Knocknagow - CHAPTER LIX.



ANOTHER eventful day for Knocknagow. But there are no smiling faces, and no clapping of hands except in grief this time. The sheriff is out. Darby Ruadh is at the head of the bailiffs, crying down tears as he hands out articles of furniture to his assistants, telling them to "take 'em 'asy" and not break them; and actually obliged to turn away his head and have recourse to a dirty cotton pocket-handkerchief, which he carries in his hat, when he comes to a cradle with an infant in it, or a sick woman too weak to rise from her bed. Honest Darby's grief is only second to that of his master, who declares over and over that it is "a very painful duty. A very painful duty. A very painful duty. But what can I do? What can I do? What, what can I do?

old Isaac asks. And many of the poor victims believe him. Mat Donovan was almost the only person who uttered an angry word. Mat Donovan's grandfather, as we have seen, pitched his tent on a heap of stones and pool of water cut off by the road from two adjoining estates belonging to different landlords. And here now is Mat Donovan's house, and the little garden with its clipped hedge, a warning to Irish landlords to look sharp to heaps of stones and pools of water, lest by any chance Irish peasants should convert them into houses and gardens, and then have the hardihood to call them their own.

But Mat Donovan's little field which supplied him with potatoes and oats, and for which he paid a high rent, was not a "freehold," and the sheriff has just handed Mr. Isaac Pender a twig from the fence and a bit of stubble from the ground; and old Isaac declares how sorry he is to be obliged to deprive Mat Donovan of his "little garden." At which Mat loses all patience and denounces the agent as a robber and a hypocrite, and gives it as his opinion that 'twas all old Isaac's own doing, and not the landlord's. An unlucky speech for Mat Donovan, as hereinafter shall appear.

And now they come to Tom Hogan's. A large force of police range themselves in front of the house. The door is open, and Darby Ruadh enters, looking flurried and excited, as if he expected to be knocked down at any moment. He has never forgotten the lesson he received from Bessy Morris's father, and has ever since been very gentle in his way of doing business, particularly where women and children are concerned. Nancy Hogan is looking very pale, but so beautiful that for a moment Darby forgets everything else in his admiration of her. Her mother is sitting upon a stool, quite calm. The house is soon cleared, and mother and daughter walk out quietly. Darby is obliged to have recourse to the cotton pocket-handkerchief, he is so much affected. He thought he would have been obliged to use violence, and is quite moved to find Mrs. Hogan so reasonable and considerate. And now Tom Hogan himself walks into the yard, and won't see the police drawn up along the barn that barn that is as good as Attorney Hanly's and better than Maurice Kearney's nor the party of soldiers on the road. Nancy covers her golden hair with her cloak and shades her face from their gaze.

"God save you, Darby," Tom Hogan says quietly, as he walks towards the door.

Darby places his hand against Tom Hogan's breast, and keeps him back.

"I was fencin' that gap Attorney Hanly's cows broke through," Tom Hogan observes, "an' I'm goin' to my dinner."

Darby Ruadh pushes him out upon the road. The sheriff and sub-inspector exchange looks and shake their heads. Poor Tom Hogan has that imbecile smile upon his face which is sometimes seen on the face of a helpless drunkard.

"Good luck to you, Darby," he says, "an' let me in; I must finish that job to-day, as I'll begin the ploughin' to morrow. There's nothin' like early ploughin'."

Some of those around looked surprised; but Darby Ruadh and Wat Corcoran understand the state of the case very well. They have had repeated negotiations with Tom Hogan to induce him to give up possession, but he laughed at them, as if it were a joke, and never lost an hour in the improvement of that little farm in which his "heart was stuck."

"Never lose a day, Darby, whatever work you have on hands. That's what stood to me always."

Poor Nancy could hold out no longer. She flung her arms round his neck, and kissed His worn, hollow cheeks over and over.

"O father! dear father!" she cried, "have courage."

"Courage!" he repeated, staring vacantly around him, "who could ever say that I hadn't courage? Hadn't I courage to build them houses? Faith, Nancy, I always had the courage at any rate."

"O father," she exclaimed, "don't you see what's after happening? Let us go away."

"What's afther happenin'?" he asked, with another vacant stare on the crowd around him. "Where's Jemmy?" he exclaimed suddenly, as his eye caught sight of the fixed bayonets and red uniforms behind him. "Where is Jemmy? Jemmy is the boy that wouldn't let any wan lay a hand on me."

And where is Jemmy?

He clutches his musket at the command to "charge!" and his shout clear and thrilling as when the ball was struck to the goal and Knocknagow had won mingles with the wild hurrah that rises even above the cannon's roar. The general, surrounded by his staff, watches anxiously for what is to follow. The result of the battle hangs upon that charge. For a moment the bayonets flash in the hot sun, as they rush through the storm of iron hail that tears through their ranks; and then friend and foe are lost in a thick, white cloud, and the thunder is hushed. And, as the white cloud rolls away, the general's eyes flash fire, as, raising himself in his stirrups, and flinging his arm wildly above His head, he shouts "Magnificent Tipperary!"

The day is won! England is victorious!

There is hot Tipperary blood gushing out upon the thirsty plain; and where the fight was deadliest, Jemmy Hogan lies mangled and bleeding. But there is one company of his regiment which has not shared in the glories of that famous victory. It is drawn up with fixed bayonets before his father's door at old Knocknagow; while the house in which Jemmy Hogan was born is being levelled with the ground!

Magnificent Tipperary!

Tom Hogan looks wildly around him now. He is startled by a loud crashing sound that seemed to come from the yard. It was the first crush of the crow-bar through the wall of the dear old home. And it went right through Tom Hogan's heart, and broke it!

Tom Carey, the carpenter, caught the poor old man in his arms as he fell senseless to the ground.

"Let us bring him up to my house, Tom," said Mat Donovan, "till he comes to himse'f."

"Wouldn't it be betther," returned Tom Carey, "to bring him down, as they're all goin' to stop wud me for a start, an' have him settled in the bed before he sees any more uv what's goin' on?"

"You're right, Tom," said Mat; "that's the best way."

They lifted poor Tom Hogan upon their shoulders, and bore him away, followed by his wife and daughter, weeping bitterly, but silently.

Half of Knocknagow is swept from the face of the earth. There is one more house, a little higher up the hill, to be pulled down, and then the day's work will be completed. 'Tis easily done. The walls are of clay, and the roof of sedge from the bog; and nothing to be thrown out but an old wooden bedstead with a slanting roof like a house, a table and block of bogwood, a pot and an old gallon, two white plates and a yellow jug. The mule's crib and the antediluvian elk's horns are fixtures, and he must seek for them among the ruins to-morrow if he wants them.

But he does not want them. He is not thinking of them, or of anything else belonging to him; or of himself. He is out in the bog "cutting a sod." He has found a smooth, soft patch of green among the heath, and carefully marking out what he required having measured the length and breadth with his feet he commences cutting it with his spade; rolling it up like a thick carpet as he goes on. Heeling his car close to it, he gets in the roll of greensward with some difficulty, using his spade as a lever. And then, after looking at the brown, spongy turf, which he has stripped of its emerald covering, he lies down at full length upon it, with his face upon his arms, and wishes with all his heart that a sod might grow over him. For the long-dreaded calamity has come at last. Norah Lahy is dead.

This is Tuesday. On Sunday morning Honor Lahy sent for him. He had only left the old house with the steep roof an hour or two before, to prepare for Mass having spent the whole night sitting in the chimney corner, on the bench, where he used to sit and play "Auld Lang Syne" for her. And now he is prepared for the worst as he softly opens her room door.

Mary Kearney is reading the Litany; and Nelly Donovan kneels behind her, kissing a pair of embroidered slippers, upon which her tears are falling thick and fast. Norah has "left" her slippers to Nelly Donovan. Honor Lahy stands at the head of the bed, watching, watching. A faint smile ripples for an instant over the dying girl's lips, and the poor mother, bending down, holds her ear close to them; and then turning quickly round sees that Billy Heffernan is standing in side the door. Norah wishes Billy Heffernan to lay his hand upon her forehead, and keep it there. Mary Kearney whispers to her sister Ellie, who leaves the room, and soon returns with the "blessed candle"; and as she has left the door open, Phil Lahy is seen kneeling outside. His wife beckons to him poor Norah's lips have again moved and he stands up and timidly approaches the bed, as if he feared to be reproached for all the sorrow he had caused her. But he is welcomed with a fond, fond look. And dropping upon his knees, Phil Lahy forms the resolution to make a promise that shall never be broken or evaded; a promise that she never asked him to make, because (he used to say) she knew his constitution required "a little nourishment"; but he knows now that it was because she feared he would not have the strength to keep it.

Mary places the lighted candle in the dying girl's hand, keeping the wasted fingers closed upon it.

"I b'lieve she is gone," said Honor, in a low tone, and with a look of the most intense anguish. "O Norah, Norah, are you gone from me at last?" But the eyelids quivered, and again the lips trembled for a moment, and then settled into a smile of heavenly sweetness. The smile brightened over the whole face, as if a sunbeam had fallen upon it. At the moment the old linnet in the window began to sing; and they all thought that her soul lingered to listen to the low sweet song that had so often made her glad.

As the song of the linnet ceased, her bosom heaved once; and Norah Lahy was among her kindred angels.

Father M'Mahon "himself" came to say Mass the day of the funeral. And how his heart was torn to see the ruined homes of Tipperary, on every side, as he dismounted from his horse under the beech-tree. And when the wail of the outcasts was heard amid the crash of falling roof-trees and the tramp of armed men, Honor Lahy said she was glad her darling was gone before that sorrowful day; "for 'tis she'd be sorry to see the neighbours in trouble." But in spite of all their trouble they attended her wake; and many stood round her grave who had to lie by the cold ditch-side that night, or, with burning hearts, bend their steps to the hated poorhouse.

The grave was filled up, and the clay heaped over it and beaten into shape by Mat Donovan and Tom Maher. Then Mat went to a corner of the churchyard to get some green sods to cover it; but Billy Heffernan touched him upon the shoulder, and Mat went to the mule's car and thrust the handle of his spade through the roll of greensward from the bog; and Billy, taking hold of the end of the spade handle, they carry the sod, and lay it gently on one end of the grave. Then it is unrolled, and the cold clay is wrapped in a mantle of green. Poor Honor Lahy felt happy, and thought her darling's sleep would be sweeter for that fresh green mantle.

"Would I doubt you, Billy!" she murmured, wiping the tears from her hot eyes.

Then the people knelt down, and offered up the customary short prayer; and the churchyard was deserted except by four mourners.

"Billy," said Phil Lahy, "she got you to take the pledge?"

"She did," he replied; "God knows what might become uv me on'y for her."

"Well, she never axed me to do that; because she couldn't find id in her heart to be hard on me, Billy. But I'll promise her now." He knelt down at the foot of the grave and took off his hat. His wife thought to interrupt him, but he motioned her back. "Norah, I promise you," said he; and then got up from his knees.

Billy Heffernan lingered at the stile, and looked back.

"Come, Billy," said Nelly Donovan, "you may as well come " She was going to say "home," but checked herself. Billy Heffernan had no home.

"Nelly," returned Billy Heffernan, "I was dead fond uv her."

"Every wan was fond uv her," said Nelly Donovan, putting her arm in his and drawing him away.

There was not a roof for miles around under which her name was not mentioned, tenderly and sorrowfully. And the tears sprang into the eyes of many a poor exile far away, on coming to the words, "Norah Lahy is dead," in the letter from home. But, perhaps, nothing spoken of her was more truly pathetic, or showed more clearly how much they all missed her, than a remark of Barney Brodherick's, as he sat by the turf fire that roared up the wide chimney in Maurice Kearney's kitchen.

"Ah! poor Norah!" exclaimed Barney, raising his head from his knees, upon which it had been resting for a full hour before. "Ah! poor Norah she'll never sit in a chair again."

"Now, Anne," said Hugh Kearney, encircling his sister's waist with his arm, and bending over her, half playfully, and half seriously "is not this rather a sudden resolution you have taken, to go to the convent at once? You really ought to reflect for a long time before you take so serious a step."

"It is not a sudden notion," she replied. "I am a long time thinking of it."

"But is there any particular reason that makes you wish to go just now?"

"Nothing, I trust and believe, but a sense of duty and the love of God," she answered calmly and firmly.

Oh, I'll say no more," he replied, feeling somewhat awe-struck. "But you don't know how much we all shall miss you, and particularly Mary."

"Oh! I know it very well, Hugh," she exclaimed, the tears streaming down her cheeks; and, as she flung her arms round his neck, he felt her heart swell as if it were bursting. There was a knock at the door, and he was called out.

Mat Donovan was standing at the little gate.

"I came in by the stile," said Mat, "as I'd rather not meet the boys an' girls. But I couldn't bring myse'f to go wudout seein' Billy Heffernan. Nothin' 'd plase him but to put up some soart of a shed on his own turbary an' sleep in the bog, where, he says, he can feel himse'f independent. I'm runnin' over the short cut to him; an' will you tell Barney to have the ass an' car ready about eleven o'clock, an' we can slip away."

"Very well, Mat, I'll see that Barney is ready. I need not tell you that I am sorry to part with you."

"Say no more, sir," returned Mat, grasping his hand. "An' if my mother or Nelly is in want of a friend, I know you'll be a friend to 'em."

Before Hugh could reply, he crossed the little garden and disappeared behind the laurels. The emigrant girl's words, when she ran in to take her leave of them that stormy winter night, "God be wud you, Mat, 'tis many's the time we danced together at the Bush," occurred to him; and looking carefully around to see that he was not observed, he pressed his lips to the trunk of the old hawthorn tree. "Ah!" said he, "the grass is growin' all around id already; an', I'm afeard, 'tis long till 'twill feel light foot again. God be wud ould times; 'tis terrible to think uv the change."

The night was not very dark, and, as he crossed the road near where the hook-nosed steed came to grief, he encountered Mr. Beresford Pender and Darby Ruadh.

"Is that Donovan? I'd like to know what brings you here at this hour of the night?" exclaimed Beresford in his big voice; but he seized Darby Ruadh by the arm, and got behind him.

"I don't see what id is to you," returned Mat; "but, if you want to know, I'm goin' down to look for Billy Heffernan at his own turbary. I b'lieve you know he hasn't a house now."

Billy Heffernan was not at the place; and, after waiting for some time, leaning against the bank where poor Mick Brien had his dream, that never-to-be-forgotten night, when Bessy Morris sat for an hour in the little old chair, and he accompanied her home as far as the little stream where Billy Heffernan's mule always stopped to drink, Mat retraced his steps by the short cut to his own house. He found Barney, with his donkey and cart, at the door; and, after placing a deal box in the cart, he waved his hand and desired him to drive on.

He came up with the cart at the hill near Phil Morris's, and Barney was surprised to see him turn towards the wooden gate under the old hawthorns, and rest his forehead upon it. His last parting with Bessy was not one which he could re member with pleasure, and now he longed for a kind word at least. Bessy had received him with studied coldness, and as he was walking away with a heavy heart, through the little boreen, Peg Brady overtook him, and placed an open letter in his hand. He read it without knowing what he was doing till he came to the signature, when he started and read it over again. When Peg saw the colour fade from his cheek, she got frightened, and said that there might be some mistake.

"No, Peg, no," said he, returning her the letter. "But 'tisn't right, I think, to be showin' a girl's letter that way."

"I'll give id back to him," returned Peg. "I on'y wanted to have a laugh."

Mat Donovan looked around him, seeming quite bewildered, like a man that had lost his way.

"Sure, why wouldn't she meet him, or any wan else she'd like to meet," he said. "But to be sayin' she hated the sight uv him, an' that he was mane and cowardly to be talkin' uv her as he was! I never thought Bessy had the two ways in her before."

Peg Brady wished that Mat would give up thinking of Bessy Morris. She didn't like to see him "making a fool of himself." But in the matter of the letter she feared she had gone too far. And, in fact, if it were not for that letter Mat Donovan would in all probability never have been able to make up his mind to go to America. It was a short note to the dragoon, telling him she would meet him at the hour and place appointed, and couched in rather friendly terms. But Peg who with Kit Cummins had got up a little party of sympathisers with the dragoon, who pronounced Bessy's treatment of him "a shame" suppressed the fact that the letter was an old one, written when she was in Dublin.

"Ah! Bessy!" he thought, "you had no right to thrate me that way; for well you knew though I never tould you so that I'd lay down my life for you."

"Is id tired you are, Mat?" Barney asked. "If id is, sit up. Don't be afeard uv Bobby; for, be herrins, I'd keep up to the mail coach every fut uv the way."

"No, Barney, no. I'd rather walk. Fire away!"

And Mat Donovan twirled his stick, and drew himself up to his full height, and stepped out, as if his heart were as light as a feather.

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