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- The Untilled Field - 6/57 -
"But couldn't some one dance or sing," said the young lady.
"Dancing and singing!" said the priest. "No!"
And the young lady hurriedly scribbled a few notes about fowls for laying, fowls for fattening, regular feeding, warm houses, and something about a percentage of mineral matter. She had not half finished when the priest said:--
"Now will you stand over there near the harmonium. Whom shall I announce?"
The young woman told him her name, and he led her to the harmonium and left her talking, addressing most of her instruction to Biddy M'Hale, a long, thin, pale-faced woman, with wistful eyes.
"This won't do," said the priest, interrupting the lecturer,--"I'm not speaking to you, miss, but to my people. I don't see one of you taking notes, not even you, Biddy M'Hale, though you have made a fortune out of your hins. Didn't I tell you from the pulpit that you were to bring pencil and paper and write down all you heard. If you had known years ago all this young lady is going to tell you you would be rolling in your carriages to-day."
Then the priest asked the lecturer to go on, and the lady explained that to get hens to lay about Christmas time, when eggs fetched the best price, you must bring on your pullets early.
"You must," she said, "set your eggs in January."
"You hear that," said the priest. "Is there anyone who has got anything to say about that? Why is it that you don't set your eggs in January?"
No one answered, and the lecturer went on to tell of the advantages that would come to the poultry-keeper whose eggs were hatched in December.
As she said this, the priest's eyes fell upon Biddy M'Hale, and, seeing that she was smiling, he asked her if there was any reason why eggs could not be hatched in the beginning of January.
"Now, Biddy, you must know all about this, and I insist on your telling us. We are here to learn."
Biddy did not answer.
"Then what were you smiling at?"
"I wasn't smiling, your reverence."
"Yes; I saw you smiling. Is it because you think there isn't a brooding hin in January?"
It had not occurred to the lecturer that hens might not be brooding so early in the year, and she waited anxiously. At last Biddy said:--
"Well, your reverence, it isn't because there are no hins brooding. You'll get brooding hins at every time in the year; but, you see, you can't rear chickens earlier than March. The end of February is the earliest I have ever seen. But, of course, if you could rear them in January, all that the young lady said would be quite right. I have nothing to say agin it. I have no fault to find with anything she says, your reverence."
"Only that it can't be done." said the priest. "Well, you ought to know, Biddy."
The villagers were laughing.
"That will do," said the priest. "I don't mind your having a bit of amusement, but you're here to learn."
And as he looked round the room, quieting the villagers into silence, his eyes fell on Kate. "That's all right," he thought, and he looked for the others, and spied Pat Connex and Peter M'Shane near the door. "They're here, too," he thought. "When the lecture is over I will see them and bring them all together. Kate Kavanagh won't go home until she promises to marry Peter. I have had enough of her goings on in my parish."
But Kate had caught sight of Peter. She would get no walk home with Pat that night, and she suspected her brother of having done this for a purpose. She got up to go.
"I don't want anyone to leave this room," said the priest. "Kate Kavanagh, why are you going? Sit down till the lecture is over,"
And as Kate had not strength to defy the priest she sat down, and the lecturer continued for a little while longer. The priest could see that the lecturer had said nearly all she had to say, and he had begun to wonder how the evening's amusement was to be prolonged. It would not do to let the people go home until Michael Dunne had closed his public-house, and the priest looked round the audience thinking which one he might call upon to say a few words on the subject of poultry-keeping.
From one of the back rows a voice was heard:--
"What about the pump, your reverence?"
"Well, indeed, you may ask," said the priest.
And immediately he began to speak of the wrong they had suffered by not having a pump in the village. The fact that Almighty God had endowed Kilmore with a hundred mountain streams did not release the authorities from the obligation of supplying the village with a pump. Had not the authorities put up one in the neighbouring village?
"You should come out," he said, "and fight for your rights. You should take off your coats like men, and if you do I'll see that you get your rights," and he looked round for someone to speak.
There was a landlord among the audience, and as he was a Catholic the priest called upon him to speak. He said that he agreed with the priest in the main. They should have their pump, if they wanted a pump; if they didn't, he would suggest that they asked for something else. Farmer Byrne said he did not want a pump, and then everyone spoke his mind, and things got mixed. The Catholic landlord regretted that Father Maguire was against allowing a poultry-yard to the patients in the lunatic asylum. If, instead of supplying a pump, the Government would sell them eggs for hatching at a low price, something might be gained. If the Government would not do this, the Government might be induced to supply books on poultry free of charge. It took the Catholic landlord half an hour to express his ideas regarding the asylum, the pump, and the duties of the Government, and in this way the priest succeeded in delaying the departure of the audience till after closing time. "However fast they walk," he said to himself, "they won't get to Michael Dunne's public-house in ten minutes, and he will be shut by then." It devolved upon him to bring the evening's amusement to a close with a few remarks, and he said:--
"Now, the last words I have to say to you I'll address to the women. Now listen to me. If you pay more attention to your poultry you'll never be short of half a sovereign to lend your husbands, your sons, or your brothers."
These last words produced an approving shuffling of feet in one corner of the room, and seeing that nothing more was going to happen, the villagers got up and they went out very slowly, the women curtseying and the men lifting their caps to the priest as they passed him.
He had signed to Ned and Mary that he wished to speak to them, and after he had spoken to Ned he called Kate and reminded her that he had not seen her at confession lately.
"Pat Connex and Peter M'Shane, now don't you be going. I will have a word with you presently." And while Kate tried to find an excuse to account for her absence from confession, the priest called to Ned and Mary, who were talking at a little distance. He told them he would be waiting for them in church tomorrow, and he said he had never made a marriage that gave him more pleasure. He alluded to the fact that they had come to him. He was responsible for this match, and he accepted the responsibility gladly. His uncle, the Vicar-General, had delegated all the work of the parish to him.
"Father Stafford," he said abruptly, "will be very glad to hear of your marriage, Kate Kavanagh."
"My marriage," said Kate .... "I don't think I shall ever be married."
"Now, why do you say that?" said the priest. Kate did not know why she had said that she would never be married. However, she had to give some reason, and she said:--
"I don't think, your reverence, anyone would have me."
"You are not speaking your mind," said the priest, a little sternly. "It is said that you don't want to be married, that you like courting better."
"I'd like to be married well enough," said Kate.
"Those who wish to make safe, reliable marriages consult their parents and they consult the priest. I have made your brother's marriage for him. Why don't you come to me and ask me to make up a marriage for you?"
"I think a girl should make her own marriage, your reverence."
"And what way do you go about making up a marriage? Walking about the roads in the evening, and going into public-houses, and leaving your situations. It seems to me, Kate Kavanagh, you have been a long time making up this marriage."
"Now, Pat Connex, I've got a word with you. You're a good boy, and I know you don't mean any harm by it; but I have been hearing tales about you. You've been up to Dublin with Kate Kavanagh. Your mother came up to speak to me about this matter yesterday, and she said: 'Not a penny of my money will he ever get if he marries her,' meaning the girl before you. Your mother said; 'I've got nothing to say against her, but I've got a right to choose my own daughter-in-law.' These are your mother's very words, Pat, so you had better listen to reason. Do you hear me, Kate?"
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