THE HOOK-NOSED STEED.
HERE is Beresford! Here is Beresford! Here is Beresford! Going to dine at Woodlands! Going to dine at Woodlands! Going to dine at Woodlands! Well, Beresford! Well, well, Beresford, do you expect much company? Do you expect much company to-day?"
"I think not to-day. Only the family," replied Mr. Beresford Pender, in his mighty voice.
Old Isaac stood in the lawn in front of his own house, — talking to three or four poor men, evidently belonging to the class of small farmers — for they looked too spirit-broken for "labouring men" — who pulled off their hats as Beresford strode past, and kept them off while he turned round for a minute on reaching the door, and stared at nothing in particular straight before him.
"Going to dine at Woodlands!" muttered the old gentleman, contemplating his son with a sort of wonder, as if his greatness were something altogether bewildering and unfathomable.
He was not going to dine at Woodlands — and old Isaac knew it; but old Isaac seemed haunted by the idea that Beresford was going to dine at Woodlands at all hours and seasons, because Beresford did dine at Woodlands once in his life. It might be supposed that he had recourse to this fiction in order to impress his hearers with a due sense of his son's importance; but if old Isaac were quite alone, he would have muttered to himself three times that Beresford was "going to dine at Woodlands."
Mr. Isaac Pender did not at all resemble Mr. Beresford Pender outwardly. He was nervous and fidgety, and seemed perpetually on the look-out for some threatened danger; to escape from which, judging from appearance, he would go through an auger-hole; while Beresford looked a very dare-devil, who would glory in finding himself in a den of lions, and seemed always defying creation in general to mortal combat.
After scowling defiance at the avenue gate, Mr. Beresford Pender turned into the parlour and commenced pacing up and down the uncarpeted floor.
"No, no, colonel!" he muttered; "that will never do. The scoundrels must be kept down, by —." We will omit Mr. Beresford Pender's oaths.
Mr. Beresford Pender was as fond of holding imaginary conversations with this "colonel" as his father was of sending him to eat imaginary dinners at Woodlands.
"I don't think," said Isaac, closing the door carefully behind him, and looking under the table for a concealed assassin, "I don't think Mr. Lowe wants to have anything to do with the property. I don't think he does. I was afraid he came down to see about these complaints some of the fellows are making. But he never went near any of the tenants. So that it was only Maurice Kearney asked him down for a few days' shooting. That was all. I know that must be the way."
"But you wouldn't know what them Kearneys might put into his head," returned Beresford.
"Well, well," rejoined old Isaac in his nervous, anxious way, "I don't think they can take any advantage of us. I don't think Sir Garrett would be bothered with stories. You see he didn't renew the lease for Kearney when I explained to him that the gentlemen of the county were opposed to giving leases. And when Mr. Lowe will be after talking to them at the meeting he will understand how it is. But, on the other hand, if I was sure he had nothing to do with the management of the property, I'd rather he wouldn't go to the meeting at all. It might only put things into his head. And he might set Sir Garrett astray."
"I think," muttered Beresford, "he ought to know the danger of being in this part of the country. He ought to be made see it is no joke to collect rents with the muzzle of a blunderbuss looking into your face at every turn."
Old Isaac started, and, closing one of the shutters, placed his back against the wall between the two windows, and commenced rubbing his hand over his face as if a swarm of midges were persecuting him.
"Well, if that could be done," he replied, "it might be no harm. But I don't see how it could be managed."
"I was talking to Darby about it," rejoined his son, "and I think we can manage it."
"Well, Beresford, be cautious. Don't do anything rash. Easy things are best."
"That's a fine place Kearney has," Beresford observed, after opening the shutter his father had closed, and looking out on the unsheltered fields around Wellington Lodge. "Do you think he can hold?"
"I don't know," his father replied. "He was always extravagant. Always extravagant," he repeated, as if he were very sorry that so good a man as Maurice Kearney had not more sense. "But 'tis time enough to think of that. 'Tis the Ballyraheen business that's making me uneasy." And Isaac rubbed his face as if the midges began biting him again.
"I'd hunt 'em," returned Beresford, "like rats."
"Now, Beresford — now, Beresford, don't be rash. These things should be done quietly. There's no use in making a noise when it can be avoided. If I had my own way I could manage them. But I don't like making a noise and exasperating people when it can be done in a quiet way."
"No surrender!" muttered Beresford.
"Now, Beresford! There is Stubbleton has his property cleared out to a man without even bringing out the Sheriff. I know 'twas rather expensive at first, but, he got it back on the double after a little time; besides avoiding talk."
"How did he do it?"
"Well, he let them run into arrears first, and then 'twas easy to manage them. They gave up one by one. Then he commenced extensive drainage and improvements, and gave employment to all the small tenants on condition that they would give up possession, and they could then remain as caretakers. Some of them were earning thirty shillings and two pounds a week for their horses. They were never so well off in their lives, and were always praying for their landlord. But when the work was finished, they saw whatever they had spared would soon be gone; and as they were after giving up their land — some of them thought they would get it back again, for his steward is a knowing man, and when he saw any of them unwilling to give up possession he used to give them a hint that if they did not give any trouble they might get back the farms, and larger farms — but when they saw they should leave even the houses at a week's notice, they went to America while they were able. So that Stubbleton had his whole property cleared without as much as a paragraph in the newspapers about it. He divided it into large farms, then, and got heavy fines and a good rent that more than repaid him for what he lost. The parish priest denounced him as an exterminator; but Stubbleton gave a farm to the priest's nephew, and it put a stop to that. I'm told he's thinking of standing for the county on Liberal principles at the next election. So you see, Beresford, easy things are best."
"And do you mean to say," Beresford asked, "that you'd let the Ballyraheen fellows run two or three years in arrears?"
"No, no; that would be too much. But I'd put out only a few at first and give their land to the larger tenants. Then others would be expecting the same, and they'd offer money to the small holders for their good-will. In fact they'd evict one another. The great point is to divide them; for when they pull together 'tis dangerous," added old Isaac, rubbing his face as if be were bent upon rubbing the shrivelled skin off.
"And what are you going to do with Kearney?"
"Well, he owes about a year's rent, but I don't think Sir Garrett will press him. We'll try and let him alone for a while. Maurice Kearney is a good sort of man, and his lease is nearly expired. I'd like to have him let run on till the lease drops, and then we could see what would be best."
"Why couldn't you press him and make him pay up? I'd be down on him the very day the rent fell due."
"Now, Beresford, I wonder at you. Just think, if he had his rent paid up when the lease dropped, how much harder it would be to get him out than if he owed a couple of years' rent. He's an open-hearted sort of man that never looks before him; and I don't think Sir Garrett would like to press him at present."
"Is Hanly threatening still to come down on you for that bond?" Beresford inquired.
Old Isaac shambled all round the table, and was again attacked by the midges.
"I'm afraid," he replied at last, "I'm afraid, if we can't manage to get him a farm, he'll do something. The two Donnellys are giving up possession; and there will be no trouble about the Widow Keating; but without Tom Hogan's farm there is no use offering their places to Hanly."
"An' sure Hogan has no lase?"
"I know that — I know that. But he has improved the place so much, and pays such a high rent, and is so well able to pay it, I'm afraid 'twill make a noise if he can't be induced to go of his own free will. He's a headstrong kind of a man, and I'm afraid he can't be got to listen to reason."
"But if nothing else will satisfy Hanly?"
"That's true — that's true, Beresford. 'Tis a hard case. A very hard case." And Isaac fell to rubbing his face again.
The fact was Mr. Isaac Pender had speculated in railway shares, and burnt his fingers, and Attorney Hanly held his bond for a considerable sum. But if Attorney Hanly could get about a hundred acres of land adjoining his own, including Tom Hogan's farm, he would be accommodating in the matter of the bond. To be sure be never said so — but a nod is as good as a wink from an eccentric attorney to an old land agent. And between these two worthies it will, we fear, go hard with poor Tom Hogan! Particularly as his "heart is stuck" in the little farm, which has cost him the labour of thirty long years to make it what it is now, — like "a piece of the Golden Vale dropped among the rushes and yallow clay all around it," as Mat Donovan said.
"But do you think Kearney can hold long?" Beresford asked again, putting his flexible nose against the window so that he could see the fine old trees and young plantations around Maurice Kearney's cottage.
"Indeed I don't think he can," his worthy father replied, as if in the charity of his benevolent heart he wished to believe that Maurice Kearney was not quite devoid of Christian principles. "I don't think he can. He lost too much by draining that bog; and, he met with many disappointments from time to time. He lost his cattle by the distemper, and I don't think the sheep pay so well. He has the Raheen farm all under tillage, too, and if prices continue low he must lose by it. So that I don't think he is likely to hold long."
"Here is Lowe," said Beresford. "I just want to spake to Darby. I'll be back in a few minutes."
"My worthy sir," exclaimed old Isaac, as he shambled out to receive his visitor, "I'm proud to welcome you to my humble residence — proud to welcome you to Wellington Lodge. Come in, Mr. Lowe — come in. Darby, take Mr. Lowe's horse — take Mr. Lowe's horse."
Mr. Lowe glanced at the "humble residence," and thought that Wellington Lodge, with its unplastered walls — for the house was unfinished, though not new — was by no means an inviting domicile.
"Sit down, Mr. Lowe — sit down. Here is Beresford — here is Beresford."
"A fine day, Mr. Lowe," said Beresford, advancing with his arm stretched out like a pump-handle. "I hope you will dine with us to-day," he added; and immediately the runaway look came into his countenance, as if he expected to be forthwith ordered out of the room, for his assurance.
"I promised Mrs. Kearney to be back to dinner," returned. Mr. Lowe quietly. "I had a letter to-day, and it appears Sir Garrett is returning to the Continent immediately. I must be in Dublin early next week."
"I knew Sir Garrett would not stay long in Ireland. I knew he would soon go back to the Continent," exclaimed Mr. Isaac Pender in a voice almost as big as his son's — the midges which seemed hovering above his head at the mention of the letter, vanishing when he heard that the landlord was about leaving Ireland without visiting Tipperary.
"I think we had better go," Mr. Lowe observed, laughing. "It would be too bad if I went back without at least looking at the houses of some of the tenantry."
Mr. Isaac Pender laughed too, and shuffled about the room, rubbing his hands instead of his face, like a very pleasant old gentleman.
"Why, Beresford — why, Beresford — is it going to ride that old horse you are? Where is your own horse?" old Isaac asked, in real surprise, as one of the poor tenants who remained hanging about the house in the hope that some thing might turn up for their advantage, led the two horses round from the stable.
"My own horse is after casting a shoe," Beresford replied.
"But is it safe to ride that old horse? Look at his knees — look at his knees."
The animal referred to was a tall, raw-boned, hook-nosed, ill-conditioned brute, both morally and physically.
"There's no danger," replied Beresford, climbing into the saddle, in which he sat quite perpendicularly, with his elbows as far as possible from his ribs.
"Where is Darby, to open the gate?" his father called out.
"I sent him of a message," Beresford answered, as he rode off upon the hook-nosed steed, who, it may be remarked, rejoiced in the name of "Waterloo."
Two of the poor tenants before alluded to ran to open the gate, dividing the honour equally between them, as one raised the latch, while the other pulled up the long, perpendicular bolt. There was some delay and a little jostling, as in their hurry the two took hold of the same side of the gate, and then both let that side go and took hold of the other — after the manner of people who meet suddenly at a street turning; but at last each took his own side, and the gate stood wide open, the men pulling off their hats and looking, we are ashamed to say, as if they were ready to lie down and let "Waterloo" trample upon them, if Mr. Beresford Pender so desired. But, it must be remembered, they were conceived and born under a notice-to-quit; it took the light out of their mother's smile, and ploughed furrows in their father's face while he was yet young; it nipped the budding pleasures of childhood as a frost will nip the spring flowers, and youth's and manhood's joys withered under its shadow; it taught them to cringe, and fawn, and lie; and made them what they are now, as they stand there with heads uncovered while Mr. Henry Lowe and Mr. Beresford Pender ride through the gate of Wellington Lodge.
They rode for half-an-hour in silence up a narrow road that led into a rather wild looking glen among the hills. Mr. Lowe was busy with his own thoughts; and his companion, not being largely gifted with conversational powers, confined himself to staring at nothing but between the ears of the hook-nosed steed.
"That's Kearney's farm," he observed at last, "where the ploughs are at work."
"I believe that's Mr. Kearney himself at the further end of the field," returned Mr. Lowe.
"He has that place for twenty-five shillings an acre," continued Beresford. "It ought to be two pounds, but he has a lease."
"Oh, is that you, Mat?" Mr. Lowe exclaimed, on coming up with Mat Donovan, who was striding along in advance of Barney Brodherick's donkey-cart — Barney himself having disappeared down a ravine by the roadside to cut a blackthorn stick which had caught his fancy, leaving Bobby to tumble after him if anything happened to catch his fancy at the bottom of the ravine.
"Yis, sir, I'm goin' to scatther this grain o' whate," Mat answered, pointing to a bag in the donkey-cart. "An' where the divil is Wattletoes gone?" he exclaimed, on finding the driver missing. But Barney soon appeared with his blackthorn under his arm, and Mat walked on with the horsemen.
"I'm told," said Mr. Pender, who seemed to have recovered the use of his tongue, "I'm told Mr. Kearney wants a horse?"
"Well, he was talkin' uv buyin' a horse, as the spring work will be heavy; and he don't like to be hard on the ould mare — he's so fond uv her."
"I'd sell him this horse I'm riding cheap," said Mr. Pender.
Mat eyed the hook-nosed steed, and shook his head. "He's a first-rate horse for the plough," continued "Waterloo's" owner, patting him on the shoulder.
"He's a legacy," returned Mat Donovan, sententiously.
"What would you say he's worth?" Mr. Lowe asked, laughing.
"He's an ould Bian, sir," replied Mat.
"What is that?"
"Wan uv them broken-down jingle horses," Mat answered.
"He means one of Bianconi's car-horses," said Beresford, in reply to Mr. Lowe's look. "They call 'em Bians. But you are mistaken," he added, "this fellow belonged to the lancers."
"Well, now that you remind me uv id," returned Mat, seriously, "he has a warlike look. But the divil a far you'd ride him before you'd be axed, 'What tan-yard wor you bound for?'"
"He'd do the spring work well for Mr. Kearney," rejoined Beresford, reining up his steed as they reached the gate of the farmyard.
Mat moved back a pace or two and surveyed "Waterloo," from his apology for a tail to his Roman nose.
"He'll never hear the cuckoo," he observed oracularly. Mr. Lowe had become sufficiently acquainted with Mat the Thrasher's figurative mode of expression to understand from this that Mat was of opinion the warlike steed would not live till the middle of April.
"I'll turn in to speak to Mr. Kearney," he observed.
"I'll ride on and you will overtake me," returned Beresford.
"This is a fine day for seed-sowing, Mr. Kearney," said the young gentleman, after riding round the headland; "and this land seems to be in very good condition for it."
"I drained and subsoiled all this place," returned Maurice Kearney, waving his hand to indicate the extent of his improvement. "And brought the water all down to the river by that lead. You, see it would turn a mill."
"I should not have expected that land on the side of a rather steep hill like this would require draining."
"The subsoil was like a flag, and all the water oozed through the surface," replied Mr. Kearney. "Look all along there beyond and you can see the difference."
"I certainly do see the difference," replied Mr. Lowe. "There, for instance, that field where the man is digging is not at all like this. Even the colour of the soil is quite different."
"He's preparing that for oats," said Maurice Kearney. "I don't know how that poor man is able to live and pay the rent at all."
The man looked up and touched his hat, and they saw Mr. Beresford Pender passing within a little distance of him.
Suddenly he stuck his spade in the ground and started forward towards the road. But, stopping short, after running some ten or twelve yards, he hastened back and commenced digging again with his head bent over his spade.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Maurice Kearney, "Pender is down!"
Mr. Lowe put spurs to his horse and galloped to the assistance of Mr. Beresford Pender, who was lying motionless upon the road. "Waterloo" was down, too, but was exerting all his strength in a straggling effort to gather his bony carcass out of the puddle.
"I hope you are not hurt," Mr. Lowe observed, for by the time he had reached the scene of the accident, Mr. Pender had risen to his feet, and was scraping the puddle off his left cheek with the nails of his fingers.
Beresford only glared all around him, by way of reply. He was thinking, as far as the confused state of his wits and the singing in his head would allow, whether the affair could be turned into an "outrage."
"Didn't you see me fall?" he muttered, addressing the man who had been digging in the field, and who now came up leading Mr. Pender's horse, and carefully wiping the mud from the bridle with the sleeve of his coat — for "Waterloo" had set off for home at, for him, a very respectable trot — "Didn't you see me fall?"
"Begor, I did, sir," he answered, "but when you worn't stirrin' I thought you wor dead — an' you bein' such a bad cha-rac-ter I was afeard to have anything to do wud you."
"Nice people to live among," muttered Beresford.
"What does be mean?" Mr. Lowe asked, turning to Maurice Kearney, who had just come up panting for breath, and wiping his face with his pocket-handkerchief.
"He means," was the reply, "that if Pender was killed he might swing for it. And, as it is, he may be thankful that you and I saw it all. Many a man was transported for less."
The smoke from the chimneys of Knocknagow attracted Mr. Lowe's attention — for dinner hour was approaching — and from the pointed gables of Phil Lahy's old house he turned to a pointed gable in the trees, a little to the right; and thought it would be pleasanter to spend the afternoon in that quarter than riding with Mr. Beresford Pender up among those wild hills.
"Of course you won't venture to ride that horse again?" he said.
"No, I'll lead him," replied Mr. Pender.
"Oh, we'll go back," said Mr. Lowe. "I couldn't think of asking you to walk."
"But I'd like you'd come as far as that place of my own."
How far is it?"
"About a mile. There it is above where you see the three poplar trees."
"Oh, 'tis very far," returned Mr. Lowe. "I'd much prefer returning."
Mr. Beresford Pender ground his teeth, and commenced to kick "Waterloo" in the ribs.
"Could I leave him here?" he asked, "and would you send one of these men for my servant?"
"Yes," replied Mr. Kearney, not very graciously, "put him under the shed in the yard, and I'll tell Wattletoes to run up for your man. As you're going back," he added, turning to Mr. Lowe, "I'll go with you."
"Oh, don't leave your business on my account."
"I have no more business here; Mat will see everything right — Mat," he called out, "when you have that seed scattered, bring your own plough-irons to the forge, as I'm going to break the kiln-field."
"Goin' to break the kiln-field!" exclaimed Mat in amazement; "begob, it is a shame for you!"
Mat Donovan seemed so thunderstruck by this intelligence, that Mr. Lowe thought breaking the kiln-field must be a heartless and an altogether unjustifiable proceeding — some thing like turning out a widow and nine young children to perish on the roadside.
"An' there is the whole winter gone now," continued Mat, looking at Mr. Lowe, as much as to say, "Was the like ever known before in any civilized country under the sun?"
"Why so? " his master asked.
"Why so?" retorted Mat, almost gruffly. "An' not a field about the place that a goal could be hurled in wud any satisfaction. We couldn't finish the match between the two sides uv the river in Doran's moon-thaun on account uv the disputes about the fall. An' there was the kiln-field, that ud put a stop to all bother, goin' for nothin'. An' you never let us know you wor goin' to break it."
"I didn't make up my mind about it till last night," replied Maurice Kearney, as if he were really ashamed of himself; for when a large field is intended to be broken, it is customary to give it for hurling matches, and even horse races during the winter months.
"There's no help for id now," rejoined Mat Donovan, with resignation. "But I'll send word to Tom Cuddehy this evenin'," be continued musingly, "an' we'll have wan Sunday out uv id at any rate."
He filled the long, narrow straw basket out of the bag, which now stood on the ground beside the little blue cart, and commenced scattering the seed before the two ploughs. Jim Dunne and Tom Maher both remarked that Mat stopped very often to gaze towards the three poplar trees on the hill, for which Barney Brodherick was now making at the top of his speed — muttering curses on Mr. Beresford Pender and his hook-nosed charger for being the cause of sending him upon a journey, that would be sure to entail "Ballyhooly" upon his devoted head when he got home, for being away so long.
"If ever I marry, I solemnly vow,
I'll marry young Roger that follies the plough,"
Tom Maher chanted, as he passed by Mat in order to attract his attention. But Mat gave no heed to him.
He was thinking how, one summer evening some years before, he was standing upon the little bridge upon which Ned Brophy's heart was wont to fall to pieces, and seeing the bright face beside him become pensive, he inquired the cause. "I always feel sad," she replied, "when I look at the Three Trees. I love that old place better than any place else in the world." And ever since that summer evening, so surely as he looked at the three poplar trees, so surely would Mat Donovan commence to build a castle in the air.
"God save all here! Where is Darby?" exclaimed Barney in a breath, as he burst into Mr. Beresford Pender's farm house.
"Wisha, is that Barney?" returned the old woman who acted as a housekeeper. "An', Barney, what way are you? An' have you any strange news? An' is id thrue ye're goin' to have a weddin' at the cottage? An' what soart is the young man? I always said that Miss Mary was a lady; an' Barney, is my words goin' to come thrue in earnest, an' no mistake?"
This torrent of questions bewildered Barney considerably;. but he grappled with one of them, and answered:
"Very well, I thank you, Poll."
"An' 'tis yourse'f that is lookin' brave an' hearty, sure enough," returned Poll. "'Tis of'en your mother tould me you wor the very moral uv your poor father, God be good to him. 'Poll,' siz she, 'look at Barney runnin' up the road. I can hardly b'lieve the sight uv my eyes that id isn't his father is in id'"
A striking proof, it may be remarked, of the truth of the proverb, "Every eye forms a beauty " — bearing in mind the clerk's daughter of Ballyporeen.
"Where is Darby?" Barney asked again.
"'Maurice Kearney's daughter is a fine girl, Poll,' siz Mr. Beresford. ''Tis a pity she hasn't a fortune.' ''Faix an' sure 'tis she that will have the fortune, and the fine fortune,' siz I; 'for isn't her father wan uv the richest men in the parish?' siz I. 'The divil a stiver she'll get,' siz Mr. Beresford, 'he's too extravagant, an' he lays out 'too much on his place, drainin' an' plantin',' siz he, 'an' more d—n fool Kearney is,' siz Mr. Beresford."
"Do you think a Kearney would marry one of his breed?" exclaimed Barney, indignantly. "Tell me where is Darby, an' don't keep me here all day, an' all I have to do."
"Is id Darby? Well, Darby kem in that doore a while ago, an' tuck down the gun off uv the rack. 'Darby,' siz I, 'where are you goin'?' 'Ax the divil,' siz Darby. But it might be betther for Darby if he kept a civil tongue in his head. I do have my eyes an' my ears open, though they think I don't. An' maybe I could tell some things that 'ud get some people into a nice hoult if I liked. So 'twould be betther for Darby to keep a civil tongue in his head."
"Blur-an'-ouns, Poll, tell me where he is an' let me go."
"Well, I see him loadin' the gun in the stable," the old woman answered. "An' maybe I didn't notice 'twas a lead ball be put in id," she muttered, "though 'twas little Darby suspected I had my eye on him. An' maybe 'twould be betther for Darby if he kep a civil tongue in his head."
This speech, except the first few words, was a soliloquy, for by the time it was concluded Barney was running from one to the other of the out-offices in search of Darby Ruadh — or Darby the "Red-haired."
"Begob," Barney soliloquised, as he ran from one empty and ruined outhouse to another, looking up at the sky through the broken roof, and at the patches of grass growing through the floor — "begob, this is a quare soart uv a place. The divil a cow or a calf, or a sheep or a goat, put a fut in there this five year. Nor a pig, nor a slip, nor a bonnive," he added, running in and out of two or three other offices in the same condition as the cowhouse. "Nor a goose, nor a goslin, nor a duck, nor a cock, nor a hen, nor a chicken — nor a wranneen, nor anything!" he shouted, as he stopped short after finishing his round, and gazed in amazement on the ruined concern, from the thatched dwelling-house to the roofless pig-sty. "This is not the soart uv place id was afore poor Dick Morris was turned out, an' Pender on'y keeps grazin' stock in the summer and nothin' at all in the winther. Oh! be the hoky! be has a big windy broke out here!" exclaimed Barney, as he turned the corner of the house and found himself face to face with a large window, which certainly was not in keeping with the old thatched house, but which, according to Mr. Beresford Pender's notions, had the advantage of proclaiming to all passers-by that the place was in the possession of a "gentleman."
"I'll run over to the double-ditch," continued Barney, "an' if he's about the place I can see him — bad luck to him for bringin' me up here."
Not a living thing did he see from the double-ditch, but two carrion crows on a little island in the middle of a field covered with water. He felt a sense of desolation as he looked all round the dreary spot. And observing a single magpie — which all the world knows is a sign of bad luck — pitching upon one of the rafters of the tumble-down barn, Barney resolved to get away from the ill-omened place as fast as his legs could carry him. He made for a pile of stones at a point of the road, where the engineer had to turn short at a right angle to avoid a level stretch of country, and carry his road over the sharpest point of the hill — by which ingenious manoeuvre the engineer added considerably to the length of his road, besides avoiding three miles of a dead level.
But as Barney approached the landmark by which he steered his course, it suddenly occurred to him that it marked the spot where "Black Humphrey" was found one winter's morning with his skull broken — and Barney immediately wheeled to one side, so as to avoid the pile of stones at the turn of the road. For, though it was the middle of the noon-day, and not "the witching hour of night when churchyards yawn," Barney Brodherick felt by no means comfortable, and had a secret misgiving that, in a back-of-God-speed spot like that, Black Humphrey might be met with, looking for the fragments of his cranium, any hour of the twenty-four. He faced now to an old sandpit near the road a little lower down, and was climbing up the embankment on the brink of it, when he suddenly started back and fell down upon his hands and knees.
"The Lord betune us an' all harm!" he muttered through his chattering teeth, while big drops of perspiration ran down his face. "That flogs all! 'Twas well Billy Heffernan said there was somethin' bad about the ould sandpit since the night the mule got into a cowld sweat an' she passin' id. But in the middle of the noonday to think he'd be out uv his warm grave is a show entirely!" For Barney was quite sure he had just caught a glimpse of Black Humphrey himself, with his head all bloody, lying in the old sandpit.
"If I could get round to th' other side," he continued, "maybe I might be able to cut off before he could see me."
He crept round the embankment till he came to a gap in it, by which he saw he could not pass without exposing himself to the object of his tenor. Glancing round fearfully, he discovered, greatly to his relief, that Mat Donovan and the ploughmen were within view, though too far off to hear his cry for help if the owner of the bloody head should lay violent hands upon him. He took courage, however, to peep over the embankment again; and to his utter horror the bloody head started up at the same moment, and seemed to be looking along the road, attracted, no doubt, by the sound of horses' hoofs, which Barney could now hear approaching at a brisk trot. This last-mentioned circumstance gave him further courage, and he looked more steadily than before at the figure in the sand-pit.
"Be the hoky!" exclaimed Barney, "'tis Darby Ruadh!"
And sure enough, there was Darby Ruadh's red head plain to be seen, as he peered stealthily through a brake of briars over the ravine that divided his hiding-place from the road. A stream gurgled down the hill at the bottom of the ravine; and to its hoarse music, Barney discovered, was added the cawing of a flock of crows, that whirled round and round overhead, sometimes swooping down as if they would precipitate themselves into the pit, but suddenly stopping short in their headlong descent, and after a moment's silence and confused clapping of wings, shooting upwards again, till their angry voices were softened and almost lost in the distance.
"Id must be a fox that's about here," Barney thought, "or else they smell powdher. An', begob, Darby has a gun. I wondher is id rabbits he's watchin'?"
The horsemen came nearer and nearer; and Barney opened his eyes in astonishment and tenor, when he saw Darby Ruadh drop upon one knee and thrust the muzzle of his gun through the briars, resting his elbow on the brink of the sandpit, evidently with the intention of taking steady aim.
"Be cripes!" Barney mentally ejaculated, "he's goin' to let the daylight through some wan!"
On came the horsemen, nearer and nearer. But just as he had the gun to his shoulder, Darby Ruadh drew back, as if something unlooked-for had presented itself; and, in stead of firing off his gun, he dropped upon his knees and let the horsemen pass. And, as they got higher up the hill, Barney could see by their shining accoutrements and clanking sabres that they were two mounted policemen — probably bearing a dispatch to the nearest military barracks for a troop or company of soldiers to protect the sheriff while clearing a townland of its human inhabitants.
When Barney looked again into the sandpit, Darby was sitting in an easy position, quietly filling his pipe, with his gun on the ground beside him.
"Id must be rabbits," thought Barney, "though the divil a hole I can see. Bless your work," he added aloud.
The man in the pit was so startled that his pipe dropped from his mouth, as he scrambled to his feet at the risk of cutting himself with the open knife he held in his hand.
"In the divil's name what brought you here?" he growled on seeing who it was who had spoken to him.
"Your own blessed masther," Barney answered, "an' his ould broken-winded horse that fell ondher him, an' I was sint up to tell you to carry him home. He's below ondher the shed in Raheen,"
"Aren't they comin' up this way?" Darby asked.
"The divil a up," returned Barney. "He's gone home on shanks' mare."
"Sweet bad luck to him! afther all my trouble," growled Darby Ruadh. "I must lave this gun at the house," he added, as he walked off without condescending to take any further notice of Barney, who set off for home muttering that he'd want to be able to change himself into a crow, the way he was ordered from one place to another and expected to be back again "while a cat'd be lickin' his ear " — and what was worse, that blackguard Tom Maher would be sure to steal his blackthorn out of the ass's car, where in an evil hour he had left it.
It was to "Waterloo" that Darby Ruadh wished "sweet bad luck." And we, too, have reason to be indignant with that unlucky quadruped. Had he but kept upon his legs till he reached the sand-pit, even he, "Waterloo," might have been the making of us. We'd have something to tell that would make the reader's breath come and go. The scene of our story would have been immortalised to our hand; half-a-dozen "specials" would have done it. For, had that ill-favoured and in every way disreputable brute not fallen with his rider, Mr. Beresford Pender's horse would have been shot under him — or, what would have answered as well, the horse would have been shot when the rider had dismounted and moved to a safe distance; and Mr. Beresford Pender, after discharging all his pistols, would have pursued the intended assassin into the fox cover in the glen — and heaven only knows what would have happened after.
It is a comfort to know that the old "legacy" was "bound for a tanyard"; and that he never did "hear the cuckoo" again. For before that day week his ribs were well polished by old Somerfield's beagles; and for many a day after, his shin-bone might be seen under a little boy's arm at the gable-end of the school-house, behind the quarry, as the little boy glanced over his shoulder at the passing traveller — while another little boy was thrusting out his head, impatiently, at the door, and dancing upon his heels.