Knocknagow - CHAPTER XXX.



WHEN Mr. Lowe found himself knee-deep in fresh straw, after jumping from the gig in Ned Brophy's yard, he looked about him with a slight sense of bewilderment. Their drive for the first two miles had been pleasant enough, but when they turned off the high road into a narrow "boreen," Mr. Lowe expected every moment to be flung over the fence, against which the wheel almost rubbed as they jolted along.

"Have we much farther to go?" he asked, clutching the side of the gig, as the wheel at Hugh's side sank into the deepest slough they had met yet.

"Only a couple of fields," Hugh replied. "We'll be in view of the house after passing the next turn."

The couple of fields seemed five miles long at a moderate calculation to Mr. Lowe, and it was not till he found himself on his legs in the straw he felt satisfied they had really arrived at their journey's end. As he gazed about him he had a confused consciousness of the twang of fiddles, mingled with the hum of many voices and the clatter of many feet, on the one hand, and a combination of odours, in which turf, smoke and roast goose predominated, on the other. The music came from the barn, and the odours from an out-office at the opposite side of the yard, which was converted into a kitchen for the occasion and there being no chimney, a plentiful supply of smoke was the natural consequence.

Hugh shouted for someone to come and take care of his horse; and a workman rushed from the barn, creating considerable confusion among a crowd of beggars at the door for whom the fun at that side seemed to possess more attraction than the culinary preparations and savoury odours at the other.

Mr. Hugh Kearney's arrival was soon made known to the people of the house; and Mat Donovan, as "best man" and master of the ceremonies, was at the door to receive and welcome him.

"Is this the doctor you have wud you?" Mat asked. "Begor, I'm glad we have him, as I was afeard there'd be no wan to talk to the ladies."

"This is Mr. Lowe," replied Hugh.

Mat was evidently disappointed; for he had the highest opinion of the doctor's powers in the matter of "discoorsin' the ladies."

On entering the kitchen, where preparations for dinner were also proceeding on a large scale, Ned Brophy's mother welcomed them with a curtsey, and her daughter took their hats and overcoats to one of the two bedrooms off the kitchen. Mat Donovan opened the parlour door, and showed the gentlemen in with a bow and a wave of his hand that even the accomplished Richard, whose absence he so much regretted, might have envied.

Two ladies who sat by the fire one in a blue ball-dress and pearl necklace, the other in a plain black silk, with only a blue ribbon for ornament stood up; and Mr. Lowe found himself shaking hands with the blue ball-dress almost before he was aware of it.

"Don't you remember Miss Lloyd?" Hugh was obliged to say; for it was painfully evident he did not at once recognise her.

"Oh, I beg pardon," said he, "but really the pleasure was so unexpected."

Miss Lloyd was in fidgets of ecstasy, and called to her sister to introduce her.

Mr. Lowe bowed again, and it was pretty clear from the expression of his eye that he thought the plain black dress and the blue ribbon a pleasanter sight to look at than the blue gauze and pearl necklace.

"Sit down, sir," said Mat Donovan, placing a chair in front of the fire. "Or, maybe," he added, turning to Hugh, "you'd like to have a bout before the tables are brought into the barn?"

"Oh, no, we'll wait till after dinner," said Hugh.

"Very well, sir," replied Mat. "Father Hannigan'll be here shortly, and I'll bring him in to have a talk wad ye before supper is ready. I'm afeard the cook is afther takin' a sup too much, an' if the ladies here don't show 'em what to do, things'll be apt to go contrairy."

"Oh, you may command my services," said the younger lady, with a laugh.

"Thank'ee, Miss," returned Mat. "But she's takin' a sleep, and maybe she'd be all right after id."

"Who is the cook?" Miss Lloyd asked, eagerly. "Is it Mrs. Nugent?"

"'Tis, Miss," replied Mat. "She was up at the castle yesterday, preparin' the big dinner, an' she's bate up intirely."

"Oh, was she at the castle? Where is she? I'd like so much to ask her all about it."

"She's gone into the little room there, Miss, to take a stretch on the bed."

Miss Lloyd was on the rack immediately. Even Mr. Lowe faded from her mind and was lost in the steam of that big dinner at the castle.

Seizing a candle from the table, Miss Lloyd rushed into the little bedroom off the parlour. Immediately a loud scream made them all start to their feet, and fly to her assistance. All was darkness in the bedroom, till some one brought in a candle; and there was poor Miss Lloyd, blue ball dress, pearl necklace, and all, sprawling on the floor, and staring wildly about her. The fat cook who was a very mountain of a woman was lying on the floor too, snoring sonorously; and it at once became apparent to the astonished spectators that Miss Lloyd had tumbled over her.

Hugh Kearney stepped over the fat cook, and reaching his hand to the frightened lady, raised her up.

"O Mr. Kearney," she exclaimed, panting for breath, what have I fallen over?"

"Over a mountain," replied Hugh, laying his hand on the fat cook's shoulder and shaking her.

The sonorous music that proceeded from the mountain suddenly ceased; and a second vigorous shake had the effect of causing the fat cook to open her eyes.

"O Mr. Kearney," she exclaimed piteously, looking into his face, "you know what a weak constitution I have."

This address, uttered as it was in a familiar and affectionate manner, took Hugh somewhat by surprise; for it happened that Mrs. Nugent was a perfect stranger to him.

"Tundher an' turf, Mrs. Nugent," exclaimed Mat Donovan, "everything is roasted an' biled an' there's open war among the women. Wan says wan thing, an' another says another thing; an' between 'em all, everything is three-na-yhela."

Mat put his arms round Mrs. Nugent and lifted her to her feet a feat which no man in "the three parishes" but himself would have attempted.

Mrs. Nugent steadied herself for a moment, untying her apron and turning the other side out, with great deliberation.

"You know, Mr. Kearney," said she, "how a salt herring upsets me."

Hugh felt slightly confused, and altogether at a loss to understand why Mrs. Nugent should persist in assuming that he had so intimate a knowledge of her constitution.

"Really, ma'am," said he, "I do not know. I believe this is the first time I ever had the pleasure of meeting you."

"Well, if you don't, your mother does," said Mrs. Nugent, as she stuck a pin in her cap a little over her right ear for what purpose it would be difficult to say.

"She knows what dressing a dinner is," continued Mrs. Nugent, looking round on the company, "for she was used to nothing else in her own father's house."

Hugh felt that this compliment to the O'Carrolls would have greatly gratified his mother, and that she would have quite overlooked the assertion that she was "used to nothing else" but dressing dinners at Ballydunmore.

"And how are you to-night, Miss Lloyd?" said Mrs. Nugent. "I hope your family are well."

"Quite well, thank you, Mrs. Nugent," replied the lady addressed, who was nervously feeling her pearls one by one, to know if any of them had come to grief in consequence of her tumble.

"Come, Mrs. Nugent," said Mat Donovan, "an' set 'em to rights at the dishin', in the name o' God."

"Yes, Mat the Thrasher," replied Mrs. Nugent. "Let me alone for setting them to rights."

She moved with great dignity towards the door; but making a sudden and quite unexpected detour before she reached it, Mrs. Nugent came plump up against Mr. Henry Lowe, who mechanically caught her in his arms, as, yielding to the momentum he staggered backwards.

"Hands off, young man, till you're better acquainted," exclaimed the fat cook, in an offended tone. "I'm no sick sort of indivigel," she added, as she shook the young gentleman from her, to his utter confusion and dismay. But before he could collect his wits to protest he meant no harm whatever, Mat Donovan took the offended lady's arm, and conducted her to the kitchen, where her appearance, as she stood with arms akimbo in the middle of the floor, made Mrs. Brophy and her servant girls feel like delinquents, so awe-inspiring was the glance the mighty empress cast round her dominions.

"Mat the Thrasher," said Mrs. Nugent, "will you "

"Begob, there's Father Hannigan; I must be off," exclaimed Mat, as he hurried away without waiting to know what Mrs. Nugent required.

"God save all here," said Father Hannigan, stamping his feet as he stepped over the threshold. "How are you, Mrs. Brophy?"

"You're welcome, sir," was Mrs. Brophy's reply, as she opened the parlour door.

Father Hannigan had a hearty greeting from every one, and Mr. Lowe was particularly glad to see him.

"I beg your pardon, Miss Lloyd; but we must put Mr. Flaherty in that corner. Sit down there, Mr. Flaherty," he continued, laying his hand on the arm of a respectable looking man, who until now had been concealed behind the tall figure of the priest.

The old man was dressed in a decent suit of black, and as he sat down in the chair to which the priest had conducted him, Mr. Lowe was struck by the placid smile that glowed over his round, ruddy face. He wore a brown wig, curled all round from the temples, which he now caught hold of over his ear, to fasten it on his head. He then commenced playing with a bunch of seals attached to his watch-ribbon, which hung from the fob in his small clothes.

"Good night, Miss Lloyd," said he, without turning towards her.

"Good night, Mr. Flaherty," she replied.

"Ha!" he laughed, appearing to look straight before him, though the lady was on one side, and rather behind him. "I think this is Miss Isabella I have beside me," he said after playing again with the bunch of seals.

"Yes, Mr. Flaherty. It is a long time now since you paid us a visit."

He did not reply, as he was listening, with an anxious look, to the conversation passing between Father Hannigan, Mr. Lowe, and Hugh Kearney.

"This is the English gentleman?" he observed in a whisper, leaning his head towards the young lady who had just spoken to him.

"Yes; he is Sir Garrett Butler's nephew," she replied.

Mr. Lowe's curiosity to know something of Mr. Flaherty was so strong that it brought him to the side of Miss Lloyd, at the other end of the room. She tossed her flounces about, and made way for him in an ecstasy of delight.

"I am curious to know," he said, "who is that old gentleman?"

As he spoke, his curiosity was further excited by seeing a little boy come into the room and place a green bag on the old man's knees.

"That's the celebrated Irish piper," she replied. "I am surprised to see him here. I did not think he attended country weddings."

"I suppose," said Mr. Lowe, "he goes round among the nobility and gentry, as we are told the harpers used to do."

"He does," she replied; "and he has a beautiful little pony the countess gave him. But I suppose he is stopping at present with the priests, and Father Hannigan has brought him with him."

"I wish he would begin to play," said Mr. Lowe. And he was rather startled when the old man immediately said:

"Yes, I'll play a tune for you."

"Oh! thank you; but I really did not think you could hear me."

"Ha!" he replied, laughing; "I can hear the grass growing."

He pulled out his watch, and after opening the glass and fumbling with it for a moment, he said:

"Twenty minutes past nine."

Mr. Lowe, who looked at him in surprise as he smiled and chuckled while putting up his watch, caught a glimpse of the old man's eyeballs, and saw that he was blind.

"Sit down here near me," said Mr. Flaherty. "I knew Sir Garrett and your mother well. I'll play one of poor Garrett's favourite tunes for you."

As he uncovered his pipes their splendour quite took Mr. Lowe by surprise. The keys were of silver, and the bag covered with crimson velvet fringed with gold; while the little bellows was quite a work of art, so beautifully was it carved and ornamented with silver and ivory. Having tied an oval-shaped piece of velvet with a ribbon attached to each end above his knee, he adjusted his instrument, and after moving his arm, to which the bellows was attached by a ribbon, till the crimson velvet bag was inflated, he touched the keys, and catching up the "chanter" quickly in both hands began to play. Mr. Lowe, who watched him narrowly, now saw the use of the piece of velvet tied round his leg, as the "chanter" was ever and anon pressed against it to assist in the production of certain notes by preventing the escape of the air through the end of the tube.

The musician soon seemed to forget all mere human concerns. He threw back his head, as if communing with invisible spirits in the air above him; or bent down over his instrument as if the spirits had suddenly flown into it, and he wanted to catch their whisperings there, too.

The audience, to some extent, shared in the musician's ecstasy; particularly Father Hannigan, from whose eyes tears were actually falling as the delicious melody ceased, and the old man raised his sightless eyes, and listened, as it were, for an echo of his strains from the skies.

"Oh!" exclaimed Father Hannigan, turning away his head, and flourishing his yellow Indian silk pocket-handkerchief, as he affected to sneeze before taking the pinch of snuff he held between the fingers of the other hand "Oh, there's something wonderful in these old Irish airs! There was a ballad in last Saturday's Nation about that tune, that was nearly as moving as the tune itself. Did you read it?" he asked, turning to Hugh Kearney.

"Yes," he replied. "Your friend, Dr. Kiely, induced me to become a subscriber to the Nation."

"I don't get it myself," returned Father Hannigan. "'Tis Father O'Neill gets it, and I suspect he has a leaning towards those Young Irelanders, and dabbles in poetry himself. But I wish I had that ballad about the 'Coolin,' to read it for Mr. Flaherty. If poetry as well as music could be squeezed out of an Irish bagpipes, I'd say that ballad came out of that bag under his oxter."

The old man's face brightened up, as he raised his head, and appeared to be listening to the spirits in the air again.

"Can you remember any of the lines, Hugh?"

"Not to repeat them," he replied; "but I have a general recollection of them."

"We're obliged to you, intirely, for your general recollection," returned Father Hannigan, with his finger on his temple. "But what's that he said about 'sorrow and love'?"

"Sobbing like Eire," replied Hugh.

"Ay, ay," interrupted Father Hannigan. "Now I have it. The poet, Mr. Flaherty, described the 'Coolin' as

'Sobbing like Eire with sorrow and love.'

Isn't that beautiful? and true?

The old man laughed and listened more intently, as if the spirits in the air were very far off, and he were trying to catch the flapping of their wings.

"He also said," Hugh added, "that

'An angel first sung it above in the sky.'"

This seemed to catch the minstrel's fancy more than the other line, for he nodded his head several times, with his mouth slightly open, as if he were softly repeating the interjection ha! ha! ha!

The wedding guests had been silently dropping into the room, which was now pretty well filled. Mat Donovan occasionally seized a bottle or decanter, and filled out a glass of wine, or whiskey, or "cordial" for some of them; and Hugh Kearney observed that Mat was particularly attentive to old Phil Morris, the weaver, whose entrance necessarily attracted attention, as he was lame and leant upon a short stick, which he struck against the ground at every step, with a sturdy defiant sort of knock, which, taken in connection with his tightly compressed lips and keen grey eyes, conveyed the idea that old Phil Morris was a Tartar, with a dash of the cynic in his composition. And old Phil really did look upon the present generation as a degenerate race, who could "put up with anything," and altogether unworthy sons of his "early youth's compeers."

As Mat Donovan pressed old Phil Morris to drink with unusual earnestness, there was a hustling heard at the door, and Ned Brophy himself was seen pushing two blind pipers into the parlour with a degree of violence and an expression of countenance that led Mr. Lowe to imagine he must have caught them in the act of attempting to rob him or something of that kind. The two pipers were tall and gaunt and yellow a striking contrast in every way to Mr. Flaherty. One was arrayed in a soldier's grey watch-coat, with the number of the regiment stamped in white figures on the back, and the other wore a coarse blue body-coat, with what appeared to be the sleeves of another old grey watch-coat sewed to it between the shoulders and the elbows. Both wore well-patched corduroy knee-breeches and bluish worsted stockings, with brogues of unusual thickness of sole, well paved with heavy nails. Their rude brass-mounted instruments were in keeping with their garments. The sheep-skin bag of one had no covering whatever, while that of the other was covered with faded plaid, "cross-barred with green and yellow." They dropped into two chairs near the door, thrusting their old "caubeens" under them, and sat bolt upright like a pair of mummies or figures in a wax-work exhibition.

This invasion of the parlour was caused by the expulsion of the dancers from the barn, to make room for laying the tables for the banquet.

"Play that tune that the angel sang again, Mr. Flaherty," said Father Hannigan.

Mr. Flaherty complied, and the noise and hum of voices were at once hushed.

"Have you that?" the piper in the watch-coat asked his companion in a whisper, at the same time beginning to work with his elbow.

"I have," replied the other, beginning to work with his elbow, too.

A sound like snoring followed for a moment, and Mr. Flaherty jerked up his head suddenly, and looked disturbed as if an evil spirit had intruded among his "delicate Ariels." But as the noise was not repeated, his countenance resumed its wonted placidity, and he bent over his instrument again.

"I think I could do id betther myse'f," said he of the blue body-coat, holding his big knotty fingers over the boles of his chanter. "He don't shake enough."

"So could I," replied the grey watch-coat, giving a squeeze to his bag, which was followed by a faint squeak.

"Turn him out!" shouted Mr. Flaherty, in a voice of thunder, as he started to his feet, his eyes rolling with indignant anger.

There was great astonishment among the company; and Miss Lloyd jumped upon her chair and stared wildly about her, with a vague notion that Wat Murphy's bulldog of which interesting animal she entertained the profoundest dread had got into the room and seized Mr. Flaherty by the calf of the leg.

"Come, Shamus," said Father Hannigan, "this is no place for you. Come, Thade, be off with you," and Father Hannigan expelled the grumbling minstrels from the parlour; but in doing so he gave each a nudge in the ribs, and slipped a shilling into his fist, which had the effect of changing their scowl into a broad grin, as they jostled out to the kitchen.

"Well, Phil, are you brave and hearty?" said Father Hannigan, when he returned to his seat.

"Purty well, I thank you, sir."

"Oh, is that Phil Lahy? I didn't see you till I looked at you. 'Tis to the old cock I was talking. How goes it, my old Trojan?" he added, turning to Phil Morris, whom Mat Donovan was pressing to drink a glass of whiskey, which the old man pushed away from him.

"Sound as a bell," was his reply, as he folded his hands and leant on his stick.

"Well, if you won't take it," said Mat, "your namesake will."

"No, Mat, I'm obliged to you. But I'm takin' nothin' stronger than cordial."

"Well, sure, we have lots uv that same," Mat rejoined. "We didn't forget the teetotallers. Which soart will you have?"

"I'll take a small drop of the ginger-cordial."

"Begor, 'tisn't aisy to know id from the wine for the ladies," said Mat, holding up two decanters between him and the light. He poured a little of the contents of one into a tumbler and tasted it.

"Oh, faith, I have id," he continued, coughing; "an' hot stuff it is."

He filled the tumbler, and presented it to Phil Lahy, who took it with a look of meek resignation, which was quite affecting.

Nelly Donovan rushed in with her face very much flushed, and, making her way to Miss Isabella Lloyd, said in a whisper;

"Wisha, Miss, maybe you'd come out an' show us what to do. We can't get any good uv the cook; she's like the dog in the manger, an' won't either do a hand's turn herse'f, or let any wan else do id. There's lots uv dacent women here that knows what to do as well as herse'f, but she's afther insultin' every wan uv 'em, and as for poor Mrs. Brophy, she don't know whether it is on her head or her heels she's standin', wad her."

"I'll try what I can do," replied the young lady, laughing, as she followed Nelly to the kitchen.

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