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- The Untilled Field - 5/57 -
his knees, he told the priest that he had been drunk last Saturday night, and that he had come to take the pledge. He would never do any good while he was at home, and one of the reasons he gave for wishing to marry Mary Byrne was his desire to leave home. The priest asked him if matters were mending, and if his sister showed any signs of wishing to be married.
"Sorra sign," said Ned.
"That's bad news you're bringing me," said the priest, and he walked up and down the room, and they talked over Kate's wilful character.
"From the beginning she did not like living at home," said the priest.
"I don't care about living at home," said Ned.
"But for a different reason," remarked the priest. "You want to leave home to get married, and have a wife and children, if God is pleased to give you children."
Kate had been in numerous services, and the priest sat thinking of the stories he had heard. He had heard that Kate had come back from her last situation in a cab, wrapped up in blankets, saying she was ill. On inquiry it was found that she had only been three or four days in her situation; three weeks had to be accounted for. He had questioned her himself regarding this interval, but had not been able to get any clear and definite answer from her.
"She and mother never stop quarrelling about Pat Connex."
"It appears," said the priest, "that your mother went out with a jug of porter under her apron, and offered a sup of it to Pat Connex, who was talking with Peter M'Shane, and now he is up at your cabin every Saturday."
"That's it," said Ned.
"Mrs. Connex was here the other day, and I can tell you that if Pat marries your sister he will find himself cut off with a shilling."
"She's been agin us all the while," said Ned. "Her money has made her proud, but I don't blame her. If I had the fine house she has, maybe I would be as proud as she."
"Maybe you would," said the priest. "But what I am thinking of is your sister Kate. She will never get Pat Connex. Pat will never go against his mother."
"Well, you see he comes up and plays the melodion on Saturday night," said Ned, "and she can't stop him from doing that."
"Then you think," said the priest, "that Pat will marry your sister?"
"I don't think she wants to marry him."
"If she doesn't want to marry him, what's all this talk about?"
"She likes to meet Pat in the evenings and go for a walk with him, and she likes him to put his arm round her waist and kiss her, saving your reverence's pardon."
"It is strange that you should be so unlike. You come here and ask me to speak to Mary Byrne's parents for you, and that I'll do, Ned, and it will be all right. You will make a good husband, and though you were drunk last night, you have taken the pledge to- day, and I will make a good marriage for Kate, too, if she'll listen to me."
"And who may your reverence be thinking of?"
"I'm thinking of Peter M'Shane. He gets as much as six shillings a week and his keep on Murphy's farm, and his mother has got a bit of money, and they have a nice, clean cabin. Now listen to me. There is a poultry lecture at the school-house to-night. Do you think you could bring your sister with you?"
"We used to keep a great many hens at home, and Kate had the feeding of them, and now she's turned agin them, and she wants to live in town, and she even tells Pat Connex she would not marry a farmer, however much he was worth."
"But if you tell her that Pat Connex will be at the lecture will she come?"
"Yes, your reverence, if she believes me."
"Then do as I bid you," said the priest; "you can tell her that Pat Connex will be there."
After leaving the priest Ned crossed over the road to avoid the public-house. He went for a walk on the hills, and it was about five when he turned towards the village. On his way there he met his father, and Ned told him that he had been to see the priest, and that he was going to take Mary to the lecture.
Michael Kavanagh wished his son God-speed. He was very tired; and he thought it was pretty hard to come home after a long day's work to find his wife and daughter quarrelling.
"I am sorry your dinner is not ready, father, but it won't be long now. I'll cut the bacon."
"I met Ned on the road," said her father. "He has gone to fetch Mary. He is going to take her to the lecture on poultry-keeping at the school-house."
"Ah, he has been to the priest, has he?" said Kate, and her mother asked her why she said that, and the wrangle began again.
Ned was the peacemaker; there was generally quiet in the cabin when he was there. He came in with Mary, a small, fair girl, and a good girl, who would keep his cabin tidy. His mother and sisters were broad-shouldered women with blue-black hair and red cheeks, and it was said that he had said he would like to bring a little fair hair into the family.
"We've just come in for a minute," said Mary. "Ned said that perhaps you'd be coming with us."
"All the boys in the village will be there to-night, said Ned. "You had better come with us." And pretending he wanted to get a coal of fire to light his pipe, Ned whispered to Kate as he passed her, "Pat Connex will be there."
She looked at the striped sunshade she has brought back from the dressmaker's--she had once been apprenticed to a dressmaker--but Ned said that a storm was blowing and she had better leave the sunshade behind.
The rain beat in their faces and the wind came sweeping down the mountain and made them stagger. Sometimes the road went straight on, sometimes it turned suddenly and went up-hill. After walking for a mile they came to the school-house. A number of men were waiting outside, and one of the boys told them that the priest had said they were to keep a look out for the lecturer, and Ned said that he had better stay with them, that his lantern would be useful to show her the way. They went into a long, smoky room. The women had collected into one corner, and the priest was walking up and down, his hands thrust into the pockets of his overcoat. Now he stopped in his walk to scold two children who were trying to light a peat fire in a tumbled down grate.
"Don't be tired, go on blowing," he said. "You are the laziest child I have seen this long while."
Ned came in and blew out his lantern, but the lady he had mistaken for the lecturer was a lady who had come to live in the neighbourhood lately, and the priest said:--
"You must be very much interested in poultry, ma'am, to come out on such a night as this."
The lady stood shaking her waterproof.
"Now, then, Lizzie, run to your mother and get the lady a chair."
And when the child came back with the chair, and the lady was seated by the fire, he said:--
"I'm thinking there will be no lecturer here to-night, and that it would be kind of you if you were to give the lecture yourself. You have read some books about poultry, I am sure?"
"Well, a little--but--"
"Oh, that doesn't matter," said the priest. "I'm sure the book you have read is full of instruction."
He walked up the room towards a group of men and told them they must cease talking, and coming back to the young woman, he said:--
"We shall be much obliged if you will say a few words about poultry. Just say what you have in your mind about the different breeds."
The young woman again protested, but the priest said:--
"You will do it very nicely." And he spoke like one who is not accustomed to being disobeyed. "We will give the lecturer five minutes more."
"Is there no farmer's wife who could speak," the young lady said in a fluttering voice. "She would know much more than I. I see Biddy M'Hale there. She has done very well with her poultry."
"I daresay she has," said the priest, "but the people would pay no attention to her. She is one of themselves. It would be no amusement to them to hear her."
The young lady asked if she might have five minutes to scribble a few notes. The priest said he would wait a few minutes, but it did not matter much what she said.
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