Knocknagow - CHAPTER XX.



NEXT day, as the doctor was proposing another walk to the Castle, Barney Brodherick was seen cantering from the avenue gate, mounted upon the little black donkey, Bobby, which he regarded as his own peculiar property.

"Let us wait," said Hugh, "he may have some letters."

Barney rode up to the window, and handed in the letters and newspapers he had brought from the crossroads, where, as usual, he had met the mail-car.

There was a letter for Mr. Lowe.

"I think," Hugh suggested, as he tore off the cover of a newspaper, "you had better read your letter before going out. You may want to reply to it."

The letter was from Mr. Lowe's mother, and as the contents may help us on with our story, we give a few extracts:

"I am very uneasy, my dearest Henry," the lady began, "since I have received a letter from young Mr. Pender, in which he speaks of the dreadful state of the country in that locality. He has been fired at three times during the last fortnight, and would have captured one of the assassins on the last occasion only that his horse took fright and ran away with him. The horse, unfortunately, was a borrowed one, and not accustomed to stand fire. But if he had had his own horse, there can scarcely be a doubt but that he would have made prisoners of at least two of the gang. He could not use his pistols, they set upon him so suddenly, but he felled one of the miscreants to the earth, and the other two took to flight after discharging their blunderbusses at him, but fortunately without effect, except that a slug from one of them lodged in his nose. It has been extracted, and the doctors do not think the wound dangerous. But why do I go on telling you those things when, of course, you know all the particulars of the dreadful affair. He is a very brave young man, but generous to a fault. He begs me not to tell Sir Garrett, lest he should eject all the tenants from the townland where this shocking outrage occurred. For the same reason he has only given a very guarded account of it to the local papers. But of course the whole truth must come out at the trial, when the assassins are arrested, which I think they will be, as Mr. Pender has described them minutely to the police. He thinks it a duty he owes to society to prosecute them to conviction . . . .

Oh, my dear Henry, I have quite changed my mind about the agency. Bad as India is, it is not so bad as a place where such dreadful occurrences could take place in the middle of the noon-day— or what is all the same, for it was not long after sunset in the evening. I will never consent to your exposing your life in such a manner . . .

"Mr. P. speaks of other things which I do not like to allude to in this letter. What sort of people are the Kearneys?—- I mean the younger members of the family. The old man seems good-natured and harmless, and your uncle thinks highly of his wife, at whose hands he says he experienced much kindness long ago; but then he was always so unsuspicious and unworldly, he is apt to view things in the most favourable light. Have you noticed anything peculiar about his eldest son? My dearest Henry, be careful . . . . I understand his daughter is good-looking and has got some education. Well, I know something of the world, and, take my word for it, girls of this kind, particularly when they are educated above their rank, are the most designing creatures in existence. Your poor uncle should be a warning to you. But I ought to beg your pardon for supposing you so simple as to require any warning . . . . Your cousin has not yet returned — I trust you have written to her from the country. I have discovered that there is nothing she admires so much as daring. So, if you want to interest her, give her an account of the perils by which you are surrounded. She is most anxious that her father should settle in that part of the country; and as he humours her in everything, it will not surprise me if he gets possession of Woodlands again, after old Mr. Somerfield's death, as his is the last life in the lease.

You ought to call and see if the place is in good repair. It was a lovely place when I was a girl, and it was there that I spent the happiest days of my life. And if those outrages could be put down — a Coercion Act is talked of — it would be a great pleasure to me to revisit the scenes of my youth. Let me know if Mrs. Lloyd, of Mount Tempe, be alive."

The young gentleman was considerably bewildered by this production. He did not know what to think of it. He seldom gave himself the trouble of thinking about anything. But the allusion to his host's daughter made his cheek flush; and between Mr. Beresford Pender's nose and Mary Kearney's eyes, things were becoming mixed in the mind of Mr. Henry Lowe.

"Unpleasant news," said Grace in a whisper to Mary.

"What is it?" Mary asked, looking at her anxiously.

"I'm sure I can't tell you; but look at him."

"Oh, is it Mr. Lowe you mean? Well, I can see nothing unusual in his look."

"Well," Hugh asked, "does your letter require an immediate answer?

"No, no," he replied with affected carelessness. "'Tis from my mother; and she wants to know," he added, glancing through the letter to hide his embarrassment, "if Mrs. — Mrs. Lloyd, of Mount Temple, is alive."

"It is Mount Tempe," said Mary, "She is mother of the lady you saw here last night."

"I ought to have remembered; we were at Mount Tempe yesterday."

"And did you meet Mr. Lloyd?"

"Yes, we spent some time with him, and he joined us at the snipe shooting."

"Oh, I said you must have been reinforced," said Grace, the volleys increased so much towards evening."

He was a little afraid of Grace's ridicule, and thought it wise to turn the conversation from the shooting as quickly as possible.

"My mother also wants to know," he observed, again glancing at the letter, "whether Woodlands is kept in good repair, and she says something about old Mr. Somerfield."

"The old fellow is alive," said Hugh, "and wonderfully strong and active for his age. He cannot be far short of ninety, and yet he is never missed from the hunt."

"And how does he keep the place? I mean the house and grounds."

"Oh! in excellent order—nothing could be better. In fact, he has expended a large sum of money on improvements."

"Does he not pay a considerable rent for it?"

"Well, my father could tell you all about it. Your late uncle was, I think, in want of money, and set the place to Somerfield. I suspect the rent cannot be very high, as I heard my father say there was a large fine given."

"By the way," said Mr. Lowe, somewhat hesitatingly, "have there been any outrages of a remarkable character lately in this neighbourhood? I find some allusion to some thing of the kind in this letter."

"No," replied Hugh, "there has been nothing of the kind about here. But I find a paragraph in this paper referring to a threatening notice which was found nailed to a door seven or eight miles from here."

"No one has been fired at?"

"Not that I know of. There is an unusually large number of ejectments served this year; and when that is the case, rumours of outrages are always flying about."

"Are any of my uncle's tenants served with ejectments?"

"Yes," Hugh replied, gravely, "two very honest and industrious men. I believe they owe some arrears. There is a good deal of anxiety among the other tenants. But," he added, as if he wished to change the subject, "I don't know all the particulars. Perhaps it would be well if you inquired into them. Indeed, I think, the landlord ought to come and see for himself how things are going on here."

"I believe he places great confidence in the agent," said Mr. Lowe.

"It would appear so," Hugh replied. "But as he has come to Ireland, it might be no harm for him to see personally how his estate is managed. Things have gone on smoothly enough up to this; but since the leases given by Sir Thomas have begun to drop, there is considerable uneasiness. My father will tell you that before now leases were renewed as a matter of course: but latterly there is a remarkable reluctance on the part of landlords to give leases, and your uncle's tenants are uneasy lest he should follow the example set by others in this respect."

"I don't know much about the matter," said Mr. Lowe; "but I should think it very unlikely that my uncle would act unjustly towards any one."

"That's just what I say," replied Hugh; "and that is why I'd like to see him using his own eyes."

"I should say this is Mr. Pender," said Mr. Lowe, who sat near the window. "At least he answers in some respects to Mr. Kearney's description of him last night. He has a gun on each side of him. Yes," he added, as the person in question alighted from his gig, "and pistols in his belt."

"It is he," replied Hugh, coming to the window.

Mr. Beresford Pender, observing that the gentleman he wanted to see had a full view of him from the window, took off his belt and handed it, with the pistols in it, to his servant. Then walking to the hall door, he knocked loudly.

"Is Mr. Lowe within?" Mr. Pender asked in a mighty voice that seemed to come up from his chest.

"I'll see, sir," said the servant.

Mr. Pender faced round, and with folded arms glared up at the tall trees on either side of the cottage, and then looked scowlingly at the top of the mountain in front.

"This is a nice place Kearney has here," muttered Mr. Beresford Pender to himself. "A nice thing it is to see fellows of this kind in a place like this, and gentlemen in thatched houses without as much as a tree to shelter them. He has a good deal of planting done here. Nice work for farmers. By —," exclaimed Mr. Pender, swearing almost loud enough to be heard within, "if I had to deal with them they'd have something else to mind besides plantations."

"Yes, sir," said the servant girl, opening the drawing-room door; and Mr. Pender strode in, glancing round him with a look in which sheepishness and something like timidity were curiously blended.

In fact, Mr. Pender looked as if he thought it possible that he might be kicked out. But finding there was no one in the room, he got up his fierce look, and brought it to bear on the mountain-top again.

Mr. Lowe came in, and, as he closed the door behind him, the runaway look came back into Mr. Pender's eyes. Reassured, however, by the polite bow of the gentleman, Mr. Pender said:

"I called to see you because I wanted to spake to you."

"Yes," replied Mr. Lowe. "I was told you called yesterday."

"I suppose you know my father is agent over the property for the last thirty years?" said Mr. Pender.

"I'm aware he is the agent, and I intended calling on him, but have put it off from day to day."

Mr. Beresford Pender commenced patting the bridge of his nose with his fingers, and Mr. Lowe observed that there was a bit of sticking-plaster adhering to the organ, which, we may remark, was of the flexible order, as if nature in tended it to be tweaked; or it may be that it was tweaking made it flexible.

"Do you think," he asked, dropping his big voice to a sepulchral whisper, "that you are safe here?"

"Why? What danger do you suppose I have, to apprehend?"

"I don't like to say much," said Mr. Beresford Pender. "But, as a friend, I came to see you."

There was something so mysterious in his look, that, between it and the sepulchral whisper, Mr. Lowe began to feel impressed with the notion that Mr. Beresford Pender was a person of consequence.

"You'll see my father," continued Mr. Pender, resuming his big voice, which still further impressed Mr. Lowe with the idea that he was talking to a great man, "and spend a few days with him."

"It is my intention to see him."

"There's to be a meeting one of those days," said Mr. Pender.

"What sort of meeting?

Mr. Beresford Pender hesitated, as if in doubt whether Mr. Lowe was a proper person to communicate with on the subject of the meeting.

"I'll tell you about it another time; I'll be speaking to some of the gentlemen at the road-sessions to-day."

Mr. Lowe looked at him and really began to feel uneasy.

"They're quare times," said Mr. Beresford Pender. "Good morning. I'll tell my father you'll call to see him."

Mr. Beresford Pender walked out; and it was not till he had watched him for some time as he carefully examined his pistols and buckled the belt around him, that Mr. Lowe discovered that Mr. Beresford Pender was not a very large, stout man. In fact, he was under the middle height, and rather lank than otherwise. But, between the big voice and the big look, he really often impressed people with the idea that he was a big man.

"Good gracious, Mary! " exclaimed Grace, who was observing Mr. Pender's movements from behind the window curtain, "he is like an alderman in front. But look at him behind, and he's like a pump. He'd want to wear a bustle."

"Oh, fie," said Mary, "what would Mr. Lowe say if he heard you make such a remark?"

"I suppose it would be quite unpardonable if I remarked also that the servant's coat, with the distressingly large and bright livery buttons, is an old frock-coat of his master's."

"Nothing can escape you," said Mary, laughing; "I'd never have noticed it if you had not pointed it out."

It occurred to Mr. Lowe that Mr. Pender had made no allusion to the several attempts upon his life; and he stepped outside the door to satisfy his curiosity before Mr. Pender had got into his gig.

"You wrote to my mother lately," observed Mr. Lowe.

"Yes," replied Mr. Pender. "You know she has a rent-charge on Cahirdeheen, and I see to it myself. 'Tisn't aisy to manage them fellows."

"But you spoke of being attacked by five men?"

"They were hired," replied Mr. Beresford Pender. "But I don't like to transport him." And as he spoke he looked at the parlour window, from which Mary quickly retreated, a little vexed at being seen by him.

"I'll tell you all about it another time," he added, "but keep what I'm after telling you to yourself."

Mr. Lowe did not know what to think, and was about shaking hands with his new acquaintance, when the latter said — "Nice girl!"

Very inoffensive and harmless words in themselves; but there was something in Mr. Beresford Pender's manner of uttering them, as he glanced at the parlour window, that made Mr. Henry Lowe feel an almost uncontrollable impulse to kick Mr. Beresford Pender then and there.

"Good morning," said he, turning upon his heel and drawing back his hand before Mr. Beresford Pender had touched it.

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