Katherine Frances Purdon.

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Illustrated by BEATRICE ELVERY.



[Illustration: "AS SOON AS HE WAS GONE,












It would be hard to find a pleasanter, more friendly-looking place in
all Ardenoo than Moloney's of the Crooked Boreen, where Big Michael and
the wife lived, a piece up from the high-road. And well might you call
the little causey "crooked" that led to their door! for rough and stony
that _boreen_ was, twisting and winding along by the bog-side, this way
and that way, the same as if it couldn't rightly make up its mind where
it wanted to bring you. So it was all the more of a surprise when you
did get to Moloney's, to find a house with such an appearance of comfort
upon it, in such a place.

Long and low that house was, and very old. You could tell the great age
of it by the thickness of the thatch, as well as by seeing, when you
were standing inside upon the kitchen floor and looking up, that that
same thatch was resting, not upon common planks, sawn with the grain and
against the grain and every way, but upon the real boughs themselves,
put there by them that had to choose carefully what would be suitable
for their purpose, because there were few tools then for shaping timber.
So that's how the branches were there yet, the same as ever, bark and
twigs and all; ay, and as sound as the day they were put there, two
hundred years before.

As for the walls at Moloney's ... mud, I'm not denying it! but the
thickness of them! and the way they were kept white-washed, inside and
out! They'd dazzle you, to look at them; especially in the kitchen of an
evening, when the fire would be strong. And that was a thing that
occurred mostly always at Moloney's. For Herself was a most notorious
Vanithee; and there's no better sign of good housekeeping than a clean,
blazing hearth. Sure isn't that, as a body might say, the heart of the
whole house? Heart or hearth, isn't it all the one thing, nearly? For if
warmth and comfort for the body come from the one, doesn't love and
pleasant kindness come from the other? Ay, indeed!

And now, here was the Christmas Eve come round again, when every one
puts the best foot foremost, whether they can or not. And so by
Moloney's. The darkness had fallen, and a wild, wet night it was, as
ever came out of the heavens. But that only made the light seem the
brighter and more coaxing that the fire was sending out over the
half-door, and through the little, twinkling bulls'-eyes windows, as if
it was trying to say, "Come along in, whoever you are that's outside in
the cold and the rain! Look at the way the Woman has the floor swept,
till there isn't a speck upon it! and the tables and stools scoured like
the snow, and the big old pewter plates and dishes upon the dresser
polished till they're shining like a goat's eyes from under a bed! Come
in! Sure every one is welcome here to-night, whether they come or not!"

And still in all...!

Well, one look round would tell you, with half an eye, that something
was wrong at Moloney's, Christmas Eve and all as it was. For Big Michael
himself was standing there in the kitchen, cracking his red, wet fingers
one after the other, and looking most uncomfortable. The wet was running
down from his big frieze coat, but it wasn't that he minded. He was too
well used to soft weather to care about wet clothes. Beside him upon the
floor was the big market-basket, with all manner of paper parcels, blue
and brown, sticking out from under the lid that wouldn't shut down, he
had brought home so much from Melia's shop. But that basket had a
forgotten look about it, because there beside it stood Herself, and she
not asking to unpack it or do a thing with it. She was a little bit of a
woman, that you'd think you could blow off the palm of your hand with
one puff of your breath. As thin as a whip she was, and as straight as a
rush; and she was looking up now at Michael with flaming cheeks and eyes
like troubled waters.

"No letter!" she was saying; "and is it that you brought home no letter,
after you being to the post! Sure it can't be but they wrote to say were
they coming or not, after they being asked here for the Christmas! Sure
I thought you'd surely have word to say when to expect them; and was
thinking even that they might be coming with yourself! Only I suppose
the little ass and dray wouldn't be grand enough for the wife! Of coorse
I didn't think of _her_ writing; she may know no better, and isn't to be
blemt if she has no manners; she can't help the way she was brought up!
But Art! Sure there must be a letter from him...!"

"Wait and I'll try again!" said Big Michael slowly; and then he took to
feel through his pockets again for the letter their son was to have sent
them. But when he had done this, he could only shake his head, so that
the rain-drops fell from his hair and beard - turning brackety grey, they
were, Michael being on in years.

"No, in trath! not as much as one letter have I this night!" he said

At this the Woman began to laugh, in spite of the great annoyance that
was on her.

"Sure," she said, "if Mrs. Melia had a letter for us, wouldn't she have
given it to you? What use would _she_ have for it? And if she hadn't,
and told you so, where's the sense in you feeling your pockets over and
over? A body'd think you expected letters to grow there, the same as
American apples in barrels! How could you have there what you didn't put
there? But let you go on off ou'er this now! Look at the state you have
the clean floor in, with the rain dreeping from your _cota-mor_!"

"Coming down it is, like as if it was out of a sieve!" said Michael;
"and wasn't it God that done it, that I took the notion to cut the
holly'n'ivy while the day was someways fine, afore I started off to the
shop! Has it safe below ... so I'll just go for it now, the way we can
be settling out the Crib and all ..."

"There'll no holly'n'ivy go up on these walls to-night, if I'm to be let
have a say in the business!" said Mrs. Moloney. "Sich trash and
nonsense! making mess and trouble for them that has plenty to do without
that! And as for the Crib, let it stop where it is ..."

On the word she went back to her stool in the chimney-corner, where she
always sat bolt upright, and took up her knitting, the same as if it
wasn't the Christmas Eve at all. For Art, their only child, that
stocking was meant. But her hands were shaking so much that she dropped
more stitches off the needles than she made, and still she persevered.
Big Michael looked at her for a bit, very pitiful; even opened his mouth
once, as if he wanted to say something; a nice, silent person he was,
very even-going in himself. But he must have thought better of it, for
he only shook his head again, and turned and went off out of the door
into the wild storm and darkness, with the wind howling and threatening
all about the bog and country-side, the shockingest ever you knew.

And as soon as he was gone, didn't the Woman throw down her knitting,
and laid her head upon her knees, and cried and cried, till her blue
checky apron was like as if it was after being wrung out of a tub of

"Och, Art!" she'd cry, "isn't this the queer way for you to be going on!
To say you never answered the letter that was wrote to you! This very
day five-and-twenty years you came here to us! as lovely as a little
angel you were! The grand big blue eyes of you! and the way you'd laugh
up at me and put out the little hand...! And you the only one ever God
sent us! And never a word between us, only when you took the notion to
go off to Dublin; sure it near broke our hearts, but what could we do,
only give you our blessing! And ... and then hearing the good accounts
of the way you were going on.... But it's the wife that done it all, and
has him that changed...! Too grand she is, no doubt, for the likes of
us! Och, grand how-are-ye! no, but not half good enough for Art! He that
was always counted a choice boy by all that knew him! And any word them
that saw the wife beyant in Dublin with him brought back, was no great
things. A poor-looking little scollop of a thing, they tell me she is;
and like as if she'd have about as much iday of taking butter off a
churn, or spinning a hank of yarn, as a pig would have of a holiday!
What opinion could any sensible body have of that kind of a wedding,
without even a match-maker to inquire into the thing, to see was it
anyways suitable or not! Och, Art! Art! it's little I thought, this day
five-and-twenty years, the way the thing would be now!"



While poor Mrs. Moloney was fretting like this, and it Christmas Eve and
all, Big Michael was making his way through the wind and the sleety rain
to where he had his stable, a piece off from the house. It was
pitch-dark, so that he couldn't see his hand before his eyes, if he held
it up; but he had his lantern, and anyway he knew his way about
blindfold. But even in daylight you might pass by that stable ready,
unless you knew it was there. For it was very little, and being roofed
with heather it looked only like a bit of the bog that had humped itself
up a bit higher than the rest.

Poor-looking and small as it was, Big Michael was very proud of that
stable. He and Art had built it together, just before Art leaving home.
It was wanted to keep the little wad of hay or straw safe from the
weather, as well as to shelter the cow of a hard night. And after Art
had gone off to the Big Smoke, and for no other reason only getting
restless, as young hearts often do, many and many a time Michael would
slope off to the stable, and sit down there to take a draw of the pipe
and to wish he had his pleasant, active young boy back at home again. He
missed Art full as much as the mother, and maybe more.

In fact, it was getting into a habit with Michael to go off to the
stable. He had the best of a wife, but still there were times when he'd
wish to be with himself somewhere, so that he could take his ease, and
still not be feeling himself an annoyance to a busy woman. Big Michael
himself, the people said, always looked as if he thought to-morrow would
do. But the Woman that owned him was of a different way of thinking,
always going at something. So he got the fashion of keeping out of her

When he got to the stable this night, a bit out of breath with the great
wind, he took notice first of the cow, and he saw that she was
comfortable, plenty of straw to lie upon, and plenty of fodder before
her. So then he bethought him of the little ass that was outside under
the dray yet.

"I'll put her in too!" he thought. "Destroyed she is and quite weakly
with the wet, like all donkeys, God help them! let alone the mud and
gutter she's after travelling through, all that long ways from the shop!
And carrit the things we were in need of, too! I'll let her stand here
near the cow. A good dry bed I'll put under her, and give her a grain of
oats to pet her heart. It'll not go astray with her, and she has it well
earned, the creature!"

So he unyoked the ass and led her into the stable, and rubbed down her
shaggy coat, all dripping like his own clothes, and fed her, and watched
with a curious satisfaction the nice way, like a lady, that she took the
feed he put before her.

"Poor Winny!" he said, rubbing a finger up and down her soft ears;
"many's the time Art laughed at you, and said it was only one remove
from a wheel-barra to be driving you! Ling-gerin' Death is what he used
to call you! But sure you do your best! and if you were the fastest
horse ever won the Grand National, you could do no more!"

He looked round then, with a very satisfied feeling. There he had them,
the two poor animals that depended out of him, but that served him and
his so well, too; had them safe and warm from the storm and rain
outside. He swung the lantern to and fro, so that he could see
everything that was in the stable. One end of it was filled with hay and
straw. The light gleamed here, gleamed there upon the kind, homely
plenty he had stored. Then it fell upon a heap of something else;
something that glistened from many points, green and cheerful.

"The holly'n'ivy," Big Michael thought, "that I cut this morning, and
has it here, the way it would be handy to do out the place in greenery
against Art and the wife would be here! Well, well! I wouldn't wish to
go against Herself, and she so fretted; but sure I might as well not
have cut it at all!"

He stood and stared at it, very mournful in himself. For the best part
of the Christmas to Michael was not the good feeding Herself always
provided, though he could take his share of that, as well as another;
no, but the holly and ivy and the Candle and the Crib; and now she had
set her face against them all. And it wouldn't be Christmas at all, he
thought, without them!

A sudden thought came into his mind.

"Why can't I have it Christmas here," he said to himself, "and not be
letting all these beautiful green branches go to waste! That's what I'll

And with that, he laid down the lantern, and began to decorate the
little stable. He moved slowly, but the work grew under his hands. He
put the bright, glistening holly in the rack that the cow fed from, and
over the door. And he flung the long curving trails of ivy over the
rafters, so that they hung down, and the whole place became the most
loveliest bower of green that you might ask to see.

He had just put up the last of his green stuff, when the lantern
flickered up and then quenched; it was burnt out.


"Dear, dear!" thought Michael; "a pity it is to say there's no light to
see it by; even if there's no one to look at it, itself!"

He stood still a bit. It always took Michael a good while even to think.
Then he said to himself, "Wait a bit! go aisy, now, will ye!" as if the
wife was there to be prodding him on. And then he began slowly to
unbutton his coat, and then another under that, and another, and so on,
much like peeling skins off an onion, till at last he came to something
that he drew out very carefully; something long and slim, and that
gleamed white in the light of a match he struck against the wall.

"_There's_ a Christmas Candle for ye!" he said, looking admiringly at
it; "two foot long if it's an inch! Mrs. Melia does the thing right, if
she goes to do it at all, the decent nice poor woman that she is! Gave
me that Candle in a Christmas present; her Christmas box she said it
was, and says she, 'It'll do to welcome Art and the young wife home!'
says she. And so of course it would, if only it was a thing that they
were coming.... But sure, God knows what happened to stop them.... But I
thought it as good say nothing about the Candle, foreninst Herself, to
be making her worse, when I seen the way she was about the Crib itself!
It's a pity she not to see it ..."

Slowly and awkwardly Big Michael contrived to light the Candle and to
set it up in a bucket that was there handy. He steadied it there by
melting some of the grease around it, and made it firm so that it could
not upset to do damage to the stable. Then when it was burning well he
went off, turning when he got out into the storm and darkness outside to
look again at the Candle that was shedding a ray of lovely light far
into the night.

"Ay, indeed!" thought he to himself, with great satisfaction, "it is a
grand fine Christmas Candle, sure enough! And it would be noways right
for us, even if we are only with ourselves to-night, not to have one
lit, the same as every other house in Ardenoo has, the way if any poor
woman with a child in her arms was wandering by, far from her own place,
she'd see the light and know there was room and a welcome waiting there
for them both! Ay, indeed! a great Candle that is, and will last well
and shine across the whole bog! But I wish Mrs. Melia had given me the
letter as well!"



The queer thing is that Big Michael, slow and all as he was, happened to
be right about the letter from Art. It had been written, and, moreover,
it had reached Ardenoo post-office. But no one knew that for certain, or
what became of it, only a small little pup of a terrier dog belonging to
one of the Melia boys. This pup was just of an age that it was a great
comfort to his mouth to have something he could chew. He was lying
taking his ease, just under the counter where the letters got sorted.
And when, as luck would have it, Art's letter slipped down, of all
others! from the big heap of papers and all sorts that came very plenty
at that Christmas season, this little dog had no delay, only begin on
the letter. In two minutes he had "little dan" made of it! - nothing left
of it only a couple or three little wet rags that got swep' out the next
morning, and never were heard of again. Sure, why would they, when only
the pup knew anything about them? And he couldn't explain the thing,
even if he had wanted to. He escaped a few kicks by that. Still, dogs
often get into trouble the same way, God help them! without having
earned it at all.

Yes, the invitation for the Christmas was answered. The wife, Delia her
name was, had said nothing at first when it came. To tell the truth, she
was well satisfied where she was, with Art and the child all to herself,
in their one room in a back street. Up a lot of stairs it was, too, and
the other people in the house not to say too tasty in their way of going
on. But poor Delia thought it was all grand, with the little bits of
furniture herself and Art would buy according as they could manage it,
and the cradle in the corner by the fire.

Poor Art would smother there betimes, nigh-hand, when he'd think of the
Crooked Boreen, and the wide silence of the bog, with the soft sweet
wind blowing across it, and the cows and all, and the neighbours to pass
the time of day with, let alone the smell of the turf-fire of an
evening! Homesick the poor boy was, and didn't know it.

The way it came about that Art left home was, he got tired of things
there, the very things he wanted now. And there was some said, the
mother was too good and fond with him. She'd lay the two hands under his
feet any hour of the day or night; thought the sun shone out of him, so
she did. And Art was always good and biddable with her; never gave any
back-talk, or was contrary. But all the time he wanted to be himself. He
was much like a colt kept in a stall, well fed and minded, but he wants
to get out to stretch his legs in a long gallop all the time.

So there's why Art went off from Ardenoo to the Big Smoke, and got on
the best ever you knew. He was very apprehensive about machinery, could
understand it well, and got took on by a great high-up doctor to mind
his motor for him. The old people were that proud when they heard of it.

"Sure it's on the Pig's Back Art is now, whatever!" they said, "with his
good-lookin' pound a week!"

Wealth that sounded, away off in Ardenoo. But the sorra much spending
there is in it in a city, where you're paying out for everything you
want. Delia did the best she could with it, but it wouldn't do all she

Still, she pleased Art. Small and white in the face she was, as Mrs.
Moloney had imagined her. Sewing she used to be, a bad life for a girl
to be at it all day. But she flourished up well after getting married.
And what Art had looked into, when he was courting, was the big,
longing-looking dark eyes of her, and the gentle voice and ways, and the
clouds of soft brown hair ... well, sure every eye forms a beauty of its
own. But Art might have done worse nor to marry Delia Fogarty that never
asked to differ from a word he said, till the notion came up of they
going to Ardenoo for the Christmas. When the letter asking them came, he
near riz the roof off the house, the shout he gave, he was that
delighted in himself to be going back home.

"But what's a trouble to you, Delia?" he says, when he had time to take
notice that she wasn't looking as rejoiced as he expected, only sitting
there with her eyes upon the child in her arms; "a body'd think you
didn't care about going at all!" he says, half vexed.

"I ... I'd like to go, Art," says Delia, "only I don't know do I want to
go or not.... I ... do you see ..."

"Well ... what?"

"Sure ... maybe ... how do I know will they like me or not! And me coat
all wore ... and ... and, moreover, I never got to get a right sort of a
hood for the child ... or a cloak...."

"Och, what at all, girl dear!" says Art, that was so excited at the
thoughts of getting home that nothing was a trouble to him; "not like
you! What else would they do! And the child ... well, now, isn't it well
we told them nothing about him, the way he'll be a surprise to them now?
The fine big fellah that he is! Sure it would be a sin to go put any
clothes on him at all, hiding the brave big legs of him!"

Delia had to laugh at that; and then Art went out and bought a grand
sheet of note-paper with robins and red berries and "The Season's
Compliments" at the top of it. And Delia wrote the letter upon this,
because she could write real neat and nice. Art told her every word to

"DEAR FATHER AND MOTHER," it began, "I have pleasure in taking up
my pen to rite yous those few lines hopping they find yous in good
health as they leave us at this present thank you and God. I would
wish my love and best wishes to ..." and there were so many to be
remembered that Art told Delia to put in "all inquiring friends,"
and even shortened like that, the list hardly left room for saying,
"and we will go home for the Christmas and is obliged for the
kindness of asking and we will go by the last train Christmas Eve
and let yous meet that with Ling-gerin' Death and the cart and
we're bringing a Christmas box wid us that yous will be rejoiced to
see so I will end those few lines from your


When that letter was finished and posted, Delia made no more of an
objection to going, only did the best she could, washing and mending her
own little things and the baby's. But let her do her best and they were
poor-looking little bits of duds! And many's the time, when Art was
away, that she'd cry, and wish to herself that there was no such a place
as Ardenoo on the face of this earthly world. But what could she do,
only please Art!

Well, the very evening before they were to start for Ardenoo, didn't Art
come home to her in great humour. "Look at here, Delia!" says he, with a
big laugh; "see the fine handful of money," and he held it out to her,
"that Himself is after giving me in a Christmas box! Now we'll do the
thing in real style! Come along out now, before the shops shut, and
we'll buy all before us!"

Well, if you were to see the two of them that night! the three, indeed,
for Delia wouldn't ever leave the child, only took him with her. To see
them looking in at the grand bright windows full of things! and going
in, Delia half afraid, but Art as loud and outspoken as a lord, spending
free as long as it lasted! To see him then going home with her and the
child, and he all loaded down with parcels! and opened them all out, the


Online LibraryKatherine Frances PurdonCandle and crib → online text (page 1 of 2)