The Nest Egg by Anonymous

Well, who should buy The Beg, do you think, but a fine lady from Dublin, who had never seen it, and, it's said, sould off all she had, to make up the money for it?—And who should the lady be, but that same young Pierce Veogh was once in love with, but who wouldn't have him, because of his wild doings, and wint and married another?—And this other was dead, and the lady was a widow, and bought The Beg, as we thought when we knew the story, because of Pierce; who was then, nobody knew where.

Down she came, in a few weeks, to take possession; and it's soon she was loved by every soul within three miles of the place. Them that was Pierce Veogh's favourites, she did good to for his sake; and them that he never noticed, she helped for her own: so that there was few but blessed her. She gave Mick Maguire a new gun, when he'd burst the one he had from Pierce, by overloading it, and broke his own arm to boot; and she did something for me, too, as you'll hear, by-and-by, though Pierce and myself never was over and above friendly, because I didn't like his goings-on; and what's more,—for I'll confess my frailty,—in all his spending he never spent a penny upon me.

If I was one of a nation that had to choose a queen by her looks, I'd just pick out the lady who bought The Beg; for I never saw any thing in the wide world so fine and so gracious, and so every thing that's good, and above the general run of women,—and I never saw one in the world that I couldn't kiss,—as herself. She hadn't been at The Beg much more than a week, when one morning she sailed into my place here; her movements was more like those of a fine vessel on a smooth tide, than those of one like us that treads upon the earth; and her eyes was of the colour of the sky on a clear night, and a fine star seemed to be twinkling in the middle of each of them; and, says she,—"God bless all here!" just as a dillosk-girl might, in going into the cabin of a neighbour. I'll never forget her, or the sight of her beautiful small fingers, when she pulled off her glove,—set off, as they were, by a black ring about one of them; and though I'm a poor man, and an ould man, I was in love with her, and she knew it:—that I'd uphould against the finest man that ever stood upon two legs, if I could even stand upon one myself,—but I can't.

She came to do good; and after much talking, says she to Aggie, my niece,—"You're a widow, I hear: is it long you've been so?"

"Three years and a half, my lady," says Aggie, who's well spoken enough to hould a confab with any one; though you wouldn't think it, if you heard her aboard the boat.

"And have you any children?" says the lady, in a tone o' kindness, that would make the most bashful as bould as could well be becoming.

"I've two, my lady, as fine boys as ever the sun shone upon; though I say it, you wouldn't match them in a day's walk. The marrow isn't well in their bones yet; but there's nothing, at sea or ashore, they're afraid of, barring one thing,—and that's facing so fine a lady as yourself; they couldn't do that, so they slunk out the back way when they caught sight o' your ladyship coming: I hope that won't be an offence, though."

"By no means," said the lady; "and how was it you lost your husband?—But I ought not to remind you of your misfortune."

"Blessings on your sweet face, my lady," says Aggie; "it does me good to hear poor Larry spoken of, or asked kindly about: it's few that does it."

"Ah!" says I; "the thoughts o' the living drives away—that is, partly drives away—the memory o' the dead. Poor Larry ran into the sea, and drowned himself one night, in a fit o' madness, brought on by a wound in his head long before, and more whiskey than usual, which he'd been drinking that day. He was the finest swimmer on this coast, and nearly took two or three to the bottom that wasn't bad ones, who wint in to save him. He sunk himself by main force."

And after that, when the lady asked which way it was he got wounded, I tould her how he'd been a sailor in his young days. "And when he was a boy," says I, "there never, by all accounts, was one better loved, by little or big, than himself. He sailed many's the voyage with one Oriel, who was captain and half owner of the brig Betsy,—one of the best sea-boats ever was seen: she'd make two voyages and back, while them that waited for convoy couldn't fetch one. And it's many's the times—I'll not be bothering you with sea terms, which your ladyship won't comprehend—it's often then she bate off such enemies as she was able for, and left those in the lurch she couldn't expect to drub. But, at last and in long run, she met with her match, and more than it every way, in a pirate, manned with a crew of all nations, but sailing under Algerine colours, if I don't mistake. They'd as pretty a little battle for, may be, half a glass or more, yardarm and yard-arm,—that's cheek-by-jowl, you know, my lady,—as one could wish to behould: but, by-and-by, Oriel found he was getting the worst of it; and says he to Larry,—that's my niece's husband that was,—'Larry,' says he, 'you've always obeyed my orders like a good boy.' 'I'll do so still, sir,' says Larry, 'while there's life left in me.' 'Well, then, Larry,' says Oriel, 'they're making ready for boarding us, I think; and as we can't get away, I'll tell you what you'll do:—go down to the powder-room, and when we've fought as long as we're able, and killed what we can above here on deck,—that is, when you think they're all aboard of us a'most, and we can't do much more harm to them,—do you just blow up the brig, like a good boy, and I'll be obliged to you.'

"I will, sir,' says Larry; 'but my mistress—' 'Oh! you blockhead!' cried Oriel; 'don't you see, it's for her sake entirely, that I'm making this sacrifice? Do you think I could die happy with the thought of her falling, in the pride of her youth and beauty, into the hands of these villains? 'Oh! master!' says poor Larry, poking a tear out of his eye with the top of his clumsy finger, 'why did you bring her with you?' 'Hould your tongue,' says Oriel, 'and don't mind what don't concern you: I took her twice before, and less harm happened me than ever; for she seemed to be like a charm against peril to my poor brig. Now go away down, Larry, and don't blubber that way, or, may be, you'll wet the priming in your pistol; and should you miss fire, and not blow us up as I bid you, if the enemy don't throw you overboard, my ghost shall haunt you all the days of your life: but be a good boy, and do your duty like a man, and we'll all go to heaven, I hope, in company.' Well, down wint Larry, after giving one last pelt with his pistol at the pirates, and loading it again for the confidential service he was trusted with; and away strode big Oriel, determined to kill as many as he could, before dying himself. Soon after, the deck of the Betsy was trod on by the best part of the enemy's crew, and Oriel's people was obliged to retreat, before the superior force that was opposed to them, bit by bit, until they got huddled together about the forecastle; and from that they clambered, and jumped, and tumbled higgledy-piggledy, they hardly knew how,—and Oriel, almost in spite of himself, with them,—over the lee-bow, clane into the enemy's ship that lay close alongside. Before above two or three could follow them, the Betsy gave a lurch, and the vessels parted. Them that was left aboard the pirate couldn't make much head against Oriel's men; but he didn't help them a ha'p'orth;—and when somebody came up to him, where he stood thumping his head with the handle of his cutlass, and congratulated him upon the good turn things were taking, and said they might now use the pirates' own heavy metal against its owners,—he cried out with an oath, that his wife was still aboard the Betsy, and he'd bid Larry to fire into the powder room! At that moment, he caught a glimpse of Larry's carrotty head, poking out of a port-hole, or somewhere, and looking like one amazed, at seeing his shipmates seemingly making themselves masters of the pirate, while he knew, from what he heard going on above, that the enemy was masters of the Betsy. What to do, he didn't know; and felt woful and confounded as ever boy did in the world before. At last, he saw Oriel, who shouted to him as loud as he could; but the noise was too great for Larry to hear a syllable of what he said; and then, Oriel, half frantic, made such violent motions with the pistol he'd snatched out of the man's band who'd spoken to him, pointing it at Larry, and threatening to shoot him, and I can't tell what, that the poor boy, knowing his mistress was still aboard, thought the captain was in a rage with him for not blowing up the brig before, and made signs, which couldn't well be misunderstood, that he'd go do it directly. At this, Oriel shrieked with passion; and, before Larry could get away, fired the pistol he had at the boy's head;—there being no other way to prevent him from doing what Oriel then thought wouldn't be wise. The ball only grazed Larry's skull, but it took the senses out of him; and there he lay like one dead. It was the wound he got that way which made him lose his right wits, when he drank much, as he did the day he drowned himself, much to my grief! For, oh! Larry, my boy, it's well I loved you!—and so did your wife, and all that knew you!—Your ladyship looks as if you'd like to be tould what happened the captain's wife, and how it ended.—Why, then, the pirates, though in the worst ship, got the better of Larry's shipmates: Oriel was mortally wounded, in a desperate attempt to retake the Betsy; but he had the satisfaction of falling on his own deck, and knowing that his wife had died from a chance shot, a few moments before. The pirates themselves were attacked by a frigate, before they could repair the damage done to their vessel, and Larry was found in the prize, at death's door: but I needn't tell you he got over it, or how would he marry Aggie, and be the father of Paudrigg and Jimmy?—Fine fellows they'll make one day or other, I'll engage for them! Though they're but boys even now, they lent Aggie a good hand at working the boat, from the time poor Larry, their father, was lost to us."

"And do you go fishing?—you only and your young sons?" said the lady, with tears in her eyes, to my niece.

"I do, my lady," says Aggie; "sign's on me!—what would become of us all else?"

"Faith! then, my lady," says I, "she buckled on Larry's bradien the week after he died, and has missed as few tides as any one, from that day to this,—she and the boys, that is."

"Poor woman!" says my lady, putting something that was right welcome into Aggie's hand; "this trifle may assist you, if you'll accept of it."

"Long life to ye, my lady!" says Aggie, making the best curtsy she could; "I was thinking to ask your ladyship's favour in the way of taking a fish at a fair price from us, time about with Rob Hacket; but, upon second thought, Rob has a fry of gorlochs by his new wife, and he's getting weakly, and past going out in a tough rise; while I'm strong and able; Paudrigg and Jimmy are both growing lusty too,—grace and good luck be with'em!—so, my lady, I'll say nothing about the fish, but make bould to take the money, and lay it by for a rainy day."

"I fear you think of but little more than the present," says my lady; "you should be provident, and save a little in the good season; then you'd be able to look forward to the time of sickness with more comfort."

"Ah! my lady, we have no time to be sick," says Aggie; "ailing or hearty the net must be spread, and nine out of ten of the fishermen die the night after weathering a stiff breeze:—it's rare for any of us to lose above one tide between life and death!—And as to being provident, my lady, half the year we have enough to do, with all our tugging and striving, to make both ends meet;—it's hand-to-mouth work with us."

"But then, at other times, Agnes,—in your harvest, as I may say,—you might save something."

"It's aisy talking, my lady," says Aggie; "and many's the vow we make in the hard season, to scrape a penny or so together the next good time: but when it comes,—my grief I—doesn't half of it slip away before one can look about?—And then it's too late to begin: so it's put off—the hoarding and squeezing time is—till another year. Besides, when it's all plenty galore with us, who thinks of starvation?—It's hard, too,—so it is,—to brake up the day's joy by robbing it of a few keenogues for the morrow. We'd rather be merry—many of us would—one while, and sad another, than divide equally, and so go on, in the same dull way, from year's end to year's end, neither hungry nor full, joyful nor sad,—but just dacent, and half one thing half another. Moreover, when we have the money, away it goes at once;—we make merry, and put to sea again. The citizen may well think of to-morrow, and save,—for he goes to his bed, and, without a chance, tomorrow will be to him another to-day: but the fisherman goes into the waves, and God knows, when his kin wish him 'Goodnight!' whether he'll ever hear their 'Good-morrow!' It's so trying to begin, too:—the hen won't lay in an empty nest, nor is it aisy to put a penny by where there was no penny before. And if we do, where's the good of our throwing aside a groat to-day, a mag to-morrow, and a shilling the next?—At the week's end it's just so little, we despise it; and just so much, that it tempts us to have a spree:—drunkenness follows; and so, after pinching from Monday to Friday, we spind the money, and lose the Saturday's trip into the bargain—so we do. One piece o' good gould in our by-corner would make us add more to it: one shilling to forty, makes forty-one,—a great sum;—but one shilling to forty-pence, makes four-and-four-pence;—just enough for doing harm. 'Tis but a shilling either way, you may say; but there's a difference in the two that one feels and knows, but can't spake about or explain.—I wouldn't wonder but myself saves upon your ladyship's gracious gift: any how, we'll never have to put the platter outside the door at a death, nor want a dacent wedding when the boys marry, while we keep it whole itself."

And it's whole we've kept it then, and added more to it, and bought many's the thing to comfort us, which we never should have had, may be, if it wasn't for the nest-egg we got that way from my lady—blessings be on her!—So here's a fine proof, that proverbs ar'n't always to be depended upon. They say three things, which may be true sometimes, but not always:—the first is, that "Fortune is blind"—now we'd good luck come to us; and it's true we deserved it,—that is, Aggie did, if I didn't;—and what's more, we wanted it. "Aisy got, aisy gone;"—that's another proverb we've given the lie to; for what we've laid out we spent discreetly, and on no occasion without many's the pro and con whether we'd do so or no.—Lastly, it's said, "An eel won't slip through our fingers faster than the guinea that's given us;"—but I'd knock that on the head any day, by shewing what we got from my lady the first day she set foot in my cabin,—and that's long ago. So that I, and, may be, a good many more, can say, "Fortune isn't always blind;—aisy got, may be held fast;—and all eels are not slippery."