"My goodness, Phelim, but you tuck a, burdyeen off o' me! Faix, you'll see how happy we'll be."
"To be sure we will! But I'm tould you're sometimes crass, Mrs. Doran. Now, you must promise to be kind an' lovin' to the childre, or be the vestment, I'll break off the match yet."
"Och, an' why wouldn't I, Phelim, acushla? Sure that's but rason."
"Well, take this book an' swear it. Be gorra, your word won't do, for it's a thing my mind's made up on. It's I that'll be fond o' the childre."
"An' how am I to swear it, Phelim? for I never tuck an oath myself yet."
"Take the book in your hand, shut one eye, and say the words afther me. Be the contints o' this book,"
"Be the contints o' this book,"
"I'll be kind an' motherly, an' boistherous,"
"I'll be kind, an' motherly, an boistherous,"
"To my own childhre,"
"To my own childhre,"
"An' never bate or abuse thim,"
"An' never bate or abuse thim,"
"Barrin' whin they desarve it;"
"Barrin' whin they desarve it;"
"An' this I swear,"
"An' this I swear,"
"In the presence of St. Phelim,"
"In the presence of St. Phelim," "Amin!"
"Now, Mrs. Doran, acushla, if you could jist know how asy my conscience is about the childhre, poor crathurs, you'd be in mighty fine spirits. There won't be sich a lovin' husband, begad, in Europe. It's I that'll coax you, an' butther you up like a new pair o' brogues; but, begad, you must be sweeter than liquorice or sugar-candy to me. Won't you, darlin'?"
"Be the crass, Phelim, darlin', jewel, I'll be as kind a wife as ever breathed. Arrah, Phelim, won't you come down to-morrow evenin'? There'll be no one at home but myself, an'—ha, ha, ha!—Oh, you coaxin' rogue! But, Phelim, you musn't be—Oh, you're a rogue! I see you laughin'! Will you come darlin?"
"Surely. But, death alive! I was near for-gettin'; sure, bad luck to the penny o' the ten guineas but I paid away."
"Paid away! Is it my ten guineas?"
"Your ten guineas, darlin'; an' right well I managed it. Didn't I secure Pat Hanratty's farm by it? Sam Appleton's uncle had it as good as taken; so, begad, I came down wid the ten guineas, by way of airles, an' now we have it. I knew you'd be plased to hear it, an' that you'd be proud to give me ten more for clo'es an' the weddin' expenses. Isn't that good news, avourneen? Eh, you duck o' diamonds? Faith, let Phelim alone! An' another thing—I must call you Bridget for the future! It's sweeter an' more lovin'."
"Phelim, I wish you had consulted wid me afore you done it: but it can't be helped. Come down to-morrow evenin', an' we'll see what's to be done."
"The grace o'heaven upon you, but you are the winnin'est woman alive this day! Now take my advice, an' go home without comin' in. I'm wantin' to get this other pair off o' my hands, as well as I can, an' our best way is to do it all widout noise. Isn't it, darlin'?"
"It is, Phelim, jewel; an' I'll go."
"Faith, Bridget, you've dealt in thracle afore now, you're so sweet. Now, acushla, farewell: an' take care of yourself till tomorrow evenin'!"
Phelim, on re-entering his father's cabin, found Larry and Peggy Donovan placed between her father and Flattery, each struggling to keep them asunder. Phelim at first had been anxious to set them by the ears, but his interview with the old woman changed his plan of operations altogether. With some difficulty he succeeded in repressing their tendency to single combat, which, having effected, he brought out Flattery and his niece, both of whom he thus addressed:—
"Be the vestment, Sally, only that my regard an' love for you is uncommon, I'd break off the affair altogether, so I would."
"An' why would you do so, Phelim O'Toole?" inquired the uncle.
"Bekase," replied Phelim, "you came here an' made a show of me, when I wished to have no bruliagh, at all at all. In regard of Peggy Donovan, I never spoke a word to the girl about marriage since I was christened. Saize the syllable! My father brought me down there to gosther awhile, the other night, an' Paddy sent away for whiskey. An' the curse o' Cromwell on myself! I should get tossicated. So while I was half-saes over, the two ould rip set to makin' the match—planned to have us called—an' me knowin' nothin' about it, good, bad, or indifferent. That's the thruth, be the sky above us."
"An' what have you to say about the housekeeper, Phelim?"
"Why I don't know yet, who done me there. I was about takin' a farm, an' my father borried ten guineas from her. Somebody heard it—I suspect Sam Appleton—an' gave in our names to the priest, to be called, makin' a good joke of it. All sorts o' luck to them, barrin' good luck, that did it; but they put me in a purty state! But never heed! I'll find them out yet. Now go home, both o' you, an' I'll slip down in half an hour, with a bottle o' whiskey in my pocket. We'll talk over what's to be done. Sure Sally here, knows that it's my own intherest to marry her and no one else."
"If my father thought you would, Phelim, he'd not stag, even if he was to cras the wather!"
"Go home, Sally darlin' till I get this mad Donovan an' his daughter away. Be all that's beautiful I'll be apt to give him a taste o' my shillely, if he doesn't behave himself! Half an hour I'll be clownin—wid the bottle; an' don't you go, Nick, till you see me."
"Phelim," said the uncle, "you know how the case is. You must aither marry the girl, or take a long voyage, abouchal. We'll have no bouncin' or palaver."
"Bedad, Mick, I've great patience wid you," said Phelim, smiling: "go off, I say, both of you."
They proceeded homewards, and Phelim returned to appease the anger of Donovan, as he had that of the others. Fresh fiction was again drawn forth, every word of which the worthy father corroborated. They promised to go down that night and drink another bottle together; a promise which they knew by the state of their finances, it was impossible to fulfil. The prospect of a "booze," however, tranquillized Donovan, who in his heart relished a glass of liquor as well as either Phelim or the father. Shaking of hands and professions of friendship were again beginning to multiply with great rapidity, when Peggy thought proper to make a few observations on the merits of her admirer.
"In regard to me," she observed, "you may save yourself the throuble o' comin'. I wouldn't marry Phelim, afther what the priest said yistherday, if he had the riches o' the townland we're spakin' in. I never cared for him, nor liked him; an' it was only to plase my father an' mother, that I consinted to be called to him at all. I'll never join myself to the likes of him. If I do, may I be a corpse the next minute!"
Having thus expressed herself, she left her father, Phelim, and Larry, to digest her sentiments, and immediately went home.
Donovan, who was outrageous at this contempt of his authority, got his hat with the intention of compelling her to return and retract, in their presence, what she had said; but the daughter, being the more light-footed of the two, reached home before he could overtake her, where, backed by her mother, she maintained her resolution, and succeeded, ere long, in bringing the father over to her opinion.
During this whole scene in Larry's, Fool Art sat in that wild abstraction which characterizes the unhappy class to which he belonged. He muttered to himself, laughed—or rather chuckled—shrugged his shoulders, and appeared to be as unconscious of what had taken place as an automaton. When the coast was clear he rose up and plucking Phelim's skirt, beckoned him towards the door.
"Phelim," said he, when they had got out, "would you like to airn a crown?"
"Tell me how, Art?" said Phelim.
"A letther from, the Square to the jailer of M——— jail. If you bring back an answer, you'll get a crown, your dinner, an' a quart o' strong beer."
"But why don't you bring it yourself, Art?"
"Why I'm afeard. Sure they'd keep ma in jail, I'm tould, if they'd catch me in it. Aha! Bo dodda, I won't go near them: sure they'd hang me for shootin' Bonypart.—Aha!"
"Must the answer be brought back today, Art?"
"Oh! It wouldn't do to-morrow, at all. Be dodda, no! Five shillins, your dinner, an' a quart of sthrong beer!—Aha! But you must give me a shillin' or two, to buy a sword; for the Square's goin' to make me a captain: thin I'll be grand! an' I'll make you a sargin'."
This seemed a windfall to Phelim. The unpleasant dilemma in which Sally Flattery had placed him, by the fabricated account of her father's imprisonment, made him extremely anxious to see Foodie himself, and to ascertain the precise outrage for which he had been secured. Here then was an opportunity of an interview with him, and of earning five shillings, a good dinner, and a quart of strong beer, as already specified.
"Art," said he, "give me the letther, an' I'm the boy that'll soon do the job. Long life to you, Art! Be the contints o' the book, Art, I'll never pelt you or vex you agin, my worthy; an' I'll always call you captain!" Phelim immediately commenced his journey to M———, which was only five miles distant, and in a very short time reached the jail, saw the jailer, and presented his letter.
The latter, on perusing it, surveyed him with the scrutiny of a man whose eye was practised in scanning offenders.
Phelim, whilst the jailer examined him, surveyed the strong and massy bolts with which every door and hatchway was secured. Their appearance produced rather an uncomfortable sensation in him; so much so, that when the jailer asked him his name, he thought it more prudent, in consequence of a touch of conscience he had, to personate Art for the present, inasmuch as he felt it impossible to assume any name more safe than that of an idiot.
"My name is Art Maguire," said he in reply to the jailer. "I'm messenger to Square S——, the one he had was discharged on Friday last. I expect soon to be made groom, too."
"Come this way," said the jailer, "and you shall have an answer."
He brought Phelim into the prison-yard, where he remained for about twenty minutes, laboring under impressions which he felt becoming gradually more unpleasant. His anxiety was not lessened on perceiving twenty or thirty culprits, under the management of the turnkeys, enter the yard, where they were drawn up in a line, like a file of soldiers.
"What's your name?" said one of the turnkeys.
"Art Maguire," replied Phelim.
"Stand here," said the other, shoving him among the prisoners. "Keep your head up, you villain, an' don't be ashamed to look your friends in the face. It won't be hard to identify you, at any rate, you scoundrel. A glimpse of that phiz, even by starlight, would do you, you dog. Jack, tell Mr. S. to bring in the gintlemen—they're all ready."
Phelim's dismay on finding himself under drill with such a villainous crew was indescribable. He attempted to parley with the turnkey, but was near feeling the weight of his heavy keys for daring to approach a man placed in authority.
While thus chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancy, three gentlemen, accompanied by the jailer, entered the yard, and walked backward and forward in front of the prisoners, whose faces and persons they examined with great care. For a considerable time they could not recognize any of them; but just as they were about to give up the scrutiny, one of the gentlemen approached Phelim, and looking narrowly into his countenance, exclaimed,
"Here, jailer, this man I identify. I can-not be mistaken in his face; the rough visage and drooping eye of that fellow put all doubt as to his identity out of question. What's his' name?"
"He gives his name, sir, as Arthur Maguire."
"Arthur what, sir?" said another of the turnkeys, looking earnestly at Phelim. "Why, sir, this is the fellow that swore the alibis for the Kellys—ay, an' for the Delaneys, an' for the O'Briens. His name is Phelim O'Toole; an' a purty boy he is, by all report."
Phelim, though his heart sank within him, attempted to banter them out of their bad opinion of him; but there was something peculiarly dismal and melancholy in his mirth.
"Why, gintlemen—ha, ha!—be gorra, I'd take it as a convanience—I mane, as a favor—if you'd believe me that there's a small taste of mistake here. I was sent by Square S. wid a letter to Mr. S——-t, an' he gave me fifty ordhers to bring him back an answer this day. As for Phelim O'Toole, if you mane the rascal that swears the alibis, faith, I can't deny but I'm as like him, the villain, as one egg is to another. Bad luck to his 'dhroop,' any how; little I thought that it would ever bring me into throuble—ha, ha, ha! Mr. S———t, what answer have you for the Square, sir? Bedad, I'm afeard I'll be late."
"That letter, Master Maguire, or Toole, or whatever your name is, authorizes me to detain you as a prisoner, until I hear further from Mr. S."
"I identify him distinctly," said the gentleman, once more. "I neither doubt nor waver on the subject; so you will do right to detain him. I shall lodge information against him immediately."
"Sir," said Phelim to the jailer, "the Square couldn't mane me at all, in regard that it was another person he gave the letter to, for to bring to you, the other person gave it to me. I can make my oath of that. Be gorra, you're playin' your thrieks upon sthrangers now, I suppose."
"Why, you lying rascal," said the jailer, "have you not a few minutes ago asserted to the contrary? Did you not tell me that your name was Arthur, or Art Maguire? That you are Mr. S.'s messenger, and expect to be made his groom. And now you deny all this."
"He's Phelim O'Toole," said the turnkey, "I'll swear to him; but if you wait for a minute, I'll soon prove it."
He immediately retired to the cell of a convict, whom he knew to be from the townland of Teernarogarah: and ordering its inmate to look through the bars of his window, which commanded the yard, he asked him if there was any one among them whom he knew.
The fellow in a few minutes replied, "Whethen, divil a one, barrin' bouncin' Phelim O'Toole."
The turnkey brought him down to the yard, where he immediately recognized Phelim as an old friend, shook hands with him, and addressed him by his name.
"Bad luck to you," said Phelim in Irish, "is this a place to welcome your friends to!"
"There is some mystery here," said the jailer. "I suppose the fact is, that this fellow returned a wrong name to Mr. S., and that that accounts for the name of Arthur Maguire being in the letter."
All Phelim's attempts to extricate himself were useless. He gave them the proper version of the letter affair with Fool Art, but without making the slightest impression. The jailer desired him to be locked up.
"Divil fire you all, you villains!" exclaimed Phelim, "is it goin' to put me in crib ye are for no rason in life? Doesn't the whole parish know that I was never off o' my bed for the last three months, wid a complaint I had, until widin two or three days agone!"
"There are two excellent motives for putting you in crib," said the jailer; "but if you can prove that you have been confined to your bed so long as you say, why it will be all the better for yourself. Go with the turnkey."
"No, tarenation to the fut I'll go," said Phelim, "till I'm carried."
"Doesn't the gintleman identify you, you villain," replied one of the turnkeys; "an' isn't the Square's letther in your favor?"
"Villain, is id!" exclaimed Phelim. "An' from a hangman's cousin, too, we're to bear this!—eh? Take that, anyhow, an' maybe you'll get more when you don't expect it. Whoo! Success, Phelim! There's blood in you still, abouchal!"
He accompanied the words by a spring of triumph from the ground, and surveyed the already senseless turnkey with exultation. In a moment, however, he was secured, for the purpose of being put into strong irons.
"To the devil's warmin' pan wid ye all," he continued, "you may do your worst. I defy you. Ha! by the heavens above me, you'll suffer for this, my fine gintleman. What can ye do but hang or thransport me, you villains? I tell ye, if a man's sowl had a crust of sin on it a foot thick, the best way to get it off 'ud be jist to shoot a dozen like you. Sin! Oh, the divil saize the sin at all in it. But wait! Did ye ever hear of a man they call Dan O'Connell? Be my sowl, he'll make yez rub your heels together, for keepin' an innocent boy in jail, that there's no law or no warrant out for. This is the way we're thrated by thim that's ridin' rough shod over us. But have a taste o' patience, ye scoundrels! It won't last, I can tell yez. Our day will soon come, an' thin I'd recommend yez to thravel for your health. Hell saize the day's pace or happiness ever will be seen in the country, till laws, an' judges, an' Jries, an' jails, an' jailers, an' turnkeys, an' hangmen is all swep out of it. Saize the day. An' along wid them goes the parsons, procthors, tithes an' taxes, all to the devil together. That day's not very far off, d——d villains! An' now I tell ye, that if a hair o' my head's touched—ay, if I was hanged to-morrow—I'd lave them behind me that 'ud put a bullet, wid the help an' blessin' O Grod, through any one that'll injure me! So lay that to your conscience, an' do your best. Be the crass, O'Connell I'll make you look nine ways at wanst for this! He's the boy can put the pin in your noses! He's the boy can make yez thrimble, one an' all o' yez—like a dog in a wet sack! An', wid the blessin' o' God, he'll help us to put our feet on your necks afore long!"
"That's a prudent speech," observed the jailer; "it will serve you very much."
Phelim consigned him to a very warm settlement in reply.
"Bring the ruffian off" added the jailer; "put him in solitary confinement."
"Put me wid Foodie Flattery," said Phelim; "you've got him here, an' I'll go nowhere else. Faith, you'll suffer for givin' me false imprisonment. Doesn't O'Connell's name make you shake? Put me wid Foodie Flattery, I say."
"Foodie Flattery! There is no such man here. Have you got such a person here?" inquired the jailer of the turnkey.
"Not at present," said the turnkey; "but I know Foodie well. We've had him here twice. Come away, Phelim; follow me; you're goin' to be put where you'll have an opportunity of sayin' your prayers."
He then ushered Phelim to a cell, where the reader may easily imagine what he felt. His patriotism rose to a high pitch; he deplored the wrongs of his country bitterly, and was clearly convinced that until jails, judges, and assizes, together with a long train of similar grievances, were utterly abolished, Ireland could never be right, nor persecuted "boys," like himself, at full liberty to burn or murder the enemies of their country with impunity. Notwithstanding these heroic sentiments, an indifferent round oath more than once escaped him against Ribbonism in whole and in part. He cursed the system, and the day, and the hour on which he was inveigled into it. He cursed those who had initiated him; nor did his father and mother escape for their neglect of his habits, his morals, and his education. This occurred when he had time for reflection. Whilst thus dispensing his execrations, the jailer and the three gentlemen, having been struck with his allusion to Foodie Flattery, and remembering that Foodie was of indifferent morals, came to the unanimous opinion that it would be a good plan to secure him; and by informing him that Phelim was in prison upon a capital charge, endeavor to work upon his fears, by representing his companion as disposed to turn approver. The state of the country, and Foodie's character, justified his apprehension on suspicion. He was accordingly taken, and when certified of Phelim's situation, acted precisely as had been expected. With very little hesitation, he made a full disclosure of the names of several persons concerned in burnings, waylayings, and robbery of arms. The two first names on the list were those of Phelim and Appleton, with several besides, some of whom bore an excellent, and others an execrable, character in the country.
The next day Fool Art went to Larry's, where he understood that Phelim was on the missing list. This justified his suspicions of the Squire; but by no means lessened his bitterness against him, for the prank he had intended to play upon him. With great simplicity, he presented himself at the Big House, and met its owner on the lawn, accompanied by two other gentlemen. The magistrate was somewhat surprised at seeing Art at large, when he imagined him to be under the jailer's lock and key.
"Well, Art," said he, concealing his amazement, "did you deliver my letter?"
"It went safe, your honor," replied Art. "Did you yourself give it into his hands, as I ordered you?"
"Whoo! Be dodda, would your honor think Art 'ud tell a lie? Sure he read it. Aha!"
"An' what did he say, Art?"
"Whoo! Why, that he didn't know which of us had the least sense. You for sendin' a fool on a message, or me for deliverin' it."
"Was that all that happened?"
"No, sir. He said," added the fool, with bitter sarcasm, alluding to a duel, in which the Squire's character had not come off with flying colors—"he said, sir, that whin you have another challenge to fight, you may get sick agin for threepence to the poticarry."
This having been the manner in which the Squire was said to have evaded the duel, it is unnecessary to say that Art's readiness to refresh his memory on the subject prevented him from being received at the Big House in future.
Reader, remember that we only intended to give you a sketch of Phelim O'Toole's courtship. We will, however, go so far beyond our original plan, as to apprise you of his fate.
When it became known in the parish that he was in jail, under a charge of felony, Sally Mattery abandoned all hopes of securing him as a husband. The housekeeper felt suitable distress, and hoped, should the poor boy be acquitted, that he might hould up his head wid any o' them. Phelim, through the agency of his father, succeeded in getting ten guineas from her, to pay the lawyers for defending him; not one penny of which he applied to the purpose for which he obtained it. The expenses of his defence were drawn from the Ribbon fund, and the Irish reader cannot forget the eloquent and pathetic, appeal made by his counsel to the jury, on his behalf, and the strength with which the fact of his being the whole support of a helpless father and mother was stated. The appeal, however, was ineffectual; worthy Phelim was convicted, and sentenced to transportation for life. When his old acquaintances heard the nature of his destiny, they remembered the two prophecies that had been so often uttered concerning him. One of them was certainly fulfilled to the letter—we mean that in which it was stated, "that the greatest swaggerer among the girls generally comes to the wall at last." The other, though not literally accomplished, was touched at least upon the spirit; transportation for life ranks next to hanging. We,cannot avoid mentioning a fact connected with Phelim which came to light while he remained in prison. By incessant trouble he was prevailed upon, or rather compelled, to attend the prison school, and on examining him, touching his religion? knowledge, it appeared that he was ignorant of the plainest truths of Christianity; that he knew not how or by whom the Christian religion had been promulgated; nor, indeed, any other moral truth connected with Revelation.
Immediately after his transportation, Larry took to drink, and his mother to begging, for she had no other means of living. In this mode of life, the husband was soon compelled to join her. They are both mendicants, and Sheelah now appears sensible of the error in their manner of bringing Phelim up.
"Ah! Larry," she is sometimes heard to say, "I doubt that we wor wrong for flyin' in the face o' God, becase He didn't give us childhre. An' when it plased Him to grant us a son, we oughtn't to 've spoiled him by over-indulgence, an' by lettin' him have his own head in everythin' as we did. If we had sint him to school, an' larned him to work, an' corrected him when he desarved it, instead of laughin' at his lies, an' misbehavior, and his oaths, as if they wor sport—ay, an abusin' the nabors when they'd complain of him, or tell us what he was—ay!—if we had, it's a credit an' a comfort he'd be to us now, an' not a shame an' a disgrace, an' an affliction. We made our own bed, Larry, an' now we must lie down an it. An' God help us! We made his bed too, poor boy, an' a hard one it is. God forgive us! but, anyhow, my heart a breakin', for bad as he was, sure we havn't him to look upon!"
"Thrue," replied Larry. "Still he was game an' cute to the last. Biddy Doran's ten guineas will sarve him beyant, poor fellow. But sure the boys' kep their word to him, anyhow, in regard of shootin' Foodie Flattery. Myself was never betther plased in my life, than to hear that he got the slugs into his heart, the villain!"
We have attempted to draw Phelim O'Toole as closely as possible to the character of that class, whose ignorance, want of education and absence of all moral principle, constitute them the shame and reproach of the country. By such men the peace of Ireland is destroyed, illegal combinations formed, blood shed, and nightly outrages committed. There is nothing more certain than this plain truth, that if proper religious and moral knowledge were impressed upon the early principles of persons like Phelim, a conscience would be created capable of revolting from crime. Whatever the grievances of a people may be, whether real or imaginary, one thing is clear, that neither murder nor illegal violence of any description, can be the proper mode of removing or redressing them. We have kept Phelim's Ribbonism in the background, because its details could excite only aversion, and preferred exhibiting his utter ignorance of morality upon a less offensive subject, in order that the reader might be enabled to infer, rather than to witness with his mind's eye, the deeper crimes of which he was capable.
I had read the anonymous summons, but from its general import I believed it to be one of those special meetings convened for some purpose affecting the usual objects and proceedings of the body; at least the terms in which it was conveyed to me had nothing extraordinary or mysterious in them, beyond the simple fact, that it was not to be a general but a select meeting: this mark of confidence flattered me, and I determined to attend punctually. I was, it is true, desired to keep the circumstances entirely to myself, but there was nothing startling in this, for I had often received summonses of a similar nature. I therefore resolved to attend, according to the letter of my instructions, "on the next night, at the solemn hour of midnight, to deliberate and act upon such matters as should then and there be submitted to my consideration." The morning after I received this message, I arose and resumed my usual occupations; but, from whatever cause it may have proceeded, I felt a sense of approaching evil hang heavily upon me; the beats of my pulse were languid, and an undefinable feeling of anxiety pervaded my whole spirit; even my face was pale, and my eye so heavy, that my father and brothers concluded me to be ill; an opinion which I thought at the time to be correct, for I felt exactly that kind of depression which precedes a severe fever. I could not understand what I experienced, nor can I yet, except by supposing that there is in human nature some mysterious faculty, by which, in coming calamities, the dread of some fearful evil is anticipated, and that it is possible to catch a dark presentiment of the sensations which they subsequently produce. For my part I can neither analyze nor define it; but on that day I knew it by painful experience, and so have a thousand others in similar circumstances.
It was about the middle of winter. The day was gloomy and tempestuous, almost beyond any other I remember; dark clouds rolled over the hills about me, and a close sleet-like rain fell in slanting drifts that chased each other rapidly towards the earth on the course of the blast. The outlying cattle sought the closest and calmest corners of the fields for shelter; the trees and young groves were tossed about, for the wind was so unusually high that it swept in hollow gusts through them, with that hoarse murmur which deepens so powerfully on the mind the sense of dreariness and desolation.
As the shades of night fell, the storm, if possible, increased. The moon was half gone, and only a few stars were visible by glimpses, as a rush of wind left a temporary opening in the sky. I had determined, if the storm should not abate, to incur any penalty rather than attend the meeting; but the appointed hour was distant, and I resolved to be decided by the future state of the night.
Ten o'clock came, but still there was no change: eleven passed, and on opening the door to observe if there were any likelihood of its clearing up, a blast of wind, mingled with rain, nearly blew me off my feet. At length it was approaching to the hour of midnight; and on examining it a third time, I found it had calmed a little, and no longer rained.
I instantly got my oak stick, muffled myself in my great coat, strapped my hat about my ears, and, as the place of meeting was only a quarter of a mile distant, I presently set out.
The appearance of the heavens was lowering and angry, particularly in that point where the light of the moon fell against the clouds, from a seeming chasm in them, through which alone she was visible. The edges of this chasm were faintly bronzed, but the dense body of the masses that hung piled on each side of her, was black and inpenetrable to sight. In no other point of the heavens was there any part of the sky visible; a deep veil of clouds overhung the whole horizon, yet was the light sufficient to give occasional glimpses of the rapid shifting which took place in this dark canopy, and of the tempestuous agitation with which the midnight storm swept to and fro beneath it.
At length I arrived at a long slated house, situated in a solitary part of the neighborhood; a little below it ran a small stream, which was now swollen above its banks, and rushing with mimic roar over the flat meadows beside it. The appearance of the bare slated building in such a night was particularly sombre, and to those, like me, who knew the purpose to which it was usually devoted, it was or ought to have been peculiarly so. There it stood, silent and gloomy, without any appearance of human life or enjoyment about or within it. As I approached, the moon once more had broken out of the clouds, and shone dimly upon the wet, glittering slates and windows, with a death-like lustre, that gradually faded away as I left the point of observation, and entered the folding-door. It was the parish chapel.
The scene which presented itself here was in keeping not only with the external appearance of the house, but with the darkness, the storm, and the hour, which was now a little after midnight. About forty persons were sitting in dead silence upon the circular steps of the altar. They did not seem to move; and as I entered and advanced, the echo of my footsteps rang through the building with a lonely distinctness, which added to the solemnity and mystery of the circumstances about me. The windows were secured with shutters on the inside, and on the altar a candle was lighted, which burned dimly amid the surrounding darkness, and lengthened the shadow of the altar itself, and those of six or seven persons who stood on its upper steps, until they mingled in the obscurity which shrouded the lower end of the chapel. The faces of the men who sat on the altar steps were not distinctly visible, yet their prominent and more characteristic features were in sufficient relief, and I observed, that some of the most malignant and reckless spirits in the parish were assembled. In the eyes of those who stood at the altar, and those whom I knew to be invested with authority over the others, I could perceive gleams of some latent and ferocious purpose, kindled, as I soon observed, into a fiercer expression of vengeance, by the additional excitement of ardent spirits, with which they had stimulated themselves to a point of determination that mocked at the apprehension of all future responsibility, either in this world or the next.
The welcome which I received on joining them was far different from the boisterous good-humor that used to mark our greetings on other occasions; just a nod of the head from this or that person, on the part of those who sat, with a dhud dhemur tha fhu? (* How are you?) in a suppressed voice, even below a common whisper: but from the standing group, who were evidently the projectors of the enterprise, I received a convulsive grasp of the hand, accompanied by a fierce and desperate look, that seemed to search my eye and countenance, to try if I were a person likely to shrink from whatever they had resolved to execute. It is surprising to think of the powerful expression which a moment of intense interest or great danger is capable of giving to the eye, the features and the slightest actions, especially in those whose station in society does not require them to constrain nature, by the force of social courtesies, into habits that conceal their natural emotions. None of the standing group spoke; but as each of them wrung my hand in silence, his eye was fixed on mine, with an expression of drunken confidence and secrecy, and an insolent determination not to be gainsaid without peril. If looks could be translated with certainty, they seemed to say, "We are bound upon a project of vengeance, and if you do not join us, remember we can revenge." Along with this grasp, they did not forget to remind me of the common bond by which we were united, for each man gave me the secret grip of Ribbonism in a manner that made the joints of my fingers ache for some minutes afterwards.
There was one present, however—the highest in authority—whose actions and demeanor were calm and unexcited. He seemed to labor under no unusual influence whatever, but evinced a serenity so placid and philosophical, that I attributed the silence of the sitting group, and the restraint which curbed in the outbreaking passions of those who stood, entirely to his presence. He was a schoolmaster, who taught his daily school in that chapel, and acted also on Sunday, in the capacity of clerk to the priest—an excellent and amiable old man, who knew little of his illegal connections and atrocious conduct.
When the ceremonies of brotherly recognition and friendship were past, the Captain (by which title I shall designate the last-mentioned person) stooped, and, raising a jar of whiskey on the corner of the altar, held a wineglass to its neck, which he filled, and with a calm nod handed it to me to drink. I shrank back, with an instinctive horror, at the profaneness of such an act, in the house, and on the altar of God, and peremptorily refused to taste the proffered I draught. He smiled mildly at what he considered my superstition, and added quietly, and in a low voice, "You'll be wantin' it I'm thinkin', afther the wettin' you got."
"Wet or dry," said I—
"Stop, man!" he replied, in the same tone; "spake low. But why wouldn't you take the whiskey? Sure there's as holy people to the fore as you: didn't they all take it? An' I wish we may never do worse nor dhrink a harmless glass o' whiskey, to keep the cowld out, any way."
"Well," said I, "I'll jist trust to God and the consequences, for the cowld, Paddy, ma bouchal; but a blessed dhrop of it won't be crossin' my lips, avick; so no more ghostlier about it;—dhrink it yourself if you like. Maybe you want it as much as I do; wherein I've the patthern of a good big-coat upon me, so thick, your sowl, that if it was rainin' bullocks, a dhrop wouldn't get undher the nap of it."
He gave me a calm, but keen glance as I spoke.
"Well, Jim," said he, "it's a good comrade you've got for the weather that's in it; but, in the manetime, to set you a dacent patthern, I'll just take this myself,"—saying which, with the jar still upon its side, and the fore-finger of his left hand in his neck, he swallowed the spirits—"It's the first I dhrank to-night," he added, "nor would I dhrink it now, only to show you that I've heart an' spirit to do the thing that we're all bound an' sworn to, when the proper time comes;" after which he laid down the glass, and turned up the jar, with much coolness, upon the altar.
During our conversation, those who had been summoned to this mysterious meeting were pouring in fast; and as each person approached the altar, he received from one to two or three glasses of whiskey, according as he chose to limit himself; but, to do them justice, there were not a few of those present, who, in despite of their own desire, and the Captain's express invitation, refused to taste it in the house of God's worship. Such, however, as were scrupulous he afterwards recommended to take it on the outside of the chapel door, which they did, as, by that means, the sacrilege of the act was supposed to be evaded.
About one o'clock they were all assembled except six: at least so the Captain asserted, on looking at a written paper.
"Now, boys," said he in the same low voice, "we are all present except the thraitors, whose names I am goin' to read to you; not that we are to count thim thraitors, till we know whether or not it was in their power to come. Any how, the night's terrible—but, boys, you're to know, that neither fire nor wather is to prevint you, when duly summoned to attind a meeting—particularly whin the summons is widout a name, as you have been told that there is always something of consequence to be done thin."
He then read out the names of those who were absent, in order that the real cause of their absence might be ascertained, declaring that they would be dealt with accordingly.
After this, with his usual caution, he shut and bolted the door, and having put the key in his pocket, ascended the steps of the altar, and for some time traversed the little platform from which the priest usually addresses the congregation.
Until this night I had never contemplated the man's countenance with any particular interest; but as he walked the platform, I had an opportunity of observing him more closely. He was slight in person, apparently not thirty; and, on a first view, appeared to have nothing remarkable in his dress or features. I, however, was not the only person whose eyes were fixed upon him at that moment; in fact, every one present observed him with equal interest, for hitherto he had kept the object of the meeting perfectly secret, and of course we all felt anxious to know it. It was while he traversed the platform that I scrutinized his features with a hope, if possible, to glean from them some evidence of what was passing within him. I could, however, mark but little, and that little was at first rather from the intelligence which seemed to subsist between him and those whom I have already mentioned as standing against the altar, than from any indication of his own. Their gleaming eyes were fixed upon him with an intensity of savage and demon-like hope, which blazed out in flashes of malignant triumph, as upon turning, he threw a cool but rapid glance at them, to intimate the progress he was making in the subject to which he devoted the undivided energies of his mind. But in the course of his meditation, I could observe, on one or two occasions, a dark shade come over his countenance, that contracted his brow into a deep furrow, and it was then, for the first time, that I saw the satanic expression of which his face, by a very slight motion of its muscles, was capable. His hands, during this silence, closed and opened convulsively; his eyes shot out two or three baleful glances, first to his confederates, and afterwards vacantly into the deep gloom of the lower part of the chapel; his teeth ground against each other, like those of a man whose revenge burns to reach a distant enemy, and finally, after having wound himself up to a certain determination, his features relapsed into their original calm and undisturbed expression.
At this moment a loud laugh, having something supernatural in it, rang out wildly from the darkness of the chapel; he stopped, and putting his open hand over his brows, peered down into the gloom, and said calmly in Irish, "Bee dhu husth; ha nih anam inh:—hold your tongue, it is not yet time."
Every eye was now directed to the same spot, but, in consequence of its distance from the dim light on the altar, none could perceive the person from whom the laugh proceeded. It was, by this time, near two o'clock in the morning.
He now stood for a few moments on the platform, and his chest heaved with a depth of anxiety equal to the difficulty of the design he wished to accomplish.
"Brothers," said he—"for we are all brothers—sworn upon all that's blessed an' holy, to obey whatever them that's over us, manin' among ourselves, wishes us to do—are you now ready, in the name of God, upon whose althar I stand, to fulfil yer oaths?"
The words were scarcely uttered, when those who had stood beside the altar during the night, sprang from their places, and descending its steps rapidly turned round, and raising their arms, exclaimed, "By all that's good an' holy we're willin'."
In the meantime, those who sat upon the steps of the altar, instantly rose, and following the example of those who had just spoken, exclaimed after them, "To be sure—by all that's sacred an' holy we're willin'."
"Now, boys," said the Captain, "ar'n't ye big fools for your pains? an' one of ye doesn't know what I mane."
"You're our Captain," said one of those who had stood at the altar, "an' has yer ordhers from higher quarthers; of coorse, whatever ye command upon us we're bound to obey you in."
"Well," said he, smiling, "I only wanted to thry yez; an' by the oath ye tuck, there's not a captain in the county has as good a right to be proud of his min as I have. Well, ye won't rue it, maybe, when the right time comes; and for that same rason every one of ye must have a glass from the jar; thim that won't dhrink it in the chapel can dhrink it widout; an' here goes to open the door for thim."
He then distributed another glass to every one who would accept it, and brought the jar afterwards to the chapel door, to satisfy the scruples of those who would not drink within. When this was performed, and all duly excited, he proceeded:—
"Now, brothers, you are solemnly sworn to obay me, and I'm sure there's no thraithur here that 'ud parjure himself for a thrifle; but I'm sworn to obay them that's above me, manin' still among ourselves; an' to show that I don't scruple to do it, here goes!"
He then turned round, and taking the Missal between his hands placed it upon the altar. Hitherto every word was uttered in a low precautionary tone; but on grasping the book he again turned round, and looking upon his confederates with the same satanic expression which marked his countenance before, he exclaimed, in a voice of deep determination, first kissing the book!
"By this sacred an' holy book of God, I will perform the action which we have met this night to accomplish, be that what it may; an' this I swear upon God's book, and God's althar!"
On concluding, he struck the book violently with his open hand, thereby occasioning a very loud report.
At this moment the candle which burned before him went suddenly out, and the chapel was wrapped in pitchy darkness; the sound as if of rushing wings fell upon our ears, and fifty voices dwelt upon the last words of his oath with wild and supernatural tones, that seemed to echo and to mock what he had sworn. There was a pause, and an exclamation of horror from all present; but the Captain was too cool and steady to be disconcerted. He immediately groped about until he got the candle, and proceeding calmly to a remote corner of the chapel, took up a half-burned peat which lay there, and after some trouble succeeded in lighting it again. He then explained what had taken place; which indeed was easily done, as the candle happened to be extinguished by a pigeon which sat directly above it. The chapel, I should have observed, was at this time, like many country chapels, unfinished inside, and the pigeons of a neighboring dove-cot had built nests among the rafters of the unceiled roof; which circumstance also explained the rushing of the wings, for the birds had been affrighted by the sudden loudness of the noise. The mocking voices were nothing but the echoes, rendered naturally more awful by the scene, the mysterious object of the meeting, and the solemn hour of the night.
When the candle was again lighted, and these startling circumstances accounted for, the persons whose vengeance had been deepening more and more during the night, rushed to the altar in a body, where each, in a voice trembling with passionate eagerness, repeated the oath, and as every word was pronounced, the same echoes heightened the wildness of the horrible ceremony, by their long and unearthly tones. The countenances of these human tigers were livid with suppressed rage; their knit brows, compressed lips, and kindled eyes, fell under the dim light of the taper, with an expression calculated to sicken any heart not absolutely diabolical.
As soon as this dreadful rite was completed, we were again startled by several loud bursts of laughter, which proceeded from the lower darkness of the chapel; and the Captain, on hearing them, turned to the place, and reflecting for a moment, said in Irish, "Gutsho nish, avohenee—come hither now, boys."
A rush immediately took place from the corner in which they had secreted themselves all the night; and seven men appeared, whom we instantly recognized as brothers and cousins of certain persons who had been convicted, some time before, for breaking into the house of an honest poor man in the neighborhood, from whom, after having treated him with barbarous violence, they took away such fire-arms as he kept for his own protection.
It was evidently not the Captain's intention to have produced these persons until the oath should have been generally taken, but the exulting mirth with which they enjoyed the success of his scheme betrayed them, and put him to the necessity of bringing them forward somewhat before the concerted moment.
The scene which now took place was beyond all power of description; peals of wild, fiendlike yells rang through the chapel, as the party which stood on the altar and that which had crouched in the darkness met; wringing of hands, leaping in triumph, striking of sticks and fire-arms against the ground and the altar itself, dancing and cracking of fingers, marked the triumph of some hellish determination. Even the Captain for a time was unable to restrain their fury; but, at length, he mounted the platform before the altar once more, and with a stamp of his foot, recalled their attention to himself and the matter in hand.
"Boys," said he, "enough of this, and too much; an' well for us it is that the chapel is in a lonely place, or our foolish noise might do us no good. Let thim that swore so manfully jist now, stand a one side, till the rest kiss the book one by one."
The proceedings, however, had by this time taken too fearful a shape for even the Captain to compel them to a blindfold oath; the first man he called flatly refused to answer, until he should hear the nature of the service that was required. This was echoed by the remainder, who, taking courage from the firmness of this person, declared generally that, until they first knew the business they were to execute, none of them would take the oath. The Captain's lip quivered slightly, and his brow again became knit with the same hellish expression, which I have remarked gave him so much the appearance of an, embodied fiend; but this speedily passed away, and was succeeded by a malignant sneer, in which lurked, if there ever did in a sneer, "a laughing devil," calmly, determinedly atrocious.
"It wasn't worth yer whiles to refuse the oath," said he, mildly, "for the truth is, I had next to nothing for yez to do. Not a hand, maybe, would have to rise, only jist to look on, an' if any resistance would be made, to show yourselves; yer numbers would soon make them see that resistance would be, no use whatever in the present case. At all, evints, the oath of secrecy must be taken, or woe be to him that will refuse that; he won't know the day, nor the hour, nor the minute, when he'll be made a spatch-cock of."
He then turned round, and, placing his right hand on the Missal, swore, "In the presence of God, and before his holy altar, that whatever might take place that night he would keep secret, from man or mortal, except the priest, and that neither bribery, nor imprisonment, nor death, would wring it from his heart."
Having done this, he again struck the book violently, as if to confirm the energy with which he swore, and then calmly descending the steps, stood with a serene countenance, like a man conscious of having performed a good action. As this oath did not pledge those who refused to take the other to the perpetration of any specific crime, it was readily taken by all present. Preparations were then made to execute what was intended: the half burned turf was placed in a little pot; another glass of whiskey was distributed; and the door being locked by the Captain, who kept the key as parish clerk and schoolmaster, the crowd departed silently from the chapel.
The moment those who lay in the darkness, during the night, made their appearance at the altar, we knew at once the persons we were to visit; for, as I said before, they were related to the miscreants whom one of those persons had convicted, in consequences of their midnight attack upon himself and his family. The Captain's object in keeping them unseen was, that those present, not being aware of the duty about to be imposed on them, might have less hesitation about swearing to its fulfilment. Our conjectures were correct; for on leaving the chapel we directed our steps to the house in which this devoted man resided.
The night was still stormy, but without rain: it was rather dark, too, though not so as to prevent us from seeing the clouds careering swiftly through the air. The dense curtain which had overhung and obscured the horizon was now broken, and large sections of the sky were clear, and thinly studded with stars that looked dim and watery, as did indeed the whole firmament; for in some places black clouds were still visible, threatening a continuance of tempestuous weather. The road appeared washed and gravelly; every dike was full of yellow water; and every little rivulet and larger stream dashed its hoarse murmur into our ears; every blast, too, was cold, fierce, and wintry, sometimes driving us back to a standstill, and again, when a turn in the road would bring it in our backs, whirling us along for a few steps with involuntary rapidity. At length the fated dwelling became visible, and a short consultation was held in a sheltered place, between the Captain and the two parties who seemed so eager for its destruction. Their fire-arms were now loaded, and their bayonets and short pikes, the latter shod and pointed with iron, were also got ready. The live coal which was brought in the small pot had become extinguished; but to remedy this, two or three persons from a remote part of the county entered a cabin on the wayside, and, under pretence of lighting their own and their comrades' pipes, procured a coal of fire, for so they called a lighted turf. From the time we left the chapel until this moment a profound silence had been maintained, a circumstance which, when I considered the number of persons present, and the mysterious and dreaded object of their journey, had a most appalling effect upon my spirits.
At length we arrived within fifty perches of the house, walking in a compact body, and with as little noise as possible; but it seemed as if the very elements had conspired to frustrate our design, for on advancing within the shade of the farm-hedge, two or three persons found themselves up to the middle in water, and on stooping to ascertain more accurately the state of the place, we could see nothing but one immense sheet of it—spread like a lake over the meadows which surrounded the spot we wished to reach.
Fatal night! The very recollection of it, when associated with the fearful tempests of elements, grows, if that were possible, yet more wild and revolting. Had we been engaged in any innocent or benevolent enterprise, there was something in our situation just then that had a touch of interest in it to a mind imbued with a relish for the savage beauties of nature. There we stood, about a hundred and thirty in number, our dark forms bent forward, peering into the dusky expanse of water, with its dim gleams of reflected light, broken by the weltering of the mimic waves into ten thousand fragments, whilst the few stars that overhung it in the firmament appeared to shoot through it in broken lines, and to be multiplied fifty-fold in the gloomy mirror on which we gazed.
Over us was a stormy sky, and around us; a darkness through which we could only distinguish, in outline, the nearest objects, whilst the wild wind swept strongly and dismally upon us. When it was discovered that the common pathway to the house was inundated, we were about to abandon our object and return home. The Captain, however, stooped down low for a moment, and, almost closing his eyes, looked along the surface of the waters; and then, rising himself very calmly, said, in his usually quiet tone, "Ye needn't go back, boys, I've found a way; jist follow me."
He immediately took a more circuitous direction, by which we reached a causeway that had been raised for the purpose of giving a free passage to and from the house, during such inundations as the present. Along this we had advanced more than half way, when we discovered a breach in it, which, as afterwards appeared, had that night been made by the strength of the flood. This, by means of our sticks and pikes, we found to be about three feet deep, and eight yards broad. Again we were at a loss how to proceed, when the fertile brain of the Captain devised a method of crossing it.
"Boys," said he, "of coorse you've all played at leap-frog; very well, strip and go in, a dozen of you, lean one upon the back of another from this to the opposite bank, where one must stand facing the outside man, both their shoulders agin one another, that the outside man may be supported. Then we can creep over you, an' a dacent bridge you'll be, any way."
This was the work of only a few minutes, and in less than ten we were all safely over.
Merciful Heaven! how I sicken at the recollection of what is to follow! On reaching the dry bank, we proceeded instantly, and in profound silence, to the house; the Captain divided us into companies, and then assigned to each division its proper station. The two parties who had been so vindictive all the night, he kept about himself; for of those who were present, they only were in his confidence, and knew his nefarious purpose; their number was about fifteen. Having made these dispositions, he, at the head of about five of them, approached the house on the windy side, for the fiend possessed a coolness which enabled him to seize upon every possible advantage. That he had combustibles about him was evident, for in less than fifteen minutes nearly one-half of the house was enveloped in flames. On seeing this, the others rushed over to the spot where he and his gang were standing, and remonstrated earnestly, but in vain; the flames now burst forth with renewed violence, and as they flung their strong light upon the faces of the foremost group, I think hell itself could hardly present anything more satanic than their countenances, now worked up into a paroxysm of infernal triumph at their own revenge. The Captain's look had lost all its calmness, every feature started out into distinct malignity, the curve in his brow was deep, and ran up,to the root of the hair, dividing his face into two segments, that did not seem to have been designed for each other. His lips were half open, and the corners of his mouth a little brought back on each side, like those of a man expressing intense hatred and triumph over an enemy who is in the death-struggle under his grasp. His eyes blazed from beneath his knit eyebrows with a fire that seemed to be lighted up in the infernal pit itself. It is unnecessary, and only painful, to describe the rest of his gang; demons might have been proud of such horrible visages as they exhibited; for they worked under all the power of hatred, revenge, and joy; and these passions blended into one terrible scowl, enough almost to blast any human eye that would venture to look upon it.
When the others attempted to intercede for the lives of the inmates, there were at least fifteen guns and pistols levelled at them.
"Another word," said the Captain, "an' you're a corpse where you stand, or the first man who will dare to spake for them; no, no, it wasn't to spare them we came here. 'No mercy' is the pass-word for the night, an' by the sacred oath I swore beyant in the chapel, any one among yez that will attempt to show it, will find none at my hand. Surround the house, boys, I tell ye, I hear them stirring. 'No quarter—no mercy,' is the ordher of the night."
Such was his command over these misguided creatures, that in an instant there was a ring round the house to prevent the escape of the unhappy inmates, should the raging element give them time to attempt it; for none present durst withdraw themselves from the scene, not only from an apprehension of the Captain's present vengeance, or that of his gang, but because they knew that even had they then escaped, an early and certain death awaited them from a quarter against which they had no means of defence. The hour now was about half-past two! o'clock. Scarcely had the last words escaped from the Captain's lips, when one of the windows of the house was broken, and a human head, having the hair in a blaze, was descried, apparently a woman's, if one might judge by the profusion of burning tresses, and the softness of the tones, notwithstanding that it called, or rather shrieked aloud for help and mercy. The only reply to this was the whoop from the Captain and his gang, of "No mercy—no mercy!" and that instant the former, and one of the latter, rushed to the spot, and ere the action could be perceived, the head was transfixed with a bayonet and a pike, both having entered it together. The word "mercy" was divided in her mouth; a short silence ensued, the head hung down on the window, but was instantly tossed back into the flames.
This action occasioned a cry of horror from all present, except the gang and their leader, which startled and enraged the latter so much, that he ran towards one of them, and had his bayonet, now reeking with the blood of its innocent victim, raised to plunge it in his body, when, dropping the point, he said in a piercing whisper, that hissed in the ears of all: "It's no use now, you know; if one's to hang, all will hang; so our safest way, you persave, is to lave none of them to tell the story. Ye may go now, if you wish; but it won't save a hair of your heads. You cowardly set! I knew if I had tould yez the sport, that none of you, except my own boys, would come, so I jist played a thrick upon you; but remimber what you are sworn to, and stand to the oath ye tuck."
Unhappily, notwithstanding the wetness of the preceding weather, the materials of the house were extremely combustible; the whole dwelling was now one body of glowing flame, yet the shouts and shrieks within rose awfully above its crackling and the voice of the storm, for the wind once more blew in gusts, and with great violence. The doors and windows were all torn open, and such of those within as had escaped the flames rushed towards them, for the purpose of further escape, and of claiming mercy at the hands of their destroyers; but whenever they appeared, the unearthly cry of "no mercy" rang upon their ears for a moment, and for a moment only, for they were flung back at the points of the weapons which the demons had brought with them to make the work of vengeance more certain.
As yet there were many persons in the house, whose cry for life was strong as despair, and who clung to it with all the awakened powers of reason and instinct. The ear of man could hear nothing so strongly calculated to stifle the demon of cruelty and revenge within him, as the long and wailing shrieks which rose beyond the elements, in tones that were carried off rapidly upon the blast, until they died away in the darkness that lay behind the surrounding hills. Had not the house been in a solitary situation, and the hour the dead of night, any person sleeping within a moderate distance must have heard them, for such a cry of sorrow rising into a yell of despair was almost sufficient to have awakened, the dead. It was lost, however, upon the hearts and ears that heard it: to them, though in justice be it said, to only comparatively a few of them, it appeared as delightful as the tones of soft and entrancing music.
The claims of the surviving sufferers were now modified; they supplicated merely to suffer death by the weapons of their enemies; they were willing to bear that, provided they should be allowed to escape from the flames; but no—the horrors of the conflagration were calmly and malignantly gloried in by their merciless assassins, who deliberately flung them back into all their tortures. In the course of a few minutes a man appeared upon the side-wall of the house, nearly naked; his figure, as he stood against the sky in horrible relief, was so finished a picture of woebegone agony and supplication, that it is yet as distinct in my memory as if I were again present at the scene. Every muscle, now in motion by the powerful agitation of his sufferings, stood out upon his limbs and neck, giving him an appearance of desperate strength, to which by this time he must have been wrought up; the perspiration poured from his frame, and the veins and arteries of his neck were inflated to a surprising thickness. Every moment he looked down into the flames which were rising to where he stood; and as he looked, the indescribable horror which flitted over his features might have worked upon the devil himself to relent. His words were few:—
"My child," said he, "is still safe, she is an infant, a young crathur that never harmed you, or any one—she is still safe. Your mothers, your wives, have young innocent childhre like it. Oh, spare her, think for a moment that it's one of your own; spare it, as you hope to meet a just God, or if you don't, in mercy shoot me first—put an end to me, before I see her burned!"
The Captain approached him coolly and deliberately. "You'll prosecute no one now, you bloody informer," said he: "you'll convict no more boys for takin' an ould gun an' pistol from you, or for givin' you a neighborly knock or two into the bargain."
Just then, from a window opposite him, proceeded the shrieks of a woman, who appeared at it with the infant, in her arms. She herself was almost scorched to death; but, with the presence of mind and humanity of her sex, she was about to put the little babe out of the window. The Captain noticed this, and, with characteristic atrocity, thrust, with a sharp bayonet, the little innocent, along with the person who endeavored to rescue it, into the red flames, where they both perished. This was the work of an instant. Again he approached the man: "Your child is a coal now," said he, with deliberate mockery; "I pitched it in myself, on the point of this,"—showing the weapon—"an' now is your turn,"—saying which, he clambered up, by the assistance of his gang, who stood with a front of pikes and bayonets bristling to receive the wretched man, should he attempt, in his despair, to throw himself from the wall. The Captain got up, and placing the point of his bayonet against his shoulder, flung him into the fiery element that raged behind him. He uttered one wild and terrific cry, as he fell back, and no more. After this nothing was heard but the crackling of the fire, and the rushing of the blast; all that had possessed life within were consumed, amounting either to eight or eleven persons.
When this was accomplished, those who took an active part in the murder, stood for some time about the conflagration; and as it threw its red light upon their fierce faces and rough persons, soiled as they now were with smoke and black streaks of ashes, the scene seemed to be changed to hell, the murderers to spirits of the damned, rejoicing over the arrival and the torture of some guilty soul. The faces of those who kept aloof from the slaughter were blanched to the whiteness of death: some of them fainted, and others were in such agitation that they were compelled to lean on their comrades. They became actually powerless with horror: yet to such a scene were they brought by the pernicious influence of Ribbonism.
It was only when the last victim went down, that the conflagration shot up into the air with most unbounded fury. The house was large, deeply thatched, and well furnished; and the broad red pyramid rose up with fearful magnificence towards the sky. Abstractedly it had sublimity, but now it was associated with nothing in my mind but blood and terror. It was not, however, without a purpose that the Captain and his gang stood to contemplate its effect. "Boys," said he, "we had betther be sartin that all's safe; who knows but there might be some of the sarpents crouchin' under a hape o' rubbish, to come out an' gibbet us to-morrow or next day: we had betther wait a while, anyhow, if it was only to see the blaze."
Just then the flames rose majestically to a surprising height. Our eyes followed their direction; and we perceived, for the first time, that the dark clouds above, together with the intermediate air, appeared to reflect back, or rather to have caught the red hue of the fire. The hills and country about us appeared with an alarming distinctness; but the most picturesque part of it was the effect of reflection of the blaze on the floods that spread over the surrounding plains. These, in fact, appeared to be one broad mass of liquid copper, for the motion of the breaking-waters caught from the blaze of the high waving column, as reflected in them, a glaring light, which eddied, and rose, and fluctuated, as if the flood itself had been a lake of molten fire.
Fire, however, destroys rapidly. In a short time the flames sank—became weak and flickering—by and by, they shot out only in fits—the crackling of the timbers died away—the surrounding darkness deepened—and, ere long, the faint light was overpowered by the thick volumes of smoke that rose from the ruins of the house and its murdered inhabitants.
"Now, boys," said the Captain, "all is safe—we may go. Remember, every man of you, what you've sworn this night, on the book an' altar of God—not on a heretic Bible. If you perjure yourselves, you may hang us; but let me tell you, for your comfort, that if you do, there is them livin' that will take care the lease of your own lives will be but short."
After this we dispersed every man to his own home.
Reader,—not many months elapsed ere I saw the bodies of this Captain, whose name was Patrick Devann, and all those who were actively concerned in the perpetration of this deed of horror, withering in the wind, where they hung gibbeted, near the scene of their nefarious villany; and while I inwardly thanked Heaven for my own narrow and almost undeserved escape, I thought in my heart how seldom, even in this world, justice fails to overtake the murder, and to enforce the righteous judgment of God—that "whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."
This tale of terror is, unfortunately, too true. The scene of hellish murder detailed in it lies at Wildgoose Lodge, in the county of Louth, within about four miles of Carrickmacross, and nine of Dundalk. No such multitudinous murder has occurred, under similar circumstances, except the burning of the Sheas, in the county of Tipperary. The name of the family burned in Wildgoose Lodge was Lynch. One of them had, shortly before this fatal night, prosecuted and convicted some of the neighboring Ribbonmen, who visited him with severe marks of their displeasure, in consequence of his having refused to enrol himself as a member of their body. The language of the story is partly fictitious; but the facts are pretty closely such as were developed during the trial of the murderers. Both parties were Roman Catholics, and either twenty-five or twenty-eight of those who took an active part in the burning, were hanged and gibbeted in different parts of the county of Louth. Devann, the ringleader, hung for some months in chains, within about a hundred yards of his own house, and about half a mile from Wildgoose Lodge. His mother could neither go into nor out of her cabin without seeing his body swinging from the gibbet. Her usual exclamation on looking at him was—"God be good to the sowl of my poor marthyr!" The peasantry, too, frequently exclaimed, on seeing him, "Poor Paddy!" A gloomy fact that speaks volumes!
TUBBER DERG; Or, THE RED WELL.
The following story owes nothing to any coloring or invention of mine; it is unhappily a true one, and to me possesses a peculiar and melancholy interest, arising from my intimate knowledge of the man whose fate it holds up as a moral lesson to Irish landlords. I knew him well, and many a day and hour have I played about his knee, and ran, in my boyhood, round his path, when, as he said to himself, the world was no trouble to him.
On the south side of a sloping tract of light ground, lively, warm, and productive, stood a white, moderate-sized farm-house, which, in consequence of its conspicuous situation, was a prominent and, we may add, a graceful object in the landscape of which it formed a part. The spot whereon it stood was a swelling natural terrace, the soil of which was heavier and richer than that of the adjoining lands. On each side of the house stood a clump of old beeches, the only survivors of that species then remaining in the country. These beeches extended behind the house in a land of angle, with opening, enough at their termination to form a vista, through which its white walls glistened with beautiful effect in the calm splendor of a summer evening. Above the mound on which it stood, rose two steep hills, overgrown with furze and fern, except on their tops, which were clothed with purple heath; they were also covered with patches of broom, and studded with gray rocks, which sometimes rose singly or in larger masses, pointed or rounded into curious and fantastic shapes. Exactly between these hills the sun went down during the month of June, and nothing could be in finer relief than the rocky and picturesque outlines of their sides, as crowned with thorns and clumps of wild ash, they appeared to overhang the valley whose green foliage was gilded by the sun-beams, which lit up the scene into radiant beauty. The bottom of this natural chasm, which opened against the deep crimson of the evening sky, was nearly upon a level with the house, and completely so with the beeches that surrounded it. Brightly did the sinking sun fall upon their tops, whilst the neat white house below, in their quiet shadow, sent up its wreath of smoke among their branches, itself an emblem of contentment, industry, and innocence. It was, in fact, a lovely situation; perhaps the brighter to me, that its remembrance is associated with days of happiness and freedom from the cares of a world, which, like a distant mountain, darkens as we approach it, and only exhausts us in struggling to climb its rugged and barren paths.
There was to the south-west of this house another little hazel glen, that ended in a precipice formed, by a single rock some thirty feet, high, over which tumbled a crystal cascade into a basin worn in its hard bed below. From this basin the stream murmured away through the copse-wood, until it joined a larger rivulet that passed, with many a winding, through a fine extent of meadows adjoining it. Across the foot of this glen, and past the door of the house we have described, ran a bridle road, from time immemorial; on which, as the traveller ascended it towards the house, he appeared to track his way in blood, for a chalybeate spa arose at its head, oozing out of the earth, and spread itself in a crimson stream over the path in every spot whereon a foot-mark could be made. From this circumstance it was called Tubber Derg, or the Red Well. In the meadow where the glen terminated, was another spring of delicious crystal; and clearly do I remember the ever-beaten pathway that led to it through the grass, and up the green field which rose in a gentle slope to the happy-looking house of Owen M'Carthy, for so was the man called who resided under its peaceful roof.
I will not crave your pardon, gentle reader, for dwelling at such length upon a scene so clear to my heart as this, because I write not now so much for your gratification as my own. Many an eve of gentle May have I pulled the Maygowans which grew about that well, and over that smooth meadow.
Often have I raised my voice to its shrillest pitch, that I might hear its echoes rebounding in the bottom of the green and still glen, where silence, so to speak, was deepened by the continuous murmur of the cascade above; and when the cuckoo uttered her first note from among the hawthorns on its side, with what trembling anxiety did I, an urchin of some eight or nine years, look under my right foot for the white hair, whose charm was such, that by keeping it about me the first female name I should hear was destined, I believed in my soul, to be that of my future wife.* Sweet was the song of the thrush, and mellow the whistle of the blackbird, as they rose in the stillness of evening over the "hirken shaws" and green dells of this secluded spot of rural beauty. Far, too, could the rich voice of Owen M'Carthy be heard along the hills and meadows, as, with a little chubby urchin at his knee, and another in his arms, he sat on a bench beside his own door, singing the "Trouglia". in his native Irish; whilst Kathleen his wife, with her two maids, each crooning a low song, sat before the door milking the cows, whose sweet breath mingled its perfume with the warm breeze of evening.
Owen M'Carthy was descended from a long-line of honest ancestors, whose names had never, within the memory of man, been tarnished by the commission of a mean or disreputable action. They were always a kind-hearted family, but stern and proud in the common intercourse of life. They believed; themselves to be, and probably were, a branch of the MacCarthy More stock; and, although only the possessors of a small farm, it was singular to observe the effect which this conviction produced upon their bearing and manners. To it might, perhaps, be attributed the high and stoical integrity for which they were remarkable. This severity, however, was no proof that they wanted feeling, or were insensible to the misery and sorrows of others: in all the little cares and perplexities that chequered the peaceful neighborhood in which they lived, they were ever the first to console, or, if necessary, to support a distressed neighbor with the means which God had placed in their possession; for, being industrious, they were seldom poor. Their words were few, but sincere, and generally promised less than the honest hearts that dictated them intended to perform. There is in some persons a hereditary feeling of just principle, the result neither of education nor of a clear moral sense, but rather a kind of instinctive honesty which descends, like a constitutional bias, from father to son, pervading every member of the family. It is difficult to define this, or to assign its due position in the scale of human virtues. It exists in the midst of the grossest ignorance, and influences the character in the absence of better principles. Such was the impress which marked so strongly the family of which I speak. No one would ever think of imputing a dishonest act to the M'Carthys; nor would any person acquainted with them, hesitate for a moment to consider their word as good as the bond of another. I do not mean to say, however, that their motives of action were not higher than this instinctive honesty; far from it: but I say, that they possessed it in addition to a strong feeling of family pride, and a correct knowledge of their moral duties.
* Such is the superstition; and, as I can tell, faithfully is it believed.
I can only take up Owen M'Carthy at that part of the past to which my memory extends. He was then a tall, fine-looking young man; silent, but kind. One of the earliest events within my recollection is his wedding; after that the glimpse of his state and circumstances are imperfect; but as I grew up, they became more connected, and I am able to remember him the father of four children; an industrious, inoffensive small farmer, beloved, respected, and honored. No man could rise, be it ever so early, who would not find Owen up before him; no man could anticipate him in an early crop, and if a widow or a sick acquaintance were unable to get in their harvest, Owen was certain to collect the neighbors to assist them; to be the first there himself, with quiet benevolence, encouraging them to a zealous performance of the friendly task in which they were engaged.
It was, I believe, soon after his marriage, that the lease of the farm held by him expired. Until that time he had been able to live with perfect independence; but even the enormous rise of one pound per acre, though it deprived him in a great degree of his usual comforts, did not sink him below the bare necessaries of life. For some years after that he could still serve a deserving neighbor; and never was the hand of Owen M'Carthy held back from the wants and distresses of those whom he knew to be honest.
I remember once an occasion upon which a widow Murray applied to him for a loan of five pounds, to prevent her two cows from being auctioned for a half year's rent, of which she only wanted that sum. Owen sat at dinner with his family when she entered the house in tears, and, as well as her agitation of mind permitted, gave him a detailed account of her embarrassment.
"The blessin' o' God be upon all here," said she, on entering.
"The double o' that to you, Rosha," replied Owen's wife: "won't you sit in an' be atin'?—here's a sate beside Nanny; come over, Rosha."
Owen only nodded to her, and continued to eat his dinner, as if he felt no interest in her distress. Rosha sat down at a distance, and with the corner of a red handkerchief to her eyes, shed tears in that bitterness of feeling which marks the helplessness of honest industry under the pressure of calamity.
"In the name o' goodness, Rosha," said Mrs. M'Carthy, "what ails you, asthore? Sure Jimmy—God spare him to you—wouldn't be dead?"
"Glory be to God! no, avourneen machree. Och, och! but it 'ud be the black sight, an' the black day, that 'ud see my brave, boy, the staff of our support, an' the bread of our mouth, taken away from us!—No, no, Kathleen dear, it's not that bad wid me yet. I hope we'll never live to see his manly head laid down before us. 'Twas his own manliness, indeed, brought it an him—backin' the sack when he was bringin' home our last meldhre * from the mill; for you see he should do it, the crathur, to show his strinth, an' the sack, when he got it an was too heavy for him, an' hurted the small of his back; for his bones, you see, are too young, an' hadn't time to fill up yet. No, avourneen. Glory be to God! he's gettin' betther wid me!" and the poor creature's eyes glistened with delight through her tears and the darkness of her affliction.
Without saying a word, Owen, when she finished the eulogium on her son, rose, and taking her forcibly by the shoulder, set her down at the table, on which a large potful of potatoes had been spread out, with a circle in the middle for a dish of rashers and eggs, into which dish every right hand of those about it was thrust, with a quickness that clearly illustrated the principle of competition as a stimulus to action.
"Spare your breath," said Owen, placing her rather roughly upon the seat, "an' take share of what's goin': when all's cleared off we'll hear you, but the sorra word till then."
"Musha, Owen," said the poor woman, "you're the same man still; sure we all know your ways; I'll strive, avourneen, to ate—I'll strive, asthore—to plase you, an' the Lord bless you an' yours, an' may you never be as I an' my fatherless childhre are this sorrowful day!" and she accompanied her words by a flood of tears.
* Meldhre—whatever quantity of grain is brought to the mill to be ground on one occasion.
Owen, without evincing the slightest sympathy, withdrew himself from the table. Not a muscle of his face was moved; but as the cat came about his feet at the time, he put his foot under her, and flung her as easily as possible to the lower end of the kitchen.
"Arrah, what harm did the crathur do," asked his wife, "that you'd kick her for, that way? an' why but you ate out your dinner?"
"I'm done," he replied, "but that's no rason that Rosha, an' you, an' thim boys that has the work afore them, shouldn't finish your male's mate."
Poor Rosha thought that by his withdrawing he had already suspected the object of her visit, and of course concluded that her chance of succeeding was very slender.
The wife, who guessed what she wanted, as well as the nature of her suspicion, being herself as affectionate and obliging as Owen, reverted to the subject, in order to give her an opportunity of proceeding.
"Somethin' bitther an' out o' the common coorse, is a throuble to you, Rosha," said she, "or you wouldn't be in the state you're in. The Lord look down on you this day, you poor crathur—widout the father of your childhre to stand up for you, an' your only other depindance laid on the broad of his back, all as one as a cripple; but no matther, Rosha; trust to Him that can be a husband to you an' a father to your orphans—trust to Him, an' his blessed mother in heaven, this day, an' never fear but they'll rise up a frind for you. Musha, Owen, ate your dinner as you ought to do, wid your capers! How can you take a spade in your hand upon that morsel?"
"Finish your own," said her husband, "an' never heed me; jist let me alone. Don't you see that if I wanted it, I'd ate it, an' what more would you have about!"
"Well, acushla, it's your own loss, sure, of a sartinty. An' Rosha, whisper, ahagur, what can Owen or I do for you? Throth, it would be a bad day we'd see you at a deshort * for a friend, for you never wor nothin' else nor a civil, oblagin' neighbor yourself; an' him that's gone before—the Lord make his bed in heaven this day—was as good a warrant as ever broke bread, to sarve a friend, if it was at the hour of midnight."
* That is at a loss; or more properly speaking, taken short, which it means.
"Ah! when I had him!" exclaimed the distracted widow, "I never had occasion to trouble aither friend or neighbor; but he s gone an' now it's otherwise wid me—glory be to God for all his mercies—a wurrah dheelish! Why, thin, since I must spake, an' has no other frind to go to—but somehow I doubt Owen looks dark upon me—sure I'd put my hand to a stamp, if my word wouldn't do for it, an' sign the blessed crass that saved us, for the payment of it; or I'd give it to him in oats, for I hear you want some, Owen—Phatie oates it is, an' a betther shouldhered or fuller-lookin' grain never went undher a harrow—indeed it's it that's the beauty, all out, if it's good seed you want."
"What is it for, woman alive?" inquired Owen, as he kicked a three-legged stool out of his way."
"What is it for, is it? Och, Owen darlin', sure my two brave cows is lavin' me. Owen M'Murt, the driver, is over wid me beyant, an' has them ready to set off wid. I reared them both, the two of them, wid my own hands; Cheehoney, that knows my voice, an' would come to me from the fardest corner o' the field, an' nothin' will we have—nothin' will my poor sick boy have—but the black wather, or the dhry salt; besides the butther of them being lost to us for rent, or a small taste of it, of an odd time, for poor Jimmy. Owen, next to God, I have no friend to depind upon but yourself!"
"Me!" said Owen, as if astonished. "Phoo, that's quare enough! Now do you think, Rosha,—hut, hut, woman alive! Come, boys, you're all done; out wid you to your spades, an' finish that meerin (* a marsh ditch, a boundary) before night. Me!—hut, tut!"
"I have it all but five pounds, Owen, an' for the sake of him that's in his grave—an' that, maybe, is able to put up his prayer for you"—
"An' what would you want me to do, Rosha? Fitther for you to sit down an' finish your dinner, when it's before you. I'm goin' to get an ould glove that's somewhere about this chist, for I must weed out that bit of oats before night, wid a blessin'," and, as he spoke he passed into another room, as if he had altogether forgotten her solicitation, and in a few minutes returned.
"Owen, avick!—an' the blessin' of the fatherless be upon you, sure, an' many a one o' them you have, any how, Owen!"
"Och, och, Owen, it's low days wid me to be depindin' upon the sthranger? little thim that reared me ever thought it 'ud come to this. You know I'm a dacent father's child, an' I have stooped to you, Owen M'Carthy—what I'd scorn to do to any other but yourself—poor an' friendless as I stand here before you. Let them take the cows, thin, from my childhre; but the father of the fatherless will support thim an' me. Och, but it's well for the O'Donohoes that their landlord lives at home among themselves, for may the heavens look down on me, I wouldn't know where to find mine, if one sight of him 'ud save me an' my childre from the grave! The Agent even, he lives in Dublin, an' how could I lave my sick boy, an' small girshas by themselves, to go a hundre miles, an' maybe not see him afther all. Little hopes I'd have from him, even if I did; he's paid for gatherin' in his rents; but it's well known he wants the touch of nathur for the sufferins of the poor, an' of them that's honest in their intintions."
"I'll go over wid you, Rosha, if that will be of any use," replied Owen, composedly; "come, I'll go an' spake to Frank M'Murt.''
"The sorra blame I blame him, Owen," replied Rosha, "his bread's depindin' upon the likes of sich doins, an' he can't get over it; but a word from you, Owen, will save me, for who ever refused to take the word of a M'Carthy?"
When Owen and the widow arrived at the house of the latter, they found the situation of the bailiff laughable in the extreme. Her eldest son, who had been confined to his bed by a hurt received in his back, was up, and had got the unfortunate driver, who was rather old, wedged in between the dresser and the wall, where his cracked voice—for he was asthmatic—was raised to the highest pitch, calling for assistance. Beside him was a large tub half-filled with water, into which the little ones were emptying small jugs, carried at the top of their speed from a puddle before the door. In the meantime, Jemmy was tugging at the bailiff with all his strength—fortunately for that personage, it was but little—with the most sincere intention of inverting him into the tub which contained as much muddy water as would have been sufficient to make him a subject for the deliberation of a coroner and twelve honest men. Nothing could be more conscientiously attempted than the task which Jemmy had proposed to execute: every tug brought out his utmost strength, and when he failed in pulling down the bailiff, he compensated himself for his want of success by cuffing his ribs, and peeling his shins by hard kicks; whilst from those open points which the driver's grapple with his man naturally exposed, were inflicted on him by the rejoicing urchins numberless punches of tongs, potato-washers, and sticks whose points were from time to time hastily thrust into the coals, that they might more effectually either blind or disable him in some other manner.
As one of the little ones ran out to fill his jug, he spied his mother and Owen approaching, on which, with the empty vessel in his hand, he flew towards them, his little features distorted by glee and ferocity, wildly mixed up together.
"Oh mudher, mudher—ha, ha, ha!—don't come in yet; don't come in, Owen, till Jimmy un' huz, an' the Denisses, gets the bailie drownded. We'll soon have the bot (* tub) full; but Paddy an' Jack Denis have the eyes a'most pucked out of him; an' Katty's takin' the rapin' hook from, behind the cuppet, to get it about his neck."
Owen and the widow entered with all haste, precisely at the moment when Frank's head was dipped, for the first time, into the vessel.
"Is it goin' to murdher him ye are?" said Owen, as he seized Jemmy with a grasp that transferred him to the opposite end of the house; "hould back ye pack of young divils, an' let the man up. What did he come to do but his duty? I tell you, Jimmy, if you wor at yourself, an' in full strinth, that you'd have the man's blood on you where you stand, and would suffer as you ought to do for it."
"There, let me," replied the lad, his eyes glowing and his veins swollen with passion; "I don't care if I did. It would be no sin, an' no disgrace, to hang for the like of him; dacenter to do that, than stale a creel of turf, or a wisp of straw, 'tanny rate."
In the meantime the bailiff had raised his head out of the water, and presented a visage which it was impossible to view with gravity. The widow's anxiety prevented her from seeing it in a ludicrous light; but Owen's severe face assumed a grave smile, as the man shook himself and attempted to comprehend the nature of his situation. The young urchins, who had fallen back at the appearance of Owen and the widow, now burst into a peal of mirth, in which, however, Jemmy, whose fiercer passions had been roused, did not join.
"Frank M'Murt," said the widow, "I take the mother of heaven to witness, that it vexes my heart to see you get sich thratement in my place; an' I wouldn't for the best cow I have that sich a brieuliagh (* squabble) happened. Dher charp agusmanim, (** by my soul and body) Jimmy, but I'll make you suffer for drawin' down this upon my head, and me had enough over it afore."
"I don't care," replied Jemmy; "whoever comes to take our property from us, an' us willin' to work will suffer for it. Do you think I'd see thim crathurs at their dhry phatie, an' our cows standin' in a pound for no rason? No; high hangin' to me, but I'll split to the skull the first man that takes them; an' all I'm sorry for is, that it's not the vagabone Landlord himself that's near me. That's our thanks for paying many a good pound, in honesty and dacency, to him an' his; lavin' us to a schamin' agent, an' not even to that same, but to his undher-strap-pers, that's robbin' us on both sides between them. May hard fortune attind him, for a landlord! You may tell him this, Frank,—that his wisest plan is to keep clear of the counthry. Sure, it's a gambler he is, they say; an' we must be harrished an' racked to support his villany! But wait a bit; maybe there's a good time comin', when we'll pay our money to thim that won't be too proud to hear our complaints wid their own ears, an' who won't turn us over to a divil's limb of an agent. He had need, anyhow, to get his coffin sooner nor he thinks. What signifies hangin' in a good cause?" said he, as the tears of keen indignation burst from his glowing eyes. "It's a dacent death, an' a happy death, when it's for the right," he added—for his mind was evidently fixed upon the contemplation of those means of redress, which the habits of the country, and the prejudices of the people, present to them in the first moments of passion.
"It's well that Frank's one of ourselves," replied Owen, coolly, "otherwise, Jemmy, you said words that would lay you up by the heels. As for you, Frank, you must look over this. The boy's the son of dacent poor parents, an' it's a new thing for him to see the cows druv from the place. The poor fellow's vexed, too, that he has been so long laid up wid a sore back; an' so you see one thing or another has put him through other. Jimmy is warm-hearted afther all, an' will be sorry for it when he cools, an' renumbers that you wor only doin' your duty."
"But what am I to do about the cows? Sure, I can't go back widout either thim or the rint?" said Frank, with a look of fear and trembling at Jemmy.
"The cows!" said another of the widow's sons who then came in; "why, you dirty spalpeen of a rip, you may whistle on the wrong side o' your mouth for them. I druv them off of the estate; an' now take them, if you dar! It's conthrairy to law," said the urchin; "an' if you'd touch them, I'd make my mudher sarve you wid a lattitat or fiery-flashes."
This was a triumph to the youngsters, who, began to shake their little fists at him, and to exclaim in a chorus—"Ha, you dirty rip! wait till we get you out o' the house, an' if we don't put you from ever drivin'! Why, but you work like another!—ha, you'll get it!"—and every little fist was shook in vengeance at him.
"Whist wid ye," said Jemmy to the little ones; "let him alone, he got enough. There's the cows for you; an keen may the curse o' the widow an' orphans light upon you, and upon them that sent you, from first to last!—an' that's the best we wish you!"
"Frank," said Owen to the bailiff, "is there any one in the town below that will take the rint, an' give a resate for it? Do you think, man, that the neighbors of an honest, industrious woman 'ud see the cattle taken out of her byre for a thrifle? Hut tut! no, man alive—no sich thing! There's not a man in the parish, wid manes to do it, would see them taken away to be canted, at only about a fourth part of their value. Hut, tut,—no!"
As the sterling fellow spoke, the cheeks of the widow were suffused with tears, and her son Jemmy's hollow eyes once more kindled, but with a far different expression from that which but a few minutes before flashed from them.
"Owen," said he, and utterance nearly failed him: "Owen, if I was well it wouldn't be as it is wid us; but—no, indeed it would not; but—may God bless you for this! Owen, never fear but you'll be paid; may God bless you, Owen!"
As he spoke the hand of his humble benefactor was warmly grasped in his. A tear fell upon it: for with one of those quick and fervid transitions of feeling so peculiar to the people, he now felt a strong, generous emotion of gratitude, mingled, perhaps, with a sense of wounded pride, on finding the poverty of their little family so openly exposed.
"Hut, tut, Jimmy, avick," said Owen, who understood his feelings; "phoo, man alive! hut—hem!—why, sure it's nothin' at all, at all; anybody would do it—only a bare five an' twenty shillins [it was five pound]: any neighbor—Mick Cassidy, Jack Moran, or Pether M'Cullagh, would do it.—Come, Frank, step out; the money's to the fore. Rosha, put your cloak about you, and let us go down to the agint, or clerk, or whatsomever he is—sure, that makes no maxin anyhow;—I suppose he has power to give a resate. Jemmy, go to bed again, you're pale, poor bouchal; and, childhre, ye crathurs ye, the cows won't be taken from ye this bout.—Come, in the name of God, let us go, and see-everything rightified at once—hut, tut—come."
Many similar details of Owen M'Carthy's useful life could be given, in which he bore an equally benevolent and Christian part. Poor fellow! he was, ere long, brought low; but, to the credit of our peasantry, much as is said about their barbarity, he was treated, when helpless, with gratitude, pity, and kindness.
Until the peace of 1814, Owen's regular and systematic industry enabled him to struggle successfully against a weighty rent and sudden depression in the price of agricultural produce; that is, he was able, by the unremitting toil of a man remarkable alike for an unbending spirit and a vigorous frame of body, to pay his rent with tolerable regularity. It is true, a change began to be visible in his personal appearance, in his farm, in the dress of his children, and in the economy of his household. Improvements, which adequate capital would have enabled, him to effect, were left either altogether unattempted, or in an imperfect state, resembling neglect, though, in reality, the result of poverty. His dress at mass, and in fairs and markets, had, by degrees, lost that air of comfort and warmth which bespeak the independent farmer. The evidences of embarrassment began to disclose themselves in many small points—inconsiderable, it is true, but not the less significant. His house, in the progress of his declining circumstances,ceased to be annually ornamented by a new coat of whitewash; it soon assumed a faded and yellowish hue, and sparkled not in the setting sun as in the days of Owen's prosperity. It had, in fact, a wasted, unthriving look, like its master. The thatch became black and rotten upon its roof; the chimneys sloped to opposite points; the windows were less neat, and ultimately, when broken, were patched with a couple of leaves from the children's blotted copy-books. His out-houses also began to fail. The neatness of his little farm-yard, and the cleanliness which marked so conspicuously the space fronting his dwelling-house, disappeared in the course of time. Filth began to accumulate where no filth had been; his garden was not now planted so early, nor with such taste and neatness as before; his crops were later, and less abundant; his haggarts neither so full nor so trim as they were wont to be, nor his ditches and enclosures kept in such good repair. His cars, ploughs, and other farming implements, instead of being put under cover, were left exposed to the influence of wind and weather, where they soon became crazy and useless.