Knocknagow - CHAPTER XXVII.



MARY stood up and asked Mat to come to the drawing-room, where they found Grace already sitting at the piano.

"Oh, my goodness!" she exclaimed, looking round, "what sort of gentlemen are those?"

But before she could proceed further with her censure, Mr. Lowe was at his post and placed the music before her.

"Well, now, let me think of all Mr. Kearney's tunes," said she, turning over the leaves. "Listen to this one, Mat."

"No, Miss," replied Mat, shaking his head, "that's 'Moll Row in the Morning.'"

"Well, this,", and she played a few bars of another.

Mat shook his head again.

"Oh, I think I know it now," she exclaimed, as she turned rapidly over the leaves. "Why, here it is, with the very same name he has mentioned. Mr. Kearney has some words to it about —

"I'll go to the fair, and I'll sell my old cow,

For twenty-five shillings, one pound and one crown,

I'll drink what I earn, and pay what I owe,

And what's that to any man whether or no?"

"That's id, Miss!" Mat exclaimed, in quite an excited way.

"'Tis 'They may Rail at this Life,'" said Grace, turning to Mary. "Sit down, Mat."

Mat's spirit was attentive as she played; and after a little while he began to move his head from side to side and turned his eyes to the ceiling.

Mary watched him with a smile; for it seemed quite evident he was mentally going through his song with all possible care. Her suspicion in this respect was confirmed beyond all doubt when Mat thrust his hand into his pocket and pulled out a sheet of paper which he hastily unfolded, and, after glancing at it for a moment, turned his eyes again to the ceiling and commenced what he would himself call "humouring" the tune.

"Good luck to you, Miss," he exclaimed, when she had stopped playing. "I think I have id purty well now."

"I think, Mat," said Mary, "you ought to sing the song for us."

"Begor, I couldn't, Miss," he replied, after some hesitation. "I'll thry an' sing id to-night for 'em. 'Tis a new song I got from the young schoolmaster over at Loughneen; an' I said I'd get id be heart an' sing id at the fust weddin' I'd be at; an' Ned's happens to be the fust. Though, faith, Miss Mary, I was thinkin' I might be singin' id at your own this turn."

Though the look which accompanied this last observation was precisely the same as that which so annoyed Mr. Lowe in the parlour, he now laughed and saw nothing at all impertinent in it.

"Mat is surely a deluder," said Grace, when he had left. I'm quite vexed that he never favours me with any of his admiring glances."

"You like to be admired, Miss Grace," said Mr. Lowe.

"Who does not, I'd like to know? Though some people may pretend not to care about it." And she glanced at Mary.

"Take care," said Mary, "or I'll tell Mr. Lowe what you said about him the other day."

"And will you tell him that somebody else said I was right?"

Mary got a little frightened; and, lest she should have the worst of it in such an encounter, she hurried back to the parlour and took up her work.

Hugh was sitting at the little table near the window, he had gone out with the intention of walking over the farm, but turned back on finding the rain was heavier than he expected.

Mr. Lowe and Grace immediately followed Mary, and there was much lively chat on the subject of the manners and customs of the peasantry, suggested by Mat Donovan's visit. Grace had quite a fund of anecdotes, picked up at those "literary dinners" she alluded to when trying to find the "solution of the mystery" connected with the tracks in the snow.

Hugh was silent; but to the watchful eye of his sister, it was plain he was enjoying Grace's lively sallies and merry laughter. He leant over the back of his chair and during a lull in the conversation seemed to have fallen asleep. Mary called Grace's attention to him, in order that she might do something to rouse him. His long black hair hung over the table, and Grace happened to have the scissors in her hand, clipped off a lock.

Hugh started up, and seeing what she had done, snatched the scissors from her; and twisting a tress of her hair round and round his finger, cut it off, to her consternation.

"Oh, you wretch!" she exclaimed, pulling down her hair to see what amount of damage he had done. But finding the tress would not be missed, she resumed her good humour.

"Could you invent anything for us to do?" the doctor asked piteously, from the sofa.

"'Tis too wet to go out," replied Hugh.

"It is too bad," said Mary, "that Mr. Lowe must remain a prisoner."

"I assure you," he replied, "I can be resigned to my fate."

"Will you go to the wedding?" she asked, turning to Hugh.

"I suppose I must. There is no getting out of it, as my father won't go."

"He is a great stay-at-home, Mr. Lowe. He will not go anywhere but when he can't help it. And you saw he does not even dance quadrilles."

"Except when he has someone to lead him like a bear," said Grace.

"Was it not customary," Hugh asked with solemnity, "when dancing bears used to be exhibited, to have the bear led by a monkey? I think I read about such a thing somewhere."

"I see what you mean, sir," said Grace. "Perhaps it is all fair."

"A hit," said the doctor, "a palpable hit. But I'd sooner have expected it from Lory. He's devilish clever at that sort of thing."

"Is he, indeed? Then I was peculiarly fortunate in getting two such clever partners."

"You are a match for them," said Mary laughing.

"A match — you are certainly complimentary."

"I mean you are able for them all — to give them tit for tat."

"Quid pro quo," replied Grace. "I should hope so." It would be diamond cut diamond," said Mary.

"Diamond!" repeated Grace. "Do you call him a diamond?" And she nodded her head towards Hugh, in a way that made the doctor break into a horse-laugh, and kick up his heels on the sofa.

"Or," she continued, opening her eyes, in which there was a curious blending of astonishment and fun, "is that the gem?"

She pointed out into the lawn; and there was Mr. Lory Hanly doing his best to shelter himself from the rain with the collar of his scanty coat, running towards the house with his head down — the wind being in his face — as if he intended making a battering ram of himself to drive in the hall-door. He was covered with mud from head to foot, and it was astonishing how high up and far behind him be managed to fling his heels.

Grace hurried out to open the door. She stood back behind it, as if she expected to see Lory shoot past her, and involuntarily held her breath in anticipation of a frightful crash among Mrs. Kearney's crockery; for a vague notion crossed her mind that Lory would be picked up insensible in the pantry at the end of the hall after splitting the door of that sanctum in two with his skull.

Lory, however, had stopped himself on the door-step, and Grace stared at him in speechless amazement.

The rain was running down in little rivers all over him — particularly over his eyes; which made it necessary for him to cut off the streams at the eyebrows with the knuckles of his thumbs before he could see distinctly. Lory, too, looked surprised when he found who had opened the door for him. But recovering himself before she could ask him in, he fumbled with one hand under his coat, and then thrust out both arms at full length towards her.

"Here he's for you now," said Lory, breathlessly.

Grace took what he presented to her mechanically, without having the least notion what it was, and Lory instantly wheeled round — his hob-nailed boots making as much noise as if a horse had stumbled on the door-step— and set off for home, forgetting that the wind would be now in his back; the consequence of which was that Lory was precipitated head-foremost, and had to run on all-fours for good ten yards before he could recover himself. Once in an upright position, however, he was blown back to the avenue gate without further exertion from himself than lifting his feet and keeping one hand clapped against his poll to prevent his cap from being swept across the bog, and, peradventure, stuck into a crevice of the old castle, like the piece of an old petticoat — to which it bore a striking resemblance — in the broken window of Jack Delaney's sleeping apartment behind the forge. It was observed, too, that the wind kept Lory's diminutive skirts stuck against his back, as if they had been pinned up under the shoulder-blades. He had actually reached the gate before Grace recovered from her surprise, even so far as to think of shutting the door. But then she could not use her hands for that purpose, and as she was collecting her senses to think what was to be done, Hugh came out to know what had happened to make Lory beat so precipitate a retreat.

"What is it all about, Grace?" he asked, as he closed the hall-door. "What have you done, to frighten Lory? Has he popped the question and been rejected? The effect was dreadful. I very much fear the young gentleman's body may be found, nine days hence, floating in the Poulnamuck."

But Grace returned to the parlour without noticing his banter, and was holding out Lory's gift to satisfy her own and her friends' curiosity, when a sharp pinch on the wrist made her let it go with a scream. And "with many a flirt and flutter," like the celebrated raven, Lory's jay perched upon Miss Kearney's work-box. He looked about him with the utmost nonchalance and then winked his eyes several times and moved his neck as if he had been sleeping in an uneasy position; and then the jay opened his beak and yawned, as if he were very drowsy, and meant to go to sleep again: But just as he was burying his head cosily between his shoulders, he caught a glimpse of himself in the lid of the work-box, and the sight so far awakened his curiosity that he pecked at the rosewood, and in doing so his feet began to slip upon its polished surface: whereupon the jay extended his wings' a little, and jerked up his tail. What followed we shall not venture to describe; but Mary jumped from her place near the table with a scream almost as loud as Grace's when she got the pinch on the wrist. The doctor turned round to see what had happened; and seeing it, flung himself on his back, and commenced cutting capers with his feet in the air.

"That Lory is a genius," said the doctor. "He has cured me of a severe fit of the blues. I'm eternally indebted to him."

Grace got into good humour, too, and after carefully pulling down her cuffs, she ventured to take the jay between her hands again. "I'll go and make Ellie happy," she said, running away, holding the jay at arm's-length above her head.

The sky began to brighten over the hills, and Hugh predicted that the remainder of the day would be fine. The wind continued to blow; but before evening the sun flashed through the broken clouds, and it was agreed on all hands, that Ned Brophy's "hauling home" would be more propitious than could have been anticipated a few hours earlier.

"I wonder," said Mrs. Kearney, who came into the parlour in an evidently distressed state of mind — "I wonder what can be delaying Barney? And he has things we want for the dinner."

"I suppose it was the heavy rain," Mary replied. "No one would face out in such a storm; and I daresay Barney waited till it cleared up."

"Even if he did, he might be here now."

"Well, you know," said Mary, "Mr. Lowe has decided on going to the wedding with Hugh, so you need not be particular about our dinner to-day."

"Why so?" Mrs. Kearney asked, as if she could not see the force of the reasoning.

"Why, of course, if they go at all, they'll be there for dinner."

"Oh, yes, they call it a dinner, but it will be more like a supper. I'll engage it won't be on the table before eleven o'clock — or ten the earliest."

"Well, even so," replied Mary. "They'll go at the usual hour, and you need not be so particular about our dinner to-day."

"'Tis too late already," rejoined Mrs. Kearney, with a sigh, "to think of roasting a bit of beef. But if that fellow was home in time, sure I could have a nice steak for them at any rate. He's always disappointing me, and making mistakes, bringing wrong things, and running after peepshows, and ballad-singers, and Punches and Judys. My heart is broken with him," continued Mrs. Kearney, sighing deeply. "But indeed," she added with severe dignity, as she folded her plump hands and rested them on her knees — "but indeed, only for the respect my Uncle Dan had for his mother I wouldn't keep him another hour under the roof of the house."

Mary was not at all apprehensive that Barney was in danger of instant dismissal; but wishing to put her mother into good humour she observed, as if to herself, that "poor Barney was very devoted and strictly honest."

"Well, indeed," replied her mother in a softened tone, "there's nothing to be said against his honesty. His father would lay down his life for my Uncle Dan, and, indeed, I believe poor Barney would do the same for any one of the name."

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