"Sarah, my good girl," said he, whilst his voice, which at once became low and significant, quivered with suppressed rage—"what brought you here, I ax? Did any one send for you? or is there a matther of life and death on hands, that you tramp afther me in this manner—eh?"
"It may be life an' death for any thing I know to the contrary," she replied; "you are angry at something, I see," she proceeded—"but to save time, I want to spake to you."
"You must wait till I go home, then, for I neither can nor will spake to you now."
"Father, you will—you must," she replied—"and in some private place too. I won't detain you long, for I haven't much to say, and if I don't say it now, it may be too late."
"What the deuce, M'Gowan!" said Dick, "speak, to the young woman—you don't know but she may have something of importance to say to you."
She glanced at the speaker, but with a face of such indifference, as if she had scarcely taken cognizance of him, beyond the fact that she found some young man there in conversation with her father.
Donnel, rather to take her from under the libertine gaze of his young friend, walked a couple of hundred yards to the right of the garden, where, under the shadow of some trees that over-hung a neglected fishpond, she opened the purport for her journey after him to the Grange.
"Now, in the divil's name," he asked, "what brought you here?"
"Father," she replied, "hear me, and do not be angry, for I know—at laste I think—that what I am goin' to say to you is right."
"Well, madame, let us hear what you have to say."
"I will—an' I must spake plain, too. You know me; that I cannot think one thing and say another."
"Yes, I know you very well—go on—ay, and so does your unfortunate step-mother."
"Oh—well!" she replied—"yes, I suppose so—ha! ha!" In a moment, however, her face became softened with deep feeling; "O, father," she proceeded, "maybe you don't know me, nor she either; it's only now I'm beginnin' to know myself. But listen—I have often observed your countenance, father—I have often marked it well. I can see by you when you are pleased or angry—but that's aisy; I can tell, too, when the bad spirit is up in you by the pale face but black look that scarcely any one could mistake. I have seen every thing bad, father, in your face—bad temper, hatred, revenge—an' but seldom any thing good. Father, I'm your daughter, an' don't be angry!"
"What, in the devil's name, are you drivin' at, you brazen jade?"
"Father, you said this mornin', before you came out, that you felt your conscience troublin' you for not discoverin' the murdher of Sullivan; that you felt sorry for keepin' it to yourself so long—sorry!—you said you were sorry, father!"
"I did, and I was."
"Father, I have been thinkin' of that since; no, father—your words were false; there was no sorrow in your face, nor in your eye,—no, father, nor in your heart. I know that—I feel it. Father, don't look so: you may bate me, but I'm not afraid."
"Go home out o'this," he replied—"be off, and carry your cursed madness and nonsense somewhere else."
"Father, here I stand—your own child—your only daughter; look me in the face—let your eye look into mine, if you can. I challenge you to it! Now mark my words—you are goin' to swear a murdher against the head of a poor and distressed family—to swear it—and, father, you know he never murdhered Sullivan!"
The Prophet started and became pale, but he did not accept the challenge.
He looked at her, however, after a struggle to recover his composure, and there she stood firm—erect; her beautiful face animated with earnestness, her eyes glowing with singular lustre, yet set, and sparkling in the increasing moisture which a word or thought would turn into tears.
"What do you mane, Sarah?" said he, affecting coolness; "What do you mane? I know! Explain yourself."
"Father, I will. There was a bad spirit in your face and in your heart when you said you were sorry; that you repented for consalin' the murdher so long; there was, father, a bad spirit in your heart, but no repentance there!"
"An' did you come all the way from home to tell me this?"
"No, father, not to tell you what I have said, but, father, dear, what I am goin' to say; only first answer me. If he did murdher Sullivan, was it in his own defence? was it a cool murdher? a cowardly murdher? because if it was, Condy Dalton is a bad man. But still listen: it's now near two-an'-twenty years since the deed was done. I know little about religion, father; you know that; but still I have heard that God is willin' to forgive all men their sins if they repent of them; if they're sorry for them. Now, father, it's well known that for many a long year Condy Dalton has been in great sorrow of heart for something or other; can man do more?"
"Go home out o' this, I say; take yourself away."
"Oh, who can tell, father, the inward agony and bitther repentance that that sorrowful man's heart, maybe, has suffered. Who can tell the tears he shed, the groans he groaned, the prayers for mercy he said, maybe, and the worlds he would give to have that man that he killed—only by a hasty blow, maybe—again alive and well! Father, don't prosecute him; leave the poor heartbroken ould man to God! Don't you see that God has already taken him an' his into His hands; hasn't He punished them a hundred ways for years? Haven't they been brought down, step by step, from wealth an' respectability, till they're now like poor beggars, in the very dust? Oh, think, father, dear father, think of his white hairs; think of his pious wife, that every one respects; think of his good-hearted, kind daughters; think of their poverty, and all they have suffered so long; an' above all, oh, think, father dear, of what they will suffer if you are the manes of takin' that sorrowful white-haired ould man out from the middle of his poor, but lovin' and dacent and respected family, and hangin' him for an act that he has repented for, maybe, and that we ought to hope the Almighty himself has forgiven him for. Father, I go on my knees to you to beg that you won't prosecute this ould man; but leave him to God!"
As she uttered the last few sentences, the tears fell in torrents from her cheeks; but when she knelt—which she did—her tears ceased to flow, and she looked up into her father's face with eyes kindled into an intense expression, and her hands clasped as if her own life and everlasting salvation depended upon his reply.
"Go home, I desire you," he replied, with a cold sneer, for he had now collected himself, and fell back into his habitual snarl; "Go home, I desire you, or maybe you'd wish to throw yourself in the way of that young profligate that I was spakin' to when you came up. Who knows, affcher all, but that's your real design, and neither pity nor compassion for ould Dalton."
"Am I his daughter?" she replied, whilst she started to her feet, and her dark eyes flashed with disdain: "Can I be his daughter?"
"I hope you don't mean to cast a slur upon your—." He paused a moment and started as if a serpent had bitten him; but left the word "mother" unuttered.
Again she softened, and her eyes filled with tears. "Father, I never had a mother!" she said.
"No," he replied; "or if you had, her name will never come through my lips."
She looked at him with wonder for a few moments, after which she turned, and with a face of melancholy and sorrow, proceeded with slow and meditating steps in the direction of their humble cabin.
Her father, who felt considerably startled by some portions of her appeal, though by no means softened, again directed his steps towards the garden gate, where he left young Dick standing. Here he found this worthy young gentleman awaiting his return, and evidently amazed at the interview between him and his daughter; for although he had been at too great a distance to hear their conversation, he could, and did see, by the daughter's attitudes, that the subject of their conversation was extraordinary, and consequently important.
On approaching him, the Prophet now, with his usual coolness, pulled out the tress which he had, in some manner, got from Gra Gal Sullivan, and holding it for a time, placed it in Dick's hands.
"There's one proof," said he, alluding to a previous part of their conversation, "that I wasn't unsuccessful, and, indeed, I seldom am, when I set about a thing in earnest."
"But is it possible," asked the other, "that she actually gave this lovely tress willingly—you swear that?"
"As Heaven's above me," replied the Prophet, "there never was a ringlet sent by woman to man with more love than she sent that. Why, the purty creature actually shed tears, and begged of me to lose no time in givin' it. You have it now, at all events—an' only for young Dalton's outrage, you'd have had it before now."
"Then there's no truth in the report that she's fond of him?"
"Why—ahem—n—no—oh, no—not now—fond of him she was, no doubt; an' you know it's never hard to light a half-burned turf, or a candle that was lit before. If they could be got out of the counthry, at all events—these Daltons—it would be so much out of your way, for between, you an' me, I can tell you that your life won't be safe when he comes to know that you have put his nose out of joint with the Gra Gal."
"It is strange, however, that she should change so soon!"
"Ah, Master Richard! how little you know of woman, when you say so. They're a vain, uncertain, selfish crew—women are—there's no honesty in them, nor I don't think there's a woman alive that could be trusted, if you only give her temptation and opportunity; none of them will stand that."
"But how do you account for the change in her case, I ask?"
"I'll tell you that. First and foremost, you're handsome—remarkably handsome."
"Come, come, no nonsense, Donnel; get along, will you, ha! ha! ha!—handsome indeed! Never you mind what the world says—well!"
"Why," replied the other, gravely, "there's no use in denyin' it, you know; it's a matther that tells for itself, an' that a poor girl with eyes in her head can judge of as a rich one—at any rate, if you're not handsome, you're greatly belied; an' every one knows that there's never smoke without fire."
"Well, confound you!—since they'll have it so, I suppose I may as well admit it—I believe I am a handsome dog, and I have reason to know that, that——" here he shook his head and winked knowingly: "Oh, come Donnel, my boy, I can go no further on that subject—ha! ha! ha!"
"There is no dispute about it," continued Donnel, gravely; "but still I think, that if it was not for the mention made of the dress, an' grandeur, and state that she was to come to, she'd hardly turn round as she did. Dalton, you know, is the handsomest young fellow, barring yourself, in the parish; an' troth on your account an' hers, I wish he was out of it. He'll be crossin' you—you may take my word for it—an' a dangerous enemy he'll prove—that I know."
"Why? what do you mean?" Here the prophet, who was artfully trying to fill the heart of his companion with a spirit of jealousy against Dalton, paused for a moment, as if in deep reflection, after which he sighed heavily. "Mane!" he at length replied; "I am unhappy in my mind, an' I know I ought to do it, an' yet I'm loth now after sich a length of time. Mane, did you say, Masther Richard?"
"Yes, I said so, and I say so; what do you mean by telling me that young Dalton will be a dangerous enemy to me?"
"An' so he will; an' so he would to any one that he or his bore ill-will against. You know there's blood upon their hands."
"No, I don't know any such thing; I believe he was charged with the murder of Mave Sullivan's uncle, but as the body could not be found, there were no grounds for a prosecution. I don't, therefore, know that there's blood upon his hand."
"Well, then, if you don't—may God direct! me!" he added, "an' guide me to the best—if you don't, Masther Richard—Heaven direct me agin!—will I say it?—could you get that family quietly out of the counthry, Masther Richard? Bekaise if you could, it would be betther, maybe, for all parties."
"You seem to know something about these Daltons, Mr. M'Gowan?" asked Dick, "and to speak mysteriously of them?"
"Well, then, I do," he replied; "but! what I have to say, I ought to say it to your father, who is a magistrate."
The other stared at him with surprise, but said nothing for a minute or two.
"What is this mystery?" he added at length; "I cannot understand you; but it is clear that you mean something extraordinary."
"God pardon me, Masther Richard, but you are right enough. No; I can't keep it any longer. Listen to me, sir, for I am goin' to make a strange and a fearful discovery; I know who it was that murdhered Sullivan; I'm in possession of it for near the last two-an'-twenty years; I have travelled every where; gone to England, to Wales, Scotland, an' America, but it was all of no use; the knowledge of the murdher! and the murdherer was here," he laid his! hand upon his heart as he spoke; "an' durin' all that time I had peace neither by night nor by day."
His companion turned towards him with amazement, and truly his appearance was startling, if not frightful; he looked as it were into vacancy; his eyes had become hollow and full of terror; his complexion assumed the hue of ashes; his voice got weak and unsteady, and his limbs trembled excessively, whilst from every pore the perspiration came out, and ran down his ghastly visage in large drops.
"M'Gowan," said his companion, "this is a dreadful business. As yet you have said nothing, and from what I see, I advise you to reflect before you proceed further in it. I think I can guess the nature of your secret; but even if you went to my father, he would tell you, that you are not bound to criminate yourself."
The Prophet, in the mean time, had made an effort to recover himself, which, after a little time, was successful.
"I believe you think," he added, with a gloomy and a bitter smile, "that it was I who committed the murdher; oh no! if it was, I wouldn't be apt to hang myself, I think. No! but I must see your father, as a magistrate; an' I must make the disclosure to him. The man that did murdher Sullivan is livin', and that man is Condy Dalton. I knew of this, an' for two-an'-twenty years let that murdherer escape, an' that is what made me so miserable an' unhappy. I can prove what I say; an' I know the very spot where he buried Sullivan's body, an' where it's lyin' to this very day."
"In that case, then," replied the other, "you have only one course to pursue, and that is, to bring Dalton to justice."
"I know it," returned the Prophet; "but still I feel that it's a hard case to be the means of hangin' a fellow-crature; but of the two choices, rather than bear any longer what I have suffered an' am still sufferin', I think it betther to prosecute him."
"Then go in and see my father at once about it, and a devilish difficult card you'll have to play with him; for my part, I think he is mad ever since Jemmy Branigan left him. In fact, he knows neither what he is saying or doing without him, especially in some matters; for to tell you the truth," he added, laughing, "Jemmy, who was so well acquainted with the country and every one in it, took much more of the magistrate on him than ever my father did; and now the old fellow, when left to himself, is nearly helpless in every sense. He knows he has not Jemmy, and he can bear nobody else near him or about him."
"I will see him, then, before I lave the place; an' now, Masther Richard, you know what steps you ought to take with regard to Gra Gal Sullivan. As she is willin' herself, of course there is but one way of it."
"Of course I am aware of that," said Dick; "but still I feel that it's devilish queer she should change so soon from Dalton to me."
"That's bekaise you know nothing about women," replied the Prophet. "Why, Masther Richard, I tell you that a weathercock is constancy itself compared with them. The notion of you an' your wealth, an' grandeur, an' the great state you're to keep her in—all turned her brain; an' as a proof of it, there you have a lock of her beautiful hair that she gave me with her own hands. If that won't satisfy you it's hard to say what can; but indeed I think you ought to know by this time o' day how far a handsome face goes with them. Give the divil himself but that, and they'll take his horns, hooves, and tail into the bargain—ay, will they."
This observation was accompanied by a grin so sneering and bitter, that his companion, on looking at him, knew not how to account for it, unless by supposing that he must during the course of his life have sustained some serious or irreparable injury at their hands.
"You appear not to like the women, Donnel; how is that?"
"Like them!" he replied, and as he spoke his face, which had been, a little before, ghastly with horror, now became black and venomous; "ha! ha! how is that, you say? oh, no matther now; they're angels; angels of perdition; their truth is treachery, an' their—but no matther. I'll now go in an' spake to your father on this business; but I forgot to say that I must see Gra Gal soon, to let her know our plans; so do you make your mind aisy, and lave the management of the whole thing in my hands."
CHAPTEE XIV. — A Middleman Magistrate of the Old School, and his Clerk.
Dick-o'-the-Grange—whose name was Henderson—at least such is the name we choose to give him—held his office, as many Irish magistrates have done before him, in his own parlor; that is to say, he sat in an arm-chair at one of the windows, which was thrown open for him, while those who came to seek justice, or, as they termed it, law, at his hands, were compelled to stand uncovered on the outside, no matter whether the weather was stormy or otherwise. We are not now about to pronounce, any opinion upon the constitutional spirit of Dick's decisions—inasmuch as nineteen out of every twenty of them were come to by the only "Magistrates' Guide" he ever was acquainted with—to wit, the redoubtable Jemmy Branigan. Jemmy was his clerk, and although he could neither read nor write, yet in cases where his judgments did not give satisfaction, he was both able and willing to set his mark upon the discontented parties m a fashion that did not allow his blessed signature to be easily forgotten. Jemmy, however, as the reader knows, was absent on the morning we are writing about, having actually fulfilled his threat of leaving his master's service—a threat, by the way, which was held out and acted upon at least once every year since he and the magistrate had stood to each other in the capacity of master and servant. Not that we are precisely correct in the statement we had made on this matter, for sometimes his removal was the result of dismissal on the part of his master, and sometimes the following up of the notice which he himself had given him to leave his service. Be this as it may, his temporary absences always involved a trial of strength between the parties, as to which of them should hold out, and put a constraint upon his inclinations the longest; for since the truth must be told of Jemmy, we are bound to say that he could as badly bear to live removed from the society of his master, as the latter could live without him. For many years of his life, he had been threatening to go to America, or to live with a brother that he had in the Isle of White, as he called it, and on several occasions he had taken formal leave of the whole family, (always in the presence of his master, however,) on his departure for either the one place or the other, while his real abode was a snug old garret, where he was attended and kept in food by the family and his fellow-servants, who were highly amused at the outrageous distress of his master, occasioned sometimes by Jemmy's obstinate determination to travel, and sometimes by his extreme brotherly affection.
Donnel, having left his son cracking a long whip which he held in his hand, and looking occasionally at the tress of Mave Sullivan's beautiful hair, approached the hall door, at which he knocked, and on the appearance of a servant, requested to see Mr. Henderson. The man waived his hand towards the space under the window, meaning that he should take his stand there, and added—
"If it's law you want, I'm afeard you'll get more abuse than justice from him now, since Jemmy's gone."
The knowing grin, and the expression of comic sorrow which accompanied the last words, were not lost upon the prophet, who, in common with every one in the neighborhood for a circumference of many miles, was perfectly well aware of the life which master and man both led.
"Is that it?" said the prophet; "however, it can't be helped. Clerk, or no clerk, I want to see him on sarious business, tell him; but I'll wait, of coorse, till he's at leisure."
"Tom," said Henderson from within, "Who's there?—is that him? If it is, tell him, confound him! to come in, and I'll forgive him. If he'll promise to keep a civil tongue in his head, I'll forget all, say. Come in, you old scoundrel, I'm not angry with you; I want to speak to you, at all events."
"It's not him, sir; it's only Donnel M'Gowan, the Black Prophet, that wants some law business."
"Send him to the devil for law business What brings him here now? Tell him he shall have neither law nor justice from me. Did you send to his brother-in-law? May be he's there?"
"We did, sir. Sorra one of his seed, breed, or generation but we sent to. However, it's no use—off to America he's gone, or to the Isle o' White, at any rate."
"May the devil sink America and the Isle of White both in the ocean, an' you, too; you scoundrel, and all of you! Only for the cursed crew that's about me, I'd have him here still—and he the only man that understood my wants and my wishes, and that could keep me comfortable and easy."
"Troth, then, he hadn't an overly civil tongue in his head, sir," replied the man; "for, when you and he, your honor, were together, there was little harmony to spare between you."
"That was my own fault, you cur. No servant but himself would have had a day's patience with me. He never abused me but when I deserved it—did he?"
"No, your honor; I know he didn't, in troth."
"You lie, you villain, you know no such thing. Here am I with my sore leg, and no one to dress it for me. Who's to help me upstairs or downstairs?—who's to be about me?—or, who cares for me, now that he's gone? Nobody—not a soul."
"Doesn't Masther Richard, sir?"
"No sir; Master Richard gives himself little trouble about me. He has other plots and plans on his hands—other fish to fry—other irons in the fire. Masther Richard, sirra, doesn't care a curse if I was under the sod to-morrow, but would be glad of it; neither does, any one about me—but he did; and you infernal crew, you have driven him away from me."
"We, your honor?"
"Yes, all of you; you put me first out of temper by your neglect and your extravagance; then I vented it on him, because he was the only one among you I took any pleasure in abusin'—speaking to. However, my mind's made up—I'll call an auction—sell everything—and live in Dublin as well as I can. What does that black hound want?"
"Some law business, sir; but I donna what it is."
"Is the scoundrel honest, or a rogue?"
"Throth it's more than I'm able to tell your honor, sir. I don't know much about him. Some spakes well, and some spakes ill of him—just like his neighbors—ahem!"
"Ay, an' that's all you can say of him? but if he was here, I could soon ascertain what stuff he's made of, and what kind of a hearing he ought to get. However, it doesn't matter now—I'll auction everything—in this grange I won't live; and to be sure but I was a precious-old scoundrel to quarrel with the best servant a man ever had."
Just at this moment, who should come round from a back passage, carrying a small bundle in his hand, but the object of all his solicitude. He approached quietly on tiptoe, with a look in which might be read a most startling and ludicrous expression of anxiety and repentance.
"How is he?" said he—"how is his poor leg? Oh, thin, blessed saints, but I was the double distilled villain of the airth to leave him as I did to the crew that was about him! The best masther that ever an ould vagabond like me was ongrateful to! How is he, Tom?"
"Why," replied the other, "if you take my advice, you'll keep from him at all events. He's cursin' an' abusin' you ever since you went, and won't allow one of us even to name you."
"Troth, an' it only shows his sense; for I desarved nothing else at his hands. However, if what you say is true, I'm afeared he's not long for this world, and that his talkin' sense at last is only the lightening before death, poor gintleman! I can stay no longer from him, any how, let him be as he may; an' God pardon me for my ongratitude in desartin' him like a villain as I did."
He then walked into the parlor; and as the prophet was beckoned as far as the hall, he had an opportunity of witnessing the interview which took place between this extraordinary pair. Jemmy, before entering, threw aside his bundle and his hat, stripped off his coat, and in a moment presented himself in the usual striped cotton jacket, with sleeves, which he alway's wore. Old Dick was in the act of letting fly an oath at something, when Jemmy, walking in, just as if nothing had happened, exclaimed—
"Why, thin, Mother o' Moses, is it at the ould work I find you? Troth, it's past counsel, past grace wid you—I'm afraid you're too ould to mend. In the manetime, don't stare as if you seen a ghost—only tell us how is that unfortunate leg of yours?"
"Why—eh?—ay,—oh, ah,—you're back are you?—an' what the devil brought you here again?—eh?"
"Come now, keep yourself quiet, you onpenitent ould sinner, or it'll be worse for you. How is your leg?"
"Ah, you provokin' ould rascal—eh?—so you are back?"
"Don't you see I am—who would stick to you like myself, afther all? Troth I missed your dirty tongue, bad as it is—divil a thing but rank pace and quietness I was ever in since I seen you last."
"And devil a scoundrel has had the honesty to give me a single word of abuse to my face since you left me."
"And how often did I tell you that you couldn't depind upon the crew that's around you—the truth's not in them—an' that you ought to know. However, so far as I am concerned, don't fret—Grod knows I forgive you all your folly and feasthalaga, (* nonsense,) in hopes always that you'll mend your life in many respects. You had meself before you as an example, though I say it, that ougtn't to say it, but you know you didn't take pattern by me as you ought."
"Shake hands, Jemmy; I'm glad to see you again; you were put to expense since you went."
"No, none; no, I tell you."
"But I say you were."
"There, keep yourself quiet now; no I wasn't; an' if I was, too, what is it to you?"
"Here, put that note in your pocket."
"Sorra bit, now," replied Jemmy, "to plaise you," gripping it tightly at the same time as he spoke; "do you want to vex me again?"
"Put it in your pocket, sirra, unless you want me to break your head."
"Oh, he would," said Jemmy, looking with a knowing face of terror towards Tom Booth and the Prophet,—"it's the weight of his cane I'd get, sure enough—but it's an ould sayin' an' a true one, that when the generosity's in, it must come out. There now, I've put it in my pocket for you—an' I hope you're satisfied. Devil a sich a tyrant in Europe," said he, loudly, "when he wishes—an' yet, after all," he added, in a low, confidential voice, just loud enough for his master to hear,—"where 'ud one get the like of him? Tom Booth, desire them to fetch warm water to the study, till I dress his poor leg, and make him fit for business."
"Here is Donnel Dhu," replied Booth, "waitin' for law business."
"Go to the windy, Donnel," said Jemmy, with an authoritative air; "go to your ground; but before you do—let me know what you want."
"I'll do no such thing," replied the Prophet; "unless to say, that it's a matter of life an' death."
"Go out," repeated Jemmy, with brief and determined authority, "an wait till it's his honor's convanience, his full convanience, to see you. As dark a rogue, sir," he continued, having shoved the Prophet outside, and slapped the door in his face; "and as great a schamer as ever put a coat on his back. He's as big a liar too, when he likes, as ever broke bread; but there's far more danger in him when he tells the truth, for then you may be sure he has some devil's design in view."
Dick-o'-the-Grange, though vulgar and eccentric, was by no means deficient in shrewdness and common sense—neither was he, deliberately, an unjust man; but, like too many in the world, he generally suffered his prejudices and his interests to take the same side. Having had his leg dressed, and been prepared by Jemmy for the business of the day, he took his place, as usual, in the chair of justice, had the window thrown open, and desired the Prophet to state the nature of his business.
The latter told him that the communication must be a private one, as it involved a matter of deep importance, being no less than an affair of life and death.
This startled the magistrate, who, with a kind of awkward embarrassment, ordered, or rather requested Jemmy to withdraw, intimating that he would be sent for, if his advice or opinion should be deemed necessary.
"No matther," replied Jemmy; "the loss will be your own; for sure I know the nice hand you make of law when you're left to yourself. Only before I go, mark my words;—there you stand, Donnel Dhu, an' I'm tellin' him to be on his guard against you—don't put trust, plaise your honor, in either his word or his oath—an' if he's bringin' a charge against any one, give it in favor of his enemy, whoever he is. I hard that he was wanst tried for robbery, an' I only wondher it wasn't for murdher, too; for in troth and sowl, if ever a man has both one and the other in his face, he has. It's known to me that he's seen now and then colloguin' an' skulkin' behind the hedges, about dusk, wid red Rody Duncan, that was in twiste for robbery. Troth it's birds of a feather wid them—and I wouldn't be surprised if we were to see them both swing from the same rope yet. So there's my carrecther of you, you villain," he added, addressing M'Gowan, at whom he felt deeply indignant, in consequence of his not admitting him to the secret of the communication he was about to make.
Henderson, when left alone with the Prophet, heard the disclosures which the latter made to him, with less surprise than interest. He himself remembered the circumstances perfectly well, and knew that on the occasion of Condy Dalton's former arrest, appearances had been very strong against him. It was then expected that he would have disclosed the particular spot in which the body had been concealed, but as he strenuously persisted in denying any knowledge of it, and, as the body consequently could not be produced, they were obliged of necessity to discharge him, but still under strong suspicions of his guilt.
The interview between Henderson and M'Gowan was a long one; and the disclosures made were considered of too much importance for the former to act without the co-operation and assistance of another magistrate. He accordingly desired the Prophet to come to him on the following day but one, when he said he would secure the presence of a Major Johnson; who was also in the commission, and by whose warrant old Condy Dalton had been originally arrested on suspicion of the murder. It was recommended that every thing that had transpired between them should be kept strictly secret, lest the murderer, if made acquainted with the charge which was about to be brought home to him, should succeed in escaping from justice. Young Dick, who had been sent for by his father, recommended this, and on those terms they separated.
CHAPTER XV. — A Plot and a Prophecy.
Our readers cannot forget a short dialogue which took place between Charley Hanlon and the strange female, who has already borne some part in the incidents of our story. It occurred on the morning she had been sent to convey the handkerchief which Hanlon had promised to Sarah M'Gowan, in lieu of the Tobacco-Box of which we have so frequently made mention, and which, on that occasion, she expected to have received from Sarah. After having inquired from Hanlon why Donnel Dhu was called the Black Prophet, she asked:
"But could he have anything to do with the murdher?"
To which Hanlon replied, that "he had been thinkin' about that, an' had some talk, this mornin', wid a man that's livin' a long time—indeed, that was born a little above the place, an' he says that the Black Prophet, or M'Gowan, did not come to the neighborhood till afther the murdher."
Now this person was no other than Red Rody Duncan, to whom our friend Jemmy Branigan made such opprobrious allusion in the character of the Black Prophet to Dick-o'-the-Grange. This man, who was generally known by the sobriquet of Red Body, had been for some time looking after the situation of bailiff or driver to Dick-o'-the-Grange; and as Hanlon was supposed to possess a good deal of influence with young Dick, Duncan very properly thought he could not do better than cultivate his acquaintance. This was the circumstance which brought them together at first, and it was something of a dry, mysterious manner which Hanlon observed in this fellow, when talking about the Prophet and his daughter, that caused him to keep up the intimacy between them.
When Donnel Dhu had closed his lengthened conference with Henderson, he turned his steps homewards, and had got half-way through the lawn, when he was met by Red Rody. He had, only a minute or two before, left young Dick, with whom he held another short conversation; and as he met Rody, Dick was still standing within about a hundred yards of them, cracking his whip with that easy indolence and utter disregard of everything but his pleasures, which chiefly constituted his character.
"Don't stand to spake to me here," said the Prophet; "that young scoundrel will see us. Have you tried Hanlon yet, and will he do? Yes or no?"
"I haven't tried him, but I'm now on way to do so."
"Certainly; I'm no fool, I think. If we can secure him, the business may be managed aisily; that is, provided the two affairs can come off on the same night."
"Caution, I say again."
"Certainly; I'm no fool, I hope. Pass on."
The Prophet and he passed each other very slowly during this brief dialogue; the former, when it was finished, pointing naturally towards the Grange, or young Dick, as if he I had been merely answering a few questions respecting some person about the place that the other was going to see. Having passed the Prophet, he turned to the left, by a back path that led to the garden, where, in fact, Hanlon was generally to be found, and where, upon this occasion, he found him. After a good deal of desultory chat, Rody at last inquired if Hanlon thought there existed any chance of his procuring the post of bailiff.
"I don't think there is, then, to tell you the truth," replied Hanlon; "old Jemmy is against you bitterly, an' Masther Richard's interest in this business isn't as strong as his."
"The blackguard ould villain!" exclaimed Rody; "it will be a good job to give him a dog's knock some night or other."
"I don't see that either," replied Hanlon; "Ould Jemmy does a power of good in his way; and indeed many an act of kindness the master himself gets credit for that ought to go to Jemmy's account."
"But you can give me a lift in the drivership, Charley, if you like."
"I'm afeard not, so long as Jemmy's against you."
"Ay, but couldn't you thry and twist that ould scoundrel himself in my favor?"
"Well," replied the other, "there is something in that, and whatever I can do with him, I will, if you'll thry and do me a favor."
"Me! Name it, man—name it, and it's done, if it was only to rob the Grange. Ha! ha! An' by the way, I dunna what puts robbin' the Grange into my head!"
And, as he spoke, his eye was bent with an expression of peculiar significance on Hanlon.
"No!" replied Hanlon with indifference; "it is not to rob the Grange. I believe you know something about the man they call the Black Prophet?"
"Donnel Dhu? Why—ahem!—a little—not much. Nobody, indeed, knows or cares much about him. However, like most people, he has his friends and his enemies."
"Don't you remember a murdher that was committed here about two-and-twenty-years ago?"
"Was that before or afther the Black Prophet came to live in this counthry?"
"Afther it—afther it. No, no!'" he replied, correcting himself; "I am wrong; it was before he came here."
"Then he could have had no hand in it?"
"Him! Is it him! Why, what puts such a thing as that into your head'?"
"Faith, to tell you the truth, Rody, his daughter Sarah an' myself is beginnin' to look at one another; an', to tell you the truth again, I'd wish to know more about the same Prophet before I become his son-in-law, as I have some notion of doin'."
"I hard indeed that you wor pullin' a string wid her, an' now that I think of it, if you give me a lift wid ould Jemmy, I'll give you one there. The bailiff's berth is jist the thing for me; not havin' any family of my own, you see I could have no objection to live in the Grange, as their bailiff always did; but, aren't you afeard to tackle yourself to that divil's clip, Sarah?"
"Well, I don't know," replied the other; "I grant it's a hazard, by all accounts."
"An' yet" continued Rody, "she's a favorite with every one; an' indeed there's not a more generous or kinder-hearted creature alive this day than she is. I advise you, however, not to let her into your saicrets, for if it was the knockin' of a man on the head and that she knew it, and was asked about it, out it would go, rather than she'd tell a lie."
"They say she's handsomer than Gra Gal Sullivan," said Hanlon; "and I think myself she is."
"I don't know; it's a dead tie between them; however, I can give you a lift with her father, but not with herself, for somehow, she doesn't like a bone in my skin."
"She and I made a swop," proceeded Hanlon, "some time ago, that 'ud take a laugh out o' you: I gave her a pocket-hand-kerchy; and she was to give me an ould Tobaccy-Box—but she says she can't find it, altho' I have sent for it, an' axed it myself several times. She thinks the step-mother has thrown it away or hid it somewhere."
Body looked at him inquiringly.
"A Tobaccy-Box," he exclaimed; "would you like to get it?"
"Why," replied Hanlon, "the poor girl has nothing else to give, an' I'd like to have something from her, even if a ring never was to go on us, merely as a keepsake."
"Well, then," replied Duncan, with something approaching to solemnity in his voice, "mark my words—you promise to give me a lift for the drivership with old Jemmy and the two Dicks?"
"Well, then, listen: If you will be at the Grey Stone to-morrow night at twelve o'clock—midnight—I'll engage that Sarah will give you the box there."
"Why, in troth, Eody, to tell you the truth if she could give it to me at any other time an' place, I'd prefer it. That Grey Stone is a wild place to be in at midnight."
"It is a wild place; still it's there, an' nowhere else, that you must get the box. And now that the bargain's made, do you think it's thrue that this old Hendherson"—here he looked very cautiously about him—"has as much money as they say he has?"
"I b'lieve he's very rich."
"It is thrue that he airs the bank notes in the garden here, and turns the guineas in the sun, for fraid—for fraid—they'd get blue-mowled—is it?"
"It may, for all I know; but it's more than I've seen yet."
"An' now between you and me, Charley—whisper—I say, isn't it a thousand pities—nobody could hear us, surely?"
"Nonsense—who could hear us?"
"Well, isn't it a thousand pities, Charley, avia, that dacent fellows, like you and me, should be as we are, an' that mad ould villain havin' his house full 'o money? eh, now?"
"It's a hard case," replied Hanlon, "but still we must put up with our lot. His father I'm tould was as poor in the beginnin' as either of us."
"Ay, but it's the son we're spakin about—the ould tyrannical villain that dhrives an' harries the poor! He has loads of money in the house, they say—eh?"
"Divil a know myself knows, Rody:—nor—not makin' you an ill answer—divil a hair myself cares, Rody. Let him have much, or let him have little, that's your share an' mine of it."
"Charley, they say America's a fine place; talkin' about money—wid a little money there, they say a man could do wondhers."
"Who says that?"
"Why Donnel Dhu, for one; an' he knows, for he was there."
"I b'lieve that Donnel was many a place;—over half the world, if all's thrue."
"Augh! the same Donnel's a quare fellow—a deep chap—a cute follow; but, I know more about him than you think—ay, do I."
"Why, what do you know?"
"No matther—a thing or two about the same Donnel; an' by the same token, a betther fellow never lived—an' whisper—you're a strong favorite wid him, that I know, for we wor talkin' about you. In the meantime I wish to goodness we had a good scud o' cash among us, an' we safe an' snug in America! Now shake hands an' good bye—an' mark me—if you dhrame of America an' a long purse any o' these nights, come to me an' I'll riddle your dhrame for you."
He then looked Hanlon significantly in the face, wrung his hand, and left him to meditate on the purport of their conversation.
The latter as he went out gazed at him with a good deal of surprise.
"So," thought he, "you were feelin' my pulse, were you? I don't think it's hard to guess whereabouts you are; however I'll think of your advice at any rate, an' see what good may be in it. But, in the name of all that's wondherful, how does it come to pass that that red ruffian has sich authority over Sarah M'Gowan as to make her fetch me the very thing I want?—that tobacco-box; an' at sich a place, too, an' sich an hour! An' yet he says that she doesn't like a bone in his skin, which I b'lieve! I'm fairly in the dark here; however time will make it all clear, I hope; an' for that we must wait."
He then resumed his employment.
Donnel Dhu, who was a man of much energy and activity, whenever his purposes required it, instead of turning his steps homewards, directed them to the house of our kind friend Jerry Sullivan, with whose daughter, the innocent and unsuspecting Mave, it was his intention to have another private interview. During the interval that had elapsed since his last journey to the house of this virtuous and hospitable family, the gloom that darkened the face of the country had become awful, and such as wofully bore out to the letter the melancholy truth of his own predictions. Typhus fever had now set in, and was filling the land with fearful and unexampled desolation. Famine, in all cases the source and origin of contagion, had done, and was still doing, its work. The early potato crop, for so far as it had come in, was a pitiable failure; the quantity being small, and the quality watery and bad. The oats, too, and all early grain of that season's growth, were still more deleterious as food, for it had all fermented and become sour, so that the use of it, and of the bad potatoes, too, was the most certain means of propagating the pestilence which was sweeping away the people in such multitudes. Scarcely any thing presented itself to him as he went along that had not some melancholy association with death or its emblems. To all this, however, he paid little or no attention. When a funeral met him, he merely turned back three steps in the direction it went, as was usual; but unless he happened to know the family from which death had selected its victim, he never even took the trouble of inquiring who it was they bore to the grave—a circumstance which strongly proved the utter and heartless selfishness of the man's nature. On arriving at Sullivan's, however, he could not help feeling startled, hard and without sympathy as was his heart, at the wild and emaciated evidences of misery and want which a couple of weeks' severe suffering had impressed upon them. The gentle Mave herself, patient and uncomplaining as she was, had become thin and cheerless; yet of such a character was the sadness that rested upon her, that it only added a mournful and melancholy charm to her beauty—a charm that touched the heart of the beholder at once with love and compassion. As yet there had been no sickness among them; but who could say to-day that he or she might not be stricken down at once before to-morrow.
"Donnel," said Sullivan, after he had taken a seat, "how you came to prophecy what would happen, an' what has happened, is to me a wondher; but sure enough, fareer gair, (* bitter misfortune) it has all come to pass."
"I can't tell myself," replied the other, "how I do it; all I know is, that the words come into my mouth, an' I can't help spakin' them. At any rate, that's not surprisin'. I'm the seventh son of the seventh son, afther seven generations; that is I'm the seventh seventh son that was in our family; an' you must know that the knowledge increases as they go on. Every seventh son knows more than thim that wint before him till it comes to the last, and he knows more than thim all. There were six seventh sons before me, so that I'm the last; for it was never known since the world began that ever more than seven afther one another had the gift of prophecy in the same family. That's the raison, you see, that I have no sons—the knowledge ends wid me."
"It's very strange," replied Sullivan, "an' not to be accounted for by any one but God—glory be to his name!"
"It is strange—an' when I find that I'm goin' to foretell any thing that's bad or unlucky, I feel great pain or uneasiness in my mind—but on the other hand, when I am to prophesy what's good, I get quite light-hearted and aisy—I'm all happiness. An' that's the way I feel now, an' has felt for the last day or two."
"I wish to God, Donnel," said Mrs. Sullivan, "that you could prophesize something good for us."
"Or," continued her charitable and benevolent husband, "for the thousands of poor creatures that wants it more still than we do—sure it's thankful to the Almighty we ought to be—an' is, I hope—that this woful sickness hasn't come upon us yet. Even Condy Dalton an' his family—ay, God be praised for givin' me the heart to do it—I can forgive him and them."
"Don't say them, Jerry ahagur," observed his wife, "we never had any bad feelin' against them."
"Well, well," continued the husband, "I can forgive him an' all o' them now—for God help them, they're in a state of most heart-breakin' distitution, livin' only upon the bits that the poor starvin' neighbors is able to crib from their own hungry mouths for them!" And here the tears—the tears that did honor not only to him, but to human nature and his country—rolled slowly down his emaciated cheeks, for the deep distress to which the man that he believed to be the murdherer of his brother had been.
"Indeed, Donnel," said Mrs. Sullivan, "it would be a hard an' uncharitable heart that wouldn't relent if it knew what they are suffering. Young Con is jist risin' out of the faver that was in the family, and it would wring your—"
A glance at Mave occasioned her to pause. The gentle girl, upon whom the Prophet had kept his eye during the whole conversation, had been reflecting, in her wasted but beautiful features, both the delicacy and depth of the sympathy that had been expressed for the unhappy Daltons. Sometimes she became pale as ashes, and again her complexion assumed the subdued hue of the wild rose; for—alas that we must say it—sorrow and suffering—in other words, want, in its almost severest form, had thrown its melancholy hue over the richness of her blush—which, on this occasion, borrowed a delicate grace from distress itself. Such, indeed, was her beauty, and so gently and serenely did her virtues shine through it, that it mattered not to what condition of calamity they were subjected; in every situation they seemed to shed some new and unexpected charm upon the eyes of those who looked upon her. The mother, we said on glancing at her, paused—but the chord of love and sorrow had been touched, and poor Mave, unable any longer to restrain her feelings, burst out into tears, and wept aloud on heading the name and sufferings of her lover. Her father looked at her, and his brow got sad; but there was no longer the darkness of resentment or indignation there; so true is it that suffering chastens the heart into its noblest affections, and purges it of the gloomier and grosser passions.
"Poor Mave," he exclaimed, "when I let the tears down for the man that has my doother's blood on his hands, it's no wonder you, should cry for him you love so well."
"Oh, dear father," she exclaimed, throwing herself into his arms, and embracing him tenderly, "I feel no misery nor sorrow now—the words you have spoken have made me happy. All these sufferings will pass away; for it cannot be but God will, sooner or later, reward your piety and goodness. Oh, if I could do anything for—for—for any one," and she blushed as she spoke; "but I cannot. There is nothing here that I can do at home; but if I could go out and work by the day, I'd do it an' be happy, in ordher to help the—that—-family that's now brought so low, and that's so much to be pitied!"
We have already said that the Prophet's eye had been bent upon her ever since he came into the house, but it was with an expression of benignity and affection which, notwithstanding the gloomy character of his countenance, no one could more plausibly or willingly assume.
Mave, in the mean time, could scarcely bear to look upon him; and it was quite clear from her manner that she had, since their last mysterious interview, once more fallen back into those feelings of strong aversion with which she had regarded him at first. M'Gowan saw this, and without much difficulty guessed at the individual who had been instrumental in producing the change.
"God pardon an' forgive me," he exclaimed, as if giving unconscious utterance to his I own reflections—"for what I had thoughts of about that darlin' an' lovely girl; but sure I'll make it up to her; an', indeed, I feel the words of goodness that's to befall her breakin' out o' my lips. A colleen dhas, I had some private discoorse wid you when I was here last, an' will you let me spake a few words to you by ourselves agin?"
"No," she replied, "I'll hear nothing from you: I don't like you—I can't like you, an' I I'll hold no private discoorse with you."
"Oh, then, but that voice is music itself, an' you are, by all accounts, the best of girls; I but sure we have all turned over a new leaf, poor child. I discovered how I was taken in an' dasaved; but sure I can't ait you—an' a sweet morsel you'd be, a lanna dhas—nor' can I run away wid you—an' I seen the day that it's not my heart would hinder me to do that same. Oh, my goodness, what a head o' hair! an' talkin' about that—you undherstand—I'd like to have a word or two wid yourself.'
"Say whatever you have to say before my father and mother, then," she replied; "I have no—" she paused a moment and seemed embarrassed. The Prophet, who skilfully threw in the allusion to her hair, guessed the words she was on the point of uttering, and availing' himself of her difficulty, seemed to act as if she had completed what she was about to say.
"I know, dear," he added, "you have no saicrets from them: I'm glad to hear it, an' for that raison I'm willin' to say what I had to say in their presence; so far as I'm concerned, it makes no difference."
The allusion to her hair; added to the last observations, reminded her that it might be possible that he had some message from her lover, and she consequently seemed to waver a little, as if struggling against her strong, instinctive abhorrence of him.
"Don't be afeard, Mave dear," said her mother, "sure, poor honest Donnel wishes you well, an' won't prophesize any harm to you. Go with him."
"Do, achora," added the father; "Donnel can have nothing to say to you that can have any harm in it—go for a minute or two, since he wishes it."
Reluctantly, and with an indomitable feeling against the man, she went out, and stood under the shelter of a little elder hedge that adjoined the house.
"Now, tell me," she asked, quickly, "what is it you have to say to me?"
"I gave young Condy Dalton the purty ringlet of hair you sent him."
"What did he say?" she inquired.
"Not much," he replied, "till I tould him it was the last token that ever you could send him afther what your father said to you."
"Why, he cursed your father, an' said he desirved to get his neck broke."
"I don't believe that," she replied, "I know he never said them words, or anything like them. Don't mislead me, but tell me what he did say."
"Ah! poor Mave," he replied, "you little know what hot blood runs in the Daltons' veins. He said very little that was creditable to himself—an' indeed I won't repate it—but it was enough to make any girl of spirit have done wid him."
"An' don't you know," she replied, mournfully, "that I have done with him; an' that there never can be anything but sorrow and good will between us? Wasn't that my message to him by yourself?"
"It was, dear, an' I hope you're still of the same mind."
"I am," she said; "but you are not tellin' me the truth about him. He never spoke disrespectfully of my father or me."
"No, indeed, asthore, he did not then—oh, the sorra syllable—oh no; if I said so, don't believe me." And yet the very words he uttered, in consequence of the meaning which, they received from his manner, made an impression directly the reverse of their natural import.
"Well then," she said, "that's all you have to say to me?"
"No," he replied, "it is not; I want to know from you when you'll be goin' to your uncle's, at Mullaghmore."
"To-morrow," replied the artless and unsuspicious girl, without a moment's hesitation.
"Well, then," said he, "you pass the Grey Stone, at the foot of Mallybenagh—of coorse, I know you must. Now, my dear Mave, I want to show you that I have some insight into futurity. What hour will you pass it at?"
"About three o'clock, as near as I think; it may be a little more or a little less."
"Very well, acushlee; when you pass the Grey Stone about a few hundred yards on the right hand side, the first person you will meet will be a young man, well made, and very handsome. That young man will be the person, whosoever he is—an' I don't know myself—that will bring you love, and wealth, and happiness, and all that a woman can wish to have with a man. Nor, dear, if this doesn't happen, never b'lieve anything I say again; but if this does happen, I hope you'll have good sense, acushla machree, to be guided by one that's your true friend—an' that's myself. The first person you meet, afther passin' the Grey Stone, on your right hand side; remember the words. I know there's great luck an' high fortune before you; for, indeed, your beauty an' goodness well desarves it, an' they'll get both."
They then returned into the house; Mave somewhat surprised, but no way relieved, while the Prophet seemed rather in better spirits by the interview.
"Now, Jerry Sullivan," said he, "an' you, Bridget his wife, lend your ears an' listen. The heart of Prophet is full of good to you and yours, and the good must come to his lips, and flow from them when it comes. There are three books known to the wise: the Book of Marriage, the Book of Death, and the Book of Judgment. Open a leaf, says the Angel of Marriage—the Garden Angel of Jericho—where he brings all love, happiness and peace to; open a' leaf, says the Angel of Marriage—him that has one head and ten horns—and read us a page of futurity from the prophecy of St. Nebbychodanazor, the divine. The child is a faymale child, says the angel with one head and ten horns—by name Mabel Sullivan, daughter to honest Jerry Sullivan and his daicent wife Bridget, of Aughnamurrin. Amin, says the Prophet. Time is not tide, nor is tide time, and neither will wait for man. Three things will happen. A girl, young and handsome, will walk forth upon the highway, and there she will meet a man, young and handsome too, who will rise her to wealth, happiness and grandeur. So be it, says the Book of Marriage, and amin, agin, says the Prophet. Open a new leaf, says Nebbychodanazor, the divine; a new leaf in the Book of Judgment, and another in the Book of Death. A man was killed and his body hid, and a man lived with his blood upon him. Fate is fate, and Justice is near. For years he will keep the murther to himself, till a man's to come that will bring him to judgment. Then will judgment be passed, and the Book of Death will be opened. Read, says the Prophet; it is done at last; Judgment is passed, and Death follows; the innocent is set free, and the murdherer that consaled the murdher so long swings at last; and all these things is to be found by the Wise in the Books of Marriage, Death, and Judgment. He then added, as he had done at the conclusion of his former prophecy:
"Be kind and indulgent to your daughter, for she'll soon make all your fortunes; an' take care of her and yourselves till I see yez again."
As before, he gave them no further opportunity of asking for explanations, but immediately departed; and as if he had been moved by some new impulse or afterthought, he directed his steps once more to the Grange, where he saw young Henderson, with whom he had another private interview, of the purport of which our readers may probably form a tolerably accurate conjecture.
CHAPTER XVI. — Mysterious Disappearance of the Tobacco-box.
M'Gowan's mind, at this period of our narrative, was busily engaged in arranging his plans—for we need scarcely add here, that whether founded on justice or not, he had more than one ripening. Still there preyed upon him a certain secret anxiety, from which, by no effort, could he succeed in ridding himself. The disappearance of the Tobacco-box kept him so ill at ease and unhappy, that he resolved, on his way home, to make a last effort at finding it out, if it could be done; and many a time did he heartily curse his own stupidity for ever having suffered it to remain in his house or about it, especially when it was so easy to destroy it. His suspicions respecting it most certainly rested upon. Nelly, whom he now began to regard with a feeling of both hatred and alarm. Sarah, he knew, had little sympathy with him; but then he also knew that there existed less in common between her and Nelly. He thought, therefore, that his wisest plan would be to widen the breach of ill-feeling between them more and more, and thus to secure himself, if possible, of Sarah's co-operation and confidence, if not from affection or good feeling towards himself, at least from ill-will towards her step-mother. For this reason, therefore, as well as for others of equal, if not of more importance, he came to the determination of taking, to a certain extent, Sarah into his confidence, and thus making not only her quickness and activity, but her impetuosity and resentments, useful to his designs. It was pretty late that night, when he reached home; and, as he had devoted the only portion of his time that remained between his arrival and bed-time, to a description of the unsettled state of the country, occasioned by what were properly called the Famine Outrages, that were then beginning to take place, he made no allusion to anything connected with his projects, to either Nelly or his daughter, the latter of whom, by the way, had been out during the greater part of the evening. The next morning, however, he asked her to take a short stroll with him along the river, which she did; and both returned, after having had at least an hour's conversation—Sarah, with a flushed cheek and indignant eye, and her father, with his brow darkened, and his voice quivering from suppressed resentment; so that, so far as observation went, their interview and communication had not been very agreeable on either side. After breakfast, Sarah put on her cloak and bonnet, and was about to go out, when her father said—
"Pray, ma'am, where are you goin' now?"
"It doesn't signify," she replied; "but at all events you needn't ax me, for I won't tell you."
"What kind of answer is that to give me? Do you forget that I'm your father?"
"I wish I could; for indeed I am sorry you are."
"Oh, you know," observed Nelly, "she was always a dutiful girl—always a quiet good crathur. Why, you onbiddable sthrap, what kind o' an answer is that to give to your father?"
Ever since their stroll that morning, Sarah's eyes had been turned from time to time upon her step-mother with flash after flash of burning indignation, and now that she addressed her, she said—
"Woman, you don't know how I scorn you! Oh, you mane an' wicked wretch, had you no pride during all your life! It's but a short time you an' I will be undher the same roof together—an' so far as I am consarned, I'll not stoop ever to bandy abuse or ill tongue with you again. I know only one other person that is worse an' meaner still than you are—an' there, I am sorry to say, he stands in the shape of my father."
She walked out of the cabin with a flushed check, and a step that was full of disdain, and a kind of natural pride that might almost be termed dignity. Both felt rebuked; and Nelly, whose face got blanched and pale at Sarah's words, now turned upon the Prophet with a scowl."
"Would it be possible," said she, "that you'd dare to let out anything to that madcap?"
"Now," said he, "that the coast is clear, I desire you to answer me a question that I'll put to you—an' mark my words—by all that s above us, an' undher us, an' about us, if you don't spake thruth, I'll be apt to make short work of it."
"What is it?" she inquired, looking at him with cool and collected resentment, and an eye that was perfectly fearless.
"There was a Tobaccy-Box about this house, or in this house. Do you know anything about it?"
"A tobaccy-box—is it?"
"Ay, a tobaccy-box."
"Well, an' what about it? What do you want wid it? An ould, rusty Tobaccy-box; musha, is that what's throublin' you this mornin'?"
"Come," said he darkening, "I'll have no humbuggin'—answer me at wanst. Do you know anything about it?"
"Is it about your ould, rusty Tobaccy-box? Arrah, what 'ud I know about it? What the sorra would a man like you do wid a Tobaccy-box, that doesn't ever smoke? Is it mad or ravin' you are? Somehow I think the stroll you had wid the vagabone gipsy of a daughter of yours, hasn't put you into the best of timper, or her aither. I hope you didn't act the villain on me: for she looks at me as if she could ait me widout salt. But, indeed, she's takin' on her own hands finely of late; she's gettin' too proud to answer me now when I ax her a question."
"Well, why don't you ax her as you ought?"
"She was out all yesterday evenin', and when I said 'You idle sthrap, where wor you?' she wouldn't even think it worth her while to give me an answer, the vagabone."
"Do you give me one in the manetime. What about the Box I want? Spake the truth, if you regard your health."
"I know nothing about your box, an' I wish I could say as much of yourself. However, I won't long trouble you, that I can tell you—ay, an' her too. She needn't fear that I'll be long undher the same roof wid her. I know, any way, I wouldn't be safe. She would only stick me in one of her fits, now that she's able to fight me."
"Now, Nelly," said the Prophet, deliberately shutting the door, "I know you to be a hardened woman, that has little fear in your heart. I think you know me, too, to be a hardened and a determined man. There, now, I have shut an' boulted the door an' by Him that made me, you'll never lave this house, nor go out of that door a livin' woman, unless you tell me all you know about that Tobaccy-Box. Now you know my mind an' my coorse—act as you like now."
"Ha, ha, ha! Do you think to frighten me?" she asked, laughing derisively. "Me!—oh, how much you're mistaken, if you think so! Not that I don't believe you to be dangerous, an' a man that one ought to fear; but I have no fear of you."
"Answer me quickly," he replied—and as he spoke, he seized the very same knife from which she had so narrowly escaped in her conflict with Sarah—"answer me, I say; an' mark, I have no reason to wish you alive."
And as he spoke, the glare in his eyes flashed and became fearful.
"Ah," said she, "there's your daughter's look an' the same knife, too, that was near doin' for me wanst. Well, don't think that it's fear makes me say what I'm goin' to say; but that's the same knife; an' besides I dhramed last night that I was dressed in a black cloak—an' a black cloak, they say, is death! Ay, death—an' I know I'm not fit to die, or to meet judgment, an' you know that too. Now, then, tell me what it is you want wid the Box."
"No," he replied, sternly and imperatively, "I'll tell you nothing about it; but get it at wanst, before my passion rises higher and deadlier."
"Well, then, mark me, I'm not afeard of you—but I have the box."
"An' how did you come by it?" he asked.
"Sarah was lookin' for a cobweb to stop the blood where she cut me in our fight the other day, an' it came tumblin' out of a cranny in the wall."
"An' where is it now?"
"I'll get it for you," she replied; "but you must let me out first."
"Because it's not in the house."
"An' where is it? Don't think you'll escape me."
"It's in the thatch o' the roof."
The Prophet deliberately opened the door, and catching her by the shoulder, held her prisoner, as it were, until she should make her words good. The roof was but low, and she knew the spot too well to make any mistake about it.
"Here," said she, "is the cross I scraped on the stone undher the place."
She put up her hand as she spoke, and searched the spot—but in vain. There certainly was the cross as she had marked it, and there was the slight excavation under the thatch where it had been; but as for the box itself, all search for it was fruitless—it had disappeared.
CHAPTER XVII. — National Calamity—Sarah in Love and Sorrow.
The astonishment of the Prophet's wife on discovering that the Tobacco-box had been removed from the place of its concealment was too natural to excite any suspicion of deceit or falsehood on her part, and he himself, although his disappointment was dreadful on finding that it had disappeared, at once perceived that she had been perfectly ignorant of its removal. With his usual distrust and want of confidence, however, he resolved to test her truth a little further, lest by any possibility she might have deceived him.
"Now, Nelly," said he sternly, "mark me—is this the way you produce the box? You acknowledge that you had it—that you hid it even—an' now, when I tell you I want it, an' that it may be a matther of life an' death to me—you purtend its gone, an' that you know nothing about it—I say again, mark me well—produce the box!"
"Here," she replied, chafed and indignant as well at its disappearance as at the obstinacy of his suspicions—"here's my throat—dash your knife into it, if you like—but as for the box, I tell you, that although I did put it in there, you know as much about it now as I do."
"Well," said he, "for wanst I believe you—but mark me still—this box munt be gotten, an' it's to you I'll look for it. That's all—you know me."
"Ay," she replied, "I know you."
"Eh—what do you mane by that?" he asked—"what do you know? come now; I say, what do you know?"
"That you're a hardened and a bad man:—oh! you needn't brandish your knife—nor your eyes needn't blaze up that way, like your daughter's," she added, "except that you're hard an' dark, and widout one spark o' common feelin', I know nothin' particularly wicked about you—but, at the same time, I suspect enough."
"What do you suspect, you hardened vagabond?"
"It doesn't matther what I suspect," she answered; "only I think you'd have bad heart for anything—so go about your business, for I want to have nothing more either to do or say to you—an' I wish to glory I had been always of that way o' thinkin', a chiernah!—many a scalded heart I'd a missed that I got by you."
She then walked into the cabin, and the Prophet slowly followed her with his fixed, doubtful and suspicious eye, after which he flung the knife on the threshold, and took his way, in a dark and disappointed mood, towards Glendhu.
It is impossible for us here to detail the subject matter of his reflections, or to intimate to our readers how far his determination to bring Condy Dalton to justice originated in repentance for having concealed his knowledge of the murder, or in some other less justifiable state of feeling. At this moment, indeed, the family of the Daltons wore in anything but a position to bear the heavy and terrible blow which was about to fail upon them. Our readers cannot forget the pitiable state in which we left them, during that distressing crisis of misery, when the strange woman arrived with the oat-meal, which the kind-hearted Mave Sullivan had so generously sent them. On that melancholy occasion her lover complained of being ill, and, unfortunately, the symptoms were, in this instance, too significant of the malady which followed them. Indeed, it would be an infliction of unnecessary pain to detail here the sufferings which this unhappy family had individually and collectively borne. Young Condy, after a fortnight's prostration from typhus fever, was again upon his legs, tottering about, as his father had been, in a state of such helplessness between want of food on the one hand, and illness on the other, as it is distressing even to contemplate. If, however, the abstract consideration of it, even at a distance, be a matter of such painful retrospect to the mind, what must not the actual endurance of that and worse have been to the thousands upon thousands of families who were obliged, by God's mysterious dispensation, to encounter these calamities in all their almost incredible and hideous reality.
At this precise period, the state of the country was frightful beyond belief; for it is well known that the mortality of the season we are describing was considerably greater than that which even cholera occasioned in its worst and most malignant ravages. Indeed, the latter was not attended by such a tedious and lingering train of miseries as that, which in so many woful shapes, surrounded typhus fever. The appearance of cholera was sudden, and its operations quick, and although, on that account, it was looked upon with tenfold terror, yet for this very reason, the consequences which it produced were by no means so full of affliction and distress, nor presented such strong and pitiable claims on human aid and sympathy as did those of typhus. In the one case, the victim was cut down by a sudden stroke, which occasioned a shock or moral paralysis both to himself and the survivors—especially to the latter—that might, be almost said to neutralize its own inflictions. In the other, the approach was comparatively so slow and gradual, that all the sympathies and afflictions were allowed full and painful time to reach the utmost limits of human suffering, and to endure the wasting series of those struggles and details which long illness, surrounded by destitution and affliction, never fails to inflict. In the cholera, there was no time left to feel—the passions were wrenched and stunned by a blow, which was over, one may say, before it could be perceived; while in the wide-spread but more tedious desolation of typhus, the heart was left to brood over the thousand phases of love and misery which the terrible realities of the one, joined to the alarming exaggerations of the other, never failed to present. In cholera, a few hours, and all was over; but in the awful fever which then prevailed, there was the gradual approach—the protracted illness—the long nights of racking pain—day after day of raging torture—and the dark period of uncertainty when the balance of human life hangs in the terrible equilibrium of suspense—all requiring the exhibition of constant attention—of the eye whose affection never sleeps—the ear that is deaf only to every sound but the moan of pain—the touch whose tenderness is felt as a solace, so long as suffering itself is conscious—the pressure of the aching head—the moistening of the parched and burning lips—and the numerous and indescribable offices of love and devotedness, which always encompass, or should encompass, the bed of sickness and of death. There was, we say, all this, and much more than the imagination itself, unaided by a severe acquaintance with the truth, could embody in its gloomiest conceptions.
In fact, Ireland during the season, or rather the year, we are describing, might be compared to one vast lazar-house filled with famine, disease and death. The very skies of Heaven were hung with the black drapery of the grave; for never since, nor within the memory of man before it, did the clouds present shapes of such gloomy and funereal import. Hearses, coffins, long funeral processions, and all the dark emblems of mortality were reflected, as it were, on the sky, from the terrible work of pestilence and famine, which was going forward on the earth beneath them. To all this, the thunder and lightning too, were constantly adding their angry peals, and flashing, as if uttering the indignation of Heaven against our devoted people; and what rendered such fearful manifestations ominous and alarming to the superstitious, was the fact of their occurrence in the evening and at night—circumstances which are always looked upon With unusual terror and dismay.
To any person passing through the country, such a combination of startling and awful appearances was presented as has probably never been witnessed since. Go where you might, every object reminded you of the fearful desolation that was progressing around you. The features of the people were gaunt, their eyes wild and hollow, and their gait feeble and tottering. Pass through the fields, and you were met by little groups bearing home on their shoulders, and that with difficulty, a coffin, or perhaps two of them. The roads were literally black with funerals, and as you passed along from parish to parish, the death-bells were pealing forth, in slow but dismal tones, the gloomy triumph which pestilence was achieving over the face of our devoted country—a country that each successive day filled with darker desolation and deeper mourning.
Nor was this all. The people had an alarmed and unsettled aspect; and whether you met them as individuals or crowds, they seemed, when closely observed, to labor under some strong and insatiable want that rendered them almost reckless. The number of those who were reduced to mendicancy was incredible, and if it had not been for the extraordinary and unparalleled exertions of the clergy of all creeds, medical, men, and local committees, thousands upon thousands would have perished of disease or hunger on the highways. Many, indeed, did so perish; and it was no unusual sight to meet the father and mother, accompanied by their children, going they knew not whither, and to witness one or other of them lying down on the road side; and well were they off who could succeed in obtaining a sheaf of straw, on which, as a luxury, to lay down their aching head, that was never more to rise from it, until borne, in a parish shell, to a shallow and hasty grave.
Temporary sheds were also erected on the road sides, or near them, containing fever-stricken patients, who had no other-home; and when they were released, at last, from their sorrows, nothing was more common than to place the coffin on the road side also, with a plate on the lid of it, in order to solicit, from those who passed, such aid as they could afford to the sick or starving survivors.
That, indeed, was the trying and melancholy period in which all the lingering traces of self-respect—all recollection of former independence—all sense of modesty was cast to the winds. Under the terrible pressure of the complex destitution which prevailed, everything like shame was forgotten, and it was well known that whole families, who had hitherto been respectable and independent, were precipitated, almost at once, into all the common cant of importunity and clamor during this frightful struggle between life and death. Of the truth of this, the scenes which took place at the public Soup Shops, and other appointed places of relief, afforded melancholy proof. Here were wild crowds, ragged, sickly, and wasted away to skin and bone, struggling for the dole of charity, like so many hungry vultures about the remnant of some carcase which they were tearing, amid noise, and screams, and strife, into very shreds; for, as we have said, all sense of becoming restraint and shame was now abandoned, and the timid girl, or modest mother of a family, or decent farmer, goaded by the same wild and tyrannical cravings, urged their claims with as much turbulent solicitation and outcry, as if they had been trained, since their very infancy, to all the forms of impudent cant and imposture.
This, our readers will admit, was a most deplorable state of things; but, unfortunately, we cannot limit the truth of our descriptions to the scenes we have just attempted to portray. The misery which prevailed, as it had more than one source, so had it more than one aspect. There were, in the first place, studded over the country, a vast number of strong farmers with bursting granaries and immense haggards, who, without coming under the odious denomination of misers or mealmongers, are in the habit of keeping up their provisions, in large quantities, because they can afford to do so, until a year of scarcity arrives, when they draw upon their stock precisely when famine and prices are both at their highest. In addition to these, there was another still viler class; we mean the hard-hearted and well known misers—men who, at every time, and in every season, prey upon the distress and destitution of the poor, and who can never look upon a promising spring or an abundant harvest, without an inward sense of ingratitude against God for his goodness, or upon a season of drought, or a failing crop, unless with a thankful feeling of devotion for the approaching calamity.
During such periods, and under such circumstances, these men—including those of both classes—and the famished people, in general, live and act under antagonistic principles. Hunger, they say, will break through stone walls, and when we reflect, that in addition to this irresistible stimulus, we may add a spirit of strong prejudice and resentment against these heartless persons, it is not surprising that the starving multitudes should, in the ravening madness of famine, follow up its outrageous impulses, and forget those legal restraints, or moral principles, that protect property under ordinary or different circumstances. It was just at this precise period, therefore, that the people, impelled by hunger and general misery, began to burst out into that excited stupefaction which is, we believe, peculiar to famine riots. And what rendered them still more exasperated than they probably would have been, was the long lines of provision carts which met or intermingled with the funerals on the public thoroughfares, while on their way to the neighboring harbors, for exportation. Such, indeed, was the extraordinary fact! Day after day, vessels laden with Irish provisions, drawn from a population perishing with actual hunger, as well as with the pestilence which it occasioned, were passing out of our ports, while, singular as it may seem, other vessels came in freighted with our own provisions, sent back through the charity of England to our relief.
It is not our business, any more than it is our inclination, to dwell here upon the state of those sumptuary enactments, which reflected such honor upon the legislative wisdom, that permitted our country to arrive at the lamentable condition we have attempted to describe. We merely mention the facts, and leave to those who possess position and ability, the task of giving to this extraordinary state of things a more effectual attention. Without the least disposition, however, to defend or justify any violation of the laws, we may be permitted to observe, that the very witnessing of such facts as these, by destitute and starving multitudes, was in itself such a temptation to break in upon the provisions thus transmitted, as it was scarcely within the strength of men, furious with famine, to resist. Be this as it may, however, it is our duty as a faithful historian to state, that at the present period of our narrative, the famine riots had begun to assume something of an alarming aspect. Several carts had been attacked and pillaged, some strong farmers had been visited, and two or three misers were obliged to become benevolent with rather a bad grace. At the head of these parties were two persons mentioned in these pages; to wit, Thomas Dalton and Red Eody Duncan, together with several others of various estimation and character; some of them, as might be naturally expected, the most daring and turbulent spirits in the neighborhood.
Such, then, was the miserable state of things in the country at that particular period. The dreadful typhus was now abroad in all his deadly power, accompanied, on this occasion, as he always is among the Irish, by a panic which invested him with tenfold terrors. The moment fever was ascertained, or even supposed to visit a family, that moment the infected persons were avoided by their neighbors and friends, as if they carried death, as they often did, about them; so that its presence occasioned all the usual interchanges of civility and good neighborhood to be discontinued. Nor should this excite our wonder, inasmuch as this terrific scourge, though unquestionably an epidemic, was also ascertained to be dangerously and fatally contagious. None, then, but persons of extraordinary moral strength, or possessing powerful impressions of religious duty, had courage to enter the houses of the sick or dead, for the purpose of rendering to the afflicted those offices of humanity which their circumstances required; if we except only their nearest relatives, or those who lived in the same family.