Knocknagow - CHAPTER LVI.

CHAPTER LVI.

THE WHITE JACKET.

THE Sunday afternoons were growing longer and longer, and Mat Donovan's visits to the little house under the hill were more frequent than they had been for a long time before. He saw Hugh Kearney's fishing-rod, which he had repaired for him in "first-rate style," on the wall with Phil Morris's own old rod, which was never taken to pieces, and stretched its tapering length nearly the whole cross of the kitchen, with the wheel line wound up till the knot on the end just touched the ring on the top of the rod. So that, while Hugh Kearney was screwing his rod together and passing the line through the rings, old Phil's flies would be dropping as natural as life, on the currents and eddies of the little stream, and a shout from him would sometimes call Hugh away to secure a good-sized trout with his landing-net. But Hugh Kearney's rod and landing-net over the old weaver's loom never gave Mat Donovan the slightest trouble. We cannot say as much, however, concerning the horse which he now sees standing at Phil Morris's door. And when the young man from the mountain came out of the house and rode away, Mat Donovan felt a sinking of the heart in spite of all he could do. And when he walked in with his "God save all here" there was Bossy with that killing white jacket, which he had not seen since the night of Ned Brophy's wedding, sitting in her grandfather's armchair, and looking very grand indeed, as she said without rising, and almost without turning her head, "How are you this evening?" The white jacket, as Peg Brady afterwards told him, had been taken from the box where it had lain for months, and hastily put on, when Bossy caught sight of the young man from the mountain turning in at the gate; in proof of which Peg produced a little bunch of lavender which fell from the folds of the white jacket on the floor.

"I think," says Peg Brady, with that sly look of hers, "you may take off your jacket now."

Bessy reddened and bit her lips; but said, carelessly, "Well, I believe so," and walked into her room looking handsomer than ever, Mat thought when she came back in her brown stuff dress. Then old Phil stumped in, and Bessy took his fishing-rod and leaped upon a chair to hang it in its usual place. And how graceful she looked with her arms raised as far as they could reach, for the hooks upon which the rod rested were up near the loft. Though the house was a one-storey thatched house, there was a loft to it, upon which, in days gone by, yarn, and pieces of flannel and frieze, and blankets, to a fabulous amount, used to be stowed away. Then Bessy jumped down again, and, looking into the angler's basket, said that Mat should bring the trout to Miss Kearney.

"You have two good red trout there," said old Phil, "but the rest are no great things. The river is not what id used to be, any more than the people. Everything is goin' to the bad. Hugh lost the finest trout I see this many a day, the last day he was over, an' all on account of not takin' his time. You'd think 'twas an elephant he had, he gave him such a dhrag whin he had a right to give him line, an' take him 'asy. There's no fear at all uv Hugh, on'y that when he don't be mindin' himself, an' is took sudden, he's apt to pull too hard an' break his line. An' he depinds too much on the fur flies. He thinks a hare's-ear-an'-yallow ud kill the divil."

Bessy laid the speckled trout into her own basket, having first put in some of the fresh green grass the old angler had wrapped about them.

"I know," says she, "she'd like to send a couple of them to Norah Lahy. And how is she getting on, Mat?"

"I'm afeard she's stalin' away unknownst to the world," Mat replied. "She was never so late in the year before wudout sittin' outside the doore. An' though fine an' soft this week was, she was not sthrong enough to venture out, Honor tells me."

"Is id thrue for certain," old Phil Morris asked, "that Tom Hogan is to be put out?"

"No mistake," Mat answered, "an' 'tis afther knockin' the good out uv every tenant on the property. The rent is riz again on every wan uv 'em except Misther Kearney, an' his laise is not up yet. An' they all say, what chance have they when Tom Hogan is served."

"Did them fellows near you pull down their own houses for a pound a piece, as 'tis said they did?

"They did then exceptin' Billy Heffernan; an' he towld Pender he wouldn't knock the cabin where his mother rocked him in the cradle if a fifty pound note was laid in his hand. Billy has great sperit though he hasn't much talk. They say Tom Hogan would get a thrifle uv money, too, if he'd give up; but I don't think he'd take Maurice Kearney's farm this minute for his own little spot; for, as he says himself, his heart is stuck in id. An' he's goin' on dhrainin' just as if he was as firm as the Rock uv Cashel in id. They must bring the sheriff any way. An' I won't plase 'em either to give up my garden, till I must."

"Are you going to be ejected? " Bessy asked, looking alarmed.

"They can't touch the house an' haggart," returned Mat, "id bein' a freehould. But they're takin' the garden from me to join id to the big farm that's to be med out of Tom Hogan's an' the other three. A man has no chance in Ireland, an' I suppose I must cross the salt wather myse'f as well as another."

"What hurry are you in? " said Bessy, as he rose to go. "Sit down an' tell us all the news."

"I was over lookin' at a horse uv Tom Cuddehy's that got a hurt," he replied, "an' just walked in on my way back."

"And how is Mrs. Cuddehy going on?"

"Very well," Mat replied. "An' her father is givin' every penny of her fortune to Tom, when he seen him act so manly, an' get married, an' pay the priest, an' all, wudout sayin' a word about money. An' ould Paddy is in wud 'em every night in the year, they're always so pleasant. An' so is Ned Brophy. An', faith, Ned can go where he likes, the wife is so well able to look to everything. An' so he walks over to Tom's to have a talk wud the neighbours."

"Is there any truth in the report about Miss Kearney and young Mr. Kiely?"

"I don't say there is. The same talk was about her and Mr. Lowe, an' there was nothin' in id. Mr. Edmund is a fine pleasant young fellow, an' a right good boy," added Mat, emphatically. "I don't know a smarter fellow, to take him at general exercise. The masther made me put two big rocks in the kiln-field to mark the throw again Captain French, an' Edmund has the pueata stalks all thrampled thryin' to put the sledge up to the captain's mark. An' faith he's not far at all from id. But as for Miss Mary, I don't say they have any notion uv wan another. An' so far as goin' on goes, I'd say 'tis Miss Anne an' himself that's pullin' the coard."

"And how is Nancy Hogan?" Bessy asked.

"I never see her in betther spirits," he answered, readily.

"On'y for frettin' afther Jemmy an' the way her father is she'd be as pleasant as ever she was. I b'lieve her ould sweetheart Tom Carey is afther her again."

"He's a mane dog," Phil Morris exclaimed, "afther her father tellin' him a tradesman was no match for his daughter. Bad luck to his impudence, the beggar! the crawler, as Phil Lahy called him. I'm a tradesman, though 'tis little I do at my trade now, an' sorry I'm for id. An' I suppose I could call myself a farmer because I have a spot uv land. But I call myself a tradesman, because I'm proud uv my trade. I gave her father," turning to his granddaughter, "three hundred pounds that I made at my trade. An' if Tom Carey wants a wife let him come for her, an' he'll get her before a farmer any day."

"An' would you give her to a labourin' man?" inquired Peg Brady, who was sitting on the settle, smelling the bunch of lavender that fell from the folds of the white jacket.

"No, I wouldn't," replied the old weaver, turning sharply round, and scowling at her. "What business would a labourin' man have wud her?

Peg Brady bent her head and laughed.

"You ought not to be so hard against Tom Hogan for his prejudices," Bessy remarked, "for you have your prejudices too."

"But a tradesman is as good as any man," returned old Phil.

"And why should not a labouring man be as good, if he is equally honest and intelligent? " Bessy asked.

"Faith," said Mat Donovan good-humouredly, "'tis like the 'Town in danger' in the spellin' book. There's nothin' like leather wud the whole uv 'em."

"I'll go home the short cut, an' give those to Miss Mary," said Mat Donovan, when he and Bessy Morris had reached the gate without exchanging a word.

"Tell her I'll call for the basket myself," said Bessy.

Mat looked up at the old whitethorns, which were now all in their glory, filling the air with perfume, and, after another interval of silence, held out his hand with a smile.

"Good evenin'," said he. "Why don't you ever take a walk down to see my mother? They all say 'tis too proud you're afther gettin'."

"Mat," returned Bessy, holding his hand, and fixing that sad, inquiring look upon him, "are you really thinking of America?"

"Well, I am," he replied. " There's many raisons for id. But I have nothin' decided on yet."

"You won't go without telling me at all events?

"Well, if I go at all, I b'lieve I'll slip away wudout takin' my lave uv any one. 'Twould break my heart."

"If you do go, you won't forget to write to me, if you hear anything about my father?"

"Begor, Bessy," he replied, "I'd walk from wan end uv America to the other if I thought I could find your father for you."

"Good evening," said she, with her eyes still fixed upon his face. He opened the gate, and, bending down her head, with a smile and a slight blush, she passed in, and returned to the house without looking back.

Peg Brady was strolling along the road with her hands clasped behind her back, looking up at the clouds.

"Are you comin' down?" Mat asked.

"No," she replied. "I on'y took a walk out thinkin' I might meet some uv the girls goin' the short cut to the dance."

"Peg," said Mat, after a pause, "is there anything the matter wud Bessy? She looks paler and thinner than ever I see' her lookin' before."

"Maybe she has raison," returned Peg.

"Raison! " he repeated "For God's sake, what do you mane?"

"Oyeh! You needn't be so frightened. Maybe she's thinkin' uv changin' her condition."

"Oh, is that all? " he asked, with a sigh of relief.

"Did you hear her bachelor is after comin' in for a legacy?

"Sure I did," he replied. " He tould me himse'f. He's no man to be goin' on as he is, when he knows she don't like him."

"Don't be too sure uv that," returned Peg Brady. "He's not a sojer now; he's out uv the army altogether. An' ax Kit Cummins about the fistful uv goold he pulled out uv his pocket t'other evenin'. Faith Kit has fine times while he's lodgin' wud her. The pan is never off uv the fire, an' he sends for a dozen uv porther together."

"He's a fool," returned Mat.

"You don't know what id is to be fond uv a girl," said Peg.

"Well, maybe not," rejoined Mat, "but I'd tear the heart out uv my body before I'd fret the girl I'd be fond uv, an' makin' her the talk uv the counthry, as he's doin'."

Peg Brady laughed, and, wheeling round, continued her stroll back again towards the house.

"Give my love to Barney," she called out.

"All right," returned Mat, as he jumped over the fence to make a short cut to Maurice Kearney's. He started on seeing a man sitting, or rather lying, behind the fence. It was the dragoon. However, he walked on without pretending to see him; but his face flushed crimson, and, clenching his hand, he muttered "The divil a thing I'd rather be doin' than whalin' the mane dog. When he knows she hates the sight uv him, what right have he to be persecutin' her this way?

When he reached the hill from which Hugh Kearney watched Dr. Kiely's carriage as it disappeared in the distance, Mat Donovan turned round to take another look at the "little house under the hill," and started on seeing the dragoon in conversation with a woman near the gate.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, after looking at them for some time, "she has a light-coloured gown on her. 'Tis Peg Brady."

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