Knocknagow - CHAPTER XII.



IN the matter of breakfast, Mrs. Kearney came out in full force on the occasion of a Station. Even Mr. Lowe could not help taking notice of the display on the table. The antique silver coffee-pot was particularly conspicuous, and it was quite affecting to see the reverential gentleness with which the good woman handled this relic of the O'Carrolls. Her fingers would sometimes play softly on the lid in a manner that caused her husband visible anxiety; for the coffee-pot had been her grandmother's, and was presented to herself at the time of her marriage by her Uncle Dan. A tall urn was equally an object of dread to honest Maurice; and when she was heard to ask Father M'Mahon did he remember the day long ago, when he was a young student, that the urn was upset by Annie Cleary's sleeve being caught by the deer's horns on the lid, a full and true history of Ballydunmore was looked upon as inevitable. But, fortunately, the housekeeper whispered into her ear that a certain cream-jug, which, by right, should have attended the coffee-pot, was forgotten; and the announcement so startled Mrs. Kearney as for the time to put Ballydunmore and the tea-urn completely out of her head.

Father M'Mahon spoke little, and seemed to the stranger reserved, and even haughty.

The reserve of the young curate was of a different sort and evidently arose from bashfulness.

But Father Hannigan had something to say to every one, and Mr. Lowe was not long in discovering that, with all his peculiarities, Father Hannigan was a scholar and a gentleman.

On finding that the stranger had taken his degree in one of the English universities, Father Hannigan engaged him upon some knotty points of classical learning, and the young A.B. soon began to feel not quite at his ease with so able an antagonist.

Grace paid great attention to this learned encounter, and looked so exceedingly wise with her elbow on the table and her chin resting on the little finger of her left hand, that Mary was in doubt whether she did not really understand every word.

"Really, Grace," said she, speaking so low as not to be heard by the gentleman, "one would think you are as familiar with Homer and Virgil and the rest of them as you are with Longfellow and Sidney Smyth, to say nothing of Robinson Crusoe."

"Indeed, no," she replied, with a half-displeased look, and dropping her hand on the table; "but I was remarking that Mr. Lowe pronounces Latin like papa, and Father Hannigan like the 'Brehon.'"

"He picked up that in Trinity College," said Father Hannigan, who sat next her, and heard part of her remark. "That's not the way he pronounced it when he and I read Virgil together in Larry O'Rourke's mud-wall seminary in Glounamuckadhee."

"Oh, perhaps so," replied Grace, not at all pleased that her papa had read Virgil in a mud-wall seminary, and in a place with such a name as Glounamuckadhee.

"Ay, then," continued the priest, with a twinkle in his eye, as if he took pleasure in teasing her; "and every one of us brought a sod of turf under his arm to school during the winter."

Grace looked quite offended, and made no reply.

"I am told," said Mr. Lowe, "that Doctor Kiely is at present writing a work on Irish antiquities."

The eyes of the offended young lady sparkled with pleasure as she fixed them with a look of pleased surprise on the speaker.

"Yes," said she, in a softened tone, "he devotes nearly all the time he can spare from his professional duties to it." "It is a very interesting subject," he added. "I have heard Dr. Kiely's articles spoken highly of."

Grace was so delighted, that Larry O'Rourke's mud-wall seminary and the sods of turf vanished from her mind and left not a trace behind.

"Will you have many weddings this Shrove?" Maurice Kearney asked, turning to the parish priest, who was so absorbed in thought that this sudden address made him start.

"Well," he replied, in his clear, silvery voice, "I fear not. All my boys seem bent upon going elsewhere for wives. I have already given half-a-dozen certificates while as yet I have heard of no one returning the compliment."

"Ned Brophy is getting a fine fortune," said Mr. Kearney. "So I'm told," replied Father M'Mahon; and Mary thought she could see a look of displeasure in his face, which she could not help connecting with the tear she noticed on Nancy Hogan's pale cheek as she was leaving the drawing-room after confession an hour or two before.

"Two hundred gold sovereigns," continued Mr. Kearney "out of an ould saucepan."

This piece of information regarding Ned Brophy's good luck caused a general laugh; the more readily perhaps because it was given with a look of perfect gravity.

"And you would not miss it out of it," he continued, seeming quite unconscious of their mirth.

"Out of what, sir?" Richard asked.

"The saucepan," replied his father; "Ned himself told me so."

"Do you approve of this fortune-hunting, Miss Kearney?" Father M'Mahon asked, turning to Mary.

"No, sir," she replied, blushing deeply, "I don't like it at all."

"And what do you say, Miss Kiely?"

"I really have not thought much on the subject," Grace replied. "But it is by no means unpleasant to be rich. And I'm rather inclined to think there is a good deal of truth in the proverb: 'When poverty enters the door, love flies out at the window.'"

Father M'Mahon leant back in his arm-chair, and laughed a low and somewhat satirical laugh.

I fear," he said, "there is not much love in some of these cases. I am as much opposed as anybody to imprudent marriages. But this buying and selling is a bad business."

"Sure you don't want them to be like the Protestants?" Mrs. Kearney observed reproachfully.

"The Protestants!" Father M'Mahon replied with surprise. How is that?"

"I never knew a Protestant," she replied, "that would not live with a husband on a lough of water."

Father M'Mahon opened his eyes and seemed to want more enlightenment.

"There are the three Miss Armstrongs," continued Mrs. Kearney; "the youngest, to be sure, made a very good match though she hadn't a penny for they were after losing the property before her marriage. But the two eldest girls, with their fine fortunes, married poor men though they were respectable, I know, and sensible, too. One of them, I'm told, is doing well in Dublin; and Mr. Armstrong tells me Fanny said in her last letter from Australia that they expected to come home and purchase an estate in Ireland yet, they are making a fortune so rapidly."

"Mr. Lowe," said Mary, "you ought to make mamma a bow. She has complimented both the ladies and gentlemen of your religion at our expense."

"And look at the Miss O'Dwyers," continued Mrs. Kearney, not heeding the interruption; "the fact is, I believe they'll never get married, as they can find no suitable matches."

It might be better for them to be doing well in Dublin, or even making a fortune in Australia," said Father M'Mahon.

"Is it a fact," Mr. Lowe asked, turning to Hugh, "that Protestants are less hard to be pleased in the choice of wives and husbands than Catholics in Ireland?"

"It does really seem they take the plunge more courageously," replied Hugh. " I have noticed instances of it even among the humbler classes."

"Yes," said his mother, "there is George Hardford, who I gave his daughter to Henry Johnson, the pensioner's son, though he hadn't a trade or anything. Took him into his house and kept him till he got a situation in the jail."

"Ah, that throws some light upon the matter," said Father M'Mahon; "situations of all kinds, high and low, are reserved for the professors of the favoured creed; landlords, too, will give farms at lower rents to Protestants than to Catholics."

"And leases," said Mr. Kearney. "I don't know a Protestant that hasn't a good lease."

"Yes," Father M'Mahon rejoined, "and it would seem the rule will soon be that Catholics will have no leases. And it is this state of dependence, this uncertainty of being able to keep a roof over their heads, that has made marriages the mercenary bargains they often are among us."

"It was not always so," Father Hannigan remarked. "I remember a time, myself, when the man looked more to the woman and less to the fortune than now."

"That is true," said Father M'Mahon. "Leases were general then, and the people were consequently more independent. Emancipation has done us harm in this respect. The sacrifice of the Forty-shilling Freeholders was a great injury to the country."

"Maybe," said Maurice Kearney, "the marriage money has something to do with keeping people from getting married. Ned Brophy tells me the priest will charge twenty pounds for marrying him."

"Well," replied Father M'Mahon with a laugh, "that is not so much, bearing in mind that old saucepan you told us of. But another parishioner of mine tells me his match is broken off altogether on account of the exorbitant demand of the priest. The father of the girl had only fifteen acres of land, and the priest wanted fifteen pounds for marrying his daughter."

"I know all about that case," said Father Hannigan. "He went against the priest at the election."

"That makes the matter worse," rejoined Father M'Mahon. Such practices will have the effect of making the people look upon the priest as a tyrant. But in the parish to which refer, I am assured, as a rule, the farmer must pay half-a year's rent to the priest for marrying his daughter."

"What do you think of the old system of public weddings?" asked Father Hannigan; "when friends and neighbours were invited, and the priest went round with a plate for his collection."

I liked it," replied Father M'Mahon. "Indeed I was looked upon as singular because I did my best to encourage the people to keep up the old system. It made them more social and neighbourly. The priest, too, felt that what he got was given cheerfully. And besides," added Father M'Mahon laughing, "he went home with a heavier purse."

"I remember what you said at the last public wedding we had in this parish," said Mr. Kearney. "'Twas at Tom Donnelly's. The collection was larger than you expected, and when you were thanking them, you said no matter how small the sum might be, they could say, 'Go home now, sir, you are paid'; but that if it was a private wedding you could charge what you liked."

"I dare say some of the bridegroom's friends have often thought of my words since. But I fear we are becoming more genteel and more selfish every day; so perhaps it is as well to make people pay for their gentility."

"I'm told," Maurice Kearney observed, "Tom Brien got the job done in Liverpool for two-and-sixpence. You were in Liverpool, Father O'Neill. How do they manage it there? "

"What you say of Tom Brien is quite true, sir," the young priest replied. "It happened it was I myself performed the ceremony; for Tom said he'd like to have the knot tied by a Tipperary man."

"Ah, then, Father O'Neill," said Mrs. Kearney, "did you ever meet any of the poor Skehans while you were in Liverpool?"

"I did," he replied. "One of the children knew me in the street; and it was I prepared the old woman for death."

"I knew she would not live long," Mrs. Kearney observed; "she was so heart-broken at leaving the 'ould sod,' as she said herself."

"Indeed," Father O'Neill rejoined, "that love of the 'ould sod' evinced itself in what some might consider a ludicrous manner at her last moment."

"How was that?" Father Hannigan asked, seeing the young priest had relapsed into silence.

"Well," he replied, "when I had administered the Sacraments to her, and remained some time by her bedside, I thought I noticed that she wished to say something to me, but hesitated to speak. Whenever I moved, as if to go away, I saw her eyes were fixed anxiously on me; but still she said nothing. So when I was going I asked her was there anything on her mind that was troubling her."

'There is then, sir,' said she; 'but maybe 'tisn't much, an' I oughtn't to be bothering you with it.' "

"I assured her it was no trouble, and desired her to tell me what it was she wished to say."

"'Well, sir,' she said, looking anxiously into my face, 'I'd like to know will my soul pass through Ireland?'"

Mr. Lowe looked surprised and amused; and Grace, who honoured him with a good deal of her attention, uttered an exclamation and laughed. But all the rest were silent.

Mary stole a look at her brother Hugh, who covered his face with his brown hand, and seemed greatly moved. She knew he had special reason to be troubled, and regretted that her mother had introduced a subject which always pained him.

The fact was the Skehans had been under-tenants of his father's, and, though not exactly ejected, were induced to give up their little holding on receiving a trifling sum for the good-will and being forgiven the arrears of rent. The mere suspicion that the landlord wished to get rid of them has driven many an Irish family far away from the "old sod," who loved that old sod even as did the widow Skehan whose last earthly wish was that "her soul might pass through Ireland" on its way to Heaven.

"My God!" exclaimed Father M'Mahon, "how they must suffer!"

He stood up and strode across the room to a window, where he stood gazing at the white hills, with his hands clasped behind his back, for some minutes, and then left the room without taking notice of any one.

"Father M'Mahon," said Mary, "is pondering over some serious subject now."

"How can you tell that?" her brother Richard asked. "Is it because he has forgotten his politeness?"

"Oh, we can all tell that," Grace exclaimed; "didn't you see the proud walk? That's proof positive that his brains are wool-gathering."

But though Father M'Mahon forgot his politeness, he did not forget poor Norah Lahy.

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