THE HURLING IN THE KILN-FIELD — CAPTAIN FRENCH THROWS THE SLEDGE AGAINST MAT THE THRASHER — BARNEY IN TROUBLE. — FATHER M'MAHON'S "PROUD WALK."
"WHAT a pity it is," said Mrs. Kearney, "that Mr. Lowe is not a Catholic. 'Pon my word he's good enough to be one. And 'tis often my Uncle Dan said the same of his uncle."
Grace, who sat with Mr. Kearney on one side of the car, laughed as she turned quickly round and looked at Mary, who was with her mother on the other side.
They were returning from last Mass, and Mr. Lowe stood outside the door to hand the ladies off the car.
"I wonder Richard would be making such a fool of himself about that Kathleen Hanly," continued Mrs. Kearney; "walking by the side of their old phaeton all the way from Kilthubber, instead of driving home with Hugh in the gig, and leaving poor Mr. Lowe by himself all the morning."
"Where is Wattletoes?" Mr. Kearney called out as he got off the car.
"This was his day to be at first Mass," Mrs. Kearney observed, "and he ought to be at home an hour ago."
"He wasn't at first Mass, then," said the dairymaid, who ran out on hearing her master's voice, and who had a grudge against Barney for a reason of her own. "He spent his mornin' at Kit Cummins's, card-playin' wud the lads."
Mrs. Kearney raised her hands in horror and amazement at this damning proof of Barney's wickedness. Running after ballad-singers, peep-shows, and Punches-and-Judys, were mere venial offences compared with losing Mass on Sunday; and spending the time with "the lads" deepened the offence to the darkest hue of guilt. A certain little club or fraternity, of whom one Andy Dooley (alias Andy Meeawe) was the leader and oracle, who frequented Kit Cummins's, were universally known as "the lads" or "the school"; and with them, we grieve to say, Barney was tempted to spend the morning, sitting upon a skillet, and playing "scoobeen" upon the bottom of Kit Cummins's wash-tub, which was turned upside down for the purpose. Barney, however, was hurrying home early enough to escape detection, counting his coppers on the way, when, in an evil hour, he espied Brummagem (who, owing to early impressions, could never be persuaded that anything more was required to keep holy the Sabbath-day than washing his face in the pool in the quarry, and drying it with his cap) placing a small stone on the smooth part of the road, and, after moving backwards half-a-dozen yards, pitching a penny at it. Barney pitched a penny at the "bob" too. It required a critical eye to judge which was the better pitch; but Brummagem, taking a bit of iron hoop from his pocket, used it as a rule, making it plain that his penny was the eighth of an inch nearer to the "bob." This Barney admitted by a nod of assent in reply to a look from Brummagem. The hopeful youth then laid a half penny on the bit of hoop and held it towards Barney, who placed another halfpenny beside it; and Brummagem, after solemnly spitting upon them for good luck, whirled both half pence into the air with a peculiar movement of the wrist. They came down "heads," and Brummagem pocketed them in silence and pitched again. So the pitching and tossing went on with varying luck till Tom Maher announced to Barney that the family were home from Mass "this hour," and that the mistress had found out how Barney had been engaged during the morning.
"Begob, I'm done for now for ever," exclaimed Barney. And he began to debate with himself whether it was to his mother's cabin above Glounamuckadhee, or to his relations near Ballydunmore, he had better fly to escape Mrs. Kearney's wrath.
But the roll of the big drum reminded him of the great hurling match that was to come off in the kiln-field that day, and of the sledge-throwing between Mat Donovan and Captain French, and of the "high-gates" and "hell-and-heaven"; and, above all, of Peg Brady, whom Barney pronounced to be "tuppence a pound before any girl in the parish" — and a kiss from whom, he assured Tom Maher in confidence, was "eating and drinking"; and Barney was a happy man once more!
"Begob, Tom," he exclaimed, his eye glistening with delight, "there'll be no show but all the b'ys an' girls we'll have in the kiln-field to-day. Look up thowar's Bohervogga. The road is black wud 'em."
"'Twill be a great gatherin'," returned Tom Maher.
"Do you think will Mat bate the captain?" Barney asked, anxiously. "I'd rather we'd lose the hurlin' than have Mat bet at the sledge."
"There's no danger, wud the help uv God," Tom replied, "though Phil Lahy is unaisy. An' the captain is a powerful man. I never see such a pair uv arms. An' Tom Doherty tells me he never stopped practisin' for the last week. But, never you fear, but Mat'll open his eye for him. An' we're purty sure uv the hurlin', too, as we have Tom Doherty. I never knew Tom to fail on a p'int. He says he'll depind upon Miss Mary to get his pardon for him from Father Carroll, as he had to stale away at the first light, an' he's afeard Father Carroll couldn't find any wan to serve Mass. An' Miss Mary promised, for she's as anxious about the hurlin' as any uv us."
This was quite true; and when Tom Doherty told her how, every evening, when he went to water Father Carroll's horse to the weir, he was sure to see Captain French in the Priest's Walk, with his coat off, throwing a sledge "for the bare life," and that he'd give "a twenty-pound note" to beat Mat Donovan, Mary became quite nervous lest the laurels were at last about to be snatched from Mat Donovan's brows.
"What is it in that letter," Grace asked, "that brings that happy look into your eyes? This is the third time you have read it within the past half-hour; and you always look so glad."
Mr. Lowe had remarked, too, that he had never seen her look so animated — though it was the last day of his stay!
"Read it yourself," said Mary, offering her the letter — which was from her sister Anne.
"I read it before, and couldn't see anything to account for your delight. It scarcely can be this piece of news about Arthur O'Connor."
But it was the piece of news about Arthur O'Connor. And every time Mary read it she felt (or fancied she felt) a great load taken off her heart, and said to herself that "now she could write to him," and explain why she was not at the window that snowy Christmas Eve when he waited so long and so patiently for her.
"I'm so glad," said Grace, "that Richard and Mr. Lowe are to leave the same day I am going myself. It is quite a coincidence."
"And why are you so glad?"
"Oh, I have a plan."
"What is it?"
"Well, I'll get papa to ask them to spend the evening with us; and we'll have Minnie Delany and the 'Brehon' and 'Shamrock' and a few others, and I think it will be very pleasant."
"I suppose Eva will take them by storm."
"Well, I rather think not. She requires time in spite of her beauty and her golden ringlets. You are far more striking."
"And does no thought of me enter into your plan?"
"Didn't you say there was no use thinking you would come?" Grace asked in surprise.
"Yes; but does it not occur to you that I'll be very lonely when you are all gone?"
Grace was silent for a minute, and then said — "Mary, I am the incarnation of selfishness. That is the essential difference between you and me — I think of myself first, and you think of yourself last. You will be dreadfully lonely without a soul with you. And now that I see it I'd gladly stay if I could. But why did it not occur to me before? Because I am selfish — that's the why."
"You are too severe upon yourself," returned Mary. "But why do you say I'll be 'without a soul'? Do Hugh, and my father and mother, and Ellie and Willie, count for nothing? And that reminds me that I have left Ellie altogether to her story-books and her birds for some time; and you know she is to be sent to school when Anne comes home in summer."
"Oh, you'll be all right when Anne comes home. She is so blessed with animal spirits. I expect she'll go wild after the jail-like discipline of that convent. I'm sure she'll be as great a flirt as Bessy Morris."
"Why do you suppose Bessy Morris is a flirt?"
"Well, that soldier's letter was pretty strong circumstantial evidence; and, besides, I heard them discussing her character in the kitchen last night, when I was helping your mamma with the pudding."
"What did they say of her?"
"Barney said she'd court 'a haggart o' sparrows'; but the general opinion was that she was 'a nice crack' — what ever that means."
"A 'crack' is a person who dresses too stylishly. But Bessy's taste is so exquisite, it is impossible to find fault with her in that respect."
"Yes, that brown stuff dress is perfection," returned Grace. "I must get one like it. And how Mat Donovan worships her! But I suppose she would not have him."
"Oh, Mat is what might be called a universal lover," said Mary. "He has quite a number of sweethearts."
"Ah, but there's something more than that in Bessy's case. But I can hardly reconcile myself to the idea of her becoming the wife of a labourer. Yet the little house is very pretty. The garden and the beehives would do very well. But Bessy ought to have a nicely furnished little parlour, with white curtains to the window, and some books, and a bird in a cage to sing for her all day long."
"Like Norah Lahy's linnet," Mary added.
"No," rejoined Grace, "he is too grave and sober for Bessy. Ellie's goldfinch would be more suitable, or a canary. But Mat himself would be for a thrush that would awaken the Seven Sleepers. Bessy, however, has, I think, more ambitious views than to be the mistress of that little house."
"I'd be sorry to think you are not mistaken," returned Mary, thoughtfully. "Mat is just the sort of man who would feel such a disappointment deeply. I can't help laughing at myself," she added, "I am so anxious about the hurling, and this trial of strength with Captain French. I would not wish for anything that Mat should be beaten. And yet of what consequence is it?"
"The reason is, you sympathise so strongly with those around you," Grace observed. "I have often noticed it. There, now, your eyes light up because that bevy of girls crossing the lawn are showing their white teeth — and very white teeth they have, and very beautiful and luxuriant hair. But why do they all prefer scrambling over the ditch to going through the gate a few yards lower down? Oh, yes! Those youths will pull them up, and I suppose they like that. There goes the big drum and the fifes. And, my goodness! what a number of people! 'Tis like a races."
"And is it not pleasant to see them all so happy?" said Mary, with sparkling eyes. "But to my mind the prettiest sight of all is that long line of children, joined hand in hand, and winding round and round in that way."
"You might call them a wreath of rosebuds," returned Grace; "though that play they are at is known by the unpoetical name of 'thread the needle,' You see the two tallest hold up their joined hands like an arch, through which the whole line runs. The 'Brehon' told me there is a most poetical description of the same game in an old Irish manuscript, in which the king and queen are at the head of the line of youths and maidens, who glide under their majesties' arms to the music of the harp. But I hope it was not called 'thread the needle' in those happy days. But mind the wide circle of children of larger growth at the upper end of the field."
"That's 'high-gates,'" said Mary.
"And behold Barney Brodherick in full chase after some fair one of large dimensions, who, I fancy, is too fat to hold out long," Grace continued. "Yes, there he has the prize captured already."
"That is Bessy Morris's cousin, Peg Brady," said Mary, laughing. "Barney is a great admirer of her."
"There go the next pair," continued Grace. "Ha! she won't be caught so easily. She's as fleet as a deer."
"I think it is Nelly Donovan," said Mary.
So it is," returned Grace. " There is something gazelle-like about Nelly. I often think what a huntress she would make. She is like one of Diana's nymphs. There, she has distanced her pursuer, and is now walking at her leisure, till he comes nearer. But he is trying to get her into the corner and catch her as she doubles back. What a happy, light hearted girl Nelly is!"
And a good girl, too," returned Mary. " It is quite affecting to see herself and poor Norah Lahy together; one so strong and healthy, and the other so weak and helpless. They love each other like sisters. But surely that is Nancy Hogan's golden hair! I'm so glad to see poor Nancy out among them again."
"Yes; and she is evidently not indifferent to the conversation of her companion," Grace remarked.
"That is her old admirer, Tom Carey, the carpenter," returned Mary. "I am really very glad."
"I thought you'd go in for dying of a broken heart in such a case?" said Grace.
"No, not when a man proves unworthy," Mary answered. "And Ned Brophy acted very badly."
"I'm trying to find out Bessy Morris among them," said Grace; "but I don't think she is there. Perhaps she is too grand? But look, there is Mr. Lloyd riding backwards and forwards over the new ditch; and I suppose that is Captain French with him."
Here we are reminded that we owe an apology to the "new ditch." When we first had occasion to refer to this freak of Maurice Kearney's, we stated that it never was and never would be of the slightest earthly use. But, in justice to the "new ditch," we feel bound to admit that it was the best, and the "firmest," and in every way the most suitable ditch in the neighbourhood for training a horse to "topping," and was availed of for that purpose by professional and amateur trainers for miles around. And few equestrians could, when passing the way, resist the temptation of taking a few jumps over the "new ditch"; so that a strip of the field at either side of this admirable fence generally presented the appearance of a race-course between the ropes after the last heat for the "consolation stakes." Most humbly do we beg the "new ditch's" pardon for asserting that it was of no earthly use.
"I think we ought to go out, and get near them," said Grace. " I see the hurlers falling into battle array. And there are the Hanlys on the road above the grove, and Richard holding the pony by the head, lest he should set off for home backwards, as he sometimes does, by way of a practical joke."
"I have no objection to a walk," returned Mary. "But you never thought you were not near enough till you saw Captain French and Mr. Lloyd."
"Well, I have some slight curiosity in that way," rejoined Grace, putting on her bonnet. "I want to see what sort of looking person he is."
"And to be seen," Mary added, laughing.
"Well, come then. I see Hugh and Mr. Lowe are going, and we may as well join them,"
By the time they reached the phaeton — the occupants of which bowed condescendingly to them — the high-gates and other games were suspended, and the children and young girls stood upon the fences round the field out of the way of the hurlers. There was a hush, and an eager, anxious look in every face, as Mat Donovan moved from the crowd towards the middle of the field, followed by his twenty picked men. He pulled the ball with some difficulty from his pocket, and, throwing it with his hurly on the field, took off his coat slowly, and with a quiet smile. The others pulled off their coats, too; but some of them were quite pale, while their teeth chattered with excitement.
"What's delayin' ye, boys?" Mat called out, seeing with surprise that the hurlers at the other side were not taking their places.
The party whom he addressed made no reply, but they whispered among themselves, and one or two got upon the "new ditch" and looked towards the Three Poplars.
"Is there anything wrong, boys?" said Mat, after leaving his place at the head of his men, and mingling with the crowd, from which "the farmers" had not yet separated.
"Tom is not here," was the reply, slowly and reluctantly given.
"Tom Cuddehy not here!" exclaimed Mat Donovan, as if a thunderbolt had fallen at his feet. "Where is he?"
"We don't know," was the reply. "We thought he'd be here before us. But we're afther sendin' for him."
"Here they are," cried the young men on the ditch; and three swift-footed youths were seen hurrying down the hill.
"Is he comin'?" a dozen voices asked together. "He's not," the foremost of the three scouts replied, gasping for breath and dashing the perspiration from his face.
"Well, if I hadn't the sight uv my own eyes," Mat Donovan observed with the deepest sorrow, "I'd never b'lieve Tom was the man to do a mane act. Afther givin' me his hand an' word on id!"
"He couldn't help id," said one of the messengers. "Maybe, 'tis to break a leg or an arm he did?" returned Mat, somewhat anxiously. "For, if I'm not mistaken, nothin' less'd keep Tom from his post on such an occasion as this."
"Well, no," the youth replied, with a grin. "But I don't know but he might be afther injurin' wan uv his ribs."
"How so?" Mat asked.
"Begor, bekase he's afther gettin' a new wan," was the reply. "Ould Paddy Laughlan's daughter is afther runnin' away wud him."
"Well, I'm not sorry to hear that," said Mat. "But when I tould him the field was to be broke this week, he had a right to put id off for another time."
"Mat," said Phil Lahy, "human nature is human nature. Where is the man that hasn't his wakenesses? So don't be too hard on Tom. Make it your own case."
And Mat happening to look towards the little group on the road — for he had noticed with pleasure that Miss Kearney had got upon the fence in her eagerness to see the match begin — his eye caught sight of a figure on the fence at the other side of the road, dearer to him than all the world beside and he forgave Tom Cuddehy.
"Will ye hurl wudout him?" he asked.
"We'd rather not," was the reply.
"Well, I'd rather not myse'f," returned Mat. "There'd be no satisfaction. I suppose we may as well put on our coats."
"I think, Mat," Phil Lahy suggested, "you ought to make a promiscuous match."
"Do you mane over and hether?" Mat asked.
"I do," replied Phil. "Make a match, you and Mister O'Donnell, wudout any regard to the two sides."
"Very well; I'm satisfied," said Mat, whirling his hurly up in the air, and calling out, "Right or left for first call."
"Left," cried Mr. O'Donnell.
"You lost," returned Mat, as the hurly fell upon the field with the handle towards the right. He ran his eye along the line of hurlers, and said quietly, "Come here, Jemmy Hogan."
Jemmy Hogan's eye flashed with pride as he advanced and stood beside Mat Donovan.
Captain French's servant pointed to him, and whispered something into his master's ear that made his eye flash almost as bright as Jemmy Hogan's. Captain French was a soldier, and the son of a soldier, and, as one by one the hurlers stepped forward as their names were called, and pulled off their coats, he thought what a sin and a shame it was that such splendid "material" should be going to waste in that way.
"There is Bessy Morris and Judy Brophy," said Nelly Donovan. "I wonder why don't they come into the field?"
"She tould me she wouldn't come at all," returned Peg Brady, with something like a scowl. "But I suppose Judy Brophy called in for her, and she came wud her."
"I'll go call 'em over," said Nelly, starting off at the top of her speed. Now, Billy Heffernan happened to be standing all alone not far from the corner of the grove near which the ladies had taken their places, and whether it was that Nelly looked at him instead of looking before her, or what ever else might be the cause of her carelessness, her foot was caught in a bramble, and she was flung forward upon her face and hands with such violence that both Grace and Mary uttered an exclamation and looked frightened.
"O Nelly, did you fall?" said Billy Heffernan. "Come here till I take you up."
"Well, Billy Heffernan is a provokingly ungallant young man," Grace exclaimed with her ringing laugh.
Nelly Donovan, who was quickly on her feet again, laughed too, and flinging back her dark hair and twisting it into a knot behind, came towards them more slowly, and called to her friends to come into the field. Judy Brophy, who was radiant with smiles — and well she might, for since Ned's marriage she had had no less than three proposals — came down from the fence, and crossing the road at a run, climbed over the other, and was immediately shaking hands vigorously with Nelly Donovan. Bessy Morris seemed half afraid to descend from the fence, which was unusually high, and Kathleen Hanly's frown was even darker than Peg Brady's, when she saw Hugh Kearney hand her down as carefully as if Bessy Morris were a lady.
"Thank you, sir," said Bessy; and after returning Mary's smile with a little bow, she got over the other fence without Hugh's assistance, pretending not to notice that it was proffered.
Captain French's servant called his attention to Bessy Morris, and he immediately came towards her and commenced talking to her.
Mary Kearney seemed surprised on observing this; and she looked grave, if not pained, when she saw that Bessy's face was crimson and her eyes cast down, while the captain's white teeth gleamed — unpleasantly, Mary thought — through his dark beard.
"He is a splendid-looking man," said Grace.
"But what can he be saying to Bessy Morris?" Mary asked.
"Oh, flattering her, of course," replied Grace. "And really I never thought she was so very bashful. But she is strikingly — not handsome, but some way fascinating. If I were Miss Isabella Lloyd I might be jealous."
Mat Donovan felt himself pulled by the sleeve, and, on looking round, saw Peg Brady by his side.
"Well, Peg, what's the matter?" says Mat Donovan.
She pointed to the captain and Bessy Morris.
"Oh, ay, 'tis Bessy," he remarked. "I didn't know she was here till I see her on the ditch a minute ago."
Peg Brady kept her eyes fixed upon his face, but she saw nothing there but a smile of admiration and pleasure, as he watched them.
"Bessy always had a great respect for you, Mat," says Peg Brady.
"Well, I b'lieve she had," says Mat Donovan.
"As a friend," returned Peg Brady.
"As a friend," Mat Donovan repeated. "What else?"
"But she's not the same since she was in Dublin," said Peg Brady. "I must tell you somethin' wan uv these days. Mind the captain, how pleasant he is."
Bessy Morris turned away to seek Judy Brophy — who was taken possession of by one of her new admirers, and seemed quite intoxicated by his high-flown compliments — when the word "sojer" fell upon her ear, and on looking up she saw a group of Peg Brady's special cronies regarding her with meaning looks, and whispering among themselves, keeping their eyes fixed upon her all the time. It was plain they knew her secret; and wherever she turned she fancied she met looks of suspicion and malice. This was mere fancy; but, perhaps, it was conscience made a coward of her. She wished she had remained at home, and a pang shot through her heart at the thought of how people would talk of her. She brightened up as she passed Mat Donovan, for the same honest smile as ever met her scrutinising glance. She could almost have thrown herself into his arms for shelter from the poisoned arrows which she fancied were about being launched at her.
"Come, boys," said Mat, "up wad the ball."
The ball was thrown up, and there was some good play, and running, with a friendly fall or two; but as it was only a few goals "for fun," there was little or no excitement, and the "high-gates," and "hell-and-heaven," and "thread-the-needle" were resumed, the players merely running away like a flock of frightened sheep whenever the ball came bounding in among them.
"Mat," said Phil Lahy, when two or three goals had been hurled, "I think you might send for the sledge."
"Well, sure I'm agreeable at any time," replied Mat, "but 'twouldn't do to send for id until the captain proposes id first; you know 'twas he sent the challenge."
"Well, Donovan," said Captain French, "are we going to have the sledge? I can't stay much longer."
"Uv coorse, sir, as you came to have a throw we wouldn't like to disappoint you," returned Mat. "I'll send down to Jack Delany's for the sledge — Barney!" he shouted, as Wattletoes was passing hot-foot after a young girl, who was evidently bent upon leading him a long chase.
"You lost, Mat," said Barney, as he stopped and wheeled round, with a grin of intense enjoyment lighting up his face.
"How is that, Barney?" Mat asked.
"Oh, if you wor wud me at the high-gates," returned Barney, "you'd get your belly-full uv kisses."
"All right, Barney," rejoined Mat. "But I want you to run down to the forge for the sledge, as the captain 'd like to have a throw before he goes."
"Begob, an' I will so," exclaimed Barney, becoming suddenly quite serious, on finding himself entrusted with so important a commission.
"Take up that ball," said Phil Lahy, in a tone that quite frightened Jackey Ryan; for it reminded him of the bishop's "Come down out of that window," the day that he, Jackey, and two other aspiring youths climbed to one of the high windows in Kilthubber chapel, to hear His Grace's sermon in comfort, and, as Jackey said, without having the life "scroodged" out of them. "An' Brummagem," added Phil, "do you folly Wattletoes, for fear he might bring the wrong wan."
"I think I'll go down to the forge after 'em," said Billy Heffernan, "as they'll be apt to box about id, an' delay ye too long." But Billy Heffernan's real motive was to tell Norah Lahy that Tom Cuddehy had "disappointed," as it occurred to him that Norah might think the Knocknagow boys were beaten because there was no cheering.
Barney soon appeared with the sledge upon his shoulder, and Mat Donovan, after balancing it in his hand, laid it at Captain French's feet.
The captain stripped with the look of a man sure to win, and handed his coat and vest to his servant. A murmur, partly of admiration and partly of anxiety for the result of the contest, arose from the crowd of men, women, and children around, as he bared his arms; for compared with them Mat Donovan's appeared almost slight and attenuated.
"I never saw the like of him," some one was heard to exclaim in a low, solemn tone, but which was distinctly audible in the dead silence.
He took the heavy sledge, and placing his foot to the mark, swung it backwards and forwards twice, and then wheeling rapidly full round, brought his foot to the mark again, and, flying from his arm as from a catapult, the sledge sailed through the air, and fell at a distance that seemed to startle many of the spectators.
It was then brought back and handed to Mat Donovan, who took it with a quiet smile that somewhat re-assured his friends. Mat threw the sledge some three feet beyond the captain's mark, and many of those around drew a long breath of relief; but there was no applause.
But the captain's next throw was fully six feet beyond Mat Donovan's, and several of his father's tenants and retainers cried, "More power, captain!"
Mat Donovan, however, cleared the best mark again by three feet.
The captain now grasped the sledge, clenching his teeth, and looking so fierce and tiger-like, his eyes flashing from under his knitted brows, that the women at the front of the crowd involuntarily pressed back appalled. With every muscle strained to the utmost, he hurled the huge sledge from him, falling forward upon his hands; and as the iron ploughed up the green sward far beyond Mat Donovan's throw, the shout of the captain's partisans was drowned by something like a cry of pain from the majority of the spectators.
"Begor, captain," said Mat Donovan, surveying his adversary with a look of thoroughly genuine admiration, "you're good!"
Taking his place again at the stand, he laid down the sledge, and, folding his arms, fell into deep thought. Many a tear-dimmed eye was fixed upon him, for all imagined that he was beaten.
"His heart'll break," Bessy Morris heard a girl near her murmur.
"The captain is a good fellow," thought Mat Donovan; "an' I'd like to lave him the majority — if I could do it honourable."
He looked on the anxious faces around him; he looked at Bessy Morris; but still he was undecided. Some one struck the big drum a single blow, as if by accident, and, turning round quickly, the thatched roofs of the hamlet caught his eye. And, strange to say, those old mud walls and thatched roofs roused him as nothing else could. His breast heaved, as, with glistening eyes, and that soft plaintive smile of his, he uttered the words, "For the credit of the little village!" in a tone of the deepest tenderness. Then, grasping the sledge in his right hand, and drawing himself up to his full height, he measured the captain's cast with his eye. The muscles of his arms seemed to start out like cords of steel as he wheeled slowly round and shot the ponderous hammer through the air.
His eyes dilated, as, with quivering nostrils, he watched its flight, till it fell so far beyond the best mark that even he himself started with astonishment. Then a shout of exultation burst from the excited throng; hands were convulsively grasped, and hats sent flying into the air; and in their wild joy they crushed around him and tried to lift him upon their shoulders.
"O boys, boys," he remonstrated, "be 'asy. Sure 'tisn't the first time ye see me throw a sledge. Don't do anything that might offend the captain afther comin' here among us to show ye a little diversion."
This remonstrance had the desired effect, and the people drew back and broke up into groups to discuss the event more calmly. But Mat's eye lighted up with pride when he saw Miss Kearney upon the fence with her handkerchief fluttering in the breeze above her head, and Hugh waving his hat by her side. Even the ladies in the phaeton caught the enthusiasm and displayed their handkerchiefs; while Grace ran to the doctor and got him to lift her up in his arms in order that she might have a better view.
"Donovan," said Captain French, "your match is not in Europe. I was never beaten before."
"Well, it took a Tipperary-man to beat you, captain," returned Mat Donovan.
"That's some consolation," said the captain. "I'm a Tipperary-boy myself, and I'm glad you reminded me of it."
"Mat," said Billy Heffernan, with the tears standing in his eyes, "can you forgive me?"
"For what, Billy?" asked Mat, in surprise.
"For misdoubtin' you," replied Billy, gulping down his emotion.
"How is that?" returned Mat.
"Whin I see you pausin' an' lookin' so quare," said Billy Heffernan, turning away to dash the tears from his face, "I said to Phil Lahy that Knocknagow was gone."
"Knocknagow is not gone, Billy," exclaimed Mat, shaking him vigorously by the hand. "Knocknagow is not gone."
"Knocknagow is not gone," repeated a clear mellow voice behind them; and on looking round they saw Father M'Mahon close to them, mounted on his bay mare.
"Knocknagow is not gone," Father M'Mahon repeated, while his eye wandered from one to another of the groups of youths and maidens who had again returned to their sports over the field. "But how long can it be said that Knocknagow is not gone?" he added dreamily.
The good priest was just after kneeling by poor Mick Brien, stretched upon his wisp of straw in the miserable cabin; and as he counted the houses that had been levelled along the way, his heart sank within him, and he asked himself were the people he loved, and who loved him in their heart of hearts, doomed indeed to destruction?
He rode back again, seeming to have forgotten the purpose for which he had turned into the field. But seeing Barney Brodherick making a short-cut to the forge, with the sledge on his shoulder, Father M'Mahon called to him.
"Oh, bloodan'ouns!" muttered Barney, "I'm goin' to get id now for ever, for losin' Mass — God help me."
"Barney," said the priest, "do you remember anything about a gun of Mr. Kearney's you hid in a bush?"
"Be cripes! your reverence." returned Barney with a start, "id wint out uv my head till this blessed minute. The masther tould me to brin' id over to Mat to mend the stock that Mr. Richard broke, an' the beagles chanced to be passin' hot fut afther a hare, an' I thrust the gun into a brake uv briars there above, an' cut afther the hunt. An' God help me! I never thought uv id, to carry id to Mat, but I'll go for id now."
'Tis not where you put it," returned the priest. "'Tis in the square bog-hole in Billy Heffernan's turbary. I was desired to tell you so, lest you should get blamed; but say nothing about my telling you."
"The square bog-hole," muttered Barney, as the priest rode on. "Sure the divil a bottom the square bog-hole have. In the name uv the Lord I'll ax lave uv the masther to go see my mother, an' keep out uv harm's way till Sathurday, at any rate." And Barney, dropping the sledge from his shoulder on the field — where it remained till Tom Maher broke his scythe against it the next summer — hurried off to ask leave to go to see his mother.
"I'm comin' to ax you to give me lave to go home for a couple uv days, sir," said Barney, with quite a broken-hearted look.
"Home!" returned his master, "what business have you home?"
"My mother that's ill-disposhed, sir," replied Barney sorrowfully.
"More d—n shame for her," said his master.
"Good luck to you, sir," exclaimed Barney, brightening up with extraordinary suddenness, and setting off for the little cabin above Glounamuckadhee, where he found his venerable parent in excellent health and spirits.
"I wish we had some place for a dance," remarked Mat Donovan, "to put the girls in good humour."
"I'll give you my barn for a dance," said Tom Hogan proudly; "the best barn in the parish."
"More power, Tom," exclaimed a dozen voices. "Up wud the music."
Mat Donovan threw the strap of the big drum over his head, and a succession of loud bangs reminded Mr. Lowe of his fright on Christmas morning, when he thought a blunder buss had been discharged through his window. Billy Heffernan and the other musicians produced their fifes, and a loud cheer greeted the announcement that they were to have a dance in Tom Hogan's barn.
The sound of the drum seemed to rouse Father M'Mahon from his gloomy reverie, as he rode on through the village. "No; they are not gone yet," he thought, as he stopped under the beech-tree — looking up among the boughs, as if he wanted Tommy Lahy to hold the bay mare, and thought the top of the tree the most likely place to find him — "let us trust in God, and hope for the best."
Honor Lahy appeared at the door with a curtsey; and verily that wholesome, honest, smiling face of hers seemed to say, even more plainly than the big drum itself, that Knocknagow was safe and sound — a little old or so; but hale and hearty and kindly, withal.
"Well, Mrs. Lahy, how is she?"
"Finely, your reverence," Honor replied.
Father M'Mahon cast his eyes up through the boughs again.
"He's gone wud the drum, sir," said Honor.
"Oh, yes, that's quite right. I'll just step in to see Norah," returned Father M'Mahon, alighting and hanging the rein on an iron hook in the beech-tree.
And how Honor Lahy's face did light up as she curtsied again! And how poor Norah's eyes beamed with pleasure and thankfulness! After inquiring how she felt, and hoping she would be better when the fine weather came, he was going away, when a long roll of the drum softened by distance made him pause.
"Do you feel sorry that you cannot join them?" he asked, looking pityingly into the poor girl's pale face.
"Oh, no, sir," she replied — and there was gladness in her low, sweet tones. "'Tis just the same as if I was with them."
"Ay, then," added her mother, "an' she makes me go out to see which side uv the field the girls do be at, an' then she thinks she do be wud 'em from that out."
"That's right, that's right," said Father M'Mahon, hurrying out as if the bay mare were trying to break loose and run away. And as he took the rein from the hook, Father M'Mahon flourished his crimson silk pocket-handkerchief and blew his nose loudly.
Throwing the rein over his arm, and thrusting his thumbs in his waistcoat, Father M'Mahon then walked down the hill, with his head so high, and looking so awfully proud, that Jack Delany's wife snatched up the twins from the middle of the road, seizing one by the small of the back and the other by the left arm — which, strange to say, was not dislocated that time — and, ran with them into the house, not even venturing to stop to pick up the "rattler" and wooden "corncrake" which Brummagem had bought for the twins at the fair after winning one-and-fourpence at "trick-o'-the-loop;" Mrs. Delany being fully persuaded that in his then mood Father M'Mahon would think nothing of crushing the twins — one under each foot; and then turn round and ask her how dared she bring such nuisances into the world, two at a time!
"God bless us!" exclaimed Jack Delany's wife as she stooped to pick up the "rattler" and " corncrake," when the priest had passed, "did any wan ever see a man wud such a proud walk?"
"Mother," said Norah Lahy, "I'm as sure as I'm alive that I know two saints who are still walking the earth."
"Who are they?" her mother asked.
"Father M'Mahon and Miss Kearney," replied Norah.
"Why, then, I know a saint," thought the poor woman, with a sorrowful shake of her head, "I know a saint, an' she's not able to walk at all." And Honor Lahy turned away her face and wept silently.
Great was Phil Lahy's astonishment when he heard that Tom Hogan had given his barn for the dance even without being asked. And, after pondering over the extraordinary circumstance for a minute or two, Phil declared that, "after that, we'd get the Repeal of the Union." He could talk of nothing, however, but Mat Donovan's triumph, which he attributed in no small degree to certain "directions" which he had given Mat; and even when Judy Brophy's new admirer beckoned him aside, and wanted to know "what part of a woman was her contour," Phil answered shortly that he never "studied them subjects much"; so that the young man, who thought he had hit upon a new compliment, went back to Judy's side no wiser than he came, muttering, as he rubbed his poll with a puzzled look, that he "didn't like to venture the 'contour,' though he was nearly sure 'twas all right"; and he had to go over the old compliments again; to which Judy Brophy listened with as much delight as if she had not heard them all fifty times before. And now it is only fair to say that there was not a warmer admirer — that is, a warmer female admirer — of Nancy Hogan's beauty at the dance that night than Judy Brophy; and in protesting against her brother's bringing home a penniless bride, perhaps Judy Brophy did no more than a good many tolerably amiable young women might have done under similar circumstances. And, furthermore, we feel bound to admit, that were it not for those two hundred sovereigns out of Larry Clancy's old saucepan, that somewhat pedantic young man, who is so assiduous in his attentions, would not be puzzling his brains about her contour, as he is at this moment.
Bessy Morris's is the only sad face I can see," Grace remarked to Mary, as the joyous crowd left the field. "I wonder what can have happened to her."
Mary beckoned to Bessy as she was passing, and after saying something about the alteration of a dress, asked carelessly what was it Captain French had been saying to her.
"Well, he was humbugging me about the sergeant," Bessy replied, with a look of pain.
"Oh, yes, yes," returned Mary, brightening up. "I understand. Good evening. And tell Mat Donovan how delighted I am at his victory."
Norah Lahy sat in her straw-chair looking into the bright turf fire, and deriving as much pleasure from the dance in Tom Hogan's barn as if her foot were the fleetest among them all. But she hoped, when the dance was over, that Billy Heffernan would come down and play "Auld Lang Syne" for her — or "something lively," if her mother put her veto upon "grievous ould airs."