Jane Barlow, Strangers at Lisconnell [Irish Idylls, 2] (1895)


Source: Strangers at Lisconnel: A Second Series of Irish Idylls (London: Hodder & Stoughton; NY: Dodd, Mead 1895). This sample has been extracted by Anne van Weerden [Utrecht] for style-identification testing in Secret Life of Pronouns, by James W. Pennebaker [see Input page] (Nov. 2021).


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These, however, were evidently not the most prized portion of Mr. Polymathers’s library, though he displayed them with some complacency, reading out here and there a sonorous “furrin” phrase, at which his audience said, “More power,” and “Your sowl to glory,” and the like. It was when he handled the shabbiest of the volumes, with broken backs and edges all curling tatters, that his touch grew caressing. The lookers-on, contrariwise, thought but poorly of them because they set up, seemingly, to be illustrated works, and their pictures, mostly of uninteresting round and three-cornered objects, struck Lisconnel art critics as very feeble efforts. To be sure Mr. Polymathers called them dygrims, but that was no help to the overtaxed imagination. Only young Nicholas O’Beirne listened intently to the explanation which he gave of one of them. Nicholas was a long, thin lad, with melancholy grey eyes and a square forehead, whose capacity his grandfather had held in some esteem, since it had been discovered, years ago, that “the spalpeen could make out an account for four sets of shoes, and half a stone of three-inch holdfasts, and a dozen of staples, and two gallon of the crathur, and allow for a hundredweight of ould iron, all in his head, and right to a farthin’.” Now the melancholy eyes darkened and brightened with excitement as Mr. Polymathers discoursed of right lines and angles and circles, and expounded the mysterious signification of certain Ah Bay Says. And he had thenceforward an unweariable pupil in Nicholas, companied, albeit with less ardent zeal, and at a slower rate of progress, by his elder brother, Dan.

More general interest, however, continued to be taken in the stranger’s classical attainments. Everybody - the O’Beirnes themselves, their neighbours in the cabin-row close by, now long since an untraceable ruin, and the people of Lisconnel proper, a couple of miles further on - felt uplifted by the residence among them of a man, who they boasted would talk Latin to you as soon as look at you. But as we never enjoy our own happiness fully until it has been looked at through other men’s envious eyes, they could not here remain content with simply possessing this privilege, or even with dilating upon it to their less favoured friends down below and down beyant. They longed to make a parade of it, to give a demonstration of it. And the method of doing so which they came to consider most desirable was the bringing about of a conversation in Latin between Mr. Polymathers and Father Rooney, the Parish Priest. For if that took place they could easily imagine his Reverence riding home to report in the Town what a wonderful great scholar entirely they had stopping above at Lisconnel. Moreover, the conversation itself would be a rael fine thing to have the hearing of. Terence Kilfoyle, for instance, said that it would be as good as a Play, which, as he had never seen one, was to entertain unbounded expectations. And at last, after they had wished the wish for some weeks, a prospect of its fulfilment came into sight together with Father Rooney’s cream-coloured pony jogging along through the light of a fiery-zoned July sunset, in which Mr. Polymathers was basking by the O’Beirnes’ door. In those days his Reverence was a youngish man, ruddy, and of a cheerful countenance, a substantial load for his sturdy nag, and altogether, in his glossy black cloth, a figure very different from their gaunt, sad-visaged, shaggily-garbed old guest. He was at the time of Father Rooney’s approach seated on a two-legged, three-legged stool, propped precariously against the ray-rosed cabin wall, and was teaching Dan and Nicholas the twelfth proposition of the second book of Euclid. Dan had not yet grasped it, but it all lay as clear as a sunbeam athwart Nicholas’s brain, and he was fidgeting like an impatient horse at the slowness of his fellow.

Several of the neighbours chanced to be about, for the forge saw a good deal of company in those long empty days before the potato-digging could begin. They all drew together into a small crowd, and closed in step by step to watch the first meeting between these two notable persons, much admiring the deftness with which old O’Beirne secured it by pronouncing one of the pony’s shoes in need of tightening, and the felicitous opening he made by assuring his Reverence that “divil a bit need he be mindin’ the delay, because Mr. Polymathers there had enough furrin languages to keep thim all divarted, if the baste owned as many feet as a forty-legs, wid the shoes droppin’ off ivery pair of thim. That was to say, in coorse, supposin’ he got the chance of convarsin’ a bit wid somebody aquil to answerin’ him back iligant, the way there wasn’t e’er a one of thim could make an offer at doin’ no more than thim little weevils of chirpin’ chuckens.”

Yet the interview turned out disappointingly after all. If such a thing had not been, of course, exceedingly improbable, one might have fancied that each scholar stood in awe of the other’s reputation, they steered so clear of all recondite subjects; keeping to the merest commonplaces about rain and potatoes and turf - which anybody else could have discussed quite as knowledgably. In vain, whenever there was a promising pause would the bystanders nudge one another, whispering, hopefully, “Whist, boys - they’ll be sayin’ somethin’ now.” Only the plainest English followed, and at last, when Father Rooney rode on, his parting joke, which referred to the difficulty his pony would now find in the way of becoming a barefooted pilgrim, left for a wonder solemnly irresponsive faces behind it.

Michael Ryan said, with a touch of resentment, “Ah, well, one couldn’t maybe expec’ it of thim to be throublin’ thimselves talkin’ fine for the pack of us, as ignorant as dirt, in the middle of th’ould bog.”

And his wife said, “’Deed, now, I wouldn’t won’er meself if the raison was his Riverence ’ud think bad of usin’ his Latin words for anythin’ else on’y prayers and such. It might be somethin’ the same as if he went and took his grand vistments to go dig pitaties in; and that ’ud be a great sin, God knows.”

But old Felix, who was, as we have seen, a rather touchy person, construed this suggestion into an implied censure on his own wishes in the matter, and he said, huffily -

“Sorra the talk of sin I see in it at all, ma’am. ’Tis a dale liker they just couldn’t get out wid it convanient offhand. The same way that I’d aisy enough bate out a shoe on me anvil there, when it’s bothered I’d be if you axed me to make a one promiscuous here of a suddint on the roadside.”

Mr. Polymathers himself meanwhile was perhaps dimly conscious that he had disappointed hopes, and failed to rise duly to the occasion; and this may have been why he slipped indoors, and fetched out a small book he had never produced before, bound in a dingy greenish blue, with a white paper label.

“D’you know what that is, sir?” he questioned, rhetorically, handing it to Felix O’Beirne. “It’s the Calendar, let me tell you, of the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, juxta Dublin. There’s a print of the Front of the Buildings attached to the fly-leaf. I’m after pickin’ it up this spring at Moynalone. ’Twas new the year before last, and comprises a dale of information relative to terms, examinations, fees, and so forth.”

“Begor, then, it looks to be a wide house,” said Felix, confining himself to the picture as a comprehensible point. “It’s apt to be an oncommon fine place, sir, I should suppose.”

“You may say that, me man,” said Mr. Polymathers, emphatically. “Not its match in the kingdom of Ireland. The home of literature and the haunt of science. And it’s there I’ll be, plase God, next October.”

“Musha, and will you be thravellin’ that far - to Dublin?” said Felix.

“Ay will I, and would have gone last month on’y for the fever delayin’ me till after the midsummer entrance. Me savin’s amount to somethin’ over thirty pound, so I may venture on the step, and prisint meself at the Michaelmas term. In short,” said Mr. Polymathers, re-poising himself upon his rickety stool, “I might describe myself as an unmatriculated candidate undergraduate of the University of Dublin.”

“And what at all now would that be, sir, if I might be axin’?” said Felix, humbly, after the awe-stricken pause which followed Mr. Polymathers’s proclamation of his style and title.

“It’s a necessary preliminary,” said Mr. Polymathers, “to proceeding to the Degree of Baccalaureatus in Artibus, or In Artibus Baccalaureatus - the ordo verborum is, I take it, immaterial, to judge by the transposition of initials in the case of - .”

“Faix, but it’s the fine Latin you can be discoorsin’ now, and his Riverence half-ways home,” said Felix reproachfully.

Mr. Polymathers, glancing round a circle of deeply impressed faces, felt that his prestige was restored, and even began to enjoy a foretaste of the triumph, which had been one part of his dream through the long laborious years. But he was puzzled how to bring the full grandeur of his design clearly before this uninstructed audience, and after reflecting for a while in quest of concise yet adequate definitions, he launched out into an eloquent description of the ceremonial observed in conferring degrees at Dublin University. It may be surmised that many of the details were due to his own fondly brooding fancy. For not only did the highest learning in the land crowd the Hall in their academic robes, but the Lord Lieutenant himself took a prominent part in the proceedings, which were enlivened by military music and thunderous salutes. Mr. Polymathers nearly toppled off his tricky stool more than once without noticing it in his excitement as he rehearsed these splendid scenes, declaiming with great unction the formulas long since learned by all his heart, especially Ego, auctoritate mihi concessa, and the rest, until he came to his peroration: “And all this pomp and ceremony, mind yous, to the honour and glory of science and fine scholarship. It’s a grand occasion, lads; it’s an object any man might be proud to give - “ Here he pulled himself up, warned by an unusually violent lurch, that his theme was running away with him. But having by no means worked off his enthusiasm, he expended some of it, as a schoolboy might have done, in throwing a small bit of turf at a stately white hen, who just then sailed across the dark doorway, like a little frigate under the most crowded canvas. She immediately took flight with floundering screeches, which drowned what the old man was muttering to himself. However, it was only “Admitto te - admitto te.”

After these revelations Mr. Polymathers was looked up to more than ever, as one not only endowed with rare gifts, but destined by their means to scale heights of hardly realisable exaltation. “Be all accounts there was no knowin’ what he mightn’t rise to be at Dublin College,” the neighbours said. They also often remarked that it was “a surprisin’ thing to see a great scholar like him spendin’ his time over taichin’ thim two young O’Beirnes.” If the speaker happened to be afflicted with a twinge of envy about those educational advantages, he was apt to say “thim two young bosthoons” or “gomerals.” But Dan and Nicholas were not, in fact, any such thing. Nicholas, indeed, quickly proved himself possessed of what Mr. Polymathers called “a downright astonishin’ facility at the mathematics,” far outstripping Dan, not quite to Dan’s satisfaction, as he had always enjoyed the pre-eminence conferred by superior physical strength and a practical turn of mind. So well pleased was the old man with his eager pupil that he would have liked to do his teaching, “nothing for reward,” but his host’s hospitality, and his own ambition, would not permit this. Now and then he rather puzzled Nicholas by an apologetic tone in answering questions about his University career. And once at the end of a lesson he said, as if to himself: “May goodness forgive me if I’m takin’ what he’d have done better with. But sure he’s young - he’s plenty of chances yet.” However, as the time for his departure drew on, all his misgivings, if such he had, seemed to vanish away, and his thoughts became very apt to journey off blissfully to Dublin in the middle of the most interesting problems. Nicholas had to wait till they came back.

Mr. Polymathers left Lisconnel on a fine autumn morning, when the air was so still that the flashing and twinkling of the many dewdrops seemed to make quite a stir in it. The sky was as clear as any one of them, and in the golden light the wavering columns of blue smoke rose with curves softly transparent. He started with a buoyant step, as well he might, since he was setting out on the enterprise into which he had put all the spirit of his youth. He felt some regret at parting from his Lisconnel friends, but his plans and prospects were naturally very preoccupying, whereas they had the ampler leisure of the left-behind to deplore his flitting, which seemed likely enough to be for good. Nearly four years, he had explained, must elapse before the crowning height of the B. A. Degree could be won, and it was only just possible that he might manage to tramp back on a visit meanwhile, during some Long Vacation. This doubtful chance was cold comfort for that ardent scholar Nicholas O’Beirne, who grieved more than anybody else. Most ruefully did he help Dan to carry the candidate undergraduate’s library as far as the Town; nor could he take more than a downcast pleasure in Mr. Polymathers’s farewell gift to him of the raggedest Euclid. And as he stood watching the car out of sight, his eyes were as wistful as if a door briefly opened on glimpses of radiant vistas had been inexorably barred in his face.

Yet after all Mr. Polymathers’s absence was not to be measured by years or months. One evening on the threshold of December, Lisconnel was lying roofed over by a massy livid-black cloud, which came lumbering up and up interminably, and which the weatherwise estimated to contain as much snow as would smother the width of the world. The north wind moaned and keened dismally under the toil of wafting on this portentous load, and its breath was bitingly sharp, so that when the lads came in from the forge, their grandfather said, “Ah, Dan, shut over the door, for there’s a blast sweepin’ through it ’ud freeze ten rigiments as stiff as statics.” We usually take a large view of things at Lisconnel. Dan went to carry out this order, but instead of doing so he suddenly shouted: “Murdher alive! Here’s Mr. Polymathers.”

Through the grey gloaming came a Mr. Polymathers, very different from what he had been on that brilliant, hopeful morning only a few weeks ago, when he had stepped lightly, and held his head up as if he were looking a friendly fortune in the face. Now his feet stumbled and dragged as he fared slowly against the wind’s blustering, with his eyes on the ground, and his movements seemingly guided more by the weight of the bundle he carried than by his own will. Before he came within even loud shouting distance, everybody felt a presentiment of disaster; but he had not spoken a word to justify or discredit it by the time he got indoors.

“Musha, and so it’s yourself, sir,” old Felix then repeated, in a congratulatory tone. “Ah, but it’s a hardy evenin’, and it’s perished you are, sir. Come in be the fire.”

“Ay, I’m back,” Mr. Polymathers said slowly, after a hesitating pause, as if the remark had been interpreted to him by some second person, “I was bringin’ the books, thinkin’ the lad might use them - he’s young enough. But I’m not come to stop on you,” he added, speaking faster, “on’y just for this night. Early to-morra I must be off to Ardnacreagh, and try for the taichin’ there again. ’Twas on’y on account of bringin’ the books I came this way. I’ll be on the road quite early.”

His insistence on this point made, somehow, a very melancholy impression on Felix; but he replied jovially: “Is it to-morra? Bedad then, sir, don’t you wish you may slip off on us that soon, and we after gettin’ a hould of you agin? What fools we are. Not if you was as slithery, ivery inch of you, as a wather-eel.”

The wraith of a relieved smile at this came over Mr. Polymathers’s face; still it looked so grey and withered, and his eyes were so sunken, and his large, bony hands so shaky, that all with one consent refrained from questions which they were agog to ask; and when Mrs. Keogh by and by dropped in, and being an inquisitive and not very quick-witted person, said, “Saints among us - it’s Mr. Polymathers. And how’s yourself, sir? And are you bringing home the grand Degree?” though they all listened eagerly for the reply, they wished she had held her tongue.

“The divil a Degree, ma’am,” said Mr. Polymathers, “and niver will.”

There was a short silence, and then he turned round on his stool - it was the same from which he had made his boast in the summer sunset, but Dan had meanwhile mended its broken leg with the handle of a worn-bladed spade. “I’ve given up,” he said to them. “I no longer entertain the project of becomin’ a graduate, or for the matter of that an undergraduate of Dublin University; and if I’d done right, I’d niver have taken up such an idea. I’ve put it out of me head. But it’s been in me mind a great while - a terrible long while.”

“Look you here, Mr. Polymathers, sir, are you after gittin’ any bad thratment from any people up in thim places?” said Felix, who always liked better to lay a grievance on some human and possibly breakable head than to believe it the work of the vengeance-baffling demon bad-luck.

“Not at all, not at all,” said Mr. Polymathers, when the question reached him. “I’ve nothin’ to complain of. They’re very respectable people in Dublin, and it’s a fine city. But me head’s a bit giddy yet wid the drivin’ they have in the streets, that makes one stupid. I mind there was a car tatterin’ along, and I crossin’ over the College Green, had me down on the stones, on’y a dacint lad gript a hould of me, and whirled me inside the College gates. There I was before I rightly knew anythin’ had happened me, and I after spendin’ the best part of me life gettin’ to it. ’Twasn’t the way I thought it ’ud be. ... But the College is as grand as any notion I had of it; on’y since I’ve seen it, ’tis like a drame to me that ever I set fut in it, just a sort of drame. ... Great ancient places the squares are; I walked round the whole of them before I found the Hall. A couple of chaps in uniform like came axin’ me me business, but I tould them fast enough that I was a candidate - ah, goodness help me. ... And the Hall’s a spacious and splendid apartment. On’y it was strange, now, to see it full of nothin’ but young fellows, scarce oulder than the two lads there. I might, sure enough, have known the way it ’ud be, if I’d come to considher, but somehow it seemed to put me out, as if I’d no call to be there at all. There was one of them began pricin’ me ould hat, and another of them tripped him up against a black marble construction with a pair of angels atop of it, that there is on the wall - sure they were just spalpeens. But I’ll give you me word, when they called me up to the examiner’s table, there was a young gintleman sittin’ at it in his black gown and his cap wid the tassel - bound to be one of the College Fellows, and ivery sort of a fine scholar - and for all the age there was on him he might ha’ been me son or me grandson.

“So he handed me over a little black Virgil wid the page opened where I was to exhibit me acquaintance wid the text. It was merely a bit of an oration of Queen Dido’s that I’ve known ivery line of these forty years as well as I know me own name, and better. And what came over me is more than I can tell, but the minute I took the book in me hand, it seemed to me as if ivery atom of sinse and manin’ slipped out of the words, or out of me head - I couldn’t say which, and I just stood starin’ at them and starin’, till iverythin’ else got whirlin’ round about me, fit to shake the panes out of the big windows, and the pictures off the walls. ... Belike himself persaived I was flusthered, for, ’Take your time,’ sez he; and after a while they stood steady enough. But, the Lord be good to me - sorra a syllable of the sinse come back. And be that I well knew it was all up wid me; and I was thinkin’ me father’s son had no business to be standin’ there makin’ a show of meself in the middle of Trinity College. So the lad in the cap said again, ’Take your time, sir, take your time.’ But I said to him, ’God help me, sir, I’ve taken very nigh all I’ll get, for I declare to you, lad, I’m over seventy years of age. But as for your time, sir,’ I said, ’I’ll be wastin’ no more of it.’ And wid that I put down the book, and out I wint. I mind the sun in the square nearly dazzled the eyes out of me fool’s head. I niver seen it blazin’ brighter - and there was a big bell somewhere boomin’ away, as if they’d set the heart of the world tollin’; it’s ringin’ in me ears yet. ... And a couple of days after that I quit out of Dublin, and I’ve been trampin’ back to this counthry, takin’ me time, as he said - there’s no hurry now about anythin’. So that was the ind of me University Degree.”

“I just wish I could git discoorsin’ wid that young feller,” said old Felix, vindictively, “himself and his tassel in his cap.”

“Sure, man, ’twas no fault of his,” said Mr. Polymathers, “and I can live widout a Degree, if that’s all. Me betters did before me. To tell you the truth, I’ve thought often enough as I was comin’ along now, that I dunno how at all I’d have had the face to meet me poor father one of these days, and I cocked up with a Baccalaureatus in Artibus, and he wid not so much as a dacint stone over his grave to commemorate his name, that was the most illusthrious Polymath in the county Sligo, wid more larnin’ in the tip of his ear than ever I got into me ould skull. Never a hap’orth of good was I at anythin’ except the trifle of mathematics, but he was as great at the Classics. ... I used to humbug meself somewhiles lettin’ on I hankered after it because it would ha’ gratified him maybe to hear of the event. But little I ever done to plase him, God forgive me. Let alone goin’ and makin’ an ould fool of meself up at Trinity College. ... ’Twas a terrible upset to him when I turned again the Priesthood, after he had the money saved up for the seminary and all. Words about it we had, and the ind of it was he put it all into me brother Ned’s little farm. Ned had no more fancy for larnin’ than the bastes of the field. A trifle of it would ha’ come in very handy sometimes for buyin’ me books; howane’er it was not to be. ... And the books there - I on’y brought them along to lave wid you for the youngest lad - ay, Nicholas. He has a head on his shoulders for the mathematics, I can tell you; he might do something yet, if he got his chances. They’re no use to me now, and I’d as lief be shut of the sight of them. And to-morra I’ll be off to Ardnacreagh.”

So the gaunt old man talked on, groping his way out of hesitating pauses, and straying into dreamy meditations, as if he sometimes forgot his story, and sometimes its hearers. They did not know what a life-wreck it outlined, but they saw and surmised enough to make them think of him as “the crathur,” and speak to him with more deference than if he had returned in a radiant glow of success, symbolised as some of them had anticipated, by scarlet robes as splendid, at least, as Father Rooney’s at High Mass. And Felix O’Beirne took occasion of a madly skirling gust to say, “Listen now to that, sir, and don’t be talkin’ wild of thravellin’ off to-morra. If I might be sayin’ so, you’d a dale better stay quiet where you are this minyit. And as for taichin’, sure it’s proud and thankful the two boyos ’ud be for e’er a bit more. There’s Nicholas mopin’ about like an ould hin that’s lost her chuckens iver since you quit.”

Mr. Polymathers did stop quiet - very quiet - but he taught the boys no more. In fact, he did nothing except sit all day staring into the fire, as if he had lost something in it. Once after Nicholas had sat looking very hard at him for a long time with the ragged Euclid ostentatiously open at a crux, he seemed to rouse up, and putting out a hand for the book, began an explanation. But it died away unfinished in an aimless muttering, which both shocked and saddened Nicholas, and the experiment was not repeated. Then towards Christmas time all the neighbours were saying that Mr. Polymathers was greatly failed to what he had been. And Bridget O’Beirne reported that you might as well be argufyin’ wid a scutty wren to swally down the full of the ducks’ dish as persuadin’ him to take a raisonable bite and sup. Dr. Hamilton from the Dispensary, who was consulted on the case, “consaited,” Bridget told inquirers, “that he might be after gettin’ a sort of stroke like unbeknownst;” but her own opinion was that “he had, so to spake, lost the knot off his thread, and ’twould be much if he didn’t slip away out of it on them, afore they seen e’er another green laif on the bushes.”

It was, at any rate, more than happened. One snowy afternoon, when he had been busy for some time “scrawmin’ a manner of letter,” which related, he said, to the disposition of his property, Mr. Polymathers grew so much worse that Dan and Nicholas ran off for the Doctor and the Priest, and before their arrival could possibly be expected, it became evident that he could not wait to receive them. Bridget O’Beirne, deploring the hap by his bed in the small room off the kitchen, thought a few minutes before he went that she heard him murmuring something coherent, and she called to little Rosy Corcoran, “Child alive - me head’s bothered - come in here and listen, can you make out at all what he’s sayin’?”

Rosy came reluctantly and listened. “I think,” she whispered, “it’s some sort of prayers like what his Riverence sez.”

“Ah, then, glory be to God for that itself,” said Bridget, “there might be a good chance for him after all.”

But she had been misinformed. The words Mr. Polymathers was muttering over and over to himself were: Admitto te - admitto te.

 

CHAPTER VIII: HONORIS CAUSA

THE evening of the day after Mr. Polymathers died was a very wild black-and-white one out of doors all round Lisconnel, yet, notwithstanding the flakes in the air and under foot, the O’Beirnes had received some company. Not at a wake, however; the purpose of their assembly was to discuss a serious business matter, upon which old Felix O’Beirne wished for friendly counsel. Hence his contemporary, old Paddy Ryan, had prodded little round craters in the snow with his thick stick all along the good step of bleak road which lay between his house and the forge, and with him had come on the same errand Terence Kilfoyle, who, although of so much junior standing, was esteemed as a man of notably shrewd sense and judgment. But then neither he nor the neighbours knew how often he took and gave Bessie Kilfoyle’s advice. These two were present by express invitation, but another pair of guests, the Dooleys, would never have been asked for the sake of their opinion, which they were indeed encouraged to keep to themselves, and appeared at this domestic crisis merely by virtue of family ties. Old Felix had always thought little of his daughter Maggie’s mental powers, and less ever since her marriage with Peter Dooley, who kept a shop in the Town, and could be described as “an ould gombeen man,” if one wished to regard him from an unfavourable point of view, which his father-in-law not uncommonly did. He had been heard to say of Peter that “the chap was that smooth-spoken you might think he was after swallyin’ a one of his own graisy dipts, on’y he’d liefer be chaitin’ some poor body over the sellin’ of it” - a perhaps not inexcusable preference. As for Peter, he contemplated humanity with a jovial cynicism, and rather enjoyed the society of the old blacksmith, despite the gruff sarcasms which sometimes made their womenkind turn the conversation apprehensively. He had been heard to say of Felix that “It was aisy work runnin’ down other people’s business, and small blame to th’ ould man if he had a fancy for a light job now and agin, when he would be tired poundin’ th’ ould iron at a profit you couldn’t see to pickup widout a strong pair of spectacles.” Proximity had brought to the consultation Mrs. Carbery and Tim O’Meara from adjacent doors; and they, with old ancient Mrs. O’Beirne and her daughter and the two lads, formed quite a large party about the fire. The business to be brought before them was Mr. Polymathers’s Will.

Now, lest it should be thought that unseemly haste was displayed in attending to this affair while Mr. Polymathers still lay in the little next room, I must explain that for special reasons the nature of the funeral arrangements depended upon the result of the conference; and. how deeply important such a point would be considered at Lisconnel I need remind no one who has occasionally been perplexed by our propensity for the pinching and scraping which takes toll of a life-long penury, that a brief show of pomp may invest the last scene of all. This propensity is not seldom misconstrued into the outcome of a mere personal vanity, whereas it has its root in the worthier sentiment of veneration for our Kind. Ould Pat Murphy, who has subsisted all his life upon an insufficiency of pitaties, and inhabited a largish sty, never loses the sense that he owes something better to himself in his character of a human being, and he takes painful steps to ensure the ultimate discharge of the debt. One of these days he who has hitherto come and gone in unimposing guise shall be borne, on wheels if possible - but here I mention grandeur never even dreamed of up at remote Lisconnel - in unwonted state, certain to draw the gaze of every passer-by. But as if with a fine touch of courtesy, he so times his assertion of dignity that none of his fellows shall thereby be abashed nor envy-bitten. No ragged wayfarer shall wish to change places with him as he passes solemnly along, nor grudge him the unshared splendour of his sombre equipage; not even if it display the crowning glory of woolly black plumes to waggle over his head. Accordingly, when Pat has died on his humble bed, which is as likely as not just earth tempered with straw, under his rifted thatch, through which he may perhaps see the stars glimmer with nothing except’ the smoke-haze and gathering mists between, he is conveyed thence with whatever pomp and circumstance his savings permit, and all his neighbours feel that the right thing has been done.

It is true that Mr. Polymathers had given no sign of any such sentiment. When discreetly sounded on the subject during his last days, he had replied: “Ah! man, it’s very immaterial,” in a tone of indifference as unmistakable as the phrase was ambiguous. And from this fact, coupled with his written instructions, it might, one would have thought, safely have been inferred that he desired no costly magnificence at his obsequies. Yet the point was obscured in his late host’s mind by a thick cloud of doubts and scruples.

Mr. Polymathers had died surprisingly rich, not less than twenty-five pounds, seven shillings and threepence having been counted awestrickenly out of his leathern pouch. The ground rents of all Lisconnel did not reach to such a figure. It had been larger still before his disastrous expedition to the University; but it had never undergone any diminution so long as he abode under Felix O’Beirne’s roof. On the first Saturday after his convalescence he had inquired, pouch in hand: “And what might be the amount of me pecuniary debt to you, sir?” And old O’Beirne had replied: “And you spendin’ your time puttin’ the heighth of larnin’ into the two lads’ heads! Bedad, sir, it’s debt the other way round, supposin’ there was to be any talk about it.” The same little scene, dwindled at last into a mere form and ceremony, had taken place on every succeeding Saturday. Not that Mr. Polymathers did not feel he had grounds for more than merely formal demur. But he was then facing the steep hill of his ambition, and had sometimes to stoop as he climbed.

But now, when he had turned back baffled, and all his climbing was done, old Felix had no engrossing object to blunt a sense of many scruples that must be removed before he himself or his family could with honour derive profit from the event; as they would do if Mr. Polymathers’s instructions were carried out. For by that document, which he had finished drawing up only just in time, all his property was left unreservedly to Nicholas O’Beirne, with the injunction that as little of it as possible might be expended upon “the burying.” Of course it was an extraordinary thing that such a piece of good fortune should befall, such a number of pounds accrue to, anybody at all; but apart from this there seemed to be nothing very strange in the bequest. Everybody knew that Mr. Polymathers had entertained “a great opinion entirely” of Nicholas’ abilities. Time and again he had said that the lad would be heard of in the world if he got his chance of some good teaching. And he once more expressed the same conviction, only at fuller length and in finer language, in the composition which had been the last effort of his wearied brain. “It would give me,” he wrote, “the utmost satisfaction to think that the legacy may eventually smooth his path to the attainment of those University distinctions which have eluded my own grasp.” And almost his latest moment of consciousness had been pervaded by a faint thrill of pleased pride at the turn of the sentence as he read it over. This high style was not, however, maintained throughout, and the purport could not be misunderstood. Furthermore, everybody knew that he had said he had not a relation belonging to him in this world; and that being so, it was natural enough for him to make a promising and favorite pupil his heir. At first sight, therefore, no difficulties presented themselves; but old Felix slept upon the matter, and by morning grave doubts had risen in his mind. The gist of them was that “If they took and grabbed the ould gintleman’s bit of money, and he after dyin’ all his lone up among them there, wid ne’er a one of his own folks near him to see he had his rights, it might look ugly enough agin them, and set some people passin’ remarks he’d be long sorry to have made on him, or any of his name;” and that for the precluding of such animadversions it might behove them to provide “a buryin’” not merely decent but “very respectable whatever,” and to expend the remainder of Mr. Polymathers’s personality upon a headstone for his grave, and Masses for his soul. To set against these apprehensions were Mr.Polymathers’s wishes and Nicholas’s interests; and the longer the old man balanced them in his mind, the more perplexing became their tremulous poise. So at last, goaded by the urgent necessity for a prompt decision, he turned to seek it among his neighbours. He could not forbear a hope that their voices might be convincingly in favour of giving Nicholas his chances; still his strongest feeling was that it would be a relief to get the matter settled one way or the other.

Very different in its degree of intensity was the interest with which his grandson Nicholas looked forward to the issue. The question to be decided seemed to him of almost as vital importance as if it were: Whether or no the sun should rise again next morning. For him at least, it depended upon that whether his world should loom back again in a dreary blankness, or waken lit with new and wondrous gleams. Nicholas’s thirst for knowledge and love of learning were much more essentially part and parcel of him than his hands and eyes, and had so far found little except dreams and desires to thrive upon. Even before the memorable summer evening when the gaunt old man in the curious big hat had asked for the night’s lodging, which lengthened into a season’s sojourn, he had often wandered among visions of places where there were as many books as anybody could read - a dozen maybe - and some people in it with a power of book-learning - as much perhaps as his Reverence or the Doctor - only neither priest nor quality, but just neighbours whom he could question about anything that came into his head, as he used to question his grandfather, and Paddy Ryan, and Terence Kilfoyle, until he got tired of being asked, in reply: “Musha good gracious, and who could be tellin’ you that?” an answer which had repeatedly left him a discouraged atom of bewilderment, symbolically environed by our wide-spreading bog. Since Mr. Polymathers’s visit, these visions had grown clearer, but not under any rays of hope. His initiation into the elements of mathematics had pointed out the road along which he should travel, but had simultaneously revealed all its obstacles, insurmountable for him solitary and unequipped. In those days his mind was constantly fumbling at some insoluble problem with the sense of frustration that one has who gropes vainly in the dark, well knowing how a single unattainable match-flare would put what he is seeking into his hands. And no brighter prospect seemed to lie before him anywhere in his future.


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