‘But don’t be sighing, Grace, now,’ said the old woman; ’sighs is bad sauce for the traveller’s supper; and we won’t be troubling him with more,’ added she, turning to Lord Colambre with a smile.
‘Is your egg done to your liking?’
‘Perfectly, thank you.’
’Then I wish it was a chicken for your sake, which it should have been, and roast too, had we time. I wish I could see you eat another egg.’
’No more, thank you, my good lady; I never ate a better supper, nor received a more hospitable welcome.’
‘Oh, the welcome is all we have to offer.’
‘May I ask what that is?’ said Lord Colambre, looking at the notched stick, which the young woman held in her hand, and on which her eyes were still fixed.
It’s a tally, plase your honour. Oh, you’re a foreigner;—it’s the way the labourers do keep the account of the day’s work with the overseer, the bailiff; a notch for every day the bailiff makes on his stick, and the labourer the like on his stick, to tally; and when we come to make up the account, it’s by the notches we go. And there’s been a mistake, and is a dispute here between our boy and the overseer; and she was counting the boy’s tally, that’s in bed, tired, for in troth he’s overworked.’
‘Would you want anything more from me, mother?’ said the girl, rising and turning her head away.
‘No, child; get away, for your heart’s full.’
She went instantly.
‘Is the boy her brother?’ said Lord Colambre.
‘No; he’s her bachelor,’ said the old woman, lowering her voice.
’That is, her sweetheart: for she is not my daughter, though you heard her call me mother. The boy’s my son; but I am afeard they must give it up; for they’re too poor, and the times is hard, and the agent’s harder than the times; there’s two of them, the under and the upper; and they grind the substance of one between them, and then blow one away like chaff: but we’ll not be talking of that to spoil your honour’s night’s rest. The room’s ready, and here’s the rushlight.’
She showed him into a very small but neat room. ’What a comfortable-looking bed!’ said Lord Colambre.
‘Ah, these red check curtains,’ said she, letting them down; ’these have lasted well; they were give me by a good friend, now far away, over the seas—my Lady Clonbrony; and made by the prettiest hands ever you see, her niece’s, Miss Grace Nugent’s, and she a little child that time; sweet love! all gone!’
The old woman wiped a tear from her eye, and Lord Colambre did what he could to appear indifferent. She set down the candle, and left the room; Lord Colambre went to bed, but he lay awake, ’revolving sweet and bitter thoughts.’