Knocknagow - CHAPTER L.

CHAPTER L.

TOM CUDDEHY FEELS "SOMEWAY QUARE." A GLANCE BACKWARDS TO CLEAR UP THE MYSTERY OF THE TRACKS IN THE SNOW.

TOM CUDDEHY took down his hurly from the hurdle over the chimney corner, and examined it carefully, as a soldier might examine his sword before the battle. His eye could detect no crack or flaw; but to make assurance doubly sure, Tom Cuddehy let his hurly drop several times against the hearth stone, holding it by the small end as loosely as possible in one hand, in order to test its soundness by the ring it gave out. The great match between the two sides of the river was to come off next day in Maurice Kearney's kiln-field, and Tom Cuddehy's twenty picked men had reported themselves ready in all respects to meet the Knocknagow boys on their own chosen ground. The excitement at both sides of the river was at its height; and it was known that Mat Donovan had despatched a messenger all the way to Cloughshannavo, for Tom Doherty, whom Mrs. Kearney had induced to go as servant to her cousin, Father Carroll, when he was appointed administrator of that parish to the great grief and sorrow of the Knocknagow boys; for Tom Doherty was one of their best hurlers. If Tom Doherty failed to put in an appearance it was the general opinion that victory would fall to "the farmers" for Tom Cuddehy's men were all farmers' sons while Mat Donovan's were all "labouring men." But, in spite of these favourable omens, Tom Cuddehy put back his hurly in its usual resting-place with a heavy sigh.

That accidental meeting with his old sweetheart the day before had awakened a curious feeling in his breast, which he described as "someway quare." The young man from the mountain had spent the night at old Paddy Laughlan's, and Tom had just been told that the old man and his intended son-in-law had ridden away together after breakfast to get the marriage articles drawn by Attorney Hanly, if they were fortunate enough to catch that eccentric limb of the law at home. So Tom Cuddehy sighed, and wished that dreary Saturday were well over; for nothing less, he thought, could rouse him to shake off that "someway quare" state of mind than the excitement of the hurling match between the two sides of the river. He was throwing his riding-coat over his shoulders to go out, when the half-door was flung open, and Lory Hanly in a fearful state of excitement stood before him.

"I have a message for you," he exclaimed.

Lory's voice was sufficiently startling in itself, and his manner of opening his eyes very wide added considerably to the effect. But, in addition to the voice and the look, the unusual circumstance of Lory's wearing an old straw hat of the rudest description suggested to Tom Cuddehy that his sudden and unexpected appearance could only be the result of some very startling occurrence, of the nature of which he could not form the remotest conjecture.

So he stared at Lory, and Lory as was his wont after causing a sensation stared at him. While waiting to hear the expected "message," which Lory seemed on the point of projecting every moment from his half-open mouth, but which did not come for all that, Tom noticed that his visitor wore the immense straw hat in a peculiar fashion that is, the broad leaf was turned back into the high and somewhat comical mould in front, so that the straw hat looked like a bonnet put on wrong side foremost. It just occurs to us, however, that this attempt to convey an idea of the manner in which Mr. Lory Hanly was pleased to wear his hat on this occasion, will be quite thrown away upon most of our readers, including (as a matter of course) all our fair readers; for it is not for a moment to be supposed that one of them could remember what a bonnet was like, when a bonnet was a bonnet.

"What is id?" Tom asked at last.

"Miss Laughlan desired me to tell you" Here Tom Cuddehy's bitch, Venom, took it into her head to start up from her place in the corner with a vicious snarl, misled, no doubt, by that peculiarity of Mr. Hanly's which Mrs. Kearney designated his "terrible throat," into the belief that his "message" was anything but "a message of peace."

"Down, Venom!" said Tom Cuddehy, who got very red in the face at the mention of Miss Laughlan's name, and somehow connected Lory's appearance with the marriage articles which Tom supposed Lory's father was busy in drafting at that moment. "Well, what is id you wor goin' to say?" he added meekly, as he lifted Venom up in his arms and flung her over the half-door.

But here we must leave Lory to deliver his message, and Tom Cuddehy to act upon it or not, as he thought fit. We must even leave the great hurling-match in Maurice Kearney's kiln-field undecided to which the message had no reference whatever, and in which we openly avow our sympathies are with the "labouring men"; and if Tom Doherty fails, let him not hope for mercy at our hands. We must also leave the reader in suspense concerning the result of the contest between Mat Donovan and Captain French and here again we are heart and soul against the "aristocrat"; though we by no means approve of Tom Doherty's knocking down old Major French's steward for confidently predicting the captain's victory, and offering to lay a gallon of beer thereon. But we were about to say that we must leave these exciting events undecided, and interrupt the regular course of our chronicle, in order to throw light upon certain circumstances of which the reader may have caught fitful glimpses in the foregoing chapters, and which, perhaps, ought to have been made clear long before now. And for this purpose the courteous reader will please to go back with us a year or two, and take a rapid glance at one or two new faces and scenes; after which we shall return to our old friends, and follow their fortunes, through gloom and through gladness, over oceans and into strange lands, till we kneel by the graves of some, and God be praised! feel our heart beat quick while we tell of the happiness of others.

A young man in the garb of an ecclesiastical student was pacing up and down in front of a long, low, thatched house, which might be taken for an ordinary farm-house of the humbler sort were it not for its green hall-door the fan light of which was quite hidden by the eave and the three good-sized windows of twelve panes each, two at one side and one at the other of the door, which was not exactly in the middle, and suggested the idea that the room at one side of the hall was twice the size of that on the other side. The field in which the house stood and there was no gravelled space before the door or round the house, and no avenue but a pathway from which the grass had been worn off would be by no means a favourable sample of the "emerald isle," for it was dry and dusty-looking, and so bare that the old white donkey who had leave to roam at will, without let or hindrance, over the whole two acres, seemed to have given up as hopeless the task of gathering a belly-full there being no thistles within the enclosure and philosophically resigned himself to that state of existence which, it is said the canine species either affect or are doomed to, and which is popularly supposed to consist in "hunger and ease." The country, as far as the eye could reach in front and rear, and on one side of the house, was treeless and without hedges, the fences being either of stone or clay, and presented generally that sterile appearance which we have just noticed in the old donkey's paddock. But though this was the general aspect of the landscape on the right and left, and in front of the young student as he closed his book on reaching the low wall of loose stones that divided the lawn from a potato-field to the right of the cottage; far different was the picture he had before him when he turned full round, and the rich green slopes of Hazelford met his gaze. The demesne was only divided from the field in which he stood by a little river that seemed to belong more to the poorer than to the more favoured portion of the landscape, from which it was shut out by the hazels which grew so thickly along the bank, that, except at a few places, narrow and far apart, the existence of the stream could be known to the denizens of this paradise only by its dreamy murmurings as it wound round the roots of trees, and coiled into hollows and caverns, or dashed itself fretfully against some little promontory of rock, as if it sought, or would make for itself, an entrance into the shady woods and sunny meadows of which it had caught glimpses as it hurried down the furze-covered hill in the distance, where it ceased to be a mere brook, and was first honoured with the name of river. But strive and murmur as it would, the cool groves and sunny meadows were forbidden ground, and the river went its way to the great ocean without ever once reflecting the fair scenes around Hazelford Castle in its bosom.

There was something in the deep-set eyes of the young student as they dwelt upon these fair scenes, that might suggest the thought that he, too, felt that he was excluded from them. There were fair forms gliding backwards and forwards upon a terraced walk under the ivied wall of the castle, and his pale face flushed on observing a field-glass, or telescope, directed towards himself, and handed from one to another of a group of ladies, who had evidently suspended their promenading for the purpose of surveying him. He mechanically looked around him for some less exposed place where he could continue his walk, but there was not a tree or bush near the cottage to screen him, except two old grey sally-trees, that served the purpose of piers to the wooden gate at the road. His first impulse was to walk down to the river, where he would be screened by the bushes on the opposite bank; but this, he thought, would look as if he wanted to get a nearer view of the group on the terrace, who seemed to concern themselves so much with his movements; and throwing back his shoulders, and holding his head very high, he faced towards the cottage, and pushing in the green hall-door, with the fanlight up in the thatch, turned into the parlour and sat down by the window.

Father Carroll was lying on a very stiff-looking straight-backed sofa, after a long ride to the farthest-away part of his parish. He was mentally contrasting his uncomfortable couch with the soft velvety loungers in the dean's well furnished rooms, when the young student entered.

"Well, Arthur," he asked, "has Edmund made his appearance yet?"

"No," was the reply, "though he ought to be here before now."

"And why have you come in?"

"Those women at the castle are so unmannerly, I couldn't stand it."

"What did they do to you?" the priest asked, smiling, for the student's sensitiveness was a source of amusement to his friends.

"They looked at me," he replied in a tone of displeasure.

A hearty laugh from the priest prevented his finishing the sentence, and he turned to his book without attempting any further explanation.

The priest looked round his scantily furnished room, with its bare walls and uncarpeted floor. The least bit of moulding on the ceiling would, he thought, be a relief to his eyes to say nothing of hangings to the windows, or a more modern article of furniture in lieu of the old mahogany concern called a desk, with its eight or ten drawers, and their brass handles like the mounting of a coffin; though this same desk was the especial pride and glory of Mrs. Hayes, the housekeeper, who always watched the faces of visitors when she flung open the parlour door to see the effect produced by the mahogany desk and its brass handles. "But there's nothing like independence," said Father Carroll to himself. "I wouldn't go back again as curate for a good deal. And I'll be economical for a while, and will soon be able to furnish the old cottage comfortably. I'm sorry now I never thought of laying by a little money."

"Do you think," the young student asked, "I ought to go back to the college for another year?"

"I certainly think you ought," returned the priest. "You may have a vocation, though you fancy you have not. Or it may come in good time, if God wills it. I was at times myself perplexed and in doubt as you are now; but it all passed away."

"But I never had a wish to be a priest from proper motives. Since I was born, my mother's daily prayer has been that she would live to see me a good priest, and I cannot bear the thought of disappointing her hopes, particularly since the failure of this unlucky bank has left us in rather straitened circumstances. Nearly all that was left by my father to educate me for a profession is gone; and 'tis fearful to think that so much has been thrown away upon me; and here I am now and don't know what course to take, even if I had the courage to tell my mother the state of my mind. But will it not be like acting a lie to go back again?"

"I don't think so," returned Father Carroll, "unless you take the loss of more time and money into account."

"The time, and the money, too, would be lost even if I did not return to college, for I could not make up my mind what to do next, for some time at least. Indolence and pride are my besetting sins. My only idea in reference to becoming a priest was that it was the easiest way to become a gentleman, and have people putting their hands to their hats for me."

"I don't know that most of us have not some such notion as that," returned Father Carroll, laughing. "I think you will be a priest yet."

"Here is Edmund," exclaimed the student, his sad face lighting up with pleasure as he hurried out to welcome his friend, who had just leaped off a car on the road, and vaulted over the gate, leaving the driver to open it and follow with his portmanteau to the cottage.

Edmund Kiely looked the very opposite of the pale, slightly built student whose thin hand he grasped in his warm palm, while his blue eyes and fresh, laughing face beamed with hearty good-nature. Edmund, as his little sister Grace used to say, was a "jolly fellow," never by any chance out of spirits for more than five minutes at a time. And yet the two friends whose society he most loved were Arthur O'Connor and Hugh Kearney. His father wished him to commence the study of the law, as he had a strong dislike to his own profession. But the young man had set his heart upon an open-air life, and in order to prevent his flying away to the antipodes, or to hunt buffaloes on the prairies of the West, Doctor Kiely promised to purchase some land for him in Ireland, when a favourable opportunity presented itself. And Mr. Edmund Kiely is now one of those enviable mortals who have nothing on earth to trouble them. He and Arthur and Father Carroll have made several tours together, which proved such out-and-out pleasant affairs, that he is now bent upon adding one more to the number.

"I like the look of your house," he said, as he shook hands with the priest at the door of his thatched domicile. "There is something suggestive of the romantic about it. I have no doubt many a runaway couple dismounted at this door in the good old times, to demand the services of Father Cleary. Oh," he exclaimed on entering the parlour, "surely that armchair in the corner must have belonged to him. I can almost fancy I see the venerable old soggarth sitting in it at the present moment."

"Yes; it and all the rest of the furniture belonged to him," Father Carroll replied. "I bought them all at the auction; and though, as you see, they are not over elegant or expensive articles, I am in debt on account of them for the first time in my life."

"And talking of romance," Edmund went on, "of course, it was in this room Sir Thomas Butler's brother was married. I'd like to know all about it. Did you ever see his wife?"

"No; but Arthur can tell you all about it. She was his cousin."

"So she was, sir," old Mrs. Hayes, the housekeeper, who was laying the table, quietly observed somewhat to Edmund's surprise. "You'd think he'd break his heart crying after poor Miss Annie. 'O uncle,' he used to say, 'what made you let that old man take her away?' An' sure he wasn't an old man, though he was stooped and delicate-looking. We all thought he was only a painter, or an artist, as he used to say; but he told Father Ned who he was, an' when he saw poor Miss Annie so given for him, though she thought he was only a poor painter, he gave his consent to the marriage. The poor thing got delicate soon after, an' when she found that his brother and family were makin' little of him, I know it used to fret her. He took her away to Italy for the air, for he was as fond of her as of his life. But she only held two years, an' her last letter to her uncle would bring tears from a rock, 'twas so movin'. Her husband she said, was as kind an' lovin' as ever, an' she was sure he'd be kind an' lovin' to her little Annie when she was gone."

"How did they happen to become acquainted first?" Edmund asked, as Mrs. Hayes took her bunch of keys from her pocket, and ostentatiously shook them, preparatory to unlocking one of the drawers of the brass-mounted desk.

"Well," Mrs. Hayes replied, as she selected the key she wanted from the bunch, "herself an' Father Ned gave three weeks that year at the water. An', it seems, Mr. Butler spent all his time abroad learning the paintin' business an' sure, I never see a man so fond of anything as he was of makin' pictures. He painted all Major French's children while he was here, an' 'tis little they thought 'twas a near cousin of their own was paintin' 'em. There is the three of 'em beyond fine young women now," said Mrs. Hayes, pointing to the ladies who so annoyed the over-sensitive student a few minutes before. "But the pictures are all there still, an' if ever you are at the Castle 'twould be worth your while to look at 'em you'd think they wor alive. But he was always practisin'. That an' playin' the flute was all that troubled him."

So, 'twas while he was at the Castle he saw Miss Cleary?" "Yes, sir; but he was shipwrecked, an' a'most dhrowned, an' Father Ned took him to the house where he lodged, an' Miss Annie nursed him; for 'twas thought he'd never get over it. An' afther that, he went about paintin' at the great houses. An' that's the way it came about. Poor Miss Annie was an orphan, you know, sir, an' lived wud her uncle ever since she came from the convent where she was educated. I'm told they had nothin' to live on but what he was able to earn, an' his brother an' all his family turned against him. 'Tis said now that Sir Thomas is near his end, an', as he never got married, Miss Annie's husband, I suppose, will come in for the property."

"And the title," added Father Carroll. "By the way, I trust it may turn out well for our friends at Ballinaclash."

"Why, what difference can it make to them?" Edmund asked.

"Oh, 'tis a matter of no little anxiety to a farmer to know what sort his new landlord will be. But any change is likely to be for the better in this case; for the present man is a rack-renter."

"I never heard Mr. Kearney say anything against him," returned Edmund. "Though he is by no means sparing of censure," he added, laughing. " 'Tis a treat to listen to his comments sometimes."

"Yes, but he has a lease," replied Father Carroll. "But numbers of his tenants have been smashed trying to pay impossible rents. I should not wonder if his agent, old Pender, is urging him on in this course. But I'm inclined to think his brother will be a kind landlord, unless he is led astray; and it is said, too, Sir Thomas will leave the property greatly incumbered."

"Why, Arthur," exclaimed Edmund, "as your cousin's black eyes made so deep an impression on your boyish heart, I can't help thinking, if her daughter be at all like her, you had better keep out of her way, or she will spoil your vocation."

"I am not likely to come in contact with her," returned Arthur. "Though, for her mother's sake, I should like to know her."

"Of course, if he succeeds to the property, he will return to Ireland."

"I think not," Arthur replied. " It is said he is a complete Frenchman in his tastes and habits, and I suspect he will always live on the Continent. But where are we going to go?"

"To Tramore," Edmund answered.

"Nonsense," returned Arthur. "Let us go somewhere where there will be no crowds. I detest the class of people you meet at these bathing places."

"Oh, yes," rejoined Edmund, laughing. "I remember your notions in this respect. You used to say you could imagine yourself marrying a peasant girl or a high-born lady; but that you could not abide the bourgeoisie."

"That is my idea still," replied the student. "They are a compound of ridiculous pride and vulgarity. But a peasant girl is seldom vulgar to my mind."

"Well, I have seen something of all classes," Father Carroll observed, "and I must say I have met some women of the class you condemn, who certainly were neither ignorant nor vulgar."

He's a humbug," said Edmund Kiely, as if his friend's remark had nettled him a little. "'Tis sour grapes with him, because a certain lady had the bad taste to prefer me to himself, once upon a time. You know we were always sure to be smitten by the same divinity, and though I gave him every fair play, he was never able to win a single smile the moment I entered the lists against him. And that's why he detests the sort of people one meets at the seaside. But what do you say to Tramore?"

"I vote for it," Father Carroll replied. "I suppose old associations have something to do with it, but I can enjoy a stroll along the 'Great Strand,' more than I can the grandest cliffs and finest scenery we have. And then we'll be sure to meet some old friends there."

"Hear, hear," Edmund exclaimed. "We start to-morrow. I'll introduce you," he continued, turning to Arthur, "to the brightest and most fascinating little being that ever turned a wise man's head. And an heiress, too, for she is an only child, and her father is as rich as a Jew."

"I don't want to be introduced to her," was the reply. "The less I see of such people the better I like it."

I suppose it is Miss Delany?" said Father Carroll. "I heard something about her. She has got an immense deal of polishing at all events."

"And it has not been thrown away nor has it spoiled her in the least," returned Edmund. "But, by the way, I'm told Mary Kearney has turned out a downright beauty. My little sister Grace says I must marry her. She is twenty times handsomer, Grace says, than Minnie Delany. But I always thought her sister Anne would be a finer girl."

"I have not seen them for a long time," said Father Carroll. "I'm in the black books with their mother, it is so long since I paid her a visit. Father Hannigan told me she was saying to him that the world was gone when one's own flesh and blood will forget you and pass by your door without inquiring whether you are dead or alive. In fact, I got what Barney Brodherick calls 'Ballyhooly' from her. 'After getting him the best servant in the three counties,' said she, never as much as to say "Thank you!"' I'm quite afraid to show my face to her. I suppose you have met Richard in Dublin?"

"Yes, we had some pleasant evenings at his uncle's. He will soon be a full-blown surgeon. I am promising myself a few days' shooting with Hugh shortly, and, if you could manage to come while I am there, I'll make your peace with Mrs. Kearney, as I am a great favourite of hers."

"Do you know any of them, Arthur?" Father Carroll asked.

"No, I never met any of them," he replied. "But I often heard of them."

"Come," said Edmund, pushing away his plate, "let us go out and look about us. Do you ever venture into Major French's grounds? I'd like to get a nearer view of those nymphs I caught a glimpse of as I was coming in. Unless it be that 'distance lends enchantment to the view,' they are worth looking at."

"Yes, we can cross the river by the weir," returned Father Carroll. "There is a place there in a grove of large fir-trees called the Priest's Walk. Poor Father Cleary was accustomed to read his Office there for more than forty years; and it is even whispered that he may be met there still on a moonlight night. It was there his niece and her husband always walked, too, Mrs. Hayes tells me. But, according to Tom Doherty, there are other associations of not quite so innocent a character connected with the Priest's Walk; particularly one in which a French governess figures."

"Oh, let us go to the place at once," exclaimed Edmund, tossing his white hat carelessly on his brown curls, "and you can tell the story of the governess; and who knows but we may catch a glimpse of the old priest and his beautiful niece? I wish I could believe in such things."

"Just wait till I tell Tom Doherty that we are to start early in the morning. But what do you say to a glass of punch before going out?"

"Oh, wait till we come back, and sitting in that old chair I'll drink the health of all true lovers, and sympathizing uncles, who, like kind, old Father Ned, will let them be happy."

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