Knocknagow - CHAPTER XXXVIII.

CHAPTER XXXVIII.

ARE YOU IN LOVE, MARY?"

"MARY," Grace asked, "do you ever hear from Arthur O'Connor now?"

She was sitting at the window in Mary Kearney's little room, precisely in the same attitude as when she set about solving the mystery of the footprints in the snow. The snow was gone now; but it was evident those mysterious footprints were still visible to her mind's eye, and she followed them across the gravelled walk, and the box-bordered flowerbeds, and through the laurels, and over the stile in the corner, and out upon the road to the Bush, and where then?

Grace was puzzled.

A letter she had from her brother Edmund that morning, in which he spoke of his friend Arthur O'Connor whom he called "M. l'Abbé" had set Grace thinking. There was a mystery about her brother, too, in which his friend Arthur was somehow mixed up. Edmund was what Grace called a "jolly good-hearted fellow," and he used to tell how he and Arthur were, by some fatality, always involuntary rivals in their boyish days; and declared it was quite fortunate that Arthur had decided upon becoming a priest, as otherwise there would be no knowing what might happen. He also often alluded to a certain romantic adventure at the seaside, a year or two before, in which Mary Kearney played a prominent part; and any allusion to which would be sure to bring a glow into Mary's pale cheek to this day. And so Grace could not help connecting either her brother or his friend with those provoking tracks in the snow.

"But why on earth?" she asked herself, "should either one or the other of them stand there under the window till he must have been half froze to death?" For Grace held fast to her own "solution of the mystery," and dismissed the idea altogether that the person, whoever he was, had been in Mary's room and dropped into the garden from the window. If she could only find out who wrote the note that Barney threw up to her, it might enlighten her; but Mary laughingly refused to tell her anything at all about it. And so Grace went on puzzling her brains, till the old grey cat, stealthily picking his steps close to the ivied wall under the window, startled a blackbird that had been hopping fearfully among the flower-beds; and the harsh cry of the blackbird startled Grace from her reverie; and turning round, she asked:

"Mary, do you ever hear from Arthur O'Connor now?"

"No," Mary answered, looking surprised. "Why so?"

"No reason in particular," she replied. "But you saw what Edmund said about him; and it just occurred to me that he was looking quite pale and thin when I saw him last and so old. I think he must be unhappy."

Mary bent her head over the sewing she was doing, but remained silent.

"And yet," Grace continued, "you are not unhappy, Mary.

"Indeed I am not," returned Mary, looking up in surprise. "Why should I be unhappy?"

"Oh, you are one of those angelic beings who are always contented with their lot. But I doubt very much that he is contented. I never could like him much, he is so proud and so cold."

"You told me the other day that Miss Hanly pronounced me 'as cold as ice,' and you said she is mistaken."

"She certainly is. But if you would try to appear warm towards people you do not care about, it would be a decided improvement."

"I try to be warm," she replied, "but I cannot always succeed. Now, would you say that Hugh, for instance, is cold?"

"Not cold," returned Grace thoughtfully. "He may be reserved, or dark; but he is certainly not cold. Of course I know Arthur can be hot as well as cold. But a genial warmth is what I like."

"Are you glad to be going home, Grace?" Mary asked sadly.

"I believe I am always glad to go home but I'll be sorry, too."

"If Richard and Mr. Lowe were going before you, you'd find this place very dull."

"Well, it would be dull; but I don't think I ever feel very dull when I am with you, though I confess I do like society very much. And after all, Mary, there is a magic in polished society which can scarcely be found anywhere except among the upper ten. Don't you feel it in the case of Mr. Lowe?"

"Well, I like his manner, certainly; but I have seen quite as good manners in my time, though I know very little of your 'upper ten.'"

"Well, I'll never be satisfied till I set foot within that magic circle." And Grace walked to the looking-glass with "a hundred coats of arms" in her glance.

"If you wished to lead a life of usefulness," returned Mary, "to promote the happiness or alleviate the sufferings of others if you even wished to distinguish yourself as a writer or an artist, I could understand you. But the ambition merely to belong to the upper ten, as you call it, is what I can't understand at all. Where can you have got such notions? Not from Eva and surely not from your papa."

"Oh, papa is a democrat that is, in theory. For, between you and me, Mary, I can see that in his heart he 'dearly loves a lord.' I have heard them discuss the question at one of the literary dinners, and though the 'Brehon' gave the aristocrats some hard knocks, I was not convinced. What a pity it is that Mr. Lowe is not rich. This black-eyed cousin of his, I suspect, is in love with him. And I really think you have to answer for turning him from his allegiance. There must be something unpleasant in the letters he gets from his mother. And the interest he takes in hearing about his uncle's romantic marriage looks as if he were thinking of doing something of the kind himself. He is quite a treasure for your mamma, he affords her so many opportunities of talking of her Uncle Dan in connection with Sir Garrett and his music and poetry. But then comes the siren with the black eyes, whose singing of the 'Coolin' brought the tears to Mr. Kearney's eyes, he says. Do you feel afraid of her, Mary? I hope she is not revengeful."

"You are altogether mistaken," returned Mary.

"Why, he is the picture of misery; and 'tis as plain as a pike-staff he admires you."

"So do several others."

"Well, how that modest remark would make some of our mutual friends stare. But, candidly now, are you in love with any one?"

"I am not," Mary answered, very positively.

At which Grace turned round, and resting her elbows on the window, followed the tracks in the snow across the flower-beds, and out to the bush, through the laurels and over the hills and far away; perhaps over the sea.

"Come, Grace," said Mary, who began to feel afraid of her, "we have had quite enough of idle chat for one morning. I wonder what is delaying Bessy Morris? Is this she coming down the road?"

"Yes," Grace answered; "and that's Billy Heffernan stopping his mule to shake hands with her," she added, on seeing Billy reach his hand to Bessy Morris, over his creel, in which he was standing.

"And there is Mat Donovan strolling up to the Bush to meet her," said Mary. "I suspect Bessy is turning the heads of all the boys since her return from the city."

"She is very nice," Grace observed. "And I really think the rustics know how to appreciate refinement."

"I always remarked," returned Mary, "that it is the smartest and most intelligent girls that are most admired."

"The tastiest," said Grace, "as Nelly Donovan would say."

"Nelly herself is tasty," returned Mary, "but she is not like Bessy Morris. Even before she went to Dublin there was something refined about her. She was always borrowing books from me."

"Then Mat has no chance?"

"I don't know that. With all his queer ways, Mat Donovan has something superior about him. And he is such a fine, manly, good-natured fellow; and such a hero with the people as the best hurler and stone-thrower. He has made the name of Knocknagow famous."

"Did you remark that roguish glance of his?" Grace asked. "It must be very effective under favourable circumstances."

"He only glances roguishly at roguish people," returned Mary, laughing.

"Pray don't be personal. But it strikes me you innocent-looking people have just as much mischief in you as your neighbours."

"You are quite right," said Mary, rather earnestly. "What are called quiet, steady people, are often as full of mischief as those who have a turn for saying satirical things, and are consequently the terror of their acquaintances."

"That reminds me," returned Grace, "of what the 'Brehon' said in defence of a literary lady of his acquaintance, of whom people were saying hard things. The 'Brehon' is dreadful when, as papa says, he takes to wielding his battle-axe."

"And what did he say?"

"I get his speeches off sometimes," returned Grace, pressing her forefinger against her forehead. "Yes, it was some thing to the effect that a cultivated woman who happens to have brains and is of a lively disposition has, in fact, 'the flash of the gem' in her is apt to be set down as heartless, and insincere, and designing, and all that sort of thing; while malice, duplicity, and all uncharitableness will pass for goodness and sincerity, and so forth, when they are found kneaded into a good big lump of the commonest clay, particularly if it be cast in an ugly mould. So you see, my dear Mary, wit and beauty have their disadvantages; particularly," added Grace, with another glance at the looking-glass, "when they happen to be combined in the same unfortunate individual."

"Well," returned Mary, laughing, "I suppose I am pretty safe; for at worst I can only be charged with one of these disadvantages."

"I don't know that. In the difference, I think beauty without wit is a greater sin than wit without beauty. It is easier to forgive a woman for being clever than for being handsome. I heard a gentleman, not long since, praising some ladies he had met to a lady from their neighbourhood; and when she said, 'Margaret is a good, sensible girl, she was always my favourite,' I made up my mind that Margaret was the plainest of the lot; and such I found afterwards was the case."

"Well, as I often said, I don't know what to make of you, and I am puzzled to know how much of what you say you have heard from your literary friends, and how much is the result of your own observation. But what can be keeping Bessy?"

"Come and see," returned Grace. "Wouldn't they make a picture?"

"They really would," said Mary, smiling. "Is there not something graceful in Mat's attitude?"

"And how coquettishly she looks up into his face," returned Grace. "And the old hawthorn tree, with Billy Heffernan and his mule in the distance. I wish I could make a sketch of it."

Mat Donovan was leaning against the Bush, talking to Bessy Morris, who carried a small basket in her hand, and looked up at him, as Grace remarked, with a very coquettish air.

"Mat has been coming out in his usual style," said Mary, as Bessy turned away from him, and ran laughing towards the gate.

"There is the horse for Mr. Lowe," Grace observed. "He was only waiting for Barney with the letters. We ought to see him before he goes."

"Oh, it is not necessary," returned Mary. "He is only going to call on Mr. Pender."

"And on some of the tenants," Grace added. "And, by the way, I think he is afraid he is to be made a target of."

"Why should he be afraid of that?" Mary asked.

"Well, you know he thinks we Irish are a peculiar people, and as the rumour has gone about that he will be his uncle's agent at some future time, he fancies it would be quite in character to shoot him beforehand."

"Bessy Morris is below," said Ellie, who had come in unobserved.

"Oh, send her up," returned Mary, spreading out the material for the new dress on the table, and assuming an air of business. "Let us lose no more time, Grace."

Ellie hurried back before she had reached the stair-head, and, with her hand on the door-handle, the following short dialogue passed between her and Grace:

"Grace, we are going to play hide-and-go-seek in the stacks. Will you come?"

"I'd look well."

"Oh! my dear!" And Ellie turned away with a scornful toss of the head.

"We may as well see Mr. Lowe," Mary observed.

"I thought so," returned Grace, with a meaning smile.

The young gentleman was reading a letter, which so entirely engrossed his attention that he did not observe their entrance. On looking up, and seeing Miss Kearney, he crushed the letter into his pocket, and stammered something by way of apology for his apparent rudeness.

"Oh, by no means," said Mary. "I'm glad you will have a fine day for your ride."

"Yes," he replied, glad of an opportunity to look another way, "it is very fine. The mountain has quite a summer look."

"It is more like an autumn evening look," said Grace. "Those little white clouds remind me of the last time I was on the mountain. Edmund and Arthur O'Connor were with us that day, Mary."

"I remember," she replied, quietly. "But let us not detain Mr. Lowe."

Mr. Lowe bowed; and, after assuring Mrs. Kearney that nothing could induce him to dine anywhere but with herself, he mounted the horse that Barney held for him, and rode slowly up the avenue.

"He certainly is in a sad way," Grace observed. "And there must be something strange in those letters, too."

"Maybe it is something about the tenants," returned Mary. "There are two of them to be ejected."

"That is quite a natural explanation," said Grace. "I wonder it never occurred to me."

"I hope 'tis nothing about my lease," observed Maurice Kearney, who had just come in, looking troubled and uneasy. "That rascal Pender'll never stop till he makes Sir Garrett as great a tyrant as Yellow Sam. I'm after giving that unfortunate man, Mick Brien, some straw to thatch his cabin that was stript the night before last by the storm, and he tells me they are going to pull it down on him. I wouldn't stand in Pender's shoes this minute for the wealth of Damer. But," added Maurice Kearney, suddenly becoming cheerful, "if we could get Sir Garrett himself to come down for a week or two, all would be right. Wattletoes," he shouted, as he reached the hall, "get the ass, and tell Mat to bring up a bag of the seed-wheat to Raheen to finish that corner. Jim and Ned are gone with the horses."

"There is knavery in every lineament of that old Pender's face," Grace observed. "He is even more odious than his ugly son. I declare Mr. Kearney is quite a judge of character; he described the pair to the life."

"Yes, he must be a good judge of character. I know a young lady he considers quite a treasure."

"Better than a piper in the house," added Grace, laughing. "Between Mr. Kearney and my friend, Lory, I have some excuse for being a little vain which, of course, I am not, however."

"Of course not," returned Mary.

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