"

"Mad? Not at all. Sorry? I don't know at all. Her voice was all courage and kindness; but I saw big tears on her cheek, for all that."

The mother and son sat silently looking into the fire for a few moments. At last Phelim spoke. "Mother," said the boy, "ye'll not have them abuse her and torment her, just for changing into such a dear crathur?"

"She's a heretic, lad."

"What o' that? She's good, any way," said Phelim stoutly. "I would I were a big man. We'd see who would throuble her then. It's a thrashin' they'd get, an' it's manners they'd learn, and no charges made for the teaching."

"Whisht, lad! it's careful and sly we must be. An' do ye not bother yer poor head wi' yer sister's new notions. It's a nation o' throuble I'd have with a pair o' ye at once; and ye're no earning money, Phelim, boy, to buy off the praste. Kape a still tongue, lad, an' ye bite it in two; an' don't go for to meddle wi' matters concerning yer sowl. The praste an' yer poor mother will kape a sharp look-out; an' it will go hard, shure, if between us ye are not saved at last."

"But, mother, where is the harm if I look for meself a bit? Who can see Norah, so gentle and loving, so careful o' you and me, so pleasant to every one, and not want to know more o' the way she has taken?"

"Yes, yes, lad; but have ye no sense at all? What if ye have been tould a secret, can ye not kape it the same? Now mind, once for all; ye're not to know it at all, if Norah brings home the Word o' the Lord to read to her ould ignorant mother (it's a swate voice she has), and ye shall hear the big Book as well; only mind, Phelim, acushla, ye're to know nothing at all, let who will spake to ye o' the same."

"Yes; but, mother, what if I myself learn to--"

"Hush!--Is it o' me ye are spaking?" asked Biddy, turning to a cluster of people who had drawn near them. "It's no hearty I feel to-night, and poor lame Phelim is kaping me company. Is it room for the dance ye are wanting? The other is the roomiest, and the floor is the plainest."

Hurrying out with ready good-will to assist in the needful preparations, Biddy soon removed any suspicions that might have been entertained in the minds of any of her neighbours of any leaning on her part toward heresy.