Knocknagow - CHAPTER LXVI.



"POSITIVELY, Mary," exclaimed Grace, "Tommy Lahy — as I suppose we may still call him between ourselves — is about the nicest fellow I ever met."

"And your old weakness for nice fellows is as strong as ever, I dare say," returned Mrs. O'Connor, smiling.

"A strong weakness!" rejoined Grace; "that's not bad. But, really, he is so handsome, and so manly and intelligent — "

"And rich," Mary added.

"Well, of course that is worth counting, too. Even papa says he never met a more intelligent young man. It is really a treat to talk to him."

"Yes, I have noticed that you think so," returned Mary. "Ye seem to like each other's society very well, indeed. But is he in the toils in downright earnest?"

"No," she replied, shaking her head; "he does not seem to be very susceptible."

"And what am I to think of that handsome and expensive ring on your finger?"

"Nothing; only that he admires me."

"And suppose he more than admired you, how would it be?"

"Well, though I scarcely ever knew any one else so much to my taste in every way," returned Grace thoughtfully, "I believe I could not love him. In fact I sometimes think I have no heart. And only for papa I'd follow Eva."

"There was a time," said Mary, "when I used to say the same of myself."

Grace bent her head, to hide the blush which she felt stealing into her face, and, walking to the window, seemed to take great interest in the movements of the magpies in the elm-tree. Perhaps she was thinking of the evening long ago, when Tommy Lahy peeped into the magpie's nest before throwing down Mat Donovan's coat, after he had emerged from under the fallen hay-rick.

"I suppose," she observed, "you know we are to have Kathleen Hanly at Woodlands to-night, and Lory. I never can call him anything but Lory. He protests he admires me as much as ever, and if I only have patience till he gets his silk gown, he will lay that coveted garment at my feet."

"I am very glad to have Rose for a neighbour," said Mary.

"I always liked her, and was delighted when Mr. Wilson was appointed manager of the bank."

"Johnny Wilson, an' you love me," returned Grace; "let us speak of them all as we used to do in the old times. I wonder does Adonis think of Kathleen still? I was greatly amused by Mrs. Captain French's account of the tiger hunt. Only to think that Richard and Mr. Lowe — or let me say Adonis and Apollo — figured so conspicuously in it! It is a pity Mr. Lloyd was not with them."

"Hugh was very sorry," Mary observed, "that Richard should go into the army. Arthur has written to him, strongly recommending him to come home. But I really fear he would not be contented."

"He might if he could retain the uniform," rejoined Grace. "He came to see me — or rather to let me see him — before he went away. And if ever mortal man soared into the seventh heaven upon a pair of epaulettes, that man was Surgeon Richard Kearney, of the —th Lancers. I asked him did he think Annie handsome, and he only stared at me. He could think of nothing but his new uniform."

"Hugh was greatly struck by Annie," Mary observed. "He says she is the most splendid woman he ever saw."

"Yes, she does strike people at first; but it wears off after a while."

"Edmund does not think so," returned Mary.

"Well, no; he is as enthusiastic as ever. But Edmund is essentially an enthusiast. He is half out of his wits, he is so glad to have Hugh at home. I pity the poor snipe and partridges."

"Why don't you apply the same rule to Hugh as to the others, and call him Fionn Macool?" Mary asked. "Do you remember giving him that name?"

"Indeed, yes," returned Grace, pensively. "And how distinctly I remember the day in your room when Bessy Morris said I could not have given him a grander name, though I by no means meant to be complimentary. Were you frightened, Mary, when you saw him so awfully thin and worn? I thought he had only come home to die. But papa said he would be as strong as ever again. And he is wonderfully improved during the last few weeks."

Mary clasped her hands together, and turned her mild blue eyes upwards, but made no reply.

"But where is he now?" Grace asked.

"Writing in his own room," Mary replied. "He has little Grace with him. He is very fond of little Grace."

"Oh, between little Grace's prattle, and her mother's singing," returned Grace, with a frown, "he has no time to devote to other people."

"I'll go tell him what you say," rejoined Mary, laughing.

"You have kept the old writing desk during all your wanderings," she observed, on entering Hugh's room.

"Yes," he replied; "I have brought it with me everywhere."

"Oh! and you have kept this, too?" she exclaimed, opening a loosely folded paper she had carelessly taken from the desk.

"Yes, of course," he replied, smiling, on seeing what she had discovered.

"And is it really somebody's that you care for?"

"Well, it is," he replied, gravely; but he reddened immediately, and would have recalled the words if he could.

"And can't you tell me who it is? Do I know her?"

"Oh, you must ask no more questions," he replied, snatching at the paper.

But she was too quick for him, and carried it off in triumph.

"Here is that mysterious lock of hair," said Mary to Grace, who was still standing at the window, gazing at the mountains. "Can you unravel the mystery, as you did that of the tracks in the snow?"

"I can't imagine who it can be," she said, after looking for a moment at the tress of hair.

"He admits it is somebody he really cares for," said Mary. Grace scrutinised the hair again, and as her own hair fell down on her hand while she did so, Mary observed:

"It is very like your own. But what is that written on the paper?"

Grace looked sharply at the half-obliterated pencilling, and said, "Oh, yes. 'Only a woman's hair ' — Swift, you know —

"'The passioned tremble of the heart

That ripples in the little line —

"Only a woman's hair."'

But he has made a change which is by no means an improvement. He has — 'Only a girl's hair.'"

"There is something else written under it," said Mary.

"Yes, it is the date. 'January 9, 18—.'"

The words swam before her eyes, and she fell senseless upon the floor. Mary caught her up, and placed her upon a low chair, by the side of which she had fallen. She was about to cry out for assistance when Grace's bosom heaved, and her eyes opened.

"Oh, what has happened to you?" Mary asked anxiously.

"O Mary," she replied as if she were just awaking from a deep sleep, "it is my hair."

Mary could only look the surprise she felt.

"Do you remember," continued Grace, "when Mr. Lowe was here, the day Mat Donovan asked me to play the air of the song he was to sing at Ned Brophy's wedding? It was the same day that Lory Hanly brought me the jay."

"Yes, I remember," returned Mary. "But what has that to do with it?"

"Look at the date on the paper," said Grace, closing her eyes.

"It is the very same day," replied Mary.

"And don't you remember," continued Grace, keeping her eyes still closed, "how I cut off a lock of Hugh's hair with your scissors, and he caught me and cut off some of mine?"

"Yes, I recollect it all now," Mary answered, looking troubled. "I trust in goodness that I have done no harm."

"And he has kept it all the time," Grace thought. "He has always loved me!"

"This is Grace's hair, Hugh," said Mary, on coming into his room again.

"Well, it is," he replied, as if the earnestness of her manner had surprised him into the admission.

"O Hugh," said she, looking anxiously at him, "I never thought of this. I will bring her up."

"I fear you have been making me ridiculous," he exclaimed, getting between her and the door.

She told him what had just occurred in the parlour; and so great was Hugh Kearney's astonishment, that for the moment he felt no other emotion. But when Mary asked him would she go for Grace, he seemed much agitated.

"Yes," he answered, with a motion of his hand towards the door. He paced up and down the room two or three times, and then sat down again at the table where he had been writing, looking quite unmoved; save for that light, half fire and half softness, that swam in his dark eyes. Grace came in, and those dark eyes met hers. She crossed the room with a measured step, and laid her hand on his shoulder, still looking into his eyes. There was no need for words.

"I don't know what to say," said he at last. "But Grace, when did you first think of me?"

"I don't know," she replied. "I think always."

"There must really be a mystery in these things, Grace. I never hoped such happiness would ever be mine. Did you know bow much I always loved you?"

"Well, I didn't know — but, somehow, I believed it."

They were silent again for a long time; and Grace recalled Bessy Morris's words, "If a ship were sinking with you, or a lion rushing to devour you, wouldn't you feel safe if his arm were around you?" Yes, she felt it was so.

"Wonders will never cease," exclaimed Mary, flinging the door open. "Fionn Macool can make himself agreeable. Do you forget that we are all invited to a great ball at Woodlands in honour of Fionn's safe return from the Antipodes?"

Grace, for once in her life, would have forgiven the great ball. But she resolved to make herself as "killing" as possible; for it was rather provoking that Mrs. Kiely so dazzled her guests on such occasions, that even a certain young lady, who was generally admitted to possess some attractions of her own, was quite thrown into the shade at Woodlands.

"That dark dress becomes you admirably, Mary," said she. "And Ellie looks downright lovely in white. There is something fawn-like about her. But which of these shall I wear?"

"Ask Hugh's opinion," returned Mary.

"Yes, Ellie; ask him which would he prefer."

"He doesn't care which," said Ellie, after consulting Hugh on this important matter, "as neither is green."

"I like green, but green does not like me," returned Grace. "I must leave that to Annie."

"Here is Arthur," said Mary, rather impatiently. "Decide at once; we have no time to lose. Even mamma has all her bows pinned on to her entire satisfaction."

"Yes, but she had no difficulty in deciding on the colours," Grace replied. " Her Uncle Dan settled that long ago. I only wish his worthy nephew — or grandnephew — would do the same for me. But I will have my revenge, and dance all night with Lory."

"What will your papa say, when he knows?" Mary asked, as they drove up the avenue at Woodlands.

"He will like it," Grace answered, emphatically.

And he did like it. And said — and said truly — that there was no man to whom he would rather entrust his daughter's happiness than to Hugh Kearney. And yet the patriotic Dr. Kiely felt disappointed, though he strove to hide it even from himself. For, in spite of his theories, he cherished the hope of seeing his darling Grace the wife of a descendant of one of those Norman freebooters, who "came to divide, to dishonour," and to whose ill-omened advent none knew better than the learned and patriotic doctor how to trace all the woes of unhappy Ireland. "But then," he would say in his grand way, "some of them became more Irish than the Irish themselves."

Is it necessary to add, that there was a wedding soon after?

Grace wished to have the ceremony performed by Father Carroll, as it was he married Arthur O'Connor and Mary, and Edmund and his dark-eyed bride. But the democratic Dr. Kiely dearly liked eclat; and Grace had the honour of being married by a bishop. And never did priest or bishop, or cardinal or Pope of Rome, hold his hand over a brighter or a happier little bride.

But there were more weddings than one.

"Mat Donovan and Bessy Morris!" the astute reader exclaims.

Of course. But a child would have guessed that.

And the tall pedlar, who never passed the way without taking a draught from the pail under the little window, opened his eyes in wonder on seeing a neat square farmyard, with barn, dairy, cow-house, and all other requisites, behind the little thatched house, to which two rooms with good-sized windows had been added. The tall pedlar, as he replaced the cup on the little window, rubbed his cuff across his grey beard, and hoped it was not all the work of the "good people," and would not have vanished into thin air before he came his next round — as happened to his own knowledge to a snug little place one side of Holycross Abbey. And the tall pedlar, swinging off his heavy pack, and sitting on the corner of the table, gave a full and true account of how he had been hospitably received in the snug little house before-mentioned, one fine summer evening, and awoke next morning by the side of a furze bush, without a house, or the sign of a house, within miles of him. At which Mrs. Donovan the elder blessed herself many times, and devoutly thanked Providence that her house was not one side of Holycross Abbey — though nearer to an imaginary straight line between Maurice Kearney's fort and the quarry than she could have wished.

The little boarded parlour, with its papered walls and American clock on the chimney-piece, was just what Grace had fancied as suitable for Bessy Morris. There was a bookshelf, too, with a goodly number of volumes arrayed upon it, which caused Mr. Bob Lloyd to stare the first time he saw it, and furnished Mrs. Ned Brophy with a subject for much scornful laughter. Whenever Ned did not make his appearance in due time on the nights of market-days, he was pretty sure to be found by Mat Donovan's fireside. And as he meekly obeyed the order to "get up out of that," and staggered homeward, Ned invariably protested that his libations during the day did not exceed "a couple uv tumblers uv porther." But we fear this did not always save him from a whack of his own blackthorn across the shoulders.

Old Mrs. Donovan, however, preferred the kitchen with its snow-white dresser and shining pewter — not forgetting the old spinning-wheel and the straw-bottom chairs — as, indeed, did Mat himself, and Bessy, too. And as for Billy Heffernan, he protested that his flute became quite hoarse whenever he attempted a tune in the parlour. And when he took his place on the bench, with his back against the partition, Nelly always thought of the night when she made the discovery that Billy loved Norah Lahy; and how, after the first pang of jealousy, she loved Norah herself better than ever. Yes, Bessy Morris and Mat Donovan were married; and that dear, kind old mother's sad face had a moonlight sort of smile in it for ever after. But lest Mat should get credit for more than he deserves, we feel bound to admit that if Bessy's father had not behaved so handsomely, he could not have built the out-offices quite so soon; nor would he have the ten acres at the other side of the road.

But there were more weddings than two.

"Where is that fellow?" Mrs. Kearney asked, fretfully. "I can never find him when I want him."

No one seemed to pay particular attention to Mrs. Kearney's grievance. There was a car at the hall-door, with Mary and Grace on one side, and Mrs. Edmund Kiely — about whose feet Hugh was elaborately wrapping the rug — on the other.

"She is the only handsome woman," Mary observed, "that I ever knew Hugh to care about."

"Thank you," returned Grace.

"Did you send him anywhere?" Mrs. Kearney asked from the door-step — addressing her husband, who was pointing out a defect in the horse's shoeing to the servant.

"Yes," he answered, at last. "I sent him to count the sheep."

"And you knew I wanted to send him to town," returned Mrs. Kearney reproachfully.

"He ought to be back an hour ago," Maurice answered. "But I suppose he fell into the quarry and broke his neck; or was attacked by the bull in the clover-field. Get that shoe taken off," he added, turning to the servant, as if the broken neck or the attack by the bull were a matter of little consequence compared with Edmund Kiely's chestnut going lame.

Mrs. Kearney was quite alarmed; but to her great relief Barney Brodherick was seen tearing across the lawn mounted on Bobby, who snorted and flung his heels in the air at every prick of the "spur-sauleen" with which the heel of one of the rider's brogues was armed. Flinging himself from his steed, Barney hurried up to his master.

"Are the sheep all there?" he asked.

"Begob I have 'em all in my hat, sir," Barney answered.

Mary's laugh was almost as ringing and quite as musical as Grace's — but Mrs. Kiely only looked astonished, with all her great black eyes — as Barney carefully scooped a fistful of sloes out of his hat, and presented them to his master, who commenced to count them with a look of intense gravity.

"They're all right," said he, flinging away the sloes, and looking quite satisfied.

"She's after consintin', sir," said Barney with a grin.

"Oh, very good," returned his master. "One fool makes many."

"But," continued Barney, rubbing his poll, "if Miss Grace'd put in a good word for us, I know Father Carroll wouldn't be hard on us, an' he gettin' so many jobs all uv a slap."

"What is it, Barney?" Grace asked.

"Goin' to be married, Miss," Barney answered, looking very solemn. "An' if you would tell him to do id as chape as he could, I know he'd do anything for you — an' not to be too hard wud the questions. I have my prayers as pat as A B; an' what more do a poor man want? An' I'm purty good at the seven deadly sins, an' know what is mathrimony, now, since Miss Ellie put id into my head," Barney added with increasing seriousness.

"And so, Ellie, you have been putting matrimony into Barney's head?" said Grace, turning to Ellie, who was romping on the grass with two of Mary's children.

"Yes," she replied, throwing her hair back from her face; "because, when he went to get married last winter, the priest sent him away. He asked him, 'What is matrimony?' and Barney answered, 'The marriage money;' and so Father Carroll refused to marry him till he had learned his catechism."

"An' damn hard work I had makin' up the same marriage-money," returned Barney, with an injured look. "An' whin I had id, 'tis little I thought I'd be throubled wud any other money."

"And what sort of a wife are you going to get?" Mrs. Kiely asked, turning round and bending her black eyes on the odd figure before her.

"A good labourin'-man uv a wife, ma'am," Barney answered readily. "Peg Brady."

And so Barney and Peg Brady added one more to the "jobs," which happened to be neither few nor far between that season — though very like "angels' visits" to Father Carroll's mind, notwithstanding. But one more of these "jobs" concerns us too intimately to be passed over.

Do you recollect the still, summer day when the glad tidings that Norah Lahy was sitting out under the beech-tree ran like wildfire from end to end of Knocknagow? And how, while Miss Kearney stopped to talk to Norah, a shy young girl ran into the house to talk to the old linnet? And how she was caught in a motherly embrace as she jumped down from the chair?

Well, that same shy girl was clasped to the same motherly heart in the pretty house where Mat Donovan was so warmly welcomed and hospitably entertained, near the city of Boston, a few months before.

"Oh, the villain of the world!" exclaimed Honor Lahy, "never to tell me a word about it! He said 'twas goin' to see the Pope he was."

"And so I did go to see the Pope," said Mr. Tom Lahy, laughing.

"Oh, yes, Mrs. Lahy," Ellie added, "we were in Rome, and saw His Holiness. I have a beads blessed by himself for you. And we have got our portraits painted, and have a great many other things that you will like."

"Don't talk to me about anything but yourself," returned Honor, with another hug. "Oh, did I ever think my poor ould heart would ever feel the joy that's swellin' id up this minute as big as Slievenamon? Glory be to God for all His mercies! Wondhers will never cease. But, O my darlin' Ellie, will I ever again kneel down on the green grave in the ould churchyard where my own darlin' is sleepin' — at home in beautiful Ireland?"

You will," Phil Lahy answered, emphatically. "There are bright days in store for beautiful Ireland, as you call her, and as she deserves to be called. There is a spirit growing up among the outcast children of beautiful Ireland that will yet cause another English monarch to exclaim, 'Cursed be the laws that deprived me of such subjects.' The long night of her sorrow is drawing to a close. And, with God's blessing, we'll all be in beautiful Ireland again."

"You are right, father," returned the fine young Irish-American. "We will never forget old Ireland."

But, however glad we are to have to record these happy events, we have not the least notion of attempting a description of them. To our mind, Ned Brophy's wedding was worth them all put together— including the bishop, whose presence so turned Mrs. Kearney's head that she all but cut the O'Shaughnessys for a whole month after. To be sure, Father Hannigan was at Ellie's wedding, and did some thing to make it like a wedding. For, if the truth must be told, the "grandeur" of the whole affair weighed heavily on the spirits of all present. Father Hannigan came all the way from his mountain parish where he was looked upon by his flock as an oracle in all matters, whether spiritual or temporal — and gave them the news of the week, with his own comments, from the altar every Sunday, after the last gospel. Not one newspaper, except his own — and a single copy of the Weekly Catholic Illuminator, which two police men and a process-server jointly subscribed for — ever found its way into Father Hannigan's parish. And yet, we grieve to say, his parish supplied the London Times with more than one text for an article upon the well-worn theme of agrarian crime in Ireland. But Father Hannigan had a habit of addressing any member of his flock, against whom he happened to have a complaint to make, by name, in a manner that was very trying to the nerves of the congregation, and kept them upon the rack until he had come down from the altar, each dreading to hear his or her own name blurted out by the preacher at any moment. Hugh Kearney, who visited Father Hannigan the Sunday before his marriage, had an opportunity of witnessing this, when, as he rose from his knees at the conclusion of the Mass, he was startled by the words

"Mrs. Morrissy, why don't you send your daughter to the chapel to teach the children their catechism? 'Twould be come her better than dancing 'Follow me down to Carlow,' over there at Bosheenacorriga."

"She'll come every other Sunday, sir," returned Mrs. Morrissy, with a reproachful look at a young girl who knelt next Hugh, and whose burning cheeks told all too plainly that she was the delinquent who preferred the dance at Bosheenacorriga to teaching the catechism to the children in the chapel.

"If ever a man died of a broken heart it was poor Father M'Mahon!" was Father Hannigan's remark, as he and Hugh came to the turn of the road near Mat Donovan's. "Knocknagow killed him. He never raised his head after. And 'tis a terrible change, sure enough," he added, as he turned round in the gig, and looked down the hill. " 'Tis a terrible change. And 'tis hard to know where 'twill stop, or what will be the end of it. Ye had a narrow escape yourselves. Only for the new lease Sir Garrett gave you before the property was sold ye'd be in a bad way. There's nothing like security."

"That's true," Hugh observed. "And those new landlords are raising the rents to the last shilling the land will make. They look upon their purchases solely from a commercial point of view, and I fear many of them will prove harder masters than their predecessors."

"How is Edmund Kiely getting on with Woodlands?" Father Hannigan asked.

"Oh, first-rate," returned Hugh. "He is becoming a capital farmer. But he may thank Mat Donovan, who is his right hand man."

"'Twas a great consolation to the old baronet to die in the home of his ancestors," the priest observed. "But I believe he could not have saved it from the wreck, only for the doctor's money. But I believe the doctor had the best of the bargain after all. What is he going to give yourself?"

"Oh, I never spoke of such a thing," Hugh replied, looking displeased.

"Oh, when the money is there, I don't see why you shouldn't get it," returned Father Hannigan. "I'll talk to Kiely about it."

"I request that you will not," said Hugh. "It would be most disagreeable to me."

"Well, very well — I won't mind it. And, indeed, I believe there's no occasion. He won't forget Grace, I'll be bound. But are we going to have Flaherty?"

"Yes," Hugh answered, laughing at the abruptness with which his reverend friend changed the subject; "he promised to come."

And Mr. Flaherty kept his promise. And, though the crimson-velvet bag was somewhat faded, not so was his music, which was as brilliant as ever. Indeed, when, at Father Hannigan's request, he commenced to play the "Coulin," there was a little scene which surprised many persons present. Mrs. Edmund Kiely could not control her emotion; and, pressing her face against her husband's breast, she sobbed aloud, and was so overcome by her feelings, that Mrs. O'Connor, who was, perhaps, as deeply moved as herself — though you would never guess it by looking at her — led her impulsive friend from the room; the blind musician, as they glided by, raising his head with that listening expression, as if an invisible spirit were whispering to him what was going on.

Arthur and Edmund followed them out after a little while.

"Really, Annie, you surprise me," said Edmund.

"I couldn't help it, Edmund. It brought poor papa so vividly to my mind. The night is very fine. Let us walk for awhile —"

"I object," said Arthur, touching her shoulder with the tips of his fingers. So they remained standing at the window.

I believe," said Mary, after a silence of several minutes, as she raised her blue eyes to the clear sky, "I believe there is no happiness in this world without a shadow upon it."

"And what shadow do you see now?" Arthur asked.

"Poor Ellie, so far away," she replied sadly.

"She is a happy girl," remarked Arthur.

"Yes, I hope and believe so."

"And surely Grace is happy," Edmund observed.

"Ye'd be talking of happiness," exclaimed Maurice Kearney, who had come into the room unobserved, and somewhat startled them by the abruptness of his address. "Ye'd be talking of happiness. Wattletoes and Peg Whack" — Mr. Kearney had a genius for nicknames — "are the happiest pair in Europe. Come, Mrs. Kiely; you must come in and give us a song."

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