Knocknagow - CHAPTER XXXI.



A TABLE at one end of the barn was appropriated to the more distinguished guests, at which Father Hannigan presided, with the bride on his right hand, and an empty chair on his left; for Ned Brophy resolutely resisted all attempts to force him into the seat which Miss Isabella Lloyd had assigned him.

Before the covers were taken off the dishes, however, Mr. Robert Lloyd strolled up to the head of the table and quietly took possession of the unoccupied chair. To his eldest sister's consternation, Mr. Lloyd appeared in his scarlet coat and buckskin breeches, and even had his hunting whip tied over his shoulder.

Ned Brophy, on seeing his landlord, hurried from the lower end of one of the two rows of tables that extended along each side of the barn, and shook him vigorously by the hand.

"Welcome, Mr. Bob," said Ned Brophy. "Begor, I'd never forgive you if you didn't come." And for the first, time since his doom was sealed, Ned Brophy was seen to smile.

"This is herse'f, sir," Ned added. And Mr. Lloyd shook hands with the bride reaching his arm behind Father Hannigan's back in quite an affectionate manner; which caused the bride to smile too, apparently for the first time since her doom was sealed. So that Mr. Robert Lloyd chased the clouds from the faces of his tenant and his tenant's wife a thing which, as a rule, Irish landlords are not much in the habit of doing.

Mat Donovan hurried up to make room for two other unexpected guests at the principal table, and Maurice Kearney and Lory Hanly took their places sufficiently near Miss Lloyd to call up a frightened look into that nervous lady's face when she saw Lory turning round to address her.

As soon as Lory saw his sisters wholly taken up with the doctor, who punctually kept the appointment to which he had casually referred in the evening, the bright idea struck the enamoured young gentleman that he had an excuse for paying another visit to his fair enslaver. So as Mary Kearney and Grace were sitting by the fire, and feeling rather dull and lonely, a knock was heard at the door. They listened to know who might be the unexpected visitor, and immediately after the door was opened, Lory walked into the parlour with the jay's large wicker-cage in his arms. They were very glad to see him, and so was Maurice Kearney himself: But Mrs. Kearney evidently looked upon Lory as a dangerous character, and did not consider herself quite safe so long as he was in the house. Lory, however, was asked to sit down; and the expression of his countenance as he stared round him, and then looked at Grace, might be translated "jolly."

Ned Brophy's wedding happened to be mentioned, and the whim seized Mr. Kearney that he and Lory would go there together.

The fact was, the young gentleman's dancing so tickled Maurice Kearney's fancy the evening he first made Lory's acquaintance, that he could not resist the temptation to see him perform again.

"Come, and I'll drive you over," said he, "and you'll have a good night's fun."

"Faith, I will!" exclaimed Lory, in a voice that reminded Mrs. Kearney of her broken tea-cup.

"Will you come?" he added, turning to Grace and waiting for her reply with his eyes very wide open.

"Oh, no, thank you," she replied.

"If you do, I'll dance with nobody else. 'Pon my word I'd rather dance with you than with anybody."

Grace expressed her acknowledgment, but regretted she should deny herself the pleasure.

Mrs. Kearney went to the kitchen to announce to Barney that he was to drive the car, and to warn him above all things to take care of "Flanigan's Hole." To which injunction Barney replied by doing the "side step" in a reel very genteelly, and in a manner peculiar to himself: it being the usual practice to have the right foot foremost when moving towards the right, and the left foot foremost when moving towards the left, whereas Barney reversed this, and moved to the left with the right foot in front, and to the right with the left foot in front the effect of which was very striking.

"More power, ma'am! Would I doubt you? An' all my figure dance gone out uv my head for want uv practice. One-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three." And Barney, with his head thrown back, till his poll rested on the collar of his coat, one-two-three'd to the stable.

The safe arrival of Mr. Kearney and Lory Hanly in Ned Brophy's barn just as the wedding guests had sat down to dinner, is a sufficient proof that Barney had driven them safely past Flanigan's Hole.

In spite of Miss Isabella Lloyd's exertions, ably seconded as she was by Nelly Donovan, the arrangements were not as successful as might have been wished. For instance, when Father Hannigan raised the cover of the large dish before him, he was rather taken by surprise, on seeing two very plump geese reposing side by side on a bed of very greasy cabbage; and what added considerably to the astonishment of the beholders was the unusual circumstance that while one goose was brown, the other was quite white.

A word from Miss Isabella Lloyd, who could not conceal her indignation at the stupidity of some one whom she designated "that wretch," sent Nelly Donovan flying down between the two rows of tables; and when she returned bearing another dish, that which contained the geese was pushed out of the way, and before he had well recovered from his surprise, Father Hannigan found a piece of roast beef before him, which might have vied with that wonderful quarter that Father M'Mahon got as a Christmas present, and merely to look at which, according to Father Hannigan, would "do your heart good." The two geese were removed to another dish, and banished to one of the side tables; and Mat Donovan completed the arrangements by placing a huge piece of pork on the "bolster of cabbage," originally intended as its resting place.

The roast beef became "small by degrees and beautifully less," under Father Hannigan's carving knife. Hugh Kearney and his father worked with might and main, too; and knives and forks were soon busy all round the barn. But the white goose had aroused Miss Lloyd's inquisitiveness, and she could not rest till she knew all about it. So when Nelly Donovan was passing, Miss Lloyd put back her hand and caught her by the skirt.

"What soft of a goose is that?" she asked, as Nelly bent over her chair.

"'Tis wan uv their own geese, Miss. Mrs. Brophy always rears three or four clutches."

"But why is it white?"

"Oh, is id that wan? Ould Molly, Miss, that didn't understand the cook, an' popped wan uv 'em into a pot of wather an' biled id, instead uv puttin' it in the oven pot as she was tould. She did the same to a beautiful pair uv ducks, an' spiled 'em."

"What's that you have on the plate?"

"Some bacon an' cabbage, Miss, that Wattletoes is afther sendin' me to Mr. Kearney for. An' spake uv the divil an' he'll appear," she exclaimed. "Here is Barney himself."

"Tare-an'-ouns, Nelly," muttered Barney grumblingly, "is id goin' to lave me lookin' at 'em all skelpin' away you are, an' not as much as ud bait a mouse-trap furnint me, barrin' a dhry pueata?"

"I have id here for you, Barney," she replied, presenting the well-filled plate to him.

"More power to your oaten-male-pueata-cake an' a griddle to bile id," exclaimed Barney, as he hurried off to his place at the lower end of the barn.

We have some recollection of a description of an English harvest-home, from the pen of Mr. Charles Reade. The guests were of the same class as those assembled in Ned Brophy's barn. But the English novelist tells us that during the whole time while the viands were being demolished, the only words uttered were the following

"Bo-ill, wull you have some weal wud your bacon?"

"That I woun't, Jock."

In this respect the Irish wedding presented a singular contrast to the English harvest-home. Jokes and laughter were heard on every side; and from Father Hannigan at the head of the table to Barney Brodherick who sat upon an inverted hamper with his back against the winnowing machine, and his plate on his knees, at the opposite end of the barn, every face wore a smile, and fun sparkled in every eye. The only exceptions to this rule were two or three bashful young women whose potatoes broke upon their forks, and filled them with confusion. One of these bashful young women, after a second and third failure, dropped her arms by her side, and resisted every effort to induce her to taste a single morsel of anything. Nelly Donovan did all she could to coax her, but the bashful young woman rigidly refused to touch knife or fork again even though Nelly, with mischievous drollery, called out to Miss Isabella Lloyd

"Wisha, Miss, maybe you'd have a little lane bit there. We have a girl down here that won't ate a taste uv anything for us."

The necessity of peeling the potatoes on the fork at a wedding was regarded as a very trying ordeal; and the remark "that's the pueata I'd like to get at a weddin'," was one not unfrequently heard at Knocknagow, as the speaker held up a "white-eye" between her finger and thumb, which had resisted a tight squeeze of the hand without breaking.

But how will Professor Huxley account for the difference we have alluded to between the Irish wedding and the English harvest home?

In the matter of smiling faces, however, we should make one more exception, besides the bashful young women whose potatoes fell to pieces. Miss Lloyd was haunted by the boiled goose. That doughy looking object seemed both to fascinate and frighten her. She stared at it as a shying horse will stare at a white wall. At last, unable to resist any longer, she held out her plate and asked to be helped to the boiled goose. A young farmer, who sat opposite that neglected and utterly forlorn-looking bird, jumped to his feet and plunged a fork into its side; and then sawed away vigorously with his knife, but without any regard to the bones or joints of the boiled goose. In spite of his vigorous exertions or rather in consequence of them the unhappy boiled goose rolled and slipt about the dish, but lost not a particle of flesh under the knife of the operator.

Now, this young farmer partook of boiled goose in his own house on an average once a week that is to say, every Sunday since Michaelmas. But then the goose was always dismembered before it was put into the pot with the dumplings. And a very savoury dish, too, is goose and dumplings cooked in this way.

Miss Lloyd held out her plate patiently till her arm began to feel tired, when the young farmer, becoming quite desperate, pulled his fork out of the boiled goose, and plunging it into the piece of fat pork that happened to be within arm's length of him, slashed off some two or three pounds of the same, and flinging it upon the young lady's plate, exclaimed:

"Maybe you'd rather have a bit of this, Miss?"

Miss Lloyd stared helplessly at the mass of pork on her plate, which, in her bewilderment, she continued to hold out at arm's length. Whereupon, the young farmer added a liberal supply of cabbage, and Miss Lloyd laid down the plate before her, looking as stupefied as Mat Donovan's cock when he was going to walk into the fire, after falling from the collar-beam upon Phil Lahy's head. And during the rest of the meal Miss Lloyd seemed quite as incapable of further action as the bashful young woman for whom Nelly Donovan wanted "a little lane bit."

Dinner over, the two pipers and three fiddlers struck up "Haste to the Wedding," which was the signal for removing the two rows of tables, and the floor was immediately cleared for dancing.

Mr. Robert Lloyd led out the bride; and, after a good deal of rough shaking and pushing, Mat Donovan persuaded the bridegroom to go through the usual bowing and scraping in front of Miss Lloyd, who was roused from the stupor into which the fat pork had thrown her by the words, "I dance to you, Miss," which were uttered by Ned Brophy much in the same tone and with the same look as usually accompany the phrase, "I'm sorry for your trouble."

"Come, Mr. Lowe," said Father Hannigan, "don't you see Miss Isabella there, throwing sheep's eyes at you? Out with you and join the fun."

"Mr. Lory, your sowl," exclaimed Nelly Donovan, clapping him on the back, "before the flure is full." And Nelly seized Lory by the hand and pulled him along till they found a place among the dancers.

Hugh Kearney walked down the barn looking to the right and left among the blooming damsels, but it was evident the object of his search was not in sight.

"You want somebody," said Mat, with a meaning look.

"Well, I do," replied Hugh. "I want a partner."

"Who is she, an' I'll make her out for you?"

"That's just what I don't know," replied Hugh. "But 'tis the girl with the white jacket."

Mat shook his head, as much as to say, "Sure, now, I knew what was in your mind." And then looking all round for the white jacket, Mat Donovan said aloud "The nicest little girl!" and there was a melancholy tenderness in his voice, and a softness in his smile, which made Hugh at once suspect that the owner of the white jacket was no stranger to Mat the Thrasher.

"Who is she?" he asked.

"Bessy Morris, sir," replied Mat, after a moment's silence, as if he were roused from a reverie.

"Is that old Phil's granddaughter?" Hugh asked in surprise. "I know her very well, but I have not seen her for a long time."

"She was in Dublin at her aunt's, sir," replied Mat. "I think she's gone into the house now to put a stitch in the bridesmaid's gown that Wattletoes is afther dhriving his fut through would you doubt him? I'll run in for her."

He soon returned with Bessy Morris, who blushed and laughed as he told her how Mr. Hugh Kearney had singled her out.

"I really did not know you," said Hugh, as he shook hands with her, "till Mat told me who you were."

"They all tell me I am greatly altered, sir," she replied, "but I can't see it myself."

"We have some purty girls here to-night, sir," said Mat, looking round on every side.

"Very pretty girls," Hugh replied. "There, for instance, that fair-haired girl sitting near the musicians is about as handsome a girl as ever I saw."

"So she is, sir," said Mat. "She's called the Swan of Coolmore. But for all that," he added, with a humorous glance at Bessy Morris, "'tis the white jacket he was lookin' for."

"Oh, but Bessy and I are old acquaintances," replied Hugh, laughing.

"Nabocklish!" returned Mat. "You tould me you didn't know who she was. But I always said you had a good eye uv your own."

The two pipers and three fiddlers found the "tuning" business so difficult that Mat thought there was still time for him to look out for a partner for "the first bout."

"Now, which would you advise me to take?" he asked, stroking his chin as if he found it difficult to make up his mind. "The swan or the bridesmaid the goolden locks or the goolden guineas?"

This question bad the effect of making Bessy Morris look very earnestly at him. But she laughed when he added "Here goes for a shake at the ould saucepan."

"But you are forgetting," said Bessy, "that you were desired to make some punch for the ladies."

"Oh murther!' he exclaimed, "that ould saucepan put id out uv me head."

Billy Heffernan here appeared at the door with a jug of boiling water in each hand, and Mat hurried to the table to make the punch for the ladies; which punch was soon "shared" all round, and caused an immense deal of coughing and a grand display of "turkey-red" pocket-handkerchiefs.

Hugh found his partner so lively and intelligent, and altogether so captivating, that he quite overlooked the fact that the dancing had commenced, till the swinging of Lory Hanly's legs warned him that he must either retire, or join in with the rest.

The "merry din" now commenced in right earnest; but beyond all question the happiest mortal under the roof of Ned Brophy's barn that night was Barney Brodherick, who, fenced in by a table, in a corner all to himself, rattled away through all his wonderful steps as if he thought it a sin to let a single bar of jig, reel or double go for nothing.

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