Knocknagow - CHAPTER XIII.




"COME," said Richard to Mr. Lowe, "let us prepare for the shooting."

As they passed the lobby window, Mr. Lowe glanced out to the yard, and was astonished to see Barney Brodherick in the act of rushing at Father M'Mahon's servant, evidently with the intention of doing him grievous bodily injury; for Barney was as pugnacious as the celebrated tailor who was "blue moulded for the want of a batin.'"

Tom Maher, however, caught the wrathful Barney in his arms and held him fast.

"Let me at him!" exclaimed Barney imploringly after struggling and kicking to free himself. "Let me at him, an', be the livin', I'll put his two eyes into wan!"

The tall servant regarded him with a scowl, in which scorn was largely mingled.

"Tom, for the love uv heaven, take off uv me, an' I'll break every tooth in his head."

Here Phil Lahy appeared with his prayer-book still in his left hand; and laying his right on Barney's shoulder, he addressed some words to him in a low voice.

Dn well he knows that," replied Barney, almost tearfully, "Dn well the blagard knows I'm in the state of grace to-day. But," he continued, through his clenched teeth, and shaking his fist at the object of his enmity. "but, please God, I won't be in the state of grace always. You Kerry b d," he muttered, as he walked away, "from the County Limerick."

That characteristic bull was received with a shout of laughter from the bystanders. But Mr. Lowe's acquaintance with the geography of Ireland was too limited to enable him to see at once anything ludicrous in calling a man a Kerry anything from the County Limerick.

Owing to the frost the snipe were not as plenty in the bog as usual, except where there were springs.

At one of these places half a dozen rose together, but so far off that Hugh didn't fire. Richard, however, whose practice was to use his own words "to blaze away at everything," let fly, and down came a snipe. The successful marksman looked from one to the other of his companions with a stare of amazement, as if the result of his blazing away on this occasion were something altogether beyond his comprehension.

"You really have winged him," said Hugh.

"Yes, I think so," returned the doctor faintly.

"But," said Hugh, laughing, "you were just pulling the trigger when that one got up ten yards nearer to you that those you fired at."

But the doctor by this time had realized the fact that he had shot a snipe, and the trifling drawback alluded to by his brother did not abate his elation in the least.

He rushed forward, bounding over several bog-holes, reckless of consequences. But just as he reached the stream from which the snipe had risen, the wounded bird sprang several times a few feet from the ground; and, finding these efforts to get upon the wing vain, it ran quickly, with a look of stealthy cunning, its long bill and neck stretched out horizontally, towards a clump of rushes some yards from the bank where it had fallen.

In his eagerness to prevent the prize from escaping, the doctor, instead of leaping the stream as he had leaped the bog-holes, rushed through it, sinking to the hips in the black mud. He managed to drag himself through the weeds and cresses to the opposite side. But when he attempted to climb up the bank, he found one of his legs caught in a bog stump at the bottom of the stream. He pulled and pulled, keeping his eves fixed on the snipe as it made for the rushes, till he had freed his leg, and then jumped upon the firm ground. And now, being sure of his quarry, the doctor waltzed several times round the wounded snipe in a very graceful manner, brandishing the long duck gun over his head. He was rather pleased than otherwise at the loud roar of laughter by which his friends, as he thought, meant to applaud his performance.

He took up the bird and carefully examined the broken wing, as if he found in it an interesting study from a professional point of view. Then throwing off the professional air, and assuming that of the sportsman, he knocked the bird's head against his gun and put it into his pocket with a look of superhuman calmness, as if bagging snipe by dozens of braces were an everyday proceeding with him.

And now it occurred to the doctor that Hugh was rather overdoing the laughing. He took out his powder-horn to load again, feeling comfortably sure of "tumbling" it is to feathered bipeds we apply the word every bird he pointed his gun at during the rest of his life. But, on glancing at his companions, he paused, with his thumb on the spring of his powder-horn in real surprise, for he saw them still convulsed with laughter.

"What the devil do they mean?" he thought, putting his hand in his pocket to make sure that he had a snipe.

His stare of inquiry had such an effect on Hugh that he was obliged to have recourse to his pocket-handkerchief to wipe the tears from his eyes.

"Hang it," exclaimed the doctor, "what are ye laughing at? Is there anything wrong?"

They pointed towards himself; but after looking all around him he could see nothing unusual.

At last he glanced at his feet; and to his utter bewilderment discovered that one of his limbs was as bare as a Highlander's.

The fact was, when extricating himself from the bog stump, he left one of the legs of his trousers behind him.

"I'd recommend you," Hugh called out, "to find the missing article, and draw it on as fast as you can. I see a car coming this way."

"Do you want me to dive for it?" he asked, looking ruefully down among the weeds and cresses.

"'Tis Hanly's phaeton," said Hugh.

The doctor looked towards the road, well-nigh petrified with horror.

Yes, there was the phaeton coming nearer and nearer. A bend in the road would bring it within forty yards of where he stood and not as much as a bush to obstruct the view.

He turned his back to the road; but the thought that the view thus presented would be, if possible, more ridiculous than any other, made him quickly "about face" again. He tried to hide the undraped limb with the single barrel duck gun; but the futility of the attempt became instantly apparent. Equally hopeless was the idea of wheeling slowly round so as to keep the presentable leg towards the carriage as it turned the bend of the road. The sun, too, at that moment burst through its covering of clouds, which had the effect of bringing him out in bolder relief before the eyes of the wondering spectators. He would have sworn he could see the bewitching Kathleen's dark orbs open till the white was visible all round. And then, what was still worse, the pearly teeth flashed from between the rosy lips, and the fair Kathleen's head was thrown back in a manner which placed it beyond all doubt that she was laughing at him.

He thought of flinging himself upon his face or his back, but the bank on which he stood was just sufficiently elevated to render such a proceeding useless. The wild notion of divesting himself of what remained of the unlucky garment crossed his mind; it would be less excruciatingly ridiculous if his legs were matches. But there was no time for even this. There was the phaeton, there were the ladies, passing at the nearest point; and that mischief-loving Rose "infernal," we regret to say, was the epithet he coupled with her name bowing to him with fiendish politeness. And there was Doctor Richard Kearney with the nude limb stretched backwards as far and raised as high as possible like a gander with the cramp returning the salute with the grace for which he was famous among the young ladies of his acquaintance. He actually forgot to drop his hat upon his head, or change his position till the phaeton was out of sight.

And then he cursed his stupidity for never having thought of taking a "header" into a bog-hole, and remaining there with only his nose above water till they had passed.

He might have escaped in that way if he had thought of it in time.

He wiped the perspiration from his brow, and, as he glanced fiercely at his companions, he formed the dreadful wish that his gun were a double instead of a single barrel, that he might share the contents between them. They were still laughing at him.

Becoming more calm, the doctor made his way back to them, and Hugh, in the most unfeeling manner, suggested the advisability of getting home as fast as he could,

"Home!" exclaimed the doctor, "and perhaps meet the Lord knows who on the way. No, I'll run over to Bob Lloyd's and borrow a trousers. Come with me," he continued, turning to Mr. Lowe, "and we'll have pleasanter shooting than here."

"Pleasanter shooting," remarked Hugh, drily. "I hope so."

"Will you come? " the doctor asked.

"No, I'll follow the stream," said Hugh, who was a keen sportsman, and was glad to get rid of them for the rest of the day.

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