Knocknagow - CHAPTER LVIII.



You look dreadfully cut up," said Father Carroll, as he looked into Arthur O'Connor's pallid face. "Have you read too hard? Or is there anything on your mind?"

"Dr. Kiely asked me the same questions," Arthur replied.

"And what does he say about your health?"

"Well, he says 'tis not gone too far; but that I must take care of myself."

is face, always pale, was now fearfully emaciated, and of a wax-like whiteness that contrasted painfully with his long black hair and dark grey eyes. But the fretted look the "oldness" which Grace had remarked was gone; and a bright happy look had taken its place. The mental struggle that had so long racked him was at an end. He was resolved to become a priest; but the doctors had insisted upon his suspending his studies, and returning for some time to his native air. His mother was filled with remorse when she saw him so changed, and now ran into the other extreme, and declared that he should never return to college again. But Arthur smiled a sweeter smile, she thought, than she had seen upon his lips for years and said he would be all right in a few weeks. He had brought a letter from the president of the college to an eminent ecclesiastic in Dublin, by whose counsel he was to be guided. He delivered the letter, and, after a long conversation, this eminent divine said his case was a peculiar one, and that he would give him his opinion by letter in a few days. The letter had not yet come, and Father Carroll awaited its arrival more impatiently than the student himself.

"Let us have a stroll to the Priest's Walk," said Arthur.

"I feel quite strong this evening."

Are you not afraid of the opera-glass and the ladies? Father Carroll asked.

"Oh, I don't mind it," replied Arthur smiling. "I can stand any amount of 'the light that lies in woman's eyes' without wincing now."

They passed over the weir, through which the clear water leaped, with almost the swiftness of light; having suddenly changed its gently gliding motion into a bound, as if it feared the slanting walls of moss-covered stones would close together like a gate, and bar its way to the ocean. They passed through the meadow by the river-side and into the Priest's Walk. The rooks were cawing in the tall trees over their heads, and a rabbit popped now and then from their path into the cover at either side. It was a lonely, dreamy sort of place, calculated to fill the mind with romantic or religious musings. And the robust, sun-ruddied priest, and the pale, sickly student paced up and down for fully a quarter of an hour without exchanging a word.

"A call," said Father Carroll. "Here is Tom Doherty."

But, to his great relief, Tom Doherty only handed a letter to Arthur, and walked back to the weir, without speaking.

"No bad news, I hope? "said the priest, on remarking the troubled look the old fretted look come into the student's face.

It is from Dr. ," he replied, handing him the letter.

"I agree with him," said Father Carroll, after reading it.

"But I told him my scruples were all gone," said Arthur. "No matter; as he says you were driven by the force of circumstances to it. You were always hoping for some means of escape. If, at any time in your life, you felt a real desire to be a priest, independently of circumstances, it would be different. But you never did. So, in God's name, give it up, and think of something else."

"But what can I think of now?"

"Well, the medical profession is the best for you. It is a noble profession, and will, at worst, secure you an humble competence. But I warn you," he added, laughing, "you will have to work hard for your bread. And, perhaps, so much the better."

"Indolence and pride were always my besetting sins," the student replied. "I never could work without an immediate motive."

"And surely the motive is not wanting now?"

"That's true," he answered, with a weary sigh. "I owe it to my mother and family."

Father Carroll thought of Mary Kearney's pale face and trembling hand, and was on the point of asking whether it ever occurred to him that there might be even a stronger motive for exertion than that he had just mentioned; but any reference to the subject yet awhile might, he thought, be premature, and he was silent.

They continued to walk up and down in silence, while the rooks crowded thicker and thicker in the trees, and the white tails of the rabbits twinkled more frequently among the withered grass, as the sun shot his last red rays through the wood.

There was such a rush and scamper among the rabbits a little in front of them that both looked up in surprise. Two beautiful girls wearing broad straw hats turned into the walk from a footpath through the wood, and as they bowed to Father Carroll, and then glanced at his companion, the laughing light in their "eyes of most unholy blue," changed suddenly to an expression of mingled surprise and sorrow. They had often inquired of Father Carroll for the student whom they called St. Kevin, he took so much pains to avoid them in his walks. It is possible they had come through the wood for the sole purpose of seeing him; but the alteration in him filled them with pity and sympathy.

"Those are Major French's daughters," Father Carroll observed when they had passed. " It is their pictures Sir Garrett Butler painted when they were children, as Mrs. Hayes told you."

"I remember," returned Arthur, coldly. "But I thought they might be the steward's or gamekeeper's daughters."

"Do you still hold to your old prejudice against farmer's daughters? " Father Carroll asked, laughing.

"Well, not exactly," Arthur answered. "At least I believe there are some exceptions to the rule." A slight flush suffused his pale face as he spoke, and his friend was about rallying him upon it, but again checked himself.

As they repassed the weir, the trout were leaping at the flies, and they loitered for a few minutes to watch them.

"What an evening this would be for Edmund Kiely," Arthur observed. "He is a genuine disciple of Isaac Walton."

"Or Hugh Kearney," returned Father Carroll. "I have been trying to induce him to spend some days with me, but it is impossible to pull him away from home. He is like his sister Mary in that respect."

"Does not she go much from home?

"Scarcely ever. I sometimes wish I had a big parish and a big house, and I'd insist upon her spending some time with me occasionally."

"The woman that can be happy in her own home is the best woman," said Arthur.

"That is quite true. But it might be carried too far. I'm inclined to think a discontented spirit may keep young people too much at home, as well as drive them too much from it. But I'm far from suspecting that to be the case with Mary Kearney. She so loves every one and everything about her, I am sure she is really happy at home. But don't you wonder that so remarkably beautiful and superior a girl is not snatched at as a prize? She would adorn any station."

"How do you account for it? " Arthur asked.

"Well, men generally require some encouragement before they will run the risk of being refused; and Mary does not give the encouragement. And she really has declined two very good offers. I think she is likely to become a nun."

"I'm told her sister intends going into a convent, too."

Yes; she always intended it; though she seems fitter for the world than Mary. Do you think is Edmund Kiely engaged in any way? It has even occurred to me that he is actually married, but wants to keep it private."

"No, he is not," Arthur replied. "But he has some romantic business on hands that I can't make out."

"Come the grass is quite wet, and it would not do for you to remain out under the dew."

During the evening they discussed Arthur's plans for the future; and, before retiring to his room, he all but had his mind made up to take his friend's advice, and commence the study of medicine at once.

"But there is another difficulty in the way," he said, "which it is unpleasant to reflect upon."

"What is that? " Father Carroll asked.

"Money," returned Arthur. "After the sacrifices my mother has made on my account, I don't know how I can encroach farther upon her narrow means; particularly as I have disappointed her hopes. And you know what importance she attaches to keeping up appearances."

"Well, I have not overlooked that," rejoined Father Carroll. "But I think we can manage." He stood up, and, opening the mahogany desk with the brass handles, took a small drawer from the inside, and emptied its contents upon the table. There were a few sovereigns and half-sovereigns and several rolls of bank-notes, some worn and faded, and some white and crisp, appearing at first sight to represent quite a formidable sum, but being all one-pound and thirty-shilling notes, Father Carroll found to his disappointment that his hoardings scarcely amounted to one hundred pounds. He had not given himself a holiday since his short visit to Tramore with Arthur and Edmund Kiely, and had taken to hoarding with two objects in view the furnishing and fitting-up of his cottage, and a visit to Rome. Rolling all the notes into one bundle, he tossed them across the table.

"It is only ninety-three pounds," said he; "but it will do for awhile. And before that is spent, Fortune may prove more liberal of her favours."

Arthur O'Connor stared in amazement at his friend. He knew Father Carroll was a good fellow, in the best sense of the word. But so great a sacrifice as he knew this must be he was unprepared for. Arthur O'Connor was particularly sensitive on the score of pecuniary obligations, and his whole nature revolted against the acceptance of the money. He never could bear to be in debt. Even in his boyhood he could not take money from the kind old priest with whom he used to spend a few weeks of his vacation in that old cottage. He was deeply moved by his friend's generosity. But he glared at the bundle of notes upon the table before him, almost with a feeling of loathing.

Father Carroll, guessing his thoughts which it was easy enough to do said, "It is your duty to take it."

"But I may never be able to repay you," returned Arthur, almost angrily.

"You will. And your desire to get out of debt will be an additional incentive to exertion. Don't think so much about it. You must sometimes do violence to yourself if you mean to get on. I believe over-sensitiveness of that sort has pre vented much good from being done in the world has been the one fatal obstacle to many a useful and brilliant career."

There was a silence of some minutes; and the student, resting his elbows upon the table, clasped his slender hands over his pale forehead.

"Don't think I am merely acting upon impulse," said Father Carroll; "on the contrary, if I did not do what I have done, I might regret it all the days of my life."

He took one of the candles and went to bed. The second was burning low in the socket when the student raised his head. He took the bundle of notes and put them in his pocket. But he said nothing about the matter that night, or next day, or for years after. Neither shall we.

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