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MRS. STEVENSON'S WILL.
“I am now upwards of seventy, and as I cannot look for a much longer continuance of life, I have made my will, and left it in the hands of Mr. Colman. Be assured, my dear Mrs. MacMahon, you are not forgotten in it; you know I have very little to leave, and when it comes to be divided, the portion to each (where there are so many) must necessarily be small; however, it will serve to show what my wishes were had the power been given me to fulfil them.”
Such was the substance of the last conversation between Mrs. MacMahon and her cousin of Lissendhu, the wealthy widow of Robert Stevenson. They shook hands and parted for the last time, though neither of them supposed it to be so ; and Mrs. MacMahon stood leaning over the low wall which separated her own garden from the road, watching the receding jaunting-car until it was concealed from view by the increased distance. For a much longer time Mrs. MacMahon remained buried in deep thought, when she was at last roused by the voice of her daughter asking what made Mrs. Stevenson mention her will.
“We were speaking of the hardness of the times, and the difficulty of living upon
“ Nothing ?” interrupted Nora.
“ It is no wonder, indeed, she feels the times hard, when she has only a thousand a-year to live upon," exclaimed Nora, indignantly. “God help those who have not the half part of the fourth of it!"
“My dear Nora, we must not count people wealthy by the actual sum of money they possess. Taste, habit, education, have a great influence over us; and scarcely two people, equally endowed by Fortune, will spend their money alike. You need only look around to assure yourself that a thousand a-year is not more in reality for the wants of one person, than a hundred is for those of another.”
“That's counting a hundred for each want," said Nora, laughing; " and I think its very true, only we must give the smaller income a lower stand, for I much doubt if there's anyone living who has only one desire."
“You forget Mr. Donovan. I am convinced he had but one wish in the world, and that was to do good to his fellow-beings.”
“And, dear mother, was not that one the parent of many others ? Could be wish to do good acts, and see the necessity of performing them, without at the same time being anxious about the means, and wishing for such and such things' to enable him to do so and so ?!”
“Ah! well," exclaimed Mrs. MacMahon, smiling, “the further consideration would lead us deeper into the regions of philosophy than is convenient to travel just now; besides you had better go and prepare for your visit.”
“Must I go to Liscarrol ?" asked Nora, in a supplicating tone. “ Could I not refuse?”
“Refuse !” cried her mother, in the greatest surprise ; “refuse Mrs. Stevenson !-have you lost your senses? I never before heard any objection to Liscarrol; on the contrary, you invariably expressed pleasure at the idea ; and I am sure you have not less reason now than heretofore—you are as great a favourite as ever with Mrs. Stevenson.'
“Yes, and I like to be with her when she is alone. But since Miss Blenkinsop came to live with her, I assure you Liscarrol is very different from what it was. She prevents Mrs. Stevenson being so kind as she would be. I don't get half the presents intended for me, or near so many as in the good old times.' Rosamund Brooks is there also, and I am sure you will not say she is an agreeable companion.”
“No; but you are very safe when Esther is absent."
"Ah! nothing but downright necessity could bring anyone to Liscarrol when she is there. Her satire is so pungent, and herself so perfectly careless of consequences, that no one is free from her attacks. son does not mind a little raillery now and then, but who can bear to have everything they do or say turned into ridicule? I often wonder how Mrs. Stevenson can put up with her.”
“This is all very true, and I know you speak from what you call bitter experience," " said Mrs. MacMahon, with a smile ; " but medicine is good for us, however nauseous it may be ; and in every bitter cup presented to us, we should seek for the drop of honey."
“Ah, then, indeed we might search long enough for a drop of honey in a cup of Esther Brooks ; it would end very like Ally Corrigan's hunt after gold in the old abbey beyond, when she nearly brought it down about her ears, and had all the neighbours laughing at her.
“ Nora! Nora !” cried Mrs. MacMahon, in a deprecating tone, “ take care you are not infected.”
“Mother, dear, surely it is only the truth," replied Nora, earnestly; “but I'll go and prepare for my travels.” And she turned into the house.
The cottage of Owen MacMahon was situated in a wild part of Innishowen, not far from the rude gap of Mamore (one of the three famous defiles of Ireland), and close to Stoker Bay-through which the noble waters of Lough Swilly pass into the mighty Atlantic. Several years had rolled away since he first took possession of the cottage, and yet little was known about him, more than that he had retired from business, and intended to devote the remainder of his life to the pursuits of husbandry. Perhaps there was nothing further to hear; though it was hinted that failure in a lawsuit was the first cause of his retirement, and that rather straitened circumstances, joined to a large family, were likely to keep him in it. It was said, also, that he kept himself too much aloof from his neighbours, and that, though courteous to all, he was intimate with none. Several took serious umbrage at this; but there were others, better judges of human nature, who could make every allowance for the sensitive feelings of a man obliged to move in a sphere to which he had evidently been unaccustomed ; and who shrunk from the proffered civilities of wealthier neighbours because he could not return those civilities in kind. But the poorer classes had reason to bless the
day that MacMahon came among them. His open hand was ever ready to follow the dictates of his warm heart; and though his benevolence was frequently restricted by prudence, yet it went forth with a blessing upon it, and it fulfilled its mission to do good. The simple peasantry have often said they would rather have a stone of meal from the house of MacMahon, than a sack from another-for sure its given with good will; an' isn't the sixpence of the misthress more than three times as much from them that's betther able to give it!” Happy was the man or woman who got a "hansel” at Urrisbeg before setting off for the market—they were certain of luck that day. So the blessing of the poor rested on the humble homestead of the MacMahons.
Of a very different description was the benevolence of Mrs. Stevenson. Lavish of her gifts, she poured them into the laps of those who needed them not, as well as those who did ; and it often happened that the former received the aid which went to purchase some fancied luxury, whilst the latter were refused the relief necessary for the alleviation of real wants. Her visits and bounties to the MacMahons were alike periodical, but they were not the less welcome on that account; and though the proud spirit of Owen often rebelled, when he felt himself put almost on a par with the parish paupers, yet new frocks for the children at Christmas, and a ten-pound note to his wife, were things not at all to be despised - no more than the other odd helps of different kinds which found their way from Liscarrol, though it must be confessed they were not always given in a manner likely to enhance their value. No present was sent to Urrisbeg of which the inhabitants were not made fully sensible that it was a great favour bestowed on them, and for whose receipt they were expected to show the deepest gratitude ; until eyen Mrs. MacMahon (who was not wont to complain) expressed a wish that they could live without the help of her Cousin Stevenson, for that such heavy exactions upon their grateful feelings were very likely to wear them out.
But there were other recipients of Mrs. Stevenson's bounty whose feelings on the subject were not so nice. These were the Brookses, the widow and children of her nephew. The most fulsome flattery was given by them in such doses, that it was marvellous to an ignorant spectator how they had the face to offer, or she the faith to swallow. But vanity is a weakness to which the greatest minds have been subject, and Mrs. Stevenson had one of the least ; therefore she might be pardoned for her gullibility.
Almost from her childhood Rosamund Brooks had resided at Liscarrol, and was treated as a daughter by Mrs. Stevenson, who had never had any family of her own. But it was not easy to satisfy the Brookses. The eldest sons had got commissions in the army, the youngest was sent out to India. Two daughters had been married, and
effort was making to have a third provided for ; and all through their aunt's interest or money, or both together. Yet they were like the horse-leech's daughters, continually crying, “More!" Of course they looked upon the MacMahons with a jealous eye; and as it is a law of Nature that all spoiled favourites should become the scourge of those who spoil them, Úrs. Stevenson was sometimes actually afraid of holding intercourse with Urrisbeg; and though she had a great affection for Nora, and would have been glad to have had her frequently in her house, she rarely asked her there when Rosamund was also its inmate: she, however, always took advantage of the absence of the latter, to send for Nora.
The Brookses were not slow to perceive this; and, fancying that loneliness was the cause, they procured a kind of companion, who would also act as housekeeper, under pretence that Mrs. Stevenson's time of life required her to give up a little more to her own ease. The world, however, is apt to judge harshly of what passes before it, and no one is blind to the faults of their neighbours : therefore, Mrs. Stevenson was the only person who did not see through this maneuvre of her relatives, or give them credit for something else beside consideration for her comfort. In the present instance it was, strange to say, by the wish of Rosamund Brooks that Nora was invited to Liscarrol. What her ulterior motive might be for such an uncommon act, no person could
guess ; but that there was one, everybody felt assured. The very servant who drove the car could not help saying, “It's not often you're at Liscarrol, when Miss Rosamund's there ; but they say it's not the fault of the misthress, for sure you would never leave it if she could do as she liked herself. Ah, then, Miss Nora ! isn't it a pity to see a nice ould lady like her so led about by them that doesn't care three straws for her ?"
“ They must care more than that, Hugh," said Nora, with a smile ; “or, if they don't, they are very ungrateful.”
“That's just what they are, then," rejoined Hugh Cannay, giving the horse a touch with the whip that made it start. “I would as soon expect,” he added in an under tone, not so low but that Nora could make out the sense of his speech—"and it would be just as likely toothat I would some day meet the warriors of Aodh Mor coming out of the hill of Aileach, where they have been sleeping so long, as see one of them thankful for anything. * Ough !”-and, pushing his hat firmer on his head, he shook' the reins, and flourished the whip with a look which expressed more than the English language was capable of doing.
Nothing further was said on the subject. The beautiful vale of Clonmany lay behind them, and, from the crest of a hill they were ascending, Nora looked back upon the fruitful spot, with its chain of noble mountains standing like watchful sentinels, and its broad sandy bay opening out into the Atlantic. She could even hear the thunder of the waves as they fell at measured intervals, and fancy the peculiar harsh grating sound they made as they retired from the steep pebble-beach of Kirneagh. The car descended the abrupt hill which shut in the smiling valley, and their onward road lay through a wild and rugged glen. Huge crags lifted their grey heads : some tall, peaked, and naked; others, in an almost endless variety, started up, clothed in the pale lichen or brown moss, while tufted heather, and the delicate flowers of the campion, rang a merry peal on the breeze; or, it might be, a feathery fern
sprung from some rift in the rock, and waved its graceful head like
* A favourite legend among the people of Innishowen is, that a troop of Hugh O'Neill's horse lies ready harnessed for battle, but cast into a magic sleep under the bill of Aileach, where the princes of the country were formerly installed.
the plumes of a warrior. Here and there a few stunted hazel and dwarf oaks rose from out the thick underwood, and the dark green leaves of a holly-tree glittered in the sunbeams, contrasting strangely with the barren rock by its side. Further on a solitary hawthorn threw its gnarled branches, like huge arms, over a tiny well, as if it were the guardian-spirit of the place, and its office was to preserve the crystal waters from pollution. *All such spots were, in the language of the peasantry, “gentle places," and woe to the unhappy wight who even thought of their desecration.
Often as Nora had passed through this glen, it still seemed new to her; and each time she discovered something which had before escaped her observation. The road now skirted the borders of two little lakes, looking like bowls of liquid silver, each enclasped by a ring of emerald. For these lakes Nora had an especial affection ;, she loved their clear waters, which mirrored every passing cloud, and their green borders, fringed with water-lilies and other moisture-seeking plants, among whose woven roots and thick-spreading leaves the numerous wild-fowl found a ready hiding-place for their young. She loved, too, the brown hill rising from the opposite margins of the little lakes, and, looking down kindly upon their fair bosoms, seemed bent upon protecting them from the wild storms Slieve Sneacht, in his anger, sometimes sent rushing through the glen.
A sweep of the road hid her favourite spot from the eyes of the watchful Nora. A little further still another sweep, and the glorious Lough Swilly burst upon her sight, with its boundary of magnificent mountains. She had not long to enjoy this view when the car stopped before the gate of Liscarrol, and Mrs. Stevenson, Rosamund Brooks and Miss Blenkinsop came out to welcome her.
The greetings at breakfast next morning were as cordial as those of the last night. Rosamund Brooks was all smiles and sunshine, seemingly determined to show that if any cloud arose and cast its shadow over the scene, it should not be sent by her. Miss Blenkinsop's attempts at wit were noisy as usual. Mrs. Stevenson looked pleased, as she always did when others were happy ; and as the petty jealousies and intrigues of the Brook family were an almost continual annoyance to her, she was glad of any cessation, no matter how short it might be. Io the present instance she had a more particular cause for satisfaction in the belief that she enjoyed the pleasure of her favourite Nora's society, without running the risk of calling down a storm upon the head of either. For too often it happened that kindness bestowed on Nora brought forth very bitter fruits to herself; and, with respect to her young friend, a goodnatured act had the effect of one of those pieces of artillery fired by mariners when they wish to disperse a waterspout; it diverted the wrath of the Brookses from herself, only to fall in heavy showers upon the family at Urrisbeg.
Nora was vexed that she could not feel kind towards Rosamund; her mind was full of doubts respecting the causes for such unwonted behaviour in her cousin (for such, though distant, was their relation