It was such feeling as this
that induced the lady of the house alluded to, to invite the old woman
into the kitchen, as the day was very wet and cold. With this invitation
she readily complied; saying, as she tottered alongst the passage,
supporting herself by her staff—
"Thank you dear—thank you.
It’s myself that will be glad of a blink o’ the fire this cowld day. It is
indeed, dear; for my ould bones feel the cowld bitterly."
A chair was now placed for
her before the fire; when, seating herself, she deliberately placed her
crook-headed stag on one side; and on the other, on the floor beside her,
a little basket that she carried. To this little basket we should,
perhaps, have alluded before. It contained a little stock of rnerchandise—some
tape, some balls of thread, and two or three oranges; the value of all of
which would not exceed one sixpence sterling money. There was something
piteous about this little basket; it looked so miserable—so wretched.
The day, as already
mentioned, being very cold and wet, the little old woman was asked if she
would take a little spirits.
"No, dear, thank you. It’s
five-and-forty years since a dhrop o’ speerats, or anything stronger than
wather, crossed my lips. Many thanks to you, dear, all the same, though.
The bit o’ fire" she added, toasting her little, old, withered hands
before it as she spoke—"The bit o’ fire is comfort enough; and a great
comfort it is in such a day as this."
"And you drink nothing but
water?" said her hostess, in some surprise at so unusual a peculiarity in
one in her condition and circumstance.
"Nothing, dear, unless it
be the dhrop tea; it’s my only comfort."
"You have been always a
sober woman, then?"
"Indeed, and I may say I
have, dear. I never was given to dhrinking: I never liked it; but there
was a time when I could take a little like other people. But I saw a scene
once that made me forswear it for ever; and, from that day ta this, I have
never put a glass to my lips, and, please God, never will."
The curiosity of her
hostess being excited by this allusion, she was asked what was the nature
of the circumstance to which it pointed.
"Troth, dear," replied the
old woman, "it was a case that’s but too common; but, as it happened to my
own sister, and before my own eyes, as I may say, it made an impression on
me that five-and-forty years has done nothin’ to weaken.
"My sisther, who was as
purty a girl as you could find in all Ireland—and that’s a wide word,
dear, but a thrue one— married a young farmer of the name of John Dowlan;
as good-lookin’ a lad as you would see anywhere, and a well-doin’.
"Awell, dear, for six or
seven years they lived happily together. There never was a fonder couple;
and matters throve wid them mightily. It was just a treat to see them.
They were so loving; their house was so tidy; and everything about them so
comfortable and orderly; their childer—for they had two—so clean and well
dressed. It was a purty sight. But, och! dear, a terrible change came over
them. John Dowlan took to the dhrinkin’—the cursed dhrinkin’. At first,
and for some time, wid some regard to decency and motheration; but it was
soon from bad to worse, as it always is in such cases, dear. Dowlan drank
harder and harder. His farm went to rack and ruin; his tidy house was
gradually stripped of its comforts; and his childer ran about as dirty and
ragged as the childer of a Dublin beggar. But this wasn’t the worst of it,
dear, bad as it is. The heart of her broken by Dowlan’s misbehaviour,
Nelly took also to the cursed dhrinkin’; and then there was nothin’ but
fightin’ and quarrellin’ from mornin’ to night.
"Well, dear, going one
night, when things were in this way, wid a tate o’ meal for the childer’s
supper—for they were now badly off indeed—I finds the house all dark, and
no soul moving in it. I went in and called out, but nobody answered me.
Thinking there was no one in the house, I was comin’ out agin, when I
stumbled over something. I put down my hand to feel. It was my sisther
lying all her length on the floor. Believin’ that the poor crathur was the
worse o’ the dhrink, didn’t I raise her up, and try to waken her. But no
word would she speak, and no motion would she make. So, suspectin’
somethin’ wrong, didn’t I lay her gently down agin, and run into a
neighbour’s house for a light.
"Och! och! God be wid us!
what a sight did I see when I came back wid the light. Wasn’t there my
poor sisther lyin’ murdered on the floor; her face covered wi’ blood; her
long black hair all spread about, and thickened and glued together wid the
life strames o’ the poor crathur; and a deep gash in her forehead: and
wasn’t there John Dowlan lyin’ in another corner, mortal drunk, and a
bloody axe beside him. And, och! och! och! wasn’t it the dhrink that did
all this? Hadn’t they been dhrinkin’ and fightin’ all day long? and wasn’t
this the end of it? It was, aghra—it was? Now, wouldn’t that sight have
curd any one of dhrinkin’, dear? A cowld and desolate house, without fire
or candle; a murdered woman; and a senseless man, lyin’ more like a brute
than a human crathur; and two poor, naked, starving childer in the next
room, sleepin’ on a lock o’ strae, and not knowin’ what had happened.
There was a sight for you, dear, wasn’t it? Is it any wonder I shouldn’t
ever allow the cursed liquor to approach my mouth?"
"And what became of Dowlan?"
"Och, dear, and wasn’t he
hanged for the murder, in less than six weeks after, at Armagh!"
There was a peculiarity about the
old woman, which struck every one who saw her, on the occasion of which we
are speaking—these consisting of several members of the family, including
two or three children, whom curiosity had gathered around her. This
peculiarity consisted in certain strange, earnest, scrutinising looks
which she, from time to time, fixed on the different individuals about
What these looks meant, it was
impossible to conjecture, as they conveyed no distinct expression of any
particular purpose. They were odd, however, and remarkable.
"Now, dears," said the old
woman, after she had talked herself into some familiarity with her
auditory—a familiarity which had been further promoted by a basin of broth
and a slice of bread—"Now, dears, I will show you something that I
wouldn’t show to everybody."
And she began rummaging a
deep pocket which hung by her side, and from which she cautiously drew
forth, but not farther than to allow of its being barely seen, a small
"See, dears," she said,
addressing the children; "do you know what that is?"
"Is that our Saviour on the
Cross?" said a little curly-headed boy of about five years of age, gazing
with eager curiosity on the sacred emblem.
"Yes, dear—yes," replied
the old woman, stroking the boy’s head kindly. "it is, jewel. He who
suffered for our sins, and through whose mediation lies the only road to
For four or five years
after this, the little, old, Irish beggar-woman was a frequent, although
not a very regular, visitor of the family of which we are speaking, where,
as she always suited her calls to the tea hour, a cup of that, her
favourite beverage, always awaited her.
At the period of the old
woman’s first visit to the family alluded to, their circumstances were
comfortable; and, for some time after, they continued so.
Misfortune however, came,
how or by what means it is not necessary to our story to explain. Be it
enough to say that Mr Arthur was unfortunate, and, finally, so far
embarrassed, that his household furniture was sequestrated for the rent.
The day of sale came, and the fatal red flag was displayed at one of the
The brokers were already
gathering about the door, which stood wide open for all who chose to
It wanted yet about twenty
minutes to the hour of sale; but, as has been said, intending purchasers
were already crowding about the door, and thronging the passages of the
house. Amongst the latter, feebly struggling to make her way in, was a
little old woman in a gray cloak. It was the Irish beggar-woman. There was
surprise, and an expression of deep and anxious interest, in her aged
countenance. Pushing on, she found out the apartment in which the unhappy
family had assembled, and tottered into the midst of them.
The sight of the old woman
at such a moment gave much pain to both Mrs Arthur herself and the other
members of the family. They thought it a most unseasonable visit.
"Och, dear, dear, and this
is a sorrowful day wid ye," said the old woman to Mrs Arthur. "Excuse me
for coming at sich a time; but I heerd of your misfortune, and thocht it
my duty, who had shared of your comforts, to share in your distresses.
Will you spake to me a moment, Mrs Arthur, dear?"
Mrs Arthur retired with her
to a window.
"Don’t think it impertinent
of me axin, dear," said the old woman; "but what’s all this for? Is it the
Mrs Arthur told her it was.
"And how much is it now,
jewel? Come now, dear, don’t be after crying your eyes out in that way. I
always put my trust in God while in trouble, dear; and, perhaps, He’s
nearer you this blessed moment wid assistance, than you’re thinkin’ of.
How much is the rint, dear?"
"It will be altogether
about £20," replied Mrs Arthur, sobbing and not a little surprised at the
old woman’s inquiries, which, but for the manner in which they were put,
she would have deemed impertinent.
"Twenty pound, dear. Well,
get me a word o’ your husband, as there’s no time to loose."
Mr Arthur was immediately
brought to her.
"You’re in distress, sir,
and a sorrowful sight it is to me to see it; but, maybe, I can relieve
you," said the old woman, "Put everybody out of the room but the misthress
We will not pause to
describe Mr Arthur’s astonishment at this address, but proceed.
The apartment being
"Now, dears, said the old
woman, working her hand into the deep side-pocket from which she had drawn
the crucifix on a former occasion, and from which she now pulled forth an
old leathern purse—"Now dears, ax no questions, and don’t vex me wid
refusals or thanks. Here’s twenty gould guineas; and just you settle wid
the harpies, Mr Arthur, dear, and let there be no more about it. You’ll
pay me back again when you can, as I will be always comin’ and goin’ about
the house, as usual. There, dear," she added, handing over twenty guineas
to Mr Arthur, which she had, in the meantime, counted out from the
leathern purse. "Take that, and run away wid ye, and clear the house o’
Mr Arthur would have
refused the money; but she would hear of no denial. He hastened to the
apartment where the person sent from the sheriff’s-office to receive the
proceeds of the sale and the auctioneer were. The sale had just begun. The
first article had been put up, when Mr Arthur approached the clerk and
whispered something in his ear.
The words acted like a
charm. The whole proceedings were instantly stopped: the rent and costs
were paid; and, in ten minutes after, the house was cleared of strangers.
It was once more the sanctuary of Arthur and his family.
After this, matters again
improved with Arthur. The old woman continued her visits as formerly; but
steadily refused receiving back any part of the twenty guineas she had
advanced—always saying, when partial repayments were offered her—
"Not now, dear: wait awhile
till you get a little easier, and maybes you’ll give it to me when I am
more in need of it than at present."
About a year after, the old
woman informed Mrs Arthur, one day, that she intended to go to Glasgow to
see some friends she had there, but that she would return in about a
To Glasgow she accordingly
went, as was ascertained by subsequent inquiry; but she never returned,
nor was anything more ever heard of her by the family whom she had so