Knocknagow - CHAPTER XIX.



GRACE was taking her place at the piano, when Mary whispered to her that she herself would play for the dancers — an arrangement which Grace liked very well. But she looked quite offended when she saw that Mr. Lowe and the doctor had already engaged the two Miss Hanlys; and Hugh was compelled by the exigencies of the case to offer his arm to the formidable Miss Lloyd.

"Stand up, sir," said Rose Hanly to her brother. And Lory and Grace completed the set.

"Are you long here?" Lory asked.

"Some weeks," she replied, after involuntarily moving half-a-yard away from him.

"Will you stay much longer?

"I can't say."

"Come with me," said Lory confidentially, "and I'll show you places you never saw before."

She stared at him with unfeigned astonishment.

"I'll show you a cave," he continued, "that very few know about."

"Oh!" was her only reply. And the idea of a cave, taken in connection with her partner's voice, gave her a vague sort of impression that he lived under ground, and only visited his friends during the holidays. She looked at him more curiously than she had yet done, and thought his costume rather strengthened this notion. His coat, for instance, was evidently made for him when he was about half his present size. It was much too narrow in the shoulders; the sleeves did not reach far below the elbows; the buttons behind were half-way up his back; and the skirts fell considerably short of the extremity of the spine. On the other hand, his trousers, of grey cotton tweed, was distressingly new and shiny, and very much too large; the tailor, warned no doubt by the example of the coat, seeming to have left him "ample room and verge enough" to expand into a colossus, if he were so minded —particularly about that portion of his person which the coat-skirts seemed to be straining every thread to cover, but only partially succeeded. So that Grace fancied she saw in her partner the upper half of a small boy joined to the lower half of a stout man.

She was soon struck by another peculiarity, which both surprised and distressed her. When it came near their turn to begin the figure, Lory's legs began bending and straightening at the knees. With his neck stretched forward, and staring wildly at the opposite wall, he worked up and down spasmodically to the time of the music.

Grace thought at first that the soles of his boots had, by some unaccountable means, been glued to the floor, and that he was exciting all his strength to get them free. In fact, it seemed absolutely necessary that Lory should pump himself for a minute or two before he could set off. And this getting up of steam was more frequent than usual in consequence of Hugh's ignorance of quadrilles — and Miss Lloyd was not the sort of partner to set him right.

The doctor, who was opposite to his brother and Miss Lloyd, was greatly annoyed by these blunders; and as he seldom thought of consulting other people's wishes when his own were to be gratified, he coolly took Grace by the hand and transferred her to Hugh, handing back Miss Lloyd to Lory, who, by merely asking "did she like quadrilles?" almost precipitated her into Maurice Kearney's lap.

This exchange of partners so bewildered Miss Lloyd, that the dance was over before she could fully realize her position.

Grace hung upon Hugh's arm, glad to escape from her late partner; and her quick eye did not fail to observe that the exchange was very welcome to Hugh too. He drew her out about Davis and other kindred subjects; but she never lost sight of the business in hand, and piloted him so deftly that there were no more mistakes till the dance was concluded.

"Wonders will never cease," said she to Mary, as she fanned herself with her handkerchief. "Fionn Macool can make himself agreeable."

"It would be strange if he could not," Mary replied, with a thoughtful smile.

The evening passed very pleasantly. Everyone who could sing, did sing — including Maurice Kearney himself, who gave them the "Cruiskeen Lawn," in excellent style. Other dances followed the first; and a polka with Sir Garrett Butler's nephew made even Miss Lloyd supremely happy.

When they reached home, the Miss Hanlys and their visitor — according to universal custom — discussed the merits of the people with whom they had spent the evening.

Kathleen was outspoken in praise of the doctor; and Miss Lloyd agreed in all she said in his praise. And Kathleen as fully shared Miss Lloyd's ecstasies on the subject of Mr. Lowe.

"Even if you separate his features," said Miss Lloyd, "he is a singularly handsome man. And what lovely hair he has!"

"Yes," replied Kathleen, "his hair is very nice."

"And," exclaimed Miss Lloyd, clasping her hands together and turning up her eyes fervently, "did you ever see such feet with mortal?"

"Ye may talk," said Rose, who leant on the table with her hand pressed against her forehead, as if she were suffering from headache — "ye may talk, but I'd rather have one honest smile from Hugh Kearney than all the blandishments of your elegant young man."

'Pon my word," replied Kathleen, opening her eyes very wide, "whatever may be thought of your taste, I cannot help admiring your candour."

"Yes, I am candid," Rose rejoined, rather crossly; "and that's more than other people are."

The bewitching Kathleen got very red, and an angry look flashed from her eyes; but she only stooped down, and, snatching up her lap-dog from the hearth-rug, began to fondle it assiduously.

"It really surprises me," said Miss Lloyd, "how some ladies will openly express their preferences for young men."

"I always do," retorted Rose. "Don't you?"

"Well, Miss Hanly, I never forget that I am a gentlewoman." And Miss Lloyd laid great stress on the word gentlewoman; which was not very ladylike, however gentlewomanly, seeing that she meant to remind her friends that their claims to gentility — in her sense of the word — were not quite as strong as her own.

"Well," rejoined Rose, who did not want pluck. "I can't boast of much of your acquaintance. But from all I have heard of you, I am under the impression that you are in the habit of coming out pretty strong with regard to your preferences for young men — and old ones too," added Rose — we fear in allusion to the widower.

Miss Lloyd turned away in disdain, and resumed her conversation with Kathleen, who became quite tender and sentimental about "Poor Richard," as she affectionately called the doctor.

And Miss Lloyd certainly did not practise what she preached, for she did come out very strong indeed in praise of Mr. Lowe.

The next day, when her sisters inquired how she liked her new acquaintance, Miss Lloyd put her handkerchief to her eyes, and bursting into a flood of tears, declared that she was "as fond of him as she was of her life."

Before going to bed, Maurice Kearney insisted upon having a comfortable glass by the fire with his guest.

"Pender is to come again to see you to-morrow," said he. "He had a letter from your uncle."

"Indeed!" exclaimed the young gentleman, looking rather blank. It flashed upon him that he had already spent — he could not, at the moment, remember how many days — on his uncle's Tipperary estate, and knew as much about it as the man in the moon.

"I wonder," continued Maurice Kearney, "did he say anything about the lease?"

"I really cannot imagine," replied his guest, absently. And, at that moment, Mr. Lowe could imagine nothing except that Mary Kearney was the most angelic being in creation.

"Times are changed," added the host, thoughtfully. "I expect he will allow me for the drainage. I wish he'd come to see the place himself. I could show him forty acres of nice land where I found him the day he sprained his knee, with his horse sunk up to the girths in a shaky bog. I lost a hatful of money by it."

"You lost more than the fee-simple is worth," said Hugh.

"I don't know how much I lost by it," replied his father, rubbing his head uneasily; "but when I began, I didn't like to stop and throw the men out of employment."

"I can tell you what you lost by it," said Hugh.

"Poor Mr. Butler," Mrs. Kearney observed, "suffered a great deal from that accident. We had him here for six weeks. But he was as gentle as a child, and when he began to get ease from the pain he desired me to write for my Uncle Dan; and sure so I did, and he brought his violin, and Mr. Butler sent for his flute; and 'twas beautiful to listen to them. 'Twas the year after he was shipwrecked coming from abroad. And when the poor dear gentleman went away, the house was quite lonesome after him. Richard was born in the month of March after. And sure, I suppose," added Mrs. Kearney, contemplatively, "that's the reason he has such a taste for music."

Hugh had left the room unobserved, and now appeared with his ledger, and, laying it on the table, he began turning over the leaves.

"For God's sake shut that book — I hate the sight of it," exclaimed his father, with a gesture of impatience.

"I thought you wanted to know what the drainage cost," said Hugh.

"I don't want to know it. What good would it do me to know it? And sure a man couldn't do anything if he was to keep an account of every penny that way."

Hugh smiled, and put the obnoxious book out of sight. "Good night, Mr. Lowe!" exclaimed Maurice Kearney, jumping suddenly from his chair in quite a lively manner. "I'm going to the fair to-morrow, and must be half-way to C— before daybreak."

"Ah, then," said his wife, "will you try and get a match for that cup Miss Lloyd broke? And I'm afraid you can't. I wouldn't wish it for anything."

"I will — I will," he replied." Tell Norry to give it to Tom Maher, and let him remind me of it."

"I'm surprised she should be so awkward," continued Mrs. Kearney, returning to her grievance. "But it was all that young Hanly's fault. I declare he frightened the life out of me."

Mrs. Kearney remained buried in thought for a minute, and then added, solemnly:

"Don't be talking; but he has a terrible throat!"

This allusion to Lory elicited so loud a laugh from Hugh, that the doctor, who had been asleep in an arm-chair, started up and rubbed his eyes.

"There's eleven striking, Richard," said his mother, "and you are tired, and ought to go to bed."

"It is time for us all to go," Hugh remarked.

And he and Mr. Lowe and the doctor retired each to his own room.

But Hugh hurried on before the doctor, and thrust the second-hand clarionet under the bed, lest the idea of the fair Kathleen operating upon that taste for music which his mother had so satisfactorily accounted for, should interfere with the slumbers of the household.

And the clarionet not being in the doctor's way, every soul under Maurice Kearney's roof was resting in peace and quietness when the clock struck twelve.

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