Knocknagow - CHAPTER LVII.



A GREAT event has happened in Knocknagow this still summer day. Nearly all the men, and most of the women, are out in the meadows mowing and "saving" the hay; or cutting and "footing" turf in the bog. There is a drowsy silence over the hamlet, only broken by the ring of the blacksmith's anvil, or the occasional shrill crowing of a cock, filling the heart with an oppressive sense of loneliness, if not with forebodings of evil. Mrs. Donovan is sitting at the foot of the cherry tree watching her bees. She has had no less than four swarms within the past week, every one of them so considerate and accommodating as to lodge within the bounds of the clipped hedge, not following the example of the earliest swarm this year, which swept away like a cloud over Tom Hogan's farm, never stopping till they passed Attorney Hanly's grove, and to the great delight of Miss Rose who, in common with all the world, looked upon such a visit as a sign of good luck precipitated themselves into a rose-bush under the drawing-room window. And when Nelly Donovan came up out of breath, making a frightful clatter, by means of an old kettle and a poker for Nelly was keen of eye and swift of foot, and never lost sight of the truants till they dipped beyond the fir grove Rose ran out to show her where they were all in a lump in the middle of the rose-tree. Joe Russel was despatched for the new hive, which Mrs. Donovan had already smeared with honey on the inside, and fixed peeled sally switches across it to keep the new combs from falling down; while Lory brought a sieve from the barn to place under the hive when the bees were shaken into it, and Rose produced a white table-cloth to wrap around it; and Nelly Donovan went home rejoicing with the swarm, which her mother had given up for lost.

And now Mrs. Donovan sits under the cherry-tree, watching her fifth swarm, hanging like a great sheep's grey stocking from the branch of a currant-bush; though when they broke away from the parent hive, they whirled round and round in the wildest commotion, as if henceforth bent upon leading a life of lawlessness and anarchy, but suddenly changed their minds and dropped into the currant-bush, clustering about their lawful queen, and showing every symptom of spending their days in harmony and industry within the four hedges of Mat Donovan's little garden of course taking frequent excursions to the purple-heather on the bog, and to Maurice Kearney's clover-field, and to the yellow "bouchelauns" that flourished so abundantly upon Mr. Beresford Pender's farm, and even raised their heads at the very threshold of cowhouse and barn, to the great delight of old Phil Morris, who chuckled over this pleasant prospect when he paid his periodical visits to the three poplar trees on the hill.

Some children have what they call a "cobby" under the hedge at the roadside. But the place being quite dry, and the grass green and fresh, and no mud within reach, a little girl has been dispatched for a saucepan of water to manufacture dirt without which enjoyment is out of the question. The pool outside Kit Cummins's door is so dried up, that the pig by the hardest rooting and rubbing and crushing, has only been able to bear away a single patch of an inky composition about a foot in diameter upon a prominent part of his person; so the saucepan had to be filled from Kit's wash tub, the contents of which were the most suitable for the purpose intended, next to the pool outside the door. And the little girl, coming back with her saucepan full, announced to her companions the event which we have referred to at the beginning of this chapter. Nelly Donovan heard the child's words, and flinging down the bee-hive which she was making ready for the reception of the swarm in the currant-bush, ran out upon the road, and turning the corner of the clipped hedge, looked down the hill. And then Nelly Donovan flung up her arms as high as she possibly could, and clapped her hands above her head. Her mother rose from her seat under the cherry-tree and went out upon the road, too, and, looking down the hill, raised her hands, but not in a wild way like Nelly, while a smile lighted up her sad face. Kit Cummins stopped short in the very middle of an oration, which she was delivering for behoof of her next-door neighbour to whom she could address herself at any moment through the thin partition, without interrupting her ordinary avocations. The next-door neighbour not possessing the gift of eloquence, usually contented herself, when the orator paused for breath, with a "Gir-r-r-out, you bla'guard!" in a key more or less shrill according to the sharpness of the attack, and rising to a shriek after a home-thrust more stinging than usual. On the present occasion, she was in the act of drawing a long breath preparatory to throwing an extra amount of defiance into the exasperatory response, when she raised her head and looked about her in complete and utter bewilderment. Kit Cummins had stopped short in the very middle of a scorching sentence, having reference to the next-door neighbour's grandmother, and there was a dead silence!

"Is she afther dhroppin' in a fit?" thought the next-door neighbour.

She ran to the door; and there was Kit Cummins looking down the hill, her face radiant with pleasure. The next-door neighbour advanced a step or two into the road, and immediately seemed to catch the radiant look from Kit, who turned round and began talking to her in the most affectionate manner imaginable; and both returned to their respective domiciles like turtles. The anvil was silent for a moment, and Brummagem's begrimed face was seen at the forge door, shining with delight and surprise. In fact, there was at least one smiling face at every door of the hamlet that had not a padlock upon it, betokening that the inmates were all in the meadows or at the bog.

Norah Lahy was out! That's what the little girl announced to her companions under the hedge.

And Nelly Donovan ran out upon the road and clapped her hands; and her mother followed her; and Kit Cummins and her neighbour forgot the fierce war they were waging, and exchanged friendly words of mutual joy and thankfulness; and Brummagem grinned; and every face from the cross to Mat Donovan's was lighted up with gladness; and Norah, sitting in her straw chair under the beech tree, saw it all, and, bending down her head, wept tears happy tears of gratitude.

God bless them, every one! Whatever be their faults, the want of loving hearts is not one of them.

And the news has somehow reached Maurice Kearney's meadow on the side of the hill; for the sweep of the scythes has suddenly ceased, and the row of mowers, with Mat Donovan at their head, have turned quickly round, like so many tall pikemen at drill, and looked down towards the beech-tree. And three girls who were turning the hay threw down their forks, and ran headlong to the double-ditch, and standing on the top of it, waved their straw bonnets in the air. Then there was a shrill shout of laughter from the girls, and a deep roar from the mowers. For Barney Brodherick was plain to be seen, on his way from Kilthubber, standing with a foot on each shaft of his blue cart, and keeping Bobby at full gallop there being no occasion whatever for hurry to-day. And on coming to the beech tree, Barney uttered that sound with his lips, which, when addressed to a donkey, signifies "stand," so loudly and so suddenly, that Bobby stopped up as if he had come in contact with a stone wall; and Barney executed an involuntary somersault out over Bobby's ears.

"Thanum-on-dioul, Norah!" exclaimed Barney, gathering himself up, as if his ordinary and usual mode of alighting was upon the crown of his head, "is id there you are!"

"Yes, Barney," she replied with a smile; " I felt so much better to-day I thought I might venture to sit outside for a while, 'tis so fine."

"Begob, I thought I'd never see you there agin, Norah," returned Barney. "When May-day, an' all the fine weather passed over, an' I never see you out, I gev you up. Would you like pig-nuts, Norah?

"I don't think I could eat them, Barney."

Barney scratched his head, quite puzzled to think what he could present her with, or do for her, as a proof of his regard. "Begob," he exclaimed at last, "if Tommy was at home I'd show him a thrish's nest an' five young ones in id."

"Ah, poor Tom," said Norah and her eyes glistened as she looked up at the beech-tree, "I wonder where is he now, or what is he doing."

Her mother, who had just come out, with the book Norah had been reading, glanced up through the branches, too, and then, sitting down on the bench at the foot of the tree, buried her face in her apron, and burst into tears.

"Och! where is he now," she cried, "an' what is he doin'? Where is his rosy cheeks, an' his curly head, an' his laughin' blue eyes? I'm afeard I used to scowld him too much, Norah, on account uv the climbin'. But, sure, 'twas for his good I was; for, the Lord betune us an' all harm, 'tis of'en an' of'en I thought I'd find him in a pancake on this flag I'm sittin' on. But what's breakin' my heart is the way I used to shut my fist an' hit him on the bare skull, when I'd be rightly vexed. I don't mind the wollopin's at all, Norah; 'tis the knuckles rappin' on his curly head that's killin' me. Oh, if 1 had him now, 'tis I'd be glad to see a piece of his breeches flyin' on the top uv every three in the parish; an' 'tis I that wouldn't scowld him, or wollup him, or put dead bells in his ears wud a clout, as I know I of'en done. An' above all, Norah, I'd never knock cracks out uv his curly head wud my knuckles; for nothin' ever med him roar but that. An' where is he now? An' what is he doin'? Oh, Norah, avoorneen, whatever made me lay a hand on him? For 'twas he was the good warrant to have an' eye to the shop, or run uv a message, an' to mind his book an' his Catechism. An' 'twould do any wan's heart good to hear him whistlin'. Billy Heffernan never played a tune that he couldn't whistle afther him. An' I see him wud my own eyes bringin' the birds down out uv the sky."

This recital of Tommy's accomplishments made Norah smile through her tears, and she said cheerfully "Well, mother, sure we ought to be glad that he is landed safe, and that Uncle Larry is so good to him."

"That's thrue, alanna," returned Honor, rising from her seat, and drying her eyes with her check apron. "'Tis thankful we ought to be to have such fine prospects before him. Is that the right book I'm afther bringin' you? Or maybe 'tis the wan wud the goold letters on the cover you want?"

"No, mother, this is the right one."

"Begob, I must hurry an' tell Miss Mary you're out, Norah," exclaimed Barney. "An' 'tis she'll be ready to lep out uv her skin."

"Thank you, Barney," said Norah. "And tell her I won't be sure I'm out at all, or that the sun is shining on me, till I see her."

"Come, Bobby," shouted Barney. "don't let the grass grow ondher your feet"; and he ran on by the donkey's side, blowing an imaginary horn, and in as great a state of excitement as if he had descried a ballad-singer or a Punch and-Judy in the distance.

But surely Billy Heffernan must have taken leave of his senses! At least his mule must think so. For while she was jogging on quietly, with a great pile of bog-stumps heaped upon her car, her master rushed at her, and jerked the rein, and told her to "come on out of that," just as if she had been setting back into Flanigan's Hole, instead of jogging on at a steady pace by the beech-tree opposite Phil Lahy's door. And Billy kept hold of the winkers, and pulled Kit on till he came to his own door, never giving a second look towards the beech-tree, and making believe that he had not looked towards it at all. Then taking the key from the hole under the thatch, he let himself in, and sitting on the antediluvian block by the fireless hearth, buried his face in his hands.

"Glory be to God! " he exclaimed, with a deep sigh, "I thought I'd never see her there again. My heart leaped up into my mouth when I see her sittin' in the ould place, an' her hair hangin' down over the book she was readin'. I don't know how I can make up my mind to talk to her at all. But I'll purtind to nothin', just as if I thought she was out every day. But who are those coming down the road? " he continued, on reaching the door. "Begor, ay; 'tis Miss Mary, an' Miss Anne, an' Miss Ellie, an' Mister Hugh. Ay, faith, an' that's Father Carroll an' Misther Edmund Kiely wud 'em. I have no business down now, as they'll be sure to stop and talk to her. So I may as well haul in the stumps."

Not only were they sure to stop and talk to her, but they had come out for no other purpose. For when Barney announced that Norah was sitting under the beech-tree, and that she couldn't be sure the sun was shining on her till Miss Mary saw her, Mary started up quite in a flurry, and would hardly wait for Anne and Ellie, who were tying on their bonnets as fast as ever they could. They met Hugh and Edmund and Father Carroll coming from the meadow where Edmund had jumped over a pitchfork laid on the shoulders of Tom Maher and Jim Dunn and, as they all felt an interest in Norah Lahy, they turned back with Mary when she told them where she was going.

And when Norah looked up from her book and met Mary's mild glance, what a picture it was! Poor Norah had a hard struggle to keep back the tears; and Mary, in order to give her time to recover herself, took up Norah's book and handed it to Edmund with a smile. Edmund smiled and nodded his head after looking at the title-page; and then Mary handed the book to Hugh. And Hugh looked and looked at Norah Lahy's book, while a smile lighted up that "strong" face of his, and the soft light came into his dark eyes. Norah's name was written in the book, and under it "From her friend, Grace Kiely."

Ellie stole into the house for a quiet talk with the old linnet. She wanted to know did the old linnet remember Tommy, and whispered the question softly through the wires of his cage. And the old linnet held his head knowingly on one side, and muttered something down his throat, which Ellie interpreted into "To be sure I do. Do you think I could forget poor Tommy?" And then Ellie fixed a bit of sugar between the wires, and turned round to jump down from the chair upon which she was standing, when she saw Honor Lahy's face all aglow with pleasure and affection notwithstanding the tears in her eyes looking up at her. And before Ellie could jump down, she was caught round the waist and folded in Honor Lahy's arms.

"My own darlin' child," exclaimed Honor, "that poor Tommy would lay down his life for. For 'twas of'en he said there wasn't wan uv 'em like Miss Ellie."

"The poor fellow!" returned Ellie when she was set free, "he was so generous and good."

"His uncle," returned Honor, "sent him to a great school, and he says if he has sinse he has fine prospects before him."

"He will have sense," rejoined Ellie seriously; "for I don't think he ever did anything wrong, except pulling the tails out of the robins."

"Yes, Miss," returned Honor, "an' Father M'Mahon couldn't get him down in the General Catechism, though 'the best method' was the first question he axed him. But if he was at him for a month he couldn't get Tommy down, from 'Who made the world?' to 'so be it.' Then he tackled at him wud the 'Christian Doctrine,' but Tommy was able for him at that too. An' thin Father M'Mahon said he was the best boy in his parish. That was the day they wor gettin' their tickets for Confirmation; an' what do you think but I went into the chapel afeard uv my life that Tommy might be cast. An' more fool I was, for he was the best uv the whole uv 'em. Jacky Ryan passed, though he gev a wrong answer. 'What is Matrimony?' says Father M'Mahon. An' as bould as you plase, Jacky makes answer, 'A place or state of punishment where some sowls suffer for a time before they can go to heaven.' Faith I thought 'twas the right answer, he spoke up so independent, till I see the school master thryin' to keep from laughin'. 'What is Matrimony?' says Father M'Mahon agin, very slow an' solemn. 'A place or state of punishment where some sowls suffer for a time before they can go to heaven,' says Jacky again. 'Give Jacky Ryan his ticket,' says Father Hannigan. An' whin Father M'Mahon held up his hand to stop the schoolmaster that was writin' the tickets, Father Hannigan said the boy was right, that he see no difference between Matrimony and Purgatory, and 'tis many a sinsible man would agree wud him. So Jacky Ryan got his ticket. I'm afeard," added Honor, with a sigh, "the same Jacky will come to no good. He put a red poker on Kit Cummins's cat's nose for comin' about his maggidy. An' whin Frisky jumped over the half-door wud an ould gallon tied to his tail t'other evenin', I said it was Jacky Ryan's work though indeed I can't say I'm sure uv id."

Mrs. Lahy was interrupted by Mary, who came in in search of Ellie.

"My goodness, Ellie," she said, "I thought you were lost. They are all half-ways home, and I have come back to look for you."

Father Carroll was alone when she came up with him, Hugh having gone to the forge to see about the pointing of some pitchforks for the haymaking, and Edmund and Anne being wholly occupied with what Mat Donovan called "going on."

"This is a letter I got this morning from Arthur O'Connor," said Father Carroll. "I had some conversation with his mother about him; but she is very unreasonable."

"Why does he not come home?" Mary asked.

"Why should he?" returned Father Carroll, looking at her in surprise.

"Is it not for this diocese he is ordained?"

"Ordained? He's not ordained at all, nor can he be for some time."

"Why, Anne mentioned to me in one of her letters that he was," said Mary. "One of her school-fellows saw him in Paris."

"Oh, 'tis a mistake," Father Carroll replied.

Mary called to her sister and asked her for an explanation. But Anne could only repeat what her friend had said to her.

The students wear vestments and assist at some ceremonies before they are ordained," said Father Carroll. "That's

how the mistake arose. His health has broken down and though he says now he has his mind made up to be a priest, it is still doubtful, I think, whether he ever will be one."

"Oh, I am so sorry," Mary exclaimed, with something like a wail of pain. "But hadn't he his mind always made up to be a priest?"

"Well, no," he replied. "He always had doubts and scruples about his vocation. His ideas of the mission of a priest are very high, and he feared his motives were not the true ones. But why do you appear so distressed? He is not the first ecclesiastical student who has changed his mind; and surely you don't think there would be anything wrong in it?"

"Oh, but don't you know what they said?" And she put her arm in his, as if asking for his support.

"Yes that it was your doing," he replied with a smile. "Well, you may set your mind at rest on that point, for he often discussed the subject with me before he ever saw you. And 'tis only since he went to Paris that he even thought it at all likely that he could ever be a priest. He says now his scruples are nearly all removed. But I fear his health must have broken down. I am very anxious about him."

It was a relief to her to think that she was not, even innocently, the cause of turning any one from what she deemed so high and holy a mission. But then came the thought that Arthur O'Connor was not a priest, and never might be a priest at all; and Father Carroll felt her arm trembling within his. And as he glanced at her face, which was deathly pale, and saw the quick heaving of her bosom, he was convinced that the happiness of Mary Kearney's life perhaps her very life depended upon either of two contingencies that Arthur O'Connor should become a priest, or her husband. And as her arm pressed more and more heavily upon his, Father Carroll resolved that he would be her friend, though he did not betray, even by a look that he noticed her agitation.

"Anne is a great flirt," said he, nodding towards that lively young lady, who was keeping up the "going on" at a tremendous rate.

"Oh, she's awful," returned Mary.

"You are not bad yourself, either."

"I was obliged to try. People were setting me down as stupid. And you know 'tis as good to be out of the world as out of the fashion." She spoke quite cheerfully; but immediately fell into a reverie again.

"But has your heart never been really touched?"

She bent her head, and a carnation flush suffused her pale cheek. "Well, I think not," she answered hesitatingly. "Though Grace," she added more cheerfully, "was always insisting that I was in a sad way about the gentleman we had here at Christmas."

"I'd rather expect it was Edmund she would be throwing at you; and you had him at the same time, I believe."

"Oh, no; Mr. Lowe was gone before Edmund came. And, strange to say, Grace scarcely ever talked about Edmund in that way. I suspect she wanted him to be an admirer of mine, and found he was thinking of somebody else."

"Well, I know when I asked him to come here with me be jumped eagerly at the offer. So take care that you do not get inside Miss Delany."

"Is there anything serious in that?

"Well, she is a great prize in every way, but I doubt whether Edmund is very anxious to win her."

"I saw her once or twice, and thought her quite fascinating; though I ought to be very prejudiced against her."

"Why so?"

"Well," replied Mary, laughing, "she described me as a plain country-girl, very shabbily dressed."

"Oh, she was only jealous. She thought you had designs on Edmund."

"That's the gentleman," said Mary, after returning Mr. Bob Lloyd's salute, as he rode past them, "who proposed for Eva. Every one was astonished when she refused such a grand offer; and no one so much as his own family. They insisted at first that all sorts of traps were set for him by us but, strange to say, they were quite indignant when he was rejected. It was a real case of love at first sight, for he only saw her the evening she and the doctor came for Grace. Grace likes him," she added, "and says that a young poet has turned Eva's head. But I am almost sure Eva will be a nun. She is too good and gentle for the rough world."

"I saw Grace last week," said Father Carroll, "and was surprised to see her so changed. She was a little woman when I saw her before; but now she is quite girlish. She blushed and seemed quite timid and confused when I reminded her of some of her sayings."

"So Hugh told me," said Mary. "He saw her when he went with Ellie to the convent. But he says she is not so pretty as she was. Ah, Grace is very good," Mary added, with a sigh. "She kept us ail alive; and she did not forget to send the book to poor Norah Lahy, though at first she could scarcely bear to think of her. Grace is very sensitive. She feels either joy of grief intensely; but she can conquer her feelings from a sense of duty."

"She will never be happy unless she has a mission," said Anne, who had waited for them at the gate.

"Every one can have that," returned Mary. "But who is that talking to my father?

It is that old Mr. Pender, the agent," her sister answered. Mary looked grave. She feared that old Isaac's visits, which were unusually frequent now, boded no good. She had questioned Hugh about them, but he evaded the subject. It was plain to her, however, that some heavy trouble was weighing upon Hugh's mind; and at times she even feared his health was giving way, he looked so weary and worn. In one sense these apprehensions did her good, for they kept her from dwelling upon her own unhappiness. But when she felt her heart sinking at the thought that a great calamity was hanging over them, she would remember Norah Lahy, and be strong.

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