"I see," she observed, after he had concluded, "that you're bent on your devotions this night; and the devil's own place you've pitched upon for them."
"Well, now," replied Hanlon, "I'll be biddin' you good-night; but before you go, promise to get me that tobaccy-box you found; it's the least you may give it to me for Peggy Murray's handkerchy."
"Hut," returned Sally, "it's not worth a thraneen; you couldn't use it even if you had it; sure it's both rusty and broken."
"No matther for that," he replied; "I want to play a thrick on Peggy Murray wid it, so as to have a good laugh against her—the pair of us—you wid the handkerchy, and me wid the tobaccy-box."
"Very well," she replied. "Ha! ha! ha!—that'll be great. At any rate, I've a crow to pluck wid the same Peggy Murray. Oh, never you fear, you must have it; the minnit I get my hands on it, I'll secure it for you." After a few words more of idle chat they separated; he to his master's house, which was a considerable distance off; and this extraordinary creature—unconscious of the terrors and other weaknesses that render her sex at once so dependent on and so dear to man—full only of delight at the expected glee of the wake—to the house of death where it was held.
In the country parts of Ireland it is not unusual for those who come to a wake-house from a distance, to remain there until the funeral takes place: and this also is frequently the case with the nearest door neighbors. There is generally a solemn hospitality observed on the occasion, of which the two classes I mention partake. Sally's absence, therefore, on that night, or for the greater portion of the next day, excited neither alarm nor surprise at home. On entering their miserable sheiling, she found her father, who had just returned, and her step-mother in high words; the cause of which, she soon learned, had originated in his account of the interview between young Dalton and Mave Sullivan, together with its unpleasant consequences to himself.
"What else could you expect," said his wife, "but what you got? You're ever an' always too ready wid your divil's grin an' your black prophecy to thim you don't like. I wondher you're not afeard that some of them might come back to yourself, an' fall upon your own head. If ever a man tempted Providence you do."
"Ah, dear me!" he exclaimed, with a derisive sneer, rendered doubly repulsive by his own hideous and disfigured face, "how pious we are! Providence, indeed! Much I care about Providence, you hardened jade, or you aither, whatever puts the word into your purty mouth. Providence! oh, how much we regard it, as if Providence took heed of what we do. Go an' get me somethin' to put to this swellin', you had betther; or if it's goin' to grow religious you are, be off out o' this; we'll have none of your cant or pishthrougues here."
"What's this?" inquired Sarah, seating; herself on a three legged stool, "the ould work, is it? bell-cat, bell-dog. Ah, you're a blessed pair an' a purty pair, too; you, wid your swelled face an' blinkin' eye. Arrah, what dacent man gave you that? An' you," she added, turning to her step-mother, "wid your cheeks poulticed, an' your eye blinkin' on the other side—what a pair o' beauties you are, ha! ha! ha! I wouldn't be surprised if the divil an' his mother fell in consate wid you both!—ha! ha!"
"Is that your manners, afther spendin' the night away wid yourself?" asked her father, angrily. "Instead of stealin' into the house thremblin' wid fear, as you ought to be, you walk in wid your brazen face, ballyraggin' us like a Hecthor."
"Devil a taste I'm afeard," she replied, sturdily; "I did nothin' to be afeard or ashamed of, an' why should I?"
"Did you see Mr. Hanlon on your travels, eh?"
"You needn't say eh about it," she replied, "to be sure I did; it was to meet him that I went to the dance; I have no saicrets."
"Ah, you'll come to a good end yet, I doubt," said her father.
"Sure she needn't be afeard of Providence, any how," observed his wife.
"To the divil wid you, at all events," he replied; "if you're not off out o' that to get me somethin' for this swellin' I'll make it worse for you."
"Ay, ay, I'll go," looking at him with peculiar bitterness, "an wid the help of the same Providence that you laugh at, I'll take care that the same roof won't cover the three of us long. I'm tired of this life, and come or go what may, I'll look to my sowl an' lead it no longer.
"Do you mane to break our hearts?" he replied, laughing; "for sure we couldn't do less afther her, Sally; eh, ha! ha! ha! Before you lave us, anyhow," he added, "go and get me some Gaiharrawan roots to bring down this swellin'; I can't go to the Grange wid sich a face as this on me."
"You'll have a blacker an' a worse one on the day of judgment," replied Nelly, taking up an old spade as she spoke, and proceeding to look for the Casharrawan (Dandelion) roots he wanted.
When she had gone, the prophet, assuming that peculiar sweetness of manner, for which he was so remarkable when it suited his purpose, turned to his daughter, and putting his hand into his waistcoat pocket, pulled out a tress of fair hair, whose shade and silky softness were exquisitely beautiful.
"Do you see that," said he, "isn't that pretty?"
"Show," she replied, and taking the tress into her hand, she looked at it.
"It is lovely; but isn't that aquil to it?" she continued, letting loose her own of raven black and equal gloss and softness—"what can it brag over that? eh," and as she compared them her black eye flashed, and her cheek assumed a rich glow of pride and conscious beauty, that made her look just such a being as an old Grecian statuary would have wished to model from.
"It is aiquil to hers any day," replied her father, softening into affection as he contemplated her; "and indeed, Sally, I think you're her match every way except—except—no matter, troth are you."
"What are you going to do wid it?" she asked; "is it to the Grange it's goin'?"
"It is an' I want you to help me in what I mentioned to you. If I get what I'm promised, we'll lave the country, you and I, and as for that ould vagabond, we'll pitch her to ould Nick. She's talking about devotion and has nothing but Providence in her lips."
"But isn't there a Providence?" asked his daughter, with a sparkling eye.
"Devil a much myself knows or cares," he replied, with indifference, "whether there is or not."
"Bekase if there is," she said, pausing—"if there is, one might as well—"
She paused again and her fine features assumed an intellectual meaning—a sorrowful and meditative beauty, that gave a new and more attractive expression to her face than her father had ever witnessed on it before.
"Don't vex me, Sarah," he replied, snappishly. "Maybe it's goin' to imitate her you are. The clargy knows these things maybe—an' maybe they don't. I only wish she'd come back with the caaharrawan. If all goes right, I'll pocket what'll bring yourself an' me to America. I'm beginnin' somehow to get unaisy; an' I don't wish to stay in this country any longer."
Whilst he spoke, the sparkling and beautiful expression which had lit up his daughter's countenance passed away, and with it probably the moment in which it was possible to have opened a new and higher destiny to her existence.
Nelly, in the meantime, having taken an old spade with her to dig the roots she went in quest of, turned up Glendhu, and kept searching for some time in vain, until at length she found two or three bunches of the herb growing in a little lonely nook that lay behind a projecting ledge of rock, where one would seldom think of looking for herbage at all. Here she found a little, soft, green spot, covered over with dandelion; and immediately she began to dig it up. The softness of the earth and its looseness surprised her a good deal; and moved by an unaccountable curiosity, she pushed the spade further down, until it was met by some substance that felt rather hard. From this she cleared away the earth as well as she could, and discovered that the spade had been opposed by a bone; and on proceeding to examine still further, she discovered that the spot on which the dandelions had grown, contained the bones of a full grown human body.
CHAPTER V. — The Black Prophet is Startled by a Black Prophecy.
Having satisfied herself that the skeleton was a human one, she cautiously put back the earth, and covered it up with the green sward, as graves usually are covered, and in such a way that there should exist, from the undisturbed appearance of the place, as little risk as possible of discovery. This being-settled, she returned with the herbs, laying aside the spade, from off which she had previously rubbed the red earth, so as to prevent any particular observation; she sat down, and locking her fingers into each other, swayed her body backwards and forwards in silence, as a female does in Ireland when under the influence of deep and absorbing sorrow, whilst from time to time she fixed her eyes on the prophet, and sighed deeply.
"I thought," said he, "I sent you for the dandelion; where is it?"
"Oh," she replied, unrolling it from the corner of her apron, "here it is—I forgot it—ay, I forgot it—and no wondher—oh, no wondher, indeed!—Providence! You may blaspheme Providence as much as you like; but he'll take his own out o' you yet; an' indeed, it's comin' to that—it is, Donnel, an' you'll find it so."
The man had just taken the herbs into his hand and was about to shred them into small leaves for the poultice, when she uttered the last words. He turned his eyes upon her; and in an instant that terrible scowl, for which he was so remarkable, when in a state of passion, gave its deep and deadly darkness to his already disfigured visage. His eyes blazed, and one half of his face became ghastly with rage.
"What do you mane?" he asked; "what does she mane, Sarah? I tell you, wanst for all, you must give up ringing Providence into my ears, unless you wish to bring my hand upon you, as you often did! mark that!"
"Your ears," she replied, looking at him calmly, and without seeming to regard his threat; "oh, I only wish I could ring the fear of Providence into your heart—I wish I I could; I'll do for yourself what you often pretend to do for others: but I'll give you warnin'. I tell you now, that Providence: himself is on your track—that his judgment's hangin' over you—and that it'll fall upon! you before long. This is my prophecy, and; a black one you'll soon find it."
That Nelly had been always a woman of some good nature, with gleams of feeling and humanity appearing in a character otherwise apathetic, hard, and dark, M'Gowan well knew; but that she was capable of bearding him in one of his worst and most ferocious moods, was a circumstance which amazed and absolutely overcame him. Whether it was the novelty or the moral elevation of the position she so unexpectedly assumed, or some lurking conviction within himself which echoed back the truth of her language, it is difficult to say. Be that, however, as it might, he absolutely quailed before her; and instead of giving way to headlong violence or outrage, he sat down, and merely looked on her in silence and amazement.
Sarah thought he was unnecessarily tame on the occasion, and that her prophecy ought not to have been listened to in silence. The utter absence of all fear, however, on the part of the elder female, joined to the extraordinary union of determination and indifference with which she spoke, had something morally impressive in it; and Sarah, who felt, besides, that there seemed a kind of mystery in the words of the denunciation, resolved to let the matter rest between them, at least for the present.
A silence of some time now ensued, during which she looked from the one to the other with an aspect of uncertainty. At length, she burst into a hearty laugh—
"Ha, ha, ha!—well," said she, "it's a good joke at any rate to see my father bate with his own weapons. Why, she has frightened you more wid her prophecy than ever you did any one wid one of your own. Ha, ha, ha!"
To this Sally neither replied, nor seemed disposed to reply.
"Here," added Sarah, handing her stepmother a cloth, "remimber you have to go to Darby Skinadre's for meal. I'd go myself, an' save you in the journey, but that I'm afraid you might fall in love wid one another in my absence. Be off now, you ould stepdivle, an' get the meal; or if you're not able to go, I will."
After a lapse of a few minutes, the woman rose, and taking the cloth, deliberately folded it up, and asked him for money to purchase the meal she wanted.
"Here," said he, handing her a written paper, "give him that, an' it will do as well as money. He expects Master Dick's interest for Dalton's farm, an' I'll engage he'll attend to that."
She received the paper, and looking at it, said—
"I hope this is none of the villainy I suspect."
"Be off," he replied, "get what you want, and that's all you have to do."
"What's come over you?" asked Sarah of her father, after the other had gone. "Did you get afeard of her?"
"There's something in her eye," he replied, "that I don't like, and that I never seen there before."
"But," returned the other, a good deal surprised, "what can there be in her eye that you need care about? You have nobody's blood on your hands, an' you stole nothing. What made you look afeard that time?"
"I didn't look afeard."
"But I say you did, an' I was ashamed of you."
"Well, never mind—I may tell you something some o' these days about that same woman. In the meantime, I'll throw myself on the bed, an' take a sleep, for I slept but little last night."
"Do so," replied Sarah; "but at any rate, never be cowed by a woman. Lie down, an' I'll go over awhile to Tom Cassidy's. But first, I had better make the poultice for your face, to take down the ugly swellin'."
Having made and applied the poultice, she went off, light-hearted as a lark, leaving her worthy father to seek some rest if he could.
She had no sooner disappeared than the prophet, having closed and bolted the door, walked backwards and forwards, in a moody and unsettled manner.
"What," he exclaimed to himself, "can be the matther with that woman, that made her look at me in sich a way a while agone? I could not mistake her eye. She surely knows more than I thought, or she would not fix her eye into mine as she did. Could there be anything in that dhrame about Dalton an' my coffin? Hut! that's nonsense. Many a dhrame I had that went for nothin'. The only thing she could stumble on is the Box, an' I don't think she would be likely to find that out, unless she went to throw down the house; but, anyhow, it's no harm to thry." He immediately mounted the old table, and, stretching up, searched the crevice in the wall where it had been, but, we need not add, in vain. He then came down again, in a state of dreadful alarm, and made a general search for it in every hole and corner visible, after, which his agitation became wild and excessive.
"She has got it!" he exclaimed—"she has stumbled on it, aided by the devil'—an' may she soon be in his clutches!—and it's the only thing I'm afeard of! But then," he added, pausing, and getting somewhat cool—"does she know it might be brought against me, or who owned it? I don't think she does; but still, where can it be, and what could she mane by Providence trackin' me out?—an' why did she look as if she: knew something? Then that dhrame I can't get it out o' my head this whole day—and the terrible one I had last night, too! But that last is aisily 'counted for. As it is, I must only wait, and watch her; and if I find she can be dangerous, why—it'll be worse for her—that's all!"
He then threw himself on the wretched bed, and, despite of his tumultuous reflections, soon fell asleep.
CHAPTER VI. — A Rustic Miser and His Establishment
There is to be found in Ireland, and, we presume, in all other countries, a class of hardened wretches, who look forward to a period of dearth as to one of great gain and advantage, and who contrive, by exercising the most heartless and diabolical principles, to make the sickness, famine, and general desolation which scourge their fellow-creatures, so many sources of successful extortion and rapacity, and consequently of gain to themselves. These are Country Misers or Money-lenders, who are remarkable for keeping meal until the arrival of what is termed a hard year, or a dear summer, when they sell it out at an enormous or usurious prices, and who, at all times, and under all circumstances, dispose of it only at terms dictated by their own griping spirit and the crying necessity of the unhappy purchasers.
The houses and places of such persons are always remarkable for a character in their owners of hard and severe saving, which at a first glance has the appearance of that rare virtue in our country, called frugality—a virtue which, upon a closer inspection, is found to be nothing with them but selfishness, sharpened up into the most unscrupulous avarice and penury.
About half a mile from the Sullivan's, lived a remarkable man of this class, named Darby Skinadre. In appearance he was lank and sallow, with a long, thin, parched looking face, and a miserable crop of yellow beard, which no one could pronounce as anything else than "a dead failure;" added to this were two piercing ferret eyes, always sore and with a tear standing in each, or trickling down his fleshless cheeks; so that, to persons disposed to judge only by appearances, he looked very like a man in a state of perpetual repentance for his transgressions, or, what was still farther from the truth, who felt a most Christian sympathy with the distresses of the poor. In his house, and about it, there was much, no doubt, to be commended, for there was much to mark the habits of the saving man. Everything was neat and clean, not so much from any innate love of neatness and cleanliness, as because these qualities were economical in themselves. His ploughs and farming implements were all snugly laid up, and covered, lest they might be injured by exposure to the weather; and his house was filled with large chests and wooden hogsheads, trampled hard with oatmeal, which, as they were never opened unless during a time of famine, had their joints and crevices festooned by innumerable mealy-looking cobwebs, which description of ornament extended to the dresser itself, where they might be seen upon most of the cold-looking shelves, and those neglected utensils, that in other families are mostly used for food. His haggard was also remarkable for having in it, throughout all the year, a remaining stack or two of oats or wheat, or perhaps one or two large ricks of hay, tanned by the sun of two or three summers into tawny hue—each or all kept in the hope of a failure and a famine.
In a room from the kitchen, he had a beam, a pair of scales, and a set of weights, all of which would have been vastly improved by a visit from the lord-mayor, had our meal-monger lived under the jurisdiction of that civic gentleman. He was seldom known to use metal weights when disposing of his property; in lieu of these he always used round stones, which, upon the principle of the Scottish proverb, that "many a little makes a muckle," he must have found a very beneficial mode of transacting business.
If anything could add to the iniquity of his principles, as a plausible but most unscrupulous cheat, it was the hypocritical prostitution of the sacred name and character of religion to his own fraudulent impositions upon the poor and the distressed. Outwardly, and to the eye of men, he was proverbially strict and scrupulous in the observation of its sanctions, but outrageously severe and unsparing upon all who appeared to be influenced either by a negligent or worldly spirit, or who omitted the least tittle of its forms. Religion and its duties, therefore, were perpetually in his mouth but never with such apparent zeal and sincerity as when enforcing his most heartless and hypocritical exactions upon the honest and struggling creatures whom necessity or neglect had driven into his meshes.
Such was Darby Skinadre; and certain we are that the truth of the likeness we have given of him will be at once recognized by our readers as that of the roguish hypocrite, whose rapacity is the standing curse of half the villages of the country, especially during the seasons of distress, or failure of crops.
Skinadre on the day we write of, was reaping a rich harvest from the miseries of the unhappy people. In a lower room of his house, to the right of the kitchen as you entered it, he stood over the scales, weighing out with a dishonest and parsimonious hand, the scanty pittance which poverty enabled the wretched creatures to purchase from him; and in order to give them a favorable impression of his piety, and consequently of his justice, he had placed against the wall a delf crucifix, with a semi-circular receptacle at the bottom of it for holding holy water This was as much as to say "how could I cheat you, with the image of our Blessed Redeemer before my eyes to remind me of my duty, and to teach me, as He did, to love my fellow-creatures?" And with many of; the simple people, he actually succeeded in making the impression he wished; for they could not conceive it possible, that any principle, however rapacious, could drive a man to the practice of such sacrilegious imposture.
There stood Skinadre, like the very Genius of Famine, surrounded by distress, raggedness, feeble hunger, and tottering disease, in all the various aspects of pitiable suffering, hopeless desolation, and that agony of the heart which impresses wildness upon the pale cheek, makes the eye at once dull and eager, parches the mouth and gives to the voice of misery tones that are hoarse and hollow. There he stood, striving to blend consolation with deceit, and in the name of religion and charity subjecting the helpless wretches to fraud and extortion. Around him was misery, multiplied into all her most appalling shapes. Fathers of families were there, who could read in each other's faces too truly the gloom and anguish that darkened the brow and wrung the heart. The strong man, who had been not long-before a comfortable farmer, now stood dejected and apparently broken down, shorn of his strength, without a trace of either hope or spirit; so wofully shrunk away too, from his superfluous apparel, that the spectators actually wondered to think that this was the large man, of such powerful frame, whose feats of strength had so often heretofore filled them with amazement. But, alas! what will not sickness and hunger do? There too was the aged man—the grand-sire himself—bent with a double weight of years and sorrow—without food until that late hour; forgetting the old pride that never stooped before, and now coming with, the last feeble argument, to remind the usurer that he and his father had been schoolfellows and friends, and that although he had refused to credit his son and afterwards his daughter-in-law, still, for the sake of old times, and of those who were now no more, he hoped he would not refuse his gray hairs and tears, and for the sake of the living God besides, that which would keep his son, and his daughter-in-law, and his famishing grandchildren, who had not a morsel to put in their mouths, nor the means of procuring it on earth—if he failed them.
And there was the widower, on behalf of his motherless children, coming with his worn and desolate look of sorrow, almost thankful to God that his Kathleen was not permitted to witness the many-shaped miseries of this woful year; and yet experiencing the sharp and bitter reflection that now, in all their trials—in his poor children's want and sickness—in their moanings by day and their cries for her by night, they have not the soft affection of her voice nor the tender touch of her hand to soothe their pain—nor has he that smile, which was ever his, to solace him now, nor that faithful heart to soothe him with its affection, or to cast its sweetness into the bitter cup of affliction. Alas! no; he knows that her heart will beat for him and them no more; that that eye of love will never smile upon them again; and so he feels the agony of her loss superadded to all his other sufferings, and in this state he approaches the merciless usurer.
And the widow—emblem of desolation and dependence—how shall she meet and battle with the calamities of this fearful season? She out of whose heart these very calamities draw forth the remembrances of him she has lost, with such vividness that his past virtues are added to her present sufferings; and his manly love as a husband—his tenderness as a parent—his protecting hand and ever kind heart, crush her solitary spirit by their memory, and drag it down to the utmost depths of affliction. Oh! bitter reflection!—"if her Owen wore now alive, and in health, she would not be here; but God took him to Himself, and now unless he—the miser—has compassion on her, she and her children—her Owen's children—must lie down and die! If it were not for their sakes, poor darlings, she would I wish to follow him out of such a world; but now she and the Almighty are all that they have to look to, blessed be His name!"
Others there were whose presence showed; how far the general destitution had gone into the heart of society, and visited many whose circumstances had been looked upon as beyond its reach. The decent farmer, for instance, whom no one had suspected of distress, made his appearance among them with an air of cheerfulness that was put on to baffle suspicion. Sometimes he laughed as if his heart were light, and again expressed a kind of condescending sympathy with some poor person or other, to whom he spoke kindly, as a man would do who knew nothing personally of the distress which he saw about him, but who wished to encourage those who did with the cheering hope that it must soon pass away. Then affecting the easy manner of one who was interesting himself for another person, he asked to have some private conversation with the usurer, to whom he communicated the immediate want that pressed upon him and his family.
It is impossible, however, to describe the various aspects and claims of misery which presented themselves at Skinadre's house. The poor people flitted to and fro silently and dejectedly, wasted, feeble, and sickly—sometimes in small groups of twos and threes, and sometimes a solitary individual might be seen hastening with earnest but languid speed, as if the life of some dear child or beloved parent, of a husband or wife, or perhaps, the lives of a whole farcify, depended upon his or her arrival with food.
CHAPTER VII. — A Panorama of Misery.
Skinadre, thin and mealy, with his coat off, but wearing a waistcoat to which were attached flannel sleeves, was busily engaged in his agreeable task of administering to their necessities. Such was his smoothness of manner, and the singular control which a long life of hypocrisy had given him over his feelings, that it was impossible to draw any correct distinction between that which he only assumed, and that which he really felt. This consequently gave him an immense advantage over every one with whom he came in contact, especially the artless and candid, and all who were in the habit of expressing what they thought. We shall, however, take the liberty of introducing him to the reader, and allow honest Skinadre to speak for himself.
"They're beggars—them three—that woman and her two children; still my heart bleeds for them, bekase we should love our neighbors as ourselves; but I have given away as much meal in charity, an' me can so badly afford it, as would—I can't now, indeed, my poor woman! Sick—troth they look sick, an' you look sick yourself. Here, Paddy Lenahan, help that woman an' her two poor children out of that half bushel of meal you've got; you won't miss a handful for God's sake."
This he said to a poor man who had just purchased some oat-meal from him; for Skinadre was one of those persons who, however he might have neglected works of mercy himself, took great delight in encouraging others to perform them.
"Troth it's not at your desire I do it, Darby," replied the man; "but bekase she an' they wants it, God help them. Here, poor creature, take this for the honor of God: an' I'm only sorry, for both our sakes, that I can't do more."
"Well, Jemmy Duggan," proceeded the miser, addressing a new-comer, "what's the news wid you? They're hard times, Jemmy; we all know that an' feel it too, and yet we live, most of us, as if there wasn't a God ta punish us."
"At all events," replied the man, "we feel what sufferin' is now, God help us! Between hunger and sickness, the counthry was never in such a state widin the memory of man, What, in the name o' God, will become of the poor people, I know not. The Lord pity them an' relieve them!"
"Amen, amen, Jemmy! Well, Jemmy, can I do any thing for you? But Jemmy, in regard to that, the thruth is, we have brought all these scourges on us by our sins and our transgressions; thim that sins, Jemmy, must suffer."
"There's no one denyin' it, Darby; but you're axin' me can you do any thing for me, an' my answer to that is, you can, if you like."
"Ah! Jemmy, you wor ever an' always a wild, heedless, heerum-skeerum rake, that never was likely to do much good; little religion ever rested on you, an' now I'm afeard no signs on it."
"Well, well, who's widout sin? I'm sure I'm not. What I want is, to know if you'll credit me for a hundred of meal till the times mends a trifle. I have the six o' them at home widout their dinner this day, an' must go widout if you refuse me. When the harvest comes round, I'll pay you."
"Jemmy, you owe three half-year's, rent; an' as for the harvest an' what it'll bring, only jist look at the day that's in it. It goes to my heart to refuse you, poor man; but Jemmy, you see you have brought this on yourself. If you had been an attentive, industrious man, an' minded your religion, you wouldn't be as you are now. Six you have at home, you say?"
"Ay, not to speak of the woman; an' myself. I know you won't, refuse them, Darby, bekase if we're hard pushed now, it's, a'most every body's case as well as mine. Be what I may, you know I'm honest."
"I don't doubt your honesty, Jemmy; but Jemmy, if I sell my meal to a man that can pay and won't, or if I sell my meal to a man that would pay and can't, by which do I lose most? There it is, Jemmy—think o' that now. Six in family, you say?"
"Six in family, wid the woman an' myself."
"The sorra man livin' feels more for you than I do, an' I would let you have the meal if I could; but the truth is, I'm makin' up my rent—an' Jemmy, I lost so much last year by my foolish good nature, an' I gave away so much on trust, that now I'm brought to a hard pass myself. Troth I'll fret enough this night for havin' to refuse you. I know it was rash of me to make the promise I did; but still, God forbid that ever any man should be able to throw it in my face, an' say that Darby Skinadre ever broke his promise."
"Why, never to sell a pound of meal on trust."
"God help us, then!—for what to do or where to go I don't know."
"It goes to my heart, Jemmy, to refuse you—six in family, an' the two of yourselves. Troth it does, to my very heart itself; but stay, maybe we may manage it. You have no money, you say?"
"No money now, but won't be so long, plaise God."
"Well, but haven't you value of any kind?—: sure, God help them, they can't starve, poor cratures—the Lord pity them!" Here he wiped away a drop of villainous rheum which ran down his cheek, and he did it with such an appearance of sympathy, that almost any one would have imagined it was a tear of compassion for the distresses of the poor man's family.
"Oh! no, they can't starve. Have you no valuables of any kind, Jemmy!—ne'er a baste now, or anything that way?"
"Why, there's a young heifer; but I'm strugglin' to keep it to help me in the rent. I was obliged to sell my pig long ago, for I had no way of feedin' it."
"Well, bring me the heifer, Jemmy, an' I won't let the crathurs starve. We'll see what can be done when it comes here. An' now, Jemmy, let me ax if you wint to hear mass on last Sunday?"
"Troth I didn't like to go in this trim. Peggy has a web of frieze half made this good while; it'll be finished some time, I hope."
"Ah! Jemmy, Jemmy, it's no wondher the world's the way it is, for indeed there's little thought of God or religion in it. You passed last Sunday like a haythen, an' now you see how you stand to-day for the same."
"You'll let me bring some o' the meal home wid me now," said the man; "the poor cratures tasted hardly anything to-day yet, an' they wor cryin' whin I left home. I'll come back wid the heifer fullfut. Troth they're in utther misery, Darby."
"Poor things!—an' no wondher, wid such a haythen of a father; but, Jemmy, bring the heifer here first till I look at it, an' the sooner you bring it here the sooner they'll have relief, the crathurs."
It is not our intention to follow up this iniquitous bargain any further; it is enough to say that the heifer passed from Jemmy's possession into his, at about the fourth part of its value.
To those who had money he was a perfect honey-comb, overflowing with kindness and affection, expressed in such a profusion of warm and sugary words, that it was next to an impossibility to doubt his sincerity.
"Darby," said a very young female, on whose face was blended equal beauty and sorrow, joined to an expression that was absolutely death-like, "I suppose I needn't ax you for credit?" He shook his head.
"It's for the couple," she added, "an' not for myself. I wouldn't ax it for myself. I know my fault, an' my sin, an' may God forgive myself in the first place, an' him that brought me to it, an' to the shame that followed it! But what would the ould couple do now widout me?"
"An' have you no money? Ah, Margaret Murtagh! sinful creature—shame, shame, Margaret. Unfortunate girl that you are, have you no money?"
"I have not, indeed; the death of my brother Alick left us as we are; he's gone from them now; but there was no fear of me goin' that wished to go. Oh, if God in His goodness to them had took me an' spared him, they wouldn't be sendin' to you this day for meal to keep life in them till things comes round."
"Troth I pity them—from my heart I pity them now they're helpless and ould—especially for havin' sich a daughter as you are; but if it was my own father an' mother, God rest them, I couldn't give meal out on credit. There's not in the parish a poorer man than I am. I'm done wid givin' credit now, thank goodness; an' if I had been so long ago, it isn't robbed, and ruined, an' beggared by rogues I'd be this day, but a warm, full man, able and willin' too to help my neighbors; an' it is not empty handed I'd send away any messenger from your father or mother, as I must do, although my heart bleeds for them this minute."
Here once more he wiped away the rheum, with every appearance of regret and sorrow. In fact, one would almost suppose that by long practice he had trained one of his eyes—for we ought to have said that there was one of them more sympathetic than the other—to shed its hypocritical tear at the right place, and in such a manner, too, that he might claim all the credit of participating in the very distresses which he refused to relieve, or by which he amassed his wealth.
The poor heart-broken looking girl, who by the way carried an unfortunate baby in her arms, literally tottered out of the room, sobbing bitterly, and with a look of misery and despair that it was woeful to contemplate.
"Ah, then, Harry Hacket," said he, passing to another, "how are you? an' how are you all over in Derrycloony, Harry? not forgettin' the ould couple?"
"Throth, middlin' only, Darby. My fine boy, Denis, is down wid this illness, an' I'm wantin' a barrel of meal from you till towards Christmas."
"Come inside, Harry, to this little nest here, till I tell you something; an', by the way, let your father know I've got a new prayer that he'll like to learn, for it's he that's the pious man, an' attinds to his duties—may God enable him! and every one that has the devotion in the right place; amin a Chiernah!"
He then brought Hacket into a little out-shot behind the room in which the scales were, and shutting the door, thus proceeded in a sweet, confidential kind of whisper—
"You see, Harry, what I'm goin' to say to you is what I'd not say to e'er another in the parish, the divil a one—God pardon me for swearin'—amin a Chiernah! I'm ruined all out—smashed down and broke horse and foot; there's the Slevins that wint to America, an' I lost more than thirty pounds by them."
"I thought," replied Hacket, "they paid you before they went; they were always a daicent and an honest family, an' I never heard any one speak an ill word o' them."
"Not a penny, Harry."
"That's odd, then, bekaise it was only Sunday three weeks, that Murty Slevin, their cousin, if you remember, made you acknowledge that they paid you, at the chapel green."
"Ay, an' I do acknowledge; bekaise, Harry, one may as well spake charitably of the absent as not; it's only in private to you that I'm lettin' out the truth."
"Well, well," exclaimed the other, rather impatiently, "what have they to do wid us?"
"Ay, have they; it was what I lost by them an' others—see now, don't be gettin' onpatient, I bid you—time enough for that when you're refused—that prevints me from bein' able to give credit as I'd wish. I'm not refusin' you, Harry; but achora, listen; you'll bring your bill at two months, only I must charge you a trifle for trust, for chances, or profit an' loss, as the schoolmasther says; but you're to keep it a saicret from livin' mortal, bekaise if it 'ud get known in these times that I'd do sich a thing, I'd have the very flesh ait off o' my bones by others wantin' the same thing; bring me the bill, then, Harry, an' I'll fill it up myself, only be dhe husth (* hold your tongue) about it."
Necessity forces those who are distressed to comply with many a rapacious condition of the kind, and the consequence was that Hacket did what the pressure of the time compelled him to do, passed his bill to Skinadre, at a most usurious price, for the food which was so necessary to his family.
It is surprising how closely the low rustic extortioner and the city usurer upon a larger scale resemble each other in the expression of their sentiments, in their habits of business, their plausibility, natural tact, and especially, in that hardness of heart and utter want of all human pity and sympathy, upon which the success of their black arts of usury and extortion essentially depends. With extortion in all its forms Skinadre, for instance, was familiar. From those who were poor but honest, he got a bill such as he exacted from Hacket, because he knew that, cost what it might to them, he was safe in their integrity. If dishonest, he still got a bill and relied upon the law and its cruel list of harassing and fraudulent expenses for security. From others he got property of all descriptions; from some, butter, yarn, a piece of frieze, a pig, a cow, or a heifer. In fact, nothing that possessed value came wrong to him, so that it is impossible to describe adequately the web of mischief which this blood-sucking old spider contrived to spread around him, especially for those whom he knew to be too poor to avail themselves of a remedy against his villany.
"Molly Cassidy, how are you?" he said, addressing a poor looking woman who carried a parcel of some description rolled up under her cloak; "how are all the family, achora?"
"Glory be to God for it, they can scarcely be worse;" replied the woman, in that spirit of simple piety and veneration for the Deity, which in all their misery characterizes the Irish people; "but sure we're only sufferin' like others, an' indeed not so bad as many; there's Mick Kelly has lost his fine boy Lanty; and his other son, young Mick, isn't expected to live, an' all wid this sickness, that was brought on them, as it is everywhere, wid bad feedin'."
"They're miserable times, Molly, at least I find them so; for I dunna how it happens, but every one's disappointment falls upon me, till they have me a'most out of house an' home—throth it 'ud be no wondher I'd get hard-hearted some day wid the way I'm thrated an' robbed by every one; aye, indeed, bekase I'm good-natured, they play upon me."
The poor creature gave a faint smile, for she knew the man's character thoroughly.
"I have a dish of butther here, Darby," she said, "an' I want meal instead of it."
"Butther, Molly; why thin, Molly, sure it isn't to me you're bringing butther—me that has so much of it lyin' on my hands here already. Sure, any way, it's down to dirt since the wars is over—butther is; if it was anything else but butther, Molly: but—it's of no use; I've too much of it."
"The sorra other thing I have, thin, Mr. Skinadre; but sure you had betther look at it, an' you'll find it's what butther ought to be, firm, claine, and sweet."
"I can't take it, achora; there's no market for it now."
"Here, as we're distressed, take it for sixpence a pound, and that's the lowest price—God knows, if we wern't as we are, it isn't for that you'd get it."
"Troth, I dar' say, you're ill off—as who isn't in these times? an' it's worse they're gettin' an' will be gettin' every day. Troth, I say, my heart bleeds for you; but we can't dale; oh, no! butther, as I said, is only dirt now."
"For God's sake, thin," exclaimed the alarmed creature, "take it for whatever you like."
"It 'ud go hard wid me to see your poor family in a state of outther want," he replied, "an' it's not in my nature to be harsh to a struggling person—-so whether I lose or gain, I'll allow you three-pence a pound for it."
A shade of bitterness came across her features at this iniquitous proposal; but she felt the truth of that old adage in all its severity, that necessity has no law.
"God help us," she exclaimed—"threepence a pound for such butther as this!—however, it's the will of God sure, an' it can't be helped—take it."
"Ay, it's aisy said, take it; but not to say what'll I do wid it, when I have it; however, that's the man I am, an' I know how it'll end wid me—sarvin' every one, workin' for every one, an' thinkin' of every one but myself, an' little thanks or gratitude for all—I know I'm not fit for sich a world—but still it's a consolation to be doin' good to our fellow-creatures when we can, an' that's what lightens my heart."
A woman now entered, whose appearance excited general sympathy, as was evident from the subdued murmurs of compassion which were breathed from the persons assembled, as soon as she entered the room. There was something about her which, in spite of her thin and worn dress, intimated a consciousness of a position either then or at some previous time, above that of the common description of farmer's wives. No one could mistake her for a highly-educated woman—but there was in her appearance that decency of manner resulting from habits of independence and from moral feeling, which at a first glance, whether it be accompanied by superior dress or not, indicates something which is felt to entitle its proprietor to unquestionable respect. The miser, when she entered, had been putting away the dish of butter into the outshot we have mentioned, so that he had not yet an opportunity of seeing her, and, ere he returned to the scales, another female possessing probably not less interest to the reader, presented herself—this was Mave or Mabel, the young and beautiful daughter of the pious and hospitable Jerry Sullivan.
Skinadre on perceiving the matron who preceded her, paused for a moment, and looked at her with a wince in his thin features that might be taken for an indication of either pleasure or pain. He' closed the sympathetic eye, and wiped it—but this not seeming to satisfy him, he then closed both, and blew his nose with a little skeleton mealy handkerchief that lay on a sack beside him for that purpose.
"Hem—a-hem! why, thin, Mrs. Dalton, it isn't to my poor place I expected you would come."
"Darby," she replied, "there is no use for any length of conversation between you and me—I'm here contrary to the wishes of my family—but I am a mother, and cannot look upon their destitution without feeling that I should not allow my pride to stand between them and death: we are starving, I mean—they are; and I'm come to ask you for credit; if we are ever able to pay you, we will; if not, it's only one good act done to a family that often did many to you when they thought you grateful."
"I'm the worst in the world—I'm the worst in the world," replied Skinadre; "but it wasn't till I knew that you'd be put out o' your farm that I offered for it, and now you've taken away my carrecther, an' spoken ill o' me everywhere, an' said that I bid for it over your heads; ay, indeed, an' that it was your husband that set me up, by the way—oh, yes—an' supposin' it was, an' I'm not denyin' it, but is that any raisin that I'd not bid for a good farm, when I knew that yez 'ud be put out of it?"
"I am now spakin' about the distress of our family," said Mrs. Dalton, "you know that sickness has been among us, and is among us—poor Tom is just able to be up, but that's all."
"Troth, an' it 'ud be well for you all, an' for himself too, that he had been taken away afore he comes in a bad end. What he will come too, if God hasn't said it. I hope he feels the affliction he brought on poor Ned Munay an' his family by the hand he made of his unfortunate daughter."
"He does feel it. The death of her brother and their situation has touched his heart, an' he's only waitin' for better health and better times to do her justice; but now what answer do you give me?"
"Why, this: I'm harrished by what I've done for every one; an'—an'—the short and the long of it is, that I've naither male nor money to throw away. I couldn't afford it and I can't. I'm a rogue, Mrs. Dalton—a miser, an extortioner, an ungrateful knave, and everything that is bad an' worse than another; an' for that raison, I say, I have naither male nor money to throw away. That's what I'd say if I was angry; but I'm not angry. I do feel for you an' them; still I can't afford to do what you want, or I'd do it, for I like to do good for evil, bad as I am. I'm strivin' to make up my rent an' to pay an unlucky bill that I have due to-morrow, and doesn't know where the money's to come from to meet both."
"Mave Sullivan, achora, what can I—"
Mrs. Dalton, from her position in the room, could not have noticed the presence of Mave Sullivan, but even had she been placed otherwise, it would have been somewhat difficult to get a glimpse of the young creature's face. Deeply did she participate in the sympathy which was felt for the mother of her mother, and so naturally delicate were her feelings, that she had drawn up the hood of her cloak, lest the other might have felt the humiliation to which Mave's presence must have exposed her by the acknowledgment of her distress. Neither was this all the gentle and generous girl had to suffer. She experienced, in her own person, as well as Mrs. Dalton did, the painful sense of degradation which necessity occasions, by a violation of that hereditary spirit of decent pride and independence which the people consider as the prestige of high respect, and which, even while it excites compassion and sympathy, is looked upon, to a certain extent, as diminished by even a temporary visitation of poverty. When the meal-man, therefore, addressed her, she unconsciously threw the hood of her cloak back, and disclosed to the spectators a face burning with blushes and eyes filled with tears. The tears, however, were for the distress of Mrs. Dalton and her family, and the blushes for the painful circumstances which compelled her at once to witness them, and to expose those which were left under her own careworn father's roof. Mrs. Dalton, however, on looking round and perceiving what seemed to be an ebullition merely of natural shame, went over to her with a calm but mournful manner that amounted almost to dignity.
"Dear Mave," she said, "there is nothing here to be ashamed of. God forbid that the struggle of an honest family with poverty should bring a blot upon either your good name or mine. It does not, nor it will not: so dry your tears, my darlin' girl; there are better times before us all, I trust. Darby Skinadre," she added, turning to the miser, "you are both hard-hearted and ungrateful, or you would remember, in our distress, the kindness we showed you in yours. If you can cleanse your conscience from the stain of ingratitude, it must be by a change of life."
"Whatever stain there may be on my ungrateful conscience," he replied, turning up his red eyes, as it were with thanksgiving, "there's not the stain of blood and murdher on it—that's one comfort."
Mrs. Dalton did not seem to hear him, neither did she seem to look in the direction of where he stood. As the words were uttered she had been in the act of extending her hand to Mave Sullivan, who had hers stretched out to receive it. There now occurred, however, a mutual pause. Her hand was withdrawn, as was that of Mave also, who had suddenly become pale as death.
"God bless you, my darlin' girl!" exclaimed Mrs. Dalton, sighing, as if with some hidden sorrow; "God bless you and yours, prays my unhappy heart this day!"
And with these words she was about to depart, when Mave, trembling and much agitated, laid her hand gently and timidly upon her,—adding, in a low, sweet, tremulous voice,
"My heart is free from that suspicion—I can't tell why—but I don't believe it."
And while she spoke, her small hand gradually caught that of Mrs. Dalton, as a proof that she would not withhold the embrace on that account. Mrs. Dalton returned her pressure, and at the same moment kissed the fair girl's lips, who sobbed a moment or two in her arms, where she threw herself. The other again invoked a blessing upon her head, and walked out, having wiped a few tears from her pale cheeks.
The miser looked upon this exhibition of feeling with some surprise; but as his was not a heart susceptible of the impressions it was calculated to produce, he only said in a tone of indifference:
"Well, to be sure now, Mave, I didn't expect to see you shakin' hands wid and kissin' Condy Dalton's wife, at any rate, considerin' all that has happened atween the families. However, it's good to be forgivin'; I hope it is; indeed I know that; for it comes almost to a feelin' in myself. Well, achora, what am I to do for you?"
"Will you let me speak to you inside a minute?" she asked.
"Will I? Why, then, to be sure I will; an' who knows but it's my daughter-in-law I might have you yet, avillish! Yourself and Darby's jist about an age. Come inside, ahagur."
Their dialogue was not of very long duration. Skinadre, on returning to the scales, weighed two equal portions of oatmeal, for one of which Mave paid him.
"I will either come or send for this," she said laying her hand on the one for which she had paid. "If I send any one, I'll give the token I mentioned."
"Very well, a suchar—very well," he replied; "it's for nobody livin' but yourself I'd do it; but sure, now that I must begin to coort you for Darby, it won't be aisy to refuse you for anything in raison."
"Mind, then," she observed, as she seized one of the portions, in order to proceed home; "mind," said she, laying her hand upon that which she was leaving behind her; "mind it's for this one I have paid you."
"Very well, achora, it makes no difference; sure a kiss o' them red, purty lips o' yours to Darby will pay the inthrest for all."
Two other females now made their appearance, one with whom our readers are already acquainted. This was no other than the prophet's wife, who had for her companion a woman whom neither she herself nor any one present knew.
"Mave Sullivan, darlin'," exclaimed the former, "I'm glad to see you. Are you goin' home, now?"
"I am, Nelly," replied Mave, "jist on my step."
"Well, thin, if you stop a minute or two, I'll be part o' the way wid you. I have somethin' to mention as we go along."
"Very well, then," replied Mave; "make as much haste as you can, Nelly, for I'm in a hurry;" and an expression of melancholy settled upon her countenance as she spoke.
The stranger was a tall thin woman, much about the age and height of the prophet's 'wife, but neither so lusty nor so vigorous in appearance, She was but indifferently dressed, and though her features had evidently been handsome in her younger days, yet there was now a thin, shrewish expression about the nose, and a sharpness about the compressed lips, and those curves which bounded in her mouth, that betokened much firmness if not obstinancy in her character, joined to a look which might as well be considered an indication of trial and suffering, as of a temper naturally none of the best.
On hearing Mave Sullivan's name mentioned, she started, and looked at her keenly, and for a considerable time; after which she asked for a drink of water, which she got in the kitchen, where she sat, as it seemed to rest a little.
Nelly, in the meantime, put her hand in a red, three-cornered pocket that hung by her side, and pulling out a piece of writing, presented it to the meal man. That worthy gentleman, on casting his eye over it, read as follows:
"Dear Skinadre: Give Daniel M'Gowan, otherwise the Black Prophet, any quantity of meal necessary for his own family, which please charge, (and you know why,) to your friend,
"Dick o' the Grange, Jun."
Skinadre's face, on perusing this document, was that of a man who felt himself pulled in different directions by something at once mortifying and pleasant. He smiled at first, then bit his lips, winked one eye, then another; looked at the prophet's wife with complacency, but immediately checked himself, and began to look keen and peevish. This, however, appeared to be an error on the other side; and the consequence was, that, after some comical alterations, his countenance settled down into its usual expression.
"Troth," said he, "that same Dick o' the Grange, as he calls himself, is a quare young gintleman; as much male as you want—a quare, mad—your family's small, I think?"
"But sharp an' active," she replied, with a hard smile, as of one who cared not for the mirth she made, "as far as we go."
"Ay," said he, abruptly, "divil a much—God pardon me for swearin'—ever they wor for good that had a large appetite. It's a bad sign of either man or woman. There never was a villain hanged yet that didn't ait more to his last breakfast than ever he did at a meal in his life before. How-an-ever, one may as well have a friend; so I suppose, we must give you a thrifle."
When her portion was weighed out, she and Mave Sullivan left this scene of extortion together, followed by the strange woman, who seemed, as it were, to watch their motions, or at least to feel some particular interest in them.
He had again resumed his place at the scales, and was about to proceed in his exactions, when the door opened, and a powerful young man, tall, big boned and broad shouldered, entered the room, leading or rather dragging with him the poor young-woman and her child, who had just left the place in such bitterness and affliction. He was singularly handsome, and of such resolute and manly bearing, that it was impossible not to mark him as a person calculated to impress one with a strong anxiety to know who and what he might be. On this occasion his cheek was blanched and his eye emitted a turbid fire, which could scarcely be determined as that of indignation or illness.
"Is it thrue," he asked, "that you've dared to refuse to this—this—unfor—is it thrue that you've dared to refuse this girl and her starvin' father and mother the meal she wanted? Is this thrue, you hard-hearted ould scoundrel?—bekaise if it is, by the blessed sky above us, I'll pull the wind-pipe out of you, you infernal miser!"
He seized unfortunate Skinadre by the neck, as he spoke, and almost at the same moment forced him to project his tongue about three inches out of his mouth, causing his face at the same time to assume, by the violence of the act, an expression of such comic distress and terror, as it was difficult to look upon with gravity.
"Is it thrue," he repeated, in a voice of thunder, "that you've dared to do so scoundrelly an act, an' she, the unfortunate creature, famishing wid hunger herself?"
While he spake, he held Skinadre's neck as if in a vice—firm in the same position—and the latter, of course, could do nothing more than turn his ferret eyes round as well as he could, to entreat him to relax his grip.
"Don't choke him, Tom," exclaimed Hacket, who came forward, to interpose; "you'll strangle him; as Heaven's above, you will."
"An' what great crime would that be?" answered the other, relaxing his awful grip of the miser. "Isn't he an' every cursed meal-monger like him a curse and a scourge to the counthry—and hasn't the same counthry curses and scourges enough widhout either him or them? Answer me now," he proceeded, turning to Skinadre, "why did you send her away widout the food she wanted?"
"My heart bled for her; but—"
"It's a lie, you born hypocrite—it's a lie—your heart never bled for anything, or anybody."
"But you don't know," replied the miser, "what I lost by—"
"It's a lie, I say," thundered out the gigantic young fellow, once more seizing the unfortunate meal-monger by the throat, when out again went his tongue, like a piece of machinery touched by a spring, and again were the red eyes now almost starting out of his head, turned round, whilst he himself was in a state of suffocation, that rendered his appearance ludicrous beyond description—"it's a lie, I say, for you have neither thruth nor heart—that's what we all know."
"For Heaven's sake, let the man go," said Hacket, "or you'll have his death to answer for "—and as he spoke he attempted to unclasp the young man's grip; "Tom Dalton, I say, let the man go."
Dalton, who was elder brother to the lover of Mave Sullivan, seized Hacket with one of his hands, and spun him like a child to the other end of the room.
"Keep away," he exclaimed, "till I settle wid him—here now, Skinadre, listen to me—you refused my father credit when we wanted it, although you knew we were honest—you refused him credit when we were turned out of our place, although you knew the sickness was among us—well, you know whether we that wor your friends, an'—my father at least—the makin' of you"—and as he spoke, he accompanied every third word by a shake or two, as a kind of running commentary upon what he said; "ay—you did—you knew it well, and I could bear all that; but I can't bear you to turn this unfortunate girl out of your place, widout what she wants, and she's sinkin' wid hunger herself. If she's in distress, 'twas I that brought her to it, an' to shame an' to sorrow too—but I'll set all right for you yet, Margaret dear—an' no one has a betther right to spake for her."
"Tom," said the young woman, with a feeble voice, "for the love of God let him go or he'll drop."
"Not," replied Dalton, "till he gives you what you come for. Come now," he proceeded, addressing the miser, "weigh her. How much will you be able to carry, Margaret?"
"Oh, never mind, now, Tom," she replied, "I don't want any, it's the ould people at home—it's them—it's them."
"Weigh her out," continued the other, furiously; "weigh her out a stone of meal, or by all the lies that ever came from your lips, I'll squeeze the breath out of your body, you deceitful ould hypocrite."
"I will," said the miser, panting, and adjusting his string of a cravat, "I will, Tom; here, I ain't able, weigh it yourself—I'm not—indeed I'm not able," said he, breathless; "an' I was thinkin when you came in of sendin' afther her, bekase, when I heard of the sickness among them, that I mayn't sin, but I found my heart bleedin' inwar—"
Tom's clutches were again at his throat. "Another lie," he exclaimed, "and you'r a gone man. Do what I bid you."
Skinadre appeared, in point of fact, unable to do so, and Dalton seeing this, weighed the unhappy young woman a stone of oatmeal, which, on finding it too heavy for her feeble strength, he was about to take up himself when he put his hands to his temples, then staggered and fell.
They immediately gathered about him to ascertain the cause of this sudden attack, when it appeared that he had become insensible. His brow was now pale and cold as marble, and a slight dew lay upon his broad forehead; his shirt was open, and exposed to view a neck and breast, which, although sadly wasted, were of surpassing whiteness and great manly beauty.
Margaret, on seeing him fall, instantly placed her baby in the hands of another woman, and flying to him, raised his head and laid it upon her bosom; whilst the miser, who had now recovered, shook his head, lifted his hands, and looked as if he felt that his house was undergoing pollution. In the meantime, the young woman bent her mouth down to his ear, and said, in tones that were wild and hollow, and that had more of despair than even of sorrow in them—
"Tom, oh, Tom, are you gone?—hear me!"
But he replied not to her. "Ah! there was a day," she added, looking with a mournful smile around, "when he loved to listen to my voice; but that day has passed forever."
He opened his eyes as she spoke; hers were fixed upon him. He felt a few warm tears upon his face, and she exclaimed in a low voice, not designed for other ears—
"I forgive you all, Tom, dear—I forgive you all!"
He looked at her, and starting to his feet, exclaimed—
"Margaret, my own Margaret, hear me! She is dyin'," he shouted, in a hoarse and excited voice—"she is dyin' with want. I see it all. She's dead!"
It was too true; the unhappy girl had passed into another life; but, whether from a broken heart, caused by sin, shame, and desertion, or from famine and the pressure of general destitution and distress, could never properly be ascertained.
"I see!" exclaimed Dalton, his eyes again blazing, and his voice hollow with emotion—"I see—there she lies; and who brought her to that? But I intended to set all right. Ay—there she lies. An' again, how are we at home? Brought low down, down to a mud cabin! Now, Dick o' the Grange, an' now, Darby Skinadre—now for revenge. The time is come. I'll take my place at the head of them, and what's to be done, must be done. Margaret Murtagh, you're lying dead before me, and by the broken heart you died of—"
He could add no more; but with these words, tottering and frantic, he rushed out of the miser's house.
"Wid the help o' God, the young savage is as mad as a March hare," observed Skinadre, coolly; "but, as it's all over wid the unfortunate crature, I don't see why an honest man should lose his own, at any rate."
Whilst uttering these words, he seized the meal, and deliberately emptied it back into the chest from which young Dalton had taken it.
CHAPTER VIII. — A Middle Man and Magistrate—Master and Man.
Having mentioned a strange woman who made her appearance at Skinadre's, it may be necessary, or, at least, agreeable to the reader, that we should account for her presence under the roof of that worthy individual, especially as she is likely to perform a part of some interest in our tale. We have said already that she started on hearing Mave Sullivan's name mentioned, and followed her and the Black Prophet's wife like a person who watched their motions, and seemed to feel some peculiar interest in either one or both. The reader must return, then, to the Grey Stone already alluded to, which to some of the characters in our narrative will probably prove to be a "stone of destiny."
Hanlon, having departed from Sarah M'Gowan in a state of excitement, wended his way along a lonely and dreary road, to the residence of his master, Dick o' the Grange. The storm had increased, and was still increasing at every successive blast, until it rose to what might be termed a tempest. It is, indeed, a difficult thing to describe the peculiar state of his feelings as he struggled onwards, sometimes blown back to a stand-still, and again driven forward by the gloomy and capricious tyranny of the blast, as if he were its mere plaything. In spite, however, of the conflict of the external elements as they careered over the country around him, he could not shake from his imagination the impression left there by the groan which he had heard at the Grey Stone. A supernatural terror, therefore, was upon him, and he felt as if he were in the presence of an accompanying spirit—of a spirit that seemed anxious to disclose the fact that murder would not rest; and so strongly did this impression gain upon him, that in the fitful howling of the storm, and in its wild wailing and dying sobs among the trees and hedges, as he went along, he thought he could distinguish sounds that belonged not to this life. Still he proceeded, his terrors thus translating, as it were, the noisy conflict of the elements into the voices of the dead, or thanking Heaven that the strong winds brought him to a calmer sense of his position, by the necessity that they imposed of preserving himself against their violence. In this anomalous state he advanced, until he came to a grove of old beeches that grew at the foot of one of the hill-ranges we have described, and here the noises he heard were not calculated to diminish his terrors. As the huge trees were tossed and swung about in the gloomy moonlight, his ears were assailed by a variety of wild sounds which had never reached them before. The deep and repeated crashes of the tempest, as it raged among them, was accompanied by a frightful repetition of hoarse moanings, muffled groans, and wild unearthly shrieks, which encountered him from a thousand quarters in the grove, and he began to feel that horrible excitement which is known to be occasioned by the mere transition from extreme cowardice to reckless indifference.
Still he advanced homewards, repeating his prayers with singular energy, his head uncovered notwithstanding the severity of the night, and the rain pouring in torrents upon him, when he found it necessary to cross a level of rough land, at all times damp and marshy, but in consequence of the rains of the season, now a perfect morass. Over this he had advanced about half a mile, and got beyond the frightful noises of the woods, when some large object rose into the air from a clump of plashy rushes before him, and shot along the blast, uttering a booming sound, so loud and stunning that he stood riveted to the earth. The noise resembled that which sometimes proceeds from a humming-top, if a person could suppose one made upon such a gigantic scale as to produce the deep and hollow buzz which this being emitted. Nothing could now convince him that he was not surrounded by spirits, and he felt confident that the voice of undiscovered murder was groaning on the blast—shrieking, as it were, for vengeance in the terrible voice of the tempest. He once more blessed himself, repeated a fresh prayer, and struggled forward, weak, and nearly exhausted, until at length he reached the village adjoining which his master, Dick o' the Grange, resided.
The winds now, and for some minutes previously, had begun to fall, and the lulls in the storm were calmer and more frequent, as well as longer in duration. Hanlon proceeded to his master's, and peering through the shutters, discovered that the servants had not yet retired to rest; then bending his steps further up the village, he soon reached a small isolated cabin, at the door of which he knocked, and in due time was admitted by a thin, tall female.
"God protect us, dear, you're lost!—blessed father, sich a night! Oh! my, my! Well, well; sit near the spark o' fire, sich as it is; but, indeed, it's little you'll benefit by it. Any way, sit down."
Hanlon sat on a stool, and laying his hat beside him on the floor, he pressed the rain as well as he could out of his drenched hair, and for some time did not speak, whilst the female, squatted upon the ground, somewhat like a hare in her form, sat with the candle in her hand, which she held up in the direction of his face, whilst her eyes were riveted on him with a look of earnest and solemn inquiry.
"Well," she at length said, "did your journey end, as I tould you it would, in nothing? And yet, God presarve me, you look—eh!—what has happened?—you look like one that was terrified, sure enough. Tell me, at wanst, did the dhrame come out thrue?"
"I'll not have a light heart this many a day," he replied; "let no one say there's not a Providence above us to bring murdher to light."
"God of glory be about us!" she exclaimed, interrupting him; "something has happened! Your looks would frighten one, an' your voice isn't like the voice of a livin' man. Tell me—and yet, for all so curious as I feel, I'm thremblin' this minute—but tell me, did the dhrame come out thrue, I say?"
"The dhrame came out thrue," he replied, solemnly. "I know where the tobaccy box is that he had about him; the same that transported my poor uncle, or that was partly the means of doin' it."
The woman crossed herself, muttered a short ejaculatory prayer, and again gathered her whole features into an expression of mingled awe and curiosity.
"Did you go to the place you dhramed of?" she asked.
"I went to the Grey Stone," he replied, "an' offered up a prayer for his sowl, afther puttin' my right hand upon it in his name, jist as I did on yesterday; afther I got an account of the tobaccy box, I heard a groan at the spot—as heaven's above me, I did."
"Savior of earth, gluntho shin!"
"But that wasn't all. On my way home, I heard, as I was passin' the ould trees at the Rabbit Bank, things that I can't find words to tell you of."
"Well acushla, glory be to God for everything! it's all his will, blessed be his name! What did you hear, avick?—but wait till I throw a drop o' the holy wather that I have hangin' in the little bottle at the bed-post upon us."
She rose whilst speaking and getting the bottle alluded to, sprinkled both herself and him, after which she hung it up again in its former position.
"There, now, nothin' harmful, at any rate, can come near us afther that, blessed be his name. Well, what did you hear comin' home?—I mean at the Rabbit Bank. Wurrah," she added, shuddering, "but it's it that's the lonely spot after night! What was it, dear?"
"Indeed, I can scarcely tell you—sich groans, an' wild shoutins, an' shrieks, man's ears never hard in this world, I think; there I hard them as I was comin' past the trees, an' afther I passed them; an' when I left them far behind me, I could hear, every now and then, a wild shriek that made my blood run cowld. But there was still worse as I crossed the Black Park; something got up into the air out o' the rushes before me, an' went off wid a noise not unlike what Jerry Hamilton of the Band makes when he rubs his middle finger up against the tamborine."
"Heaven be about us!" she exclaimed, once more crossing herself, and uttering a short prayer for protection from evil; "but tell me, how did you know it was his Box, and how did you find it out?"
"By the letters P. M., and the broken hinge," he replied.
"Blessed be the name of God!" she exclaimed again—"He won't let the murdher lie, that's clear. But what I want to know is, how did your goin' to the Grey Stone bring you to the knowledge of the box?"
He then gave her a more detailed account of his conversation with Sarah M'Gowan, and the singular turn which it chanced to take towards the subject of the handkerchief, in the first instance; but when the coincidence of the letters were mentioned, together with Sarah's admission that she had the box in her possession, she clasped her hands, and looking upwards exclaimed—
"Blessed be the name of the Almighty for that! Oh, I feel there is no doubt now the hand of God is in it, an' we'll come at the murdher or the murdherers yet."
"I hope so," he replied; "but I'm lost Wid wet an' cowld; so in the meantime I'll be off home, an' to my bed. I had something to say to you about another matther, but I'll wait till mornin'; dear knows, I'm in no condition to spake about anything else to-night. This is a snug little cabin; but, plaise God, in the coorse of a week or so, I'll have you more comfortable than you are. If my own throuble was over me, I wouldn't stop long in the neighborhood; but as the hand of God seems to be in this business, I can't think of goin' till it's cleared up, as cleared up it will be, I have no doubt, an' can have none, afther what has happened this awful night."
Hanlon's situation with his master was one with which many of our readers are, no doubt, well acquainted. He himself was a clever, active, ingenious fellow, who could, as they say in the country, put a hand to anything, and make himself useful in a great variety of employments. He had in the spring of that year, been engaged as a common laborer by Dick o' the Grange, in which capacity he soon attracted his employer's notice, by his extraordinary skill in almost everything pertaining to that worthy gentleman's establishment. It is true he was a stranger in the country, of whom nobody knew anything—for there appeared to be some mystery about him; but as Dick cared little of either his place of birth or pedigree, it was sufficient for him to find that Hanlon was a very useful, not to say valuable young man, about his house, that he understood everything, and had an eye and hand equally quick and experienced. The consequence was, that he soon became a favorite with the father, and a kind of sine qua non with the son, into whose rustic gallantries he entered, with a spirit that satisfied the latter of his capacity to serve him in that respect as well as others. Hanlon, in truth, was just the person for such a master, and for such an establishment as he kept. Dick o' the Grange was not a man who, either by birth, education, or position in society, could entertain any pretensions to rank with the gentry of the surrounding country. It is true he was a magistrate, but then he was a middleman, and as such found himself an interested agent in the operation of one of the worst and most cruel systems that ever cursed either the country or the people. We of course mean that which suffered a third party to stand between the head landlord, and those who in general occupied the soil. Of this system, it may be with truth said, that the iniquity lay rather in the principal on which it rested, than in the individual who administered it; because it was next to an impossibility that a man anxious to aggrandize his family—as almost every man is—could, in the exercise of the habits which enable him to do so, avoid such a pressure upon those who were under him as amounted to great hardships and injustice. The system held out so many temptations to iniquity in the management of land, and in the remuneration of labor, that it required an amount of personal virtue and self-denial to resist them, that were scarcely to be expected from any one, so difficult was it to overlook or neglect the opportunities for oppression and fraud which it thus offered.
Old Dick, although bearing the character of being a violent and outrageous man, was, however, one of those persons of whom there will be always somebody found to speak favorably. Hot and ungovernable in temper, he unquestionably was, and capable of savage and cruel acts; but at the same time his capricious and unsteady impulses rendered him uncertain, whether for good or evil; so much so, indeed, that it was impossible to know when to ask him for a favor; nor was it extraordinary to find him a friend this day to the man whose avowed enemy he proclaimed himself yesterday; and this same point of character was true the other way—-for whilst certain that you had him for a friend, perhaps you found him hard at work to oppress or over-reach you if he could. The consequence of this peculiarity was that he had a two-fold reputation in the country. Some were found to abuse him, and others to mention many acts of generosity and kindness which he had been known to perform under circumstances where they were least to be expected. This perhaps was one reason why they made so strong an impression upon the people, and were so distinctly remembered to his advantage. It is true he was a violent party man, but then he wanted coolness to adjust his principles, and thus make them subservient to his private interests. For this reason, notwithstanding his strong and out-spoken prejudices, it was a well know fact, that the Roman Catholic population preferred him as a magistrate to many who were remarkable for a more equal and even tenor of life, and in whom, under greater plausibility of manner, there existed something which they would have readily exchanged for his violent abuse of them and their creed.
Such was Dick o' the Grange, a man who, as a middleman and a magistrate, stood out a prominent representative of a class that impressed themselves strongly upon their times, and who, whether as regards their position or office, would not find at the present day in the ranks of any party in Ireland a single man who could come forward and say they were not an oppressive evil to the country.
Dick o' the Grange, at this period of our narrative, was far advanced in years, and had, some time past, begun to feel what is known in men who have led a hard convivial life, as that breaking down of the constitution, which is generally the forerunner of dissolution. On this account he had for some time past resigned the management of his property altogether to his son, young Dick, who was certainly wild and unreflecting, but neither so impulsively generous, nor so habitually violent as his father. The estimate of his character which went abroad was such as might be expected—many thought him better than the old man. He was the youngest son and a favorite—two circumstances which probably occasioned his education to be neglected, as it had been. All his sisters and brothers having been for some years married and settled in life, he, and his father, who was a widower, kept a bachelor's house, where we regret to say the parental surveillance over his morals was not so strict as it ought to have been. Young Dick was handsome, and so exceedingly vain of his person, that any one wishing to gain a favor either from himself or his worthy sire, had little more to do than dexterously apply a strong dose of flattery to this his weakest point, and the favor was sure to be granted, for his influence over old Dick was boundless.
In this family, then, it was that Hanlon held the situation we have described—that is, partly a gardener, and partly a steward, and partly a laboring man. There was a rude and riotous character in and about Dick's whole place, which marked it at once as the property of a person below the character of a gentleman. Abundance there was, and great wealth; but neither elegance nor neatness marked the house or furniture. His servants partook of the same equivocal appearance, as did the father and son, and the "Grange" in general; but, above all and everything in his establishment, must we place, in originality and importance, Jemmy Branigan, who, in point of fact, ought to receive credit for the greater portion of old Dick's reputation, or at least for all that was good of it. Jemmy was his old, confidential—enemy—for more than forty years, during the greater portion of which period it could scarcely be said with truth that, in Jemmy's hands, Dick o' the Grange ought to be looked to as a responsible person. When we say "enemy," we know perfectly well what we mean; for if half a dozen battles between Jemmy and his master every day during the period above mentioned constituted friendship, then, indeed, the reader may substitute the word friend, if he pleases.
In fact, Dick and Jemmy had become notorious throughout the whole country; and we are certain that many of our readers will, at first glance, recognize these two remarkable individuals. Truly, the ascendancy which Jemmy had gained over the magistrate, was surprising; and nothing could be more amusing than the interminable series of communications, both written and oral, which passed between them, in the shape of dismissals from service on the one side, and notices to leave on the other; each of which whether written or oral, was treated by the party noticed with the most thorough contempt. Nothing was right that Jemmy disapproved of, and nothing wrong that had his sanction, and this without any reference whatsoever to the will of his master, who, if he happened to get into a passion about it, was put down by Jemmy, who got into a greater passion still; so that, after a long course of recrimination and Billinsgate on both sides, delivered by Jemmy in an incomparably louder voice, and with a more consequential manner, old Dick was finally forced to succumb.
The worthy magistrate and his son were at breakfast next morning, when young "Master Richard," as he was called, rung the bell, and Jemmy attended—for we must add, that Jemmy discharged the duties of butler, together with any other duty that he himself deemed necessary, and that without leave asked or given.
"Where's Hanlon, Jemmy?" he asked.
"Hanlon? troth, it's little matther where he is, an' devil a one o' myself cares."
"Well, but I care, Jemmy, for I want him. Where is he?"
"He's gone up to that ould streele's, that lives in the cabin above there. I don't like the same Hanlon; nobody here knows anything about him, nor he won't let them know anything about him. He's as close as Darby Skinadre, and as deep as a dhraw-well. Altogether, he looks as if there was a weight on his conscience, for all his lightness an' fun—an' if I thought so, I'd discharge him at wanst."
"And I agree with you for once," observed his master; "there is some cursed mystery about him. I don't like him, either, to say the truth."
"An' why don't you like him?" asked Jemmy, with a contemptuous look.
"I can't say; but I don't."
"No! you can't? I know you can't say anything, at all events, that you ought to say," replied Jemmy, who, like, his master, would have died without contradiction; "but I can say why you don't like him; it's bekaise he's the best sarvint ever was about your place; that's the raison you don't like him. But what do you know about a good sarvint or a bad one, or anything else that's useful to you, God help you."
"If you were near my cane, you old scoundrel, I'd pay you for your impertinence, ay would I."
"Ould scoundrel, is it? Oh, hould your tongue; I'm not of your blood, thank God!—and don't be fastenin' your name upon me. Ould scoundrel, indeed!—Troth, we could spare an odd one now and then out of our own little establishment."
"Jemmy, never mind," said the son, "but tell Hanlon I want to speak to him in the office after breakfast."
"If I see him I will, but the devil an inch I'll go out o' my way for it—if I see him I will, an' if I don't I won't. Did you put a fresh bandage to your leg, to keep in them Pharisee (* Varicose, we presume) veins o' yours, as the docthor ordhered you?"
This, in fact, was the usual style of his address to the old magistrate, when in conversation with him.
"Damn the quack!" replied his master: "no, I didn't."
"An' why didn't you?"
"You're beginning this morning," said the other, losing temper. "You had better keep quiet, keep your distance, if you're wise—that's all."
"Why didn't you, I ax," continued Jemmy, walking up to him, with his hands in his coat pocket, and looking coolly, but authoritatively in his face. "I tell you, and if you don't know how to take care of yourself, I do, and I will. I'm all that's left over you now; an' in spite of all I can do, it's a purty account I'd be able to give of you, if I was called on."
"This to my face!" exclaimed Dick—"this to my face, you villain!"—and, as he spoke, the cane was brandished over Jemmy's head, as if it would descend every moment.
"Ay," replied Jemmy, without budging, "ay, indeed—an' a purty face it is—a nice face hard drinkin' an' a bad life has left you. Ah! do it if you dare," he added, as the other swung his staff once or twice, as if about to lay it down in reality; "troth, if you do, I'll know how to act."
"What would you do, you old cancer—what would you do if I did?"
"Troth, what you'll force me to do some day. I know you will, for heaven an' earth couldn't stand you; an' if I do, it's not me you'll have to blame for it. Ah, that same step you'll drive me to—I see that."
"What will you do, you old viper, that has been like a blister to me my whole life—what will you do?"
"Send you about your business," replied Jemmy, coolly, but with all the plenitude of authority in his manner; "send you from about the place, an' then I'll have a quiet house. I'll send you to your youngest daughter's or somewhere, or any where, out of this. So now that you know my determination you had betther keep yourself cool, unless, indeed, you wish to thravel. Oh, then heaven's above, but you wor a bitther sight to me, an' but it was the unlucky day that ever the divil druv you acrass me!"
"Dick," said the father, "as soon as you go into the office, write a discharge, as bad a one, for that old vagabond, as the English language can enable you to do—for by the light of heaven, he shan't sleep another night under this roof."
"Shan't I?—we'll see that, though. To the divil I pitch yourself an' your discharge—an' now mark my words: I'll be no longer throubled wid you; you've been all my life a torment and a heart-break to me—a blister of French flies was swan's down, compared to you, but by the book, I'll end it at last—ay, will I—I give you up—I surrendher you as a bad bargain—I wash my hands of you—This is Tuesday mornin', God bless the day and the weather—an' woeful weather it is—but sure it's betther than you desarve, an' I don't doubt but it's you and the likes o' you that brings it on us! Ay, this is Tuesday mornin', an' I now give you warnin' that on Saturday next, you'll see the last o' me—an' don't think that this warnin' is like the rest, or that I'll relint again, as I was foolish enough to do often before. No—my mind's made up—an' indeed—" here his voice sank to a great calmness and philosophy, like a man who was above all human passion, and who could consequently talk in a voice of cool and quiet determination;—"An' indeed," he added, "my conscience was urgin' me to this for some time past—so that I'm glad things has taken this turn."
"I hope you'll keep your word, then," said his master, "but before you go, listen to me."
"Listen to you—to be sure I will; God forbid I wouldn't; let there be nothing at any rate, but civility between us while we're together. What is it?"
"You asked me last night to let widow Leary's cow out o' pound?"
"Ay, did I!"
"And I swore I wouldn't."
"I know you did. Who would doubt that, at any rate?"
"Well, before you leave us, be off now, and let the animal out o' the pound."
"Is that it? Oh, God help you! what'll you do when you'll be left to yourself, as you will be on Saturday next? Let her out, says you. Troth, the poor woman had her cow safe and sound at home wid her before she went to bed last night, and her poor childre had her milk to kitchen their praties, the craythurs. Do you think I'd let her stay in till the maggot bit you? Oh, ay, indeed! In the mane time, as soon as you are done breakfast, I want you in the study, to put the bindage on that ould, good-for-nothin' leg o' yours; an' mark my words, let there be no shirkin' now, for on it must go, an' will, too. If I see that Hanlon, I'll tell him you want to see him, Master Richard; an' now that I'm on it, I had betther say a word to you before I go; bekaise when I do go, you'll have no one to guide you, God help you, or to set you a Christian patthern. You see that man sittin' there wid that bad leg, stretched out upon the chair?"
"I do, Jemmy—ha, ha, ha! Well, what next?"
"That man was the worst patthern ever you had. In the word, don't folly his example in anything—in any one single thing, an' then there may be some chance o' you still. I'll want you by-an'-by in the study, I tould you."
These last words were addressed to his master, at whom he looked as one might be supposed to do at a man whose case, in a moral sense, was hopeless; after which, having uttered a groan that seemed to imitate the woeful affliction he was doomed, day by day, to suffer, he left the room.
It is not our intention, neither is it necessary that we should enter into the particulars of the interview which Hanlon had that morning with young Dick. It is merely sufficient to state that they had a private conversation in the old magistrate's office, at which the female whom Hanlon had visited the night before was present. When this was concluded, Hanlon walked with her a part of the way, evidently holding serious and interesting discourse touching a subject which we may presume bore upon the extraordinary proceedings of the previous night. He closed by giving her directions how to proceed on her journey; for it seemed that she was unacquainted with the way, being, like himself, but a stranger in the neighborhood:—"You will go on," said he, "till you reach the height at Aughindrummon, from that you will see the trees at the Rabbit Bank undher you; then keep the road straight till you come to where it crosses the ford of the river: a little on this side, and where the road turns to your right, you will find the Grey Stone, an' jist opposite that you will see the miserable cabin where the Black Prophet lives."
"Why do they call him the Black Prophet?"
"Partly, they tell me, from his appearance, an' partly bekaise he takes delight in prophesyin' evil."
"But could he have anything to do wid the murdher?"
"I was thinkin' about that," he replied, "and had some talk this mornin' wid a man that's livin' a long time—indeed that was born—a little above the place—and he says that the Black Prophet, or M'Gowan, did not come to the neighborhood till afther the murdher. I wasn't myself cool enough last night to ask his daughter many questions about it; an' I was afraid, besides, to appear over-anxious in the business. So now that you have your instructions in that and the other matthers, you'll manage every thing as well as you can."
Hanlon then returned to the Grange, and the female proceeded on her mission to the house, if house it could be called, of the Black Prophet, for the purpose, if possible, of collecting such circumstances as might tend to throw light upon a dark and mysterious murder.
When Sarah left her father, after having poulticed his face, to go a kailley, as she said, to a neighbor's house, she crossed the ford of the river, and was proceeding in the same directions that had been taken by Hanlon the preceding night, when she met a strange woman, or rather she found her standing, apparently waiting for herself, at the Grey Stone. From the position of the stone, which was a huge one, under one ledge of which, by the way, there grew a little clump of dwarf elder, it was impossible that Sarah could pass her, without coming in tolerable close contact; for the road was an old and narrow one, though perfectly open and without hedge or ditch on either side of it.
"Maybe you could tell me, young woman, whereabouts here a man lives that they call Donnel Dhu, or the Black Prophet; his real name is M'Gowan, I think."
"I ought to be able to tell you, at any rate," replied Sarah; "I'm his daughter."
The strange woman, on surveying Sarah more closely, looked as if she never intended to remove her eyes from her countenance and figure. She seemed for a moment, as it were, to forget every other object in life—her previous conversation with Hanlon—the message on which she had been sent—and her anxiety to throw light upon the awful crime that had been committed at the spot whereon she stood. At length she sighed deeply, and appeared to recover her presence of mind, and to break through the abstraction in which she had been wrapped. "You're his daughter, you say?"
"Ay, I do say so."
"Then you know a young man by name Pierce—och, what am I sayin'!—by name Charley Hanlon?"
"To be sure I do—I'm not ashamed of knowin' Charles Hanlon."
"You have a good opinion of him, then?"
"I have a good opinion of him, but not so good as I had thought."
"Mush a why then, might one ask?"
"I'm afeard he's a cowardly crathur, and rather unmanly a thrifle. I like a man to be a man, an' not to get as white as a sheet, an' cowld as a tombstone, bekaise he hears what he thinks to be a groan at night, an' it may be nothin' but an owld cow behind a ditch. Ha! ha! ha!"
"An' where did he hear the groan?"
"Why, here where we're standin'. Ha! ha! ha! I was thinkin' of it since, an' I did hear somethin' very like a groan; but what about it? Sich a night as last night would make any one groan that had a groan in them."
"You spoke about ditches, but sure there's no ditches here."
"Divil a matther—who cares what it was? What did you want wid my father?"
"It was yourself that I wanted to see."
"Faix, an' you've seen me, then, an' the full o' your eye you tuck out o' me. You'll know me again, I hope."
"Is your mother livin'?"
"How long is she dead, do you know?"
"I do not; I hardly remember anything about her. She died when I was a young slip—a mere child, I believe. Still," she proceeded, rather slowly, musing and putting her beautiful and taper fingers to her chin—"I think that I do remember—it's like a dhrame to me though, an' I dunna but it is one—still it's like a dhrame to me, that I was wanst in her arms, that I was cryin', an' that she kissed me—that she kissed me! If she had lived, it's a different life maybe I'd lead an' a different creature I'd be to-day, maybe, but I never had a mother."
"Did your father marry a second time?"
"Then you have a step-mother?"
"Ay have I."
"Is she kind to you, an' do you like her?"
"Middlin'—she's not so bad—better than I deserve, I doubt; I'm sorry for what I did to her; but then I have the divil's temper, an' have no guide o' myself when it comes on me. I know whatever she may be to me, I'm not the best step-daughter to her."
The strange female was evidently much struck with the appearance and singularly artless disposition of Sarah, as well as with her extraordinary candor; and indeed no wonder; for as this neglected creature spoke, especially with reference to her mother, her eyes flashed and softened with an expression of brilliancy and tenderness that might be said to resemble the sky at night, when the glowing corruscations of the Aurora Borealis sweep over it like expanses of lightning, or fade away into those dim but graceful undulations which fill the mind with a sense of such softness and beauty.
"I don't know," observed her companion, sighing and looking at her affectionately, "how any step-mother could be harsh to you."
"Ha! ha! ha! don't you, indeed? Faix, then, if you had me, maybe you wouldn't think so—I'm nothin' but a born divil when the fit's on me."
"Charley Hanlon," proceeded the strange woman, "bid me ax you for the ould tobaccy-box you promised him last night."
"Well, but he promised me a handkerchy; have you got it?"
"I have," replied the other, producing it; "but, then, I'm not to give it to you, unless you give me the box for it."
"But I haven't the box now," said Sarah, "how-and-ever, I'll get it for him."
"Are you sure that you can an' will?" inquired the other.
"I had it in my hand yesterday," she said, "an' if it's to be had I'll get it."
"Well, then," observed the other mildly, "as soon as you get him the box, he'll give you this handkerchy, but not till then."
"Ha!" she exclaimed, kindling, "is that his bargain; does he think I'd thrick him or cheat him?—hand it here."
"I can't," replied the other; "I'm only to give it to you when I get the box."
"Hand it here, I say," returned Sarah, whose eyes flashed in a moment; "it's Peggy Murray's rag, I suppose—hand it here, I bid you."
The woman shook her head and replied, "I can't—not till you get the box."
Sarah replied not a word, but sprang at it, and in a minute had it in her hands.
"I would tear it this minute into ribbons," she exclaimed, with eyes of fire and glowing cheeks, "and tramp it undher my feet too; only that I want it to show her, that I may have the advantage over her."
There was a sharp, fierce smile of triumph on her features as she spoke; and altogether her face sparkled with singular animation and beauty.
"God bless me!" said the strange woman, looking at her with a wondering yet serious expression of countenance; "I wanst knew a face like yours, an' a temper the aiquil of it—at any rate, my good girl, you don't pay much respect to a stranger. Is your stepmother at home?"
"She is not, but my father is; however, I don't think he'll see you now. My stepmother's gone to Darby Skinadre, the meal-monger's."
"I'm goin' there."
"An' if you see her," replied the other, "you'll know her; a score on her cheek—ha, ha, ha; an' when you see it, maybe you'll thank God that I am not your step-daughter."
"Isn't there a family named Sullivan that lives not far from Skinadre's?"
"There is; Jerry Sullivan, it's his daughter that's the beauty—Gra Gal Sullivan. Little she knows what's preparin' for her!"
"How am I to go to Skinadre's from this?" asked the woman.
"Up by that road there; any one will tell you as you go along."
"Thank you, dear," replied the woman, tenderly; "God bless you; you are a wild girl, sure enough; but above all things, afore I go, don't forget the box for—for—och, for—Charley Hanlon. God bless you, a colleen machree, an' make you what you ought to be!"
Sarah, during many a long day, had not heard herself addressed in an accent of kindness or affection; for it would be wrong to bestow upon the rude attachment which her father entertained for her, or his surly mode of expressing it, any term that could indicate tenderness, even in a remote degree. She looked, therefore, at the woman earnestly, and as she did, her whole manner changed to one of melancholy and kindness. A soft and benign expression came like the dawn of breaking day over her features, her voice fell into natural melody and sweetness, and, approaching her companion, she took her hand and exclaimed—