"MY ELDEST DAUGHTER, SIR."
MR. LOWE judged from the hearty "I wish you a merry Christmas, sir," which greeted his host so frequently on the way homeward, that Mr. Kearney was on excellent terms with his neighbours. They did not wait for the procession; and, after a brisk drive of twenty minutes, the young gentleman again found himself in front of the crackling wood fire. While looking out on the snow-covered landscape, his attention was attracted by the extraordinary gait of a person approaching the house, swinging his legs and arms about in a manner impossible to be described. As he came nearer, the size and shape of the feet were particularly noticeable. And as the figure was passing the window, the fact flashed upon Mr. Henry Lowe, as if by inspiration, that after all Barney Brodherick was Wattletoes.
He had the curiosity to raise one of the windows to see what Barney meant by stopping suddenly opposite the hall-door, and holding out his hand with a coaxing wink of his little grey eyes.
Maurice Kearney's youngest son, a fat, innocent-looking boy, stood, with his shoulder leaning against the jamb of the door, picking the raisins out of a great slice of plum-cake.
"I'll bring you to hunt the wran," said Barney.
"I can go with Tom Maher," the boy replied.
"I'll give you a ride on Bobby," Barney continued, in a still more insinuating voice.
But the boy continued picking the raisins out of his plum-cake.
"Be gob, Mr. Willie, I'll—I'll show you a thrish's nist!" exclaimed Barney, in a sort of stage whisper.
The boy looked from the cake to the tempter, and hesitated.
"With five young wans in it," continued Barney, pressing the advantage he saw he had gained," feathered an' all — ready to fly."
This was too much. The thrush's nest carried the day; and Barney was in the act of taking a bite out of the plum-cake as he repassed the parlour window on his way round to the kitchen. But the promise of a thrush's nest, with five young ones in it, on a Christmas morning in our latitude, impressed Mr. Lowe with a high opinion of Barney Brodherick's powers as a diplomatist.
"Come, Mr. Lowe," said his host, as he placed a chair for him at the breakfast table, "you ought to have a good appetite by this time. I'm sorry you would not take some thing before you went out this morning."
"Oh, thank you," he replied, "but I'm all the better able to do justice to your viands now."
As the young gentleman was sitting down, Mrs. Kearney's portly figure caught his eye in the doorway. She at once walked up to him, holding out her hand, and apologised for not having been prepared to receive him properly on his arrival "But indeed," she added, "we had not the least notion that any one was coming. Why did you not write to say that Mr. Lowe would be with you?" she asked, turning to her husband.
"Where was the use of writing, when I knew I'd be home myself before the letter," was the reply, in a rather brusque manner, which was peculiar to Maurice Kearney.
"The time," said Mr. Lowe, "is very unusual for such a visit; but you know I am a homeless wanderer at present."
"My eldest daughter, sir," said Mr. Kearney, waving his hand towards the door, near which the young lady had stopped hesitatingly for a moment.
Mrs. Kearney took her portly person out of the way; and her face beamed with pride and fondness as she surveyed the lovely girl, who, after curtseying gracefully, advanced, and, with a half-bashful smile, gave her hand to her father's guest.
The young gentleman was taken completely by surprise. He had felt some curiosity to know what sort was the face hidden by the thick veil next him in the chapel. He thought it would be rather a pleasant discovery to find that the face was a handsome one; and was quite prepared for a blooming country girl in the person of his burly host's daughter. But the lady who now stood before him would have arrested his attention anywhere. She was tall, though not of the tallest. The driven snow was not whiter than her neck and brow. A faint blush at that moment tinged her usually pale cheek, which, together with a pair of ripe, rosy lips, and eyes of heavenly blue, imparted a warmth to what otherwise might be considered the marble coldness of her almost too ideal beauty.
Mr. Henry Lowe, for once in his life, felt at a loss for something to say; but the entrance of two young girls spared him the necessity of making a speech. The taller of the two moved timidly behind her father's chair without venturing even to glance at the stranger; while the other surveyed him from head to foot, and then turned to Miss Kearney with a look of surprise if not reproach. Miss Kearney under stood the look, and said with a smile:
"Mr. Lowe, let me introduce you to my friend, Miss Grace Kiely."
"Miss Grace Kiely," said the little lady, drawing herself up to her full height, and bowing with great dignity.
She was moving away, with an air of studied gravity, when Mr. Kearney said:
"Come, Grace, sit here near me. 'Tis a long time since you and I had a talk together."
Her face lighted up at once, and, forgetting all her womanly dignity, she ran with child-like glee to the chair which he had drawn close to his own. She resumed her serious look again; but her keen sense of the ludicrous was too much for it, and one of Maurice Kearney's characteristic observations had even the effect of making our dignified young lady laugh into her cup, and spill so much of the tea that Mrs. Kearney insisted upon filling her cup again.
"How did you like the sermon, Mr. Lowe?" Miss Kearney asked.
"It was so unlike anything I ever heard before," he replied, "that I really cannot venture to give an opinion. But he certainly moved his hearers as I have never seen an audience moved by a preacher. Some passages were quite poetical; and these, I was surprised to find, produced the greatest effect. It is very strange."
"I believe," said Miss Kearney, "we Irish are a poetical people."
"I particularly admired that passage," Grace observed, with her serious look, "beginning, 'From the ripple of the rill to the rolling of the ocean; from the lily of the valley to the cedar on the mountain.' That passage was very beautiful."
"Yes, I remember that," said Mr. Lowe, with a nod and a smile, which so flattered Miss Grace's vanity that she could only preserve her look of gravity by dropping her eyelids and almost frowning. But, in spite of her efforts, a glance shot from the corner of her eye which plainly showed how gratified she was.
"She could preach the whole sermon to you," said Mr. Kearney, in his emphatic way. And then, after a pause, he added, still more emphatically: "I'd rather have her in the house than a piper."
This was too much for Grace; and Miss Kearney and her mother joined in her ringing laugh, while Mr. Lowe looked quite as much puzzled as amused, as he turned full round and stared at his host, apparently expecting some explanation of this extraordinary testimony to Miss Grace's powers of pleasing.
Mr. Kearney, however, rubbed his whiskers, contemplatively, to all seeming quite unconscious of their mirth, and added, with a jerk of his head:
"Wait till you hear her play 'The Foxhunter's Jig.' Miss Butler is a fine girl," he observed, abruptly changing the subject.
All eyes were turned upon Mr. Lowe, and he felt called upon to say something. So he said:
"Indeed yes, a very fine girl."
But the young gentleman felt that a certain opinion which he had always held regarding the respective merits of black and blue eyes, was considerably modified during the past half-hour.
"She plays the harp," said Mr. Kearney confidently to Grace, who nodded, and evinced by her look that the concerns of great people possessed a great interest for her.
"And the guitar," he added. "Though the devil a much I'd give for that, only for the singing. She has a fine voice, "he remarked, turning to Mr. Lowe.
"Does Miss Kiely sing?"
"She does, she does," his host replied, rather impatiently.
"But I'm talking of your cousin, Miss Butler."
"Oh, she sings very well," said Mr. Lowe.
"I never heard 'Savourneen Dheelish' or the 'Coulin' played better. She brought the tears to my eyes."
"She is quite an enthusiast about Irish music," said Mr. Lowe.
"Kind father for her," put in Mrs. Kearney. "He and my Uncle Dan used to spend whole days and nights together playing Irish airs. My Uncle Dan played the fid—violin," said Mrs. Kearney, correcting herself, for she liked to call things by their grandest names, Particularly when they happened to be connected with her Uncle Dan, or, indeed, with any of the great O'Carrol's of Ballydunmore. "Mr. Butler," she continued, "used to play the flute. He made some beautiful songs about Annie Cleary before they were married. He was not Sir Garrett then, for it was in Sir Thomas's time. My Uncle Dan, too, had a great turn for poetry, and he used to help Mr. Butler to arrange the music for the songs. 'Twas my Uncle Dan," she added, turning to her husband, as if she were imparting a piece of information he had never heard before, "'twas my Uncle Dan that translated the 'Coravoth ' into English."
"I know, I know," said her husband, rubbing the side of his head uneasily—knowing from sad experience that when his portly better half once set off upon her hobby it was no easy matter to pull her up.
"My Uncle Dan," she proceeded, "was the most talented of the family, though the Counsellor had the name."
Mrs. Kearney closed her lips after uttering the word Counsellor, and then opened them with a kind of smack, followed by a gentle sigh, as she bent her head languidly to one side, and rested her folded hands upon her knees. Her husband rubbed his head more and more frantically; for these were infallible signs that the good lady was settling down steadily to her work. But fortunately Mr. Lowe, whose curiosity was really excited, averted the threatened infliction.
"Did Sir Garrett," he asked, "really make verses?"
"Oh, yes," Mrs. Kearney replied; "'Father Ned's sweet Niece,' and 'Over the Hills,' and several others,"
"I knew his marriage was a romantic business," said Mr. Lowe. "But I was not aware that my uncle was a poet. He was greatly blamed by his family, but Sir Thomas's conduct was quite unjustifiable. There was nothing so extraordinary in such a marriage, after all."
While Mr. Lowe was speaking, a robin flew round the room, and dashed itself against the window. Miss Kearney leaning back in her chair and shading her eyes from the light with her hand, looked up at the bird as it fluttered against the glass. And the picture thus presented had, we suspect, something to do with Mr. Henry Lowe's inability to see anything extraordinary in his uncle's marriage. She stood up to let the robin escape, and her father and Mr. Lowe also left the breakfast table. The latter, with an air of easy good breeding, put back the bolt and drew up the window; while the graceful girl gently took the robin in her hand, and, after looking for a moment into the bold, bright little eyes with a smile that made Mr. Henry Lowe swear mentally that eyes of bird or man never beheld anything more lovely, let him fly out into the sun shine.
"As ready as he is to come in," she said, as she followed the released prisoner with a melancholy gaze, which in the difference her companion thought was even more killing than the smile it succeeded—"as ready as he is to come in, he is always impatient to get away. I believe no bird loves liberty so well."
"If you could set all your captives free as easily it would be well."
"I'd wish to do so—that is, if I had made any, of which I am unconscious."
She felt conscious, however, of the young gentleman's disposition to be more openly complimentary than she thought quite agreeable, and to divert his attention to some thing else, she said:
"I fear you will find our neighbourhood very dull. But my brothers will be home to-day, and I hope they may be able to find some amusement for you."
This speech was calculated to have the very opposite effect of what she intended; but her father unintentionally came to her relief.
"You have good snipe shooting in the bog," he said abruptly, "and if we have a thaw, the hounds will be out."
"I am most anxious," said Mr. Lowe, "to have a day with the Tipperary hounds."
"I can mount you well," said Mr. Kearney. "Come and I'll show him to you. Tell Wattletoes," he continued, turning to the servant who had come in to replenish the fire, "to lead out Mr. Hugh's horse."
"He's gone to hunt the wren, sir," she replied.
Mr. Lowe saved Barney from a storm of abuse by remarking that as often as he had heard of hunting the wren he had never seen it.
"Let us walk over toward the fort," said his host, "and you'll see enough of it."
"We'll go too, Mary," exclaimed Grace, leaping from the sofa upon which she had been reclining in a graceful attitude, and in what she persuaded herself was a dreamily sentimental mood.
Miss Kearney held up her hand warningly, but her father turned round before he had reached the door and said:
"Yes, Grace, let you and Mary come with us."
"Of course you will come too, Ellie," said Miss Kearney to her young sister, who was reading a book near the fire, and apparently afraid of attracting attention.
"Oh, no," she replied with a start, "mamma will want me."