Knocknagow - CHAPTER XLIV.



HUGH KEARNEY changed his mind. He said to himself, instead of going to the lower part of the farm, he would go look at the hoggets on the hill above the fort. Somehow he found that white jacket which had so caught his fancy at the wedding running very much in his mind. But this, in some degree, might be accounted for by the fact that Grace had just been telling him the flattering things Bessy Morris had said of him. And as he had to pass close to the house on his way, he began to think of some excuse for running up to his sister's room, and having a laugh and a few words of conversation with his agreeable partner in the dance at Ned Brophy's wedding. It required a good deal of reasoning to satisfy him that there was nothing objectionable in the step he was about taking; and the mere fact that it did take such an amount of argumentation to satisfy him ought of itself to have been enough to convince so steady a young man as Mr. Hugh Kearney that it might be just as well to go on up the hill, and not mind that curious little room up in the pointed roof, in the oldest portion of the old cottage, for the present.

"She is a remarkably intelligent girl," thought Mr. Hugh Kearney. "If she were a beauty, like Nancy Hogan, I shouldn't be surprised at the admiration she inspires. And surely intellect can have nothing to do with it; for what do those young fellows I saw crowding about her know about intellect? And sure she attracted my own notice before I spoke a word to her, or even knew who she was. It would be quite an interesting study to discover the secret of her attraction." And he got over the stile behind the laurels with the intention of commencing the interesting study at once.

He started on entering the garden, for while his eyes were turned to the window in the ivied gable, he found himself face to face with Bessy Morris, who was just passing the laurels with her head bent over her sewing. Possibly she had seen him coming, from the window.

Hugh Kearney made a few commonplace remarks, and asked one or two commonplace questions as he walked by Bessy Morris's side towards the house. But when she turned round at the end of the walk, somehow he could not bring himself to turn round with her. Perhaps it was pride that prevented him, and he wanted an excuse. So far, he was merely on his way to the house. He found an excuse, how ever, for delaying her a minute at the little gate to inquire whether her grandfather ever went to fish now? There was a little trout stream not far from Phil Morris's house, and the old man, notwithstanding his lameness, was an expert angler. Some years before, Hugh cultivated the gentle craft, and the old weaver occasionally supplied him with a cast of flies, when the contents of his own fishing-hook failed to lure the trout to rise and get themselves hooked. Sometimes, too, the rain would drive him from the stream for shelter to the little house among the hawthorns; and he would listen for hours to the old "croppy's" reminiscences of '98, while the shuttle was allowed to rest as he shouldered his crutch to show how fields were won. Mr. Hugh Kearney used not to be quite oblivious of the presence of old Phil Morris's lively little granddaughter; yet now he wondered why he had not taken more notice of her at that time, and began to admire her retrospectively, as she moved about the house or sat reading or sewing near the window while the old man talked, and the rain poured down till the young ducks swam up to the very threshold, and seemed to consult among themselves whether they would have long to wait before they could sail into the kitchen and explore every nook and corner without setting foot on dry land. And the glances for Bessy Morris was a coquette before ever she saw a bold dragoon that went for nothing at that time, strange to say, began now to produce the desired effect on Mr. Hugh Kearney's heart, as memory brought them back again, while he leant over the little gate to ask Bessy Morris whether her grandfather ever went to fish now.

She had seen him looking over his flies and tackle a few days before, and Hugh resolved to send his rod to Mat Donovan to be repaired, and said to himself that he would pay an occasional visit to the river during the spring and summer. It would be very pleasant. Old Phil was as entertaining as ever, and told him some capital stories at Ned Brophy's wedding!

Hugh Kearney, as he walked alone up the hill, acknowledged to himself that he would rather have remained in the garden with Bessy Morris than with any girl he knew if he had an excuse.

It was generally said and believed among his friends that Hugh had never been in love. Yet he had a tinge of romance in him, after a fashion. He was a capital builder of castles in the air; but be his castle never so stately, never so gorgeous and glittering, it was to him cold and unattractive till love shed its rosy light upon it. But in spite of all this, he never was in love in downright earnest. He had met some one or two, perhaps whom, under favourable circumstances, he might have loved. But he had got a habit of weighing possible circumstances, and looking very far before him, which made him keep clear of actual danger, and content himself with castles in the air. His solitary rambles over the moors and mountains were very favourable to castle-building; while his close attention to the management of the farm with which his rambles did not interfere at all was calculated to a practical business-like turn to his mind. He found health and relaxation among the moors and mountains, and never thought the time lost which was spent with his dogs and his gun, or upon horseback, clearing stone walls and double ditches, after the foxhounds or the harriers. He read more, and derived more pleasure from books than his acquaintances suspected, and was far better informed than he himself knew. He did not parade his knowledge, and consequently got credit for knowing nothing. No day passed that he did not add to his store. But he read solely for the sake of the pleasure it afforded him; and yet he almost shrank from opening a new volume unless he had some previous knowledge of the author or the subject. He felt no craving for novelty, and liked so well to return again and again to some cherished favourites that he often thought it would scarcely be a matter for regret if the art of bookmaking were lost, and he were henceforth obliged to limit his reading to the contents of his own shelves, the greater part of which he owed to that paragon of uncles, his mother's Uncle Dan. So that Mrs. Kearney could credit her Uncle Dan with Hugh's taste for reading as well as with Richard's taste for music.

After walking among the sheep and counting them, and even catching one and feeling its ribs, he put his hands in his pockets and looked about him. He could see two figures leaning over the little bridge; and supposing them to be the doctor and the beauty of Castleview, Hugh smiled. He always sympathized with lovers. He considered Kathleen, too, singularly handsome; and he thought Rose an exceedingly pleasant girl to spend an hour with. Yet he turned back at Tom Hogan's boundary a while ago, and had determined to do so from the first though Miss Grace was quite troubled to think that it was because he was "huffed" by the way she "treated him" that he left them so abruptly. In fact he felt inclined to keep aloof from the house on the hill; and there can scarcely be a doubt that the habit of looking before him had a good deal to do with producing this somewhat odd frame of mind for a young man who admired beauty and sympathized with lovers in general, and was so given to building castles in the air. Yet he never thought of looking before him in the case of the little house among the hawthorns. Was it because it was so humble a little house? or was it because there was more attractive metal in it? Perhaps both these considerations helped to make Mr. Hugh Kearney forget his usual habit of looking to possible consequences in this instance. And besides, he had an excuse. He would certainly send his fishing-rod to Mat Donovan to have it repaired. And poor Mat Donovan! had he nothing to do with the affair? Was he in no way concerned? Was it nothing to him who came or went to and from that little house in the whitethorns?

At the present moment, however, nothing sublunary seems to be troubling Mat Donovan but how best to convey, with the greatest certainty and expedition, to Tom Cuddehy, of the Rath, the important intelligence that the long disputed hurling match could be decided to the satisfaction of all concerned in Maurice Kearney's kiln-field on the following Sunday.

"Maybe," said Mat to himself, as he trudged homeward after finishing the seed-sowing, "maybe I might meet some wan from that side of the forge. If not I don't know how best to manage; an' Tom is likely to be at the fair to morrow." He saw two horsemen riding towards him, and on looking more closely he observed that there had been a funeral in the little graveyard near the castle, for, besides the two horsemen, there were two or three cars on the road, and a group of people, mostly women, standing in the church yard.

"I didn't hear of any wan bein' dead about this place," said Mat Donovan to himself, "so I suppose it must be some stranger. Begor, I'm all right," he exclaimed, quickening his pace; "that's ould Paddy Laughlan, an' he'll bring word uv the hurlin' to Tom Cuddehy." He hurried on and came out upon the main road before the horseman had passed.

"A fine evenin', Mat," said old Paddy Laughlan; "what way are you afther the weddin'? The divil a betther bout uv dancin' I see these fifty years than that last bout ye danced. Have you any news?"

"Not a word strange. Is id a funeral ye're at?"

"'Tis," was the reply; "a son uv William Maher's."

"Wisha, now," exclaimed Mat in astonishment. "I didn't hear a word uv id."

Oh, 'tis on'y the youngest little b'y. I b'lieve he wasn't more than about fifteen months ould. Where are ye comin' from?"

"Well, we wor finishin' the seed-sowin' at Raheen; and I'm goin' to give some directions to Jack Delany about the plough-irons, as we're goin' to break a field. An' now as I'm afther meetin' you, maybe you'd ." Here Mat Donovan stopped short. The second horseman, who had loitered behind, rode up; and as soon as Mat Donovan recognised him he ceased speaking, and looked as if he had made a mistake. The horseman was the young man from the mountain, who kept gadding after a certain white jacket at Ned Brophy's wedding, when his allegiance was lawfully due elsewhere. Was Mat Donovan jealous of the young man from the mountain? On the contrary, his discrimination in the matter of the white jacket made Mat Donovan feel as if he were the sworn friend of the young man from the mountain. Yet Mat Donovan looked grave, and stopped short in the middle of a sentence, the moment he recognised the young man from the mountain in the horseman who now rode up and resumed his place at old Paddy Laughlan's side.

"What's that you wor sayin', Mat?" old Paddy Laughlan asked.

"Nothin' uv any account," Mat replied. "I was thinkin' uv sendin' a message to a friend up in that direction; but I won't mind id."

"I'll brin' a message, an' welcome, for you," returned the old farmer. "Maybe 'tis to Ned Brophy? If it is, I won't mind turnin' down an' tellin' him, if I don't happen to meet any wan on the road to send id by. He's a cousin uv Ned Brophy's," he added, turning to the young man who rode by his side, as if he thought it necessary to explain why he was so civil to a poor man like Mat Donovan.

The young man only looked at his spurs, which were very large and very bright first at one and then at the other and seemed to think that old Paddy Laughlan was on the whole too condescending Ned Brophy's relationship to the contrary notwithstanding.

"I won't mind id now," returned Mat. "Good evenin' to ye."

"Bad luck to id for money," said Mat Donovan to himself when Paddy Laughlan and his intended son-in-law had ridden forward, "'tis doin' harm here an' there. Well, she'll have her twenty cows milkin' at any rate; ay, begor, an' a good-lookin' young fellow, too, though he's a gag itse'f. But if ever a woman was fond uv a man Judy Laughlan was fond of Tom Cuddehy. An' poor Tom'd marry her if she hadn't a cross to bless herself wud in the mornin'; an' he tould me he would. An' all on account uv her four hundhred pounds fortune they're to be separated. I don't know; she might be a happier woman wud Tom, though he has on'y a small farm, an' that tillage, than ever she'll be in her fine slate house wud her twenty cows comin' into her yard. Well, I was near playin' the divil by axin' the ould fellow to tell Tom Cuddehy about the field. The not a wan uv me ever thought uv how id was betune 'em till the son-in-law reminded me uv id. An' sure I might 'asy know, whin Tom himse'f tould me she daren't look at him for the last twelvemonth. Now, if Tom dhraws her down, as he always do, the next time I meet him, I know the first word that'll come to my mouth is, that there's as good fish in the say as ever was caught. An' cowld comfort that same ould sayin' is. Well, he'll soon be out uv pain anyway. An' maybe 'twould be well for more of us if we had the same story." He looked up at the three poplar trees on the hill, and then at the little house among the hawthorns. "Well, I must see about the plough-irons," he added, rousing himself; "an' who knows but wan uv these cars at the church might be from Tom's side uv the counthry, an' I can send him word about the hurlin'."

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