Christian kindness of Poor Mary and her Brother

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter X (13) | Start of Chapter

The rain was pouring, the wind was blowing, and I was wet and weary, but not in the least disheartened. Pat had no sooner reached the street, than a whole edition of Irishman's honor, benevolence, sense of propriety, wit, and anathemas on the lord and lady of the castle was commenced. "And there's the puttin' the hand in the pocket, and takin' out a pound for the poor person, turnin' a dacent body into the black stawrm; and there was the blackguard of the near hypocrite, sittin' by the table, where he'd just been praichin', and sayin' his prayers. 'Tis true he feeds the hungry childer, you see, but a divil of a bit would a scrawl on 'em have, if they should be in a chapel mindin' their own prayers. And do you mind that scrawl of a puffed-up bladder, that come swellin' out to ye? She'd had her lesson; she wasn't bid to ask ye to stop from the stawrm, and have a warm sup, and rest yer weary bones in a good bed."

Had I been disposed to have censured the lord or lady of the castle, Pat's graphic description of their religion and conduct left nothing unsaid, and I was silent.

We entered the cabin of Mary; the brother was lying down, and the fire was dim upon the heart. Pat gave the turf a little stir. "And see here, Will, see what I've brought ye." Will started from his bed. "And here's the wet and wairy stranger. I've brought her back to ye; the good saint of yer master wouldn't left a whole bone in her body." "Now ye don't say, Pat, he was goin' to bate her." "Be aisy, Pat," said Mary, "the divil is always standin' up in yer throat; let me spake." Turning to me, she said, "Now ye will forgive Mr. S., won't ye? he's a good man."

"But didn't he show the fondness so hard for the stranger, that the heart would have broke in her, if I hadn't got her away." "Now," said Will, "tell me the story."

Mary began, and but for Pat, would have told a plain and true one, but he was so constantly interfering, that she succeeded but badly, and turning to me she said, "And ye'r of his religion, ain't ye?" Telling her I did not belong to his society, "Aw! and why didn't ye tell me. I shouldn't a' took ye there. I should know he wouldn't bid ye welcome." "Aw! that's a purty faith," said Pat; "that's the religion he carries under that vagabond of a frieze coat; that's the lesson he's larn't out of that blessed book that he's taichin' the scrawls he's feedin' and braikin' the heart about; he'd better take up his owld brogues, and carry his two heels back to the church he left, than to be denyin' the religion he was raired in, and be walkin' the earth such a hypocrite."[7]

Poor Mary was completely out-done, and could only say to me, "But ye will forgive him, won't ye?"

Will made another effort, and said, "Aw! Pat, ye'r too hard on him. Wasn't we raired on this ground, and didn't my father sarve his father? And he's not turn'd us from his gate, though we don't go to his church, nor rehairse his prayers." "And well he needn't turn ye out; he knows better than that. Wasn't ye'r father as good a dog as ever watched the gate of a castle, and didn't he train ye, his curs, to bark for the son as well as himself for the father? And what does he do for ye? The cabin and the potato ye have; but where's the tay and the bread? Ye haven't a bit for the stranger."

I looked upon this wag of nineteen, and said, "Is this the growth of Ireland's bogs and ditches? Are such, the plants of nature's gardens, left unheeded and trampled under foot, crushed in the budding by the careless passenger? Ah! little do the proud, titled, and estated ones of Erin know the power of mind which is embodied under the ragged garments, their ill-paid labor compels the toiling ones to wear. Little do they know that while they look with contempt, or make themselves merry at the expense of their unlettered blunders, that these 'thing of nought' are scanning their every action, are reading them through, and, could they write a book, would tell them true tales of their character, which they never themselves understood, and which would make their ears tingle."

Pat said, "Good night, with good luck to ye, stranger, and maybe ye'll have the pound note in the mornin'." "Aw! that Pat!" said Mary, there's no use in tawkin'."

Mary now had enough to do to make the stranger comfortable; a pile of dry turf was added, lighting up a white-washed cabin, and white scoured stools, table, and cupboard, which amply compensated for every other inconvenience. She had nothing but the potato and turnip, and "Sure ye can't eat that." "Put on the pot," said Will, "it's better than nothin' to her cowld and wet stomach." Now could I bring the reader into this cabin, and spread out the whole as it was pictured to me, I would say I am paid and more than paid for my visit to Ireland.

When the potatoes and turnips were boiled, they were mashed together, some milk and salt added, put upon a glistening plate, a clean bright cloth spread upon the deal table, and Mary sat down, groaning at the "strangeness of the master, and the miserable supper of the bidable woman," and starting as if from profound meditation, "What are we, after awl? God save us awl, the best of us, we poor miserable bodies; we think we're somethin' when we're nothin'; when sick, we think if God will let us live, we'll do better; he gives us another start, and we go on the same gait, and so till the breath grows cowld in the body. I can give ye a clane bed, and lay ye warm in it."

"And where will you sleep, Mary? Do not let me turn you from your bed." "And that ye won't. I'll find the comfortable place for my bones." I was led to the bed-room, and in this floorless cabin what did I there see? A nice bedstead, a clean covering, two soft flannel blankets, and linen sheets, white and glossy with starch, and curtains about the bed as white as bleaching could make them. The feathers were stirred in a narrow compass, to make the bed softer, so that but one could have room in it, and in this I was put; then a clean flannel was heated by the fire, and put about my shoulders, another about my feet, "to take the cowld and pain out of my wairy bones."

When Mary had finished putting the covering snugly about me, she placed the curtains closely around the bed, and softly went to the kitchen hearth. The door she left open, and I could see what passed there. She crept to a stool, and kneeling down, she prayed. Yes, unlettered as she was, I believe she prayed, and I believe God heard that prayer. She arose, and leaning her face upon her hands, sat, gently swinging her body, now and then looking towards my bed, and waited till she thought me to be asleep. Then putting her cloak about her, she crept stealthily into my room, and peeped through the curtain. Seeing my eyes closed, she carefully put the drapery together, and crawled behind me upon the naked bed frame; for she had put the bed all under me; and in a few moments this unsophisticated, practical, humble Christian was asleep. She did not intend I should know she was there, and why? Lest I should think she had made sacrifices for me. Was this doing her good works to be seen of men? Did I sleep? Not much. Gratitude to the kind Mary, and more than all, gratitude to God, that he had brought me to see, in this day's and night's adventure, the practical import of the parable of the good Samaritan, kept me waking.

When the day dawned, Mary softly stole to the kitchen, and made her turf fire; swept and dusted the floor and furniture, and while her potatoes were boiling sat down to meditate, with her face leaning on her hands. William arose and whispered to Mary, and went out softly, shutting the door.

I went out, and the kind Mary feared greatly that I had not slept, and that my breakfast would not sairve me. "And will ye," she said emphatically, "will ye, from the heart, forgive Mr. S.? He'll be sorry when he thinks on't, that he sent a lone body out in the stawrm." Assuring her I would from my heart forgive him; "and will ye forget it?" That I could not promise; the lesson was too good a one to be forgotten; "but Mary, I will make the best possible use of it." The breakfast was soon ready; a handful of meal put into the mashed potatoes, made into a griddle cake, with a "sup" of milk, was all that kind-hearted Mary could offer. And when this was taken, I prepared to depart. "How can I let ye go, and not have the master hear ye discoorse, yer so knowledgeable a body?"

I was fastening my cape about my shoulders, when she approached, took hold of it as if to assist me, and looking me full and steadily in the face, said, "Mind, when ye go to heaven, and I come to the gate, tell ye'r Lord to let Mary Aigin in; 'for when the rich master turned me out in the stawrm, she took me into her cabin, and sheltered me from the tempest, and gev me a clane bed for the night.' And will ye forgive the master before the night comes on ye? Aw! ye must forgive, and the Lord forgive him for his strangeness to the dacent woman that had been rair'd to good things." She went with me, and set me on my way, and ardently did I desire that I might meet poor Mary, where the rich and the poor shall be rewarded according as their work shall be; and when she turned from me, I prayed that I might be so honored as to have a seat at her feet in heaven. For I could have no doubt but that spirit of forgiveness, and that meekness which she manifested, must have emanated from the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit.

I would not have offered any reward, had it been in my power; for I had before learned that reward offered, for food or lodging given to a stranger, was always rejected, on the sacred principle that it was given for God's sake. This offering of Mary's was the widow's mite indeed. "It was all her living." It was given with sacrifice. She gave up her choicest comfort, her nice, her comfortable bed, and she relinquished this comfort without so much as naming it.

The rich master was feeding the poor without any sacrifice; he needed it not, and beside he was gratifying that strong—that blinding propensity so inherent in man, of winning to his favorite party antagonist practices, if not antagonist principles, bringing them to say, "You was right, and I was wrong." Oh, what a blessed lesson had been before me in the short space of eighteen hours! It whispered in my ear, never to take a man's religion, whether in a tartan or a frieze coat, in silver slippers or in brogues, till I should follow him home.

I was afterwards told, that the causes of my rejection at the castle were, going to hear hireling Protestants preach, and Father Mathew give the pledge.

Ireland’s Welome to the Stranger is one of the best accounts of Irish social conditions, customs, quirks and habits that you could wish for. The author, Mrs Asenath Nicholson, was an American widow who travelled extensively in Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine and meticulously observed the Irish peasantry at work and play, as well as noting their living conditions and diet. The book is also available from Kindle.