His Lordship's Coat
Well! Many a lighthearted boy and girl will never forget the sorrows of that terrible sayson. Many a rosy cheek lost its beautiful bloom and withered like the yellow leaves that fall in autumn. The cheering song and the ringing laugh, that used to lift the thatch with joy in the little cabins o' Kilmore, had to give place the same year to the mournful song o' the Keeners who came to wail over the loved ones before they wor laid in their last bed in the green church-yard. It was then you would hear the bitter sob from old and young. Full graves and empty cupboards wor plentiful, while grief and hunger went hand in hand. The big houses o' the quality suffered little or nothing. Famine spread her big wings far and near, but she always conthrived to pass by the strong doors o' the rich; it was the poor alone that felt her deadly touch The very birds on the trees seemed to warble nothing but sorrowful notes. That was the year of the famine; a cowld chill creeps over me every time I think of it. Many a weary mile I had to travel, for days and weeks, at the risk o' my life, along the wild Atlantic Coast, to collect say-weed enough to keep body and soul together in the little family it was my duty to support; but say-weed was poor food to live on for seven days in the week, and we soon began to feel the want of proper nourishment; it was then that the famine fever began to spread itself, and once that took howld, it was high time to send for the clergy and prepare for a better world. Though me and mine, through the mercy of Heaven, I am thankful to say, escaped as if by a miracle.
One day, in the hate o' summer, when I was nearly wasted to a shadow, hunting high and low, far and near, trying to earn the price of a crust for the wife and children, a mighty strange thought entered my head.
I took a little hammer along with me from the cabin, and wandered away on a quiet country road, outside the village, till I got within about half a mile of Lord Killwillin's domain, where I spied a big hape o' stones on one side of the road; so I sat down at once under a green hedge, and rattled away with my hammer as busy as a nailer, breakin' the stones into small pieces to pave the roads. I used to earn an odd sixpence at stone-breakin', and mighty hard-earned money it was, I can tell ye. Well, on this particular day I'm speakin' of, I knew that owld Killwillin would soon have to pass me by on his way home to the Castle, for he happened to be dining out with a fox-hunting earl, that came over from England to enjoy himself in Ireland.
Now Lord Killwillin was as big an owld tyrant as you could find from this to himself; he would think no more of crushing a distressed tenant than he would of tossing off his tumbler of punch.
He had a face as red as the setting sun, and a head o' hair as gray as a badger, and a corporation that often put me in mind of an elephant that used to be in the Zoological gardens o' the Phoenix Park.
However, he had one weak point, and that point always got the upper hand of him, after he got through dining on the fat o' the land; when he emptied his bottle o' claret, or sherry, or champagne you would take him for another man entirely, and the poor man that was lucky enough to meet him on his way home in that state never went empty-handed. He had always a gift to bestow while the fit was on him, in the shape of a crown piece or a sovereign, more or less, and as I happened to be the first man in his path, he found me hard at work breakin' the stones as if my very life depended on it.
"Lanty Lanagan," says he, when he got up to where I was workin,' "I see you are hard at work. That's right, my man. Stick to that, and always bear in mind the golden motto that 'By industry we thrive.' If you have no objection, I'll sit down by this cool spring and have a few minutes chat with you. I begin to feel the weight of this overcoat; I thought we were going to have a rainy day, when I started from the Castle."
"No wonder a heavy man like you," says I, "would feel tired, luggin' a murtherin' heavy coat like that over your arm. Sit down there, sir, and rest yourself, "says I, pointing to a stone seat beside a clear, bubbling spring that rushed down from the mountain side and through the hedge, making a purty little well on the shady side of the road, where it was covered by the branches of a big tree.
"When he sat down, he wiped the perspiration from his face, and, indeed, his fat cheeks were so red at the time, I could have lit my pipe again' them.
"Stone breaking is poor employment, Lanty," says he, throwing me his overcoat. "It must be a hard way of earning as honest shilling."
"An honest penny, ye mane," says I; "for, faix, the shillins' are as scarce as good landlords." I thought I'd give him a rap while I had the chance.
"Ah Lanty," says he, "these famine times play tally ho with the best of us, high, low, rich, and poor alike. Take my own case for example. Just one hour ago only, I met my rent collector, and I was expecting that at the very lowest calculation he would be able to hand me over fifteen hundred pounds, and how much do you think I received? Why, a beggarly six hundred."
"From my heart, I pity your Lordship," says I, purtindin' to feel for the owld leech; "but I wish I had a trifle o' your complaint this minit," thought I in my own mind.
"Indeed Lanty, to speak the candid truth, I am losing all heart lately; the good old times have gone, I am afraid, never to return. Why, man, in former years I was able to spend the most of my time in London or Paris, far away from the petty annoyances of my Irish estate, but of late years I've got to be a stupid old 'stay at home.'"
"Troth, sir, if you and the rest o' your class," says I, no way mealy-mouthed about giving him his answer, "that draws your thousands, at the expense o' the poor man's sweat, had only practised the game of stay at home, instead of scatterin' your Irish goold among furriners, you'd have less to answer for this blessed day."
"Your opinion of my class, as you term it, is not a very exalted one," says he.
"Don't ask my opinion of your class, your Lordship, for I have personal reasons for not giving it."
"You are usually a straightforward fellow, Lanty; tell me truly, I shall not be offended, why are you so loth to let me hear your opinion of my class?"
"The answer is simple, your Lordship," says I, "It's a maxim o' mine never to spake ill of a man before his face."
"Lanty," says he, laughing heartily, "I admire your honesty; you have the courage of your convictions, at all events, and I often find that the frieze and flannel of the peasant covers a better heart than the broadcloth of an earl."
"That's a fine sentiment, your Lordship," says I, "but it has very little effect on a man like me, that hasn't tasted a morsel these three days, barrin' some sea-weed."
"Sea-weed," says he, turning up the white of his eyes. "Lanty, my poor fellow, why didn't you apply to me? Hand me that coat." When I gave him the coat he pulled from a pocket a big rowl o' bank-notes.
"There," says he, "take that, do something for your little family." What he gave me happened to be a five pound note; he then put the big rowl back into the pocket of the coat, which he threw over his arm and was just turning on his heel to go home, when I said to him, "your Lordship appears to be overheated, and a mile and a half of a dusty road to trudge is too much for a heavy man like you; the walk itself is enough, without luggin' a big coat like that with you; besides, sir, the laste I can do will be to show my gratitude for the note you gave me, so just give me the coat, and I'll carry it for you as far as the domain."
"Lanty," says he, throwing me the coat, "I'll not baulk a good intention; moreover, I always like to travel in agreeable company."
At last we started to go, but before we advanced three paces, I gave a sudden cry of pain, staggered backward, and fell into the stone seat beside the bubbling spring, with his Lordship's coat over my arm.
"What ails you, Lanty?" says he.
"Oh, sir, I am afraid it is coming on me again," says I.
"You look faint, sit where you are until I bathe your temples with some spring water."
The next minute he dashed the full of his two hands of the cold water into my face and made me shiver like a Newfoundland dog after a swim.
"I felt it creepin' on me," says I, "and I knew I was in for another attack of it."
"An attack of what?" says he, steppin' back from me.
"I don't wish to frighten your Lordship," says I, "for its' mighty ketchin."
"What?" says he, turnin' paler by degrees. "Tell me, Lanty, my good fellow, what it is that ails you, and perhaps I may be able to send you relief."
"Don't blame me, sir, when I tell you what it is. About five weeks ago, there was a great many o' my neighbors carried away with the same complaint; my turn soon came, but I got over the first attack, and I've had nothing since to keep my strength up but sea-weed; and I'm afraid, sir, this present attack is the fruits of it."
"Why, you unfortunate vagabond," yelled his Lordship, at the same time giving a leap that would have made the fortune of an acrobat, "you're suffering from famine fever."
"I am afeerd so," says I, rising to my feet.
"Keep back, you rascal," says he; "if you advance one inch, I'll shoot you down as I would a rat."
"Here's your Lordship's property," says I, handing him the coat.
Don't come near me! throw the coat into the stream--disinfect it--burn it--fumigate it--never let my eyes light on it again!"
"But what about the rowl o' bank-notes that's in the pocket, your Lordship?"
"Keep them yourself," says he; "do as you please with them; if I got all the wealth in Europe I would not touch anything that passed through your contaminated fingers."
With that, sir, he waddled along the road quicker than he ever did before; he used to be subject to the gout, but I think the fright I gave him cured him o' that. I thought I'd die with laughin' as I watched till he disappeared up the avenue leading to the Castle.
I soon made myself acquainted with the amount of the roll o' notes, and found close upon six hundred pounds. When I remembered that he said I could do as I pleased with it, I lost no time in bringing my wife and children to Dollymount here, and it wasn't long before I bought this little cottage.
I have prospered ever since I left Kilmore. I wrote to Lord Killwillin a short time ago and enclosed a check for six hundred pounds. He returned it, saying "he never liked to spoil sport."
However, sir, I have always considered that my first steppin' stone to success was when I took possession of his Lordship's coat.