Knocknagow - CHAPTER VI.



EVERYTHING was so quiet about the house next morning that Mr. Lowe quite forgot the station. But on reaching the hall he was taken by surprise to find it filled by a crowd of people; and, instead of pushing his way to the parlour, he beat a hasty retreat back to his bedroom. His attention was arrested by Barney Brodherick, who, holding a beads between his fingers, was kneeling in the lobby, praying with great energy and volubility. Barney sat back upon his heels and muttered his prayers in a breathless sort of way, evidently afraid of losing the clue before he had got all around the beads. When he did come to the end, it was with a rush; and throwing himself forward, with his elbows on the floor, he performed some ceremony which Mr. Lowe was quite unable to comprehend.

After this, Barney fell back upon his heels and commenced the round of his beads again. Altogether, he had the look of a man walking over a river or ravine on a narrow plank, and feeling that to pause for an instant, or to swerve to the right or left, was as much as his life was worth. The manner in which he hurried on at the end and flung himself forward, completed the parallel.

"In the name o' the Lord, Barney," exclaimed the house keeper. "what are you doing there?"

She stood near Barney, with a silver coffee-pot in her hand, and her look of astonishment satisfied Mr. Lowe that Barney's proceedings were something out of the common.

"Salvation saze your sowl God forgive me for cursin' be off out uv that, and don't set me astray."

"A nice lad you are," muttered the housekeeper, as she walked away, "to be goin' to your duty."

Richard here made his appearance, looking as if he had not slept enough, and Mr. Lowe called his attention to the figure near the window. He, however, appeared quite as much puzzled as the housekeeper.

Barney, at this moment, was leaning forward on his left and, and seemed be counting something on the floor with his right. The effort was evidently too much for him, for, scratching his poll, he looked about him in a bewildered way.

"Mr. Dick," said he, on seeing the doctor, "come here and count 'em for me."

On coming near enough, the doctor and Mr. Lowe saw a pretty long score chalked upon the boards.

"How many times, Mr. Dick?" Barney asked anxiously. Richard stooped down and counted the marks; and when Barney was informed of the number, he drew a long breath of relief, and got up from his knees, the effort appearing to cost him some pain.

"Glory be to God", he exclaimed, pressing the knuckles of his left hand against his back, as if trying to straighten it, "I have id over me."

"What is it you have over you? "Richard asked, who had only seen the last act of the drama.

"The pinance, sir," replied Barney. "The pinance he put an me the last time; an' I'd have no business nixt or near him if I wasn't after doin' id."

And Barney moved away as if a great load had been taken off his mind.

The two young men stood at the window and amused themselves by observing the people who loitered about the house. Mat the Thrasher stood leaning against a cart, surrounded by a group of admirers, among whom were Jim Dunn and Tom Maher. But even their admiration evidently fell short of that of Billy Heffernan, the musical genius of Knocknagow who dreamt a piece of music entitled " Heffernan's Frolic," and played it next morning to the wonder and delight of the whole hamlet. For Billy's mother ran out to proclaim the joyful news among her neighbours; and men, women, and children, came crowding around the inspired musician, and requesting him over and over again to play his new composition; till Billy, fairly out of breath, put his fife in his pocket and asked them all, with an injured look, "did they think he had Jack Delany's bellows in his stumack?" Jack Delany being the village blacksmith. From which query it may be inferred that Billy Heffernan was under the impression that his stomach played an important part in the production of sweet sounds.

Billy Heffernan now took his fife from his pocket, and after examining it minutely, handed it to Mat the Thrasher.

Richard let down the window softly, to try and catch their conversation.

After looking at the instrument, Mat said:

"I'll reg'late that. I'll put a new ferl on id.'

He handed back the fife to the owner, who put it to his lips and seemed to execute a pantomimic tune for though his "flying fingers" played nimbly over the stops, no sound was audible. By degrees he breathed more and more strongly into the orifice till a lively air began to be fitfully distinguishable even to the two young men in the window. Mat the Thrasher commenced to "humour" the tune with his head; and after a while, resting his hands on the tail-board of the cart, he performed a few steps of a complicated character. Billy Heffernan moved a pace or two backwards, keeping his eyes fixed on the dancer's feet, evidently determined not to lose a single "shuffle." Indeed, the eyes of the whole group who had also moved back and formed a ring were riveted en the dancer's brilliantly polished shoes. Mat's shoes presented a contrast to those of his companions in this respect; for while his shone resplendent, theirs were only greased.

As Billy Heffernan "loud and louder blew," Mat the Thrasher's feet "fast and faster flew " and letting go his hold on the cart, he gave himself "ample room and verge enough," till even Mr. Lowe caught some of the enthusiasm his performance excited.

"He's a splendid fellow," he exclaimed, as Mat finished with a bound in the air, followed by a low "bow to the music."

"Take notice of him," said Richard, pointing to a man who came from the kitchen door towards the group collected round Mat and his musical admirer, picking his steps carefully, and taking long strides, as if he were walking upon ice that he feared might break under him. He was dressed in a black frock coat and dark trousers, very much the worse for the wear. His well-bleached shirt (save that the "bluebag" had been too liberally drawn upon in its "making-up"), of which there was an unusually extensive display of front and collar, presented a striking contrast to the dinginess of the rest of his habiliments. He had come from the house without his hat, notwithstanding the coldness of the morning; and carried a prayer-book, with his finger between the leaves, in his left hand.

"I suppose he is the clerk?" said Mr. Lowe.

"No; that is Phil Lahy, our tailor."

Why, he is quite an important-looking personage. Yes," he continued, turning his head to listen, "he is remonstrating with them for their levity."

"What's the harm in a bit uv divarsion?" said Billy Heffernan drawing the tip of his nose, which was very blue, across the sleeve of his coat.

"That's thrue, Billy," Phil observed, gravely, "but there's a time for everything. And when a man is goin' to his duty," he added, still more impressively, "he ought to turn his mind to id."

"He's right," said Mat the Thrasher, as he sat down on one of the shafts of the cart, resting his chin on his hands, and his elbows on his knees, with a penitent look.

"Mat," said Phil, evidently satisfied with the impression he had made, "I'm not neglectin' you. I won't disappoint you. I'll do that job before Sunday."

"Faith, 'twould be time for you."

"But consider, I had two full shoots to make for Ned Brophy and Tom Brien. Ned is to be married as soon as everything is settled, an' Tom is goin' to match-make down to the county Limerick."

"An' didn't I tell you I was to be Ned's sidesman?

"I won't disappoint you."

And Phil, taking his pipe from his waistcoat-pocket, was in the act of catching the wooden stem between his teeth, when his hand was caught by Billy Heffernan:

"Aren't you goin' to resave?" Billy asked with a half alarmed, half reproachful look.

"Yes, Billy; but I have liberty to take a blast on account of my constitution."

And there was something quite pathetic in Phil's look as he pressed the spring of a small iron tobacco-box, in which an ounce of "Lomasny's" was tightly rolled up.

"Give me a light, Mat," said he, after filling his pipe, with the air of a man about performing a solemn act of duty.

Mat produced his flint and steel, and, lighting a bit of touch-paper, laid it with his own hand on Phil Lahy's pipe, while Phil commenced to "draw" with such vigour that his first "shough" frightened the sparrows from the fresh straw spread over the yard, as if a shot had been fired at them, and the sight and the fragrance of the blue tobacco smoke, as it curled in the frosty morning air, made more than one mouth water in the crowd that loitered about the yard awaiting the arrival of the priests. It may be necessary to inform some readers that a "shough o' the pipe," without special leave from the priest, is considered a violation of the rule "to be fasting from midnight" before Communion.

When the two curates rode into the yard by the back entrance, Phil Lahy, evidently vain of his privilege, puffed away ostentatiously which impressed upon the beholders an idea of Phil's importance, that all but placed him on a level with the priests themselves.

Father Hannigan was the first to dismount. He was a tall man, in the prime of life, and the frieze riding-coat, flung loosely over his broad shoulders, set off his manly figure to the best advantage, and gave him a homely, warm, Irish look altogether. The other curate, Father O'Neill was a very young man, with an air of refinement suggestive of drawing-rooms rather than of Irish cabins and farm-houses. They were met by the "man of the house" before they reached the kitchen door, and as he gave a hand to each, Father Hannigan's hearty "Good-morrow, Maurice," struck Mr. Lowe as being admirably in keeping with his appearance. And the words "The top of the morning to you, Miss Grace," suggested the idea that Father Hannigan affected the phraseology of the peasantry.

"There is Father M'Mahon," said Richard, as a car passed the gate.

"Is he not to be here?

"Yes; but he is going round to the front gate. Come into the room, and you will see him arrive."

The first thing that struck Mr. Lowe was that Father M'Mahon's servant was in livery, and that his horse and car were a decidedly handsome turn-out. When he leaped lightly from the car and walked towards the hall-door, with his shoulders thrown back, and his head raised and slightly leaning to one side, Mr. Lowe was not surprised that people said Father M'Mahon had a "proud walk."

Barney Brodherick hurried to the car, and was taking the priest's cloak, which he had let drop from his shoulders upon alighting, to hang it up in the hall; but the servant snatched it from him. He was rushing headlong to resent the affront, when the return of the priest, who had left his breviary on the seat of the car, prevented hostilities. Barney shook his fist at the man in livery, from behind his master's back; but without deigning to notice the challenge, that important functionary led the horse to the car-house and commenced unharnessing him.

The priest, without exchanging a word with any one, walked into the drawing-room. After saying a short prayer, he put on his stole and sat down in the arm-chair which was placed near the fire.

The "man of the house" was already on his knees beside the chair, and at once commenced his confession.

The door was now surrounded by a closely-packed crowd, who went in one by one, in their turn, to be "heard " finding it no easy matter to push their way out again.

An almost equally large and quite as eager a throng stood round the parlour door at the opposite side of the hall where Father O'Neill sat.

Father Hannigan, by his own choice, remained in the kitchen, which was filled by his penitents principally women who, in spite of his loud remonstrances, would crush and tumble almost up against his knees. He had repeatedly to stand up and push them off by main force; and was at last obliged to fence himself in with two chairs and a form.

"If ye come apast that," said he, excitedly, "except in your turn, 'twill be worse for ye."

Things got on pretty smoothly after this, save for a suppressed scuffle now and again when two equally resolute dames happened to meet in the front rank, and disputed the question of precedence with an energy only second to that which they threw into the "Hail Mary" or "Holy Mary" that accompanied every shove and jostle. One of those who had been several times pushed back at the very moment when victory seemed certain, lost all patience, and resolved to gain her point by stratagem. She walked along a form and stepped from one to another of two or three chairs ranged along the wall, with a dogged sort of determination to conquer or die. She was in the act of climbing over a high-backed settle behind the priest, when she missed her footing and fell backwards, bringing down with her a dish-cover and several other utensils with a tremendous crash and clatter. So great was the noise that Richard and Mr. Lowe hastened to the scene to see what could have happened.

Father Hannigan jumped to his feet as if he thought the house was falling about his ears, and looked all around him, but could see nothing to account for the clatter. At last he looked behind the settle, which was a few feet out from the wall, and there beheld the too eager devotee on her back, with one foot caught in something that held it high in the air. Father Hannigan released the foot, and, as he did so, shaking his head and compressing his lips, muttered a proverb in the Irish language, the best translation of which we are able to give being "A woman would beat a pig, and a pig would beat a fair."

"Get up now," he continued, seeing her show no symptom of changing her position. "Sure you're not hurt?" he asked, reaching her his hand.

The poor woman suffered herself to be raised up.

"Are you hurt?" he repeated.

She seemed to think it necessary to weigh the question well before replying to it. So long did she continue to ponder over it that Father Hannigan asked again, with some concern:

"In the name of God, Mrs. Slattery, is there anything the matter with you?"

Mrs. Slattery looked all around her, as if expecting that some one would come forward to set her mind at rest.

"What in the world ails the woman?" exclaimed the priest.

Mrs. Slattery looked into his face anxiously, and after another long pause, spoke:

"I wonder am I killed?" said Mrs. Slattery.

"Wisha, there's great fear of you," replied Father Hannigan. "And now go and say your prayers and take the world aisy like a Christian. Sure I'll be able to hear ye all before I go, and what more do ye want? There's a strange gentleman from England looking at ye; and what will he say of the Island of Saints when he goes back, if this is the way ye behave yourselves. Look at the men, how quiet and dacent they are. Can't you take pattern by the men? But 'tis always the way with the women," exclaimed Father Hannigan, with a gesture of both hands, "to run headlong; and never look before 'em."

After this there was comparative order among Father Hannigan's penitents. But poor Mrs. Slattery made her way slowly to the hall, looking as if she were still quite unable to settle the question whether she was "killed" or not.

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