Knocknagow - CHAPTER XI.



IT is right that we should follow the two gentlemen with whom we parted some hours ago on their way back from the old castle. Mass was nearly over when they arrived at the cottage; and Richard quieted his conscience for losing it, by persuading himself that his absence was a case of necessity.

A table in the hall, raised to sufficient height by means of two chairs, upon the backs of which it rested, served the purpose of an altar.

Mr. Lowe was again struck by the fervour of the people, who filled the hall and kitchen, while not a few knelt on the frozen ground outside the hall-door. He was not a little surprised to see Hugh Kearney, officiously assisted by Phil Lahy, "serving Mass."

Piloted by Richard, he got into the hall, the people making way for them as they went on, into the parlour, where Father O'Neill was still hearing confessions.

Mr. Lowe sat in the window seat next the door, where he could see the altar and the officiating clergyman. He saw that he was too late for the sermon he was so anxious to hear, as Father Hannigan was in the act of taking off his vestments.

But though Father Hannigan had delivered his regular discourse after the first gospel, it was his habit to address a few homely words to the people at the conclusion of the Mass, upon what we may call local and individual topics. He now turned round and began, in his deep big voice, with:

"Now, what's this I was going to say to ye?"

He pressed the fore-finger of his left hand against his temple, as if trying to recall something that had escaped his memory. Mr. Lowe thought he was about giving up the attempt in despair, when he suddenly jerked up his head, exclaiming

"Ay! ay! ay! D'ye give up stealing the turf in the name o' God!"

"Everyone," he continued after a pause, "must steal turf such weather as this that hasn't it of their own. But sure if ye didn't know it was wrong, ye wouldn't be telling it to the priest. And ye think it would be more disgraceful to beg than to steal it. That's a great mistake. No dacent man would refuse a neighbour a hamper of turf such weather as this. And a poor man is not a beggar for asking a hamper of turf such weather as this when he can't get a day's work, and the Easter water bottles bursting. Ye may laugh; but Judy Manogue stopped me on the road yesterday to know what she ought to do. Her bottle of Easter water that she had under her bed was in a lump of ice, and the bottle a big, black bottle that often gave some of ye a headache an' maybe twasn't without giving more of you a heartache before Judy took my advice and gave up that branch of her business: well, the big, black bottle was split in two with the fair dint of the frost under the poor woman's bed. And the Lord knows no Christian could stand without a spark of fire to keep the life in him let alone looking at a houseful of children shivering and shaking, and he able and willing to work, and not a stroke of work to be got. But ye all know that stealing is bad, and ye ought fitter make your cases known to the priest, and maybe something might be done for ye. Pride is a good thing dacent, manly pride and 'twill often keep a man from doing a mane act even when he's sorely tempted. Sperit is a good thing. But, take my word for it, there's nothing like HONESTY. And poverty, so long as it is not brought on by any fault of his own, need never bring a blush to any man's cheek. So, in the name o' God, d'ye give up stealing the turf."

Here he paused, and Phil Lahy, supposing the discourse ended, advanced with a bowl of holy water with a kind of brush laid across it, for the purpose of sprinkling the congregation before they dispersed. But Father Hannigan motioned him back and proceeded.

"Father O'Neill is against the beagles. He says 'tis a shame to hear the horn sounding, and see ye scampering over ditches and hedges on the Lord's Day. Well, I don't know what to say to that. 'Tis the only day ye have for diversion of any sort. And as long as ye are sure not to lose Mass, I won't say anything against the beagles. The farmers tell me they don't mind the loss to them to let their sons keep a dog or two. And if ye meet after Mass mind, I say, after divine service I don't see much harm in it. I'm told, too, the gentlemen of the neighbourhood that is, such of them as are gentlemen don't object to it, as ye are honourable sportsmen and spare the hares. But then there's the hurling. There's a deal of bad blood when ye hurl the two sides of the river. If there's any more of the work that was carried on at the last match, ye'll be the disgrace of the country, instead of being, as ye are, the pride of the barony. 'Tis given up to the Knocknagow boys to be as spirited and well-conducted as any in the county. Didn't I point ye out to the Liberator himself the day of the Meeting, and he said a finer body of men he never laid his eyes on. Such men, said be, are the bone and sinew of the country. Some of the best boys ye had are gone since that time, short as it is "

Here there was a murmur amongst the women; and a low, suppressed wail from two or three whose sons had but lately emigrated, made him pause for a moment.

"Well," he continued, shaking his head as the low wail died away; "thank God the crowbar brigade didn't pay ye a visit like other places; and I hope there is no danger of it, as the landlords here are not exterminators like some I could mention. I was in Cloonbeg the other day at a funeral I was curate there six years ago 'twas the first parish I was sent to after being ordained, and it broke my heart to see the change. I could hardly believe 'twas the same place. The people swept away out of a whole side of a country, just as if 'twas a flood that was after passing over it. I married some of 'em myself and christened their children, and left 'em happy and comfortable. 'Tis little I thought I'd ever pass the same road and not find a human face to welcome me. Well, please God, there's no danger of ye that way, at any rate. And yet, sure, 'tis little security ye have but I won't say anything that might discourage ye."

Father Hannigan turned toward the altar, and Phil Lahy was again advancing with the holy water; but after taking a pinch of snuff he resumed his address:

"I want ye to keep up the good name ye have. And talking of funerals reminds me of your conduct at the berrin' of that poor man ye brought to Kilree the week before last. 'Twas a charitable thing to carry him thirteen long miles through the teeming rain, and I know ye had pains in your shoulders next morning after him. 'Twas a charitable thing to lay his poor old bones alongside of his wife and children, as it was his last wish though he hadn't a chick or child living belonging to him. I say that was a charitable, Christian, Irish act and may God reward ye for it. But that was no excuse for the way ye behaved. The parish priest of Kilree said such a set never came into his parish. And ould Peg Naughton, that keeps the shebeen house at the church, declared to myself that, though she is there goin' on fifty-two years, 'twas the drunkenest little funeral she ever laid her eyes on. Isn't that a nice cha-rac-ter ye're aiming for yourselves? But I hope now ye'll remember my words. And now I have one request to ask of you. I want ye to promise me that ye'll dig the Widow Keating's stubbles for her. She hasn't a sowl to do a hand's turn for hem since her boy lost his health. Will ye promise me now that as soon as the weather is fitting ye'll dig the Widow Keating's stubbles? 'Tis short 'twill take ye if ye all join together."

"We'll do id, sir," "We will, sir, never fear," was answered all round.

"That's right, boys. And now any of ye that's very badly off, come to Father M'Mahon or myself and tell your story, and don't be ashamed. There's a little money collected for cases of distress in the town. And as the Major has subscribed ten pounds, and we're writing to Sir Garrett Butler for a subscription and 'tisn't easy to know where to write to him" glancing towards the parlour window 'tis only fair that cases of hardship on their own property should be looked after. I may as well tell ye, too, the Major sent Father M'Mahon a quarter of beef for Christmas. There's not a finer quarter of beef in Munster this minute. 'Twould do your heart good to look at it."

And abruptly seizing the brush, he dipped it in the holy water, and swung his arm round so vigorously and dextrously in all directions that even the gentleman at the parlour window came in for a share.

The people now dispersed, and Mr. Lowe was conducted to the breakfast room, and formally introduced to the three clergymen.

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