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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWild Kitty - Chapter 16. Paddy Wheel-About's Old Coat
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Wild Kitty - Chapter 16. Paddy Wheel-About's Old Coat Post by :darlene88 Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :601

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Wild Kitty - Chapter 16. Paddy Wheel-About's Old Coat

CHAPTER XVI. PADDY WHEEL-ABOUT'S OLD COAT

It was a moonlit evening in the County Donegal, and there was a broad bar of silver shining in burnished splendor across the beautiful Lake Coulin. Two boys were standing on the edge of the lake. A prettily-trimmed little boat was lying at their feet. One, the taller of the two, was standing with his hand up to his ear, listening intently.

"Ah, then, Pat, can't you stop that shuffling?" he cried to his younger companion. "I can't listen if you keep whistling and moving your feet. It is about time for Daneen to appear. Kitty is sure to send the tinos, dear old girl. Father takes care to keep her well supplied."

"There, I hear Dan's horn; he is coming through the Gap," cried Pat, his face lighting up. "Stay there, Laurie, and I'll run to meet him. He'll just be at the other side of Haggart's Glen when I get up."

The younger boy put wings to his feet, and the next moment was out of sight. The older boy, thrusting both his hands deep into his pockets, stood staring straight before him into the silver light caused by a full moon. The white radiance lit up his young person, his pronounced features, and handsome face. There were gloomy depths in his big black eyes, although the slightest movement, the faintest play of expression would cause them to dance with vitality and fun; the petulant expression, round lips, curved and cut with the delicacy of a cameo, was very manifest. The lad was built in almost Herculean mould, so broad were his shoulders, so upright and tall his young figure. With his head thrown back, the listening attitude on his face, his black hair swept from his forehead, he looked almost like a young god--all was _verve_, expectancy, eagerness in his attitude.

"If only Kitty is true it will be all right," he muttered. "Ah, then, what a fool I was when I allowed the other fellows to tempt me to play that practical joke on old Wheel-about. I don't think the governor minds anything else; but he cannot stand our making fun of that poor, old, half-witted chap. Never again will I do such a thing. I would not have father know this matter for all the world. Hullo! there comes Pat. I wonder if he has got my letter."

"Nothing, nothing, and worse than nothing," sang out Pat, extending two empty hands as he approached.

"No letter for me?" cried Laurie. He stepped out of the light, and striding up to his brother, laid one of his big hands on the boy's slighter shoulder. "No letter? But did you really meet Daneen?"

"Of course I did. Don't grip me so hard, old chap. He had only one letter in his pocket, and that was for Aunt Honora, two newspapers for father, and a heap of circulars--nothing else whatever."

"But are you certain sure? Surely Kitty would not fail a gossoon when he was in trouble."

"I tell you, Laurie, there was nothing from her, nor from any one, except that one letter for Aunt Honora; but perhaps you'll hear in the morning."

Laurie made no reply; his hands dropped to his sides. The next moment he dived into his trousers pocket and extracted a few coins.

"Have we enough for a telegram, I wonder?" he said. "Ah, to be sure--why, we can send one now for sixpence. And I have tenpence here. I'll wire at once. I say, Pat, we must go to the nearest post office, and to-night. We will start now; do you mind? We can row across the Coulin, and anchor the boat at the opposite side, and then it is only eight miles across the mountains to Ballyshannon."

"But James Dunovan will have shut up the office," exclaimed Pat; "and if we are absent from supper what will father say?"

"Old Jim knows us; he'll open fast enough when he hears that we two lads have come on business."

"But they can't send the telegram after the office is shut."

"Don't make difficulties, Pat. I tell you this is a serious business. You don't want to be banished from the country do you? We'll go to the post office at once, and see that the message is sent to Kitty the very first thing in the morning. Come, what are young lingering for?"

"Supper is waiting, and Aunt Bridget will make a fuss. You know we are not allowed to be out after ten at night."

"Bother!" cried Laurie. "Well, then, we must go home first. What a nuisance. We'll have a bite, and then slink out. The dad can think we have gone to bed. Why, Pat, old boy, I met Wheel-about to-day, and he was like a mad man. He told me he had collected all that money for his funeral. What apes we were to touch the coat!"

"Sure, it's unlike Kitty not to write," said Pat. "She is the last in the world to leave a fellow in the lurch."

"Don't I know that? Who's fault it is it isn't hers, poor old girl. Something has happened to the letter. Now, Pat, let us get supper over, for we have no time to lose."

As Laurie spoke he fastened the little boat securely by a rope to a stone near by, and then the lads turned their backs upon the silver-burnished lake, and strode into the darkness of a narrow mountain defile. The path was steep, and they had to scramble up, doing so with the agility of young ponies.

"It is the thought of Wheel-about that bothers me entirely," said Laurie, after a pause. "I don't want to have it lying on my soul--upon my honor I don't--that I turned the poor old chap's brain still crazier."

"Oh, the money will come along before Saturday," said Pat; "and you know you told him he must wait until Saturday. Don't you worry, Laurie. Come on, I tell ye; there's the gong sounding at the Castle."

The deep notes of a very sonorous old gong were distinctly borne on the breeze; the boys ran, hurrying and panting. A few moments later they had climbed an almost inaccessible rock, had tumbled over each other up a lawn, and entered a huge hall, where supper was spread. Squire Malone was seated at the head of the table; down both sides were crowded guests and different retainers--Squire Malone's cousins, all of them, some to the fifth or sixth removed. Miss Honora Malone was at the foot of the table, and Miss Bridget presided at the tea tray at one of the sides.

"Sit down, you lads," roared the squire when he saw his sons; "you have been keeping us waiting. Now take your places and fall to."

The boys dropped into the seats reserved for them without a word. They were hungry, and enjoyed the abundant fare provided. Miss Honora began to address them with a volley of words.

"Ah, then, boys," she said, "it is ashamed of you I am. Why should you come in to supper like that, without your hair brushed or your hand washed and looking as rough as a pair of young colts? Look at me, now, how neat I am--I have changed my dress for the evening." As she spoke she glanced at her thin arms, bare to the elbow, and touched the gold chain that encircled her scraggy throat. "You'll never get Dublin manners, you two," she continued, "and what will you do when you go into society? Ah, it is enough to break the heart to look at ye."

Laurie winked boldly at her; Pat laughed, and helped himself so some potatoes.

"Dennis," called out the lady, addressing her brother, "don't you agree with me that it is very bad manners on the part of the boys to come to supper without so much as washing their hands or brushing their hair? Ought they not to put on evening clothes now that they are almost assuming manhood's estate?"

"Oh, leave 'em alone, Honor," was the reply. "Boys will be boys, and Castle Malone is Liberty Hall. Time enough a few years hence to put on that high-faluting style. I like 'em as they are: rough diamonds no doubt, but diamonds all the same."

The old man looked fondly at his sons. He was a picturesque-looking figure, with snow-white hair.

"What will you do, lads, when I send you to England to school?" he said.

"England, father?" said Pat, turning pale. "It would kill me to leave the soil on which I was born. Ah, now, father, I could not live through it; and as to Laurie, why he would--Laurie, you know what you would do."

"Oh, father's joking," said Laurie, but his face went a little white, and as he drained off a great glass of ice-cold water his hand trembled a trifle.

"It would not be for the making of our happiness, father," he said, just glancing at his father. "Pat is right--it would about kill us both."

"You young beggars, kill you, indeed!" cried the squire. "Well, I have not made my plans yet. I am thinking of it, and you may as well know it. I have sent the girleen away, and if you can't stand what she can, why, I don't think you have much grit in you. As to Pat, when he's a little older he'll have to prepare for the army."

"Ay, and that's a fine polishing up," said Aunt Bridget, bridling as she spoke, and arranging the set of her very fashionable sleeve. "My jewel of a lad, you'll know what life is like then. You'll think a deal of your clothes, and of the sort of thing that will kill the girls then. Why, if you know how to manage, and with my help I dare say I can contrive it for you, you'll get easily into the very height of Dublin society, and be petted, and spoiled, and coaxed no end. I wonder, now, how that girleen is conducting herself. Sometimes, Dennis when I look at you and think how your heart is wrapped up in her and how she is so to speak the jewel of your eye and the core of your heart I wonder how you had the courage to let her go."

"Don't you worry me about it," cried the squire. "I did it for her good. Laurie, where are you off to?"

"I have had about enough supper," answered Laurie. Pat also scrambled to his feet.

"You are as ill-mannered a pair of young cubs as I ever came across," cried Miss Honora, now really angry. "Why, the syllabub is coming on soon, and the trifle, and the cream that I whipped myself. Well, Pat, you'll have to mend your manners when you get into the army; and as to you Laurie, you'll never be as good a squire as your father, try hard as you may."

A loud laugh at the head of the table interrupted the good lady's flow of words.

"Honora, my woman, you are talking to the air," called out the squire. "The boys are out of earshot. Bless 'em can't you let 'em be? They are hearty lads, and I don't think I'll send either of them out of the country unless they happen to displease me."

Meanwhile the lads had gone down to the lake, unshipped the little boat, and were by this time half across the Coulin. They soon reached the opposite shore, jumped to land, pulled up the boat, fastened it, and started along a long narrow and mountainous path which was the shortest cut to Ballyshannon. They walked so quickly and the hill was so steep that they had little or no time for words. Nor were they boys who talked much when they were alone. Laurie was given to his own meditations. Pat was always planning some scheme which should circumvent Aunt Honora, who lived with them, and annoy Aunt Bridget, who nearly lived with them, although not quite. Aunt Bridget was the most fashionable member of the family; her real home was in Dublin. She was the one who had worked upon the squire's feelings until he had decided to send Kitty to an English school. Pat was not fond of either of his aunts, but he disliked Aunt Bridget the most. After an hour-and-a-half's brisk walking they reached Ballyshannon, knocked up the postmaster, who had gone to bed, asked him to let them in, and confided to him what they wanted. He was a hearty-looking Irishman, and was soon as much interested in the telegram which Laurie was to send as the boy was himself.

"You have heard what a scrape I have got into?" said Laurie.

"About that poor, mad fellow?" said James Dunovan.

"Yes; some other fellows and I stole his coat away in a fit of frolic that day when we were out in the crazy boat on the Coulin. A sudden breeze got up and the boat upset; and the coat--bad luck to it--sank to the bottom like a stone. We have tried to get it up, but it is all no go; it has got right into the mud, and not all the boys in Ireland could move it. If the squire heard we had played a trick on Wheel-about he would just do what I don't want him to."

"And what may that be, Master Laurie?"

"Why, Jim, he would banish me to England. You think of that!"

"Ah, to be sure, sir; and it would be a hard punishment entirely, and all for a boy's freak. But how can you circumvent him, sir? that's the puzzle, for old Wheel-about is as sly a fellow as walks. He knows his power with the squire--there's a story about, but I have not got the rights of it. Anyhow, the squire is always trying to help him. If he cannot get his coat in which he has hidden all his money he will go raving mad about the country, and the squire will soon get at the bottom of the mischief."

"Oh, that's all right," answered Laurie. I saw there was no help for it, and I took Wheel-about into my confidence. He promised if I gave him ten pounds by Saturday next to let the matter of the coat slip by. He said he would never tell."

"I wonder now if the craychur is to be trusted," muttered Jim, in a thoughtful tone.

"Oh, yes, he is, Jim; don't you meet trouble halfway. If once he gets the money everything will be as right as possible. But this 'gram must go off, and you must see to it for me."

"I'll do that, sir, and welcome, the very moment the office opens its doors in the morning."

"How soon do you think it will reach my sister?"

"Well, to be sure, I expect in about half an hour or an hour at the most. I often think I'd like to see them messages a-tumbling along the wires. Do you believe as they go by the wires sir?"

"Oh, I suppose so; I don't bother my head about it. Now, then, Jim, hand us a form and we'll fill it in. What do you think we had best say, Pat?"

"Make it strong," said Pat.

"Yes, I know that." Laurie stood biting the end of his pencil and considering the blank form which Jimmy had provided him with.

"We must make it powerful strong," he said after a pause. "If dad hears this, we two are about done, Pat. He's the easiest old boy in the world, but when once he takes the bit between his teeth he is just like Slieve Loon, our new mare. But I must not keep you up Jim; you are wanting to get back to your bed."

"It don't matter, sir; don't you hurry yourself. I told the wife it was two of the young gentlemen from Castle Malone, and she said I wasn't to mind how much time I spent with you; it was only proper respect to the family."

"All right Jim. Now, then, Pat, what shall I say?"

"Hurry up," said Pat; "if you're not sleepy I am, and the whole house will be locked up if we are not quick."

"I cracked a pane of glass in our window on purpose this morning," said Laurie. "I thought it might turn out convenient."

Pat laughed. Laurie, his face flushed, bent over the telegraph form. After a time, during which beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead, the following message was transcribed:

"Miss Kitty Malone, care of Mrs. Denvers, Franklin Avenue, Middleton, London, S.E.--Wake up, old girleen; hurry with the tin.--Laurie."

"That's the time of day," he said. "You read it, Jim. Can you make out the address plain?"

"Yes, to be sure," answered Jim. "Very well, sir; this shall go. I am sorry you're in trouble, sir; but I know the squire sends a lot of money to Miss Kitty, for he is always coming here for postal orders."

"Oh, I am safe to have it," said Laurie. "Well, good-night Jim, and long life to you."

The boys left the office and retraced their steps across the mountain. They had gone about halfway home when they were interrupted by a curious sort of sound, something between a croon and a chant. It came nearer and nearer, and the next moment a grotesque figure showed clearly in the moonlight. This was no other than Paddy Wheel-about himself. He was a tall man, with a long shaggy beard, penthouse eyebrows, and eyes which were lit now with a fitful and uncertain gleam. He was dressed in rags, his hat was pushed far back on his head, his hair streamed over his shoulders. The savage and yet pathetic-looking creature stopped now before the two boys.

"I say, Paddy, it is all right," said Laurie, going up to him and laying his hand on his shoulder. "You'll get the tin I promised either to-morrow morning or the day after. I have just sent a telegram to the girleen in England. Why, Kitty wouldn't let you suffer; no, not if it were to break her heart."

A wild and yet softened look came into the man's eyes.

"It is because of the girleen I'm fretting," he said. "Listen, you two, I feel fit to die sometimes when I think the coat is lost, and it is all on account of the girleen herself. Why, it was she put in the last patch and a bit of gold was hidden in it; yes, and she sewed it round with her own pretty hands, the darling."

"We'll get back the coat some day, see if we don't," said Laurie. "And meanwhile Paddy, you are safe to have your money on Saturday."

"All right if I do," said Paddy; "if not it is all wrong. I go to Squire Malone. Yes, I go to Squire Malone; but I'll wait until Saturday. I promise that much, and I'll keep my word."

"You'll keep your word for Kitty's sake?" said Laurie.

The man nodded; again his eyes softened and changed in expression, the next moment he had turned on his heel and was out of sight.

"I do believe the only person he cares for in the world is Kitty," said Laurie. "Do you remember when he was so ill he would only allow Kitty to visit him? I say, Pat, we must get back that coat somehow; but in the meantime the ten pounds will keep matters quiet."

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