I think Tim must have been about forty at this time; but he looked many years younger, being fair and tall and well made, and—a bachelor. He had a merry twinkle in his gray eyes which almost contradicted the firm-set mouth with its long upper lip and square massive chin; from his half-Scotch mother he derived a close calculating disposition, hard to convince, slow to receive new impressions, strong to retain them when once received. From his father roving Pat Hargaton from Donegal, he drew an Irishman's ready wit and nimble tongue, and under all an Irishman's fickle heart, but not his warm affections, which go so far towards amending the latter fault. Another unusual thing amongst men of his class, he was well to do, and having successfully speculated in cattle on his own account, he had money in the bank and a snug cottage. Yet year after year, Shrove-tide after Shrove-tide—the marrying season all over Roman Catholic Ireland—found Tim rejoicing in single-blessedness; nor could he have had a comfortable home, for his old mother was a confirmed invalid; and as Tim was reported to be 'a trifle near,' he only afforded her the services of a little girl scarcely in her teens. More than once mother spoke to him about matrimony, and as often Tim met her with the unanswerable argument: ' Is it as easy to peck for two as for one, ma'am?' So she ceased bothering him about it.
Now it befell that one bright frosty November day I had despatched Tim to the county town on very important business; and the better to assure myself of the favourable issue of it, I walked to meet him on his return. As the time of his return was overdue, I began to feel rather uneasy, and quickened my steps along the winding seaside road; but a turn in it soon revealed the reason of Tim's delay. He was walking beside a very pretty country lass; and another, not so young or nearly so pretty, lagged a little behind."
' 0 ho, Master Tim!' I thought; 'are we to hear news of you this Shrove-tide?'
As I came forward, the girls fell back, Tim hastening on to meet me. He looked shy and sheepish enough as he advanced; and the pretty lass, whom I at once recognised as Mary Dogherty, the acknowledged belle of the barony, hung her shapely head in blushing confusion as she passed me by.
Tim was all business and stolidity once the girls were out of sight. He had lodged money for me in the county bank; settled my own and mother's accounts with butcher, baker, and grocer; transacted all our various businesses with care and correctness; and having given up his accounts into my hands, he hurried on, whilst I continued my walk. Twilight was falling when I returned home; but although more than an hour had elapsed since Tim had preceded me on the road, he was just entering the gate as I turned from the sea-road for the same purpose. I made mother smile that evening when I told her of my encounter.
'But,' she said, 'poor little Mary has no fortune. Tim will look for one with any girl he marries.'
A few days afterwards Tim took me into his confidence. We were making our winter arrangements in the green-house, putting away summer plants whose flowering days were done, and filling up gaps in our shelves with bright chrysanthemums and other winter-blooming plants. An hour sufficed to weary mother at this work, so Tim and I were left alone amongst the flowers. For some time he worked away in silence, but I could easily see he was longing to speak, and so I determined to give him an opportunity; but he forestalled me.
' 'Twas a fine day the day I was in Derry, Mrs. Grace,' he said, as he passed me carrying a huge coronella from one end of the greenhouse to the other.
'It was indeed, Tim. Had you many people on board the steamer?' I replied.
'No, ma'am; not to say very many. Them officer-gentlemen from the Fort.'
'Had you any of the people from about here?' I asked.
'Hugh Dogherty and his sister, and Susie Connor, ma'am.'
'Ah, you walked home with the girls. What became of Hugh?'
'Troth, ma'am, he just got overtaken with a drop of drink, and I thought 'twas but friendly to see the girls home.'
'I am sorry to hear Hugh was so bad as that, Tim.'
'Well, sorra much was on him, Miss Ellen, but he was loath to quit Mrs. Galagher’s when we got off the boat, so we just left him there.—Miss Ellen, I 'v a thought to change my life.'
'I am very glad to hear it, Tim.'
'Yes, miss' (Tim always forgot my matronly title in confidential talk)—'yes, miss. Tis lonely work growing old with nobody to take care of you.'
'That is a selfish way of looking at things, Tim,' I replied.
'Begorra, miss, what else would a man marry for but to have himself took care of ?'
'I suppose liking the girl he married would be a kind of reason too,' I responded.
'O ay. I'd still like to have the one-I'd fancy, if she was handy.'
'And who are you thinking of?' I asked, as Tim bent over a box of geranium cuttings. 'I hope she is nice and good, and will be kind to your poor mother, and a good manager?'
'Faith, I wouldn't take one that wasn't that, Miss Ellen,’ he replied, without raising his head.
'But it a hard to tell how these young ones 'll turn out.'
'She is young then?'
'Young enough, and settled enough,' he responded. 'There's two I 'm thinkin' of.
'Two!' I exclaimed. 'Why, that is not right of you, Tim. You are surely old enough to know the kind of wife would suit you best; and it is unfair to the girls. They are relatives, if I guess right. Those two young women you were walking with on Saturday?'
'Just so,' replied Tim, utterly unabashed: 'Mary Dogherty an' Susie Connor. Mary's the purtiest,' he added in a half soliloquy.
'I have always heard she was as good as she looked,' I said. 'She has been such a dutiful daughter and good sister to those wild boys, she cannot fail to make a good wife.'
'Maybe,' quoth Tim. 'But the Dogherties is down in the world these times.'
'I know they are not very rich; but they are comfortable.'
'They aren't begging, miss, axing your pardon; but musha! it's little softness there's about the house.'
'Well, suppose she has known what it is to want, she will know better how to take care of plenty, when she gets it'
'Troth, I don't know. Maybe when she'd get her two hands full she'd be throwin’ away, for them that's reared in poverty seldom knows how to guide plenty when it comes.'
'Well, I have always heard Mary extolled for being the prettiest and the best girl in Innishowen; and I am sure you may think yourself a happy man if you can get her for your wife,' I said rather sharply.
'Sorra word a lie in that, Miss Ellen,' replied Tim, as he placed the last young geranium in its pot 'She's a good girl, and as purty a one as you'd see in a summer's day; but I'm thinkin' I'll step up an' see them all before I spake to her.'
'Why, Tim, have things gone so far as that ?'
'Well, I may say I have her courted up to the axin, miss.'
'And the other, Tim?' I asked, intensely amused.
'Troth, I don't know, but I have her on hands too.'
‘Now, is that fair to either?' I asked rather indignantly.
'Begorra, I don't know. A man has to look before him sharp.'
'And who is the other? Mary's cousin?'
'Yes, miss—long Tom Connors daughter, from Shruve. She's up with Mary since Holly-eve. Hudie's lookin' after her.'
'She's no beauty, Tim.'
'No, miss; but she's settled. They do say she's a trifle coarse in the temper; but she has the finest two-year-old heifer ever I set my eyes on. A pure beauty, Miss Ellen.'
'And what good would the cow be to you, Tim, if you had a sour cross-grained wife at home?'
'Maybe she wouldn’t be sour or cross when she'd have a good house over her head an' plenty. She's gettin old, Miss Ellen, and she sees the young ones comin' on, an' her left. There 'd be a quare change in her if she had her own way.'
'You seem to think more of the cow than the girl, Tim!' I retorted.
'Troth, it's the purtiest av the two. But miss, I'm sayin', what would you advise me?'
'Marry the girl you like best, Tim; never mind the cow. A young sweet-tempered girl like Mary, who has been so good to her sickly father and mother, so gentle and loving to those wild brothers, cannot fail to make a good wife. You will never be sorry, if you marry the girl you like best.'
'True for you, ma'am—true for you. She is a good girl, an' I'm nigh-hand sure I like her beyant any woman in the world; but Miss Ellen, I'd wish she had the cow!'
Next day I left home, nor did I return until the daffodils were glittering in the springing meadows around our home, and the rooks cawing over their fledglings in the woods behind our garden. Tim was married. I had heard that from mother early in the year; but upon which fair maid his choice had fallen, I was still uncertain. It was late at night when I returned from my travels, and mother had far too much to talk of to tell me the termination of Tim's courtship. In the morning, I took my way into the garden, the farm-yard, the fields lying close by; but Tim was not to be seen; nor did I encounter him until late in the afternoon, when I discovered him busily trenching up some early cabbages in the backgarden. He seemed rather shy of me; but I put out my hand and greeted him kindly.
'You 're welcome home, Mrs. Grace, ma'am,' he said, striking his spade into the fresh-turned earth, and shaking the hand I gave him with more than ordinary warmth. 'We were thinking very long to have got you back.'
'Thank you, Tim. So I have to wish you joy.'
Tim looked sheepish, but speedily recovered himself. 'Yes, ma'am, if joy it be.'
'Oh, there can be no doubt on that score, Tim. I hope Mary is well?'
'Mary? Is it Mary Dogherty? Why, she's spoke of with Lanty Maguire that owns the ferry.'
'Why, I thought you were going to marry Mary, Tim?'
'Well, no, Miss Ellen, I did not. I b'lieve her an' Lanty was cried Sunday was eight days.'
'And what made you change your mind, Tim?'
'Well, I just took Susie; for you see, Miss Ellen, I judged a cow would make the differ betwixt any two women in the world.'
So after all, the cow carried the day!