Knocknagow - CHAPTER XLIII.

CHAPTER XLIII.

TOM HOGAN BOASTS THAT HE NEVER FIRED A SHOT.

MR. ISAAC PENDER and Attorney Hanly got over the stile and walked towards the place that Tom Hogan had just left. They looked into the deep drains as they went on, and by the time they got to the end of the field Tom Hogan had gone into his own house.

Attorney Hanly looked at his watch, and seeing that the mail car would not pass the cross for some time, he thought of returning home, but changed his mind on recollecting that if he did it would be necessary to show some civility to the visitors from whom he had just escaped. So he walked with Mr. Isaac Pender up and down by Tom Hogan's quickset hedge, talking about business.

"What is that?" the agent asked, staring and looking terrified.

"It was not a shot," replied the attorney. "The report was not sharp enough for a shot from a gun or pistol. Yet it seemed to be an explosion of some kind. I'll get up on the ditch and see."

"Better not," replied the agent, catching hold of him. "Keep quiet, and don't let us be seen."

"Why, what is it you are afraid of?" the attorney asked. "Your life must be anything but pleasant if every sound half frightens it out of you at this rate. Let us go on to the stile."

They walked by the quickset hedge till they reached the stile that led into the next field. What we have called the quickset hedge was not merely a hedge planted on the ground. There was a tolerably high embankment of earth a "ditch" in fact and on the top of this the hedge. There were two or three long stone slabs fixed in the "ditch" as steps, and some two feet of wicker-work woven between stakes on the top. Mr. Isaac Pender had one hand on the wicker-work and a foot on each of the two stone slabs, when he suddenly uttered a cry and fell back into the arms of the attorney. The attorney looked up, and he, too, was so startled, that he let old Isaac fall to the ground; and, retreating a step backwards, Attorney Hanly himself fell upon his back into one of Torn Hogan's newly-made drains. The old agent had fallen upon his back too, but raising himself upon his hands he looked up at the stile, while every feature gave evidence of the most intense terror.

The attorney had disappeared altogether in the drain, and seemed in no hurry to get out of it.

It was only Tom Hogan, who had suddenly popped his head over the stile. But his face was blackened; and a braver man than Mr. Isaac Pender might well have been startled by such an apparition.

Attorney Hanly got upon his hands and knees in the drain, and waited for the shot. He thought Tom Hogan must have overheard them plotting his ruin, and determined to wreak instant vengeance upon the plotters; and the thought was a natural one enough under the circumstances.

Mr. Hanly was not by any means a coward. He would not have thrown himself designedly into the drain at the sight of Tom Hogan's blackened face. But, having fallen accidentally into it, he thought it wise to turn the accident to advantage. He was safe under cover; and resolved to keep quiet till Tom Hogan's gun or blunderbuss had exploded and riddled Mr. Isaac Pender. Then Mr. Hanly would start to his feet and run or fight for his life. He had no notion of staying where he was till Tom Hogan had guillotined him with his spade, perhaps.

But why does he not fire?

The attorney's heart ceased to beat as he waited for the shot. Seconds seemed hours as he crouched there in the damp, narrow drain, which was so like a grave! He felt his flesh creep as, on turning his head to listen, his cheek touched the cold clay. And now the terrible thought occurred to him that the agent had been slain, not with a gun, but with a spade or pick-axe, and that the weapon, hot and bloody, was in the very act of crashing through his own brain. He felt, in that brief moment, the agony of dying a violent death. It was only a moment; but to him it was an age. He tried to rise, but could not. He felt as if the heavy clay had been heaped upon him, and that he was buried alive.

The sound of voices fell upon his ear. Some persons were speaking near him in a quiet, unexcited tone. The words were:

"I hope you are not injured?"

"Begor, I don't know. Id tuck a start out uv me, at any rate. An' look at the way my hand is."

Mr. Hanly tried again to stand up, and succeeded. He had not been more than a minute in the drain; but he looked about him as if he expected to discover that the face of Nature had undergone some wonderful transformation since last he looked upon it. But the trees, and the fields, and the mountains, as well as his own house, and the old castle, and Knocknagow from Mat Donovan's to the cross; Phil Lahy's pointed roof and thick chimneys, and the beech free inclusive were precisely in their old places. And Mr. Isaac Pender was still in a half-sitting position, propped up by his two arms, with his under-jaw hanging down, and his eyes as wide open as it was possible for such eyes to be. He was still staring up at the stile; but the black face was turned away, which seemed some little relief to him, for his month closed, and a slight movement about the eyes indicated that, in course of time, they, too, might recover the power of shutting.

"Why, Mr. Hanly, what has happened?" Hugh Kearney asked, looking at the attorney with unfeigned astonishment, as he emerged from the drain, like a grave-digger, Hugh thought, which idea was probably suggested by Mr. Isaac Pender, who, in his suit of rusty black, looked very like a withered old sexton.

"I merely stumbled, by accident, into this drain," replied the attorney, trying to remove the yellow clay from his shoulders and arms.

"And Mr. Pender?"

"I I I stumbled, too," that gentleman replied, but showed no symptom of any intention to rise.

Tom Hogan looked over his shoulder at the speakers, and his blackened face seemed to astonish them as much as at first. The surprise was mutual. Tom Hogan was quite as much puzzled to see his agent sitting upon the ground and staring at him as the agent was to account for Tom Hogan's black face.

Tom Hogan's wife and daughter appeared upon the scene.

"O Tom!" exclaimed his wife, "what happened you?"

"Are you hurt, father?" Nancy asked, looking anxiously into his face.

"'Tis nothin' 'Tis nothin'," he replied. "'Twon't signify a pin."

"I think it would be as well if you run up to Mr. Hanly's and tell the doctor to come and see him," said Hugh Kearney, turning to Nancy Hogan.

"I will, sir," she replied eagerly, flinging back her auburn hair from her face, and running with the fleetness of a frightened fawn towards the house.

"I think, Mr. Pender, you had better get up," Hugh suggested.

I think so; I think so; I think so," replied old Isaac, as he turned round upon his hands and knees and struggled to get upon his feet. But his joints appeared to have become either too stiff or too weak; and Hugh, catching him by the collar with one hand, placed him on his legs, as if he were a rickety old chair.

The doctor and Mr. Lowe were soon seen hurrying down the lawn, followed by Nancy Hogan. She had first started off in advance of them, but a feeling of delicacy made her hold back and let them pass.

"I don't think the eyes are injured," said the doctor, as he examined Tom Hogan. "There is a slight burn on the left cheek, but it will not signify. Ha! yes! the hand must be looked to. But I'll have you all right in a day or two," added the doctor, as he laid his finger on Tom Hogan's wrist and felt his pulse. "The system seems to have sustained a shock," be continued gravely. "That is the serious feature in the case." And the doctor pulled out his watch and counted Tom Hogan's pulse for a minute.

The two Miss Hanlys, with Mary and Grace, joined the group; and Mary, taking Hugh by the arm, questioned him about what had happened. But before he could reply, they were startled on seeing Jemmy Hogan clearing the hedge at a bound close to where they stood. His eyes flashed fire, as he demanded breathlessly, "What happened his father?"

"Did any one do anything to him?" he continued, almost choked with passion, as he looked from one to another of those present.

"No, Jemmy, no," his sister exclaimed, flinging her arms round him. "No one did anything to him. 'Twas an accident."

His hands were clenched, and he looked as if he would have sprung like a tiger upon any one who would dare to hurt his father.

"No, Jemmy, no," Tom Hogan repeated and he laughed in a strange hysterical way. "No, Jemmy; no wan done anything to me."

His sister clung to him, and all present were struck with their extreme beauty, and the resemblance they bore to each other, notwithstanding the pleading gentleness of her look, and the passionate defiance of his.

"O Mary," Grace whispered, "did you ever imagine Jemmy Hogan had such fierceness in him? But what has happened to his father? The poor man is a perfect fright, with his hair singed and his face blackened. Perhaps he rushed into a fire to save some one but then there is no sign of a fire anywhere."

"I was just asking Hugh," Mary replied.

Mr. Lowe came also to inquire of Hugh what had happened.

"I think I understand the matter," replied Hugh. "I was on my way to the bottom of our farm, and on hearing a noise I turned round, and observed a thick puff of smoke in the middle of that wheat-field. I saw Tom Hogan stagger back with his hands to his face, and as it was evident an accident had occurred, I turned back. He hurried on in this direction, and was just getting over the stile when I came up to him. Those gentlemen," he continued, lowering his voice and laughing, as he nodded his head towards the agent and Attorney Hanly, "seem to have been rather startled, for I found Mr. Pender on the broad of his back on the field there, and Mr. Hanly emerging from that drain."

Grace laughed, and even Mr. Lowe could not help smiling as he turned quietly round and looked at old Isaac, who had only partially recovered from his fright.

"But still," said he, turning again to Hugh, " I don't know what the nature of the accident was."

"Tom," said Hugh, "Mr. Lowe wishes to know how the accident occurred.

"Frightenin' the crows," replied Tom Hogan, turning to Mr. Lowe.

"How? I really don't understand."

"Wud a grain uv quarry-powther, sir," returned Tom Hogan. "I put id into a hole, an' in the way 'twould make a report I was goin' to lay a flat stone on id before I'd set fire to the bit of touch. But some way my hand wasn't steady, an' a spark fell on id, an', begor, id blasted up into my face. An' that's the way id happened, sir."

"And why would you not frighten the crows with a gun?"

"Is id me, sir? No, sir," said Tom Hogan, looking reproachfully at Mr. Lowe, as if he had done him a great injustice. "I'm not that sort of a character, an' never was. I never fired a shot in my life, an' plase God I never will. No, sir," continued Tom Hogan proudly, "no wan could ever say a bad word uv me."

Mr. Lowe looked in astonishment at Hugh Kearney, as if he wished him to explain what all this meant.

"Don't you know it is a crime to have arms in Ireland?" said Hugh, sarcastically. "No one can have arms without a licence, and men like Tom Hogan would not get a licence. So poor Tom has come to look upon never having fired a shot as a proof of his honesty and respectability."

"We met a man on the road," said Mr. Lowe, "who had pistols."

"That was Wat Corcoran the bailiff," returned Hugh. "He is a great man on the strength of his pistols. In such a case as his, arms are the marks of the gentleman, and the man in power."

"Tom Hogan," put in Mr. Isaac Pender, "was always a quiet decent man. He never had anything to do with fire-arms."

"Nor never will, sir," said Tom Hogan.

But if Tom Hogan that very hour provided himself with a good serviceable musket and bayonet, or a rifle or carbine or even an old duck gun like that with which Dr. Richard Kearney so distinguished himself, it might have been lucky for Tom Hogan, and lucky, too, for Mr. Isaac Pender.

"Tom Hogan never had anything to do with fire-arms," said Mr. Isaac Pender again. "Nor his son. Nor his son. Nor his son," he repeated, glancing furtively at Jemmy, who was now quite calm, except for a little flurry and confusion, which was perhaps less the result of his late excitement than of the presence of so many young ladies, all of whom were favouring him with a good deal of notice.

"A very well-conducted, industrious young man," said Mr. Isaac Pender. "A very well-conducted young man."

Attorney Hanly, seeing the mail-car approaching, moved away to meet it at the cross-roads.

"Pender was right," he muttered to himself. "That young Hogan is a different sort of character from what I thought. There was a devil in his eye. That chap would do anything if driven to it. 'Tis true for old Isaac. The case is a difficult one. But that's his business. If his part was done I'd be able to manage the affair in such a way that it would not appear that I had anything to do with it. Hallo!"

The driver pulled up, and Mr. Hanly got upon the car; and was not seen or heard of in that part of the country till he jumped off the same car at the same place that day three weeks.

"Which way shall we go back?" Grace asked.

"By the road," replied the doctor, who hoped Kathleen would accompany them as far as the bridge.

"By the road," said Mary, who feared that Norah Lahy might feel disappointed if she returned home without calling to see her.

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