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Elleney by Mrs. Francis Blundell

 

Mrs. McNally's house was situated at the extreme end of the village, and looked not upon the street, but right out into the glen, so that when Elleney opened her attic window in the morning her blue eyes feasted on a wilderness of trees, exquisite at this season with an infinite variety of tints; for the tender bloom of an Irish spring is only surpassed in beauty by the glories of an Irish autumn. The undulating masses that would in October glow with a myriad fires were now clad in the colours of the opal, delicate pinks and blues and greys of yet unopened buds forming a background to the pure vigorous green of larch or chestnut in full leaf, while here and there a group of wild cherry-trees--trees which in a few months would be clothed in the hues of the sunset--caught the morning light now on raiment as snowy as the summit of the Jungfrau.

Elleney gazed, and rubbed big eyes yet heavy with slumber, and gazed again; then she heaved a deep sigh, half of rapture, half of regret.

"It's beautiful, entirely," she said. "An' that big black hill at the back o' the trees is the grandest ever I seen. But I'd sooner be lookin' out at the little green hills at our own place, with me poor father--the Lord ha' mercy on his soul!--walkin' about on them."

She passed her hand across her eyes now for another reason, and then sighed again, but presently took herself to task.

"Sure, I've no call at all to be frettin'; I have a right to know better, so I have. Me poor dada is gone where he's out of his throubles, please God; an' amn't I too well off myself here in this grand place, with me a'nt an' everywan so kind to me? Ye ought to be ashamed o' yourself, Elleney, to go cryin' an' frettin' when it's down on your knees ye should be, thankin' God. Hurry up now, an' on with your clothes an' get the breakfast! Sunday mornin' an' all, an' the girls down an' workin' about, I'll engage."

These remonstrances, which were made aloud with exceptional severity of aspect, but in the sweetest, softest little voice in the world, appeared to have the desired effect. The eyes were dried, the sobs checked, and soon Elleney emerged from her garret, and came clattering down the corkscrew stairs in her unyielding little best boots, clad all in her Sunday finery, every sunshiny hair in its place, and her blooming face a vision of wonder and delight to any chance beholder.

One such beholder encountered her in the narrow passage downstairs, and respectfully flattened himself against the wall to let her pass.

"It's a fine mornin', Miss Elleney," said the young man.

Elleney started, stared, and then broke into a laugh.

"It's you, is it, Pat Rooney? I didn't know ye, ye're so grand this mornin'. You do be generally all over flour--I never see you without lookin' out for flour."

"An' I never see you, Miss Elleney," responded Pat Rooney gallantly, "without bein' put in mind of another kind o' flower. Sure, you look the very same as a rose to-day."

"Not at all," laughed Elleney, blushing, but quite frank and unconcerned; "I wouldn't ask to be thought aiqual to anything so grand as that. A daisy maybe, or--"

"Elleney!" called a shrill voice from some distant region. " Elleney! We are all famished entirely. Girl alive, do ye forget it's your week for the breakfast? I never heard the like! We've been waitin' this half-hour."

"Laws," ejaculated Elleney under her breath, and with a conscience-stricken face. "I didn't forget; but sure I didn't know what o'clock it was, an' there's the eggs to boil an' all. Me cousin Juliana 'ull be murderin' me. I'm just bringin' it, Ju," she called back apprehensively. "And goodness only knows if the kettle 'ull be boilin', itself," she added in a distracted undertone, "an' I'm afther forgetting my big aperon upstairs, an' if I go an' black my best dress me a'nt 'ull be the death o' me."

"Aisy now, don't be tormentin' yourself that way," cried Pat soothingly. "Sure I'll just go along wid ye into the kitchen, an' if I don't have that kettle bilin' in next to no time my name's not Pat Rooney. It's me that's used to fires--ye'll see how I'll blow up yours for ye, miss. There now, wasn't it by the greatest good luck I looked in this mornin' to pick up my pipe that I left down below in the bakehouse? Cheer up, Miss Elleney--we'll not be keepin' them long waitin' for their breakfasts now."

Even while speaking the young baker had preceded the girl into the kitchen, possessed himself of the bellows, and blown up the fire; he now deftly dropped an entire basketful of eggs into a saucepan, and, with a large loaf in one hand and a knife in the other, began with almost incredible speed to cut off thick rounds.

"I suppose ye have the cloth laid?" he inquired presently.

"Me cousin Henerietta does that; I only has the breakfast itself to get, an' there's not much trouble in that, on'y I'm such a slowcoach, an' someway--I don't know how it was--my wits went wool-gatherin' this mornin'."

"Well, I'll tell ye what, miss; if ye'll wet the tay an' pop the pot down on the hob, the eggs 'ull be done, an' by the time ye have them brought in the bread 'ull be toasted illigant. Herself won't know ye, the way ye'll have got up the breakfast so quick."

"I'm very thankful to ye, Pat," said Elleney gratefully. "I'm sure I don't know what in the world I'd have done without ye. But it's too bad to be givin' ye all that trouble."

"Not at all, miss; no trouble at all. Sure I wouldn't have it on me conscience for you to be roastin' that lovely face off o' yourself at this terrible hot fire. The egg-cups is there on the shelf behind ye--I can see them from here. There now, sure ye have it all grand--wait till I open the door for ye. Now I'll have the loveliest lot o' toast ready for ye when ye come back. That thray's too heavy for ye entirely--it's a poor case altogether that I haven't got another pair o' hands."

Elleney's gay little laugh trilled out again, and she shot a glance of confiding gratitude from under her thick dark lashes in the direction of the young baker which set the honest fellow's heart dancing, though he well knew how little such innocent warmth meant.

"God bless her," he murmured as he returned to his toasting fork; "if a dog done anything for her she'd look at it the same. If she wasn't the mistress's niece itself, ye might whistle for her, Pat, me boy."

Meanwhile Elleney had gone staggering along the passage with her heavy tray, and now bumped it against the parlour door as an intimation that she would like some one to open it.

This unspoken request was acceded to so suddenly that she almost fell forward into the room.

"I was waitin' on the eggs," she explained hurriedly, as she recovered her balance and tottered forward with her burden; "but here they are for yous now, and the tea is wet this good bit, an' the toast is very near ready."

The room was full of women; no less than eight of them sat expectantly round the empty board. Besides Mrs. McNally herself and her four daughters, three nieces had been added to her family on the death of their mother, Mrs. McNally's only sister.

"Sure they're all the same as me own," the good woman was wont to say, looking round affectionately at the girls. "There's times when I have to be thinkin' which is which--upon me honour, there is." And thereupon she would roll her broad shoulders, and wink with both eyes together after her own good-natured fashion; and no one who lived in the house with her could doubt that she spoke the truth.

Elleney had only recently been added to the group; she spoke of the head of the house as "me a'nt," but she was in truth no relation to the kindly soul who had taken compassion on her destitute condition, being a niece of the late Mr. McNally's first wife. Perhaps no other woman in the world would thus have admitted her to a circle already somewhat inconveniently large; but, as Mrs. McNally said, "One more or less didn't make much differ, an' sure the Lord 'ud be apt to make it up to her, an' Elleney was a useful little girl, a great hand at her needle, an' with a wonderful turn for business, God bless her."

Mrs. McNally invariably alluded to the odd little house where her many avocations were carried on as her "establishment," and spoke habitually of "the business." It would have been hard to define the precise nature of this business. There was a bakery attached to it, over which Pat Rooney presided, driving round the country each afternoon with the results of his labours. Juliana and Henrietta McNally sold groceries at one counter, and Matilda and Maria sold calico and flannel and boots at another. Hams and stockings hung in parallel lines from the ceiling, and there was a mysterious little railed-off chamber at the back of the house, reached by a swing door, on which the word "Bar" was set forth in gold letters, with a printed legend underneath announcing that Diana McNally was licensed to sell wines and spirits to be consumed on the premises. Here Bridget and Mary Nolan held sway. They were "stale girls" in the opinion of the neighbours, and therefore, as their aunt felt, the most suited for this post. Maggie, their youngest sister, migrated between shop and bar, and spent much of her time in rolling up "ha'porths o' twist" in scraps of newspaper. Elleney, who was "tasty," and possessed of a wonderful light hand, turned her talent for millinery to account, and soon Mrs. McNally was able to add trimmed hats and ready-made dresses to the other departments of her flourishing concern. Predisposed as she was by nature to like any helpless young creature, she had rapidly grown to appreciate the girl's talents, and was now genuinely fond of her, though it must be owned that her daughters occasionably grumbled, and that the real nieces were undisguisedly jealous.

Bridget looked up now, with a sniff, as Elleney began with great haste to hand the eggs about the table.

"You've been long enough over it, anyhow," she remarked. "Mary and me was wonderin' whether 'twas milkin' the cow ye were or bakin' the bread."

"An' she hasn't brought the toast yet," grumbled Mary, drawing up her chair.

"It's very near done," returned Elleney eagerly. "Pat Rooney said he'd have it ready by the time I come back."

"Pat Rooney!" exclaimed the eight voices, in varying tones of amazement and disapproval; even Mrs. McNally's sounding forth a deep note of wondering concern.

"Pat Rooney, child! What brings him into the house at this time o' th' mornin'? What brings him here at all to-day indeed?"

"He come to fetch his pipe," explained Elleney, scarlet with confusion; "and when he seen me so run, an' so put about because I was a bit behind, he offered to stay an' help me. It's him that's makin' the toast."

Juliana McNally, a frosty-faced person, no longer in her first youth, looked round with a scandalised face.

"Did ye ever hear the like o' that?" she exclaimed. "Pat Rooney! The impident fellow! If I was you, m'mah, I'd walk him out o' the kitchen this very minute. Ye had no call to let him in at all, Elleney. Not one of us 'ud ever dream o' such a thing, would we, Henny?"

"Indeed we would not," returned Henny or Henrietta as she was indifferently called in the family. "Cockin' him up that way. He had a right to know better, an' not go forgettin' himself and his place altogether."

"Aye, indeed," chimed in Bridget. "Set him up! Him and his ould cart."

"Then if it was nothin' but the cart that ailed him, Bridget," returned Juliana severely, "there wouldn't be much to complain of. I'll throuble ye not to be turnin' up your nose at the beautiful new cart me mother sent for all the way to Dublin. Ye paid pounds and pounds for that same cart, didn't ye, m'mah?"

"To be sure I did," responded Mrs. McNally promptly. "There, now, don't be upsettin' yourselves, girls. Elleney didn't know any better, she's that innicent, poor little girl. She won't do it again, I'll engage--will ye, Elleney? Ye see, me dear," she added in a confidential undertone, "we do have to be very particular in an establishment like this. 'Twouldn't do for me at all to go lettin' a boy like Pat Rooney forget himself. He's a very decent boy, poor fellow, an' his mother--the Lord ha' mercy on her!--was a most respectable poor woman. But he must be kept in his place, me child, an' ye see--"

"A-ah, m'mah, in the name of goodnsss sit down and pour out the tea," interrupted Anna Maria impatiently. "I'm dyin' for me cup. An' sure ye haven't brought us anythin' at all to eat yet, Elleney. Off with you now, an' bring that same toast whoever made it. The poor child's frightened out of her wits. Sure what harm if ye did ask Pat Rooney to help ye, itself--ye can soon get shut of him again. Ju, for mercy's sake take that crabby ould face off o' ye. 'Pon me word 'tis enough to curdle the milk."

Anna Maria's own face was of the round good-humoured order. "She took after the mother," the neighbours said, and had certainly inherited a large share of kindliness and jollity.

"Faith! Nanny's right," cried Mrs. McNally, relaxing. "Go fetch the toast, Elleney, and give Mr. Pat Rooney his marchin' orders at the same time."

"What am I to say?" inquired Elleney, her eyes round with alarm above cheeks that were still crimson.

"Bid him get out of that," returned her aunt, laughing.

Elleney took up her tray, and went away with a lagging step. The kitchen door was wide open, and in the aperture stood Pat, flushed with his exertions, and holding triumphantly aloft an immense dish of beautifully browned toast.

"There now," he cried jubilantly, "I'll throuble them to put their teeth through the whole o' that in a hurry. Isn't that a fine lot? But I know they does be great aiters within there."

"I'm very thankful to ye, Pat," said Elleney, with a downcast face.

"Sure I'm not meanin' to show disrespect," resumed he, quick to note her expression, but mistaking its cause. "It's a powerful big family your a'nt has, first and last, and why wouldn't they ait? I'll tell ye what, Miss Elleney, I'll just stop here in the chimbley corner, an' if they does be wantin' any more toast I'll have it made for them afore you can turn round."

"Oh no, Pat," cried Elleney in alarm. "That wouldn't do at all. Me a'nt bid me tell ye--me a'nt said--"

"Well, what did she say, miss, dear?" inquired Pat, as she faltered.

"She wasn't best pleased," stammered the girl. "She thought I done wrong lettin' you help me; she bid me give ye marchin' orders"--catching at what seemed to her the least offensive manner of conveying her aunt's behest.

"Well, I can soon march," said Pat, in a slightly offended tone, and turning even a deeper red than before. "I'll be off out o' this in a minute."

"Sure ye're not angry with me, Pat?" said Elleney timidly, as she followed him to the door. "I'm very grateful for all ye done for me."

"To be sure you are," said Rooney, without turning his head, and in another moment the house door slammed behind him.

Elleney returned somewhat mournfully to the parlour, there to find the whole family in a state of violent excitement.

Mrs. McNally had just received a letter, which she was clutching fast with both fat hands; while the seven girls were simultaneously endeavouring to read its contents over her broad shoulders.

"If yez 'ull sit down like good children," she exclaimed, as Elleney entered, "I'll read it all out--every word. An' yez 'ull all know as soon as meself. But ye have me distracted entirely, tormentin' me the way ye're doin' now. Musha! did anybody ever see such a scrawl as the man writes?"

"Sure, I can see it plain enough from here," cried Juliana, and with a sudden deft movement she twitched the document out of her mother's hands. "I'll read it, m'mah, in half the time you do be thinkin' about it."

"Very well, me dear, very well," agreed Mrs. McNally resignedly. "Ye have the best right, afther all. It concerns you more nor me."

Juliana smoothed out the paper, and began to read in a high-pitched monotonous voice, and without any regard to punctuation, of which, indeed, in all probability, the letter was devoid.

"'Dear Mrs. McNally,--I write these few lines hoping you are quite well as I am at present thank God it's a long time since we come across each other but I haven't forgot the old times and I am sure yourself is the same I did be hearin' a while ago about the fine family of daughters you have God bless them and how well you prospered in business dear Mrs. McNally I have one son a fine young man that I do be anxious to settle in life--'

"Look at that now!" put in Mrs. McNally jocularly. "Didn't I say the letter was more for you than for me, girls?"

"Whisht! can't you whisht?" put in Henrietta eagerly. "Go on, Ju!"

"'Settle in life,' resumed Ju. 'The farm is doin' finely for me thanks be to God though I'm not able to stock it as well as I'd like these bad times.' He's lookin' out for a bit o' money, ye see, m'mah?"

"To be sure he is," responded her mother comfortably. "Trust Tim Brennan to be lookin' out for that. An' why wouldn't he, the poor ould fellow? Dear knows, it's hard set the most o' the farmers is to live at all. He's a cute ould schemer, Tim is, though."

"'There's not one o' the girls in these parts I'd let him take up with at all,' went on the reader, 'but it come to me mind that if you was willin' we might make up a match between himself an' one o' your fine young daughters--'

"Yous 'ull have all the luck, I suppose?" put in Maggie Nolan enviously.

"Not at all. What's that he says here about nieces, Ju?" returned Mrs. McNally, leaning over her daughter's shoulder, and pointing with her plump forefinger.

"'Or maybe one of them three nieces I was hearin' ye have livin' with ye I knew your poor sister Bridget R.I.P. as well as I know yourself an' I know all she done for her family.'"

"The sharpness o' that!" interrupted Henrietta. "The ould fellow knows me A'nt Bridget had a nice little fortun', an' I'll engage he made sure the three of yous has a share in the business."

"Young nieces," soliloquised Matilda, looking pensively at Bridget and Mary.

"Young daughters, too, if ye please," returned Bridget with spirit, and her glance fell upon Juliana.

"Well, go on, Ju, finish it," said Mrs. McNally, laughing immoderately. "You can all be pulling caps for him afterwards."

"'Me son,' read Juliana, 'has business in Dublin this next week an' if you've no objections he could run out on an early train some mornin' an' pay his respects to yourself an' the girls an' he can be tellin' ye all about our place an' his prospects in life he's the only son I have an' its a good farm an' a comfortable house an' many a girl would think she was doin' well for herself so hopin' you'll think well of the idea I will say no more this time yours ancettery, TIMOTHY BRENNAN. P.S.--My son Brian is six foot high an' has a beautiful head of hair he is very--' What in the name o' fortun' is that word, m'mah?"

"Hearty, is it?" said Mrs. McNally, craning her short neck. "No--happy, maybe--no, that's not it. Healthy, that's it! 'He is very healthy.'"

"Laws!" said Henrietta, "that's a quare thing to be sayin'. Who cares whether he's healthy or not?"

"A-ah, me dear," returned her mother sagely, "when ye get to my age ye'll know it makes a great deal o' differ--especially to a farmer. The poor d'da! Rest his soul!--well, well, we won't be talkin' o' them times, but he was a great sufferer; an' if it was a farmer he was the house wouldn't have held him. It's a terrible thing for a poor farmer to be tryin' to go about his place, an' him not gettin' his health. I'm glad this young fellow is healthy."

"Six foot!" commented Matilda, who was inclined to be sentimental.

"A beautiful head of hair," exclaimed Anna Maria, with a giggle. "Troth, if it's me he takes a fancy to I'll be combin' it for him."

"Well," said Juliana indignantly, "I think ye're takin' too much on yourself, Nanny, to go pickin' him up that way. There's others has a better right to be considered first."

"You're the oldest, of course," said Anna Maria meekly.

"There's others older nor her, though," burst out Bridget.

"The oldest daughter has the first claim," cried Juliana, with heightened colour.

"To be sure, to be sure," said Mrs. McNally nervously. She was very much in awe of her firstborn, who was indeed possessed of a considerable amount of determination. "The young man, of course, 'ull make his own choice, but I must say I think it 'ud be only becoming if it was Ju."

Juliana glanced triumphantly round on the row of crestfallen faces, and a sudden silence fell, during which Elleney, who had stood listening with deep interest, suddenly remembered the now sodden toast and handed it dutifully round.

Maggie Nolan's eyes met hers in wrathful protest as she helped herself.

"Did ye ever see sich a girl as Ju?" she whispered.

"A regular grab-all. Of course if me a'nt goes favourin' her, the poor fellow 'ull have to take her. But I pity him, aye do I."

"Sure maybe he won't," whispered Elleney back, consolingly. "He'll be apt to be pickin' wan o' the young ones--I shouldn't wonder if it was yourself, Maggie."

"If it wasn't for the money I dare say you'd have as good a chance as the rest of us," said Maggie, mollified by this tribute; "but of course the father wouldn't hear of any girl without a fortun'."

By an odd freak of fate, however, it was Elleney who first had speech with Brian Brennan when he came to seek a wife in Mrs. McNally's house. Elleney, indeed, was not in the house when his eyes first fell upon her; she was kneeling on the doorstep, scrubbing it with might and main. He had driven out from Dublin instead of coming by train, and arrived in consequence earlier than was expected. Elleney wore the pink cotton frock in which she went about her work of a morning; her sleeves were rolled up, and her skirt pinned back. Her face was flushed with a lovely colour, and the breeze lifted loose strands of her nut-brown hair, as she squatted back on her heels in answer to the stranger's salutation.

"Is Mrs. McNally within? I think she's expecting me."

"Oh," said Elleney, looking up with those big astonished eyes of hers, "is it Mr. Brennan?"

"It's that same," responded Brian cheerfully.

Elleney jumped up, knocking over her pail in her agitation, and wiped her little damp hands on her apron.

"Me a'nt is in the shop," she said hurriedly. "If ye'll walk inside I'll call her in a minute."

"A-ha!" said Mr. Brian, "you're one o' the nieces, are ye? Are the rest anyways like ye?"

"They wouldn't take it as a compliment if ye were to say so," replied Elleney. "This way, sir."

The big young man followed her into the parlour. He was a very big young man, and he had a beautiful head of hair, black and curly; and he looked extremely well fed and pleased with the world in general.

"Bless me, child, what a show ye are!" exclaimed Mrs. McNally, when Elleney breathlessly summoned her. "Look at your sleeves, and your skirt tucked up an' all. I declare I'm ashamed of my life--"

"How could I know it was him?" protested Elleney.

"To be sure, to be sure, none of us expected him; an' any way it doesn't matter about you. Here, pull down your sleeves, dear, and take my place for a bit. Where's Ju?"

"She's above, doin' her hair, and Henny's sewin' the bows on her dress."

"Well, well, I'll call them. You'll have to keep the shop goin' altogether, Elleney, this day. All the girls is wild to have a chance, an' I know ye won't mind doin' a bit extra."

"I wonder which it will be," meditated Elleney. "If I was him I'd take Nanny."

But Mr. Brian seemed quite unmoved by Nanny's rollicking charms. He was, indeed, to some extent struck by the appearance of Juliana, who, with her hair done up into what her mother called a "shin-on"--a fashion much affected when she was a young woman--and wearing a silk dress with flounces innumerable of the terra-cotta hue beloved, for some occult reason, of her kind, entered the room with an air of stately magnificence. The young visitor was very respectful to Juliana, and spoke in particularly genteel tones when addressing her. But his eyes wandered perpetually towards the door, and an acute observer might have detected a certain lengthening of visage at each fresh arrival on the scene.

When the seven specimens of maidenhood, from among whom he was expected to make his choice, were at length seated in various constrained attitudes about the room, a dead silence fell, broken only by an occasional nervous remark from Mrs. McNally, and a monosyllabic response from the wooer. The relief was general when the "decent body," engaged to help for the day, opened the door with a very black hand, kicked it still further back with a gaping shoe, and finally entered the room bearing a large tray.

A repast, which the lady aforesaid subsequently described as "sumpchus," soon adorned the board, and Mrs. McNally, with a deprecating giggle, advised Brian to sit next the partner he liked best.

He hesitated, and cast a baffled glance round the room.

"Sure the whole of the family isn't here, is it?" he inquired.

"How many more would you want?" returned Juliana, with a playfulness strongly tinged with asperity.

"Didn't I see another young lady an' I comin' in?" he persisted.

"Who in the name of wonder did he see, m'mah?" whispered Henrietta, while the others looked blank.

"I b'lieve 'twas Elleney let him in," said Mrs. McNally. "The poor fellow, he's that well-mannered he thinks bad o' sittin' down without her. We're all here that can be here at present, Mr. Brian," she remarked aloud. "Little Elleney that ye seen awhile ago is mindin' the shop for me. We'll keep a bit hot for her till I go to take her place."

"Oh! that indeed?" said Brian rather blankly. "Isn't it clever of her to be able to mind the shop, and she so young? I s'pose she's the youngest of them?"

"Well, there isn't much to choose between her and Maggie there," returned his hostess; "and, indeed, I may say the same o' my daughter Anna Maria. There is but a year between the three, one way or the other. Well, since you're so bashful, Mr. Brian, I'd best choose a place for ye. Will ye sit there on me right, between Bridget and Juliana? There does be safety in numbers, they say, so ye needn't be afeard."

"Afeard is it?" responded Brian, with simulated jocularity, though his countenance still wore an expression of dismay. "Troth! it 'ud be a poor lookout if I was that easy frightened. 'Faint heart,' ye know."

But, though Mr. Brennan was very gallant and witty, the entertainment was felt by every one to be somewhat flat, and the relief was general when the young man proposed to go outside and smoke a bit of a pipe. Mrs. McNally, however, considered it her duty to protest.

"Sure, we're not that particular," she observed, with her jolly laugh. "Don't be goin' out in the cold, Mr. Brian."

"Why, what sort of a fellow would I be at all if I could forget myself that way," he returned, rising with alacrity. "Would ye have me pizenin' the young ladies? I hope I know me manners better."

"There's no denyin' he has elegant manners," commented his hostess, as the door closed behind him. "I never wish to see a nicer young man. Well, girls, what do ye think of him!"

"The poor fellow was shy, m'mah," said Juliana. "He kept blushin' every time I looked at him."

"A-ah, g' long!" exclaimed Bridget, with startling warmth. "Not a blush on him, then! Sure, it was his natural colour; he has a beautiful complexion."

"His eyes was rovin' from one to the other," cried Anna Maria, giggling; "I was near dyin' with laughin'. You could see as plain as anything he was axin' himself all the time, "Will I have this one,' or 'Will I have that one?'"

"A-ah, not at all," cried Juliana, reddening. "I didn't see a sign of his eyes rovin'. Anybody with a grain of sense 'ud know his mind was pretty well made up."

"Listen to that, now!" laughed Nanny, who was certainly good-tempered. "You're out there, Ju. No; but I'll tell you the way it was with him. Says he to himself, looking at you, 'That one is the eldest and a fine girl altogether, but her nose is too long.' An' then he'd look round at Bridget, 'She's got a nice bit o' money,' he'd say, 'but she's a bit too old for me.' An' then he'd look at me, 'A nice healthy lump of a girl,' he'd say, 'but too many freckles.' An' then Maggie maybe 'ud have a turn--"

"Och, don't be goin' on with such nonsense, child," interrupted her mother, quick to observe certain tokens of an impending storm. "Don't let him find yez quarrellin' an' fightin' when he does be comin' back. Wait till I tell yez all he's afther tellin' me about his own place. I questioned him a bit afore yez come down."

The girls crowded eagerly round her, and she repeated with unction the description of the various glories which awaited the future Mrs. Brian Brennan.

Every one had forgotten Elleney and her little bit of dinner; every one, that is, except the new-comer, who, after casting a nervous glance at the parlour window on finding himself outside the house, had made straightway for the almost deserted shop.

Customers were not many at that hour of the day, and Elleney had only sold a pound of bacon and a couple of bootlaces since her aunt's departure. She was sorting ribbons with a somewhat melancholy face when Brian passed through the glass door and made his way to the counter.

"Is that where ye have yourself hidden?" he inquired gaily. "They thought to keep ye shut up out o' me sight, but I was a match for them as cute as they were. 'Twas a shame for them not to let you come in to dinner."

"Sure somebody had to mind the shop," returned Elleney. Then her little pink and white face dimpled all over with smiles. "Have ye chose yet, Mr. Brian?" said she.

"Bedad, I think I have," quoth Brian, gazing at her admiringly.

Elleney clapped her hands. "Oh dear, is it Juliana?"

"It's not Juliana, then," said he. "Is that the big one with the top-knot? Sure, what sort of taste d'ye think I have?"

"It wouldn't be Bridget!" cried she, laughing till every little white tooth was visible.

"That's a bad shot--I'm afeard ye're no hand at guessin'."

"I wished it was Nanny," said Elleney earnestly; "she's the best-hearted girl in the world."

"You wished it was her, do ye? Well, I'm sorry I can't gratify ye. My choice was made before I ever set eyes on e'er a one of them."

"Then ye'd no call to come here at all," interrupted Elleney indignantly.

"Whisht! Don't be bitin' the nose off me that way. Ye little schemer, ye know very well it's yerself that carries all before ye. Sure, who'd have eyes for any one else when you were to the fore?"

"Och, Mr. Brian, it's a shame for ye!" cried Elleney, with flashing eyes. "Ye've no right to come givin' me impidence that way. I'll call me a'nt."

"An' what would ye do that for? It's the truth I'm tellin' ye, darlint. The very first minute I seen ye on the doorstep the heart leapt out o' me breast. You're my choice, mavourneen, though I don't so much as know your name yet."

Elleney gazed at him timidly. He was a pleasant-looking young fellow, and his eyes were very kind. She turned quite pale because of the rapid beating of her heart. What a wonderful thing it was that the prize over whom all her rich cousins had been disputing should have fallen to her share--to her, poor little penniless Elleney.

"It's too good of you entirely," she was beginning in a tremulous voice; "but I don't think you ought to go disappintin' your father and me a'nt."

But before she could proceed further in her little speech the narrow door which gave access to the house was thrown open and Mary Nolan appeared upon the scene.

"Elleney, you're to--" she was beginning, when she suddenly stopped, and, to use her own expression, "let a yell" that brought her aunt and cousins in tumult to the scene.

"I couldn't for the life o' me help it," she explained as they crowded round her. "When I had the door opened who did I see but himself"--designating Brian--"with his impident arm round Elleney's waist--the bould little scut!"

"Sure, I didn't ax him to put it there," protested Elleney, beginning to cry; "I didn't rightly know what he was doin'."

"Ladies," said the suitor, "don't disthress yourselves. There wasn't a ha'porth of harm in it--me arm was in the right place. I come here by my father's wish an' with your consent, ma'am, to choose one o' your family for my wife. Me clargy wouldn't let me marry the whole of yez, so I have to be content with one, an' I'm after choosin' this one."

Juliana laughed shrilly and ironically, and Henrietta clapped her hands together; the rest stood round with stony faces, except Nanny, who cast a dubious and compassionate glance at Elleney.

"Lord save us!" ejaculated Mrs. McNally, when she had recovered her wits, "I never thought o' such a thing. I had a right to have told ye--it's a mistake. Me poor young man, come away with me an' I'll tell ye."

"No mistake at all, ma'am," Brian was beginning, with a bright backward glance at Elleney; but Mrs. McNally clutched him by the arm, looking so much disturbed the while, that the words died on his lips, and he suffered himself to be drawn along the passage and into the parlour. The others also melted away with many scornful murmurs and withering glances, all except Nanny, who hurled herself round the counter and caught Elleney in her arms.

[Illustration: ELLENEY "With his impident arm round Elleney's waist"]

"Ye poor misfortunate innicent!" she exclaimed. "Why didn't ye tell him ye weren't rightly one o' the family?"

"He didn't give me time," faltered Elleney; adding with more spirit, "Besides, what matter if it's me he likes the best?"

"Bless us an' save us!" groaned Nanny; "sure how can ye get married when ye haven't so much as a one pound note o' your own?"

"Do you think he didn't know?" gasped Elleney, looking very blank.

"Not a know," responded Nanny, with decision. "My mother had a right to have told him, but some way not one of us dreamed of him thinkin' of you. Sure, girl alive, if he was willin' itself, his father 'ud never agree to his havin' ye."

"I s'pose not," said Elleney; "but ye don't know all he's afther sayin' to me, Nanny."

"Och, divil doubt him!" exclaimed Nanny, with a vexed laugh. "Sure, that's the way they all does be goin' on. If ye had more sense, Elleney, me dear, ye'd know how to be up to them. Whisht!--here's m'mah!"

Poor Mrs. McNally's heavy foot was now heard hastening along the passage, and in another minute she entered--alone, her kind face was all puckered up with concern, and at first sight of it Elleney knew exactly how matters stood. She disengaged herself from Nanny and went quietly up to her aunt.

"I hope you explained to him that I didn't rightly understand what he was sayin'," she observed with a certain childish dignity that took the others by surprise. "It was all a mistake, of course, but there's no great harm done."

"Not a bit of harm at all, me dear," groaned Mrs. McNally. "Not a bit of harm in the world--only for the disappointment."

"No disappointment," returned Elleney; her eyes were steady, though that red under-lip of hers would quiver; "no disappointment, a'nt, I hope. He'll be sure to pick out one of the girls, won't he?"

"I b'lieve so," answered Mrs. McNally, propping herself against the counter. "He's afther tellin' me his father 'ud be the death of him if--"

"Sure that's all right," interrupted her niece. "Nanny, you ought to go and see to him."

"Do, Nanny," said the mother. "He was askin' for you."

"Then he may ask away," retorted Nanny. "Do ye remember the story o' the Connaught woman who said 'Purse, will ye have him?' when the fellow made up to her for her money. My purse says 'No.' Let him try Juliana. Is that the bar bell ringing?"

"Aye, it is; ye'd best be off an' see what's wanted. Bridget and Mary is so taken up with that young fellow I declare they don't know whether they're on their heads or their heels."

"Aye, indeed," cried Anna Maria with her jolly laugh. "I seen them prancin' round him like a couple o' goats, as old as they are."

She vanished, and Mrs. McNally also went away.

Some time later Pat Rooney entered the shop, bearing a large tray of newly-baked loaves. His face wore a solemn, not to say sulky, expression, and he looked neither to right nor to left. Before he had finished piling up the loaves in their allotted corner, however, a suspicious sound attracted his attention, and he turned reluctantly round. A small figure was crouching in the darkest angle of the "dress department," with its apron over its head.

"Is it cryin' ye are?" said Pat sternly.

For all answer Elleney sobbed afresh.

The young man drew nearer, and Elleney tilted up one elbow as a hint to him to keep his distance.

"Bedad, ye have no right to be cryin'," remarked Pat in a withering tone. "It was the other way wid ye altogether when I looked in through the door a while ago, on my way back from me dinner. If I hadn't seen it wid me own two eyes," he added with scornful severity, "I wouldn't have believed it was you that was in it at all."

Elleney jerked down her apron, and looked up with eyes that blazed beneath their swollen lids.

"How dar' ye speak to me that way?" she cried.

Pat snorted: "To be sure I've no right to say a word at all," he returned, with wrathful irony. "A poor fellow like meself has no call to have any feelin's--but ye might have knocked me down with a feather when I seen that strange chap with his arm about your waist."

"Oh Pat!" gasped Elleney, and overcome with shame and woe, she burst into fresh tears, and buried her face in the unresponsive folds of a linsey-woolsey petticoat which dangled from a peg beside her.

Pat immediately melted.

"Amn't I the terrible ould ruffian to go upsettin' ye that way!" he groaned remorsefully. "There now, Miss Elleney, don't mind me. I'm not meself to-day. I'm a regular ould gomeril. Sure it had to come sooner or later. It's meself knew very well I'd have to stan' by and see ye carried off some fine day by whoever was lucky enough to get ye. Some fellows has all the luck in this world, and maybe they're no better nor others that hasn't any luck at all."

But Elleney scarcely heeded the latter part of this speech; it seemed to her she could never lift up her head again. Pat knew--Pat had seen!

"Oh dear," she sobbed inarticulately, after a pause, "I think I'll die with the shame of it. I don't know how I come to let him do it at all, but I didn't rightly know--I didn't think--an'--an' he said he was so fond of me an' 'twas me he wanted for his wife."

"Faith," retorted Pat, "it's himself's the gentleman doesn't let the grass grow under his feet--an' why would he? Well, alanna," he continued in an altered tone, "don't be frettin' yourself anyway. Bedad, I wouldn't blame--"

"Ah, but I blame myself," interrupted Elleney, wringing her poor little hands. "I'll--I'll never look up again afther the disgrace he's afther puttin' on me. Sure 'twas all a mistake--he thought I was one of the family, an' when me a'nt tould him the way it is with me, he just tossed me away the same as an ould shoe. I b'lieve he's makin' up to Juliana now."

Pat emitted a kind of roar, but, before he could ventilate his feelings further, the door communicating with the house was quickly opened and Mr. Brian Brennan walked in.

"Are ye there, darlint?" he inquired, in a tone of melancholy tenderness; "I'm just come to tell ye the poor case I'm in--"

"Then ye'll be in a poorer case in something less than no time if ye don't behave yourself, me brave young gentleman!" cried a choked voice in his ear, and almost before he could realise what was taking place, Brian Brennan found his six-foot length laid low upon the dusty shop floor, while his beautiful head of hair rolled aimlessly about amid a collection of boots and tin buckets. Pat Rooney was sitting on his chest, his knees pinioning his arms, and clutching each of his broad shoulders with a vigorous hand. He was not half the size of the prostrate giant, but love and fury lent him unnatural strength. His flour-bedecked face worked convulsively, his eyes gleamed under their powdered lashes.

Elleney uttered a stifled scream, and then stood transfixed with horror.

"Ye passed your word to Miss Elleney a while ago that it was her ye'd have for your wife," said Pat firmly. "Are ye goin' to stick to your promise or are ye not?"

"Get up out o' that, ye ruffian," spluttered Brian. "What business is it of yours anyway?"

"Ruffian yourself!" said Pat. And he heaved up Mr. Brennan's shoulders a little way, and then loosed his hold suddenly, so that the fine curly head bumped once more against the tin pails. "Will ye gi' me a straight answer, or will ye not?"

"I'll pay ye out for this when I get upon my legs!" growled Brian. "As for that young lady, she knows very well I can't--"

"Ye can't what?" cried Pat, rolling a threatening eye at him.

"I can't keep my word," said Mr. Brennan, with as much dignity as was compatible with his position.

"Ye mean ye won't, I s'pose," remarked Pat, with ominous calm.

"Well, then, I won't!" shouted Brian, heaving himself up at the same time with a futile attempt to rid himself of his adversary.

"Ah!" retorted Pat, tightening his grasp on the powerless shoulders, and repeating his previous manoeuvre with such success that his victim saw a multitude of stars. "Ye won't, won't ye? No; but ye will!--I tell ye, ye will! Ye will, me fine gentleman!"

With each reiteration of the phrase the unfortunate Brian's head received fresh damage, and Pat, who was warming to his work, had just announced that he was going to give Mr. Brian the finest thrashing he ever had in his life, when Elleney, who had hitherto been petrified with alarm and amazement, rushed to the rescue.

"In the name o' goodness, Pat Rooney," she cried, in a voice that trembled as much with anger as with fear, "get up this minute! It's outrageous--altogether outrageous!"

"Never fear, Miss Elleney, asthore!" cried Pat triumphantly, baring his arms the while for action. "Run away out o' this while I tache him manners! The dirty spalpeen! He'll not have it all his own way, anyhow. I'll give him a trimmin'!"

"I forbid ye, Pat, to do any such thing!" cried Elleney, almost with a shriek. "I declare I'm ashamed o' my life! Who gave you leave to go mixin' up my name?--makin' so little of me? Oh dear! oh dear!" and the poor child began to sob again. "What have I done to be disgraced an' tormented that way!"

Her blue eyes were drowned in tears, her pretty cheeks blanched.

Pat sat back on his prostrate foe, and stared up at her with astonished concern. Elleney sobbed louder than before, and Brian, raising his voice, uttered a forcible expression of opinion.

"Bless us an' save us!" exclaimed a voice in the passage, and the door, being thrown wide open, revealed the portly form and scandalised face of no less a person than Mrs. McNally herself.

"Who is it that's cursin' an swearin' that way?" she began, but broke off abruptly as she realised the scene within.

"Oh, a'nt, me heart's broke entirely!" cried Elleney, running to her, and hiding her face on her ample shoulder.

Pat cleared his throat diffidently, insensibly relaxing his grip the while, so that, with a slight effort, Brian was enabled to roll him on to the floor, and to rise, looking very sheepish.

"Was it fightin' the two of yez was?" said Mrs. McNally severely. "Sure, that's a disgrace. Look at your coat all over dust, Mr. Brennan, and the big lump on your forehead risin' up the size of an egg!"

Brian squinted over his shoulder to ascertain the condition of his coat, but being unable to carry out the rest of Mrs. McNally's injunctions and survey the lump on his own forehead, he passed his hand over it instead, and turned towards Pat with an expression of virtuous indignation.

"That fellow there was near bein' the death of me," he exclaimed.

"Musha! what is it all about at all?" queried Mrs. McNally. "Elleney, quit cryin' an' tell me what happened ye? What was that impident fellow Pat doin' rollin' Mr. Brennan on the floor?"

Elleney shook her head, and wept, and nearly throttled her aunt, but entered on no explanation.

Quick steps were now heard in the passage, and Anna Maria burst in.

"What in the world is Elleney cryin' for?" she exclaimed; "an' goodness gracious! look at Mr. Brennan, the show he is! Is it up the chimney ye were? For the matter of that Pat isn't much better. What's all this, m'mah?"

"I'm sure I couldn't tell ye, me dear," returned her mother. "I can't get a word o' sense out of any of them. Brian Brennan here says that Pat is afther bein' the death of him."

"Ah, then now," cried Anna Maria sarcastically, "isn't he very delicate, the poor fellow, to be so near made an end of by a little fellow half his size!"

"I was took by surprise," explained Mr. Brian, with dignity, "or I could easy have settled him with one finger."

"Well, but what call had ye to go doin' it, Pat?" insisted Anna Maria. "'Twasn't your place to go knocking a visitor down, I think."

"I'm very sorry, miss, if ye think I'm afther takin' a liberty," returned Pat firmly; "but I'd knock any man down who went to insult Miss Elleney."

Elleney dropped her arms from her aunt's neck and whisked round, her blue eyes blazing through her tears.

"I'll thank ye not to be mixin' yerself up with my business at all, Pat Rooney. Nobody asked you to meddle."

"Was it Mr. Brennan ye were cryin' about, me poor child?" said Mrs. McNally, in a compassionate but distinctly audible whisper.

Brian shot a melting glance towards her.

"Upon me word," he was beginning plaintively, when Elleney interrupted him with a little shriek of exasperation, and a stamp of her foot.

"Oh dear, oh dear, everything is contrairy this day! I'd have ye to know, Mr. Brennan, that I'd be long sorry to cry for you--if ye was to go down on your two knees I'd never have ye! I know the kind o' young man ye are now, an' I'll not fret after ye. I couldn't help cryin' at first at the disrespectful way ye were afther treatin' me, but I wouldn't have anything to say to ye now for the whole world."

"Well done!" cried Pat approvingly, while Anna Maria giggled.

"Maybe there's others that thinks different," said Brian in a nettled tone.

"Oh yes," put in Anna Maria quickly, "her elders and betters--was that what you were goin' to say? Juliana's to be had, Mr. Brian. She'd be a mother to ye."

"Upon me word, Nanny," said Mrs. McNally, "it doesn't become ye to be talkin' that way of your elder sister."

"Sure, what harm?" responded Nanny blithely. "All I said was she'd be a mother to him. Sure, what could be better than that?"

Brian, with all his faults, was gifted with a sense of humour, and looked at Anna Maria with a twinkle in his eye.

"Bedad," he said, "I've that much respect for Miss Juliana I'd be afraid o' me life to ask her to put up with me."

"Well, there's Bridget then," said Nanny. "Bridget's a fine girl, an' she's got a fine fortun', an' the whole of us knows that's what you're lookin' afther, Mr. Brian."

"I wouldn't say that altogether," said Brian, stammering a little. "Yous all know the way it is with me. 'Tis me father that's makin' the match for me, and I have to choose one of the family. No one can feel more sorry nor I do for the unfort'nate mistake I'm afther makin'; I went altogether too quick, and I was very much to blame. I'm sure I ax Miss Elleney's pardon."

Elleney made a little inarticulate rejoinder, and turned away. Pat looked daggers at his whilom victim, and Mrs. McNally, folding her arms, looked sternly round.

"The less said about some things the better," she remarked. "Mr. Brian, I'll trouble ye to go into the parlour--ye'd best go with him too, Nanny; all the girls are there."

"Will ye step up to the show-room?" said Nanny, with a giggle.

"Troth," returned Brian, who was now in some measure recovering his self-possession, "I think the best o' the stock is what I'm afther seein' in the shop."

He followed her out of the room, and a slight scuffle was presently heard in the passage. Mrs. McNally solemnly closed the door, and came back to Pat and Elleney, who stood looking equally downcast and confused.

"I'd like to know, Pat Rooney," she said, gazing at the young man sternly, "what talk at all this is between you and me niece? What business is it o' yours to interfere? I don't understand it at all, Elleney--I'm very much put about--"

"It's no fault of Miss Elleney's, ma'am," said Pat quickly. "She'd nothin' to say to it at all. I forgot meself altogether. When I seen that fellow makin' little of a chance that I'd give the two eyes out o' my head for--"

"O Pat, whisht for goodness sake!" interrupted Elleney. "Ye oughtn't to be talkin' like that."

"Sure I know that very well, Miss Elleney, darlint--I know I might just as well be cryin' for the moon. But the murder's out now, an' 'pon me word I'm glad of it. I couldn't stop here the way I am--I'd go mad altogether. I'll throuble ye to look out for another boy, Mrs. McNally, ma'am--I wish to leave in a week's time."

Mrs. McNally gasped.

"Isn't it the great fool you are, Pat Rooney, to go give up your good place for a stupid notion like this? Ye know Miss Elleney 'ud never demean herself to you."

"Ay, ma'am, I know she looks on me as the dirt under her feet."

"Then stop where ye are," said Mrs. McNally, comfortably. "You're a very good boy when you don't let your wits go wool-gatherin'. As for my niece, she's no notion of encouragin' any nonsense--have ye, Elleney?"

Elleney's long lashes were downcast, and she nervously twisted her apron.

"Sure ye haven't, dear?" said her aunt persuasively. "Tell the poor foolish fellow that ye haven't, an' then he'll be puttin' it altogether out of his head."

Elleney raised her eyes and looked at Pat, and then dropped them again.

"He's the only one in the wide world that cares for me," she said, with a quivering lip.

"Bless us and save us!" gasped Mrs. McNally. "If that's the way it is, Pat, ye'd best be off with yourself."

Pat turned as red as a cherry, and then as white as his own flour.

"Miss Elleney, dear," he whispered, "d'ye know what ye're sayin'? D'ye know I'm such a great big fool that I'm beginning to think the most outrageous nonsense. I'll be beginnin' to think soon, me jewel, that ye might some day be gettin' a bit fond o' me, an' maybe say Yes when I ax ye a question. Sure ye didn't think of that, alanna?"

"Will ye whisht, ye impident fellow?" cried Mrs. McNally angrily. "Of course she thought o' no such thing."

Elleney turned her sweet eyes deprecatingly towards her aunt, and murmured very faintly--

"I don't know--I--I think I did."

* * * * *

Half-an-hour afterwards Mrs. McNally entered the parlour with a dubious, almost timid, expression on her good-natured face. Most of her family was gathered round the hearth, talking in muffled tones, and with gloomy countenances. Behind the window-curtain Brian Brennan and Anna Maria were tittering together. Mrs. McNally jerked her thumb inquiringly over her shoulder, and raised her eyebrows.

"Is that the way it is?" she whispered.

"You'd better ask them," returned Juliana, with her nose in the air.

Bridget sniffed audibly.

"She reg'larly thrun herself at his head," said Mary spitefully.

"Did I indeed?" said Nanny, emerging from behind the window-curtain. "Brian here could tell yous a different story. He's been beggin' an' prayin' this half-hour, an' I haven't give him an answer yet."

"Ah, but you will!" said Brian, with an ingratiating smile.

"If I do then it 'ull be for the sake of servin' you out. Ye never heard the like of the life I'll be leadin' ye. Ye'll only be sorry once, an' that'll be for ever."

"I'll risk that," said Brian gallantly.

"Well, well, well," said Mrs. McNally, clapping her hands; "so it's to be you, Nanny! 'Pon me word it rains weddin's this evenin'. I don't know whether I'm on me head or me heels. There's Elleney, now--nothin'll serve her but to go takin' up with Pat Rooney."

"Pat Rooney!" exclaimed Anna Maria, while the rest of the family echoed the name in varying tones of shrill disapproval.

"Aye, indeed," said Mrs. McNally, dropping into a chair.

"Pat Rooney. Her mind's made up, it seems, and 'pon me word, though I thought she'd have looked higher, I can't altogether blame the girl. Sure what sort of a husband can she expect, and her without a penny? An old widower maybe, or maybe a fellow with one leg. Pat's gettin' good wages, an' the two of them were talkin' o' takin' that little thatched cabin just out of the town--"

"A cabin!" said Juliana, and began to turn up her eyes, and to make a strange clucking noise in her throat.

"For goodness' sake, Ju, don't be goin' off in highsterics," cried Nanny quickly. "Sure what matter if 'tis a cabin itself! I'll engage she'll keep it as clean as a new pin--and she's a great hand at her needle, so she is. Sure she'll be able to do dressmakin' for the quality."

"An' of course," said Mrs. McNally, casting a deprecating glance round at the irate faces, "we mustn't forget she doesn't rightly belong to the family. Tis no disgrace to us at all, an' really an' truly, girls, I'm almost glad to think she's comfortably settled."

"To be sure," said Bridget, "she's no relation at all to any of us. A little girl that me a'nt took in out of charity. Why wouldn't she marry the baker--"

"My blessin' to her!" said Mary sourly.

Juliana left off clucking, and smiled sarcastically. "She isn't breakin' her heart after you, Mr. Brian, at any rate," she remarked. "She wasn't long in getting over her disappointment."

"I must say I didn't think she'd make so little of herself," he returned, drawing himself up.

"How d'ye like that, Nanny?" said Juliana spitefully. "I declare Mr. Brian's quite upset."

"Ah, the poor fellow, is he?" said Anna Maria, whose good-humour was imperturbable. "I declare I'll have to get married to him now if it's only to comfort him."

And thereupon she burst into a hearty laugh, in which Brian Brennan joined.