"I hate sick people, Mave, an' I won't go home; but, whisper, when you see Peggy Murtagh's father, tell him that I'll have her in a coach, yet, plaise God, an' he'll take the curse off o' me, when he hears it, maybe, an' all will be right."
He then bid her good-bye, turned from the road, and bent his steps in the direction of the Rabbit Bank, on one of the beeches of which he had intended to hang the miser.
CHAPTER XXIV. — Rivalry.
If the truth were known, the triumph which Mave Sullivan achieved over the terror of fever which she felt in common with almost every one in the country around her, was the result of such high-minded devotion, as would have won her a statue in the times of old Greece, when self-sacrifice for human good was appreciated and rewarded. In her case, indeed, the triumph was one of almost unparalleled heroism; for among all the difficulties which she had to overcome, by far the greatest was her own constitutional dread of contagion. It was only on reaching the miserable pest-house in which the Daltons lived, and on witnessing, with her own eyes, the clammy atmosphere which, in the shape of dark heavy smoke, was oozing in all directions from its roof, that she became conscious of the almost fatal step that she was about to take, and the terrible test of Christian duty and exalted affection, to which she was in the act of subjecting herself.
On arriving at the door, and when about to enter, even the resolution she had come to, and the lofty principle of trust in God, on which it rested, were scarcely able to support her against the host of constitutional terrors, which, for a moment, rushed upon her breast. The great act of self-sacrifice, as it may almost be termed, which she was about to perform, became so diminished in her imagination, that all sense of its virtue passed away; and instead of gaining strength from a consciousness of the pure and unselfish motive by which she was actuated, she began to contemplate her conduct as the result of a rash and unjustifiable presumption on the providence of God, and a wanton exposure of the life he had given her. She felt herself tremble; her heart palpitated, and for a minute or two her whole soul became filled with a tumultuous and indistinct! perception of all she had proposed to do, as well as of everything about her. Gradually, however, his state of feeling cleared away—by and by the purity and Christian principle that were involved in her conduct, came to her relief.
"What," she asked herself, "if they should die without assistance? In God's name, and with his strength to aid me, I will run all risks, and fulfil the task I have taken upon me to do. May he support and protect me through it."
Thus resolved, and thus fortified, she entered the gloomy scene of sickness and contagion.
There were but four persons within: that is to say, her lover, his sister Nancy, Mary the invalid, and Sarah M'Gowan. Nancy and her brother were now awake, and poor Mary occupied her father's arm-chair, in which she sat with her head reclined upon the back of it, somewhat, indeed, after his own fashion—and Sarah opposite young Con's bed, having her eyes fixed, with a mournful expression, on his pale and almost deathlike countenance. Mave's appearance occasioned the whole party to feel much surprise—and Mary rose from her arm-chair, and greeting her affectionately, said—
"I cannot welcome you, dear Mave, to sick a place as this—and indeed I am sorry you came to see us—for I needn't tell you what I'd feel—what we'd all feel," and here she looked quickly, but with the slightest possible significance at her brother, "if anything happened you in consequence; which may God forbid! How are you all at home?"
"We are all free from sickness, thank God," said Mave, whom the presence of Sarah caused to blush deeply; "but how are you all here? I am sorry to find that poor Nancy is ill—and that Con has got a relapse."
She turned her eyes upon him as she spoke, and, on contemplating his languid and sickly countenance, she could only, by a great effort, repress her tears.
"Do not come near us, dear Mave," said Dalton, "and, indeed, it was wrong to come here at all."
"God bless you, an' guard you, Mave," said Nancy, "an' we feel your goodness; but as Con says, it was wrong to put yourself in the way of danger. For God's sake, and as you hope to escape this terrible sickness, lave the house at wanst. We're sensible of your kindness—but lave us—lave us—for every minute you stop, may be death to you."
Sarah, who had never yet spoken to Mave, turned her black mellow eyes from her to her lover, and from him to her alternately. She then dropped them for a time on the ground, and again looked round her with something like melancholy impatience. Her complexion was high and flushed, and her eyes sparkled with unaccustomed brilliancy.
"It's not right two people should run sich risk on our account," said Con, looking towards Sarah; "here's a young woman who has come to nurse, tend and take care of us, for which, may God bless her, and protect her!—it's Sarah M'Gowan, Donnel Dhu's daughter."
"Think of Mave Sullivan," said Sarah—"think only' of Mave Sullivan—she's in danger—ha—but as for me—suppose I should take the faver and die?"
"May God forbid, poor girl," exclaimed Con; "it would lave us all a sad heart. Dear Mave don't stop here—every minute is dangerous."
Sarah went over to the bedside, and putting her hand gently upon his forehead, said—
"Don't spake to pity me—I can't bear pity; anything at all but pity from you. Say you don't care what becomes of me, or whether I die or not—but don't pity me."
It is extremely difficult to describe Sarah's appearance and state of mind as she spoke this. Her manner towards Con was replete with tenderness, and the most earnest and anxious interest, while at the same time there ran through her voice a tone of bitter feeling, an evident consciousness of something that pressed strongly on her heart, which gave a marked and startling character to her language.
Mave for a moment forgot everything but the interest which Sarah, and the mention of her, excited. She turned gently round from Mary, who had been speaking to her, and fixing her eyes on Sarah, examined her with pardonable curiosity, from head to foot; nor will she be blamed, we trust, if, even then and there, the scrutiny was not less close, in consequence of it having been I known to her that in point of beauty, and symmetry of figure, they had stood towards each other, for some time past, in the character of rivals. Sarah who had on, without stockings, a pair of small slippers, a good deal the worse for wear, had risen from the bed side, and now stood near the fire, directly opposite the only little window in the house, and, consequently, in the best light it afforded. Mave's glance, though rapid, was comprehensive; but she felt it was sufficient: the generous girl, on contemplating the wild grace and natural elegance of Sarah's figure, and the singular beauty and wonderful animation of her features, instantly, in her own mind, surrendered all claim to competition, and admitted to herself that Sarah was, without exception, the most perfectly beautiful girl she ever seen. Her last words, too, and the striking tone in which they were spoken, arrested her attention still more; so that she passed naturally from the examination of her person to the purport of her language.
We trust that our readers know enough of human nature, to understand that this examination of Sarah, upon the part of Mave Sullivan, was altogether an involuntary act, and one which occurred in less time than we have taken to write any one of the lines in which it is described.
Mave, who perceived at once that the words of Sarah were burdened by some peculiar distress, could not prevent her admiration from turning into pity without exactly knowing why; but in consequence of what Sarah had just said, she feared to express it either by word or look, lest she might occasion her unnecessary pain. She consequently, after a slight pause, replied to her lover—
"You must not blame me, dear Con, for being here. I came to give whatever poor attendance I could to Nancy here, and to sich of you as want it, while you're sick. I came, indeed, to stay and nurse you all, if you will let me; an' you won't be sorry to hear it, in spite of all that has happened, that I have the consent of my father an' mother for so doin'."
A faint smile of satisfaction lit up her lover's features, but this was soon overshadowed by his apprehension for her safety.
Sarah, who had for about a half minute been examining Mave on her part, now started, and exclaimed with flashing eyes, and we may add, a bursting and distracted heart—
"Well, Mave Sullivan, I have often seen you, but never so well as now. You have goodness an' truth in your face. Oh, it's a purty face—a lovely face. But why do you state a falsehood here—for what you've just said is false; I know it."
Mave started, and in a moment her pale face and neck were suffused by one burning blush, at the idea of such an imputation. She looked around her, as if enquiring from all those who were present the nature of the falsehood attributed to her; and then with a calm but firm eye, she asked Sarah what she could mean by such language.
"You're afther sayin'," replied Sarah, "that you're come here to nurse Nancy there. Now that's not true, and you know it isn't. You come here to nurse young Con Dalton: and you came to nurse him, bekaise you love him. No, I don't blame you for that, but I do for not saying so, without fear or disguise—for I hate both."
"That wouldn't be altogether true either," replied Mave, "if I said so; for I did come to nurse Nancy, and any others of the family that might stand in need of it. As to Con, I'm neither ashamed to love him, nor afeard to acknowledge it; and I had no notion of statin' a falsehood when I said what I did. I tell you, then, Sarah M'Gowan, that you've done me injustice. If there appeared to be a falsehood in my words, there was none in my heart."
"That's truth; I know, I feel that that's truth," replied Sarah, quickly; "but oh, how wrong I am," she exclaimed, "to mention that or anything else here that might distract him! Ah," she proceeded, addressing Mave, "I did you injustice—I feel I did, but don't be angry with me, for I acknowledge it."
"Why should I be angry with you?" replied Mave, "you only spoke what you thought, an' this, by all accounts, is what you always do."
"Let us talk as little as possible here," replied Sarah, the sole absorbing object of whose existence lay in Dalton's recovery. "I will speak to you on your way home, but not here—not here;" and while uttering the last words she pointed to Dalton, to intimate that further conversation might disturb him.
"Dear Mave," observed Mary, now rising from her chair, "you are stayin' too long; oh, for God's sake, don't stop; you can't dhrame of the danger you're in."
"But," replied Mave, calmly, "you know, Mary, that I came to stop and to do whatever I can do till the family comes round. You are too feeble to undertake anything, and might only get into a relapse if you attempted it."
"But, then we have Sarah M'Gowan," she replied, "who came, as few would—none livin' this day, I think, barrin' yourself and her—to stay with us, and to do anything that she can do for us all. May God for ever bless her! for short as the time is, I think she has saved some of our lives—Condy's without a doubt."
Mave turned towards Sarah, and, as she looked upon her, the tears started to her eyes.
"Sarah M'Gowan," said she, "you are fond of truth, an' you are right; I can't find words to thank you for doin' what you did, God bless and reward you!"
She extended her hand as she spoke, but Sarah put it back. "No," said she, indignantly, "never from you; above all that's livin' don't you thank me. You, you, why you arn't his wife yet," she exclaimed, in a suppressed voice of deep agitation, "an maybe you never will. You don't know what may happen—you don't know—"
She immediately seemed to recollect something that operated as a motive to restrain any exhibition of strong feeling or passion on her part, for all at once she composed herself, and sitting down, merely said:—
"Mave Sullivan, I'm glad you love truth, and I believe you do; I can't, then, resave any thanks from you, nor I won't; an' I would tell you why, any place but here."
"I don't at all understand you," replied Mave; "but for your care and attention to him, I'm sure it's no harm to say, may God reward you! I will never forget it to you."
"While I have life," said Dalton feebly, and fixing his eyes upon Sarah's face, "I, for one, won't forget her kindness."
"Kindness!" she re-echoed—"ha, ha!—well, it's no matter—it's no matter!"
"She saved my life, Mave; I was lyin' here, and hadn't even a drink of water, and there was no one else in the house; Mary, there, was out, an' poor Nancy was ravin' an' ragin' with illness and pain; but she, Sarah, was here to settle us, to attend us, to get us a drink whenever we wanted it—to raise us up, an' to put it to our lips, an' to let us down with as little pain as possible. Oh, how could I forget all this? Dear, dear Sarah, how could I forget this if I was to live a thousand years?"
Con's face, while he spoke, became animated with the enthusiasm of the feeling to which he gave utterance, and, as his eyes were fixed on Sarah with a suitable expression, there appeared to be a warmth of emotion in his whole manner which a sanguine person might probably interpret in something beyond gratitude.
Sarah, after he had concluded, looked upon him with a long, earnest, but uncertain gaze; so long, indeed, and so intensely penetrating was it, that the whole energy of her character might, for a time, be read clearly in the singular expression of her eyes. It was evident that her thoughts were fluttering between pleasure and pain, cheerfulness and gloom; but at length her countenance lost, by degrees its earnest character, the alternate play of light and shadow over it ceased, and the gaze changed, almost imperceptibly, into one of settled abstraction.
"It might be," she said, as if thinking aloud—"it might be—but time will tell; and, in the manetime, everything must be done fairly—fairly; still, if it shouldn't come to pass—if it should not—it would be betther if I had never been born; but it may be, an' time will tell."
Mave had watched her countenance closely, and without being able to discover the nature of the conflict that appeared in it, she went over, and placing her hand gently upon Sarah's arm, exclaimed—
"Don't blame me for what I'm goin' to say, Sarah—if you'll let me call you Sarah; but the truth is, I see that your mind is troubled. I wish to God I could remove that trouble, or that any one here could! I am sure they all would, as willingly as myself."
"She is troubled," said Mary; "I know by her manner that there's something distressing on her mind. Any earthly thing that we could do to relieve her we would; but I asked her, and she wouldn't tell me."
It is likely that Mary's kindness, and especially Mave's, so gently, but so sincerely expressed, touched her as they spoke. She made no reply, however, but approached Mave with a slight smile on her face, her lips compressed, and her eyes, which were fixed and brilliant, floating in something that looked like moisture, and which might as well have been occasioned by the glow of anger as the impulse of a softer emotion, or perhaps—and this might be nearer the truth—as a conflict between the two states of feeling. For some moments she looked into Mave's very eyes, and after a little, she seemed to regain her composure, and sat down without speaking. There was a slight pause occasioned by the expectation that she had been about to reply, during which Dalton's eyes were fixed upon her. In her evident distress, she looked upon him. Their eyes met, and the revelation that that glance of anguish, on the part of Sarah, gave to him, disclosed the secret.
"Oh, my God!" he exclaimed, involuntarily and unconsciously, "is this possible?"
Sarah felt that the discovery had been made by him at last; and seeing that all their eyes were still upon her, she rose up, and approaching Mave, said—
"It is true, Mave Sullivan, I am troubled—Mary, I am troubled;" and as she uttered the words, a blush so deep and so beautiful spread itself over her face and neck, that the very females present were, for the moment, lost in admiration of her radiant youth and loveliness. Dalton's eyes were still upon her, and after a little time, he said—
"Sarah, come to me."
She went to his bedside, and kneeling, bent her exquisite figure over him; and as her dark brilliant eyes looked into his, he felt the fragrance of her breath mingling with his own.
"What is it?" said she.
"You are too near me," said he.
"Ah, I feel I am," she said, shaking her head.
"I mane," he added, "for your own safety. Give me your hand, dear Sarah."
He took her hand, and raising himself a little on his right side, he looked upon her again; and as he did so, she felt a few warm tears falling upon it.
"Now," he said, "lay me down again, Sarah."
A few moments of ecstatic tumult, in which Sarah was unconscious of anything about her, passed. She then rose, and sitting down on the little stool, she wept for some minutes in silence. During this quiet paroxysm no one spoke; but when Dalton turned his eyes upon Mave Sullivan, she was pale as ashes.
Mary, who had noticed nothing particular in the incidents just related, now urged Mave to depart; and the latter, on exchanging glances with Dalton, could perceive that a feeble hectic had overspread his face. She looked on him earnestly for a moment, then paused as if in thought, and going round to his bedside, knelt down, and taking his hand, said—
"Con, if there is any earthly thing that I can do to give ease and comfort to your mind, I am ready to do it. If it would relieve you, forget that you ever saw me, or ever—ever—knew me at all. Suppose I am not living—that I am dead. I say this, dear Con, to relieve you from any pain or distress of mind that you may feel on my account. Believe me, I feel everything for you, an' nothing now for myself. Whatever you do, I tell you that a harsh word or thought from me you will never have."
Mave, while she spoke, did not shed a tear; nor was her calm, sweet voice indicative of any extraordinary emotion. Sarah, who had been weeping until the other began to speak, now rose up, and approaching Mave, said—
"Go, Mave Sullivan—go out of this dangerous house; and you, Condy Dalton, heed not what she has said. Mave Sullivan, I think I understand your words, an' they make me ashamed of myself, an' of the thoughts that have been troublin' me. Oh, what am I when compared to you?—nothing nothing."
Mave had, on entering, deposited the little matters she had brought for their comfort, and Mary now came over, and placing her hand on her shoulder, said:
"Sarah is right, dear Mave; for God's sake do not stay here. Oh, think—only think if you tuck this faver, an' that anything happened you."
"Come," said Sarah, "leave this dangerous place; I will see you part of the way home—you can do nothing here that I won't do, and everything that I can do will be done." Her lover's eyes had been fixed upon her, and with a feeble voice—for the agitation had exhausted him—he added his solicitations for her departure to theirs.
"I hope I will soon be better, dear Mave, and able to get up too—but may God bless you and take care of you till then!"
Mave again went round and took his hand, on which he felt a few tears fall.
"I came here, dear Con," she said, "to take care of you all, and why need I be ashamed to say so—to do all I could for yourself. Sarah here wishes me to spake the truth, an' why shouldn't I? Think of my words then, Con, and don't let me or the thoughts of me occasion you one moment's unhappiness. To see you happy is all the wish I have in this world."
She then bade them an affectionate farewell, and was about to take her departure, when Sarah, who had been musing for a moment, went to Dalton, and having knelt on one knee, was about to speak, and to speak, as was evident from her manner, with great earnestness, when she suddenly restrained herself, clasped her hands with a vehement action, looked distractedly from him to Mave, and then suddenly rising, took Mave's hand, and said:
"Come away—it's dangerous to stop where this fever is—you ought to be careful of yourself—you have friends that loves you, and that would feel for you if you were gone. You have a kind good father,—a lovhin' mother—a lovin' mother, that you could turn to, an' may turn to, if ever you should have a sore heart—a mother—oh, that blessed word—what wouldn't I give to say that I have a mother! Many an' outrage—many a wild fit of passion—many a harsh word, too—oh, what mightn't I be now if I had a mother? All the world thinks I have a bad heart—that I'm without feelin'; but, indeed, Mave Sullivan, I'm not without feelin', an' I don't think I have a bad heart."
"You have not a bad heart," replied Mave, taking her hand; "no one, dear Sarah, could look into your face and say so; no, but I think so far from that, your heart is both kind and generous."
"I hope so," she replied, "I hope I have—now come you and leave this dangerous house; besides I have something to say to you."
Mave and she proceeded along the old causeway that led to the cabin, and having got out upon the open road, Sarah stood.
"Now, Mave Sullivan," said she, "listen—you do me only justice to say that I love truth, an' hate a lie, or consalement of any kind. I ax you now this—you discovered awhile ago that I love Condy Dalton? Isn't that thrue?"
"I wasn't altogether certain," replied Mave, "but I thought I did—an' now I think you do love him."
"I do love him—oh, I do—an' why as you said, should I be ashamed of it?—ay, an' it was my intention to tell you so the first time I'd see you, an' to give you fair notice that I did, an' that I'd lave nothing undone to win him from you."
"Well," replied the other, "this is open and honest, at all events."
"That was my intention," pursued Sarah, "an' I had, for a short time, other thoughts; ay, an' worse thoughts; my father was pursuadin' me—but I can't spake on that—for he has my promise not to do so. Oh, I'm nothing, dear Mave—nothing at all to you. I can't forget your words awhile ago—bekaise I knew what you meant at the time, when you said to Con, 'any earthly thing that I can do to give aise and comfort to your mind. I am ready to do it. If it would relieve you, forget that you ever saw me or ever knew me.' Now, Mave, I've confessed to you that I love Con Dalton—but I tell you not to trouble your heart by any thoughts of me; my mind's made up as to what I'll do—don't fear me, I'll never cross you here. I'm a lonely creature," she proceeded, bursting into bitter tears; "I'm without friends and relations, or any one that cares at all about me—"
"Don't say so," replied Mave, "I care about you, an' it's only now that people is beginning to know you—but that's not all, Sarah, if it's any consolation to you to know it—know it—Condy Dalton loves you—ay, loves you, Sarah M'Gowan—you may take my word for that—I am certain this day that what I say is true."
"Loves me!" she exclaimed.
"Loves you," repeated Mave, "is the word, an I have said it."
"I didn't suspect that when I spoke," she replied.
Each looked upon the other, and both as they stood were as pale as death itself. At length Mave spoke.
"I have only one thought, Sarah, an' that is how to make him happy; to see him happy."
"I can scarcely spake," replied Sarah; "I wouldn't know what to say if I did. I'm all confused; Mave, dear, forgive me!"
"God bless you," replied Mave, "for you are truth an' honesty itself. God bless an' you, make him happy! Good-bye, dear Sarah."
She put her hand into Sarah's and felt that it trembled excessively—but Sarah was utterly passive; she did not even return the pressure which she had received, and when Mave departed, she was standing in a reverie, incapable of thought, deadly pale, and perfectly motionless.
CHAPTEE XXV. — Sarah Without Hope.
How Sarah returned to Dalton's cabin she herself knew not. Such was the tumult which the communication then made to her by Mave, had occasioned in her mind, that, the scene which had just taken place, altogether appeared to her excited spirit like a troubled dream, whose impressions were too unreal and deceptive to be depended on for a moment. The reaction from the passive state in which Mave had left her, was, to a temperament like her's, perfectly overwhelming. Her pulse beat high, her cheek burned, and her eye flashed with more than its usual fire and overpowering brilliancy, and, with the exception of one impression alone, all her thoughts were so rapid and indistinct as to resemble the careering clouds which fly in tumult and confusion along the troubled sky, with nothing stationary but the sun far above, and which, in this case, might be said to resemble the bright conviction of Dalton's love for her, that Mave's assurance had left behind it. On re-entering the cabin, without being properly conscious of what she either did or said, she once more knelt by the side of Dalton's bed, and hastily taking his unresisting hand, was about to speak; but a difficulty how to shape her language held her in a painful and troubled suspense for some moments, during which Dalton could plainly perceive the excitement, or rather rapture, by which she was actuated. At length a gush of hot and burning tears enabled her to speak, and she said:
"Con Dalton—dear Con, is it true? can it be true?—oh, no—no—but, then, she says it—is it true that you like me—like me!—no, no—that word is too wake—is it true that you love me? but no—it can't be—there never was so much happiness intended for me; and then, if it should be true—oh, if it was possible, how will I bear it? what will I do? what—is to be the consequence? for my love for you is beyond all belief—beyond all that tongue can tell. I can't stand this struggle—my head is giddy—I scarcely know what I'm sayin', or is it a dhrame that I'll waken from, and find it false—false?"
Dalton pressed her hand, and looking tenderly upon her face, replied:
"Dear Sarah, forgive me; your dhrame is both thrue and false. It is true that I like you—that I pity you; but you forbid me to say that—well it is true, I say, that I like you; but I can't say more. The only girl I love in the sense you mane, is Mave Sullivan. I could not tell you an untruth, Sarah; nor don't desave yourself. I like you, but I love her."
She started up, and in an instant dashed the tears from her cheeks; after which she said:
"I am glad to know it; you have said the truth—the bitther truth; ay, bitther it will prove, Condy Dalton, to more than me. My happiness in this world is now over forever. I never was happy; an' its clear that the doom is against me; I never will be happy. I am now free to act as I like. No matther what I do, it can't make me feel more than I feel now. I might take a life; ay, twenty, an' I couldn't feel more miserable than I am. Then, what is there to prevent me from workin' out my own will, an' doin' what my father wishes? I may make myself worse an' guiltier; but unhappier I cannot be. That poor, weak hope was all I had in this world; but that is gone; and I have no other hope now."
"Compose yourself, dear Sarah; calm yourself," said Dalton.
"Don't call me dear Sarah," she replied; "you were wrong ever to do so. Oh, why was I born! an' what has this world an' this life been to me but hardship an' sorrow? But still," she added, drawing herself up, "I will let you all see what pride can do. I now know my fate, an' what I must suffer: an' if one tear would gain your love, I wouldn't shed it—never, never."
"Sarah," said Mary, in a soothing voice, "I hope you won't blame poor Con. You don't know maybe that himself an' Mave Sullivan has loved one another ever since they were—"
"No more about Mave Sullivan," she replied, almost fiercely; "lave her to me. As for me, I'll not brake my word, either for good or evil; I was never the one to do an ungenerous—an ungenerous—no—" She paused, however, as if struck by some latent conviction, and, in a panting voice, she added, "I must lave you for a while, but I will be back in an hour or two; oh, yes I will; an' in the mane time, Mary, anything that is to be done, you can do it for me till I come agin. Mave Sullivan! Mave Sullivan! lave Mave Sullivan to me!"
She then threw an humble garment about her, and in a few minutes was on her way to have an interview with her father. On reaching home, she found that he had arrived only a few minutes before her; and to her surprise he expressed something like; good humor, or, perhaps, gratification at her presence there. On looking into her face more closely, however, he had little trouble in perceiving that something extraordinary had disturbed her. He then glanced at Nelly, who, as usual, sat gloomily by the fire, knitting her brows and groaning with suppressed ill-temper as she had been in the habit of doing, ever since she suspected that Donnel had made a certain disclosure, connecting with her, to Sarah.
"Well," said he, "has there been another battle? have you been ding dust at it as usual? What's wrong, Sally? eh? Did it go to blows wid you, for you looked raised?"
"You're all out of it," replied Nelly; "her blood's up, now, an' I'm not prepared for a sudden death. She's dangerous this minute, an' I'll take care of her. Blessed man, look at her eyes."
She repeated these words with that kind of low, dogged ridicule and scorn which so frequently accompany stupid and wanton brutality; and which are, besides, provoking, almost beyond endurance, when the mind is chafed by a consideration of an exciting nature.
Sarah flew like lightning to the old knife, which we have already mentioned, and, snatching it from the shelf of the dresser, on which it lay, exclaimed:
"I have now no earthly thought, nor any hope of good in this world, to keep my hand from evil; an' for all ever you made me suffer, take this—"
Her father had not yet sat down, and it was, indeed, well that he had not—for it required all his activity and strength united, to intercept the meditated blow, by seizing his daughter's arm.'
"Sarah," said he, "what is this? are you mad, you murdhering jade, to attempt the vagabond's life? for she is a vagabond, and an ill-tongued vagabond. Why do you provoke the girl by sich language, you double-distilled ould sthrap? you do nothin' but growl an' snarl, an' curse, an' pray—ay, pray, from mornin' to night, in sich a way, that the very devil himself could not bear you, or live wid you. Begone out o' this, or I'll let her at you, an' I'll engage she'll give you what'll settle you."
Nelly rose, and putting on her cloak went out.
"I'm goin'," she replied, looking at, and addressing the Prophet; "an' plaise God, before long I'll have the best wish o' my heart fulfilled, by seein' you hanged; but, until then, may my curse, an' the curse o' God light on you and pursue you. I know you have tould her everything, or she wouldn't act towards me as she has done of late."
Sarah stood like the Pythoness, in a kind of savage beauty, with the knife firmly grasped in her hand.
"I'm glad she's gone," she said; "but it's not her, father, that I ought to raise my hand against."
"Who then, Sarah?" he asked, with something like surprise.
"You asked me," she proceeded, "to assist in a plan to have Mave Sullivan carried off by young Dick o' the Grange—I'm now ready for anything, and I'll do it. This world, father, has nothing good or happy in it for me—now I'll be aquil to it; if it gives me nothing good, it'll get nothing out of me. I'll give it blow for blow; kindness, good fortune, if it was to happen—but it can't now—would soften me; but I know, I feel that ill-treatment, crosses, disappointments, an' want of all hope in this life, has made, an' will make me a devil—ay, an' oh! what a different girl I might be this day!"
"What has vexed you?" asked the father "for I see that something has."
"Isn't it a cruel thing," she proceeded, without seeming to have attended to him; "isn't it a cruel thing to think that every one you see about you has some happiness except yourself; an' that your heart is burstin', an' your brain burnin', an' no relief for you; no one point to turn to, for consolation—but everything dark and dismal, and fiery about you?"
"I feel all this myself," said the Prophet; "so, don't be disheartened, Sarah; in the coorse o' time your heart will get so hardened that you'll laugh at the world—ay, at all that's either bad or good in it, as I do."
"I never wish to come to that state," she replied; "an' you never felt what I feel—you never had that much of what was good in your heart. No," she proceeded, "sooner than come to that state—that is, to your state—I'd put this knife into my heart. You, father, never loved one of your own kind yet."
"Didn't I?" he replied, while his eyes lightened into a glare like those of a provoked tiger; "ay, I loved one of our kind—of your kind; loved her—ay, an' was happy wid her—oh, how happy. Ah, Sarah M'Gowan, an' I loved my fellow-creatures then, too, like a fool as I was: loved, ay, loved; an' she that I so loved proved false to me—proved an adulteress; an' I tell you now, that it may harden your heart against the world, that that woman—my wife—that I so loved, an' that so disgraced me, was your mother."
"It's a lie—it's as false as the devil himself," she replied, turning round quickly, and looking him with frantic vehemence of manner in the face. "My mother never did what you say. She's now in her grave, an' can't speak for or defend herself; but if I were to stand here till judgment day, I'd say it was false. You were misled or mistaken, or your own bad, suspicious nature made you do her wrong; an' even if it was thrue—which it is not, but false as hell—why would you crash and wring her daughter's heart by a knowledge of it? Couldn't you let me get through the short but bitther passage of life that's before me, without addin' this to the other thoughts that's distractin' me?"
"I did it, as I said," he replied, "to make you harden your heart, an' to prevent you from puttin' any trust in the world, or expectin' anything either of thruth or goodness from it."
She started, as if some new light had broken in upon her, and turning to him, said—
"Maybe I undherstand you, father—I hope I do. Oh, could it be that you wor wanst—a—a—a betther man—a man that had a heart for fellow-creatures, and cared for them? I'm lookin' into my own heart now, and I don't doubt but I might be brought to the same state yet. Ha, that's terrible to think of; but again, I can't believe it. Father, you can stoop to lies an' falsity—that I could not do; but no matther; you wor wanst a good man, maybe. Am I right?"
The Prophet turned round, and fixing his eyes upon his daughter, they stood each gazing upon the other for some time. He then looked for a moment into the ground, after which he sat down upon a stool, and covering his face with both his hands, remained in that position for two or three minutes.
"Am I right, father?" she repeated.
He raised his eyes, and looking upon her with his usual composure, replied—
"No—you are wrong—you are very wrong. When I was a light-hearted, affectionate boy, playing with my brothers and sisters, I was a villain. When I grew into youth, Sarah, an' thought every one full of honesty an' truth, an' the world all kindness, an' nothin' about me but goodness, an' generosity, an' affection, I was, of coorse, a villain. When I loved the risin' sun—when I looked upon the stars of heaven with a wonderin' and happy heart—when the dawn of mornin' and the last light of the summer evening filled me with joy, and made me love every one and everything about me—the trees, the runnin' rivers, the green fields, and all that God—ha, what am I sayin'?—I was a villain. When I loved an' married your mother, an' when she—but no matther—when all these things happened, I was, I say, a villain; but now that things is changed for the betther, I am an honest man!"
"Father, there is good in you yet," she said, as her eyes sparkled in the very depth of her excitement, with a hopeful animation that had its source in a noble and exalted benevolence, "you're not lost."
"Don't I say," he replied, with a cold and bitter sneer, "that I am an honest man."
"Ah," she replied, "that's gone too, then—look where I will, everything's dark—no hope—no hope of any kind; but no matther now; since I can't do betther, I'll make them think o' me: aye, an' feel me too. Come, then, what have you to say to me?"
"Let us have a walk, then," replied her father. "There is a weeny glimpse of sunshine, for a wondher. You look heated—your face is flushed too, very much, an' the walk will cool you a little."
"I know my face is flushed," she replied; "for I feel it burnin', an' so is my head; I have a pain in it, and a pain in the small o' my back too."
"Well, come," he continued, "and a walk will be of sarvice to you."
They then went out in the direction of the Rabbit Bank, the Prophet, during their walk, availing himself of her evident excitement to draw from her the history of its origin. Such a task, indeed, was easily accomplished, for this singular creature, in whom love of truth, as well as a detestation of all falsehood and subterfuge, seemed to have been a moral instinct, at once disclosed to him the state of her affections, and, indeed, all that the reader already knows of her love for Dalton, and her rivalry with Mave Sullivan. These circumstances were such precisely as he could have wished for, and our readers need scarcely be told that he failed not to aggravate her jealousy of Mave, nor to suggest to her the necessity on her part, if she possessed either pride or spirit, to prevent her union with Dalton by every means in her power.
"I'll do it," she replied, "I'll do it; to be sure I feel it's not right, an' if I had one single hope in this world, I'd scorn it; but I'm now desperate; I tried to be good, but I'm only a cobweb before the wind—everything is against me, an' I think I'm like some one that never had a guardian angel to take care of them."
The Prophet then gave her a detailed account of their plan for carrying away Mave Sullivan, and of his own subsequent intentions in life.
"We have more than one iron in the fire," he proceeded, "an' as soon as everything comes off right, and to our wishes, we'll not lose a single hour in going to America."
"I didn't think," said Sarah, "that Dalton ever murdered Sullivan till I heard him confess it; but I can well understand it now. He was hasty, father, and did it in a passion, but it's himself that has a good heart. Father, don't blame me for what I say, but I'd rather be that pious, affectionate ould man, wid his murdher on his head, than you in the state you're in. An' that's thrue, I must turn back and go to them—I'm too long away: still, something ails me—I'm all sickish, my head and back especially."
"Go home to your own place," he replied; "maybe it's the sickness you're takin."
"Oh, no," she replied, "I felt this way once or twice before, an' I know it'll go off me—good-bye."
"Good-bye, Sarah, an' remember, honor bright and saicresy."
"Saicresy, father, I grant you, but never honor bright for me again. It's the world that makes me do it—the wicked, dark, cruel world, that has me as I am, widout a livin' heart to love me—that's what makes me do it."
They then separated, he pursuing his way to Dick o' the Grange's, and she to the miserable cabin of the Daltons. They had not gone far, however, when she returned, and calling after him, said—
"I have thought it over again, and won't promise altogether till I see you again."
"Are you goin' back o' your word so soon!" he asked, with a kind of sarcastic sneer. "I thought you never broke your word, Sarah."
She paused, and after looking about her as if in perplexity, she turned on her heel, and proceeded in silence.
CHAPTER XXVI. — The Pedlar Runs a Close Risk of the Stocks.
Nelly's suspicions, apparently well founded as they had been, were removed from the Prophet, not so much by the disclosure to her and Sarah, of his having been so long cognizant of Sullivan's murder by Dalton, as by that unhappy man's own confession of the crime. Still, in spite of all that had yet happened, she could not divest herself of an impression that something dark and guilty was associated with the Tobacco-box; an impression which was strengthened by her own recollections of certain incidents that occurred upon a particular night, much about the time of Sullivan's disappearance. Her memory, however, being better as to facts than to time, was such as prevented her from determining whether the incidents alluded to had occurred previous to Sullivan's murder, or afterwards. There remained, however, just enough of suspicion to torment her own mind, without enabling her to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion as to Donnel's positive guilt, arising from the mysterious incidents in question. A kind of awakened conscience, too, resulting not from any principle of true repentance, but from superstitious alarm and a conviction that the Prophet had communicated to Sarah a certain secret connected with her, which she dreaded so much to have known, had for some time past rendered her whole life a singular compound of weak terror, ill-temper, gloom, and a kind of conditional repentance, which depended altogether upon the fact of her secret being known. In this mood it was that she left the cabin as we have described.
"I'm not fit to die," she said to herself, after she had gone—"an' that's the second offer for my life she has made. Any way, it's the best of my play to lave them; an' above all, to keep away from her. That's the second attempt; and I know to a certainty, that if she makes a third one, it'll do for me. Oh, no doubt of that—the third time's always the charm!—an' into my heart that unlucky knife 'ill go, if she ever tries it a third time! They tell me," she proceeded, soliloquizing, as she was in the habit of doing, "that the inquest is to be held in a day or two, an' that the crowner was only unwell a trifle, and hadn't the sickness afther all. No matther—not all the wather in the sky 'ud clear my mind that there's not villany joined with that Tobaccy-box, though where it could go, or what could come of it (barrin' the devil himself or the fairies tuck it,) I don't know."
So far as concerned the coroner, the rumor of his having caught the prevailing typhus was not founded on fact. A short indisposition, arising from a cold caught by a severe wetting, but by no means of a serious or alarming nature, was his only malady; and when the day to which the inquest had been postponed had arrived, he was sufficiently recovered to conduct that important investigation. A very large crowd was assembled upon the occasion, and a deep interest prevailed throughout that part of the country. The circumstances, however, did not, as it happened, admit of any particular difficulty Jerry Sullivan and his friends attended as, was their duty, in order to give evidence touching the identity of the body. This, however, was a matter of peculiar difficulty. On disinterring the remains, it was found that the clothes worn at the time of the murder had not been buried with them—in other words, that the body had been stripped of all but the under garment, previous to its interment. The evidence, nevertheless, of the Black Prophet and of Red Rody was conclusive. The truth, however, of most if not of all the details, but not of the fact itself, was denied by old Dalton, who had sufficiently recovered from his illness, to be present at the investigation. The circumstances deposed to by the two witnesses were sufficiently strong and home to establish the fact against him, although he impugned the details as we have stated, but admitted that—after a hard battle with weighty sticks, he did kill Sullivan with an unlucky blow, and left him dead in a corner of the field for a short time near the Grey Stone. He said that he did not bury the body, but that he carried it soon afterwards from the field in which the unhappy crime had been committed, to the roadside, where he laid it for a time, in order to procure assistance. He said he then changed his mind, and having become afraid to communicate the unhappy accident to any of the neighbors, he fled in great terror across the adjoining mountains, where he wandered nearly frantic until the approach of day-break the next morning. He then felt himself seized with an uncontrollable anxiety to return to the scene of conflict, which he did, and found, not much to his surprise indeed, that the body had been removed, for he supposed at the time that Sullivan's friends must have brought it home. This he declared was the truth, neither more nor less, and he concluded by solemnly stating, that he knew no more than the child unborn what had become of the body, or how it disappeared. He also acknowledged that he was very much intoxicated at the time of the quarrel, and that were it not for the shock he received by perceiving that the man was dead, he thought he would not have had anything beyond a confused and indistinct recollection of the circumstance at all. He admitted also that he had threatened Sullivan in the market, and followed him closely for the purpose of beating him, but maintained that the fatal blow was not given with an intention of taking his life.
The fact, on the contrary, that the body had been privately buried and stripped before interment, was corroborated by the circumstance of Sullivan's body-coat having been found the next morning in a torn and bloody state, together with his great coat and hat; but indeed, the impression upon the minds of many was, that Dalton's version of the circumstances was got up for the purpose of giving to what was looked upon as a deliberate assassination, the character of simple homicide or manslaughter, so as that he might escape the capital felony, and come off triumphantly by a short imprisonment. The feeling against him too was strengthened and exasperated by the impetuous resentment with which he addressed himself to the Prophet and Rody Duncan, while giving their evidence, for it was not unreasonable to suppose that the man, who at his years, and in such awful circumstances, could threaten the lives of the witnesses against him, as he did, would not hesitate to commit, in a fit of that ungovernable passion that had made him remarkable through life, the very crime with which he stood charged through a similar act of blind and ferocious vengeance. Others, on the contrary held different opinions; and thought that the old man's account of the matter was both simple and natural, and bore the stamp of sincerity and truth upon the very face of it. Jerry Sullivan only swore that, to the best of his opinion, the skeleton found was much about the size of what his brother's would be; but as the proof of his private interment by Dalton had been clearly established by the evidence of the Prophet and Rody, constituting, as it did, an unbroken chain of circumstances which nothing could resist, the jury had no hesitation in returning the following verdict:—
"We find a verdict of wilful murder against Cornelius Dalton, Senior, for that he, on or about the night of the fourteenth of December, in the year of grace, 1798, did follow and waylay Bartholomew Sullivan, and deprive him of his life by blows and violence, having threatened him to the same effect in the early part of the aforesaid day."
During the progress of the investigation, our friend the pedlar and Charley Hanlon were anxious and deeply attentive spectators. The former never kept his eyes off the Prophet, but surveyed him with a face in which it was difficult to say whether the expression was one of calm conviction or astonishment. When the investigation had come to a close, he drew Hanlon aside and said—
"That swearin', Charley, was too clear, and if I was on the jury myself I would find the same verdict. May the Lord support the poor old man in the mane time! for in spite of all that happened one can't help pity'n' him, or at any rate his unfortunate family. However see what comes by not havin' a curb over one's passions when the blood's up."
"God's a just God," replied Hanlon—"the murderer deserves his punishment, an' I hope will meet it."
"There is little doubt of it," said the pedlar, "the hand of God is in it all."
"That's more than I see, or can at the present time, then," replied Hanlon. "Why should my aunt stay away so long?—but I dare say the truth is, she is either sick or dead, an' if that's the case, what's all you have said or done worth? You see it's but a chance still."
"Trust in God," replied the pedlar, "that's all either of us can do or say now. There's the coffin. I'm tould they're goin' to bury him, and to have the greatest funeral that ever was in the counthry; but, God knows, there's funerals enough in the neighborhood widout their making a show of themselves wid this."
"There's no truth in that report either," said Hanlon. "I was speakin' to Jerry Sullivan this mornin', an' I have it from him that they intend to bury him as quietly as they can. He's much changed from what he was—Jerry is—an' doesn't wish to have the old man hanged at all, if he can prevent it."
"Hanged or not, Charley, I must go on with my petition to Dick o' the Grange. Of course I have no chance, but maybe the Lord put something good into Travers's heart, when he bid me bring it to him; at any rate it can do no harm."
"Nor any earthly good," replied the other. "The farm is this minute the property of Darby Skinadre, an' to my knowledge Master Dick has a good hundred pounds in his pocket for befriendin' the meal-monger."
"Still an' all, Charley, I'll go to the father, if it was only bekaise the agent wishes it; I promised I would, an' who knows at any rate but he may do something for the poor Daltons himself, when he finds that the villain that robbed and ruined them won't."
"So far you may be right," said Hanlon, "an' as you say, if it does no good it can do no harm; but for my part, I can scarcely think of anything but my poor aunt. What, in God's name, except sickness or death, can keep her away, I don't know."
"Put your trust in God, man—that's my advice to you."
"And a good one it is," replied the other, "if we could only follow it up as we ought. Every one here wondhers at the change that's come over me—I that was so light and airy, and so fond of every divarsion that was to be had, am now as grave as a parson; but indeed no wondher, for ever since that awful night at the Grey Stone—since both nights indeed—I'm not the same man, an' feel as if there was a weight come over me that nothing will remove, unless we trace the murdher, an' I hardly know what to say about it, now that my aunt isn't forthcommin'"
"Trust in God, I tell you, for as you live, truth will come to light yet."
The conversation took various changes as they proceeded, until they reached the Grange, where the first person they met was Jemmy Branigan, who addressed his old enemy, the pedlar, in that peculiarly dry and ironical tone which he was often in the habit of using when he wished to disguise a friendly act in an ungracious garb—a method of granting favors, by the way, to which he was proverbially addicted. In fact, a surly answer from Jemmy was as frequently indicative of his intention to serve you with his master as it was otherwise; but so adroitly did he disguise his sentiments, that no earthly penetration could develop them until proved by the result. Jemmy, besides, liked the pedlar at heart for his open, honest scurrility—a quality which he latterly found extremely beneficial to himself, inasmuch as now that, increasing infirmity had incapacitated his master from delivering much of the alternate abuse that took place between them, he experienced great relief every moment from a fresh breathing with his rather eccentric opponent.
"Jemmy," said Hanlon, "is the master in the office?"
"Is he in the office?—Who wants him?" and as he put the query he accompanied it by a look of ineffable contempt at the pedlar.
"Your friend, the pedlar, wants him; and so now," added Hanlon, "I leave you both to fight it out between you."
"You're comin' wid your petition, an' a purty object you are, goin' to look afther a farm for a man that'll be hanged, (may God forbid—this day, amin!" he exclaimed in an under-tone which the other could not hear): "an' what can you expect but to get kicked out or put in' the stocks for attemptin' to take a farm over another man's head."
"What other man's head?—nobody has it yet."
"Ay, has there—a very daicent respectable man has it, by name one Darby Skinadre. (May he never warm his hungry nose in the same farm, the miserable keowt that he is this day," he added in another soliloquy, which escaped the pedlar): "a very honest man is Darby Skinadre, so you may save yourself the trouble, I say."
"At any rate there's no harm in tryin'—worse than fail we can't, an' if we succeed it'll be good to come in for anything from the ould scoundrel, before the devil gets him."
Jemmy gave him a look.
"Why, what have you to say against the ould boy? Sure it's not casting reflections on your own masther you'd be."
"Oh, not at all," replied the pedlar, "especially when I'm expectin' a favor from one of his sarvints. Throth he'll soon by all accounts have his hook in the ould Clip o' the! Grange—an' afther that some of his friends will soon folly him. I wouldn't be mainin' one Jemmy Branigan. Oh, dear no—but it's a sure case that's the Black Boy's intention to take the whole family by instalments, an' wid respect to the sarvints to place them in their ould situations. Faith you'll have a warm berth of it, Jemmy, an' well you desarve it."
"Why then you circulating vagabone," replied Jemmy; "if you wern't a close friend to him, you'd not know his intentions so well. Don't let out on yourself, man alive, unless you have the face to be proud of your acquaintance, which in throth is more than anyone, barrin' the same set, could be of you."
"Well, well," retorted the pedlar, "sure blood alive, as we're all of the same connection, let us not quarrel now, but sarve another if we can. Go an' tell the old blackguard I want to see him about business."
"Will I tell him you're itchy about the houghs?—eh? However, the thruth is, that they,"—and he pointed to the stocks—"might be justice, but no novelty to you. The iron gathers is an ornament you often wore, an' will again, plase goodness."
"Throth, and. your ornament is one you'll never wear a second time—the hemp collar will grace your neck yet; but never mind, you're leadin' the life to desarve it. See now if I can spake a word wid your masther for a poor family."
"Why, then, to avoid your tongue, I may as well tell you that himself, Masther Richard, and Darby Skinadre's in the office; an' if you can use the same blackguard tongue as well in a good cause as you can in a bad one, it would be well for the poor crayturs. Go in now, an'," he added in another soliloquy, "may the Lord prosper his virtuous endayvors, the vagabone; although all hope o' that's past, I doubt; for hasn't Skinadre the promise, and Masther Richard the bribe? However, who can tell?—-so God prosper the vagabone, I say again."
The pedlar, on entering, found old Henderson sitting in an arm-chair, with one of his legs, as usual, bandaged and stretched out before him on another chair. He seemed much worn and debilitated, and altogether had the appearance of a man whose life was not worth a single week's purchase. Skinadre was about taking leave of his patron, the son, who had been speaking to him as the pedlar entered.
"Don't be unaisy, Darby," he said. "We can't give you a lease for about a week or fortnight; but the agent is now here, an' we must first take out new leases ourselves. As soon as we do you shall have yours."
"If you only knew, your honor, the scrapin' I had in these hard times, to get together that hundhre—"
"Hush—there," said the other, clapping his hand, with an air of ridicule and contempt upon the miser's mouth; "that will do now; be off, and depend upon——mum, you understand mo! Ha, ha, ha!—that's not a bad move, father," he added; "however, I think we must give him the farm."
The pedlar had been standing in the middle of the floor, when young Dick, turning round suddenly, asked him with a frown, occasioned by the fact of his having overheard this short dialogue, what he wanted.
"God save you honors, gintlemen," said the pedlar, in a loud straightforward voice. "I'm glad to see your honor looking so well," he added, turning to the father; "it's fresh an' young your gettin', sir!—glory be to God!"
"Who is this fellow, Dick? Do you think I look better, my man?"
"Says Jemmy Branigan to me afore I came in," proceeded the pedlar,—"he's a thrue friend o' mine, your honor, Jemmy is, an' 'ud go to the well o' the world's end to sarve me—says he, you'll be delighted, Harry, to see the masther look so fresh an' well."
"And the cursed old hypocrite is just after telling me, Dick, to prepare for a long journey; adding, for my consolation, that it won't be a troublesome one, as it will be all down hill."
"Why," replied the son, "he has given you that information for the ten thousandth time, to my own knowledge. What does this man want? What's your business, my good fellow?"
"Beggin' your pardon, sir," replied the pedlar, "will you allow me to ask you one question; were you ever in the forty-seventh foot? Oh, bedad, it must be him to a sartinty," he added, as if to himself. "No," replied Dick; "why so?"
"Take care, your honor," said the pedlar, smiling roguishly;—"take care now, your honor, if it wasn't you—"
"What are you speaking about—what do you mean?" asked the young man.
The pedlar went over to him, and said, in a low voice, looking cautiously at the father, as if he didn't wish that he should hear him—
"It was surely your honor took away Lord Handicap's daughter when you wor an ensign—the handsome ensign, as they called you in the forty-seventh? Eh? faix I knew you the minute I looked at you."
"Ha, ha, ha! Do you know what, father? He says I'm the handsome ensign of the forty-seventh, that took away Lord Handicap's daughter."
"The greatest beauty in all England," added the pedlar; "an' I knew him at wanst, your honor."
"Well, Dick, that's a compliment, at any rate," replied the father.
"Were you ever in the forty-seventh?" asked the son, smiling.
"Ah, ah!" returned the pedlar, with a knowing wink, "behave yourself, captain; I'm not so soft as all that comes to; but sure as I have a favor to ax from his honor, your father, I'm glad to have your assistance. Faix, by all accounts you pleaded your own cause well, at any rate; and I hope you'll give me a lift now wid his honor here."
Dick the younger laughed heartily, but really had not ready virtue sufficient about, to disclaim the pedlar's compliment.
"Come, then," he added; "let us hear what your favor is?"
"Oh, thin, thank you, an' God bless you, captain. It's this: only to know if you'd be good enough to grant a new lease of Cargah Farm to young Condy Dalton; for the ould man, by all accounts, is not long for this world."
Both turned their eyes upon him with a look of singular astonishment.
"Who are you at all, my good fellow?" asked the father; "or what devil drove you here on such an impudent message? A lease to the son of that ould murderer and his crew of beggars! That's good, Dick! Well done, soger! will you back him in that, captain? Ha, ha, ha! D—n me, if I ever heard the like of it!"
"I hope you will back me, captain," said the pedlar.
"Upon what grounds, comrade? Ha, ha, ha! Go on! Let us hear you!"
"Why, your honor, bekaise he's best entitled to it. Think of what it was when he got it, an' think of what it is now, and then ax yourselves—'Who raised it in value an' made it worth twiste what it was worth?' Wasn't it the Daltons? Didn't they lay out near eight hundre pounds upon it? An, didn't you, at every renewal, screw them up—beggin' your pardon, gintlemen—until they found that the more they improved it the poorer they were gettin'? An' now that it lies there worth double its value, an' they that made it so (to put money into your pocket) beggars—within a few hundred yards of it—wouldn't it be rather hard to let them die an' starve in destitution, an' them wishin' to get it back at a raisonable rint?"
"In this country, brother soldier," replied Dick ironically, "we generally starve first and die afterwards."
"You may well say so, your honor, an' God knows, there's not upon the face of the arth a counthry where starvation is so much practised, or so well understood. Faith, unfortunately, it's the national divarsion wid us. However, is what I'm sayin' raisonable, gintlemen?"
"Exceedingly so," said Dick; "go on."
"Well, then, I wish to know, will you give them a new lease of their farm?"
"You do! do you?"
"Troth I do, your honor."
"Well, then," replied the son, "I beg to inform you that we will not."
"Why so, your honor?"
"Simply, you knave," exclaimed the father, in a passion, "because we don't wish it. Kick him out, Dick!"
"My good friend and brother soldier," said Dick, "the fact is, that we are about to introduce a new system altogether upon our property. We are determined to manage it upon a perfectly new principle. It has been too much sublet under us, and we have resolved to rectify this evil. That is our answer. You get no lease. Provide for yourself and your friends, the Daltons, as best you can, but on this property you get no lease. That is your answer."
"Begone, now, you scoundrel," said the father, "and not a word more out of your head."
"Gintlemen!—gintlemen!"—exclaimed the pedlar, "have you no consciences? Is there no justice in the world? The misery, and sorrow, and sufferin's of this misfortunate family, will be upon you, I doubt, if you don't do them justice."
"Touch the bell, Dick! Here some one! Jemmy Branigan! Harry Lowry! Jack Clinton! Where are you all, you scoundrels? Here, put this rascal in the stocks immediately! in with him!"
Jemmy, who, from an adjoining room, had been listening to every word that passed, now entered.
"Here, you, sir: clap this vagabond in the stocks for his insolence. He has come here purposely to insult myself and my son. To the stocks with him at once."
"No!" replied Jemmy; "the devil resave the stock will go on him this day. Didn't I hear every word that passed? An' what did he say but the thruth, an' what every one knows to be the thruth?"
"Put him in the stocks, I desire you, this instant!"
"Throth if you wor to look at your mug in the glass, you'd feel that you'll soon be in a worse stocks yourself than ever you put any poor craythur into," replied the redoubtable Jemmy. "Do you be off about your business, in the mane time, you good-natured vagabone, or this ould fire-brand will get some one wid less conscience than I have, that'll clap you in them."
"Never mind, father," observed the son; "let the fellow go about his business—he's not worth your resentment."
The pedlar took the hint and withdrew, accompanied by Jemmy, on whose face there was a grin of triumph that he could not conceal.
"I tould you," he added, as they went down the steps, "that the same stocks was afore you; an' in the mane time, God pardon me for the injustice I did in keepin' you out o' them."
"Go on," replied the other; "devila harsh word ever I'll say to you again."
"Throth will you," said Jemmy; "an' both of us will be as fresh as a daisy in the mornin', plaise goodness. I have scarcely any one to abuse me, or to abuse, either, now that the ould masther is so feeble."
Jemmy extended his hand as he spoke, and gave the pedlar a squeeze, the cordiality of which was strongly at variance with the abuse he had given him.
"God bless you!" said the pedlar, returning the pressure; "your bark is worse than your bite. I'm off now, to mention the reception they gave me and the answers I got, to a man that will, maybe, bring themselves to their marrow-bones afore long."
"Ay, but don't abuse them, for all that," replied Jemmy, "for I won't bear it."
"Throth," returned the other, "you're a quare Jemmy—an' so God bless you!"
Having uttered these words, in an amicable and grateful spirit, our friend the pedlar bent his steps to the head inn of the next town—being that of the assizes, where Mr. Travers, the agent, kept his office.
CHAPTER XXVII. — Sarah Ill—Mave Again, Heroic.
Young Henderson, whose passion for Mave Sullivan was neither virtuous nor honorable, would not have lent himself, notwithstanding, to the unprincipled projects of the Prophet, had not that worthy personage gradually and dishonestly drawn him into a false position. In other words, he led the vain and credulous young man to believe that Mave had been seized with a secret affection for him, and was willing, provided everything was properly managed, to consent to an elopement. For this purpose, it was necessary that the plan should be executed without violence, as the Prophet well knew, because, on sounding young Dick upon that subject, in an early stage of the business, he had ascertained that the proposal of anything bordering upon outrage or force, would instantly cause him to withdraw from the project altogether. For this reason, then, he found it necessary, if possible to embark Sarah as an accomplice, otherwise, he could not effect his design without violence, and he felt that her co-operation was required to sustain the falsehood of his assertions to Henderson with regard to Mave's consent to: place herself under his protection. This was to be brought about so as to hoodwink Henderson, in the following manner: The Prophet proposed that Sarah should, by his own or her ingenuity, contrive to domicile herself in Jerry Sullivan's house for a few days previous to the execution of their design; not only for the purpose of using her influence, such as it was, to sway the young creature's mind and principles from the path of rectitude and virtue, by dwelling upon the luxury and grandeur of her future life with Henderson, whose intentions were to be represented as honorable, but, if necessary, to leave a free ingress to the house, so as that under any circumstances, and even with a little violence, Mave should be placed in Henderson's hands. Should the Prophet, by his management, effect this, he was to receive a certain sum of money from his employer the moment he or his party had her in their possession—for such were the terms of the agreement—otherwise Donnel Dhu reserved to himself the alternative of disclosing the matter to her friends, and acquainting them with her situation. This, at all events, was readily consented to by Henderson, whose natural vanity and extraordinary opinion of his own merits in the eyes of the sex, prevented him from apprehending any want of success with Mave, provided he had an opportunity of bringing the influence of his person, and his wonderful powers of persuasion, to bear upon such a simple country girl as he considered her to be. So far, then, he had taken certain steps to secure himself, whilst he left Henderson to run the risk of such contingencies as might in all probability arise from the transaction.
This, however, was but an under-plot of the Prophet, whose object was indeed far beyond that of becoming the paltry instrument of a rusty intrigue. It was a custom with Dick o' the Grange, for a few years previous to the date of our story, to sleep during the assizes, in the head inn of the town, attended by Jemmy Branigan. This was rendered in some degree necessary, by the condition of his bad leg, and his extraordinary devotion to convivial indulgence—a propensity to which he gave full stretch during the social license of the grand jury dinners. Now, the general opinion was, that Henderson always kept large sums of money in the house—an opinion which we believe to have been correct, and which seemed to have been confirmed by the fact, that on no occasion were both father and son ever known to sleep out of the house at the same time, to which we may also add another—viz., that the whole family were well provided with fire arms, which were freshly primed and loaded every night.
The Prophet, therefore, had so contrived it, that young Dick's design upon Mave Sullivan, or in other words, the Prophet's own design upon the money coffers of the Grange, should render his absence from home necessary whilst his father was swilling at the assizes, by which arrangement, added to others that will soon appear, the house must, to a certain degree, be left unprotected, or altogether under the care of dissolute servants, whose habits, caught from those of the establishment, were remarkable for dissipation and neglect.
The Prophet, indeed, was naturally a plotter. It is not likely, however, that he would ever have thought of projecting the robbery of the Grange, had he not found himself, as he imagined, foiled in his designs upon Mave Sullivan, by the instinctive honor and love of truth which shone so brilliantly in the neglected character of his extraordinary daughter. Having first entrapped her into a promise of secrecy—a promise which he knew death itself would scarcely induce her to violate, he disclosed to her the whole plan in the most plausible and mitigated language. Effort after effort was made to work upon her principles, but in vain. Once or twice, it is true, she entertained the matter for a time—but a momentary deliberation soon raised her naturally noble and generous spirit above the turpitude of so vile a project.
It was, then, in this state of things that the failure of the one, and the lesser plan, through the incorruptible honor of his daughter, drove him upon the larger and more tempting one of the burglary. In this latter, he took unto himself as his principal accomplice, Red Rody Duncan, whose anxiety to procure the driver's situation arose from the necessity that existed, to have a friend in the house, who might aid them in effecting a quiet entrance, and by unloading or wetting the fire-arms, neutralize the resistance which they might otherwise expect.
Sarah's excitement and distraction, however, resulting from her last interview with young Dalton, giving as it did, a fatal blow to her passion and her hopes, vehement and extraordinary as they were, threw her across her father's path at the precise moment when her great but unregulated spirit, inflamed by jealousy and reckless from despair, rendered her most accessible to the wily and aggravating arguments with which he tempted and overcame her. Thus did he, so far as human means could devise, or foresight calculate, provide for the completion of two plots instead of one.
It is true, Mave Sullivan was not left altogether without being forewarned. Nobody, however, had made her acquainted with the peculiar nature of the danger that was before her. Nelly M'Gowan, as she was called, had strongly cautioned her against both Donnel and Sarah, but then Nelly herself was completely in the dark as to the character of the injury against which she warned her, so that her friendly precautions were founded more upon the general and unscrupulous profligacy of Donnel's principles, and his daughter's violence, than upon any particular knowledge she possessed of her intentions towards her. Mave's own serene and innocent disposition was such in fact as to render her not easily impressed by suspicion; and our readers may have perceived, by the interview which took place between her and Sarah, that from the latter, she apprehended no injury.
It was on the following day after that interview, about two o'clock, that while she was spreading some clothes upon the garden hedge, during a sickly gleam of sunshine, our friend the pedlar made his appearance, and entered her father's house. Mave having laid her washing before the sun, went in and found him busily engaged in showing his wares, which consisted principally of cutlery and trinkets. The pedlar, as she entered, threw a hasty glance at her, perceived that she shook down her luxuriant hair, which had been disarranged by a branch of thorn that was caught in it while stretching over the hedge. She at once recognized him, and blushed deeply; but he seemed altogether to have forgotten her.
"Ha!" he exclaimed, "well, that I may be blest, but it's many a long day since I seen such a head o' hair as that! Holy St. Countryman, but it's a beauty. Musha, a Ora Gal, maybe you'll dispose of it, for, in troth, if ever a face livin' could afford to part with its best ornament, your's is that one."
Mave smiled and blushed at the compliment, and the pedlar eyed her apparently with a mixed feeling of admiration and compassion.
"No," she replied, "I haven't any desire to part with it."
"You had the sickness, maybe?"
"Thanks be to the mercy of God," she fervently exclaimed, "no one in this family has had it yet."
"Well, achora," he continued, "if you take my advice you'll dispose of it, in regard that if the sickness—which may God prevent—should come, it will be well for you to have it off you. If you sell it, I'll give you either money or value for it; for indeed, an' truth it flogs all I've seen this many a day."
"They say," observed her mother, "that it's not lucky to sell one's hair, and whether it's true or not I don't know; but I'm tould for a sartinty, that there's not a girl that ever sould it but was sure to catch the sickness."
"I know that there's truth in that," said Jerry himself. "There's Sally Hacket, and Mary Geoghegan, and Katy Dowdall, all sould it, and not one of them escaped the sickness. And, moreover, didn't I hear Misther Cooper, the bleedin' doctor, say, myself, in the market, on Sathurday, that the people couldn't do a worse thing than cut their hair close, as it lets the sickness in by the head, and makes it tin times as hard upon them, when it comes."
"Well, well, there's no arguin' wid you," said the pedlar, "all I say is, that you ought to part wid it, acushla—by all means you ought."
"Never mind him, Mave darlin'," said her mother, whose motive in saying so was altogether dictated by affectionate apprehensions for her health.
"No," replied her daughter, "it is not my intention, mother, to part with what God has given me. I have no notion of it."
At this stage of the dialogue, her eldest brother, who had been getting a horse shod at the next forge, entered the house, and threw himself carelessly on a chair. His appearance occasioned a alight pause in the conversation.
"Well, Denny," said the father, "what's the news?"
"Bad news with the Daltons," replied the boy.
"With the Daltons!" exclaimed Mave, trembling, and getting paler, if possible, than she was; "for God's mercy, Dennis, what has happened amongst them?"
"I met Mrs. Dalton a while ago," he replied, "and she tould me that they had no one now to take care of them. Sarah M'Gowan, the Black Prophet's daughter, has catched the sickness, and is lyin' in a shed there beyant, that a poor thravellin' family was in about a week ago. Mrs. Dalton says her own family isn't worse wid the sickness, but betther, she thinks; but she was cryin', the daicent craythur, and she says they'll die wid neglect and starvation, for she must be out, and there's no one to attend to them, and they have nothing but the black wather, God help them!"
While he spoke, Mave's eyes were fastened upon him, as if the sentence of her own life or death was about to issue from his lip. Gradually, however, she breathed more freely; a pale red tinged her cheek for a moment, after which, a greater paleness settled upon it again.
The pedlar shook his head. "Ah," he exclaimed, "they are hard times, sure enough; may the Lord bring us all safe through them! Well, I see I'm not likely to make my fortune among you," he added, smiling, "so I must tramp on, but any way, I must thank you for house-room and your civility."
"I'd offer something to ait," said Mrs. Sullivan, with evident pain, "but the truth is—"
"Not a morsel," replied the other, "if the house was overflown.'. God bless you all—God bless you."
Mave, almost immediately after her brother had concluded, passed to another room, and returned just as the old pedlar had gone out. She instantly followed him with a hasty step; while he, on hearing her foot, turned round.
"You told me that you admired my hair," she said, on coming up to him. "Now, supposin' I'm willin' to sell it to you, what ought I to get for it?"
"Don't be alarmed by what they say inside," replied the pedlar; "any regular doctor would tell that, in these times, it's safer to part wid it—that I may be happy but I'm tellin' you thruth. What is it worth? What are you axin?"
"I don't know; but for God's sake cut it off, and give me the most you can afford for it. Oh! believe me, it's not on account of the mere value of it, but the money may save lives."
"Why, achora, what do you intend doin' wid the money, if it's a fair question to ax?"
"It's not a fair question for a stranger—it's enough for me to tell you that I'll do nothing with it without my father and mother's knowledge. Here, Denny," she said, addressing her brother, who was on his way to the stable, "slip a stool through the windy, an' stay wid me in the barn—I want to send you of a message in a few minutes."
It is only necessary to say that the compensation was a more liberal one than Mave had at all expected, and the pedlar disencumbered her of as rich and abundant a mass of hair as ever ornamented a female head. This he did, however, in such a way as to render the absence of it as little perceptible as might be; the side locks he did not disturb, and Mave, when she put on a clean night cap, looked as if she had not undergone any such operation.
As the pedlar was going away, he called her aside, so as that her brother might not hear.
"Did you ever see me afore?" he asked.
"I did," she replied, blushing. "Well, achora," he proceeded, "if ever you happen to be hard set, either for yourself or your friends, send for me, in Widow Hanlon's house at the Grange, an' maybe I may befriend either you or them; that is, as far as I can—which, dear knows, is not far; but, still an' all, send. I'm known as the Cannie Sugah, or Merry Pedlar, an' that'll do. God mark you, ahagur!"
Her brother's intelligence respecting the situation of the Daltons, as well as of Sarah M'Gowan, saved Mave a long explanation to her parents for the act of having parted with her hair.
"We are able to live—barely able to live," she exclaimed; "an' thanks be to God we have our health; but the Daltons—oh! they'll never get through what they're sufferin'; an' that girl—oh! mother, sich a girl as that is—how little does the world know of the heart that beautiful craythur has. May the mercy of God rest upon her! This money is for the poor Daltons an' her; we can do without it—an', mother dear, my hair will grow again. Oh! father dear, think of it—lyin' in a could shed by the road-side, an' no one to help or assist her—to hand her a drink—to ease her on her hard bed—bed!—no on the cold earth I suppose! Oh! think if I was in that desolate state. May God support me, but she's the first I'll see; an' while I have life an' strength, she musn't want attendance; an' thank God her shed's on my way to the Daltons!"
She then hastily sent her brother into Ballynafail for such comforts as she deemed necessary for both parties; and in the mean time, putting a bonnet over her clean nightcap, she proceeded to the shed in which Sarah M'Gowan lay.
On looking at it ere she entered, she could not help shuddering. It was such a place as the poorest pauper in the poorest cabin would not willingly place an animal in for shelter. It simply consisted of a few sticks laid up against the side of a ditch; over these sticks were thrown a few scraws—that is, the sward of the earth cut thin; in the inside was the remnant of some loose straw, the greater part having been taken away either for bedding or firing.
When Mave entered, she started at the singular appearance of Sarah. From the first moment her person had been known to her until the present, she had never seen her look half so beautiful. She literally lay stretched upon a little straw, with no other pillow than a sod of earth under that rich and glowing cheek, while her raven hair had fallen down, and added to the milk-white purity of her shining neck and bosom.
"Father of Mercy!" exclaimed Mave, mentally, "how will she live—how can she live here? An' what will become of her? Is she to die in this miserable way in a Christian land?"
Sarah lay groaning with pain, and starting from time to time with the pangs of its feverish inflictions. Mave spoke not when she entered the shed, being ignorant whether Sarah was asleep or awake; but a very few moments soon satisfied her that the unhappy and deserted girl was under the influence of delirium.
"I won't break my promise, father, but I'll break my heart; an' I can't even give her warnin'. Ah! but it's threacherous—an' I hate that. No, no—I'll have no hand in it—manage it your own way—it's threacherous. She has crossed my happiness,you say—ay, an' there you're right—so she has—only for her I might—amn't I as handsome, you say, an' as well shaped—haven't I as white a skin?—as beautiful hair, an' as good eyes?—people say betther—an' if I have, wouldn't he come to love me in time?—only for her—or if there wasn't that bar put between us. You're right, you're right. She's the cause of all my sufferin' an' sorrow. She is—I agree—I agree—down with her—out o' my way with her—I hate the thoughts of her—an' I'll join it—for mark me, father, wicked I may be, but more miserable I can't—so I'll join you in it. What need I care now?"
Mave felt her heart sink, and her whole being disturbed with a heavy sense of terror, as Sarah uttered the incoherent rhapsody which we have just repeated. The vague, but strongly expressed warnings which she had previously heard from Nelly, and the earnest admonitions which that person had given her to beware of evil designs on the part of Donnel Dhu and his daughter, now rushed upon her mind; and she stood looking upon the desolate girl with feelings that it is difficult to describe. She also remembered that Sarah herself had told her in their very last interview, that she had other thoughts, and worse thoughts than the fair battle of rivalry between them would justify; and it was only now, too, that the unconscious allusion to the Prophet struck her with full force.
Her sweet and gentle magnanimity, however, rose over every other consideration but the frightfully desolate state of her unhappy rival. Even in this case, also, her own fears of contagion yielded to the benevolent sense of duty by which she was actuated.
"Come what will," she said to her own heart; "we ought to return good for evil; an' there's no use in knowing what is right, unless we strive to put it in practice. At any rate, poor girl—poor, generous Sarah, I'm afeard that you're never likely to do harm to me, or any one else, in this world. May God, in his mercy, pity and relieve you—and restore you wanst more to health!"
Mave, unconsciously, repeated the last words aloud; and Sarah, who had been lying with her back to the unprotected opening of the shed, having had a slight mitigation, and but a slight one, of the paroxysm under which she had uttered the previous incoherencies, now turned round, and fixing her eyes upon Mave, kept sharply, but steadily, gazing at her for some time. It was quite evident, however, that consciousness had not returned, for after she had surveyed Mave for a minute or two, she proceeded—
"The devil was there a while ago, but I wasn't afeard of him, because I knew that God was stronger than him; and then there came an angel—another angel, not you—and put him away; but it wasn't my guardian angel for I never had a guardian angel—oh, never, never—no, nor any one to take care o' me, or make me love them."
She uttered the last words in a tone of such deep and distressing sorrow, that Mave's eyes filled with tears, and she replied—
"Dear Sarah, let me be your guardian angel; I will do what I can for you; do you not know me?"
"No, I don't; arn't you one o' the angels that come about me?—the place is full o' them."
"Unhappy girl—or maybe happy girl," exclaimed Mave, with a fresh gush of tears, "who knows but the Almighty has your cold and deserted—bed I can't call it—surrounded with beings that may comfort you, an' take care that no evil thing will harm you. Oh no, dear Sarah, I am far from that—I'm a wake, sinful mortal."
"Bekaise they're about me continually an'—let me see—who are you? I know you. One o' them said a while ago, 'May God relieve you and restore you wanst more to health;' I heard the voice."
"Dear Sarah, don't you know me?" reiterated Mave; "look at me—don't you know Mave Sullivan—your friend, Mave Sullivan, that knows your value and loves you."
"Who?" she asked, starting a little; "who—what name is that?—who is it?—say it again."
"Don't you know Mave Sullivan, that loves you, an' feels for your miserable situation, my dear Sarah."
"I never had a guardian angel, nor any one to take care o' me—nor a mother, many a time—often—often the whole world—jist to look at her face—an' to know—feel—love me. Oh, a dhrink, a dhrink—is there no one to get me a dhrink! I'm burnin', I'm burnin'—is there no one to get me a dhrink! Mave Sullivan, Mave Sullivan, have pity on me! I heard some one name her—I heard her voice—I'll die without a dhrink."
Mave looked about the desolate shed, and to her delight spied a tin porringer, which Sarah's unhappy predecessors had left behind them; seizing this, she flew to a little stream that ran by the place, and filling the vessel, returned and placed it to Sarah's lips. She drank it eagerly, and looking piteously and painfully up into Mave's face, she laid back her head, and appeared to breathe more freely. Mave hoped that the drink of cold water would have cooled her fever and assuaged her thirst, so as to have brought her to a rational state—such a state as would have enabled the poor girl to give some account of the extraordinary situation in which she found herself, and of the circumstances which occasioned her to take shelter in such a place. In this, however, she was disappointed. Sarah having drank the cold water, once more shut her eyes, and fell into that broken and oppressive slumber which characterizes the terrible malady which had stricken her down. For some time she waited with this benign expectation, but seeing there was no likelihood of her restoration, to consciousness, she again filled the tin vessel, and placing it upon a stone by her bedside, composed the poor girl's dress about her, and turned her steps toward a scene in which she expected to find equal misery.
It is not our intention, however, to dwell upon it. It is sufficient to say, that she found the Daltons—who, by the way, had a pretty long visit from the pedlar—as her brother had said, beginning to recover, and so far this was consolatory; but there was not within the walls of the house, earthly comfort, or food or nourishment of any kind. Poor Mary was literally gasping for want of sustenance, and a few hours more might have been fatal to them all. There was no fire—no gruel, milk or anything that could in the slightest possible degree afford them relief. Her brother Denny, however, who had been desired by her to fetch his purchases directly to their cabin, soon returned, and almost at a moment that might be called the crisis, not of their malady, for that had passed, but of their fate itself, his voice was heard, shouting from a distance that he had discharged his commission; for we may observe that no possible inducement could tempt him to enter that or any other house where fever was at work. Mave lost little time in administering to their wants and their weaknesses. With busy and affectionate hands she did all that could be done for them at that particular juncture. She prepared food for Mary, made whey and gruel, and left as much of her little purse as she thought could be spared from the wants of Sarah M'Gowan.
In the course of two or three days afterwards, however, Sarah's situation was very much changed for the better; but until that change was effected, Mave devoted as much time to the poor girl as she could possibly spare. Nor was the force of her example without its beneficial effects in the neighborhood, especially as regarded Sarah herself. The courage she displayed, despite her constitutional timidity, communicated similar courage to others, in consequence of which Sarah was scarcely ever without some one in her bleak shed to watch and take care of her. Her father, however, on hearing of her situation, availed himself of what some of the neighbors considered a mitigation of her symptoms, and with as much care and caution as possible, she was conveyed home on a kind of litter, and nurse-tended by an old woman from the next village, Nelly having disappeared from the neighborhood.
The attendance of this old woman, by the way, surprised the Prophet exceedingly. He had not engaged her to attend on Sarah, nor could he ascertain who had. Upon this subject she was perfectly inscrutable. All he could know or get out of her was, that she had been engaged; and he could perceive also, that she was able to procure her many general comforts, not usually to be had about the sick bed of a person in her condition of life.
Mave, during all her attendance upon Sarah, was never able to ascertain whether, in the pauses of delirium, she had been able to recognize her. At one period, while giving her a drink of whey, she looked up into her eyes with something like a glance of consciousness, mingled with wonder, and appeared about to speak, but in a moment it was gone, and she relapsed into her former state.
This, however, was not the only circumstance that astonished Mave. The course of a single week also made a very singular change in the condition of the Daltons. Their miserable cabin began to exhibit an abundance of wholesome food, such as fresh meat, soup, tea, sugar,white bread, and even to wine, to strengthen the invalids. These things were to Mave equally a relief and a wonder; nor were the neighbors less puzzled at such an unaccountable improvement in the circumstances of this pitiable and suffering family. As in the case of Sarah, however, all these comforts, and the source from whence they proceeded, were shrouded in mystery. It is true, Mrs. Dalton smiled in a melancholy way when any inquiries were made about the matter, and shaking her head, declared, that although she knew, it was out of her power to break the seal of secrecy, or violate the promise she had made to their unknown benefactor.
Sarah's fever was dreadfully severe, and for some time after her removal from the shed, there was little hope of her recovery. Our friend, the pedlar, paid her a visit in the very height of her malady, and without permission, given or asked, took the liberty, in her father's absence, of completely removing her raven hair, with the exception, as in Mave's case, of those locks which adorn the face and forehead, and, to his shame and dishonesty be it told, without the slightest offer of remuneration.
CHAPTER XXVIII. — Double Treachery.
The state of the country at this period of our narrative was, indeed, singularly gloomy and miserable. Some improvement, however, had taken place in the statistics of disease; but the destitution was still so sharp and terrible, that there was very little diminution of the tumults which still prevailed. Indeed the rioting, in some districts, had risen to a frightful extent. The cry of the people was, for either bread or work; and to still, if possible, this woeful clamor, local committees, by large subscriptions, aided, in some cases, by loans from government, contrived to find them employment on useful public works. Previous to this, nothing could surpass the prostration and abject subserviency with which the miserable crowds solicited food or labor. Only give them labor at any rate—say sixpence a day—and they did not wish to beg or violate the laws. No, no; only give them peaceable employment, and they would rest not only perfectly contented, but deeply grateful. In the meantime, the employment they sought for was provided, not at sixpence, but at one-and-sixpence a day; so that for a time they appeared to feel satisfied, and matters went on peaceably enough. This, however, was too good to last. There are ever, among such masses of people, unprincipled knaves, known as "politicians"—idle vagabonds, who hate all honest employment themselves, and ask no better than to mislead and fleece the ignorant unreflecting people, however or wherever they can. These fellows read and expound the papers on Sundays and holidays; rail not only against every government, no matter what its principles are, but, in general, attack all constituted authority, without feeling one single spark of true national principle, or independent love of liberty. It is such corrupt scoundrels that always assail the executive of the country, and at the same time supply the official staff of spies and informers with their blackest perjurers and traitors. In truth, they are always the first to corrupt, and the first to betray. You may hear these men denouncing government this week, and see them strutting about the Castle, its pampered instruments, and insolent with its patronage, the next. If there be a strike, conspiracy, or cabal of any kind, these "patriots" are at the bottom of it; and wherever ribbonism and other secret societies do not exist, there they are certain to set them agoing.
For only a short time were these who had procured industrial employment permitted to rest satisfied with the efforts which had been made on their behalf. The "patriots" soon commenced operations.
"Eighteen pence a day was nothing; the government had plenty of money, and if the people wished to hear a truth, it could be tould them by those who knew—listen hether"—as the Munster men say—"the country gentlemen and the committees are putting half the money into their own pockets"—this being precisely what the knaves would do themselves if they were in their places—"and for that reason we'll strike for higher wages."
In this manner were the people led first into folly, and ultimately into rioting and crime; for it is not, in point of fact, those who are suffering most severely that take a prominent part in these senseless tumults, or who are the first to trample upon law and order. The evil example is set to those who do suffer by these factious vagabonds; and, under such circumstances, and betrayed by such delusions, the poor people join the crowd, and find themselves engaged in the outrage, before they have time to reflect upon their conduct.
At the time of which we write, however, the government did not consider it any part of its duty to take a deep interest in the domestic or social improvement of the people. The laws of the country, at that period, had but one aspect—that of terror; for it was evident that the legislature of the day had forgotten that neither an individual nor a people can both love and fear the same object at the same time. The laws checked insubordination and punished crime; and having done this, the great end and object of all law was considered to have been attained. We hope, however, the day has come when education, progress, improvement and reward, will shed their mild and peaceful lustre upon our statute-books, and banish from them those Draconian enactments, that engender only fear and hatred, breathe of cruelty, and have their origin in a tyrannical love of blood.