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Phelim O'toole's Courtship and Other Stories
by William Carleton
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The doctor's house, as it happened, was not far from theirs, and in a very brief period he arrived.

"Heavens! Mrs. Maguire, what has happened?" said he, looking on the two apparently inanimate bodies with alarm.

"His father," she said, pointing to the boy, "being in a state of drink, threw a little beech chair at the apprentice here, he stepped aside, as was natural, and the blow struck my treasure there," she said, holding her hand over the spot where he was struck, but not on it; "but, doctor, look at his father, the blood is trickling out of his mouth."

The doctor, after examining into the state of both, told her not to despair—

"Your husband," said he, "who is only in a fit, has broken a blood-vessel, I think some small blood-vessel is broken; but as for the boy, I can as yet pronounce no certain opinion upon him. It will be a satisfaction to you, however, to know that he is not dead, but only in a heavy stupor occasioned by the blow."

It was now that her tears began to flow, and copiously and bitterly they did flow; but as there was still hope, her grief, though bitter, was not that of despair. Ere many minutes, the doctor's opinion respecting one of them, at least, was verified. Art opened his eyes, looked wildly about him, and the doctor instantly signed to his wife to calm the violence of her sorrow, and she was calm.

"Margaret," said he, "where's Atty? bring him to me—bring him to me!"

"Your son was hurt," replied the doctor, "and has just gone to sleep."

"He is dead," said Art, "he is dead, he will never waken from that sleep—and it was I that killed him!"

"Don't disturb yourself," said the doctor, "as you value your own life and his; you yourself have broken a blood-vessel, and there is nothing for you now but quiet and ease."

"He is dead," said his father, "he is dead, and it was I that killed him; or, if he's not dead, I must hear it from his mother's lips."

"Art, darlin', he is not dead, but he is very much hurted," she replied; "Art, as you love him, and me, and us all, be guided by the doctor."

"He is not dead," said the doctor; "severely hurt he is, but not dead. Of that you may rest assured."

So far as regarded Art, the doctor was right; he had broken only a small blood vessel, and the moment the consequences of his fit had passed away, he was able to get up, and walk about with very little diminution of his strength.

To prevent him from seeing his son, or to conceal the boy's state from him, was impossible. He no sooner rose than with trembling hands, a frightful terror of what was before him, he went to the little bed on which the being dearest to him on earth lay. He stood for a moment, and looked down upon the boy's beautiful, but motionless face; he first stooped, and putting his mouth to the child's ear said—

"Atty, Atty"—he then shook his head; "you see," he added, addressing those who stood about him, "that he doesn't hear me—no, he doesn't hear me—that ear was never deaf to me before, but it's deaf now;" he then seized his hand, and raised it, but it was insensible to his touch, and would have fallen on the bed had he let it go. "You see," he proceeded, "that his hand doesn't know mine any longer! Oh, no, why should it? this is the hand that laid our flower low, so why should he acknowledge it? yet surely he would forgive his father, if he knew it—oh, he would forgive that father, that ever and always loved him—loved him—loved him, oh, that's a wake word, a poor wake word. Well," he went on, "I will kiss his lips, his blessed lips—oh, many an' many a kiss, many a sweet and innocent kiss—did I get from them lips, Atty dear, with those little arms, that are now so helpless, clasped about my neck." He then kissed him again and again, but the blessed child's lips did not return the embrace that had never been refused before. "Now," said he, "you all see that—you all see that he won't kiss me again, and that is bekaise he can't do it; Atty, Atty," he said, "won't you speak to me? it's I, Atty, sure it's I, Atty dear, your lovin' father, that's callin' you to spake to him. Atty dear, won't you spake to me—do you hear my voice, asthore machree—do you hear your father's voice, that's callin' on you to forgive him?" He paused for a short time, but the child lay insensible and still.

At this moment there was no dry eye present; the very doctor wept. Margaret's grief was loud; she felt every source of love and tenderness for their only boy opened in her unhappy and breaking heart, and was inconsolable: but then compassion for her husband was strong as her grief. She ran to Art, she flung her arms about his neck, and exclaimed—

"Oh, Art dear, Art dear, be consoled: take consolation if you can, or you will break my heart. Forgive you asthore! you, you that would shed your blood for him! don't you know he would forgive you? Sure, I forgive you—his mother, his poor, distracted, heart-broken mother forgives you—in his name I forgive you." She then threw herself beside the body of their child, and shouted out—"Atty, our blessed treasure, I have forgiven your father for you—in your blessed name, and in the name of the merciful God that you are now with, I have forgiven your unhappy find heart-broken father—as you would do, if you could, our lost treasure, as you would do."

"Oh," said his father vehemently distracted with his horrible affliction; "if there was but any one fault of his that I could remimber now, any one failin' that our treasure had—if I could think of a single spot upon his little heart, it would relieve me; but, no, no, there's nothin' of that kind to renumber aginst him. Oh, if he wasn't what he was—if he wasn't what he was—we might have some little consolation; but now we've none; we've none—none!"

As he spoke and wept, which he did with the bitterest anguish of despair, his grief assumed a character that was fearful from the inward effusion of blood, which caused him from time to time to throw it up in red mouthfuls, and when remonstrated with by the doctor upon the danger of allowing himself to be overcome by such excitement—

"I don't care," he shouted, "if it's my heart's blood, I would shed it at any time for him; I don't care about life now; what 'ud it be to me without my son? widout you, Atty dear, what is the world or all that's in it to me now! An' when I think of who it was that cut you down—cursed be the hand that gave you that unlucky blow, cursed may it be—cursed be them that tempted me to drink—cursed may the drink be that made me as I was, and cursed of God may I be that—"

"Art, Art," exclaimed Margaret, "any thing but that, remember there's a God above—don't blasphame;—we have enough to suffer widout havin' to answer for that."

He paused at her words, and as soon as the paroxysm was over, he sunk by fits into a gloomy silence, or walked from room to room, wringing his hands and beating his head, in a state of furious distraction, very nearly bordering on insanity.

The next morning, we need scarcely assure our readers, that, as the newspapers have it, a great and painful sensation had been produced through the town of Bally-keerin by the circumstances which we have related:—

"Art Maguire had broken the pledge, gone home drunk, and killed his only son by the blow of an iron bar on the, head; the crowner had been sent for, an' plaise God we'll have a full account of it all."

In part of this, however, common fame, as she usually is, was mistaken; the boy was not killed, neither did he then die. On the third day, about eight o'clock in the evening, he opened his eyes, and his mother, who was scarcely ever a moment from his bedside, having observed the fact, approached him with hopes almost as deep as those of heaven itself in her heart, and in a voice soft and affectionate as ever melted into a human ear—

"Atty, treasure of my heart, how do you feel?"

The child made no reply, but as his eye had not met hers, and as she had whispered very low, it was likely, she thought, that he had not heard her.

"I will bring his father," said she, "for if he will know or spake to any one, he will, spake to him."

She found Art walking about, as he had done almost ever since the unhappy accident, and running to him with a gush of joyful tears, she threw her arms about his neck, and kissing him, said—

"Blessed be the Almighty, Art—" but she paused, "oh, great God, Art, what is this! merciful heaven, do I smell whiskey on you?"

"You do," he replied, "it's in vain, I can't live—I'd die widout it; it's in vain, Margaret, to spake—if I don't get it to deaden my grief I'll die: but, what wor you goin' to tell me?" he added eagerly.

She burst into tears.

"Oh, Art," said she, "how my heart has sunk in spite of the good news I have for you."

"In God's name," he asked, "what is it? is our darlin' betther?"

"He is," she replied, "he has opened his eyes this minute, and I want you to spake to him."

They both entered stealthily, and to their inexpressible delight heard the child's voice; they paused,—breathlessly paused,—and heard him utter, in a low sweet voice, the following words—

"Daddy, won't you come to bed wid me, wid your own Atty?"

This he repeated twice or thrice before they approached him, but when they did, although his eye turned from one to another, it was vacant, and betrayed no signs whatsoever of recognition.

Their hearts sank again, but the mother, whose hope was strong and active as her affection, said—

"Blessed be the Almighty that he is able even to spake but he's not well enough to know us yet."

This was unhappily too true, for although they spoke to him, and placed themselves before him by turns, yet it was all in vain; the child knew neither them nor any one else. Such, in fact, was now their calamity, as a few weeks proved. The father by that unhappy blow did not kill his body, but he killed his mind; he arose from his bed a mild, placid, harmless idiot, silent and inoffensive—the only words he was almost heard to utter, with rare exceptions, being those which had been in his mind when he was dealt the woful blow:—"Daddy, won't you come to bed wid me, wid your own Atty?" And these he pronounced as correctly as ever, uttering them with the same emphasis of affection which had marked them before his early reason had been so unhappily destroyed. Now, even up to that period, and in spite of this great calamity, it was not too late for Art Maguire to retrieve himself, or still to maintain the position which he had regained. The misfortune which befell his child ought to have shocked him into an invincible detestation of all intoxicating liquors, as it would most men; instead of that, however, it drove him back to them. He had contracted a pernicious habit of diminishing the importance of first errors, because they appeared trivial in themselves; he had never permitted himself to reason against his propensities, unless through the indulgent medium of his own vanity, or an overweening presumption in the confidence of his moral strength, contrary to the impressive experience of his real weakness. His virtues were many, and his foibles few; yet few as they were, our readers perceive that, in consequence of his indulging them, they proved the bane of his life and happiness. They need not be surprised, then, to hear that from the want of any self-sustaining power in himself he fell into the use of liquor again; he said he could not live without it, but then he did not make the experiment; for he took every sophistry that appeared to make in his favor for granted. He lived, if it could be called life, for two years and a half after this melancholy accident, but without the spring or energy necessary to maintain his position, or conduct his business, which declined as rapidly as he did himself. He and his family were once more reduced to absolute beggary, until in the course of events they found a poorhouse to receive them. Art was seldom without a reason to justify his conduct, and it mattered not how feeble that reason might be, he always deemed it sufficiently strong to satisfy himself. For instance, he had often told his wife that if Atty had recovered, sound in body and mind, he had determined never again to taste liquor; "but," said he, "when I seen my darlin's mind gone, I couldn't stand it widout the drop of drink to keep my heart an' spirits up." He died of consumption in the workhouse of Ballykeerin, and there could not be a stronger proof of the fallacy with which he reasoned than the gratifying fact, that he had not been more than two months dead, when his son recovered his reason, to the inexpressible joy of his mother; so that had he followed up his own sense of what was right, he would have lived to see his most sanguine wishes, with regard to his son, accomplished, and perhaps have still been able to enjoy a comparatively long and happy life.

On the morning of the day on which he died, although not suffering much from pain, he seemed to feel an impression that his end was at hand. It is due to him to say here, that he had for months before his death been deeply and sincerely penitent, and that he was not only sensible of the vanity and errors which had occasioned his fall from integrity, and cut him off in the prime of life, but also felt his heart sustained by the divine consolations of religion. Father Costello was earnest and unremitting in his spiritual attentions to him, and certainly had the gratification of knowing that he felt death to be in his case not merely a release from all his cares and sorrows, but a passport into that life where the weary are at rest.

About twelve o'clock in the forenoon he asked to see his wife—his own Margaret—and his children, but, above all, his blessed Atty—for such was the epithet he had ever annexed to his name since the night of the melancholy accident. In a few minutes the sorrowful group appeared, his mother leading the unconscious boy by the hand, for he knew not where he was. Art lay, or rather reclined, on the bed, supported by two bolsters; his visage was pale, but the general expression of his face was calm, mild, and sorrowful; although his words were distinct, his voice was low and feeble, and every now and then impeded by a short catch—for to cough he was literally unable.

"Margaret," said he, "come to me, come to me now," and he feebly received her hand in his; "I feel that afther all the warfare of this poor life, afther all our love and our sorrow, I am goin' to part wid you and our childhre at last."

"Oh, Art, darlin', I can think of nothing now, asthore, but our love," she replied, bursting into a flood of tears, in which she was joined by the children—Atty, the unconscious Atty, only excepted.

"An' I can think of little else," said he, "than our sorrows and sufferins, an' all the woful evil that I brought upon you and them."

"Darlin'," she replied, "it's a consolation to yourself, as it is to us, that whatever your errors wor, you've repented for them; death is not frightful to you, glory be to God!"

"No," said he, looking upwards, and clasping his worn hands; "I am resigned to the will of my good and merciful God, for in him is my hope an' trust. Christ, by his precious blood, has taken away my sins, for you know I have been a great sinner;" he then closed his eyes for a few minutes, but his lips were moving as if in prayer. "Yes, Margaret," he again proceeded, "I am goin' to lave you all at last; I feel it—I can't say that I'll love you no more, for I think that even in heaven I couldn't forget you; but I'll never more lave you a sore heart, as I often did—I'll never bring the bitther tear to your eye—the hue of care to your face, or the pang of grief an' misery to your heart again—thank God I will not; all my follies, all my weaknesses, and all my crimes—"

"Art," said his wife, wringing her hands, and sobbing as if her heart would break, "if you wish me to be firm, and to set our childre an example of courage, now that it's so much wanted, oh, don't spake as you do—my heart cannot stand it."

"Well, no," said he, "I won't; but when I think of what I might be this day, and of what I am—when I think of what you and our childre might be—an' when I see what you are—and all through my means—when I think of this, Margaret dear, an' that I'm torn away from you and them in the very prime of life—but," he added, turning hastily from that view of his situation, "God is good an' merciful, an' that is my hope."

"Let it be so, Art dear," replied Margaret; "as for us, God will take care of us, and in him we will put our trust, too; remimber that he is the God and father of the widow an' the orphan."

He here appeared to be getting very weak, but in a minute or two he rallied a little, and said, while his eye, which was now becoming heavy, sought about until it became fixed upon his son—

"Margaret, bring him to me."

She took the boy by the hand, and led him over to the bedside.

"Put his hand in mine," said he, "put his blessed hand in mine."

She did so, and Art looked long and steadily upon the face of his child.

"Margaret," said he, "you know that durin' all my wild and sinful coorses, I always wore the lock of hair you gave me when we wor young next my heart—my poor weak heart."

Margaret buried her face in her hands, and for some time could not reply.

"I don't wish, darlin'," said he, "to cause you sorrow—you will have too much of that; but I ax it as a favor—the last from my lips—that you will now cut off a lock of his hair—his hair fair—an' put it along with your own upon my heart; it's all I'll have of you both in the grave where I'll sleep; and, Margaret, do it now—oh, do it soon."

Margaret, who always carried scissors hanging by her pocket, took them out, and cutting a long abundant lock of the boy's hair, she tenderly placed it where he wished, in a little three-cornered bit of black silk that was suspended from his neck, and lay upon his heart.

"Is it done?" said he.

"It is done," she replied as well as she could!

"This, you know, is to lie on my heart," said he, "when I'm in my grave; you won't forget that!"

"No—oh, no, no; but, merciful God, support me! for Art, my husband, my life, I don't know how I'll part with you."

"Well, may God bless you forever, my darlin' wife, and support you and my orphans! Bring them here."

They were then brought over, and in a very feeble voice he blessed them also.

"Now, forgive me all," said he, "forgive ME ALL!"

But, indeed, we cannot paint the tenderness and indescribable affliction of his wife and children while uttering their forgiveness of all his offences against them, as he himself termed it. In the meantime he kept his son close by him, nor would he suffer him to go one moment from his reach.

"Atty," said he, in a low voice, which was rapidly sinking;—"put his cheek over to mine"—he added to his wife, "then raise my right arm, an' put it about his neck;—Atty," he proceeded, "won't you give me one last word before I depart?"

His wife observed that as he spoke a large tear trickled down his cheek. Now, the boy was never in the habit of speaking when he was spoken to, or of speaking at all, with the exception of the words we have already given. On this occasion, however, whether the matter was a coincidence or not, it is difficult to say, he said in a quiet, low voice, as if imitating his father's—

"Daddy, won't you come to bed for me, for your own Atty?"

The reply was very low, but still quite audible—

"Yes, darlin', I—I will—I will for you, Atty."

The child said no more, neither did his father, and when the sorrowing wife, struck by the stillness which for a minute or two succeeded the words, went to remove the boy, she found that his father's spirit had gone to that world where, we firmly trust, his errors, and follies, and sins have been forgiven. While taking the boy away, she looked upon her husband's face, and there still lay the large tear of love and repentance—she stooped down—she kissed it—and it was no longer there.

There is now little to be added, unless to inform those who may take an interest in the fate of his wife and children, that his son soon afterwards was perfectly restored to the use of his reason, and that in the month of last September he was apprenticed in the city of Dublin to a respectable trade, where he is conducting himself with steadiness and propriety; and we trust, that, should he ever read this truthful account of his unhappy father, he will imitate his virtues, and learn to avoid the vanities and weaknesses by which he brought his family to destitution and misery, and himself to a premature grave. With respect to his brother Frank, whom his irreclaimable dissipation drove out of the country, we are able to gratify our readers by saying that he got happily married in America, where he is now a wealthy man, in prosperous business and very highly respected.

Margaret, in consequence of her admirable character, was appointed to the situation of head nurse in the Ballykeerin Hospital, and it will not surprise our readers to hear that she gains and retains the respect and good-will of all who know her, and that the emoluments of her situation are sufficient, through her prudence and economy, to keep her children comfortable and happy.

Kind reader, is it necessary that we should recapitulate the moral we proposed to show' in this true but melancholy narrative? We trust not. If it be not sufficiently obvious, we can only say it was our earnest intention that it should be so. At all events, whether you be a Teetotaller, or a man carried away by the pernicious love of intoxicating liquors, think upon the fate of Art Maguire, and do not imitate the errors of his life, as you find them laid before you in this simple narrative of "The Broken Pledge."

THE END

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