Knocknagow - CHAPTER LXIII.</p>



HUGH KEARNEY is in Australia, toiling to make money. He is resolved to pay the debt due to his uncle, and that for which his generous friend, Dr. Kiely, is responsible. He is determined, too, to have a home for his father and mother and sisters, if they should require it. But he does not know that they require it even now. Sir Garrett Butler made a feeble effort to inquire into the condition of his tenantry and the conduct of his agent, but his health or his energy failed, and he relapsed into his former habits.

"He can't live long," said Mr. Beresford Pender to his worthy father. "Mrs. Lowe mentioned that the doctors ordered him to Italy, so we may as well slap at Kearney at once. He will be likely to follow his son to Australia; and 'twill be a matter of importance to have possession of the place whatever happens."

Old Isaac had nothing to object against this, and legal proceedings were forthwith taken against Maurice Kearney. He had been careful to keep his rent paid up since the seizure of his stock for the arrears; but that was no use now, and he was ejected for non-title. He had to sell off his cattle and sheep at a ruinous sacrifice; but when the sheriff came to hand over the possession of his houses and lands to the agent, Mrs. Kearney was so dangerously ill that it was found necessary to allow them to remain in the house till she was sufficiently recovered to be removed, or, what seemed more likely, till she was borne to her last peaceful home in the churchyard near the old castle.

Mrs. Kearney was slowly recovering. But they dreaded to tell her that the sheep whose bleating she listened to were not her own, but Mr. Beresford Pender's. The tears sprang into Mary's eyes as she looked into the little garden, and saw a sow with her numerous progeny lying upon one of the flower beds. There was a rude straw shed, also, erected near the rustic seat, which was broken and laid across the entrance, to keep in half-a-dozen calves, whose heads were thrust under it, as if they had been caught there, and could not by any possibility be pulled back again.

"I think, Mary," said Mrs. Kearney, "as the day is so fine, I'll sit out in the garden for a while. I know it would do me good."

"Oh, I'm sure it will," returned Mary, eagerly. "I'll get your shawl. You'll find, if you only take courage, you are much stronger than you think."

She induced the invalid, instead of going to the garden, to walk in the lawn in the shelter of the fir-grove. After a turn or two they sat down on the trunk of a fallen tree, and nearly an hour passed unheeded, as they listened to the cawing of the rooks, and the thousand dreamy sounds of the summer noon.

Mary saw her mother's face brighten as she looked round on the dear old place, and her heart sank within her as she thought the time had now come when the truth must be told that it was no longer theirs, and they must soon leave it for ever.

"Oh," thought Mary, as she watched her mother's brightening looks, "how are we to break it to her? I fear it will kill her. May God direct us for the best."

Her father had taken a house in Kilthubber; and at her request a good deal of the furniture of the cottage was removed to it. She heard Beresford Pender ask him when he was to get possession of his house, and she wished that her father should not be exposed to such insults any longer than it was absolutely necessary. That very day she had persuaded him to go into town, and superintend the fitting-up of the new house. She dreaded Mr. Beresford Pender 's brutal insolence; and now that her mother was sufficiently recovered to leave her room, a visit from that gentleman might be expected at any moment.

"I was dreaming of Hugh last night," said Mrs. Kearney, "and of my poor Uncle Dan, God rest his soul. 1 hope It was not a bad dream. Mr. Butler that is Sir Garrett now came in with his ebony flute under his arm, and, strange to say, Hugh clenched his fist and was going to knock him down, till my Uncle Dan caught him by the arm. Then, my Uncle Dan got his violin, and he and Mr. Butler played the "Coulin" together. I never heard such heavenly music, said Mrs. Kearney, holding her hands together, and turning up her eyes to the cloudless sky. "I'm sure it can't be a bad dream. Grace ran in and flung her arms about Hugh, and he looked surprised! Then a whole lot of ladies and gentlemen took hands and began to dance. You were dressed in white and Ellie in blue, and ye were the beautifullest of them all. But that Barney,"' added Mrs. Kearney, indignantly, "wouldn't stop dancing and prancing in and out among them all, and jumping upon chairs, and standing on his head, and kicking his feet about, till my mind was confused, and I couldn't make head or tail of it. But I know it wasn't a bad dream, for the music continued even after that young Hanly roared, and poor Miss Lloyd was tumbled head over heels. Then Richard began to kick Beresford Pender poor Richard was always too hasty," sighed Mrs. Kearney, pathetically " and there was nothing but uproar and confusion. But the 'Coulin' could be heard through it all; and that's what makes me think it was not a bad dream, at any rate."

Mary laughed as she pinned her mother's shawl more comfortably about her, and said it was she herself who was playing the "Coulin" last night, but she touched the keys so lightly, she thought the sound could not reach her mother's room.

"I think you may as well come in and have your broth now," said she.

"You may as well bring it to me here, Mary," her mother replied. "'Tis such a beautiful day, and this is such a nice place to rest."

"Oh, very well," returned Mary, " I'll go for it."

She walked quickly back to the house, in better spirits than she had known for a long time. She thanked God that her mother was so much stronger than ever she hoped to see her again.

"If she knew that we must go, and could be reconciled to it, I'd feel quite happy," she thought, as she pushed against the hall-door, which she had left unlatched when coming out. But the door was fastened, and she knocked loudly, as the old housekeeper's ears were not of the sharpest, and there was no one else in the house. There was no response to her knocking, and she went round to the back-door, a little annoyed, as she expected to encounter some of Mr. Pender's people, who occupied one of the out-offices. To her surprise the back-door also was fastened, and on looking round she started and seemed quite bewildered! Chairs, tables, bedsteads, and household furniture of every kind, were strewn in heaps about the yard. The truth at once flashed upon her; advantage had been taken of her mother's going out to get possession of the house. The discovery almost took away her breath; but indignation at so cowardly a trick gave her strength, and she walked boldly to the office occupied by Pender's bailiffs and servants. That, too, was locked, and she asked aloud was there any one within. There was no reply; and the silence and desolation of the place filled her with an oppressive sense of fear. But this was only for a moment. All her anxiety was for her mother.

"Oh," said she, covering her face with her hands, "it will kill her. If Ellie were at home, or even if I had Judy but I know they have purposely contrived some plan to get the poor old woman out of the way I might be able to do something." She was on the point of giving way to despair, when her eye rested on Norah Lahy's chair. Snatching it up between her hands she hurried back to her mother.

"The broth is not ready, mamma," said she, "and Judy is gone somewhere. You'd be tired sitting on that hard tree, so I brought you this chair."

"Oh, 'tisn't strong enough for me," said her mother, "I'm too heavy for it."

"Oh, 'tis quite strong. It was Mat Donovan made it, and there is a wooden frame inside the straw. You'll find is very comfortable; I was often thinking of bringing it to your room."

"Well, bring it down to the hedge. I saw a wasp going into a hole at the root of this tree, and I suppose I there is a nest there. I'm always afraid of wasps since my Uncle Dan got the sting in the eye-brow, and it swelled up till you'd think he hadn't an eye in his head. That's why I was always against keeping bees; though Mrs. Donovan tells me not one in her house ever got a sting, but one Mat got when he grabbed at a bee that got entangled in Bessy Morris's hair. Oh, I declare 'tis a very nice chair. I think I'll stay out till your father comes home, and he'll be surprised. He said he only wanted to see Wat Murphy about some sheep he bought, so I suppose he won't be long."

The allusion to Mrs. Donovan suggested to Mary that the best thing she could do was to get Nelly to assist her. Mat, she knew, was with her father fitting up the house in town.

Nelly and her mother were quite startled when Miss Kearney told them what had happened. Nelly's first suggestion was to "choke" old. Isaac without a moment's loss of time. But, remembering that this summary proceeding was not practicable just then, old Isaac not being in the way, she let down her apron which she had tucked up as if the choking business were to be done on the spot and became more calm.

"Sure I can break in the doore, Miss," said Nelly.

"Oh, no," returned Mary, and she could not help smiling, "that would not do. Darby Ruadh and the rest of them are in the house, I am sure. I think the best thing we could do is to get mamma over here, until my father comes with the car. And if she can bear the shock, Mrs. Donovan could talk to her about old times, and that would cheer her. But she is not strong enough to walk."

"I'll run over for Billy and the mule," exclaimed Nelly, flinging her cloak on her shoulders. "He's at the big dhrain to-day an' sure 'tis at the same dhrain he is every day a'most for the last twelvemonth."

As Nelly was starting off to the bog for Billy Heffernan, the old housekeeper came in, vowing vengeance against "that limb uv the divil," Darby Ruadh, who had told her that Honor Lahy wanted her in all haste, and off she ran, and never "cried crack" till she reached the "barrack," and found Honor did not want her at all.

"Never mind, Judy," said Mary, soothingly. "Anything such people would do need not surprise you. Come with me now, as I may want you."

Mary was quite alarmed to find Mr. Beresford Pender standing in front of her mother's chair, while his father shuffled up and down behind him, rubbing his face. But, to her surprise, instead of bullying and insulting her mother, the worthy pair were bowing to her with every sign of the most profound respect, and assuring her how much they regretted that she had been put to even the slightest inconvenience, while poor Mrs. Kearney looked from one to the other quite bewildered.

"'Twas all a mistake, Miss Kearney," said Beresford, turning to Mary. "The rascals acted without my orders. But I am after telling them to leave the house, and the furniture will be put back again at wance."

"What is it, Mary?" Mrs. Kearney asked, faintly.

"Something the bailiffs have been doing, I believe," she replied. "But it appears it was a mistake."

"Making another seizure?" returned her mother, with a frightened look. And Mary, thinking she was going to swoon, put her arms round her, assuring her again it was all a mistake.

"All a mistake, Mrs. Kearney," said Beresford.

"All a mistake, Mrs. Kearney," old Isaac repeated.

"Good morning, Mrs. Kearney," said Beresford, with a low bow.

"Good morning, Mrs. Kearney," said old Isaac, with. another low bow.

Though somewhat reassured by their obsequiousness, Mrs.. Kearney was alarmed, and said she feared they were "bent on some villainy."

Billy Heffernan's services were not required. But Nelly Donovan's appearance in his lonely house that day, he afterwards confessed, first put the thought into his mind, that it would be pleasant, after all, to have some one to welcome him home on summer evenings and winter nights. And that same night, as Kit sat winking at the moon, after a luxurious tumble on a heap of dry turf dust, the remains of last year's rick, certain sounds reached her ears to which she had been so long unaccustomed, that she wakened up and switched her tail three several times. And though, except the tail, not a muscle moved, it was quite evident that Kit was going through a. series of very wild gambols in her own mind. Her master, for the first time since Norah Lahy's death, took down his flute from the elk's horns upon which it hung, and played "Auld Lang Syne." Then, putting back the flute, he went out and paced up and down through the rushes, feeling uneasy and excited. Was he going to forget her, he asked himself. And if she knew his thoughts would she not reproach him with her dark eyes? But then he recalled her words the evening he ran to tell her that Mat Donovan was not killed by the falling of the hay-rick, and remembered bow fond she always was of Nelly. He felt he could not sleep in the state of mind he was in; and instead of going to bed at once, he thought he might as well walk over to Honor Lahy's for his usual supply of meal.

"God save all here! " said Billy Heffernan; "'tis a fine night."

"God save you kindly, Billy!" returned Honor and Phil together; "sit down." They were sitting near the window, watching the moon as it peeped over the beech-tree. Billy sat down in his old place on the bench. And as the moon rose higher and higher above the free, the light fell on the place where Norah used to sit, and the thought occurred to each of them that she was looking at them now.

"God save ye," said another voice, in a low, subdued tone, "'tis a beautiful night." It was Nelly Donovan, who sat down exactly where Norah used to sit, and, resting her chin on her hand, gazed up at the moon, with a softness in her eyes that Billy Heffernan had never noticed in them before. The dreamy sadness of their looks changed suddenly to astonishment. The old linnet began to sing that low sweet song of his; though his voice had never before been heard except in the day-time.

Honor Lahy made the Sign of the Cross, evidently viewing the incident in a supernatural light.

"There's somethin' goin' to happen that Norah'd be glad uv," said she.

And as Billy Heffernan continued to look into Nelly Donovan's eyes, he remembered still more distinctly what Norah had said about his leading so lonely a life, without one to care for him.

"There is Mat," said Phil. "I'll run out and ask him is there any news."

"Somethin' is up," was Mat's reply. "'Tis reported the Penders forged Sir Garrett's name to a bill in the bank. I don't say 'tis thrue, for I met Darby Ruadh with his coat off, runnin' to hire a car; an' he wouldn't tell me where he was goin' if they wor makin' off. But there's somethin' up."

This rumour created great excitement; and the few of old Isaac's victims who still remained in the country indulged in wild hopes that the day of retribution had come. Among these, we need scarcely say, was Maurice Kearney, who hoped that if the agent were proved to be a knave, the landlord would not only give him back the possession of his farms, but compensate him for the injury he had suffered. And, though by no means so sanguine as her father, even Mary felt a presentiment that brighter and happier days were at hand, when she looked from her window next morning, and missed the sow and the calves from the little garden, and saw that all Mr. Beresford Pender's flocks and herds had disappeared from the fields.

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