Knocknagow - CHAPTER XXI.



"WELL, what a contrast!" Grace exclaimed. "Do come here, Mary, and look on this picture and on this. Apollo is really a divinity near that satyr."

Mary could see Mr. Lowe and Mr. Beresford Pender from where she sat at the table writing.

"You are right," said she, with an emphasis that made Grace open her eyes.

"'Pon my honour, Mary, you can be energetic occasionally."

Mary was so absorbed in her own reflections, she took no notice of this observation. She thought to herself that Mr. Lowe was a person to be liked; and the more she saw of him, the better she liked him. The thought even occurred to her that, if there was no difference of rank or religion between them, she could like him sufficiently well to be happy with him as his wife. There was not one among the young men who honoured her with their attentions whose character she could admire so much that is, assuming her estimate of Mr. Lowe's character to be correct.

But Mary Kearney felt her heart sinking within her at the thought that there was a hard struggle before her that a victory should be gained over herself before she could think of any one as a husband.

She took the note Barney had thrown up to Grace in the window, and read it over.

"I fear," she murmured and the tears welled into her eyes "I fear he thinks I refused to see him."

She moved away the letter she had been writing, and placed a clean sheet of notepaper in its stead. She wrote the date at the top of the sheet, and then stopped irresolutely.

There was a careworn look in her face as she leant back in her chair, pressing her left hand against her bosom.

"May God direct me what to do!" she murmured.

"Did you speak?" Grace asked.

"No," she replied, recovering herself, "or if I did it was to myself."

"To whom are you writing?"

"To Anna."

"Oh, really that young lady's head is very full of romance. 'Tis to be hoped she'll find the beau monde all her fancy painted it. How long is she in Belgium now? I can't remember."

"Nearly two years," Mary replied.

"And all that time in the convent! 'Tis dreadful," returned Grace, shuddering.

"Do you feel it so dreadful yourself?" Mary asked. "Oh, I have a visit from my friends sometimes, and can come home at vacation. But even that is hard enough," she added, with a sigh.

"I thought you always liked being at school. At least you told me so when I went to see you."

Grace shrugged her shoulders, but made no reply.

"Am I to suppose that you only said it to please Mrs. Clare? Is that your sincerity?"

"No; I really was sincere," replied Grace. "I did like being at school then. But, my dear Mary," she added, with a pensive shake of the head, " 'tis quite different since I got notions."

Though Mary was just then in anything but a laughing mood, she could not help laughing at this; and the laugh, she felt, did her good.

"If you got your choice," she asked, "would you remain at home and never go back to school again?"

Grace remained silent for a moment, and then said, in a low, firm voice:

"I would go back."

"And why would you go back if you think it so dreadful?"

"Because it would be right."

"Yes," said Mary, looking at her with surprise, "we ought all to do what is right. Duty before all things."

"When I am sure it is right to do anything," said Grace "I try to do it, no matter how hard it is."

"You are a little heroine," rejoined Mary. "But, she added to herself, glancing at the sheet of paper before her, "it is not always easy to know what is right."

"I think," said Grace, coming to the table, "I'll write a few lines to Anna."

"Oh, do; she will be delighted; she was very fond of you."

"Why do people say that you will be a nun?" Grace asked. "I suspect it is Anna will be the nun, in spite of her fine talk about the beau monde. But why do they say that you will be a nun? Mrs. Xavier is quite sure that you will."

"I really don't know," replied Mary, blushing.

"Oh, 'tis because you are such a mild Madonna, I suppose," said Grace, dipping her pen in the ink. "But on second thoughts," she added, "I won't write till to morrow. I must turn it in my head, as I want to let her see that one can do something in the way of rounded periods without going to Belgium. And, besides, I must have a few French phrases. So finish your letter, and I'll just run out to see what Apollo is going to do with himself."

"I think you ought to go to Ellie she is all alone."

"Ellie! She doesn't want me. Her whole soul is wrapped in her goldfinch."

"Oh, that reminds me," said Mary, "that we must go to see poor Norah Lahy to-day."

"I would like to go," said Grace, thoughtfully. "That is," she added, correcting herself, "I know I ought to like to go. But oh! 'tis saddening to look at her. It so reminds one of dying young. And, besides, I fear I hurt her mother's feelings the other day."

"You did not do it intentionally."

"Oh, indeed, no. But you know

'Evil is wrought by want of thought,

As well as by want of heart.'"

"You do not want either heart or thought, Grace, The remark you made was natural enough under the circumstances; and you did not know Mrs. Lahy was listening to you. Now, would you not do almost anything for that poor sick girl?"

"I would," Grace replied; "but I'm ashamed to confess I feel a strong wish to keep away from her, and not even think of her."

"But if it be right?"

"I will go," said Grace in the same tone as when she said she would go back to school.

Grace went to a cupboard, and, getting upon a chair, took something from the upper shelf, and was leaving the room hastily.

"And where are you going now?" Mary asked, with some surprise.

"To Ellie," she replied, "I have some sugar for her goldfinch."

Mary smiled approvingly, and then, resting her forehead upon the back of her open hand, with which she covered the few words she had written on the sheet of notepaper, as if she wished to hide them from herself, she fell into deep thought.

"Oh, yes," she said, raising her head, "if we could be sure what is right to be done! But how can there be any thing wrong in it? I think it is because I so much wish to write that I am afraid to do it. But, though my heart says 'Yes,' the 'still small voice' says 'No.' I would consult Hugh only it would add to his trouble. I wonder might Anna meet him before she comes home. But that is a foolish idea; she is as far out of his way as I am myself."

The idea, however, reminded her of the letter she had been writing to her sister, and she took up the pen and resolved to finish it.

"Is Mr. Pender gone?" Hugh asked, as he came round to the front of the house, from the yard, where he had been giving some directions to his workmen; "I thought his visit would not be so short."

"Yes, he is gone," replied Mr. Lowe, who was trying to open the gate of the little garden under Mary's window, and thinking of those mysterious tracks in the snow; which somehow he found himself often thinking of, though the tracks were no longer there, for the snow itself had disappeared.

"There is already," he remarked, "a look of spring in the sky."

"Yes," Hugh replied, "and the snow is nearly gone from the hills."

"I am always glad," said Richard, who had joined them, "when winter is past. The bright summer-time for me!"

"Why, every one is glad at the approach of spring," replied Mr. Lowe.

"I never see the snow fading from those hills," said Hugh, without a feeling of sadness."

"That's an odd feeling," returned the doctor, "particularly for a farmer."

"Oh, of course, I see reason to rejoice at the coming of spring. But what I speak of is an involuntary feeling of sadness. 'Tis like parting with an old friend. In fact, I believe there is sadness in all partings. I can fancy a prisoner looking round his dungeon for the last time with a sigh."

"Who is this coming down the hill?" the doctor asked, pointing to a horseman on the road.

"I think it is your friend, Mr. Lloyd," replied Hugh.

" 'Tis his horse, at all events."

"Yes, 'tis Bob I know him now." And Richard vaulted over the little gate and got out on the road by the stile in the corner of the garden with the intention of intercepting Mr. Lloyd, and having a talk with him.

"The harriers are to meet at Somerfield's," said the doctor, after vaulting back again over the gate. "We ought to go."

"By-the-by, 'twill be a good opportunity for you to see the place," said Hugh. "You can have my horse; and I think you will like him."

"And yourself?" said Mr. Lowe.

"Well, I find I have some business to attend to, which I cannot put off. You can ride the old mare," he added, turning to his brother. "And you need not fear but she'll be able to carry you but give her head and let her have her own way."

"All right," said the doctor, "let us go fit ourselves out."

Mr. Lowe readily assented, glad of the opportunity to display his horsemanship and his new breeches and boots.

The horses were led round by Barney, and while Hugh was examining the girths and stirrup-leathers, the two young men appeared booted and spurred, and were in the saddles before Barney had time to render them any assistance.

"O Mary!" Grace exclaimed, bursting into the parlour, "do come and see Apollo. He looks splendid."

Mary came to the window and said, with a quiet smile:

"He really does."

The horse was a fine one, and the rider seemed to linger longer than was necessary arranging his bridle rein.

"Do come out," said Grace; "he expects it." Mary followed her out, and dropping her arm round Grace's shoulder, she said gaily:

"She says, Mr. Lowe, that you look splendid."

He raised his hat and smiled, as he rode slowly after the doctor, who had set off at a gallop, and was impatiently waiting for him at the gate.

"Mr. Hugh," said Barney, "how much do you think is comin' to me?"

"Why so?" Hugh asked, as he watched the paces of his horse up the hill.

"Begob, I want five shillings," replied Barney.

"For what?

"I'm afther gettin' two an' sixpence worth of dance from Mr. Callaghan," returned Barney, looking as if, on the whole, he was not pleased with his bargain.

"Two-and-sixpence worth of dance," Grace exclaimed, laughing. "How is it sold, Barney?"

"Tuppence-ha'penny a lesson for plain dance, Miss," replied Barney, seriously, "and thruppence for figures."

"Well, and you want five shillings' worth?" said Hugh. "Well, you see, sir," rejoined Barney, scratching his head, 'I was purty good at the plain dance; but Callaghan had such fine steps, I said to myself I'd get a few new wans. An' then they persuaded me to learn the figures; but begob I couldn't keep 'em in my head. And now, you know, I don't like to see my money goin' for nothin'," Barney added with the air of a man of business.

"Will you let us see one of Callaghan's steps, Barney? said Grace.

"An' welcome, Miss," replied Barney, throwing care to the winds for the idea of his money going for nothing seemed to have quite a crushing effect upon his spirits "I'll do a step or two in a double for you."

And Barney, after going round gracefully in a circle to his own music, commenced battering the gravel with those remarkable feet which procured for him the soubriquet of "Wattletoes," in a style which we are not mad enough to attempt a description of.

"O Hugh," said Grace, who could hardly speak for laughing, "you must give him the five shillings."

"Would I doubt you, Miss Grace?" exclaimed Barney, twisting his features in a most extraordinary manner, but ultimately allowing them to settle into a grin of delight.

"Sound man, Mr. Hugh," he added, as Hugh presented him with two half-crowns. "An' now give me lave to run over to the Cross."

"What do you want there?" Hugh asked.

"Callaghan is goin' away to-day," replied Barney.

"Then he gave you credit, and you want to pay your debts?"

"Oh, the devil a credit," returned Barney. "What a fool he is!"

"I can't make out what he means," said Hugh.

"Is not that Callaghan himself passing the gate?" said Mary, pointing to a little man with a bundle in his hand walking at a brisk pace from the direction of the hamlet.

"Oh, the rascal," cried Barney, "an' all my dance in his pocket!"

He set off in pursuit of the dancing-master as if his very life depended upon catching him.

"Can you solve this mystery, Grace?" said Mary.

"Really, no," she replied, shaking her head. " 'Tis too much for me. We must wait till he comes back."

But the dancing-master was too far off to hear Barney shouting after him, and Barney was soon too much out of breath to continue the shouting, so that both were lost to view at the turn of the road.

"He was gaining upon him," said Grace, "I think he will catch him before they reach the fort. But what does he mean?"

About an hour later, as they were setting out to visit Norah Lahy, Grace said:

"Wait a moment till I ask Barney what he wanted with the dancing-master. I can't make head or tail of it."

"I'm glad to hear it," returned Mary. "I was beginning to fear you had some connection with the 'good people.'"

"I must repress my curiosity," said Grace, after inquiring for Barney. "He is gone to drive home the cows."

The cows referred to were at a farm some two miles from the house, and it was near sunset when Barney returned. After "bailing" them in, he hastened to the barn, where Mat Donovan and Tom Maher had been at work. Their day's work was over, and Tom was just hanging the door on its hinges. Barney began at once to practise his steps on the well-swept floor.

"Blood-an-ounkers, Mat," he exclaimed, stopping suddenly, as if a happy thought had struck him, "I believe you are able to read writin'."

"Well, I believe I could," Mat replied, as he shook the chaff from his coat before putting it on. "Why so?"

Barney pulled off his caubeen, and pulled a large crumpled document from the crown.

"Read that," said he.

Mat went to the door, and unfolding the paper, held it to the light, which was beginning to fade.

Barney watched him as if he entertained doubts of Mat's ability to read writing. After a little delay, however, Mat read the words "Haste to the Wedding," which had the effect of sending Barney with a bound to the middle of the floor.

"Go on," he shouted excitedly, crushing his hat tight upon his head. And with his arms extended, as if he were going to fly, Barney commenced whistling "Haste to the Wedding."

"What the divil do you mane?" Mat asked in astonishment.

"Read on; read, read," said Barney, breathlessly, trying to whistle and talk at the same time.

"Oh, I see what you're at now," said Mat the Thrasher, as if a new light had dawned upon him. "I see what you're up to," he repeated seriously. "But faith I don't know that I could read print in 'double' time, let alone writin'."

"Oh, if you couldn't!" And Barney took the paper and replaced it in the crown of his hat, with a look of a man who had been made a disgustingly inadequate offer for some article he wanted to sell.

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