Knocknagow - CHAPTER XVI.

CHAPTER XVI.

AN UNINVITED VISITOR.

GRACE had run to the window a dozen times in as many minutes, to see if the sportsmen were returning; and though Mary smiled at her impatience, she could not conceal from herself that she shared it in no small degree.

"Here they are at last," Grace exclaimed, gleefully.

Mary started from her chair, but sat down again quickly. She blushed, and was glad that no one had seen her.

Grace ran to open the door; and there was a little affectation in Mary's manner as she said, while passing through the hall:

"Grace, tell them dinner will be on the table in a few minutes."

But, as if ashamed of this "acting," she turned back and met the young men on the door-steps.

"I hope you enjoyed the shooting," she said to Mr. Lowe. "Oh, yes," he replied, devoutly hoping that her inquiries would extend no further.

"Well, dinner will be ready immediately," said Mary. "And I need not remind you we are to have a few friends in the evening."

"Who are they?" Richard asked.

"I thought I told you. But I am glad to have an agreeable surprise for you. It is the Miss Hanlys."

The doctor glanced at Bob Lloyd's unmentionables and dashed up the stairs like a man bent upon throwing himself out of a window.

As Maurice Kearney took his place at the head of the table, his first question, as he looked at the edge of the carving knife, as a matter of course, was Did you shoot much?"

"Only four or five brace, sir," replied Hugh.

"Oh, only that much," Grace exclaimed, "after all the firing we heard, I thought at one time there was a brisk skirmish going on, if not a pitched battle."

"Well, now," said Hugh, who sat next her, "how would you feel if there was really a pitched battle going on in the bog?"

"Oh, I'd be delighted. The excitement must be so pleasant. "

"And which side would you wish to win?"

"The Irish of course. How I should like to bind up the wounds of some gallant young chief like Robert Emmet or Sir William Wallace."

"That is the Sir William Wallace whose picture you have 'drawing the fatal sword' in the 'Scottish Chiefs'?

"Yes; I mean some young chief like that who

"Fought for the land his soul adored,

For happy homes and altars free,

His only talisman the Sword,

His only spellword Liberty."

"Mr. Lowe says you are a rebel," said Mary.

"Oh, I don't know that," she replied, looking a little frightened. But observing that Mr. Lowe's smile indicated anything but displeasure, she added: "But I do admire a hero. And who is so great a hero as the patriot who fights and bleeds for the land of his birth?"

"Will ye go to the bull-bait?" Maurice Kearney inquired.

This question caused considerable surprise and some amusement.

Mary, who knew her father's talent for such surprises, could not be sure whether the bull was hauled in after his usual manner of introducing subjects that had not the remotest connection with that under discussion, or whether Irish patriots, fighting for their country, suggested to him the baiting of a bull.

"A bull-bait, sir?" said Hugh "Why, the practice has been entirely done away with for years."

"'Tis to be before the end of the week; but the place is not decided on. Wat Murphy that told me. He was here for a cow I sold him last Sunday. I gave her to him too cheap."

And Mr. Kearney rubbed his bald head, and seemed sorry too late for the bad bargain he had made with Wat Murphy.

"I wonder he told us nothing about it," Richard remarked. "We saw him over at Bob Lloyd's."

"Was that the butcher?" Mr. Lowe asked. "I remarked that he had a very well-bred bull-dog."

"Are you an admirer of those interesting animals?" Hugh asked, with a slight shade of sarcasm in his tone.

"Well, not exactly. But some of my English friends set great value on them. That white dog of the butcher's would, I fancy, fetch as high a price as the cow you sold him."

"I gave her to him for thirteen pounds ten," said Mr. Kearney. "'Twas too cheap. Wat sold four pups for two pounds apiece last year."

"But what do they want them for," Mary asked, "now that there is no bull-baiting? Surely it cannot be for their beauty they are kept. A more ill-favoured animal it would be impossible to imagine than that dog of Wat Murphy's, with his crooked legs and frightful grin. I am always quite uneasy when I see him about the place."

"Don't you see he is always muzzled?" said her father.

"That only makes him look the more ferocious," she replied. "'Tis a shame to have such dogs kept by any one. There was a poor beggar woman here the other day, who had her leg torn in a frightful manner by Pender's dog."

"I heard papa say," said Grace, "that such accidents are becoming very frequent. He says many farmers keep ferocious dogs now. He called to see one poor child that was attacked by a dog, and though the dog was muzzled, papa feared the child would die."

"So many robbers," said Mr. Kearney, "are now prowling about the country, people don't know what to do. But it isn't robbers Pender is afraid of, but bailiffs. He was here to-day looking for you," he added, turning to Mr. Lowe.

"For me! Oh yes," he added, recollecting himself, "he is my uncle's agent."

"His son," Mr. Kearney replied. "And as cantankerous a cub as ever the Lord put breath in. He drove up to the door with a double-barrel gun at each side of him, and four pistols stuck in his belt. You'd be talking of bull-dogs," he added, turning to Mary, "But where will you find an uglier bull-dog than Beresford Pender?"

"Beresford!" exclaimed Mr. Lowe. "Is he a connection of that family?"

"His father," replied Mr. Kearney seriously, "was a dog boy to the old marquis."

This curious sort of connection with aristocracy made the young gentleman laugh. But Hugh, feeling that it was scarcely prudent on his father's part to talk in this way of the agent and his son in presence of the landlord's nephew, changed the subject by remarking "But you must not suppose from what my father has said about robbers prowling through the country, that theft is one of our national vices. On the contrary, the honesty of the people, under the circumstances, is most extraordinary."

"I inferred as much," said Mr. Lowe, "from what the clergymen said the other day about stealing turf. It seems to me a very venial offence for a poor man to take a little turf in that way. And Mr. Hannigan alluded to no other acts of dishonesty."

"He had a right to say something about the turnips," said Mr. Kearney. "Only for I got a cabin in every field and had a man minding them, they wouldn't leave me a turnip these two last years, whatever is coming over 'em. And there are gangs of blackguards from the towns, besides, that will take whatever they can lay hands on."

"Unfortunately that is true," said Hugh. "Unprincipled characters go about plundering under cover of the general distress. But poor, honest people are driven to it, too, by necessity. When their houses are pulled down and they are forced to take refuge in the lanes of the next town, it is not surprising that many become dishonest. The man who would almost lie down and die of hunger in his own poor cabin, among his neighbours, rather than bring disgrace upon his family by turning thief, can easily be tempted when be finds himself in the midst of strangers in some wretched hole in the lanes or outskirts of the town."

"I really believe what you say is true," said his mother. "Poor Molly Ryan was out here the other day, and it was heart-breaking to listen to her. Her two boys, that she 'reared honest,' as she said, got into bad company, and were in jail for attempting to break into Murphy's store. If they had not been turned out of their little place at the Cross roads, the boys, I am sure, would grow up honest and industrious, like their poor father, who was a very decent man, and very civil and obliging; he used to do many little things for us."

The cloth had been removed during the foregoing conversation; and Maurice Kearney had just mixed his second tumbler, and pushed the decanter to Hugh as his wife concluded.

Richard, after waiting impatiently for a minute or two, and seeing that his brother had no intention of applying to the decanter, reached across the table and quietly filled his own glass.

Mr. Lowe, we may observe, drank sherry.

"My goodness!" Grace exclaimed, in a whisper to Mary, "what can be the matter with Adonis? He has not opened his lips, except to imbibe whiskey-punch, the whole evening."

"I really don't know," replied Mary.

"His silence is positively miraculous," Grace continued. "particularly as Father M'Mahon is not present. And he has his dress-coat on. And," she added, opening her eyes with surprise as the doctor wheeled round his chair and stretched his legs towards the fire, "and his patent leather boots. I'm lost in amazement!"

"Do you forget that the bewitching Kathleen is coming?"

Grace frowned awfully; and got into a brown study immediately.

"Are you jealous?" asked Mary, laughing. "What a dreadful coquette you must be. You had quite forgotten Adonis had only ears and eyes for Apollo and yet you are now up in arms against Kathleen."

"Well, now, Mary don't talk so foolishly. Let us go to the drawing-room."

Mr. Lowe opened the door for them, and they passed out, Grace looking almost too grand to acknowledge the civility by a slight inclination of the head. But before going to the drawing-room she went upstairs, and returned wearing a necklace and other adornments, bent, no doubt, upon shining down Kathleen Hanly.

She first took up a book and, fixing herself in a becoming attitude, began to read. But her furtive glances towards the door led Mary to suspect that the book had not much interest for her.

"What are you reading, Grace?" she asked; and Mary laughed on seeing her turn the book round to read the title on the back.

"I guessed;" continued Mary, "that you were not quite absorbed in your studies."

"You are bent upon teasing to-night. I suppose they will not favour us with their society till those ladies arrive."

"Well, we shall not have long to wait," Mary replied; "for here they are."

The sound of wheels on the gravel was quickly followed by a knock an unusually loud and long knock, Mary thought at the hall-door.

The door was opened by Hugh before his sister reached the hall, and Miss Rose Hanly was explaining in a hurried and excited manner that they had brought Miss Lloyd with them.

"She came out from town with mamma in the evening," said Miss Rose; "and, when she found we were coming to tea, she said she would come with us; as her brother, Robert, she said, knew you all very well."

This was evidently a matter of tremendous importance in Miss Hanly's eyes; and, though Hugh took it coolly enough, Mary seemed considerably surprised. But before anything further could he said, the lady in question, accompanied by Kathleen, made her appearance.

Mary welcomed all her visitors, and conducted them to her own room.

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