Knocknagow - CHAPTER XXVIII.



THE cause of Mrs. Kearney's trouble was all this time comfortably ensconced in the chimney corner, in the little kitchen behind Mrs. Burke's shop, with his foot on the hob which foot, by the way, the servant girl had seized with the tongs while making the fire, mistaking it for a sod of turf of the description known as "hand turf"; in the manufacture of which the moulders allow free scope to their fancy, and occasionally produce a marvel of grotesqueness.

Barney had but just reached Mrs. Burke's door, when the rain began to pour down in right earnest. So, after putting Bobby under a shed in the yard, he took possession of the corner, and kept it without flinching even when the fire was at the hottest, and the big black pot hanging over it was enveloped in the blaze which drew from the girl who had attempted to boil the potatoes with his foot, the remark that "the divil a wan else she ever knew could stand the same corner but Dan Brit and John Roche, the lime-burners."

"An' spake uv the ould boy an' he'll appear," she added; here is Dan himse'f."

The individual spoken of drew a chair to the fire, scowling at Barney as if he considered him an intruder. It could be seen at a glance that Dan Brit was not a model of sobriety. After eyeing Barney in silence for a minute, he was turning to the girl to order a pint of porter, when he looked again at him and hesitated. In fact, Dan Brit was debating with himself whether, if he ventured to ask Barney to take a drink, was Barney the sort of person to say afterwards, "Let us have another." And in case he was the man to say so, Dan Brit had his mind made up to call back the girl just as she was going for the two pints of porter, saying, "Kitty, I'll take a glass of the old malt; I'm not very well to-day." And so Dan Brit would have a glass of whiskey, price threepence, in exchange for the pint of porter, price three-halfpence; which, in a social and friendly way, and, in the spirit of a good fellow, he was thinking of pressing Barney Brodherick to accept at his hands.

And while Dan Brit was pondering the risks to be run in the matter, his eye fell upon Barney's foot on the hob, which object seemed to fascinate Dan Brit and drive all other objects and subjects out of his thoughts for the time being.

"The divil so ugly a foot as that," said Dan Brit, solemnly, I ever see, anyhow."

"There's an uglier wan in the house," rejoined Barney.

"No, nor in Ireland," returned Dan. "Nor in Europe, Asia, Africa, or America."

"Will you bet a quart uv porther?" said Barney.

"That there's not an uglier foot in the house?" exclaimed Dan, staring in astonishment at him.

"Yes," replied Barney, with spirit, "I'll wager a quart uv porther, an' let Kitty be the judge, that there's an uglier foot in the house."

"Done!" exclaimed Dan Brit, who grasped at the certainty of getting a drink without paying for it. "But will you stake the money?"

"Ay, will I," said Barney, suiting the action to the word, and slapping down the coppers on a chair near him.

"Take that money, Kitty," said Dan Brit, "an' decide the bet."

"What is the bet?" Kitty asked.

It was explained to her; and Kitty shook her head sorrow fully, and told Barney he was always a fool.

"Stake the money, yourse'f," said Barney. And Dan did so.

"Come, give me back that change," said Dan; "an' bring in the drink. The bet is mine."

"Wait a bit," returned Barney. "Kitty, give us a peep at your own."

"What impudence you have!" exclaimed Kitty, indignantly. "Who dare say a word agin them, I'd like to know?" 'And Kitty exhibited a pair of very presentable feet.

"Begob, Kitty," said Barney, with a grin, "if I was dependin' on thim, I'd lose my bet."

"An' do you mane to say you haven't lost id?" Dan asked:

"Run, Kitty, for the porther."

"Ay,' will she; but 'tisn't my money'll pay for id."

"Didn't you bet there was an uglier foot in the house than that?"

And Dan Brit pointed to the foot on the hob.

"I did."

"An' where is id?"

Barney Brodherick slowly and deliberately drew his other foot from under the chair, and held it up to view.

"Here's your money, Barney," exclaimed Kitty, in an ecstasy of delight. "You won the bet; I'll go for the porter."

Dan Brit's jaw fell down as he stared with open mouth at Barney. And after swallowing his share of the porter he walked away with an expression of countenance which made Kitty observe that "wan'd think 'twas a physic o' salts he was afther swallyin'."

When the rain ceased, Barney, snatching one of his baskets from Mrs. Burke's counter, hurried off to Wat Murphy's and presented Mrs. Kearney's written order to the butcher.

"I haven't what she wants," said Wat; "but I can send her a nice bit that will answer her as well."

He seized his knife and saw, and cut and weighed the beef so quickly that it was wrapped in the cloth and deposited in the basket before Barney could collect his wits to demur to the proceeding.

"An' now," he muttered, scratching his head as if the thing were done past recall, "an' now she'll be puttin' the blame on me, an' sayin' 'twas my fau't an' that's the way they're always layin' everything on my shoulders. The divil may care what's done wrong 'tis Barney wud every wan uv 'em, big an' little."

"If she finds any fau't wud that," said Wat, as if he were threatening somebody, "tell her 'tis her own cow," which, however, did not happen to be the fact. But Wat Murphy told lies in the way of business on principle. "For" Wat was wont to observe "if I didn't tell lies, do you think I could ever sell an ould ram?"

"Och! be the hokey, 'twill dhrag the arm out uv me!" exclaimed Barney, as he raised the basket. "If I thought 'twould be so heavy, I'd bring up the ass."

"Put it on your head," Wat suggested.

"I'm dn sure I won't. Do you want to make a woman uv me? Is it like a can uv wather you want me to carry id?"

"A purty woman you'd make," observed Wat, as Barney stooped under the weight of the heavy basket.

"Blood-an-ouns, Wat!" he exclaimed, turning round out side the door, "when are we to have the bull-bait?"

The question was suggested by the white bull-dog, who walked to the street-door and back again without condescending to take the slightest notice of Barney, or anyone else.

"I'm not at liberty to give particulars," Wat replied, in a manner that put a stop to all further inquiries on the important subject of the bull-bait.

Barney held on his way till he reached the corner of the street, when he was obliged to rest his basket against the iron railings of a genteel house, separated by a small garden from the street.

Oh, murther, murther!" he muttered, "I'll be kilt afore I'm down to Mrs. Burke's. An' 'tis a good deed; where was I comin' wudout Bobby? An' thanum-un-dioul! the misthress'll murther me worse nor the basket. I remimber now, she warned me to be home as fast as I could. I wondher what excuse I'll have for her? Let me see. Begob, I'll say Bobby got the cholic after the peltin' we got comin' through the bog. For how will she know but it was skelpin' in our face, barrin' Judy Brien might tell her; an' nice thanks that id be afther givin' her a lift from the crass."

Here Barney pulled up his sleeve to the elbow and looked at his arm, upon which the handle of the basket had left its mark.

"Begob, 'twill cut the arm off uv me," he continued. "An' the divil's cure to me; where was I comin' wudout Bobby?"

He swung the basket on the other arm and was setting off again, when the hall door of the genteel house opened, and a lady came running towards him down the straight gravel walk,

"Wait for a minute," she called out, "I want to speak to you."

Barney stopped; but she required a minute or two to recover breath.

"You're Mr. Kearney's man," she said at last.

"Yes, Miss," replied Barney, "I'm his b'y."

"What have you in the basket?"

"Mate, Miss."

"What sort? Show it to me."

Barney raised a corner of the cloth.

"Beef!" she exclaimed "I declare it's a round. Will that be all dressed together?"

"Begob, mese'f don't know, Miss,"

"Do your people have butchers' meat every day?"

"Faith, an' they do so, Miss; barrin' Friday."

"Oh, yes, they're Roman Catholics. Are you a Roman Catholic?"

"Begob, I am, Miss though my mother was born a haythen."

"Born a heathen! Is it possible?"

"The divil a lie in id, Miss an' reared. But she turned afther runnin' away wud my father God rest his sowl."

She looked at Barney as if he were a natural curiosity; and began to wonder what particular race of savages his mother belonged to.

"Of what country was your mother a native?" she asked.

"A native?" Barney repeated, as if the question were rather puzzling. "Oh, ay!" be added after a pause, "is id what counthryman is my mother? Begob, she was bred, born, an' reared in Ballyporeen. Her father was the clerk uv the church; an' my father was sarvin' the slathers whin they wor roofin' id. 'Tis of'n I heard her tellin' the ins an' outs uv id. He used to run up an' down the laddher so soople, that, be japers, she tuck a sthrange likin' to him, an' med off wud him though her sivin generations afore her wor haythens."

"Oh, you mean," said the lady, "that your mother was a Protestant, and she married a Papist, and became an apostate."

"Begob, that's' id, Miss," replied Barney, perfectly satisfied with her version of the affair. "But this'd never do for me," he added, thrusting his arm into the handle of his basket. " 'Tis all hours, an' I'm in for gettin' Ballyhooly from the misthress."

"Wait for a moment," the young lady exclaimed, quite frightened at the idea of his escaping. "Tell me; is Mr. Lowe with your people still?"

"Begob, he is, Miss; I have letthers for him."

Show them to me!" she exclaimed eagerly, thrusting out her hand through the railing.

"They're in the basket, below, at Mrs. Burke's, Miss, wud the newspapers an' things for Miss Mary."

"What things are they?"

"The divil a know I know. I get a scrap uv writin' mentionin' what I'm to brin'. On'y for that they'd bother the life out uv me."

"How does Mr. Lowe spend his time?"

"He's dn fond uv discoorsin' Miss Mary," Barney replied, with the extraordinary grimace which he meant for a smile.

"Oh, I suppose he has no other amusement?"

"Himself and the docthor goes uv an odd time over to Hanly's," said Barney; "an' they wor out wud the hounds yesterday."

"I wonder," said she, as if thinking aloud, "did they meet Robert?"

"They didn't lave Mr. Bob's till wan o'clock last night, Miss," returned Barney. "An' 'tis I have good raison to know id; for I stopped up wud Tom Maher for the horses, an' they kep' me dancin' for 'em in the kitchen till I hadn't a leg to put ondher me. The docthor was purty well I thank you. An' faith there was no fear uv Mr. Lowe aither."

"Do you mean to say that Mr. Lowe was at Mount Tempe last night?"

"Faith, then, he was so, Miss; an' 'tis I have raison to remimber id."

She turned round and ran into the house, as if she suddenly discovered that Barney was not a safe companion, and that the fate of the clerk's daughter, of Ballyporeen, might be hers if she did not instantly fly from danger. But, so far from having any such amiable intentions, Barney, as he swung his basket on his hip, ejaculated an imprecation of so extraordinary a character that we are not sure whether it would bear repeating at least in his own words. Miss Lloyd we hope the reader has recognised Miss Lloyd pulled up her skirts considerably higher than her ankles as she ran back to the house; and the glimpse thus afforded of the nymph's limbs must have suggested to Barney Brodherick the before-mentioned imprecation. For, looking after the flying fair one, and recollecting the precious time he had lost on her account, Barney prayed that a certain sable gentleman might have "her shin-bone for a flute, playing the 'Rakes of Mallow' for her sowl," into a place where it might dance to the music upon a pavement which must be pretty extensive by this time.

"O Isabella!" Miss Lloyd exclaimed. "O Isabella!" She dropped into an arm-chair and panted for breath.

Isabella ran to the window to try if she could catch a glimpse of the desperado who, she had no doubt, must have attempted to carry off her sister.

"O mamma," she continued, "Mr. Lowe has been at Mount Tempe."

"Well; and what of that?"

"What! Oh, that we must have the party at once, and I am sure he will come."

"No; I tell you he would not unless those people with whom he is staying were asked."

"And what great harm would it be to invite them?"

"Henrietta, you astound me! But there has been enough of that nonsense already. It is out of the question."

"But what I mean is that they would not come."

"No matter, it would be talked of. You know the Scotts did not ask ourselves last time; and if they knew we had such acquaintances what would they not say!"

"But why do you think he would not come if they were not asked?"

"Indeed, Henrietta," said her sister a blooming, blue-eyed girl of twenty summers or thereabout "it would be positive rudeness after your being there."

"I would not mind the rudeness," rejoined her mother. "But when he saw you there he must be under the impression that they are recognised by the gentry. Indeed, I don't know how you can disabuse him of this notion you are for ever thrusting yourself into improper places."

"Oh, I can say it was merely accidental. He knows they are only farmers. And Robert is so intimate with their brother."

"Oh, if there was no one but him I should have no objection. But the sister is out of the question. I really wonder both she and her mother have not called on you. I saw them drive by the day before yesterday. And, indeed, I'd have no objection. Mrs. Barn tells me she's a respectable sort of person; and very good to make presents."

"There is Robert," said Isabella, pointing to the window.

"Oh, we must send for him!" exclaimed Miss Lloyd. "I wonder is there a meeting of the club to-night?"

"No, it is to be on Thursday," her mother replied. "They are going to elect Beresford Pender."

"Robert says he'll black-ball him," said Isabella.

"I really cannot understand his prejudice against him. He is a young man of excellent principles," replied her mother.

I hate the sight of him!" exclaimed Isabella. "He is the most insufferably vulgar creature I ever saw."

Mr. Robert Lloyd, in hunting costume, and mounted upon his well-known grey horse, had ridden quietly past his mother's house without turning his eyes towards it. A servant, however, was sent to the hotel for him; and he soon strolled up the gravel walk, with his hands in his pockets.

"O Robert," said his eldest sister, "you had Mr. Lowe last night?"

"Ay, faith," he replied.

"Do you think you could get him to stay with you for a few days?"

"He's a dd sight better off where he is. I wish I could exchange places with him."

Miss Lloyd made a gesture expressive of the most ineffable contempt.

"He's to be at Ned Brophy's wedding to-night," Bob observed.

"Oh, and we are asked," exclaimed Miss Lloyd. "Are you going, Robert?"

"Ay, faith. I always go to a tenant's wedding."

"It is what the highest people do," said his mother.

"And don't you think we ought to go?" Miss Lloyd asked.

"If you wish it, I see no objection."

"Will you come, Bell?"

"If I thought there would be any chance of fun, I would. Will there be any fun, Robert?"

"Ay, faith. He has two pipers and three fiddlers."

"And an excellent dinner," said Miss Lloyd. "I saw all the things. They have three legs and two shoulders of mutton, and "

"Don't mind the bill of fare. But can we make ourselves fit to be seen in so short a time?"

"I'll wear my blue gauze," said Miss Lloyd.

"What! Will you go in a low body?"

"Of course I will; and I'll wear my pearls. And, mamma, will you lend me your bracelets?"

"Yes, you may have them; but take care and don't lose them, as you did those trinkets the other day."

"Oh, they were only worth a few shillings."

"Yes, but it would be just as easy to lose them if they were diamonds."

"Oh, you need not fear; I'll take care of them. Come, Isabella. And, mamma, will you tell John to have the car ready?"

And Miss Lloyd hurried to her chamber, on hostile thoughts intent, so far as Mr. Henry Lowe's heart was concerned.

"Now, Robert," said Mrs. Lloyd, on finding herself alone with her son, "did you do anything in that matter yet? You know her fortune is very considerable, and would enable you to put everything to rights. So I beg you will make up your mind this time, and don't act so strangely as you have so often done."

"I'll talk to Jer about it,"

"Well, Jer is sensible, and has got you out of some awkward scrapes. But this is a different thing altogether. So I request you will act for yourself now. Have you seen her?"

"Ay, 'faith."

"And how do you like her?"

Mr. Robert Lloyd opened his mouth very wide and yawned. And when his mother looked round to see why he had not replied to her question, the gentleman was leisurely walking out of the room with his hands in his pockets. Whistling was one of the things that Mr. Robert Lloyd did well; and as he sauntered down the gravel walk, his mother could distinctly hear the little air which he had played upon his jew's-harp for Mr. Lowe, and of which he had become particularly fond since Richard Kearney's misadventure in the bog.

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