Knocknagow - CHAPTER LX.



MR. SAM SOMERFIELD, J.P., with two policemen on his car, drove furiously up to Wellington Lodge. Other magistrates arrived soon after, and in the course of an hour or so quite a little army of police were on the spot. Mr. Beresford Pender described, in a tremendous voice, the particulars of a most daring outrage which had occurred the night before. Wellington Lodge had been entered by a band of armed men. Two of them tied Mr. Isaac Pender with ropes, and carried away all the money he had in the house. The robbers were so disguised, the old gentleman could not recognise them, but he had his suspicions, particularly of the tall man, who held a pistol to his head while another was breaking open the desk in which he kept his money. And most unfortunately he had a considerable sum just received from Maurice Kearney and other tenants of Sir Garrett Butler. The police were sent to scour the country in all directions; and by some chance the cover of a letter directed to Mr. Pender was found on the brink of a deep, square hole in the bog. Beresford remembered immediately that he had met Mat Donovan near that place at an unseasonable hour the night before. The bog-hole was drained, and the box in which the money was kept was found at the bottom, empty and with the lock broken. The man who handed up the box, feeling something hard under his feet, thrust his hand down into the soft mould, and held up a long gun, to the great astonishment of Mr. Beresford Pender and Darby Ruadh. It was at once re cognised as Maurice Kearney's, for whom a policeman was immediately dispatched. Mr. Kearney scratched his bead, and in reply to questions put to him by the magistrates, said the gun usually hung in the kitchen, and was seldom taken down except to shoot crows; that his son the doctor broke the stock during the hard frost at Christmas, and that he gave the gun to Wattletoes to bring to Mat Donovan to be repaired, as he, Mat Donovan, could do it as well as a gunsmith. That's the last he saw of the gun.

"Where is Mat Donovan?" Mr. Somerfield asked.

To the surprise of all present, Hugh Kearney said he believed Mat Donovan was gone to America. He had been seen late the night before in the bog. The whole affair looked very suspicious, the magistrates said. Then it was asked where was the person called Wattletoes? He had gone with Mat Donovan as far as Waterford. The magistrates exchanged looks, and retired to consult as to what should be done. The country was in a very bad state.

On the evening of the following day, a policeman led Bobby and his blue cart up to Maurice Kearney's hall-door. The whole family ran out greatly surprised, and under the impression that poor Barney was a prisoner and in jail. But the policeman informed them that the ass was found tied to a post on the quay of Waterford, and that Barney could not be found, or any intelligence of him learned. This was still more astonishing, and Hugh began to feel really uneasy. But his mother consoled herself with the reflection that. in all probability Barney was in hot pursuit of a Punch-and-Judy while the police were searching for him.

"What do you think, Hugh?" Mary asked anxiously.

"I really believe there is a plot of some kind," he replied. "But as yet I can't imagine what the object of it may be."

The next Saturday, Billy Heffernan was plodding behind his mule after selling the last pen'orth of his creel of turf, when a hand was laid upon his shoulder, i. was the dragoon, whom Billy had often met since the night he mistook his burnished helmet for a crock of gold at old Phil Morris's; and whom he had come to despise very heartily.

"How are ye all in Knocknagow?" he asked, with a mean, shame-faced look, as if he felt he was despised, and deserved to be.

"All well, so far as what's left uv us," Billy observed.

"Will you tell Kit Cummins that I'll be out before to-morrow week; I'm only waiting for a new suit of clothes to be made." He was dressed in plain clothes now, and not at all the fine, soldierly-looking fellow he was when Billy Heffernan first made his acquaintance.

"Kit was at the safe side of the road," returned Billy; "so she's there yet. I'll tell her. Yo-up! Kit." And he walked on as if he wished to get rid of the ex-dragoon. He pulled up the collar of his ratteen riding-coat to shelter himself from the rain, which a keen wind was driving straight in his face. "Begob," muttered Billy Heffernan, as he breathed upon the tips of his numbed fingers — the weather being unusually cold for the season of the year — "begob, when they wor makin' the winther, they forgot to put these days in id."

"God save you, Billy."

He started, and opened his eyes in mute amazement.

It was Mat Donovan, handcuffed between half-a-dozen policemen, who as well as their prisoner were dripping wet and covered with mud after a long march. Billy left his mule to shift for herself, and ran back after them.

"Let me spake to him," said he to the constable, imploringly.

"What do you want to say to him?"

"Well," he replied, holding his head close to the con stable's ear, as he walked by his side, "just to say a word about a girl he's fond uv."

"Halt," cried the constable, who happened to be fond of a girl himself. "Let us stand in the shelter for a minnit to draw our breath. Come now, say what you have to say at once."

But poor Billy Heflernan was so overcome when his eyes rested on the iron handcuffs round his friend's wrists, he could say nothing at all.

"They tell me, Billy," said Mat, in a mild, sad tone, "that I'm charged wud robbery. I was taken in Liverpool."

"So we heard last night," returned Billy.

"But, Billy, do any uv the neighbours suspect me?"

"The divil a wan," Billy answered with animation. "I was in at ould Phil's yesterday, an' if you hear the way Bessy spoke uv you. She said she'd depind her life on you, and that you wor the sowl uv honour."

"Did she, Billy?" rejoined Mat Donovan —-and his eyes glistened. "Remember me to all the neighbours; an' tell my mother an' Nelly not to fret. There's some mistake that I can't make out. It must be because I happened to have a few hot words wud ould Pender that they pitched on me."

"But, Mat, where did Barney go?"

"Didn't he go home?" Mat asked in surprise. "I parted wud him on the quay uv Waterford just as the steamer was startin', an' I tould him to make no delay."

"There's no account uv him, high or low," returned Billy.

"Begor, that's quare!" Mat exclaimed. "I hope no harm is afther happenin' to poor Barney."

"She'd depend her life on me," said Mat Donovan to himself, as he lay down upon his bed in Clonmel jail. And he was certainly a happier man that night than he would have been if he had not met Billy Heffernan and his mule on the road.

When brought before a magistrate, Mat Donovan was startled by the weight of circumstantial evidence against him. He declared that Barney had never brought the gun to him; and that he and Barney travelled together to Waterford the night of the robbery. Hugh Kearney told how Mat had called on him about nine o'clock that night and said he was going to the bog to see Billy Heffernan. And Nelly Donovan swore that her brother intended leaving for America the Sunday before the sheriff came out, hut that he remained to attend Norah Lahy's funeral. These circumstances were in his favour, but the mysterious disappearance of Barney Brodherick, the magistrate said, was a most suspicious circumstance, and he must send the case for trial at the next assizes. So poor Mat Donovan was marched back to his cold cell, the magistrate, at the suggestion of the Crown prosecutor, refusing to admit him to bail. He could not conceal from himself that he stood in great danger of being transported as a robber and a housebreaker unless Barney Brodherick could be found. He knew, however, that he had a good friend in Hugh Kearney, who would leave nothing undone to get him out of the meshes of the law. And Bessy Morris had written him such a kind letter, he was almost thankful that he had come back to Ireland, even as a prisoner.

But those Tipperary homes — those that the crowbar has spared — among which we have, perhaps, lingered too long and too lovingly for the reader's patience, are gloomy enough now. Poor Honor Lahy can find little comfort even in Phil's eloquence, though he is always sober and industrious. There is a deeper shade of sadness in Mrs. Donovan's sad face; and Nelly's ringing laugh is never heard now. She even stops her wheel sometimes, and sits down to cry over a pair of embroidered slippers. Billy Heffernan comes over now and again from his hut in the bog, and sits on the bench in the corner. He is every day saying he will "take courage," and begin to play his flute again; but week after week passes, and he has not yet ventured to blow a single note. Nelly's mind is very much troubled on his account. She is afraid that when the flood rises, Billy Heffernan and his mule will inevitably be drowned in the bog. Billy assures her that the water was never yet known to cover the particular spot upon which he has erected his domicile; but he admits that coming in and going out will be "no joke" after a heavy fall of rain.

Kit Cummins is mute; and her next-door neighbour has been known to sit on the ground inside her own threshold, with her back against the open door, for hours together, and so oppressed by the unaccustomed silence, that after finishing a "round" of her knitting, her hands would drop down languidly by her side, as, sighing deeply, she muttered under her teeth, "Gir-r-r-out, you bla'guard," and fixed her eyes vacantly upon the pig crunching Kit Cummins's stirabout stick in the dung-hole outside the door. The ring of jack Delany's anvil is only heard by fits and starts; and Brummagem's face is so black that he must have discontinued the Sunday ablution in the quarry for some time. Tom Hogan is dying at Tom Carey the carpenter's, whom he used to look down upon as a "tradesman," who was "no match for a farmer's daughter." Nancy nurses him tenderly; and Tom Carey never hints at his old love for her, even by a look; but Nancy thinks of it often, and sometimes says to herself that Ned Brophy's love was not "the right love."

Old Phil Morris is becoming more and more cynical, and will talk crossly even to Bessy, and ask her what ails her, and why she looks so miserable. Even Peg Brady is unhappy, and resolves to ease her mind by telling Mat Donovan the truth about the letter; for her conscience told her that if it were not for her jealousy and duplicity, Mat would not have left for America at all, and would not be now a prisoner in the jail of Clonmel, in danger of being transported for life. Mary Kearney is doing her best to be strong; but since Norah Lahy's death the struggle is harder than it used to be; and when she thinks of her light-hearted sister going into a convent, she can scarcely suppress a cry of pain. There is a rumour, too, that Arthur O'Connor is going to be married to some rich lady who fell in love with him in Paris. And Mary sees the traces of care growing deeper and deeper in her brother Hugh's face, and fears that her father's affairs must be becoming more embarrassed. Ellie is at school with Grace, and Mary often thinks how Grace's presence would brighten up the old cottage — and how much it wanted brightening up now. Maurice Kearney, however, appears as jovial as ever; and the only weight on Mrs. Kearney's mind is the fate of poor Barney, who, she fears, must have fallen into the river at Waterford, or met with some other equally untimely end. "Unless, indeed," she would add, "he has turned ballad-singer or showman himself." And Barney's mistress derived great consolation from the hope that he had permanently attached himself to a Punch-and-Judy.

Attorney Hanly has got possession of one hundred and fifty acres of land adjoining Castleview, at one pound an acre. Besides Tom Hogan's little farm, for which Tom Hogan paid two pounds, some fifty acres, including Mat Donovan's "garden," and four or five other small holdings of from five to ten acres, are in pretty good heart. But the rest is so poor and exhausted, that Mr, Hanly does not consider that he has got much of a bargain after all. He can, however, make it all as good as Tom Hogan's, by deep-draining, and liming, and fencing, and manuring, as Tom Hogan did. But Mr. Hanly is a shrewd man of business, and he knows to do this would cost several thousand pounds; and, when 'twas all done, he knows also that the rent could be raised on him, as 'twas raised on Tom Hogan; or he could, like Tom Hogan, be turned out altogether. So he won't mind the draining until he has got a long lease. His lease of Castleview will expire the same time as Maurice Kearney's lease of Ballinaclash, and as Attorney Hanly looks upon his handsome house, and his groves and meadows, he begins to feel uneasy and dissatisfied. So he has had a good deal of talk latterly with old Isaac; and it has been suggested to Sir Garrett Butler that he ought to give a new lease of the whole farm to Mr. Hanly, who would then expend a large sum of money in improvements, and would not object to paying a reasonable fine. It happened that, at the same time, Mr. Sam Somerfield, J.P., applied for a new lease of Woodlands. And in both cases the arguments brought forward to show that long leases would prove advantageous both to the landlord and the tenant were so convincing, that the old baronet, with all his simplicity and want of experience, could not help wondering why his agent had always warned him against giving leases to his tenants — particularly to Maurice Kearney — and pointed to the practice and example of this same Mr. Sam Somerfield in support of his assertion that leases would be ruinous to the landlord's interests.

"And why does he ask me to give a lease to Mr. Hanly now?" the landlord thought. "Why should it be for my interest to withhold leases from all the rest, if it be for my interest to give a lease to him? And why does Mr. Somerfield urge me so strongly to give him a lease, though he considered it a crime for landlords to give leases to their tenants, and I understand has quite done away with leases on the estate over which he is agent? 'Tis very strange. There must be something wrong. I'll write to Mr. Pender, and say I cannot give the lease till I make further inquiries."

Old Isaac shambled about in a state of distraction, and had a severe attack of midges, when he read this letter. But Beresford was not at all sorry: for if Attorney Hanly and Mr. Somerfield had got leases, he could not see what excuse there would be for refusing to renew Maurice Kearney's lease. And Mr. Beresford Pender had set his heart upon getting possession of Ballinaclash by hook or by crook. One obstacle was removed; Mr. Lowe — who, he feared, might do something to defeat his scheme — was gone to India. If Hugh Kearney were out of the way now, all would be right. Maurice Kearney, he suspected, was in debt; and if he were unexpectedly pounced upon for a year's rent he would never recover the blow, and could be put out even without waiting for the expiration of the lease. But old Isaac regretted that he had urged the landlord to give Attorney Hanly a lease.

"I'm afraid," old Isaac muttered, "Sir Garrett will take some notion into his head. I'm sorry now I ever disturbed Tom Hogan. Carey the carpenter stopped me on the road when his funeral was passing, and said, before all the people, that the coffin was his work, but that my work was in the coffin. A farmer dare not talk to a gentleman that way. But these tradesmen are very insolent. Phil Lahy the tailor never puts his hand to his hat for me. And look at that old Phil Morris. I never like to see his eye on me. 'Tis these fellows that destroy the country. Only for them the farmers would submit to anything."

"Donovan is sure to be transported," Beresford observed. I don't see what good that will do," returned his father, "unless Sir Garrett will make some allowance, when he sees it was as his agent I was robbed. I never liked that business. I'd rather keep out of such things, unless when some thing is to be gained."

"Slap at Kearney now for a year's rent — distrain his stock and he'll be smashed," said Beresford. "I'm told he's in debt, and has a thrashing machine at work night and day, and selling off his corn, though prices are low."

His brother or someone might pay the rent for him," returned the old agent; "and then we'd be doing him good instead of harm."

"He owes his brother money," rejoined Beresford, " and there's no danger. The brother knows he has no hold of his place, and I'm told he always said he was a fool to expend so much money in improvements."

"Well, Dr. Kiely might interfere. He is a dangerous man, and if he thought Kearney was harshly treated he'd never stop till he got Sir Garrett to look into things. The creditors want the timber on Woodlands to be sold, and if matters are stirred at all something unpleasant may happen. But if Sir Garrett remains abroad, I think there is no danger."

"'Tis reported Kiely's son has some notion of Miss Kearney," said Beresford.

"Well, that's only another reason why we should be cautious," replied his father, "and the longer he's let run the easier 'twill be to manage him."

"No surrender!" muttered Mr. Beresford Pender down in his chest, as he walked away to have an imaginary conversation with the "colonel," and invent a few new oaths.

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