Knocknagow - CHAPTER V.

CHAPTER V.

THE DOCTOR MAKES HIMSELF COMFORTABLE.

 

"I FEAR, Mr. Lowe," said Mary, "you will be put to some inconvenience to-morrow, as we are to have the Station."

"What is that?" he inquired.

"Oh, don't you know? Well, Catholics go to Confession and Communion at Christmas and Easter. And, in country districts, instead of requiring the people to go to the chapel, the priests come to certain houses in each locality to hear confessions and say Mass. So that our house is to be public property for some hours to-morrow, and I fear you will find it unpleasant. But you can remain in your room; and I suppose you will have no objection to breakfast with the priests?"

"By no means," he replied, "it will be a pleasure. Shall we have the gentleman who preached that remarkable sermon?"

"Oh, of course. He is our parish priest, Father M'Mahon. He is a most charitable man, and almost adored by the people. It is commonly said that when Father M'Mahon dies he will not have as much money as will bury him. I must warn you, however, that you will find him reserved. and you may be tempted to think him haughty. But it is only his manner."

"He looks awfully proud, at all events," said Grace.

"He astonished us all a few weeks ago," Mary continued, "by making this peculiarity the subject of his discourse from the altar."

"He began in such an extraordinary way," said Grace. "I was very near being obliged to laugh."

"Very near?" said Mary. "Why, you did laugh; and it was really too bad for a sensible young lady like you."

"I could not help it. Only think, Mr. Lowe, the first word he said was—'Ye say I have a proud walk.' And then he went on to explain to them in the most earnest manner, that when they thought he was walking proudly, he was, perhaps, not thinking of himself at all. 'Indeed,' he said, I never knew until lately that I had a proud walk. And I fear it is too late to try to correct it now. 'tis hard to break an old dog of his trot.' Sure everybody laughed then."

"It was a most instructive discourse," said Mary.

Oh, of course," replied Grace. "And it must have been very consoling to people who give themselves airs, as we are not by any means to infer from the said airs that they are not all humility in their hearts. But I hope it is Father Hannigan Mr. Lowe will have an opportunity of hearing to-morrow."

"Yes, I think it is not unlikely, as Father M'Mahon has not been strong for some time back, and one of the curates usually says Mass now at the Stations. You can have no idea, Mr. Lowe, what an amount of labour an Irish priest has to go through."

"I can imagine it must be very considerable from what you tell me," Mr. Lowe observed.

"Come, Grace," said Mary, "the Rosary."

Hugh stood up, and went with them to the kitchen, as he always, when at home, "headed" the Rosary.

Instead of summoning the servants to prayers in the parlour it is the general custom, among Irish Catholics of the middle class, for the master and mistress of the house with their children and guests — unless the latter should happen not to be Catholics — to "say the Rosary" in the kitchen.

In Hugh's absence the duty of beginning and ending the Rosary — the same person always "heads" and " finishes" — fell to Mrs. Kearney or Mary; which was looked upon as a grievance by Barney and some of the other servants.

"I'd always like to have Mr. Hugh to head the Rosary," Barney used to say. "He never puts trimmin's to id like Miss Mary and the mistress."

During the Rosary Richard and the stranger lighted their cigars in Hugh's room, and had a pleasant talk — the doctor as usual having the lion's share. His volubility was considerable; but though people generally found it pleasant enough to listen to him — young ladies particularly — it was not easy to tell what it was all about after.

Hugh came in with a large book under his arm, and seemed unprepared for the honour that had been done him.

Mr. Lowe was standing by the fire, with his elbow on the chimney-piece. The doctor had his two heels on it, and reclined in a curious old arm-chair at the other side of the fire.

"We're just talking," said the latter, "of what we are to do with ourselves to-morrow. Mr. Lowe votes for the snipe."

"Very well," Hugh replied, "I'll have everything ready; but you must be satisfied with a single-barrel."

"Oh, 'tis all the same, except that I can't make so much noise. Curious," continued the doctor, contemplatively, "that there are some things that some people can't do. Though I blaze away, the birds don't fall. I generally forget that there is anything required but to pull the trigger. Or when it does occur to me that I must take aim, somehow I first think of my feet — a graceful attitude you know. And before I am all right the bird is a mile away. And then I fire."

"You can ride better than you can shoot," said Mr. Lowe. "Pretty well at the riding; but I never could do that either, like Hugh. The cursed attitudinizing ruins me there, too. Do you remember Kathleen Hanly? "he asked, turning to his brother.

"Yes, I remember," Hugh replied, laughing.

"Oh, 'tis misery to think of it," the doctor continued, taking his feet from the chimney-piece, and thrusting his hands in the pockets of his shooting jacket.

"What was it?" Mr. Lowe asked.

"The prettiest girl in the country," replied the doctor, "I'll show you where she lives to-morrow,"

"Well?" said Mr. Lowe.

"Oh, you want to know all about it. Well, Hugh and I were out schooling one day, and I caught a glimpse of Kathleen walking up and down by a hedge not far from where we were. There was a wall about three feet high near where she was walking; and I thought I might as well ride down by the ditch and take a jump over the wall. I waited till she had turned at the end of her walk, and came on at the wall in a canter. I was thinking of a picture in one of Lever's novels, and my only regret was that the wall was not five instead of three feet high. Just as I was coming to the jump, it occurred to me that my left elbow was not at the proper angle. So I glanced at it and turned it more in — forgetting the necessity of keeping my seat and everything else but the elbow and Kathleen."

The doctor paused and looked at the lighted end of his cigar, as if it were the miniature of a departed friend.

"Well, what happened? " said Mr. Lowe.

"Well, I was spun," replied the doctor, with a sigh, "out between his two ears. I resolved to get out of a window in the middle of the night, and run away and enlist in a regiment under orders for India. But I changed my mind."

The doctor looked again at the ashes of his cigar, and shook his head.

"Kathleen said afterwards," he resumed, "that she always thought of me with my heels in the air. Back view, you know. And my legs are rather long."

The doctor took a last look at the ashes of his cigar, and flung the butt into the fire. He then stood up, and taking a cigar-case from the chimney-piece, carefully selected the best one in it for himself.

"Have a cigar? " said he, presenting one to Mr. Lowe; which was very civil, seeing that the case and its contents belonged to Mr. Lowe himself.

"Do you know," said the doctor, turning to his brother, after resuming his place in the arm-chair, "we may as well make ourselves comfortable."

"By all means," replied Hugh, tearing the corner off a newspaper, and offering it to him to light his cigar.

"Hold on, old boy," said the doctor.

He left the room and returned in a few minutes, with a decanter in one hand and a sugar-bowl in the other. Placing them on the table, he rather surprised Mr. Lowe by producing three tumblers and a wine-glass from the pockets of his shooting-coat. He then sat down, with his feet on the fender, and poked the fire. While thus employed, a servant came in with a kettle, which the doctor took with his disengaged hand, and spilled a little of the water under the grate to see that it was boiling.

"All right, Judy," said he. "Mum's the word."

"Yes, sir," the girl replied, and left the room,

The doctor then mixed a stiff tumbler for himself, and motioned to Hugh and Mr. Lowe to follow his example; which they did.

Having lighted his cigar, he turned sideways in his chair, throwing one of his long legs over the other, and said:

"Now Hugh, your opinion is worth having on most subjects. But I want your opinion now on a subject, of which so far as ever I could see, you have had no personal experience."

"What is it? " Hugh asked.

"Love," replied the doctor, commencing to puff so vigorously that he was soon enveloped in a cloud.

"Well, what about it?"

"Do you believe in first love and love at first sight and all that sort of thing?

"Of course, if there's love at all, there must be first love to begin with. And," he added, after a pause, "I rather think love at first sight is not an impossibility."

"But is the first love the true love? The 'never forget, you know, and so forth?'"

"I don't think so. It may or may not."

"The fact is, you think there is no limit to the number of times a man may be really in love?"

"Well, I do believe a man may be really in love more than once in his life. But I'll tell you what I believe," he continued, after a pause. "I believe it is the destiny of many to love once, or meet somebody whom they feel they could have loved as they never loved before and never can love again."

"But they can love again!" said Mr. Lowe, who began to feel interested in the conversation.

"Yes, certainly," replied Hugh. "A man can love again, and be happy in the love of another. But it will not be the same kind of happiness as might have been his."

"Do you think this higher sort of happiness is the lot of many? I fancy, in the majority of cases, people must be satisfied with the secondary kind of happiness you allude to."

"Yes, I think so, too," replied Hugh.

"And why so?" Richard asked, as he took the kettle from the fire, and poured the boiling water carefully on the lumps of sugar in his tumbler. "Why should they not be supremely blessed?"

And while pouring in the whiskey after the water, the doctor sang in a pleasing voice:

"Our life should resemble one long day of light,

And our death come on holy and calm as the night."

"'Tis easily accounted for," replied Hugh. "The feeling may not be mutual; and even when it is, how many insurmountable obstacles may be in the way? But if it ever does happen, that a man or a woman can love only once, it is when two spirits rush together in this way, and are then parted by death, or some other cause that does not involve weakness of any kind on the part of either."

"Now, did a case of this kind ever come within your knowledge?"

"Yes," Hugh replied. "I know of one such case. And it is what I have observed in this instance that has made me think about the matter at all."

"You seem to think," said Mr. Lowe, "that reciprocity is necessary to give immortality to the sentiment, if I may so express what I mean to convey."

"I am inclined to think," Hugh replied, "that without that it will die a natural death."

"Have you been taking large doses of poetry of late? said Richard. "It would scarcely surprise me to find some tender stanzas in this." And he opened the ledger which Hugh had laid on the table.

"And that would be getting blood from a turnip," said the doctor, as he turned over the leaves. "But do you really keep your accounts in this way? I thought it was only merchants did that."

"And why should not manufacturers?

"Manufacturers? Do you mean that you are a butter maker?"

"And a manufacturer of arable land," said Hugh.

"That's nonsense," said the doctor, who had a dim recollection of a lecture on political economy which he had heard some time before. "Land cannot be manufactured."

"Well if I were writing a treatise on the subject I might hesitate to use the expression; and yet it could, I think, be defended."

"You mean a producer," said Richard, pedantically.

"No, that would not express my meaning. I'll show you an example of it to-morrow."

Richard commenced rubbing his chin with a rather serious expression of face, as he ran his eye down a column of figures. He opened his eyes and his mouth on coming to the "carried forward," and was about finding the page when Hugh glanced over his shoulder, and said:

"Come, shut it up. You will look in vain for a stanza of any sort," Saying this, Hugh shut the book and pushed it away.

The fact was the doctor had lighted upon a page where sundry sums were entered, which he himself had received in the shape of half notes and post-office orders; and his brother good-naturedly wished to prevent him from seeing what would be a very forcible illustration of the proverb that "many a little makes a muckle."

The doctor took up a note which slipped from between the leaves of the account-book and read it. It ran thus:

"DEAR HUGH — Send me five pounds by return like 'the quintessence concentrated of a sublimated brick,' as you are. I was obliged to pop my watch last night. Particulars in my next, — Yours,

"DICK."

The author of this pithy production shook his head gravely, and, folding the paper, was about lighting another cigar with it, but changing his mind, he took a short pipe from his pocket and lighted that instead.

"I believe," said he, "I have been a little improvident in my time. But you have no idea how economical I have become. I got eleven bob from a Jew for two pair of trousers and an old coat," Here he pulled vigorously at his pipe till it was well kindled, and threw what remained unburned of the note into the fire. "And bought a second-hand clarionet at the back of the Bank," he added. "I'll give you a tune as soon as I get a new reed. Keating has given me some lessons."

He smoked on with a placid look, evidently deriving exquisite pleasure from the contemplation of his economy, as well as from the weed, which he seemed to economise, too, so tiny were the wreaths that glided from between his lips.

Hugh thought it well to take advantage of this virtuous mood, and suggested the advisability of retiring to rest. The doctor took Mr. Lowe's arm and conducted him to his room. And, after embracing that gentleman affectionately six times, he retired to his own apartment.

Hugh made an entry or two in his account book; and after totting up a column of figures at one side, and comparing the amount with the sum total of a shorter account at the opposite side, he shook his head doubtfully, and closed the book. Opening his desk, he took out a letter and read it over. It was from Sir Garrett Butler to his father, referring him to his agent, Mr. Isaac Pender, on the subject of renewing the lease.

"I fear," he thought, as he put the letter back into the desk — "I fear that there is foul play somewhere. And yet this old man is said to be so simple and kind-hearted it is hard to suspect him. But Pender and his hopeful son are a bad pair. Well, there's nothing to be gained by brooding over it, Let me think of something else."

He was startled out of what was evidently a pleasant reverie, by a noise, which, after a moment's thought, he concluded was the death-shriek of an unlucky goose. Reynard was unusually active at that season, and he resolved upon going out and setting the dogs upon his track. But the sound being repeated in a somewhat less excruciating key, he smiled and proceeded to his brother's room.

The doctor, with his coat and one boot off, was in the act of unscrewing the mouth-piece from the second-hand clarionet.

"D—n it!" be exclaimed, examining it with a solemn look, "I can get no good of it."

Then putting the instrument, without the mouth-piece, to his lips, he hummed, "Believe me if all those endearing young charms," through it, with great feeling.

"Dick," said his brother, "have you a mind to disturb the whole house? Do you know 'tis past twelve o'clock?

"All right," said the doctor, with a jerk of his head side ways. And he dropped softly into "Nora Creena."

"Come, go to bed, and don't make a fool of yourself."

"Hugh, isn't Kathleen Hanly a devilish pretty girl?"

"Decidedly. But what's the use of freezing for her? Go to bed and dream about her."

The doctor was so struck with the wisdom of this suggestion that he pulled off the other boot with extraordinary quickness and energy; evidently bent upon following his brother's advice without the loss of a moment.

Mr. Henry Lowe had his reveries, too.

"No, no," he thought "it cannot be anything of that sort."

He was thinking of the tracks in the snow, which Grace accounted for so logically.

But even Grace's "solution of the mystery" was not altogether satisfactory to Mr. Henry Lowe.

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