"Come on now," shouted Tom, in his terrible voice; "here's the greatest of all before us still. Who wants meal now? Come on, I say—ha, ha, ha! Is there any of you hungry? Is there any of you goin' to die for want of food? Now's your time—ho, ho! Now, Peggy, now. Amn't I doin' it? Ay, am I, an' it's all for your sake, Peggy dear, for, I swore by the broken heart you died of—ay, an' didn't I tell you that last night on your grave where I slep'. No, he wouldn't—he wouldn't—but now—now—he'll see the differ—ay, an' feel it too. Come on," he shouted, "who-ever's hungry, folly me! ha, ha, ha!"
This idiotic, but ferocious laugh, echoing such a dreadful purpose, was appalling; but the people who knew what he had suffered, only felt it as a more forcible incentive to outrage. Darby's residence was now quite at hand, and in a few minutes it was surrounded by such a multitude, both of men and women, as no other occasion could ever bring together. The people were, in fact, almost lost in their own garments; some were without coats or waistcoats to protect them from the elements, having been forced, poor wretches, to part with them for food; others had nightcaps or handkerchiefs upon their heads instead of hats; a certain proof that they were only in a state of convalescence from fever—the women stood with dishevelled hair—some of them half naked, and others leading their children about, or bearing them in their arms; altogether they presented such an appearance as was enough to wring the benevolent heart with compassion and. sorrow for their sufferings.
On arriving at Darby's house, they found it closed, but not deserted. At first, Tom Dalton knocked, and desired the door to be opened, but the women who were present, whether with shame or with honor to the sex, we are at a loss to say, felt so eager on the occasion, probably for the purpose of avenging Peggy Murtagh, that they lost not a moment in shivering in the windows, and attacking the house with stones and missiles of every description. In a few minutes the movement became so general and simultaneous that the premises were a perfect wreck, and nothing was to be seen but meal and flour, and food of every description, either borne off by the hungry crowd, or scattered most wickedly and wantonly through the streets, while, in the very midst of the tumult, Tom Dalton was seen dragging poor Darby out by the throat, and over to the centre of the street.
"Now," said he, "here I have you at last—ha, ha, ha!"—his voice, by the way, as he spoke and laughed, had become fearfully deep and hollow—"now, Peggy dear, didn't I swear it—by the broken heart you died of, I said, an' I'll keep that sacred oath, darlin'." While speaking, the thin fleshless face of the miser was becoming black—his eyes were getting blood-shot, and, in a very short time, strangulation must have closed his wretched existence, when a young and tall female threw herself by a bound upon Dalton, whom she caught by the throat, precisely as he himself had caught Darby. It was Sarah, who saw that there was but little time to lose in order to save the wretch's life. Her grip was so effectual, that Dalton was obliged to relax his hold upon the other for the purpose of defending himself.
"Who is this?" said he; "let me go, you had better, till I have his life—let me go, I say."
"It's one," she replied, "that's not afeard but ashamed of you. You, a young man, to go strangle a weak, helpless ould creature, that hasn't strength or breath to defend himself no more then a child."
"Didn't he starve Peggy Murtagh?" replied Tom; "ha, ha, ha!—didn't he starve her and her child?"
"No," she replied aloud, and with glowing cheeks; "it's false—it wasn't he but yourself that starved her and her child. Who deserted her—who brought her to shame, an' to sorrow, in her own heart an' in the eyes of the world? Who left her to the bitter and vile tongues of the whole counthry? Who refused to marry her, and kept her so that she couldn't raise her face before her fellow cratures? Who sent her, without hope, or any expectation of happiness in this life—this miserable life—to the glens and lonely ditches about the neighborhood, where she did nothing but shed blither tears of despair and shame at the heartless lot you brought her to? An' when she was desarted by the wide world, an' hadn't a friendly face to look to but God's, an' when one kind word from your lips would give her hope, an' comfort, an' happiness, where were you? and where was that kind word that would have saved her? Let the old man go, you unmanly coward; it wasn't him that starved her—it was yourself that starved her, and broke her heart!"
"Did yez hear that?" said Dalton; "ha, ha, ha—an' it's all thrue; she has tould me nothing but the thruth—here, then, take the ould vagabond away with you, and do what you like with him—"
"'I am a bold and rambling boy, My lodging's in the isle of Throy; A rambling boy, although I be, I'd lave them all an' folly thee.'
Ha, ha, ha!—but come, boys, pull away; we'll finish the wreck of this house, at any rate."
"Wreck away," said Sarah, "I have nothin' to do with that; but I think them women—man-women I ought to call them—might consider that there's many a starvin' mouth that would be glad to have a little of what they're throwin' about so shamefully. Do you come with me, Darby; I'll save you as far as I can, an' as long as I'm able."
"I will, achora," replied Darby, "an' may God bless you, for you have saved my life; but why should they attack me? Sure the world knows, an' God knows, that my heart bleeds—"
"Whisht," she exclaimed, "the world an' God both know it's a lie, if you say your heart bleeds for any thing but the destruction that you see on your place. If you had given Peggy Murtagh the meal, she might be a livin' woman to-day; so no more falsehoods now, or I'll turn you back to Tom Dalton's clutches."
"No, then," replied the trembling wretch, "I won't; but between you an' me, then,—an' it needn't go farther—troth my heart bleeds for the severity that's—"
"One word more," she replied, "an' I lave you to what you'll get."
Sarah's interference had a singular effect upon the crowd. The female portion of it having reflected upon her words, soon felt and acknowledged their truth, because they involved a principle of justice and affection to their sex; while the men, without annexing any moral consideration to the matter, felt themselves influenced by her exquisite figure and great beauty.
"She's the Black Prophet's daughter," exclaimed the women; "an' if the devil was in her, she tould Tom Dalton nothing but the truth, at any rate."
"An' they say the devil is in her, the Lord save us, if ever he was in any one—keep away from her—my sowl in Heaven! but she'd think no more of tearin' your eyes out, or stickin' you wid a case-knife, than you would of aitin' bread an' butther."
"Blessed Father!" exclaimed another, "did you see the brightness of her eyes while she was spakin?"
"No matther what she is," said a young fellow beside them; "the devil a purtier crature ever was made; be my soul, I only wish I had a thousand pounds, I wouldn't be long without a wife at any rate."
The crowd having wrecked Skinadre's dwelling, and carried off and destroyed almost his whole stock of provisions, now proceeded in a different direction, with the intention of paying a similar visit to some similar character. Sarah and Darby—for he durst not venture, for the present, towards his own house—now took their way to the cabin of old Condy Dalton, where they arrived just in time to find the house surrounded by the officers of justice, and some military.
"Ah," thought Sarah, on seeing them; "it is done, then, an' you lost but little time about it. May God forgive you, father."
They had scarcely entered, when one of the officers pulling out a paper, looked at it and asked, "Isn't your name Condy or Cornelius Dalton?"—
"That is my name," said the old man.
"I arrest you, then," he continued, "for the murder of one Bartholomew Sullivan."
"It is the will of God," replied the old man, while the tears flowed down his cheeks—"it's God's will, an' I won't consale it any longer; take me away—I'm guilty—I'm guilty."
CHAPTEE XXI. — Condy Datton goes to Prison.
The scene that presented itself in Condy Dalton's miserable cabin was one, indeed, which might well harrow any heart not utterly callous to human sympathy. The unhappy old man had been sitting in the armchair we have alluded to, his chin resting on his breast, and his mind apparently absorbed in deep and painful reflection, when the officers of justice entered. Many of our Landlord readers, and all, probably, of our Absentee ones, will, in the simplicity of their ignorance regarding the actual state of the lower classes, most likely take it for granted that the picture we are about to draw exists nowhere but in our own imagination. Would to God that it were so! Gladly and willingly would we take to ourselves all the shame; acknowledge all the falsehood; pay the highest penalty for all the moral guilt of our misrepresentations, provided only any one acquainted with the country could prove to us that we are wrong, change our nature, or, in other words, falsify the evidence of our senses and obliterate our experience of the truths we are describing.
Old Dalton was sitting, as we have said, in the only memorial of his former respectability now left him—the old arm-chair—when the men bearing the warrant for his arrest presented themselves. The rain was pouring down in that close, dark, and incessant fall, which gives scarcely any hope of its ending, and throws the heart into that anxious and gloomy state which every one can feel and perhaps no one describe.
The cabin in which the Daltons now lived was of the poorest description. When ejected from their large holding by Dick o' the Grange, or in other words, were auctioned out, they were unhappily at a loss where to find a place in which they could take a temporary refuge. A kind neighbor who happened to have the cabin in question lying unoccupied, or rather waste upon his hands, made them an offer of it; not, as he said, in the expectation that they could live in it for any length of time, but merely until they could provide themselves with a more comfortable and suitable abode.
"He wished," he added, "it was better for their sakes; and sorry he was to see such a family brought so low as to live in it at all!"
Alas! he knew not at the time how deeply the unfortunate family in question were steeped in distress and poverty. They accepted this miserable cabin; but in spite of every effort to improve their condition, days, weeks, and months passed, and still found them unable to make a change for the better.
When Darby and Sarah entered, they found young Con, who had now relapsed, lying in one corner of the cabin, on a wretched shake-down bed of damp straw; while on another of the same description lay his amiable and affectionate sister Nancy. The cabin stood, as we have said, in a low, moist situation, the floor of it being actually lower—which is a common case—than the ground about it outside. It served, therefore, as a receptacle for the damp and under-water which the incessant down-pouring of rain during the whole season had occasioned. It was therefore, dangerous to tread upon the floor, it was so soft and slippery. The rain, which fell heavily, now came down through the roof in so many places that they were forced to put under it such vessels as they could spare, not even excepting the beds over each of which were placed old clothes, doubled up under dishes, pots, and little bowls, in order, if possible, to keep them dry. The house—if such it could be called—was almost destitute of furniture, nothing but a few pots, dishes, wooden noggins, some spoons, and some stools being their principal furniture, with the exception of one standing short-posted bed, in a corner, near the fire. There, then, in that low, damp, dark, pestilential kraal, without chimney or window, sat the old man, who, notwithstanding its squalid misery, could have looked upon it as a palace, had he been able to say to his own heart—I am not a murderer.
There, we say, he sat alone, surrounded by pestilence and famine in their most fearful shapes, listening to the moanings of his sick family, and the ceaseless dropping of the rain, which fell into the vessels that were placed to receive it. Mrs. Dalton was "out," a term which was used in the bitter misery of the period, to indicate that the person to whom it applied had been driven to the last resource of mendicancy; and his other daughter, Mary, had gone to a neighbor's house to beg a little fire.
As the old man uttered the words, no language could describe the misery which was depicted on his countenance.
"Take me," he exclaimed; "ah, no; for then what will become of these?" pointing to his son and daughter, who were sick.
The very minions of the law felt for him; and the chief of them said, in a voice of kindness and compassion:
"It's a distressin' case; but if you'll be guided by me, you won't say anything that may be brought against yourself. I was never engaged," said he, looking towards Darby and Sarah, to whom he partly addressed his discourse, "in anything so painful as this. A man of his age, now afther so many years! However—well—it can't be helped; we must do our duty."
"Where is the rest of your family?" asked another of them; "is this young woman a daughter of yours?"
"Not at all," replied a third; "this is a daughter of the Black Prophet himself; and, by japers, you hardened gipsey, it's a little too bad for you to come to see how your blasted ould father's work gets on. It's his evidence that's bringin' this dacent ould man from his family to a gaol, this miserable evenin'. Be off out o' this, I desire you; I wondher you're not ashamed to be present here, above all places in the world, you brazen devil."
Sarah's whole soul, however, in all its best and noblest sympathies, had passed into and mingled with the scene of unparalleled misery which was then before her. She went rapidly to the bed in which young Con was I stretched; stooped down, and looking closely at him, perceived that he was in a broken and painful slumber. She then passed to that in which his sister lay, and saw that she was also asleep. After a glance at each, she rubbed her hands with a kind of wild satisfaction, and going up to old Dalton, exclaimed—for she had not heard a syllable of the language used towards her by the officer of justice—
"Ay," said she, laying her hand upon his white hairs; "you are to be pitied this night, poor ould man; but which of you, oh, which of you is to be pitied most, you or them! an' your wife, too; an' your other daughter, an' your other son, too; but he's past under-standin' it; oh, what will they do? At your age, too—at your age! Oh, couldn't you die?—couldn't you contrive, someway, to die?—couldn't you give one great struggle, an' then break your heart at wanst, an' forever!"
These words were uttered rapidly, but in a low and cautious voice, for she still feared to awaken those who slept.
The old man had also been absorbed in, his own misery; for he looked at her inquiringly, and only replied, "Poor girl, what is it you're saying?"
"I'm biddin' you to die," she replied, "if you can, you needn't be afeard of God—he has punished you enough for the crime you have committed. Try an' die, if you can—or if you can't—oh," she exclaimed, "I pray God that you—that he, there—" and she ran and bent over young Con's bed for a moment; "that you—that you may never recover, or live to see what you must see."
"It's a fact, that between hunger and this sickness," continued he who had addressed her last, "they say an' I know that there's great number of people silly; but I think this lady is downright mad; what do you mane, you clip?"
Sarah stared at him impatiently, but without any anger.
"He doesn't hear me," she added, again putting her hand in a distracted manner upon Dalton's gray hair; "no, no; but since it can't be so, there's not a minute to be lost. Oh, take him away, now," she proceeded, "take him away while they're asleep, an' before his wife and daughter comes home—take him away, now; and spare him—spare them—spare them all as much sufferin' as you can."
"There's not much madness in that, Jack," returned one of them; "I think it would be the best thing we could do. Are you ready to come now, Dalton?" asked the man.
"Who's that," said the old man, in a voice of indescribable woe and sorrow; "who's that was talkin' of a broken heart? Oh, God," he exclaimed, looking up to Heaven, with a look of intense agony, "support me—support them; and if it be your blessed will, pity us all; but above all things, pity them, oh, Heavenly Father, and don't punish them for my sin!"
"It's false," exclaimed Sarah, looking on Dalton, and reasoning apparently with herself; "he never committed a could blooded murdher; an' the Sullivans are—are—oh—take him away," she said, still in a low, rapid voice; "take him away! Come now," she added, approaching Dalton again; "come—while they're asleep, an' you'll save them an' yourself much distress. I'm not afeard of your wife—for she can bear it if any wife could—but I do your poor daughter, an' she so weak an' feeble afther her illness; come."
Dalton looked at her, and said:
"Who is this girl that seems to feel so much for me? but whoever she is, may God bless her, for I feel that she's right. Take me away before they waken! oh, she is right in every word she says, for I am not afeard of my wife—her trust in God is too firm for anything to shake. I'm ready; but I fear I'll scarcely be able to walk all the way—an' sich an evenin' too—Young woman, will you break this business to these ones, and to my wife, as you can?"
"Oh, I will, I will," she replied; "as well as I can; you did well to say so," she added, in a low voice to herself; "an' I'll stay here with your sick family, an' I'll watch an' attend them. Whatever can be done by the like o' me for them, I'll do. I'll—I'll not lave them—I'll nurse them—I'll take care of them—I'll beg for them—oh, what would I not do for them?" and while speaking she bent over young Con's bed, and clasping her hands, and wringing them several times, she repeated "oh what wouldn't I do for you!"
"May God bless you, best of girls, whoever you are! Come, now, I'm ready."
"Ay," said Sarah, running over to him, "that's right—I'll break the bitter news to them as well as it can be done; come, now."
The old man stood, in the midst of his desolation, with his hat in his hand, and he looked towards the beds.
"Poor things!" he exclaimed; "what a change has come over you, for what you wanst, an' that not long since, wor. Never, my darlin' childhre—oh, never did one harsh or undutiful word come from your lips to your unhappy father. In my ould age and misery I'm now lavin' you—may be forever—never, maybe, to see you again in this world; an' oh, my God, if we are never to meet in the other; if the innocent and the guilty is never to meet, then this is my last look at you, for everlastin', for everlastin'! I can't do it," he added, weeping bitterly—"I must take my lave of them; I must kiss their lips."
Sarah, while he spoke, had uttered two or three convulsive sobs; but she shed no tears; on the contrary, her eyes were singularly animated and brilliant. She put her arms about him, and said, in a soothing and solicitous tone:
"Oh, no, it's all thrue; but if you kiss them, you'll disturb and waken them; and then, you know, when they see you taken away in this manner, an' hears what it's for, it may be their death."
"Thrue, achora; thrue: well, I will only look at them, then. Let me keep my eyes on them for a little; may be they may go first, an' may be I may go first; the last time, may be, for everlastin', that I'll see them!"
He went over, as he spoke, Sarah still having her hand upon his arm, as if to intimate her anxiety to keep him under such control as might prevent him from awakening them; and, standing first over the miserable bed where Nancy slept, he looked down upon her.
"Ay," said he, while the tears showered down his cheeks, "there lies the child that never vexed a parent's heart or ruffled one of our tempers. May the blessin', if it is a blessin', or can be a blessin'—"
"It is, it is," said Sarah, with a quick, short sob; "it is a blessin', an' a holy blessin'; but bless him—bless him, too!"
"May my blessin' rest upon you, or rather may the blessin' of Almighty God, rest upon you, daughter of my heart! And you too," he proceeded, turning to the other bed; "here is him that among them all I loved the best; my youngest, an' called afther myself—may my blessin' an' the blessin' of God and my Saviour rest upon you, my darlin' son; an' if I never see either of you in this unhappy world, grant, oh, merciful Father, that we may meet in the glory of Heaven, when that stain will be taken away from me for that crime that I have repented for so long an' so bittherly?"
Sarah, while he spoke, had let go his arm, and placing her two hands over her eyes, her whole breast quivered; and the men, on looking at her, saw the tears gushing out in torrents from between her finger. She turned round, however, for a few moments, as if to compose herself; and, when she again approached the old man, there was a smile—a smile, brilliant, but agitated, in her eyes and upon her lips.
"There now," she proceeded; "you have said all you can say; come, go with them. Ah," she exclaimed with a start of pain, "all we've done or tried to do is lost, I doubt. Here's his wife and daughter. Come out now," said she addressing him, "say a word or two to them outside."
Just as she spoke, Mrs. Dalton and the poor invalid, Mary, entered the house: the one with some scanty supply of food, and the other bearing a live coal between two turf, one under and the other over it.
"Wait," said Sarah, "I'll speak to them before they come in." And, ere the words were uttered, she met them.
"Come here, Mrs. Dalton," said she; "stop a minute, speak to this poor girl, and support her. These sogers, and the constables inside, is come about Sullivan's business, long ago."
"I know it," replied Mrs. Dalton; "I've just heard all about it, there beyond; but she," pointing to her daughter, "has only crossed the ditch from the commons, and joined me this minute."
"Give me these," said Sarah to the girl, "and stay here till I come out again, wet as it is. Your mother will tell you why."
She took the fire from her as she spoke, and, running in, laid it upon the hearth, placing, at the same time, two or three turf about in a hurried manner, but still in a way that argued great presence of mind, amid all her distraction. On going out again, however, the first object she saw was one of the soldiers supporting the body of poor Mary, who had sunk under the intelligence. Mrs. Dalton having entered the cabin, and laid down the miserable pittance of food which she had been carrying, now waved her hand with authority and singular calmness, but at the same time with a face as pallid as death itself.
"This is a solemn hour," said she, "an' a woful sight in this place of misery. Keep quiet, all of you. I know what this is about, dear Condy," she said; "I know it; but what is the value of our faith, if it doesn't teach us obedience? Kiss your child, here," said she, "an' go—or come, I ought to say, for I will go with you. It's not to be wondhered at that she couldn't bear it, weak, and worn, and nearly heartbroken as she is. Bless her, too, before you go. An' this girl," she said, pointing at Mary, and addressing Sarah, "you will spake to her, an' support her as well as you can, and stay with them all for an hour or two. I can't lave him."
Dalton, while she spoke, had taken Mary in his arms, kissed her, and, as in the case of the others, blessed her with a fervor only surpassed by his sorrow and utter despair.
"I will stay with them," said Sarah; "don't doubt that—not for an hour or two, but till they come to either life or death; so I tould him."
"It's a bitther case," said Mrs. Dalton; "a bitther case; but then it's God's gracious will, an' them that He loves He chastises. Blessed be His name for all He does, and blessed be His name ever for this!"
Mary now recovered in her father's arms; and her mother, in a low but energetic voice, pointing to the beds, said:
"Think of them, darlin'. There now, part with him. This world, I often tould you dear, Mary, is not our place, but our passage; an' although it's painful let us not forget that it is God Himself that is guidin' and directin' us through it. Come, Con dear, come."
A long mournful embrace, and another sorrowful but fervent blessing, and with a feeble effort at consolation, Dalton parted with the weeping girl; and placing his hat on his white head, he gave one long look—one indescribable look—upon all that was so dear to him in this scene of unutterable misery, and departed. He had not gone far, however, when he returned a step or two towards the door; and Mary, having noticed this, went to him, and throwing her arms once more about his neck, exclaimed:
"Oh! Father, darlin' an' is it come to this? Oh, did we ever complain or grumble about all we suffered, while we had you wid us? no, we wouldn't. What was our sufferins, father, dear—nothing. But, oh, nothing ever broke our hearts, or troubled us, but to see you in sich sorrow."
"It's thrue, Mary darlin'; you wor all—all a blessin' to me; but I feel, threasure of my heart, that my sorrows an' my cares will soon be over. It's about Tom I come back. Och, sure I didn't care what he or we might suffer, if it had plased God to lave him in his senses; but maybe now he's happier than we are. Tell him—if he can understand it, or when he does understand it—that I lave my blessin' and God's blessin' with him for evermore—for evermore: an' with you all; an' with you, too, young woman, for evermore, amen! And now come; I submit myself to the will of my marciful Saviour."
He looked up to heaven as he spoke, his two hands raised aloft; after which he covered his venerable head, and, with this pious and noble instance of resignation, did the affectionate old man proceed, as well as his feeble limbs could support him, to the county prison, accompanied by his pious and truly Christian wife.
As the men were about to go, he who had addressed Sarah so rudely, approached her with as much regret on his face as its hardened and habitual indifference to human misery could express, and said, tapping her on the shoulder:
"I was rather rough to you, jist now, my purty girl—to' be jabers, it' is you that is the purty girl. I dunna, by the way, how the ould Black Prophet came by the likes o' you; but, then he was a handsome vagabond in his day, himself, an' you are like him."
"What do you want to say?" she asked, impatiently; "but stand outside, I won't speak to you here—your voice would waken a corpse. Here, now," she added, having gone out upon the causeway, "what is it?"
"Why, devil a thing," he replied; "only you're a betther girl than I tuck you to be. It's a pitiful case, this—a woful case at his time o' life. Be heaventhers, but I'd rather a thousand times see Black Boy, your own precious father, swing, than this poor ould man."
A moment's temporary fury was visible, but she paused, and it passed away; after which she returned slowly and thoughtfully into the cabin.
It is unnecessary to say, that almost immediately the general rumor of Dalton's arrest for the murder had gone through the whole parish, together with the fact that it was upon the evidence of the Black Prophet and Red Rody Duncan, that the proof of it had been brought home to him. Upon the former occasion there had been nothing against him, but such circumstances of strong suspicion as justified the neighboring magistrates in having him taken into custody. On this, however, the two men were ready to point out the identical spot where the body had been buried, and to identify it as that of Bartholomew Sullivan. Nothing remained, therefore, now that Dalton was in custody, but to hold an inquest upon the remains, and to take the usual steps for the trial of Dalton at the following assizes, which were not very far distant. Indeed, notwithstanding the desolation that prevailed throughout the country, and in spite of the care and sorrow which disease and death brought home to so many in the neighborhood, there was a very general feeling of compassion experienced for poor old Dalton and his afflicted family. And among those who sympathized with them, there was scarcely one who expressed himself more strongly upon the subject than Mr. Travers, the head agent of the property on which they had lived, especially upon contrasting the extensive farm and respectable residence, from which their middleman landlord had so harshly and unjustly ejected them, with the squalid kennel in which they then endured such a painful and pitiable existence. This gentleman had come to the neighborhood, in order to look closely into the condition of the property which had been entrusted to his management, in consequence of a great number of leases having expired; some of which had been held by extensive and wealthy middlemen, among the latter of whom was our friend, Dick o' the Grange.
The estate was the property of an English, nobleman, who derived an income of thirty-two or thirty-three thousand a year from it; and who though, as landlords went, was not, in many respects, a bad one; yet when called upon to aid in relieving the misery of those from whose toil he drew so large an income, did actually remit back the munificent sum of one hundred pounds! [A recent fact.] The agent, himself, was one of those men who are capable of a just, but not of a generous action. He could, for instance, sympathize with the frightful condition of the people—but to contribute to their relief was no part of his duty. Yet he was not a bad man. In his transactions with his landlord's tenancy, he was fair, impartial, and considerate. Whenever he could do a good turn, or render a service, without touching his purse, he would do it. He had, it is true, very little intercourse with the poorer class of under tenants, but, whenever circumstances happened to bring them before him, they found him a hard, just man, who paid attention to their complaints, but who, in a case of doubt, always preferred the interest of his employer, or his own, to theirs. He had received many complaints and statements against the middlemen who resided upon the property, and he had duly and carefully considered them. His present visit, therefore, proceeded from a determination to look closely into the state and condition of the general tenancy, by which he meant as well those who derived immediately from the head landlord, as those who held under middlemen. One virtue he possessed, which, in an agent, deserves every praise; he was inaccessible to bribery on the one hand, or flattery on the other; and he never permitted his religious or political principles to degenerate into prejudice, so far as to interfere with the impartial discharge of his duty. Such was Robert James Travers, Esq., and we only wish that every agent in the country at large would follow his example.
CHAPTER XXII. — Re-appearance of the Box—Friendly Dialogue Between Jimmy Branighan and the Pedlar
The next morning but one after the committal of Condy Dalton, the strange woman who had manifested such an anxious interest in the recovery of the Tobacco-Box, was seated at her humble fireside, in a larger and more convenient cottage than that which we have described, where she was soon joined by Charley Hanlon, who had already made it so comfortable and convenient that she was able to contribute something towards her own support, by letting what are termed in the country parts of Ireland, "Dry Lodgings." Her only lodger on this occasion was our friend the pedlar, who had been domiciled with her ever since his arrival in the neighborhood, and whose principal traffic, we may observe, consisted in purchasing the flowing and luxuriant heads of hair which necessity on the one hand, and fear of fever on the other, induced the country maidens to part with. This traffic, indeed, was very general during the period we are describing, the fact being that the poor people, especially the females, had conceived a notion, and not a very unreasonable one, too, that a large crop of hair not only predisposed them to the fever which then prevailed, but rendered their recovery from it more difficult. These notions, to be sure, resulted naturally enough from the treatment which medical men found it necessary to adopt in dealing with it—every one being aware that in order to relieve the head, whether by blister or other application, it is necessary to remove the hair. Be this, however, as it may, it is our duty to state here that the traffic we allude to was very general, and that many a lovely and luxuriant crop came under the shears of the pedlars who then strolled through the country.
"Afther all, aunt," said Hanlon, after having bidden her good morrow, "I'm afraid it was a foolish weakness to depend upon a dhrame. I see nothing clear in the business yet. Here now we have got the Box, an' what are we the nearer to the discovery?"
"Well," replied his aunt, for in that relation she stood to him, "is it nothing to get even that? Sure we know now that it was his, an' do you think that M'Gowan, or as they call him, the Black Prophet, would be in sich a state to get it—an' his wife, too, it seems—unless there was some raison on their part beyond the common, to come at it?"
"It's a dark business altogether; but arn't we thrown out of all trace of it in the mane time? Jist when we thought ourselves on the straight road to the discovery, it turns out to be another an' a different murdher entirely—the murdher of one Sullivan."
At this moment, the pedlar, who had been dressing himself in another small apartment, made, his appearance, just in time to catch his concluding words.
"An' now," Hanlon added, "it appears that Sullivan's body has been found at last. The Black Prophet and Body Duncan knows all about the murdher, an' can prove the act home to Condy Dalton, and identify the body, they say, besides."
The pedlar looked at the speakers with a face of much curiosity and interest, then mused for a time, and at length took a turn or two about the floor, after which he sat down and began to drum his fingers on the little table which had been placed for breakfast.
"Afther I get my breakfast," he said at length, "I'll thank you to let me know what I have to pay. It's not my intention to stop undher this roof any longer; I don't think I'd be overly safe."
"Safe!—arrah why so?" asked the woman.
"Why," he replied, "ever since I came here, you have done nothing but collogue—collogue—an' whisper, an' lay your heads together, an' divil a syllable can I hear that hasn't murdher at the front an' rear of it—either spake out, or get me my bill. If you're of that stamp, it's time for me to thravel; not that I'm so rich as to make it worth any body's while to take the mouthful of wind out o' me that's in me. What do you mean by this discoorse?"
"May God rest the sowls of the dead!" replied the woman, "but it's not for nothing that we talk as we do, an' if you knew but all, you wouldn't think so."
"Very likely," he replied, in a dry but dissatisfied voice; "maybe, sure enough, that the more I'd know of it, the less I'd like of it—here now is a man named Sullivan—Barney, Bill, or Bartley, or some sich name, that has been murdhered, an' it seems the murdherer was sent to gaol yestherday evenin'—the villain! Get me my bill, I say, it's an unsafe neighborhood, an' I'll take myself out of it, while I'm able."
"It's not widout raisin we talk of murdher then," replied the woman.
"Faith may be so—get me my bill, then, I bid you, an' in the mane time, let me have, my breakfast. As it is, I tell you both that I carry no money to signify about me."
"Tell him the truth, aunt," said Hanlon, "there's no use in lyin' under his suspicion wrongfully, or allowin' him to lave your little place for no raison."
"The truth is, then," she proceeded, throwing the corner of her apron over her left shoulder, and rocking herself to and fro, "that this young man had a dhrame some time ago—he dremt that a near an' dear friend of his an' of mine too, that was murdhered in this neighborhood, appeared to him, an' that he desired him to go of a sartain night, at the hour of midnight, to a stone near this, called the Grey Stone, an' that there he would get a clue to the murdherer."
'Well, an' did he?"
"He went—an'—but you had betther tell it yourself, avillish," she added, addressing Hanlon; "you know best."
The pedlar instantly fixed his anxious and lively eyes on the young man, intimating that he looked to him for the rest of the story.
"I went," proceeded Hanlon, "and you shall hear everything that happened."
It is unnecessary for us, however, to go over the same ground a second time. Hanlon minutely detailed to him all that had taken place at the Grey Stone, precisely as it occurred, if we allow for a slight exaggeration occasioned by his terrors, and the impressions of supernatural manifestations which they left upon his imagination.
The pedlar heard all the circumstances with an astonishment which changed his whole bearing into that of deep awe and the most breathless attention. The previous eccentricity of his manner by degrees abandoned him; and as Hanlon proceeded, he frequently looked at him in a state of abstraction, then raised his eyes towards heaven, uttering, from time to time, "Merciful Father!"—"Heaven preserve us!" and such like, thus accompanying him by a running comment of exclamations as he went along.
"Well," said he, when Hanlon had concluded, "surely the hand of God is in this business; you may take that for granted."
"I would fain hope as much," replied Hanlon; "but as the matthers stand now, we're nearly as far from it as ever. Instead of gettin' any knowledge of the murdherer we want to discover, it proves to be the murdher of Sullivan that has been found out."
"Of Sullivan!" he exclaimed; "well, to be sure—oh, ay—well, sure that same is something; but, in the mane time, will you let me look at this Box you spoke of? I feel a curiosity to see it."
Hanlon rose and taking the Box from a small deal chest which was strongly locked, placed it in the pedlar's hands. After examining it closely for about half a minute, they could observe that he got very pale, and his hands began to tremble, as he held and turned it about in a manner that was very remarkable.
"Do you say," he asked, in an agitated voice, "that you have no manes of tracin' the murdher?"
"None more than what we've tould you."
"Did this Box belong to the murdhered man?—I mane, do you think he had it about him at the time of his death?"
"Ay, an' for some time before it," replied the woman. "It's all belongin' to him that we can find now."
"And you got it in the keeping of this M'Gowan, the Black Prophet, you say?"
"We did," replied the woman, "from his daughter, at all events."
"Who is this Black Prophet?" he asked; "or what is he? for that comes nearer the mark. Where did he come from, where does he live, an' what way does he earn his bread?"
"The boy here," she replied, pointing to Hanlon, "can tell you that betther than I can; for although I've been at his place three or four times, I never laid eyes on him yet."
"Well," continued the pedlar, "you have both a right to be thankful that you tould me this. I now see the hand of God in the whole business. I know this box an' I can tell you something that will surprise you more than that. Listen—but wait—I hear somebody's foot. No matter—I'll surprise you both by an' by."
"Godsave all here," said the voice of our friend, Jemmy Branigan, who immediately entered. "In troth, this change is for the betther, at any rate," said he, looking at the house; "I gave you a lift wid the masther yestherday," he added, turning to the woman. "I think I'll get him to throw the ten shillings off—he as good as promised me he would."
"Masther!" exclaimed the pedlar, bitterly—"oh, thin, it's he that's the divil's masther, by all accounts, an' the divil's landlord, too. Be me sowl, he'll get a warm corner down here;" and as he uttered the words, he very significantly stamped with his heel, to intimate the geographical position of the place alluded to.
"It would be only manners to wait till your opinion is axed of him," replied Jemmy; "so mind your pack, you poor sprissaun, or when you do spake, endeavor to know something of what you're discoorsin' about. Masther, indeed! Divil take your impidence!"
"He's a scourge to the counthry," continued the pedlar; "a worse landlord never faced the sun."
"That's what we call in this part of the counthry—a lie," replied Jemmy. "Do you understand what that manes?"
"No one knows what an' outrageous ould blackguard he is betther than yourself," proceeded the pedlar; "an' how he harrishes the poor."
"That's ditto repated," responded Jemmy; "you're improvrn'—but tell me now do you know any one that he harrished?"
This was indeed a hazardous question on the part of Jemmy; who, by the way, put it solely upon the presumption of the peddlar's ignorance of Dick's proceedings as a landlord, in consequence of his (the pedlar) being a stranger.
"Who did you ever know that he harrished, i' you please?"
"Look at the Daltons," replied the other; "what do you call his conduct to them?"
Jemmy, who, whenever he felt himself deficient in truth, always made up for the want of it by warmth of temper, now turned shortly upon his antagonist, and replied, in a spirit very wide of the argument—
"What do I call his conduct to them? What do you call the nose on your face, my codger? Divil a sich an impident crature ever I met."
"It would be no wondher that the curse o' God would come on him for his tratement to that unfortunate and respectable family," responded the pedlar.
"The curse o' God knows where to fall best," replied Jemmy, "or it's not in the county jail ould Condy Dalton 'ud be for murdher this day."
"But," returned the other, "isn't it a disgraceful thing to be, as they say he and yourself is, a pair o' scourges in the hands o' God for your fellow-creatures; an' in troth you're both fit for it by all accounts."
"Troth," replied Jemmy, whose gall was fast rising, "it's a scourge wid nine tails to it ought to go to your back. The Daltons desarved all they got at his hands; an' the same pack was never anything else than a hot-brained crew, that 'ud knock you on the head to-day, and groan over you to-morrow. He sarved them right, an' he's a liar that says to the contrary; so if you have a pocket for that put it in it."
Jemmy, in fact, was now getting rapidly into a towering passion, for it mattered little how high in violence his own pitched battles with Dick ran, he never suffered, nor could suffer a human being to abuse his master behind his back, but himself. So confirmed, however, by habit, was his spirit of contradiction, that had the pedlar begun to praise Dick, Jemmy would immediately have attacked him without remorse, and scarcely have left a rag of his character together.
"It's a shame for you," proceeded the pedlar, "to defend an' ould sinner like him; but then as there's a pair of you, that's not unnatural; every rogue will back his brother. I could name the place, any way, that'll hould you both yet."
"An' I could," replied Jemmy, "name the piece of machinery that'll be apt to hould you, if you give the masther any more abuse. Whether you'll grow in it or not, is more than I know, but be me sowl, we'll plant you there any how. Do you know what the stocks manes? Faith, many a spare hour you've sarved there, I go bail, that is, when, you had nothing else to do—an' by the way of raycreation jist."
"Ay," said the pedlar, "listen how he sticks to the ould villain—but sure, if you put any other two blisthers together, they'll do the same."
"My own opinion is," observed Hanlon's aunt, "that it's a pity of the Daltons, at any raite. Every one feels for them—but still the hand o' God an' his curse, I'm afeard, is upon them."
"An' that's more, maybe, than you know," replied Jemmy. "Maybe God's only punishing them, bekaise he loves them. It's good to have our suffering in this world."
"Afther all," said the pedlar, "I'm afeard myself, too, that the wrath o' the Almighty has marked them out. Indeed, I'm sure of it."
"An' maybe that's not the only lie you're sure of," replied Jemmy. "It's a subject, any way, you don't undherstand. No," he proceeded, "by all accounts, Charley, it would wring any one's heart to see him taken away in his ould age from his miserable family and childre, and then he's so humble, too, and so resigned to the will an' way o' God. He's lyin' ill in the gaol. I seen him yestherday—I went to see him an' to say whatever I could to comfort him. God pity his gray hairs! an'—hem—have compassion on him and his this day!"
The poor fellow's heart could stand the sudden contemplation of Dalton's sorrow no longer—and on uttering the last words he fairly wept.
"If I had known what it was about," he proceeded; "but that ould scoundrel of a Prophet—ay, an' that other ould scoundrel of a masther o' mine—hem ay—whish—but—what am I sayin'?—but if I had known it, 'ud go hard but I'd give him a lift—so that he might get out o' the way, at any rate."
"Ay," said the pedlar, "at any rate, indeed—faith, you may well say it; but I say, that at any rate he'll be hanged as sure as he murdhered Sullivan, and as sure as he did, that he may swing, I pray this day!"
"I'll hould no more discoorse wid that circulatin' vagabone," replied Jemmy; "I'm a Christian man—a peaceable man; an' I know what my religion ordhers me to do when I meet the likes of him—and that is when he houlds the one cheek towardst me to give him a sound Christian rap upon the other. So to the divil I pitch, you, you villain, sowl and body, an' that's the worst I wish you. If you choose to be unchristian, be so; but, be my sowl, I'll not set you the example. Charley," he proceeded, addressing Hanlon, "I was sent for you in a hurry. Masther Dick wants you, and so does Red Rody—the villain! and I tell you to take care of him, for, like that vagabone, Judas, he'd kiss you this minute and betray you the next."
"I believe you're purty near the truth," replied Jemmy, "but I was near forgettin'—it seems the Crowner of the country is sick, an' there can't be an inquest held till he recovers; if he ever does recover, an' if it 'ud sarve poor ould Dalton, that he never may, I pray God this day!—come away, you'll be killed for stayin'."
Just then young Henderson himself called Hanlon forth, who, after some conversation with him, turned towards the garden, where he held a second conference with Red Rody, who, on leaving him appeared in excellent spirits, and kept winking and nodding, with a kind of burlesque good humor, at every one whom he knew, until he reached home.
In this state stood the incidents of our narrative, suspended for some time by the illness of the coroner, when Mr. Travers, himself a magistrate, came to the head inn of the county town in which he always put up, and where he held his office. He had for several days previously gone over the greater portion of the estate, and inspected the actual condition of the tenantry on it. It is unnecessary to say that he was grieved at the painful consequences of the middleman system, and of sub-letting in general. Wherever he went, he found the soil in many places covered with hordes of pauper occupants, one holding under another in a series that diminished from bad to worse in everything but numbers, until he arrived at a state of destitution that was absolutely! disgraceful to humanity. And what rendered this state of things doubly painful and anomalous was the fact, that while these starving wretches lived upon his employer's property, they had no claim on him as a landlord, nor could he recognize them as tenants. It is true that these miserable creatures, located upon small patches of land, were obliged to pay their rents to the little tyrant who was over them, and he again, probably to a still more important little tyrant, and so on; but whenever it happened that the direct tenant, or any one of the series, neglected to pay his or their rent, of course the landlord had no other remedy than to levy it from off the soil, thus rendering it by no means an unfrequent case that the small occupiers who owed nothing to him or those above them were forced to see their property applied to the payment of the head rent, in consequence of the inability, neglect, or dishonesty of the middleman, or some other subordinate individual from whom, they held. This was a state of things which Mr. Travers wished to abolish, but to do so, without inflicting injury, however unintentional, or occasioning harshness to the people, was a matter not merely difficult but impossible. As we are not, however, writing a treatise upon the management of property, we shall confine ourselves simply to the circumstances only of such of the tenants as have enacted a part in our narrative.
About a week had now elapsed since the abusive contest between Jemmy Branigan and the pedlar; the coroner was beginning to recover, and Charley Hanlon's aunt had disappeared altogether from the neighborhood. Previous to her departure, however, she, her nephew, and the pedlar, had several close, and apparently interesting conferences, into which their parish priest, the Rev. Anthony Devlin, was ultimately admitted. It was clear, indeed, that whatever secret the pedlar communicated, had inspired both Hanlon and his aunt with fresh energy in their attempts to discover the murderer of their relative; and there could be little doubt that the woman's disappearance from the scene of its perpetration was in some way connected with the steps they were taking to bring everything connected with it to light.
Travers, already acquainted with the committal of old Dalton, as he was with all the circumstances of his decline and eviction from his farm, was sitting in his office, about twelve o'clock, when our friend, the pedlar, bearing a folded paper in his hand, presented himself, with a request that he might be favored with a private interview. This, without any difficulty, was granted, and the following dialogue took place between them:—
"Well, my good friend," said the agent; "what is the nature of this private business of yours?"
"Why, plase your honor, it's a petition in favor of ould Condy Dalton."
"A petition! Of what use is a petition to Dalton? Is he not now in gaol, on a charge of murder? You would not have me attempt to obstruct the course of justice, would you? The man will get a fair trial, I hope."
"I hope so, your honor; but this petition is not about the crime the unfortunate man is in for; it's an humble prayer to your honor, hopin' you might restore him—or, I ought rather to say, his poor family, to the farm that they wor so cruelly put out of. Will your honor read it, sir, and look into it, bekaise, at any rate, it sets forth too common a case."
"I am partly acquainted with the circumstances, already; however, let me see the paper."
"The pedlar placed it in Mr. Travers' hands,—who on looking over it, read, somewhat to his astonishment, as follows:—
"The humble petition of Cornelius Dalton, to his Honor, Mr. John Robert Travers, Esq., on behalf of himself, his Wife, and his afflicted family; now lying in a state of almost superhuman Destitution—by Eugenius M'Grane, Philomath and classical Instructor in the learned Languages of Latin, English, and the Hibernian Vernacular, with an inceptive Initiation into the Rudiments of Greek, as far as the Gospel of St. John the Divine; attended with copious Disquisitions on the relative Merits of moral and physical Philosophy, as contrasted with the pusillanimous Lectures of that Ignoramus of the first Water, Phadrick M'Swagger, falsely calling himself Philomath—cum multis aliis quos enumerare longum est:
"That Cornelius Dalton, late of Cargah, gentleman agriculturist, held a farm of sixty-six Irish acres, under the Right Honorable (the reverse could be proved with sound and legitimate logic) Lord Mollyborough, an absentee nobleman, and proprietor of the Tullystretchem estate. That the said Cornelius Dalton entered upon the farm of Cargah, with a handsome capital and abundant stock, as became a man bent on improving it, for both the intrinsic and external edification and comfort of himself and family. That the rent was originally very high; and, upon complaint of this, several well indited remonstrances, urged with most persuasive and enthusiastic eloquence, as the inditer hereof can testify, were most insignificantly and superciliously disregarded. That the said Mr. Cornelius Dalton persisted notwithstanding this great act of contemptuosity and discouragement to his creditable and industrious endeavors, to expend, upon the aforesaid farm, in solid and valuable improvements, a sum of seven hundred pounds and upwards, in building, draining, enclosing, and manuring—all of which improvements transcendantly elevated the value of the farm in question, as the whole rational population of the country could depose to—me ipso teste quoque. That when this now highly emendated tenement was brought to the best condition of excellence of which it was susceptible, the middleman landlord—va miseris agricolis!—called upon him for an elevation of rent, which was reluctantly complied with, under the tyrannical alternative of threatened ejection, incarceration of cattle, &c, &c, and many other proceedings equally inhuman and iniquitous. That this rack-rent, being now more than the land could pay, began to paralyze the efforts, and deteriorate the condition of the said Mr. Cornelius Dalton; and which, being concatenated with successive failures in his crops, and mortality among his cattle, occasioned him, as it were, to retrogade from his former state; and in the course of a few calamitous years, to decline, by melancholy gradation and oppressive treatment from Richard Henderson, Esq., J.P., his landlord, to a state of painful struggle and poverty. That the said Richard Henderson, Esq., his unworthy landlord, having been offered a still higher rent, from a miserable disciple, named Darby Skinadre, among others, unfeelingly availed himself of Dalton's res augusta—and under play of his privileges as a landlord, levied an execution upon his property, auctioned him out, and expelled him from the farm; thus turning a respectable man and his family, hopeless and houseless, beggars upon the world, to endure misery and destitution. That the said Mr. Cornelius Dalton, now plain Corny Dalton—for vile poverty humilifies even the name—or rather his respectable family, among whom, facile princeps, for piety and unshaken trust in her Redeemer, stands his truly unparalleled wife, are lying in a damp wet cabin within about two hundred perches of his former residence, groaning with the agonies of hunger, destitution, dereliction, and disease, in such a state of complicated and multiform misery as rarely falls to the lot of human eyes to witness. That the burthen and onus of this petition is, to humbly supplicate that Mr. Cornelius Dalton, or rather his afflicted and respectable family, may be reinstated in their farm as aforesaid, or if not, that Richard Henderson, J.P., may be compelled to swallow such a titillating emetic from the head landlord as shall compel him to eructate to this oppressed and plundered man all the money he expended in making improvements, which remain to augment the value of the farm, but which, at the same time, were the means of ruining himself and his most respectable family: for, as the bard says, 'sio vos non vobis,' &c, &c. Of the remainder of this appropriate quotation, your honor cannot be incognizant, or any man who has had the advantage of being college-bred, as every true gentleman or 'homo factus ad unguem' must have, otherwise he fails to come under this category.—And your petitioner will ever pray."
"Are you the Mr. Eugenius McGrane," asked the agent, "who drew up this extraordinary document?"
"No, your honor; I'm only merely a friend of the Daltons, although a stranger in the neighborhood."
"But what means have Dalton or his family, granting that he escapes from this charge of murder that's against him, of stocking or working so large a farm? I am aware myself that the contents of this petition, with all its pedantry, are too true."
"But consider, sir, that he sunk seven hundred pounds in it, an' that, according to everything like fair play, he ought either to get his farm again, at a raisonable rate, or his money that raised its value for the landlord, back again; sure, that's but fair, your honor."
"I'm not here to discuss the morality of the subject, my good friend, neither do I question the truth of your argument, simply as you put it. I only say, that what you ask, is impracticable. You probably know not Dick o' the Grange, for you say you are a stranger—if you did, you would not put yourself to the trouble of getting even a petition for such a purpose written."
"It's a hard case, your honor."
"It is a hard case; but the truth is, I see nothing that can be done for the Daltons. To talk of putting a family, in such a state as they are now in, back again, upon such a farm, is stark nonsense—without stock or capital of any kind—the thing is ridiculous."
"But suppose they had stock and capital?"
"Why, then, they certainly would have the best right to the farm—but where's the use of talking about stock or capital, so far as they are concerned?"
"I wish your honor would interfere for an oppressed and ill-treated family, against as great a rogue, by all accounts, as ever broke bread—I wish you would make me first sure that they'd get their farm."
"To what purpose, I say?"
"Why, sir, for a raison I have. If your honor will make me sure that they'll get their land again, that's all I want."'
"What is your reason? Have you capital, and are you willing to assist them?"
The pedlar shook his head. "Is it the likes o' me, your honor? No, but maybe it might be made up for them some way."
"I believe," said the agent, "that your intentions are good; only that they are altogether impracticable. However, a thought strikes me. Go to Dick o' the Grange, and lay your case before him. Ask a new lease for your friends, the Daltons—of course he won't give it; but at all events, come back to me, and let me know, as nearly in his own words as you can, what answer he will give you; go now, that is all that I can do for you in the matter."
"Barrin' this, your honor, that set in case the poor heart-broken Daltons wor to get capital some way."
"Perhaps," said Travers, interrupting him, "you can assist them."
"Oh, if I could!—no, but that set in case, as I said, that it was to be forthcomin', you persave. Me!—oh, the Lord that I was able!"
"Very well," replied the other, anxious to rid himself of the pedlar, "that will do, now. You are, I perceive, one of those good-natured, speculating creatures, who are anxious to give hope and comfort to every one. The world has many like you; and it often happens, that when some good fortune does throw the means of doing good into your power, you turn out to be a poor, pitiful, miserable crew, without actual heart or feeling. Goodbye, now. I have no more time to spare—try Dick o' the Grange himself, and let me know his answer."
So saying, he rang the bell, and our friend the pedlar, by no means satisfied with the success of his interview, took his leave.
CHAPTER XXIII. — Darby in Danger—Nature Triumphs.
The mild and gentle Mave Sullivan, with all her natural grace and unobtrusive modesty, was yet like many of the fair daughters of her country, possessed of qualities which frequently lie dormant in the heart until some trying calamity or startling event of more than ordinary importance, awakens them into life and action. Indeed, any one in the habit of observing the world, may have occasionally noticed, that even within the range of his own acquaintances, there has been many a quiet and apparently diffident girl, without pretence or affectation of any kind, who when some unexpected and stunning blow has fallen either upon herself or upon some one within the circle of her affections, has manifested a spirit so resolute or a devotion so heroic, that she has at once constituted herself the lofty example whom all admire and endeavor to follow. The unrecorded calamities of ordinary life, and the annals of human affection, as they occur from day to day around us, are full of such noble instances of courage and self sacrifice on the part of woman for the sake of those who are dear to her. Dear, holy, and heroic woman! how frequently do we who too often sneer at your harmless vanities and foibles, forget the light by which your love so often dispels the darkness of our affliction, and the tenderness with which your delicious sympathy charms our sorrows and our sufferings to rest, when nothing else can succeed in giving us one moment's consolation!
The situation of the Daltons, together with the awful blow which fell upon them at a period of such unexampled misery, had now become the melancholy topic of conversation among their neighbors, most, if not all, of whom were, however, so painfully absorbed in their own individual afflictions either of death, or famine, or illness, as to be able to render them no assistance. Such as had typhus in their own families were incapable of attending to the wants or distress of others, and such as had not, acting under the general terror of contagion which prevailed, avoided the sick houses as they would a plague.
On the morning after old Dalton's removal to prison, Jerry Sullivan and his family were all assembled around a dull fire, the day being, as usual, so wet that it was impossible to go out unless upon some matter of unusual importance; there was little said, for although they had hitherto escaped the fever, still their sufferings and struggles were such as banished cheerfulness from among them. Mave appeared more pale and dejected than they had ever yet seen her, and it was noticed by one or two of the family, that she had been occasionally weeping in some remote corner of the house where she thought she might do so without being observed.
"Mave, dear," said her father, "what is the matter wid you? You look, darlin', to be in very low spirits to-day. Were you cryin'?"
She raised her large innocent eyes upon him, and they instantly filled with tears.
"I can't keep it back from you, father," she replied, "let me do as I will—an' oh, father dear, when we look out upon the world that is in it, an' when we see how the hand o' God is takin' away so many from among us, and when we see how the people everywhere is sufferin' and strugglin' wid so much—how one is here this day, and in a week to come in the presence of their Judge! Oh, surely, when we see all the doin's of death and distress about us, we ought to think that it's no time to harbor hatred or any other bad or unchristian feelin's in our hearts!"
"It is not, indeed, darlin'; an' I hope nobody here does."
"No," she replied; and as she spoke, the vibrations of sorrow and of sympathy shook her naturally sweet voice into that tender expression which touches the heart of the hearer with such singular power—"no, father," she proceeded, "I hope not; religion teaches us a different lesson—not only to forgive our enemies, but to return good for evil."
"It does, achora machree," replied her father, whose eyes expressed a kind of melancholy pride, as he contemplated his beautiful but sorrowful looking girl, giving utterance to truths which added an impressive and elevated character to her beauty.
"Young and ould, achushla machree, is fallin' about us in every direction; but may the Father of Mercy spare you to us, my darlin' child, for if anything was to happen you, where—Oh, where could we look upon your aiquil, or find anything that could console us for your loss?"
"If it's my fate to go, father, I'll go, an if it isn't God will take care of me; whatever comes, I'm resigned to His will."
"Ay, dear, an' you ever wor, too—and for the same raison God's blessin' will be upon you; but what makes you look so low, avourneen? I trust in my Saviour, you are not unwell, Mave, dear."
"Thanks be to God, no, father; but there's a thing on my mind, that's distressin' me very much, an' I hope you'll allow me my way in it."
"I may say so, dear; because I know you wouldn't ax me for anything that 'ud be wrong to grant you. What is it, Mave?"
"It's the unhappy an' miserable state that these poor Daltons is in," she replied. "Father, dear, forgive me for what I'm about to say; for, although it may make you angry, there's nothin' farther from my heart than to give you offence."
"You needn't tell me so, Mave; you need not, indeed; but sure you know, darlin', that unfortunately, we have nothing in our power to do for them; I wish to the Lord we had! Didn't we do all that people in our poor condition could do for them? Didn't you, yourself, achora, make us send them such little assistance as we could spare?—ay, even to sharin' I may say, our last morsel wid them; an' now, darlin', you know we haven't it."
"I know that," she replied, as she wiped away the tears; "where is there a poorer family than we are, sure enough? but, father, dear; we can assist them—relieve them; ay, maybe save them—for all that."
"God be praised then!" exclaimed Sullivan; "only show me how, an' we'll be glad to do it; for I can forget everything now, Mave, but their distress."
"But do you know the condition they're in at this moment?" she asked, "do you know, father, that they're stretched on the bed of sickness? I mean Nancy an'—an' young Con, who has got into a relapse; poor Mary is scarcely able to go about, she's so badly recovered from the fever; an' Tom, the wild unfortunate young man, is out of his senses, they say. Then there's nobody to look to them but Mrs. Dalton herself; an' she, you know, has to go 'out' to ask their poor bit from the neighbors. Only think," she proceeded, with a fresh burst of sorrow, "oh, only think, father, of sich a woman bein' forced to this!"
"May the Lord pity her an' them, this woeful day!" exclaimed Sullivan.
"Now, father," proceeded Mave; "I know—oh who knows better or so well—what a good an' a kind an' a forgivin' heart you have; an' I know that even in spite of the feelin' that was, and maybe is, upon your mind against them, you'll grant me my wish in what I'm goin' to ask."
"What is it then?—let me hear it."
"It's this: you know that here, in our family I can do nothing to help ourselves—that is, there is nothing for me to do—an' I feel the time hang heavy on my hands. I have been thinkin', father dear, of this miserable state the poor Daltons is in, without any one to attend them in their sickness—to say a kind word to them, or to hand them even a drink of clean water, if they wanted it. Them that hasn't got the fever yet, won't go near them for fear of catchin' it. What, then, will become of them? There they are, without the face, or hand, or voice of kindness about them. Oh, what on God's blessed earth will become of them? They may die an' they must die, for want of care and assistance."
"But sure that's not our fault, dear Mave; we can't help them."
"We can, father—an' we must; for if we don't they'll die. Father," she added, laying her wasted hand in his; "it is my intention to go over to them—an' as I have nothing that I can do at home, to spend the greater part of the day with them in takin' care of them—an'—an' in doin' what I can for them, Yes, father dear—it is my intention—for there is none but me to do it for them."
"Saviour of earth, Mave dear, is it mad you are? You, achora machree, that's! dearer to us all than the apple of our eye, or the very pulse of our hearts—to let you into a plague-house—to let you near the deadly faver that's upon them—where you'd be sure to catch it; an' then—oh, blessed Father. Mave what's come over you, to think of sich a thing?—ay, or to think that we'd let you expose yourself? But it's all the goodness and kindness of your affectionate heart; put it out of your head, however—don't name it, or let us hear of it again."
"But, father, it's a duty that our religion teaches us."
"Why—what's come over you, Mave?—all at wanst too—you that was so much afeard of it that you wouldn't go on a windy side of a feverish house, nor walk near any one that was even recoverin' from it. Why, what's come over you?"
"Simply, father, the thought if I don't go to them and help them, they will die. I was afeard of the fever, and I am afeard of it—but am I to let my own foolish fears prevent me from doin' the part of a Christian to them? Let us put ourselves in their place—an' who knows—although may God forbid!—but it may be our own before the season passes—suppose it was our own case—an' that all the world was afeard to come near us; oh, what would we think of any one, man or woman, that trustin' in God, would set their own fears at defiance, an' come to our relief."
"Mave, I couldn't think of it; if anything happened you, an' that we lost you, I never would lay my head down without the bitther thought that I had a hand in your death."
At this moment, the mother who had been in another room, came in to the kitchen—and having listened for a minute to the subject of their conversation, she immediately joined her husband; but still with feelings of deep and almost tearful sympathy for the Daltons.
"It's like her, poor affectionate girl," she exclaimed, looking tenderly at her daughter; "but it's a thing, Mave, we could never think of; so put it out of your head."
She approached her mother, and, seizing her hands, exclaimed:—
"Oh, mother, for the sake of the livin' God, make it your own case!—think of it—bring it home to you—look into the frightful state they're in. Are they to die in a Christian country for want of some kind person to attend upon them? Is it not our duty, when we know how they are sufferin'? I cannot rest, or be at ease; an' I am not afeard of fever here. You may say I love young Condy Dalton, an' that it is on his account I am wishin' to go. Maybe it is; an' I will now tell you at wanst, that I do love him, and that if it was the worst plague that ever silenced the noise of life in a whole country, it wouldn't prevent me from goin' to his relief, nor to the relief of any one belongin' to him."
"I know," said her father, "that that was at the bottom of it."
"I do love him," she continued, "an' this is more than ever I had courage to tell you openly before; but, father, I feel that I am called upon here to go to their assistance, and to see that they don't die from neglect in a Christian country. I have trust an' confidence in the Almighty God. I am not afeard of fever now; and even if I take it an' die, you both know that I'll die in actin' the part of a Christian girl; an' what brighter hope could anything bring to us than the happiness that such a death would open to me? But here I feel that the strength and protection of God is upon me, and I will not die."
"That's all very well Mave," said her mother; "but if you took it, and did die—oh, darlin'———"
"In God's name, then, I'll take my chance, an' do the duty that I feel myself called upon to do; and, father dear, just think for a minute—the thrue Christian doesn't merely forgive the injury but returns good for evil; and then, above all things, let us make it our own case. As I said before, if we were as they are—lyin' racked with pain, burnin' with druth, the head splittin', the whole strength gone—not able, maybe, to spake, and hardly able to make a sign—to wake ourselves, to put a drink to our lips;—suppose, I say, we wor lyin' in this state, an' that all the world had deserted us—oh, wouldn't we say that any fellow-crature that had the kindness and the courage to come and aid us—wet our lips, raise our heads, and cheer our sinkin' hearts by the sound of their voice alone—oh, wouldn't we say that it was God that in His mercy put it into their heart to come to us, and relieve us, and save us?"
The mother's feelings gave way at this picture; and she said, addressing her husband—
"Jerry, maybe it's right that she should go, bekaise, afther all, what if it's God Himself that has put it into her heart?"
He shook his head, but it was clear that his opposition began to waver.
"Think of the danger," he replied; "think of that. Still if I thought it was God's own will that was setting her to it—"
"Father," she replied, "let us do what is right, and lave the rest to God Himself. Surely you aren't afeard to trust in Him. I may take the fever here at home, without goin' at all, and die; for if it's His blessed will that I should die of it, nothing can save me, let me go or stay where I plaise; and if it's not, it matthers little where I go; His divine grace and goodness will take care of me and protect me. It's to God Himself, then, you are trustin' me, an' that ought to satisfy you."
Her parents looked at each other—then at her; and, with tears in their eyes, as if they had been parting with her as for a sacrifice, they gave a consent, in which that humble confidence in the will of God which constitutes the highest order of piety, was blended with a natural yearning and terror of the heart, lest they were allowing her to place herself rashly within the fatal reach of the contagion which prevailed. Having obtained their permission, she lost very little time in preparing for the task she had proposed to execute. A very small portion of meal, and a little milk, together with one or two jugs of gruel, whey, &c, she put under her cloak; and after getting the blessings of her parents, and kissing them and the rest of the family, she departed upon her pious—her sublime mission, followed by the tears and earnest prayers of her whole family.
How anomalous, and full of mysterious and inexplicable impulses is the human heart! Mave Sullivan, who, in volunteering to attend at the contagious beds of the unfortunate Daltons, gave singular and noble proof of the most heroic devotedness, absolutely turned from the common road, on her way to their cabin, rather than meet the funeral of a person who had died of fever, and on one or two occasions kept aloof from men who she knew to be invalids by the fact of their having handkerchiefs about their heads—a proof, in general, that they had been shaved or blistered, while laboring under its severest form.
When she had gone within about a quarter of a mile of her destination, she met two individuals, whose relative positions indicated anything but a state of friendly feeling between them. The persons we allude to were Thomas Dalton and the miserable object of his vengeance, Darby Skinadre. Our readers are aware that Sarah caused Darby to accompany her, for safety, to the cabin of the Daltons, as she feared that, should young Dalton again meet him at the head of his mob, and he in such a furious and unsettled state, the hapless miser might fall a victim to his vengeance. No sooner, therefore, had the meal-monger heard Tom's name mentioned by his father, when about to proceed to prison, than he left a dark corner of the cabin, into which he had slunk, and, passing out, easily disappeared, without being noticed, in the state of excitement which prevailed.
The very name of Tom reminded him that he was in his father's house, and that should he return, and find him there, he might expect little mercy at his hands. Tom, however, amidst the melancholy fatuity under which he labored, never forgot that he had an account to settle with Skinadre. It ran through his unsettled understanding like a sound thread through a damaged web; for ever and anon his thought and recollection would turn to Peggy Murtagh, and the miser's refusal to give her credit for the food she asked of him. During the early part of that day he had gone about with a halter in his hand, as if seeking some particular individual; and whenever he chanced to be questioned as to his object, he always replied with a wild and ferocious chuckle—
"The fellow that killed her!—the fellow that killed her!"
Upon the present occasion, Mave was surprised by meeting him and the miser, whom he must have met accidentally, walking side by side, but in a position which gave fearful intimation of Dalton's purpose respecting him. Around the unfortunate wretch's neck was the halter aforesaid, made into a running noose, while, striding beside him, went his wild and formidable companion, holding the end of it in his hand, and eyeing him from time to time with a look of stupid but determined ferocity. Skinadre's appearance and position were ludicrously and painfully helpless. His face was so pale and thin that it was difficult to see, even in those frightfuf times of sickness and famine, a countenance from which they were more significantly reflected. He was absolutely shrunk up with terror into half his size, his little thin, corded neck appearing as if it were striving unsuccessfully to work its way down into his trunk, and his small ferret eyes looking about in every direction for some one to extricate him out of the deadly thrall in which he was held. Mave, who had been aware of the enmity which his companion bore him, as well as of its cause, and fearing that the halter was intended to hang the luckless mealman, probably upon the next tree they came to, did not, as many another female would do, avoid or run away from the madman. On the contrary, she approached him with an expression singularly winning and sweet on her countenance, and in a voice of great kindness, laid her hand upon his arm to arrest his attention, asked him how he did. He paused a moment, and looking upon her with a dull but turbid eye, exclaimed with an insane laugh, pointing at the same time, to the miser—"This is the fellow that killed her—ha, ha, ha, but I have him now—here he is in the noose; in the noose. Ay, an' I swore it, an' there's another, too, that's to get it, but I won't rob any body, nor join in that at all; I'll hang him here, though—ha, Darby, I have you now."
As he spoke, poor Skinadre received a chuck of the halter which almost brought his tongue out as far as in the throttling process which we have before described.
"Mave, achora," said he, looking at her after his recovery from the powerful jerk he had just got, "for the sake of heaven, try an' save my life; if you don't he'll never let me out of his hands a livin' man."
"Don't be alarmed, Darby," she replied, "poor Tom won't injure you; so far from that, he'll take the halter from about your neck, an' let you go. Won't you let poor Darby go, Tom?"
"I will," he replied, "after I hang him—ha, ha, ha; 'twas he that killed her; he let her die wid hunger, but now he'll swing for it, ha, ha!"
These words were accompanied by another chuck, which pulled miserable Skinadre almost off his legs.
"Tom, for shame," said Mave, "why would you do sich an unmanly thing with this poor ould crature?—be a man, and let him go."
"Ay, when he's, hangin', wid his tongue out, ha, ha, ha; wait till we get to the Rabbit Bank, where there's a tree to be had; I've sworn it, ay, on her very grave too; so good-by, Mave! Come along, Darby."
"Mave, as you expect to have the gates of Heaven opened to your sowl, an' don't lave me," exclaimed the miser with clasped hands.
Mave looked up and down the road, but could perceive no one approach who might render the unfortunate man assistance.
"Tom," said she, "I must insist on your settin' the poor man at liberty; I insist upon it. You cannot, an' you must not take his life in a Christian country; if you do, you know you will be hanged yourself. Let him go immediately."
"Oh, ay," he replied, "you insist, Mave; but I'll tell you what—I'll put Peggy in a coach yet, when I come into my fortune; an' so you'll insist, will you? Jest look at that wrist of yours," he replied, seizing hers, but with gentleness, "and then look at this of mine; an' now will you tell me that you'll insist? Come, Darby, we're bound for the Bank; there's not a beech there but's a hundred feet high, an' that's higher than ever I'll make you swing from. Your heart bled for her, didn't it! but how will you look when I have you facin' the sun, wid your tongue out?"
"Tom," replied the wretch, "I go on my knees to you, an' as you hope, Tom—"
"Hope, you hard-hearted hound! isn't her father's curse upon me? ay, an' in me? Wasn't she destroyed among us? an' you bid me hope. By the broken heart she died of, you'll get a double tug for that," and he was about to drag him on in a state of great violence, when Mave again placed her hand upon, his arm, and said—
"I am sure, Tom, you are not ungrateful; I am sure you would not forget a kind act done to poor Peggy, that's gone."
"Peggy!" he replied, "what's about her? gone!—Peggy gone!—is she gone?"
"She is gone," replied Mave, "but not lost; an' it is most likely that she is now looking down with displeasure at your conduct and intentions towards this poor man; but listen."
"Are you goin' to spake about Peggy, though?"
"I am, and listen. Do you remember one evenin' in the early part of this summer, it was of a Sunday, there was a crowd about old Brian Murtagh's house, and the report of Peggy's shame had gone abroad and couldn't be kept from people's eyes any longer. She was turned out of her father's house—she was beaten by her brother who swore that he would take the life of the first person, whether man or woman, young or ould, that would give her one hour's shelter. She was turned out, poor, young, misled and mistaken crature, and no one would resave her, for no one durst. There was a young girl then passin' through the village, on her way home, much about Peggy's own age, but barring in one respect, neither so good nor so handsome. Poor Peggy ran to that young girl, an' she was goin' to throw herself into her arms, but she stopped. 'I am not worthy,' she said, cryin' bitterly; 'I am not worthy,—but oh, I have no roof to shelter me, for no one dare take me in. What will become of me?'"
While she spoke, Dalton's mind appeared to have been stirred into something like a consciousness of his situation, and his memory to have been brought back, as it were, from the wild and turbulent images, which had impaired its efficacy, to a personal recollection of circumstances that had ceased to affect him. His features, for instance, became more human, his eye more significant of his feeling, and his whole manner more quiet and restored. He looked upon the narrator with an awakened interest, surveyed Darby, as if he scarcely knew how or why he came there, and then sighed deeply. Mave proceeded:
"'I am an outcast now,' said poor Peggy; 'I have neither house nor home; I have no father, no mother, no brother, an' he that I loved, an' said that he loved me, has deserted me. Oh,' said she, 'I have nothing to care for, an' nobody to care for me now, an' what was dearest of all—my good name—is gone: no one will shelter me, although I thought of nothing but my love for Thomas Dalton!' She was scorned, Thomas Dalton, she was insulted and abused by women who knew her innocence and her goodness till she met him; every tongue was against her, every hand was against her, and every door was closed against her; no, not every one—the young woman she spoke to, with tears in her eyes, out of compassion for one so young and unfortunate, brought Peggy Murtagh home, and cried with her, and gave her hope, and consoled her, and pleaded with her father and mother for the poor deluded girl in such a way that they forgot her misfortune and sheltered her; till, after her brother's death, she was taken in again to her own father's house. Now, Tom, wouldn't you like to oblige that girl who was kind to poor Peggy Murtagh?"
"It was in Jerry Sullivan's—it was into your father's house she was taken."
"It was Tom; and the young woman who befriended Peggy Murtagh is now standin' by your side and asks you to let Darby Skinadre go; do, then, let him go, for the sake of that young woman!"
Mave, on concluding, looked up into his face, and saw that his eyes were moist; he then smiled moodily, and, placing his hand upon her head in an approving manner, said—
"You wor always good, Mave—here, set Darby free; but my mind's uneasy; I'm not right, I doubt:—nor as I ought to be; but I'll tell you what—I'll go back towards home wid you, if you'll tell me more about Peggy."
"Do so," she replied, delighted at such a proposal; "an' I will tell you many a thing about her; an' you, Darby," she added, turning round to that individual—short, however, as the time was, the exulting, but still trembling usurer was making his way, at full speed, towards his own house; so that she was spared the trouble of advising him, as she had intended, to look to his safety as well as he could. Such was the gentle power with which Mave softened and subdued this ferocious and unsettled young man to her wishes; and, indeed, so forcible in general was her firm but serene enthusiasm, that wherever the necessity for exerting it occurred, it was always crowned with success.
Thomas Dalton as might be expected, swayed by the capricious impulse of his unhappy derangement, did not accompany her to his father's cabin. When within a few hundred yards of it, he changed his intention, and struck across the country like one who seemed uncertain as to the course he should take. Of late, indeed, he rambled about, sometimes directing, otherwise associating himself with, such mobs as we have described; sometimes wandering, in a solitary manner, through the country at large; and but seldom appearing at home. On the present occasion, he looked at Mave, and said: