Never was little gentleman in such a fuss as Mr. Audleynever were so many orders issued and countermanded and given againnever were Larry Toole's energies so severely tried and his intellects so distractedimpossible tasks and contradictory orders so huddled on his back, that he well nigh went mad under the burthen; at length, however, matters were arranged, two coaches with post-horses were brought to the door, Mary Ashwoode and her attendant were deposited in one, along with such extempore appliances for wardrobe and toilet as Mrs. Pickley, in a hurried excursion, was enabled to collect from the neighbouring shops and pack up for the journey, and Mr. Audley stood ready to take his place in the other.
Larry, said he, before ascending, here are ten guineas, which will keep you in bread and cheese until you hear from me again; don't on any account leave the Cock and Anchor, your master's horse and luggage are there, and, no doubt, whenever he returns to Dublin, which I am very certain must soon occur, he will go directly thither; so be you sure to meet
p.312him there, should he happen during my absence to arrive; and mark me, be very careful of this letter, give it him the moment you see him, which, please God, will be very soon indeed; keep it in some safe placedon't carry it in your breeches pocket, you blockhead, you'll grind it to powder, booby! indeed, now that I think on't, you had better give it at once in charge to the innkeeper of the Cock and Anchor; don't forget, on your life I charge you, and now good-night.
Good-night, and good luck, your honour, and may God speed you! ejaculated Larry, as the vehicles rumbled away. The charioteers had received their directions, and Mary Ashwoode and her trusty companion, confused and bewildered by the rapidity with which events had succeeded one another during the day, and stunned by the magnitude of the dangers which they had so narrowly escaped, found themselves, scarcely crediting the evidence of their senses, rapidly traversing the interval which separated Dublin city from the little town of Naas.
It is not our intention to weary our readers with a detailed account of the occurrences of the journey, nor to present them with a catalogue of all the mishaps and delays to which Irish posting in those days, and indeed much later, was liable; it is enough to state that upon the evening of the fourth day the two carriages clattered into the wretched little village which occupied the road on which opened the avenue leading up to the great house of Ardgillagh. The village, though obviously the abode of little comfort or cheerfulness, was not on that account the less picturesque; the road wound irregularly where it stood, and was carried by an old narrow bridge across a wayward mountain stream which wheeled and foamed in many a sportive eddy within its devious banks. Close by, the little mill was couched among the sheltering trees, which, extending in irregular and scattered groups through the village, and mingling with the stunted bushes and briars of the hedges, were nearly met from the other side of the narrow street by the broad branching limbs of the giant trees which skirted the wild wooded domain of Ardgillagh. Thus occupying a sweeping curve of the road, and embowered among the shadowy arches of the noble timber, the little village had at first sight an air of tranquillity, seclusion, and comfort, which made the traveller pause to contemplate its simple attractions and to admire how it could be that a few wretched hovels with crazy walls and thatch overgrown with weeds, thus irregularly huddled together beneath the rude shelter of the wood, could make a picture so pleasing to the eye and so soothing to the heart. The vehicles were drawn up by their drivers before the door of a small thatched building which, however, stood a whole head and shoulders higher than the surrounding hovels,
p.313exhibiting a second storey with three narrow windows in front, and over its doorway, from which a large pig, under the stimulus of a broomstick, was majestically issuing, a signboard, the admiration of connoisseurs for miles round, presenting a half-length portrait of the illustrious Brian Borhome, and admitted to be a startling likeness. Before this mansionthe only one in the place which pretended to the character of a house of public entertainmentthe post-boys drew bridle, and brought the vehicles to a halt. Mr. Audley was upon the road in an instant, and with fussy gallantry assisting Mary Ashwoode to descend. Their sudden arrival had astounded the whole householdconsternation and curiosity filled the little establishment. The proprietor, who sat beneath the capacious chimney, started to his feet, swallowing, in his surprise, a whole potato, which he was just deliberately commencing, and by a miracle escaped choking. The landlady dropped a pot, which she was scrubbing, upon the back of a venerable personage who was in a stooping posture, lighting his pipe, and inadvertently wiped her face in the pot clout; everybody did something wrong, and nobody anything right; the dog was kicked and the cat scalded, and in short, never was known in the little village of Ardgillagh, within the memory of man, except when Ginckle marched his troops through the town, such a universal hubbub as that which welcomed the two chaises and their contents to the door of Pat Moroney's hospitable mansion.
Mrs. Moroney, with more lampblack upon her comely features than she was at that moment precisely aware of, hastened to the door, which she occupied as completely and exclusively as the corpulent specimen of Irish royalty over her head did his proper sign-board; all the time gazing with an admiring grin upon Mr. Audley and the lady whom he assisted to descend; and at exceedingly short and irregular intervals, executing sundry slight ducks, intended to testify her exuberant satisfaction and respect, while all around and about her were thrust the wondering visages of the less important inmates of the establishment; many were the murmured criticisms, and many the ejaculations of admiration and surprise, which accompanied every movement of the party under observation.
Oh! but she's a fine young lady, God bless her! said one.
But isn't she mighty pale, though, entirely? observed another.
That's her fatherthe little stout gentleman; see how he houlds her hand for fear she'd thrip comin' out. Oh! but he's a nate man! remarked a third.
An' her hand as white as milk; an' look at her fine rings, said a fourth.
She's a rale lady; see the grand look of her, and the stately step, God bless her! said a fifth.
See, see; here's another comin' out; that's her sisther, remarked another.
Hould your tongues, will yees? ejaculated the landlady, jogging her elbow at random into somebody's mouth.
An' see the little one taking the box in her hand, observed one.
Look at the tall lady, how she smiles at her, God bless her! she's a rale good lady, remarked another.
An' now she's linkin' with him, and here they come, by gorra, exclaimed a third.
Back with yees, an' lave the way, exclaimed Mrs. Moroney; don't you see the quality comin' ?
Accordingly, with a palpitating heart, the worthy mistress of King Brian Borhome prepared to receive her aristocratic guests. With due state and ceremony she conducted them into the narrow chamber which, except the kitchen, was the only public apartment in the establishment. After due attention to his fair charge, Mr. Audley inquired of the hostess,
Pray, my good worthy woman, are we not now within a mile or less of the entrance into the domain of Ardgillagh?
The gate's not two perches down the road, your honour, replied she; is it to the great house you want to go, sir?
Yes, my good woman; certainly, replied he.
Come here, Shawneen, come, asthore! cried she, through the half-open door. I'll send the little gossoon with you, your honour; he'll show you the way, and keep the dogs off, for they all knows him up at the great house. Here, Shawneen; this gintleman wants to be showed the way up to the great house; and don't let the dogs near him; do you mind? He hasn't much English, said she, turning to her guest, by way of apology, and then conveying her directions anew in the mother tongue.
Under the guidance of this ragged little urchin, Mr. Audley accordingly set forth upon his adventurous excursion.
Mrs. Moroney brought in bread, milk, eggs, and in short, the best cheer which her limited resources could supply; and, although Mary Ashwoode was far too anxious about the result of Mr. Audley's visit to do more than taste the tempting bowl of new milk which was courteously placed before her, Flora Guy, with right good will and hearty appetite, did ample justice to the viands which the hostess provided.
After some idle talk between herself and Flora Guy, Mrs. Moroney observed in reply to an interrogatory from the girl,
Twenty or thirty years ago there wasn't such a fox-hunter
p.315in the country as Mr. French; but he's this many a year ailing, and winter after winter, it's worse and worse always he's getting, until at last he never stirs out at all; and for the most part he keeps his bed.
Is anyone living with him? inquired Flora.
No, none of his family, answered she; no one at all, you may say; there's no one does anything in his place, an' very seldom anyone sees him except Mistress Martha and Black M'Guinness; them two has him all to themselves; and, indeed, there's quare stories goin' about them.