Knocknagow - CHAPTER LXI.



IT is Christmas Day again. But the day has dawned, for the first time within the memory of the oldest inhabitant, without the windows in the old town of Kilthubber being set dancing by the famous Knocknagow drum. The drum is silent and forgotten over Mat Donovan's dresser; and Mat is a prisoner, awaiting his trial, in Clonmel jail. But even if the drum were banged, as of old, at the Bush, behind Maurice Kearney's, loud enough to awaken the Seven Sleepers, how few would have rallied to the call, compared with that day twelvemonth, when Mr. Lowe and his host followed the procession over the snow-covered road? For in spite of Father Hannigan's encouraging assurance that the landlords thereabouts were not exterminators, like some he could name, the crowbar has done its work at Knocknagow. Brummagem made an attempt to collect some boys to hunt the wren in the afternoon; hut so few came, and so little heart did they put into it, that Mary Kearney thought it was one of the most melancholy sights she ever beheld. It reminded her of poor Mat Donovan and Barney; and she thought of Mr. Lowe, and Richard, and Grace, and how happy they all were last Christmas. She remembered the tracks in the snow, and how Arthur O'Connor had stood, for hours perhaps, in the garden; and even yet he did not know that she had not received his note in time, and "what must he think of her?" She leant back in her chair with a sigh of pain. She asked herself what business she had in the world, and would it not be better for her and every one else if she were at rest. As her head touched the back of the chair, she started, and a faint blush stole over her pale cheeks.

"Oh," she exclaimed drawing back the window curtain, that she might have a view of the old castle and the little ruined church near it "'tis a shame for me!" And Mary gazed towards the churchyard with her hand resting on the back of the chair. It was a straw chair. It was Norah Lahy's straw chair which poor Norah had left to her idolised friend. And how could she sit in that chair and not be strong?

She joined her father and mother and Hugh at dinner with a smiling, happy face. But still there was a gloom over the little circle it was such a contrast to all the other happy Christmases they had known; and it was a relief to them all when a servant came in to say that Billy Heffernan was in the kitchen, and wanted to see Mr. Hugh, as he was going to drive Mrs. Donovan and Nelly to Clonmel in the morning to visit Mat in jail.

They found Mat quite calm, and prepared for the worst. But a pang shot through his mother's heart when she saw how thin and pale he had grown. He had lived so long in the open air, and led so active a life, imprisonment was telling fearfully upon his strong frame. At times, too, his heart would sink at the thought that he must stand before the public gaze accused perhaps convicted of a cowardly and disgraceful crime. But his mother's sad face told him, more plainly than words, to be a man, no matter what might happen; while Nelly, in spite of all her wild ways, utterly broke down, and was supported out of the prison, crying and sobbing violently, by Billy Heffernan. They told him all the news, and spoke of all his old friends except one. He longed to hear of her, and yet her name was never once mentioned. He did not ask for her partly because he dreaded to hear something unpleasant, and partly because he thought she would rather not be talked of by him. But he felt there was a want of sympathy with him on his sister's part when she never told him a word about Bessy. She spoke about every one she cared much for herself; and because she did not care much for Bessy Morris, she quite forgot that Mat cared more for her than for all the world. And to sympathise with him in this would, he felt, be a greater proof of affection than the greatest sacrifices his sister could have made for him. She told him, over and over, what a good friend Billy Heffernan was to them, and how he would drive them to Clonmel again the day of the trial; and Mat was truly glad to hear this. But why did she not speak one word of his darling Bessy? Why did she not love her for his sake? Billy Heffernan told him he had a letter from Hugh Kearney to his attorney, and that nothing would be left undone to prove his innocence.

"I'm sure uv that," said Mat. "I'd depend my life on him. And how is ould Phil Morris, Billy?"

"As sound as a bell, as he says himse'f," returned Billy.

"I called in "

"Time is up," said the turnkey. And Mat Donovan was alone again in that dreary cell.

Ah, if Nelly Donovan had "called in" to old Phil Morris's, and brought one kind word from Bessy, how much better it would have been for her brother than all her sobs and tears!

A week or two after the visit to the jail, Billy Heffernan stopped his mule opposite the little thatched house, where, exactly a year before, he sold the twopence-worth of turf while waiting for room to pass through the loads of corn that blocked up the street, after leaving the dragoon behind him on the road. The woman of the house had become a regular customer since, and even when she did not want a supply of turf, Billy often stopped to have a chat with her. While they were talking this morning, he observed a crowd at the corner of the street, around a yellow painted van, built on the plan of those houses upon wheels in which a tall lady and a dwarf are usually to be seen, but small enough to be drawn by a single donkey. Along one side were two rows of lenses, like burning glasses, the under row low enough for the smallest urchin to peep through, and the upper sufficiently high for a full-grown man to view the wonders inside without stooping inconveniently. A green baize curtain hung from a frame in front of the glasses, and was drawn over the spectators who paid their half-pence, to shut them in from the gaze of the crowd. The showman had a loud voice, and in a monotonous sing-song tone he solemnly announced to the public that he was there by order of her Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria, to exhibit his panorama for the instruction of her Irish subjects, especially the warm hearted people of gallant Tipperary. He then commenced letting down his pictures one by one by means of strings with brass curtain-rings attached to them, desiring his patrons to "look to the right" and "look to the left," and they would see "Napoleon Bonaparte mounted on a grey horse," and "Solomon's Temple," and various other wonders, too numerous to mention here; always finishing his description of a battle by asking them did they not "hear the cannons roaring."

"Don't you hear the cannons roaring?" he exclaimed, as Billy Heffernan pushed his way quietly through the crowd, and stood close to the orator.

"Oh, I do," responded a voice from under the green baize curtain, in accents of the profoundest wonder.

The showman, surprised and delighted by so strong a testimony to the excellence of his exhibition, fought the battle of Waterloo over again, and again asked, "don't you hear the cannons roaring?"

"Oh, I do!" responded the voice again, in a tone of still deeper wonder and profounder awe.

There was a broad grin on every face in the crowd, except Billy Heffernan's he not being much given to mirth. And of course the showman himself could not for a moment so far forget the dignity of his mission as to allow his features to relax into a smile.

"Don't you hear the cannons roaring?" he repeated, casting a look of severe reproof upon his audience, to rebuke them for their levity.

"Oh, I do!" responded the voice.

The curtain was drawn back, and Billy Heffernan started, and, with eyes and mouth wide open, stared at the face, radiant with more than human felicity, revealed to his astonished gaze.

"For God 'lmighty sake," gasped Billy Heffernan, "is id yourse'f, Barney?"

"Begob id is, Billy," replied Barney, with a grin of intenser delight if that were possible to a man who had been just viewing Solomon's Temple, and listening to the cannons roaring at the battle of Waterloo.

"Barney," said Billy Heffernan, "'twas reported you wor dead."

"Billy," returned Barney laying his hand on his arm, and suddenly becoming very grave "don't b'lieve a word uv id."

Billy Heffernan never took his eyes off him for an instant, apparently dreading that if he did Barney might vanish,

"Like him the sprite,

Whom maids by night

Oft meet in glen that's haunted."

Heeling his car suddenly at the door of the thatched house, he threw the load upon the ground.

"Oh, what are you doin'?" cried the woman of the house. "I don't want any turf to-day. An' sure if I did idse'f, I couldn't afford to buy a whole load together."

"Never mind," returned Billy Heffernan, excitedly, "you can pay me by degrees." And collaring Barney, he pushed him into the car, putting up the hind part of the creel and fastening it upon him as he would upon a pig of lively propensities.

"Yo-up! Kit!" And away they went.

Kit, in the whole course of her life, never made the journey from Clonmel to Knocknagow in such quick time. The news flew like wildfire that the prodigal had returned, and was safely caged in Billy Heffernan's creel; and men, women, and children rushed out to see him and to speak to him, before they had reached Mat Donovan's. But Billy Heffernan begged of them to keep back, as his mind would not be easy till he had delivered up his charge to Hugh Kearney, who, he hoped and trusted, would find means to secure him, at least till after Mat Donovan's trial. So the crowd retired, except Phil Lahy, who walked behind the creel as solemnly as if he were following Barney to his last resting-place. The truant looked frightened as they approached the house, and showed decided symptoms of a desire to bolt, till he saw his mistress throw up her arms in surprise, and heard her exclaim, "O poor Barney! did you come at last?" And the long unheard "Wattletoes," in his master's well-remembered voice, satisfied him that it was old times again, and no mistake.

So that Barney could not keep in a "hurroo!" of exultation, which took rather the shape of a screech, as he flung up his left arm and assaulted himself with the heel of his right foot, in a manner which, from any foot but his own, would have been at least insulting. And, then and there, Barney performed one of Callaghan's most difficult and complicated steps, with a look of intense gravity, which deepened into a scowl, as he finished by clapping his foot upon the ground with all his force, remaining motionless as a statue in that position for half a minute, and then suddenly breaking into another screech, and assaulting himself with his heel again. Barney then favoured all present, jointly and severally, with his old grin; and Tom Maher exclaimed, "Good again, Barney!" which seemed to be the meed for which Barney had been labouring, and without which he would have considered his efforts thrown away; for Barney took off his hat and drew his sleeve across his forehead, with the look of a man who had done his duty, thoroughly satisfied with Tom Maher's "Good again."

"And now, Barney," said Phil Lahy, "will you be good enough to give an explanation of your disappearance, and where and how you spent your time, since you parted with Mat Donovan on the deck of the Liverpool steamer in the harbour of Waterford?" And having thus delivered himself, Phil cast a "gentlemen-of-the-jury" look around upon his audience.

Barney seemed quite taken aback, and evidently feared that his troubles were before him after all.

"Wait till he gets something to eat first," said Mrs. Kearney. "I suppose he's famished with the hunger. Go to the kitchen, Barney, and I'll desire them to get you your dinner."

"Would I doubt you, ma'am!" exclaimed Barney, brightening up again. "Thundher-an'-turf, Miss Ellie, is id yourse'f at all? Begor, Miss Mary, she'll shortly be able to ate a tuppenny loaf over your head. An' Masther Willie! och, Masther Willie, if you see the fine pup I had stole for you, but I couldn't brin' him wad me. Four months ould, an' as big as a calf. He'd be as big as Bobby. I see his father an' mother wad my own eyes dhrawin' tember tin mile o' ground. But bad luck to id, I couldn't brin' him."

"And where did you find him, Billy?" Mrs. Kearney asked.

"Lookin' at a peep-show, ma'am," returned Billy Heffernan.

"Oh, that was the peep-show!" exclaimed Barney. "I never see the likes uv id. I'd rather give a shillin' to get wan look at id than to spind a shillin' at a races."

"What did you see in it, Barney?" his master asked.

"The whole world," returned Barney, with a look of wonder.

"But tell us what you saw," continued his master, hugging himself in the excess of his glee. "Tell us what you saw in the peep-show."

"Look to the right," exclaimed Barney, in the solemn tones of the showman, "and you'll see Solomon's Temple mounted on a grey horse." And his master immediately ran into the house to order a good dinner to be set before Barney Brodherick.

"Begob, Phil," Barney answered, when be had smacked his lips and wiped his mouth after the Ballinaclash bacon, "'tis all like a dhrame to me; but I don't much care as Bobby came home safe, as that was what was throublin' me." And Barney did look contented, and in a very happy frame of mind.

"But tell us where you went to and what kept you away so long."

"Well, whin the steamer dhrove off wad Mat, I felt so down-hearted I didn't know what to do wad myse'f. An' as Bobby wanted a rest, I walked up an' down lookin' at the ships. There was wan big wan full uv people, an' the sailors shoutin' an' singin' an' pullin' ropes, an' women an' childer roarin' an' bawlin' for the bare life, till you wouldn't know where you wor standin.' 'Is that Barney?' says some wan out from the middle uv 'em. An' who was id but a b'y from Ballingarry side that challenged Mat Donovan to rise a weight wan day at the colliery; an' begob he put Mat to the pin uv his collar the same day. So out he comes an' pulls me in on the deck; an' who the blazes did I see sittin' furninst me but Patherson the piper playin' away for the bare life. Thin three or four more fellows that wor in the habit uv comin' to the dance at the Bush med at me, an' you'd think they'd shake the hand off uv me. The divil a wan uv 'em that hadn't a bottle, an' I should take a small dhrop out uv every wan uv 'em for the sake uv ould times, as they said. Thin nothin' 'd do but I should dance a bout; an' Patherson changed the 'Exile of Eryin' to 'Tatthered Jack Walsh' while you'd be lookin' about you. Well, Phil, you know that's wan of Callaghan's doubles, an' if I didn't show 'em what dancin' was, my name isn't Barney. But some way or other some wan knocked up agin me, an' my fut slipped on the boords, an' down I fell."

Here Barney scratched his bead and fell into a reverie.

"Well!" said Phil Lahy. "What happened you when you fell?"

"That's what I'm thryin' to make out, Phil," returned Barney, "but I can't. Barrin' that I suppose I forgot to get up; for whin I kem to myse'f there I was ondher a hape uv canvas, an' Patherson lyin' o' top uv me gruntin' like an' ould sow. 'Twasn't long any way till a couple of sailors pulled us out, an' whin I stood up the divil a stand I could stand no more thin a calf afore his mother licks him. So there I was spinnin' about thryin' to studdy myse'f, when the flure slanted down, for all the world like as if a cart heeled an' you standin' in id, an' I was pitched head foremost, an' was dn near dhrivin' my head through the captain's stummuck.

Where's your passage-ticket?' says be, shoutin' out loud; for you couldn't hear your ears wad the wind, and the say dashin' up agin the sides uv the ship, till you'd think we wor goin' to be swollied afore you could bless yourse'f. 'Where's your ticket?' says the captain again, seein' that I had my arms twisted round a rope, an' I houldin' on for the bare life.

'Arra, what 'd I be doin' wad a passage-ticket?' says I, 'whin I'm not goin' anywhere.' 'Come, my good fellow,' says he, 'I want none of your humbuggin'. Hand me your ticket an' go below.' 'I'm not a coddy at all,' says I. 'Let me go look afther me little ass.' 'He's a stole-away,' says the captain, turnin' to the mate. 'That's what they'll say at home,' says I, 'an' if you don't let me out, Bobby'll be a stole-away, too, God help me,' says I. 'An' where do you want to go?' says the captain, an' I see he couldn't help laughin' 'Good luck to you, captain,' says I, 'an' let me out on the quay uv Watherford, an' that's all I'll ax,' says I. 'We have another here,' says the mate, pintin' to Patherson, 'rowlin' hether an' over on the broad of his back.' 'That's the piper,' said the captain. 'What are we to do wud 'em?' 'Let me out, sir,' says I, 'or I'll have no business to show my face to the misthress,' says I. 'You're fifty miles from Watherford,' says he, 'an' I suspect this is a schame uv yours to chate me,' says he. Wud that the b'y from Ballingarry came up a step-laddher out uv a place they call the hoult an' the divil's own hoult the same place is an' he explained all to the captain, an' said I'd be handy about the cookin', an' as for the piper, if the weather cleared up, he'd give 'em a tune, an' keep 'em alive. An' that's the way myse'f an' Patherson went to New-found-land. We wor home together, too, an' he wanted to keep up the partnership, we did so well in St. John's, he playin' an' I dancin'. But, good luck to you, Phil, an' let me out to see Bobby, an' I'll tell you all another time."

"Just tell me, Barney," said Hugh, who had been listening unobserved to the latter part of his narration, "what did you do with the gun you were desired to bring to Mat Donovan, to have the stock mended?"

"Oh, for God's sake, Misther Hugh," Barney exclaimed showing such decided symptoms of a desire to run away, that Billy Heffernan closed the door and placed his back against it "don't get me into a hobble about the gun, an' I afther goin' through such hardship. Let me go see Bobby an' my poof ould mother. Sure I'm bad enough, God help me."

"I don't want to get you into any trouble about it," said Hugh. "But, by telling the truth, you will get your friend Mat Donovan out of trouble. Why did you not bring the gun to him, and where did you bring it?"

'Twas all on account uv Peg Brady," Barney answered, moodily. "An' see all the throuble I brought on myse'f for wan slob uv a kiss."

"Well, tell me how it happened."

I see her goin' home by the short-cut, sir," returned Barney, looking the very picture of repentance, "an' wint across to meet her, thinkin' id 'd be a fine thing to let her see me wad a fire-lock on my shoulder. An' thin I wint to help her over the double-ditch above the forth. An' as I was comin' back I hear the beagles givin' tongue, an' the hare wint poppin' through the nine-acre field, and was makin' for the furze over Raheen. Thin the hounds come on, keepin' on the thrale elegant, and the fust man I see toppin' the doubleditch was yourse'f, and the huntsman after you. So I stuck the gun into a brake uv briers, an' cut off to see the fun; an' the divil a wan uv me ever thought uv the gun till the day uv the hurlin', whim Father M'Mahon tould me 'twas in Billy Heffernan's bog-hole; and what use would id be for me to go look for id in a hole that's as deep as the top uv the house?"

"Did he tell you who put it in that hole?" Hugh asked.

"Not a word, sir," Barney replied, "on'y that 'twas there."

"All right, Barney," said Hugh. "You may go see Bobby and your mother as soon as you like now. Let him out, Billy; he won't run away again, never fear," he added, on observing Billy Heffernan's look of alarm.

"Be my sowl, 'tis runnin' enough I'm afther gettin'," returned Barney. "An' that I may never die in sin if ever I put a fut on a ship again, anyway. Will I ride Bobby to see my mother, Misther Hugh?"

The permission was granted, and in a few minutes Barney passed by the side of Knocknagow that was left, at full gallop; in his excitement either not seeing or not heeding Kit Cummins, who ran to her door holding up a bottle and glass invitingly; nor even seeming to notice Peg Brady, who, with the dragoon, stood behind her.

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