"O, indeed, Mrs. Lindsay," she replied, "I am not surprised at that; Charles and Alice were always great favorites with each other."
"Charles!" exclaimed Mrs. Lindsay; "Charles! What could induce you to think of associating Charles and Alice? He is unworthy of such an association."
"Bless me," exclaimed Mrs. Goodwin in her turn; "why, I thought you alluded to Charles."
"No," said her neighbor, "I alluded to my eldest son, Harry, to whose good offices in this matter both families are so much indebted. He is worthy of any girl, and indeed few girls are worthy of him; but as for Alice, you know what a favorite she was with me, and I trust now I shall like her even better than ever."
"You are right, Mrs. Lindsay," said Goodwin, "in saying that few women are worthy of your eldest son; he is a most gentlemanly, and evidently a most accomplished young man; his conversation at breakfast here the morning after the storm was so remarkable, both for good sense and good feeling, that I am not surprised at your friendly visit today, Mrs. Lindsay. He was sent, I hope, to introduce a spirit of peace and concord between us, and God forbid that we should repel it; on the contrary, we hail his mediation with delight, and feel deeply indebted to him for placing both families in their original position."
"I trust in a better position," replied his adroit mother; "I trust in a better position, Mr. Goodwin, and a still nearer and dearer connection. It is better, however, to speak out; you know me of old, my dear friends, and that I am blunt and straightforward—as the proverb has it, 'I think what I say, and I say what I think.' This visit, then, is made, as I said, not only by my own wish, but at the express entreaty of my son Harry, and the great delight of the whole family; there is therefore no use in concealing the fact—he is deeply attached to your daughter, Alice, and was from the first moment he saw her;—of course you now understand my mission—which is, in fact, to make a proposal of marriage in his name, and to entreat your favorable consideration of it, as well as your influence in his behalf with Alice herself."
"Well, I declare, Mrs. Lindsay," replied Mrs. Goodwin, (God forgive her!) "you have taken us quite by surprise—you have indeed;—dear me—I'm quite agitated; but he is, indeed, a fine young man—a perfect gentleman in his manners, and if he be as good as he looks—for marriage, God help us, tries us all—"
"I hope it never tried you much, Martha," replied her husband, smiling.
"No, my dear, I don't say so. Still, when the happiness of one's child is concerned—and such a child as Alice—"
"But consider, Mrs. Goodwin," replied the ambassadress, who, in fact, was not far from an explosion at what she considered a piece of contemptible vacillation on the part of her neighbor—"consider, Mrs. Goodwin," said she, "that the happiness of my son is concerned."
"I know it is," she replied; "but speak to her father, Mrs. Lindsay—he, as such, is the proper person—O, dear me."
"Well, Mr. Goodwin—you have heard what I have said?"
"I have, madam," said he; "but thank God I am not so nervous as my good wife here. I like your son, Harry, very much, from what I have seen of him—and, to be plain with you, I really see no objection to such a match. On the contrary, it will promote peace and good-will between us; and, I have no doubt, will prove a happy event to the parties most concerned."
"O, there is not a doubt of it," exclaimed Mrs. Goodwin, now chiming in with her husband; "no, there can be no doubt of it. O, they will be very happy together, and that will be so delightful. My darling Alice!"—and here she became pathetic, and shed tears copiously—"yes," she added, "we will lose you, my darling, and a lonely house we will have after you, for I suppose they will live in the late Mr. Hamilton's residence, on their own property."
This allusion to the arrangements contemplated in the event of the marriage, redeemed, to a certain degree, the simple-hearted Mrs. Goodwin from the strongest possible contempt on the part of a woman who was never known to shed a tear upon any earthly subject.
"Well, then," proceeded Mrs. Lindsay, "I am to understand that this proposal on the behalf of my son is accepted?"
"So far as I and Mrs. Goodwin are concerned," replied Goodwin, "you are, indeed, Mrs. Lindsay, and so far all is smooth and easy; but, on the other hand, there is Alice—she, you know, is to be consulted."
"O! as for poor Alice," said her mother, "there will be no difficulty with her; whatever I and her father wish her to do, if it be to please us, that she will do."
"I trust," said Mrs. Lindsay, "she has no previous attachment; for that would be unfortunate for herself, poor girl."
"She an attachment!" exclaimed her mother; "no, the poor, timid creature never thought of such a thing."
"It is difficult for parents to know that," replied Mrs. Lindsay; "but where is she?"
"She's gone out," replied her mother, "to take a pleasant jaunt somewhere with a young friend of ours, a Mr. O'Connor; but, indeed, I'm glad she is not here, for if she was, we could not, you know, discuss this matter in her presence."
"That is very true," observed Mrs. Lindsay, dryly; "but perhaps she doesn't regret her absence. As it is, I think you ought to impress upon her that, in the article of marriage, a young and inexperienced girl like her ought to have no will but that of her parents, who are best qualified, from their experience and knowledge of life to form and direct her principles."
"I do not think," said her father, "that there is anything to be apprehended on her part. She is the most unselfish and disinterested girl that ever existed, and sooner than give her mother or me a pang, I am sure she would make any sacrifice; but at the same time," he added, "if her own happiness were involved in the matter, I should certainly accept no such sacrifice at her hands."
"As to that, Mr. Goodwin," she replied, "I hope we need calculate upon nothing on her part but a willing consent and obedience. At all events, it is but natural that they should be pretty frequently in each other's society, and that my son should have an opportunity of inspiring her with good will towards him, if not a still warmer feeling. The matter being now understood, of course, that is and will be his exclusive privilege."
"Your observations, my dear madam, are but reasonable and natural," replied Goodwin. "Why, indeed, should it be otherwise, considering their contemplated relation to each other? Of course, we shall be delighted to see him here as often as he chooses to come, and so, I am sure, will Alice."
They then separated upon the most cordial terms; and Mrs. Lindsay, having mounted her vehicle, proceeded on her way home. She was, however, far from satisfied at the success of her interview with the Goodwins. So far as the consent of her father and mother went, all was, to be sure, quite as she could have wished it; but then, as to Alice herself, there might exist an insurmountable difficulty. She did not at all relish the fact of that young lady's taking her amusement with Mr. O'Connor, who she knew was of a handsome person and independent circumstances, and very likely to become a formidable rival to her son. As matters stood, however, she resolved to conceal her apprehensions on this point, and to urge Harry to secure, if possible, the property, which both she herself and he had solely in view. As for the girl, each of them looked on her as a cipher in the transaction, whose only value was rated by the broad acres which they could not secure without taking her along with them.
The family were dispersed when she returned home, and she, consequently, reserved the account of her mission until she should meet them in the evening. At length the hour came, and she lost no time in opening the matter at full length, suppressing, at the same time, her own apprehensions of Alice's consent, and her dread of the rivalry on the part of O'Connor.
"Well," said she, "I have seen these people; I have called upon them, as you all know; and, as I said, I have seen them."
"To very little purpose, I am afraid," said her husband; "I don't like your commencement of the report."
"I suppose not," she replied; "but, thank God, it is neither your liking nor disliking that we regard, Lindsay. I have seen them, Harry; and I am glad to say that they are civil people."
"Is it only now you found that out?" asked her husband; "why, they never were anything else, Jenny."
"Well, really," said she, "I shall be forced to ask you to leave the room if you proceed at this rate. Children, will you protect me from the interruption and the studied insults of this man?"
"Father," said Charles, "for Heaven's sake will you allow her to state the result of her visit? We are all very anxious to hear it; none more so than I."
"Please except your elder brother," said Harry, laughing, "whose interest you know, Charley, is most concerned."
"Well, perhaps so," said Charles; "of course, Harry—but proceed, mother, we shan't interrupt you."
"O, go on," said his mother, "go on; discuss the matter among you, I can wait; don't hesitate to interrupt me; your father there has set you that gentlemanly example."
"It must surely be good when it comes," said Harry,with a smile; "but do proceed, my dear mother, and never mind these queer folk; go on at once, and let us know all: we—that is, myself—are prepared for the worst; do proceed, mother."
"Am I at liberty to speak?" said she, and she looked at them with a glance that expressed a very fierce interrogatory. They all nodded, and she resumed:
"Well, I have seen these people, I say; I have made a proposal of marriage between Harry and Alice, and that proposal is—"
She paused, and looked around her with an air of triumph; but whether that look communicated the triumph of success, or that of her inveterate enmity and contempt for them ever since the death of old Hamilton, was as great a secret to them as the Bononian enigma. There was a dead silence, much to her mortification, for she would have given a great deal that her husband had interrupted her just then, and taken her upon the wrong tack.
"Well," she proceeded, "do you all wish to hear it?"
Lindsay put his forefinger on his lips, and nodded to all the rest to do the same.
"Ah, Lindsay," she exclaimed, "you are an ill-minded man; but it matters not so far as you are concerned—in three words, Harry, the proposal is accepted; yes, accepted, and with gratitude and thanksgiving."
"And you had no quarrel?" said Lindsay, with astonishment; "nor you didn't let out on them? Well, well!"
"Children, I am addressing myself to you, and especially to Harry here, who is most interested; no, I see nothing to prevent us from having back the property and the curds-and-whey along with it."
"Faith, and the curds-and-whey are the best part of it after all," said Lindsay; "but, in the meantime, you might be a little more particular, and give us a touch of your own eloquence and ability in bringing it about."
"What did Alice herself say, mother?" asked Charles; "was she a party to the consent? because, if she was, your triumph, or rather Harry's here, is complete."
"It is complete," replied his mother, having recourse to a dishonest evasion; "the girl and her parents have but one opinion. Indeed, I always did the poor thing the credit to believe that she never was capable of entertaining an opinion of her own, and it now turns out a very fortunate thing for Harry that it is so; but of course he has made an impression upon her."
"As to that, mamma," said Maria, "I don't know—he may, or he may not; but of this I am satisfied, that Alice Goodwin is a girl who can form an opinion for herself, and that, whatever that opinion be, she will neither change or abandon it upon slight grounds. I know her well, but if she has consented to marry Harry she will marry him, and that is all that is to be said about it."
"I thought she would," said Harry; "I told you, Charley, that I didn't think I was a fool—didn't I?"
"I know you did, Harry," replied his brother; "but I don't know how—it strikes me that I would rather have any other man's opinion on that subject than your own; however, time will tell."
"It will tell, of course; and if it proves me a fool, I will give you leave to clap the fool's cap on me for life. And now that we have advanced so far and so well, I may go and take one of my evening strolls, in order to meditate on my approaching happiness." And he did so.
The family were not at all surprised at this, even although the period of his walks frequently extended into a protracted hour of the night. Not so the servants, who wondered why Master Harry should walk so much abroad and remain out so late at night, especially considering the unsettled and alarming state of the country, in consequence of the outrages and robberies which were of such frequent occurrence. This, it is true, was startling enough to these simple people; but that which filled them not only with astonishment, but with something like awe, was the indifference with which he was known to traverse haunted places alone and unaccompanied, when the whole country around, except thieves and robbers, witches, and evil spirits, were sound asleep. "What," they asked each other, "could he mean by it?"
"Barney Casey, you that knows a great deal for an unlarned man, tell us what you think of it," said the cook; "isn't it the world's wondher, that a man that's out at such hours doesn't see somethin'? There's Lanty Bawn, and sure they say he saw the white woman beyant the end of the long boreen on Thursday night last, the Lord save us; eh, Barney?"
Barney immediately assumed the oracle.
"He did," said he; "and what is still more fearful, it's said there was a black man along wid her. They say that Lanty seen them both, and that the black man had his arm about the white woman's waist, and was kissin' her at full trot."
The cook crossed herself, and the whole kitchen turned up its eyes at this diabolical piece of courtship.
"Musha, the Lord be about us in the manetime; but bad luck to the ould boy, (a black man is always considered the devil, or the ould boy, as they call him,) wasn't it a daisant taste he had, to go to kiss a ghost?"
"Why," replied Barney with a grin, "I suppose the ould chap is hard set on that point; who the devil else would kiss him, barrin' some she ghost or other? Some luckless ould maid, I'll go bail, that gather a beard while she was here, and the devil now is kissin' it off to get seein' what kind of a face she has. Well, all I can say," he proceeded, "is, that I wish him luck of his employment, for in troth it's an honorable one and he has a right to be proud of it."
"Well, well," said the housemaid, "it's a wondher how any one can walk by themselves at night; wasn't it near the well at the foot of the long hill that goes up to where the Davorens live that they were seen?"
"It was," replied Barney; "at laste they say so."
"And didn't yourself tell me," she proceeded, "that that same lonesome boreen is a common walk at night wid Master Harry?"
"And so it is, Nanse," replied Barney: "but as for Misther Harry, I believe it's party well known, that by night or by day he may walk where he likes."
"Father of heaven!" they exclaimed in a low, earnest voice; "but why, Barney?" they asked in a condensed whisper.
"Why! Why is he called Harry na Suil Balor for? Can you tell me that?"
"Why, bekaise his two eyes isn't one color."
"And why aren't they one color? Can you tell me that?"
"O, the sorra step farther I can go in that question."
"No," said Barney, full of importance, "I thought not, and what is more, I didn't expect it from you. His mother could tell, though. It's in her family, and there's worse than that in her family."
"Troth, by all accounts," observed the girl, "there never was anything good in her family. But, Barney, achora, will you tell us, if you know, what's the rason of it?"
"If I know?" said Barney, rather offended; "maybe I don't know, and maybe I do, if it came to that. Any body, then, that has two eyes of different colors always has the Evil Eye, or the Suil Balor, and has the power of overlookin'; and, between ourselves, Masther Harry has it. The misthress herself can only overlook cattle, bekaise both her eyes is of the one color; but Masther Harry could overlook either man or woman if he wished. And how do you think that comes?"
"The Lord knows," replied the cook, crossing herself; "from no good, at any rate. Troth, I'll get a gospel and a scapular, for, to tell you the truth, I observed that Masther Harry gave me a look the other day that made my flesh creep, by rason that he thought the mutton was overdone."
"O, you needn't be afeard," replied Barney; "he can overlook or not, as he plaises; if he does not wish to do so, you're safe enough; but when any one like him that has the power wishes to do it, they could wither you by degrees off o' the airth."
"God be about us! But, Barney, you didn't tell us how it comes, for all that."
"It comes from the fairies. Doesn't every one know that the fairies themselves has the power of overlookin' both cattle and Christians?"
"That's true enough," she replied; "every one, indeed, knows that. Sure, my aunt had a child that died o' the fairies."
"Yes, but Masther Harry can see them."
"What! is it the fairies?"
"Ay, the fairies, but only wid one eye, that piercin' black one of his. No, no; as I said before, he may walk where he likes, both by night and by day; he's safe from everything of the kind; even a ghost daren't lay a finger on him; and as the devil and the fairies are connected, he's safe from him, too, in this world at laste; but the Lord pity him when he goes to the next; for there he'll suffer lalty."
The truth is, that in those days of witchcraft and apparitions of all kinds, and even in the present, among the ignorant and uneducated of the lower classes, any female seen at night in a lonely place, and supposed to be a spirit, was termed a white woman, no matter what the color of her dress may have been, provided it was not black. The same superstition held good when anything in the shape of a man happened to appear under similar circumstances. Terror, and the force of an excited imagination, instantly transformed it into a black man, and that black man, of course, was the devil himself. In the case before us, however, our readers, we have no doubt, can give a better guess at the nature of the black man and white woman in question than either the cook, the housemaid, or even Barney himself.
It was late that night when Harry came in. The servants, with whose terrors and superstitions Casey had taken such liberties, now looked upon him as something awful, and, as might be naturally expected, felt a dreadful curiosity with respect to him and his movements. They lay awake on the night in question, with the express purpose of satisfying themselves as to the hour of his return, and as that was between twelve and one, they laid it down as a certain fact that there was something "not light," and beyond the common in his remaining out so late.
CHAPTER IX. Chase of the White Hare.
"Hark, forward, forward; holla ho!"
The next morning our friend Harry appeared at the breakfast table rather paler than usual, and in one of his most abstracted moods; for it may be said here that the frequent occurrence of such moods had not escaped the observation of his family, especially of his step-father, in whose good grace, it so happened, that he was not improving. One cause of this was his supercilious, or, rather, his contemptuous manner towards his admirable and affectionate brother. He refused to associate with him in his sports or diversions; refused him his confidence, and seldom addressed him, except in that tone of banter which always implies an offensive impression of inferiority and want of respect towards the object of it. After breakfast the next morning, his father said to Charles, when the other members of the family had all left the room,—
"Charley, there is something behind that gloom of Harry's which I don't like. Indeed, altogether, he has not improved upon me since his return, and you are aware that I knew nothing of him before. I cannot conceive his object in returning home just now, and, it seems, with no intention of going back. His uncle was the kindest of men to him, and intended to provide for him handsomely. It is not for nothing he would leave such an uncle, and it is not for nothing that such an uncle would part with him, unless there was a screw loose somewhere. I don't wish to press him into an explanation; but he has not offered any, and refuses, of course, to place any confidence in me."
"My dear father," replied the generous brother, "I fear you judge him too harshly. As for these fits of gloom, they may be constitutional; you know my mother has them, and won't speak to one of us sometimes for whole days together. It is possible that some quarrel or misunderstanding may have taken place between him and his uncle; but how do you know that his silence on the subject does not proceed from delicacy towards that relative?"
"Well, it may be so; and it is a very kind and generous interpretation which you give of it, Charley. Let that part of the subject pass, then; but, again, regarding this marriage. The principle upon which he and his mother are proceeding is selfish, heartless, and perfidious in the highest degree; and d—— me if I think it would be honorable in me to stand by and see such a villainous game played against so excellent a family—against so lovely and so admirable a girl as Alice Goodwin. It is a union between the kite and the dove, Charley, and it would be base and cowardly in me to see such a union accomplished."
"Father," said Charles, "in this matter will you be guided by me? If Alice herself is a consenting party to the match, you have, in my opinion, no right to interfere, at least with her affections. If she marries him without stress or compulsion, she does it deliberately, and she shapes her own course and her own fate. In the meantime I advise you to hold back for the present, and wait until her own sentiments are distinctly understood. That can be effected by a private interview with yourself, which you can easily obtain. Let us not be severe on Harry. I rather think he is pressed forward in the matter by my mother, for the sake of the property If his uncle has discarded him, it is not, surely, unreasonable that a young man like him, without a profession or any fixed purpose in life, should wish to secure a wife—and such a wife—who will bring back to him the very property which was originally destined for himself in the first instance. Wait, then, at all events, until Alice's conduct in the matter is known. If there be unjustifiable force and pressure upon her, act; if not, I think, sir, that, with every respect, your interference would be an unjustifiable intrusion."
"Very well, Charley; I believe you are right; I will be guided by you for the present; I won't interfere; but in the meantime I shall have an eye to their proceedings. I don't think the Goodwins at all mercenary or selfish, but it is quite possible that they may look upon Harry as the heir of his uncle's wealth; and, after all, Charley, nature is nature; that may influence them even unconsciously, and yet I am not in a condition to undeceive them."
"Father," said Charles, "all I would suggest is, as I said before, a little patience for the present; wait a while until we learn how Alice herself will act. I am sorry to say that I perceived what I believe to be an equivocation on the part of my mother in her allusion to Alice. I think it will be found by and by that her personal consent has not been given; and, what is more, that she was not present at all during their conversation on the subject. If she was, however, and became a consenting party to the proposal, then I say now, as I said before, you have no right to interfere in the business."
"What keeps him out so late at night? I mean occasionally. He is out two or three nights every week until twelve or one o'clock. Now, you know, in the present state of the country, that it is not safe. Shawn-na-Middogue and such scoundrels are abroad, and they might put a bullet through him some night or other.
"He is not at all afraid on that score," replied Charles; "he never goes out in the evening without a case of pistols freshly loaded."
"Well, but it, is wrong to subject himself to danger. Where is he gone now?"
"He and Barney Casey have gone out to course; I think they went up towards the mountains."
Such was the fact. Harry was quite enamoured of sport, and, finding dogs, guns, and fishing-rods ready to his hand, he became a regular sportsman—a pursuit in which he found Barney a very able and intelligent assistant, inasmuch as he knew the country, and every spot where game of every description was to be had. They had traversed a considerable portion of rough mountain land, and killed two or three hares, when the heat of the day became so excessive that they considered it time to rest and take refreshments.
"The sun, Masther Harry, is d—— hot," said Barney; "and now that ould Bet Harramount hasn't been in it for many a long year, we may as well go to that desolate cabin there above, and shelter ourselves from the hate—not that I'd undhertake to go there by myself; but now that you are wid me I don't care if I take a peep into the inside of it, out of curiosity."
"Why," said Woodward, "what about that cabin?"
"I'll tell you that, sir, when we get into it. It's consarnin' coorsin' too; but nobody ever lived in it since she left it."
"Since who left it?"
"Never mind, sir; I'll tell you all about it by and by."
It was certainly a most desolate and miserable hut, and had such an air of loneliness and desertion about it as was calculated to awaken reflections every whit as deep and melancholy as the contemplation of a very palace in ruins, especially to those who, like Barney, knew the history of its last inhabitant. It was far up in the mountains, and not within miles of another human habitation. Its loneliness and desolation alone would not have made it so peculiarly striking and impressive had it been inhabited; but its want of smoke—its still and lifeless appearance—the silence and the solitude around it—the absence of all symptoms of human life—its significant aspect of destitution and poverty, even at the best—all contributed to awaken in the mind that dreamy reflection that would induce the spectator to think that, apart from the strife and bustle of life, it might have existed there for a thousand years. Humble and contemptible in appearance as it was, yet there, as it stood—smokeless, alone, and desolate, as we have said, with no exponent of existence about it—no bird singing, no animal moving, as a token of contiguous life, no tree waving in the breeze, no shrub, even, stirring, but all still as the grave—there, we say, as it stood, afar and apart from the general uproar of the world, and apparently gray with long antiquity, it was a solemn and a melancholy homily upon human life in all its aspects, from the cabin to the palace, and from the palace to the grave. Now, its position and appearance might suggest to a thinking and romantic mind all the reflections to which v& have alluded, without any additional accessories; but when the reader is informed that it was supposed to be the abode of crime, the rendezvous of evil spirits, the theatre of unholy incantations, and the temporary abode of the Great Tempter—and when all these facts are taken in connection with its desolate character, he will surely admit that it was calculated to impress the mind of all those who knew the history of its antecedents with awe and dread.
"I have never been in it," said Barney, "and I don't think there's a man or woman in the next three parishes that would enter it alone, even by daylight; but now that you are wid me, I have a terrible curiosity to see it inside."
A curse was thought to hang over it, but that curse, as it happened, was its preservation in the undilapidated state in which it stood.
On entering it, which Barney did not do without previously crossing himself, they were surprised to find it precisely in the same situation in which it had been abandoned. There were one small pot, two stools, an earthen pitcher, a few wooden trenchers lying upon a shelf, an old dusty salt-bag, an ash stick, broken in the middle, and doubled down so as to form a tongs; and gathered up in a corner was a truss of straw, covered with a rug and a thin old blanket, which had constituted a wretched substitute for a bed. That, however, which alarmed Barney most, was an old broomstick with a stump of worn broom attached to the end of it, as it stood in an opposite corner. This constituted the whole furniture of the hut.
"Now, Barney," said Harry, after they had examined it, "out with the brandy and water and the slices of ham, till we refresh ourselves in the first place, and after that I will hear your history of this magnificent mansion."
"O, it isn't the mansion, sir," he replied, "but the woman that lived in it that I have to spake about. God guard us! There in that corner is the very broomstick she used to ride through the air upon!"
"Never mind that now, but ransack that immense shooting-pocket, and produce its contents."
They accordingly sat down, each upon one of the stools, and helped themselves to bread and ham, together with some tolerably copious draughts of brandy and water which they had mixed before leaving home. Woodward, perceiving Barney's anxiety to deliver himself of his narrative, made him take an additional draught by way of encouragement to proceed, which, having very willingly finished the bumper offered him, he did as follows:
"Well, Masther Harry, in the first place, do you believe in the Bible?"
"In the Bible!—ahem—why—yes—certainly, Barney; do you suppose I'm not a Christian?"
"God forbid," replied Barney; "well, the Bible itself isn't thruer than what I'm goin' to tell you—sure all the world for ten miles round knows it."
"Well, but, Barney, I would rather you would let me know it in the first place."
"So I will, sir. Well, then, there was a witch-woman, by name one Bet Harramount, and on the surface of God's earth, blessed be his name! there was nothin' undher a bonnet and petticoats so ugly. She was pitted wid the small-pox to that degree that you might hide half a peck of marrowfat paise (peas) in her face widout their being noticed; then the sanies (seams) that ran across it were five-foot raspers, every one of them. She had one of the purtiest gooseberry eyes in Europe; and only for the squint in the other, it would have been the ornament of her comely face entirely; but as it was, no human bein' was ever able to decide between them. She had two buck teeth in the front of her mouth that nobody could help admirin'; and, indeed, altogether I don't wondher that the devil fell in consate wid her, for, by all accounts, they say he carries a sweet tooth himself for comely ould women like Bet Harramount. Give the tasty ould chap a wrinkle any day before a dimple, when he promotes them to be witches, as he did her. Sure he was seen kissin' a ghost the other night near Crukanesker well, where the Davorens get their wather from. O, thin, bedad, but Grace Davoren is a beauty all out; and maybe 'tis herself doesn't know it."
"Go on with your story," said Woodward, rather dryly; "proceed."
"Well, sir, there is Bet Harramount's face for you, and the rest of her figure wasn't sich as to disgrace it. She was half bent wid age, wore an ould black bonnet, an ould red cloak, and walked wid a staff that was bent at the top, as it seems every witch must do. Where she came from nobody could ever tell, for she was a black stranger in this part of the country. At all events, she lived in the town below, but how she lived nobody could tell either. Everything about her was a riddle; no wondher, considherin' she hardly was ever known to spake to any one, from the lark to the lamb. At length she began to be subjected by many sensible people to be something not right; which you know, sir, was only natural. Peter O'Figgins, that was cracked—but then it was only wid dhrink and larnin'—said it; and Katty McTrollop, Lord Bilberry's henwife, was of the same opinion, and from them and others the thing grew and spread until it became right well known that she was nothin' else than a witch, and that the big wart on her neck was nothin' more nor less than the mark the devil had set upon her, to suckle his babies by. From this out, them that had Christian hearts and loved their religion trated the thief as she desarved to be trated. She was hissed and hooted, thank God, wherever she showed her face; but still nobody had courage to lay a hand upon her by rason of her blasphaimin' and cursin', which, they say, used to make the hair stand like wattles upon the heads of them that heard her."
"Had she not a black cat?" asked Woodward; "surely, she ought to have had a familiar."
"No," replied Barney; "the cat she had was a white cat, and the mainin' of its color will appear to you by and by; at any rate, out came the truth. You have heard of the Black Spectre—the Shan-dhinne-dhuv?"
"I have," replied the other; "proceed."
"Well, sir, as I said, the truth came out at last; in the coorse of a short time she was watched at night, and seen goin' to the haunted house, where the Spectre lives."
"Did she walk there, or fly upon her broomstick?" asked Woodward, gravely.
"I believe she walked, sir," replied Barney; "but afther that every eye was upon her, and many a time she was seen goin' to the haunted house when she thought no eye was upon her. Afther this, of coorse, she disappeared, for, to tell you the truth, the town became too hot for her; and, indeed, this is not surprisin'. Two or three of the neighborin' women miscarried, and several people lost their cattle after she came to the town; and to make a long story short, just as it was made up to throw her into the parson's pond, she disappeared, as I said, exactly as if she had known their intention: and becoorse she did."
"And did they ever find out where she went to?"
"Have patience, sir, for patience, they say, is a virtue. About a month afterwards some of the townspeople came up to the mountains here, to hunt hares, just as we did. Several of them before this had seen a white hare near the very spot we're sittin' in, but sorra dog of any description, either hound, greyhound, or lurcher could blow wind in her tail; even a pair of the Irish bloodhounds were brought, and when they came on her, she flew from them like the wind, I and laughed at them, becoorse. Well, sir, the whole country was in a terrible state of alarm about the white hare, for every one knew, of coorse, that she was a witch; and as the cows began, here and there, to fail in their milk, why, it was a clear case that she sucked them in ordher to supply some imp of the devil that sucked herself. At that time there was a priest in this parish, a very pious man by name Father McFeen; and as he liked, now and then, to have a dish of hare soup, he kept a famous greyhound, called Koolawn, that was never said to miss a hare by any chance. As I said, some of the townspeople came up here to have a hunt, and as they wished, above all things, to bring the priest's greyhound and the white hare together, they asked the loan of him from his reverence, telling him, at the same time, what they wanted him for. Father McFeen was very proud of his dog, and good right he had, and tould them they should have him with pleasure.
"'But, as he's goin' to try his speed against a witch,' said he, 'I'll venture to say that you'll have as pretty a run as ever was seen on the hills.'
"Well, sir, at all events, off they set to the mountains; and sure enough, they weren't long there when they had the best of sport, but no white hare came in their way. Koolawn, however, was kept in the slip the whole day, in the hope of their startin' her, for they didn't wish to have him tired if they should come across her. At last, it was gettin' late, and when they were just on the point of givin' her up, and, goin' home, begad she started, and before you'd say Jack Kobinson, Koolawn and she were at it. Sich a chase, they say, was never seen. They flew at sich a rate that the people could hardly keep their eyes upon them. The hare went like the wind; but, begad, it was not every evening she had sich a dog as famous Koolawn at her scut. He turned her, and turned her, and every one thought he had her above a dozen of times, but still she turned, and was off from him again. At this rate they went on for long enough, until both began to fail, and to appear nearly run down. At length the gallaut Koolawn had her; she gave a squeal that was heard, they say, for miles. He had her, I say, hard and fast by the hip, but it was only for a moment; how she escaped; from him nobody knows; but it was thought that he wasn't able, from want of breath, to keep his hoult. To make a long story short, she got off from him, turned up towards the; cabin we're sittin' in, Koolawn, game as ever, still close to her; at last she got in, and as the dog was about to spring in afther her, he found the door shut in his face. There now was the proof of it; but wait till you hear what's comin'. The men all ran up here and opened the door, for there was only a latch upon it, and if the hare was in existence, surely they'd find her now. Well, they closed the door at wanst for fraid she'd escape them; but afther sarchin' to no purpose, what do you think they found? No hare, at any rate, but ould Bet Harramount pantin' in the straw there, and covered wid a rug, for she hadn't time to get on the blanket—just as if the life was lavin' her. The sweat, savin' your presence, was pourin' from her; and upon examinin' her more closely, which they did, they found the marks of the dog's teeth in one of her ould hips, which was freshly bleedin'. They were now satisfied, I think, and—"
"But why did they not seize and carry her before a magistrate?"
"Aisy, Masther Harry; the white cat, all this time, was sittin' at the fireside there, lookin' on very quietly, when the thought struck the men that they'd set the dogs upon it, and so they did, or rather, so they tried to do, but the minute the cat was pointed out to them, they dropped their ears and tails, and made out o' the house, and all the art o' man couldn't get them to come in again. When the men looked at it agin it was four times the size it had been at the beginin', and, what was still more frightful, it was gettin' bigger and bigger, and fiercer and fiercer lookin', every minute. Begad, the men seein' this took to their heels for the present, wid an intention of comin' the next momin', wid the priest and the magisthrate, and a strong force to seize upon her, and have her tried and convicted, in ordher that she might be burned."
"And did they come?"
"They did; but of all the storms that ever fell from the heavens, none o' them could aquil the one that come on that night. Thundher, and wind, and lightnin', and hail, and rain, were all at work together, and every one knew at wanst that the devil was riz for somethin'. Well, I'm near the end of it. The next mornin' the priest and the magisthrate, and a large body of people from all quarthers, came to make a prisoner of her; but, indeed, wherever she might be herself, they didn't expect to find this light, flimsy hut standin', nor stick nor stone of it together afther such a storm. What was their surprise, then, to see wid their own eyes that not a straw on the roof of it was disturbed any more than if it had been the calmest night that ever came on the earth!"
"But about the witch herself?"
"She was gone; neither hilt nor hair of her was there; nor from that day to this was she ever seen by mortal. It's not hard to guess, however, what became of her. Every one knows that the devil carried her and her imp off in the tempest, either to some safer place, or else to give her a warm corner below stairs."
"Why, Barney, it must be an awful little house, this."
"You may say that, sir; there's not a man, woman, or child in the barony would come into it by themselves. Every one keeps from it; the very rapparees, and robbers of every description, would take the shelter of a cleft or cave rather than come into it. Here it is, then, as you see, just as she and the devil and his imp left it; no one has laid a hand on it since, nor ever will."
"But why was it not pulled down and levelled at the time?"
"Why, Masther Harry? Dear me, I wondher you ask that. Do you think the people would be mad enough to bring down her vengeance upon themselves or their property, or maybe upon both? and for that matther she may be alive yet."
"Well, then, if she is," replied Woodward, "here goes to set her at defiance;" and as he spoke he tossed bed, straw, rug, blanket, and every miserable article of furniture that the house contained, out at the door.
Barney's hair stood erect upon his head, and he looked aghast.
"Well, Masther Harry," said he, "I'm but a poor man, and I wouldn't take the wealth of the parish and do that. Come away, sir; let us lave it; as I tould you, they say there's a curse upon it, and upon every one that makes or meddles wid it. Some people say it's to stand there till the day of judgment."
Having now refreshed themselves, they left Bet Harramont's cabin, with all its awful associations, behind them, and resumed their sport, which they continued until evening, when, having killed as many hares as they could readily carry, they took a short cut home through the lower fields. By this way they came upon a long, green hill, covered in some places with short furze, and commanding a full view of the haunted house, which lay some four or five hundred yards below them, with its back door lying, as usual, open.
"Let us beat these furze," said Woodward, "and have one run more, if we can, before getting home; it is just the place for a hare."
"With all my heart," replied Barney; "another will complete the half dozen."
They accordingly commenced searching the cover, which they did to no purpose, and were upon the point of giving up all hope of I success, when, from the centre of a low, broad clump of furze, out starts a hare, as white almost as snow. Barney for a moment was struck dumb; but at length exerting his voice, for he was some distance from Woodward, he shouted out—
"O, for goodness' sake, hould in the dogs, Masther Harry!"
It was too late, however; the gallant, animals, though fatigued by their previous exertions, immediately gave noble chase, and by far the most beautiful and interesting course they had had that day took place upon the broad, clear plain that stretched before them. It was, indeed, to the eye of a sportsman, one of intense and surpassing interest—an interest which, even to Woodward, who only laughed at Barney's story of the witch, was, nevertheless, deepened tenfold by the coincidence between the two circumstances. The swift and mettlesome dogs pushed her hard, and succeeded in turning her several times, when it was observed that she made a point to manage her running so as to approximate to the haunted house—a fact which was not unobserved by Barney, who now, having joined Woodward, exclaimed—
"Mark it, Masther Harry, mark my words, she's alive still, and will be wid the Shan-dhinne-dhuv in spite o' them! Bravo, Sambo! Well done, Snail; ay, Snail, indeed—hillo! by the sweets o' rosin they have her—no, no—but it was a beautiful turn, though; and poor Snail, so tired afther his day's work. Now, Masther Harry, thunder and turf! how beautiful Sambo takes her up. Bravo, Sambo! stretch out, my darlin' that you are!—O, blood, Masther Harry, isn't that beautiful? See how they go neck and neck wid their two noses not six inches from her scut; and dang my buttons but, witch or no witch, she's a thorough bit o' game, too. Come, Bet, don't be asleep, my ould lady; move along, my darlin'—do you feel the breath of your sweetheart at your bottom? Take to your broomstick; you want it."
As he uttered these words the hare turned,—indeed it was time for her—and both dogs shot forward, by the impetus of their flight, so far beyond the point of her turn, that she started off towards the haunted house. She had little time to spare, however, for they were once more gaining on her; but still she approached the house, the dogs nearing her fast. She approached the house, we say; she entered the open door, the dogs within a few yards of her, when, almost in an instant, they came to a standstill, looked into it, but did not enter; and when whistled back to where Woodward and Barney stood, they looked in Barney's eye, not only panting and exhausted, as indeed they were, but terrified also.
"Well, Masther Harry," said he, assuming the air of a man who spoke with authority, "what do you think of that?"
"I think you are right," replied Woodward; assuming on his part, for reasons which will be subsequently understood, an impression of sudden conviction. "I think you are right, Barney, and that the Black Spectre and the witch are acquaintances."
"Try her wid a silver bullet," said Barney; "there is nothing else for it. No dog can kill her—that's a clear case; but souple as she is, a silver bullet is the only messenger that can overtake her. Bad luck to her, the thief! sure, if she'd turn to God and repint, it isn't codgerin' wid sich company she'd be, and often in danger, besides, of havin' a greyhound's nose at her flank. I hope you're satisfied, Masther Harry?"
"Perfectly, Barney; there can be no doubt about it now. As for my part, I know not what temptation could induce me to enter that haunted house. I see that I was on dangerous ground when I defied the witch in the hut; but I shall take care to be more cautious in future."
They then bent their steps homewards, each sufficiently fatigued and exhausted after the sports of the day to require both food and rest. Woodward went early to bed, but Barney, who was better accustomed to exercise, having dined heartily in the kitchen, could not, for the soul of him, contain within his own bosom the awful and supernatural adventure which had just occurred. He assumed, as before, a very solemn and oracular air; spoke little, however, but that little was deeply abstracted and mysterious. It was evident to the whole kitchen that he was brimful of something, and that that something was of more than ordinary importance.
"Well, Barney, had you and Masther Harry a pleasant day's sport? I see you have brought home five hares," said the cook.
"Hum!" groaned Barney; "but no matther; it's a quare world, Mrs. Malony, and there's strange things in it. Heaven bless me! Heaven bless me, and Heaven bless us all, if it comes to that! Masther Harry said he'd send me down a couple o' glasses of———O, here comes Biddy wid them; that's a girl, Bid—divil sich a kitchen-maid in Europe!"
Biddy handed him a decanter with about half a pint of stout whiskey in it, a portion of which passed into a goblet, was diluted with water, and drunk off, after which he smacked his lips, but with a melancholy air, and then, looking solemnly and meditatively into the fire, relapsed into silence.
"Did you meet any fairies on your way?" asked Nanse, the housemaid. For about half a minute Barney did not reply; but at length, looking about him, he started—
"Eh? What's that? Who spoke to me?"
"Who spoke to you?" replied Nanse. "Why, I think you're beside yoursel'—I did."
"What did you say, Nanse? I am beside myself."
There was now a sudden cessation in all the culinary operations, a general pause, and a rapid congregating around Barney, who still sat looking solemnly into the fire.
"Why, Barney, there's something strange over you," said the cook. "Heaven help the poor boy; sure, it's a shame to be tormentin' him this way; but in the name of goodness, Barney, and as you have a sowl to be saved, will you tell us all? Stand back, Nanse, and don't be torturin' the poor lad this way, as I said."
"Biddy," said Barney, his mind still wandering, and his eyes still fixed on the fire—"Biddy, darlin', will you hand me that de-canther agin; I find I'm not aquil to it. Heaven presarve us! Heaven presarve us! that's it; now hand me the wather, like an angel out of heaven, as you are, Bid. Ah, glory be to goodness, but that's refreshin', especially afther sich a day—sich a day! O saints above, look down upon us poor sinners, one and all, men and women, wid pity and compassion this night! Here; I'm very wake; let me get to bed; is there any pump wather in the kitchen?"
To describe the pitch to which he had them wound up would be utterly impossible. He sat in the cook's arm-chair, leaning a little back, his feet placed upon the fender, and his eyes, as before, immovably, painfully, and abstractedly fixed upon the embers. He was now the centre of a circle, for they were all crowded about him, wrapped up to the highest possible pitch of curiosity.
"We were talkin' about Masther Harry," said he, "the other night, and I think I tould you something about him; it's like a dhrame to me that I did."
"You did, indeed, Barney," said the cook, coaxingly, "and I hope that what you tould us wasn't true."
"Aye, but about to-day, Barney; somthin' has happened to-day that's troublin' you."
"Who is it said that?" said he, his eyes now closed, as if he were wrapped up in some distressing mystery. "Was it you, Nanse? It's like your voice, achora."
Now, the reader must know that a deadly jealousy lay between Nanse and the cook, quoad honest Barney, who, being aware of the fact, kept the hopes and fears of each in such an exact state of equilibrium, that neither of them could, for the life of her, claim the slightest advantage over the other. The droll varlet had an appetite like a shark, and a strong relish for drink besides, and what between precious tidbits from the cook and borrowing small sums for liquor from Nanse, he contrived to play them off one against the other with great tact.
"I think," said he, his eyes still closed, "that that is Nanse's voice; is it, acushla?"
"It is, Barney, achora," replied Nanse; "but there's something wrong wid you."
"I wish to goodness, Nanse, you'd let the boy alone," said the cook; "when he chooses to spake, he'll spake to them that can undherstand him."
"O, jaminy stars! that's you, I suppose; ha, ha, ha."
"Keep silence," said Barney, "and listen. Nanse, you are right in one sinse, and the cook's right in another; you're both right, but at the present spakin' you're both wrong. Listen—you all know the Shan-dhinne-dhuv?"
"Know him! The Lord stand between us and him," replied Nanse; "I hope in God we'll never either know or see him."
"You know," proceeded Barney, "that he keeps' the haunted house, and appears in the neighborhood of it?"
"Yes, we know that, achora," replied the cook, sweetly.
"Well, you can't forget Bet Harramount, the witch, that lived for some time in Rathfillan? She that was hunted in the shape of a white hare by pious Father McFeen's famous greyhound, Koolawn."
"Doesn't all the world know it, Barney, avillish?" said Nanse.
"Divil the word she'll let out o' the poor boy's lips," said the cook, with a fair portion of venom. Nanse made no reply, but laughed with a certain description of confidence, as she glanced sneeringly at the cook, who, to say the truth, turned her eyes with a fiery and impulsive look towards the ladle.
"Well," proceeded Barney, "you all know that the divil took her and her imp, the white cat, away on the night of the great storm that took place then?"
"We do! Sure we have heard it a thousand times."
"Very well—I want to show you that Bet Harramount, the white witch, and the Black Speacthre are sweethearts, and are leadin' a bad life together."
"Heavenly father! Saints above! Blessed Mother!" were ejaculated by the whole kitchen. Barney, in fact, was progressing with great effect.
"O, yez needn't be surprised," he continued, "for it was well known that they had many private meetin's while Bet was livin' in Rathfillan. But it was thought the devil had taken her away from the priest and magisthrate on the night o' the storm, and so he did; and he best knew why. Listen, I say—Masther Harry and I went out this day to coorse hares; we went far up into the mountains, and never pulled bridle till we came to the cabin where the witch lived, the same that Koolawn chased her into in the shape of a white hare, after taking a bite out of her—out of the part next her scut. Well, we sat down in the cursed cabin, much against my wishes, but he would rest nowhere else—mark that—so while we were helpin' ourselves to the ham and brandy, I up and tould him the history of Bet Harramount from a to izzard. 'Well,' said he, 'to show you how little I care about her, and that I set her at defiance, I'll toss every atom of her beggarly furniture out of the door;' and so he did—but by dad I thought he done it in a jokin' way, as much as to say, I can take the liberty where another can't. I knew, becoorse, he was wrong; but that makes no maxim—I'll go on wid my story. On our way home we came to the green fields that lie on this side of the haunted house; a portion of it, on a risin' ground, is covered with furz. Now listen—when we came to it he stood; 'Barney,' says he, 'there's a hare here; give me the dogs, Sambo and Snail; they'll have sich a hunt as they never had yet, and never will have agin.'
"He then closed his eyes, raised his left foot, and dhrew it back three times in the divil's name, pronounced some words that I couldn't understand, and then said to me, 'Now, Barney, go down to that withered furze, and as you go, always keep your left foot foremost; cough three times, then kick the furze with your left foot, and maybe you'll see an old friend o' yours.'
"Well, I did so, and troth I thought there was somethin' over me when I did it; but—what 'ud you think?—out starts a white hare, and off went Sambo and Snail after her, full butt. I have seen many a hard run, but the likes o' that I never seen. If they turned her wanst they turned her more than a dozen times; but where do you think she escaped to at last?"
"The Lord knows, Barney; where?"
"As heaven's above us, into the haunted house; and if the dogs were to get a thousand guineas apiece, one of them couldn't be forced into it afther her. They ran with their noses on her very scut, widin five or six yards of it, and when she went into it they stood stock still, and neither man nor sword could get them to go farther. But what do you think Masther Harry said afther he had seen all this? 'Barney,' said he, 'I'm detarmined to spend a night in the haunted house before I'm much ouldher; only keep that to yourself, and don't make a blowing horn of it through the parish.' And what he said to me, I say to you—never breathe a syllable of it to man or mortal. It'll be worse for you if you do. And now, do you remember what Lanty Malony saw the other night? The black man kissin' the white woman. Is it clear to yez now? The Shan-dhinne-dhuv—the Black Specthre—kissin' Bet Harramount, the white woman. There it is; and now you have it as clear as a, b, c."
Barney then retired to his bed, leaving the denizens of the kitchen in a state which the reader may very well understand.
CHAPTER X. True Love Defeated.
Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin, in the absence of their daughter, held a very agreeable conversation on the subject of Mrs. Lindsay's visit. Neither Goodwin nor his wife was in the slightest degree selfish, yet, somehow, there crept into their hearts a certain portion of selfishness, which could be traced only to the affection which they felt for Alice. They calculated that Henry Woodward, having been reared and educated by his uncle, would be amply provided for by that wealthy gentleman—who, besides, was childless. This consideration became a strong element in their deliberations and discussions upon the projected match, and they accordingly resolved to win over Alice's consent to it as soon as possible. From the obedience of her disposition, and the natural pliancy of her character with the opinions of others, they concluded the matter as arranged and certain. They forgot, however, that Alice, though a feeble thinker on matters of superstition and others of a minor importance, could sometimes exercise a will of her own, but very seldom, if ever, when opposed to theirs. They knew her love and affection for them, and that she was capable of making any sacrifice that might contribute to their happiness. They had, however, observed of late—indeed for a considerable time past—that she appeared to be in low spirits, moved about as if there was a pressure of some description in her mind; and when they asked her if she were at ease—which they often did—she only replied by a smile, and asked them in return why she should be otherwise. With this reply they were satisfied, for they knew that upon the general occurrences of life she was almost a mere child, and that, although her health was good, her constitution was naturally delicate, and liable to be affected by many things indifferent in themselves, which girls of a stronger mind and constitution would neither perceive nor feel. The summing up of all was that they apprehended no obstruction to the proposed union from any objection on her part, as soon as she should be made acquainted with their wishes.
In the course of that very evening they introduced the subject to her, with that natural confidence which resulted from their foregone conclusions upon it.
"Alley," said her mother, "I hope you're in good spirits this evening."
"Indifferent enough, mamma; my spirits, you know, are not naturally good."
"And why should they not?" said her mother; "what on earth have you to trouble you?"
"O, mamma," she exclaimed, "you don't know how often I miss my sister;—at night I think I see her, and she looks pale and melancholy, and full of sorrow—just as she did when she felt that her hope of life was gone forever. O, how willingly—how joyfully—would I return her fortune, and if I had ten times as much of my own, along with it, if it could only bring her back to me again!"
"Well, you know, my darling, that can't be done; but cheer up; I have good news for you—news that I am sure will delight you."
"But I don't stand in need of any good news, mamma."
This simple reply proved an unexpected capsize to her mother, who knew not how to proceed; but, in the moment of her embarrassment, looked to her husband for assistance.
"My dear Alice," said her father, "the fact is this—you have achieved a conquest, and there has been a proposal of marriage made for you."
Alice instantly suspected the individual from whom the proposal came, and turned pale as death.
"That does not cheer my spirits, then, papa."
"That may be, my dear Alice," replied her father; "but, in the opinion of your mother and me, it ought."
"From what quarter has it come, papa, may I ask? I am living very lonely and retired here, you know."
"The proposal, then, my dear child, has come from Henry Woodward, this day; and what will surprise you more, through his mother, too—who has been of late such an inveterate enemy to our family. So far as I have seen of Henry himself, he is everything I could wish for a son-in-law."
"But you have seen very little of him, papa."
"What I have seen of him has pleased me very much, Alice."
"How strange," said she musingly, "that father and daughter should draw such different conclusions from the same premises. The very thought of that young man sinks the heart within me. I beg, once for all, that you will never mention his name to me on this subject, and in this light, again. It is not that I hate him—I trust I hate nobody—but I feel an antipathy against him; and what is more, I feel a kind of terror when I even think of him; and an oppression, for which I cannot account, whilst I am in his society."
"This is very strange, Alice," replied her father; "and, I am afraid, rather foolish, too. There is nothing in his face, person, manner, or conversation that, in my opinion, is not calculated to attract any young woman in his own rank of life—at least, I think so."
"Well, but the poor child," said her mother, "knows nothing about love—how could she? Sure, my dear Alley, true love never begins until after marriage. You don't know what a dislike I had to your father, there, whilst our friends on both sides were making up the courtship. They literally dragged me into it."
"Yes, Alley," added her father, smiling, "and they literally dragged me into it; and yet, when we came together, Alice, there never was a happier couple in existence."
Alice could not help smiling, but the smile soon passed away. "That may be all very true," she replied, "but in the meantime, you must not press me on this subject. Don't entertain it for a moment. I shall never marry this man. Put an end to it—see his mother, and inform her, without loss of time, of the unalterable determination I have made. Do not palter with them, father—-do not, mother; and above all things, don't attempt to sacrifice the happiness of your only daughter. I could make any sacrifice for your happiness but this; and if, in obedience to your wishes, I made it, I can tell you that I would soon be with my sister. You both know that I am not strong, and that I am incapable of severe struggles. Don't, then, harass me upon this matter."
She here burst into tears, and for a few minutes wept bitterly.
"We must give it up," said her father, looking at Mrs. Goodwin."
"No such thing," replied his wife; "think of our own case, and how happy we have been in spite of ourselves."
"Ay, but we were neither of us fools, Martha; at least you were not, or you would never have suffered yourself to be persuaded into matrimony, as you did at last. There was, it is true, an affected frown upon your brow; but then, again, there was a very sly smile under it. As for me, I would have escaped the match if I could; but no matter, it was all for the best, although neither of us anticipated as much. Alice, my child, think of what we have said to you; reflect upon it. Our object is to make you happy; our experience of life is much greater than yours. Don't reply to us now; we will give you a reasonable time to think of it. Consider that you will add to your mother's happiness and mine by consenting to such an unobjectionable match. This young man will, of course, inherit his uncle's property; he will elevate you in life; he is handsome, accomplished, and evidently knows the world, and you can look up to him as a husband of whom you will have a just right to feel proud. Allow the young man to visit you; study him as closely as you may; but above all things do not cherish an unfounded antipathy against him or any one."
Several interviews took place afterwards between Alice and Henry Woodward; and after each interview her parents sought her opinion of him, and desired to know whether she was beginning to think more favorably of him than she had hitherto done. Still, however, came the same reply. Every interview only increased her repugnance to the match, and her antipathy to the man. At length she consented to allow him one last interview—the last, she asserted, which she would ever afford him on the subject, and he accordingly presented himself to know her final determination. Not that from what came out from their former conversations he had any grounds, as a reasonable man, to expect a change of opinion on her part; but as the property was his object, he resolved to leave nothing undone to overcome her prejudice against him if he could. They were, accordingly, left in the drawing-room to discuss the matter as best they might, but with a hope on the part of her parents that, knowing, as she did, how earnestly their hearts were fixed upon her marriage with him, she might, if only for their sakes, renounce her foolish antipathy, ard be prevailed upon, by his ardor and his eloquence, to consent at last.
"Well, Miss Goodwin," said he, when they were left together, "this I understand, and what is more, I fear, is to be my day of doom. Heaven grant that it may be a favorable one, for I am badly prepared to see my hopes blasted, and my affection for you spurned! My happiness, my dear Miss Goodwin—my happiness for life depends upon the result of this interview. I know—but I should not say so—for in this instance I must be guided by hearsay—well, I know from hearsay that your heart is kind and affectionate. Now I believe this; for who can look upon your face and doubt it? Believing this, then, how can you, when you know that the happiness of a man who loves you beyond the power of language to express, is at stake, depends upon your will—how can you, I say, refuse to make that individual—who appreciated all your virtues, as I do—who feels the influence of your extraordinary beauty, as I do—who contemplates your future happiness as the great object of his life, as I do—how can you, I say, refuse to make that man happy?"
"Mr. Woodward," she said, "I will not reply to your arguments; I simply wish to ask you, Are you a gentleman?—in other words, a man of integrity and principle?"
"Do you doubt me, Miss Goodwin?" he inquired, as if he felt somewhat hurt.
"It is very difficult, Mr. Woodward," she replied, "to know the heart; I request, however, a direct and a serious answer, for I can assure you that I am about to place the deepest possible confidence in your faith and honor."
"O," he exclaimed, "that is sufficient; in such a case I feel bound to respect your confidence as sacred; do not hesitate to confide in me. Let me perish a thousand times sooner than abuse such a trust. Speak out, Miss Goodwin."
"It is necessary that I should," she replied, "both for your sake and my own. Know, then, that my heart is not at my own disposal; it is engaged to another."
"I can only listen, Miss Goodwin—I can only listen—but—but—excuse me—proceed."
"My heart, as I said, is engaged to another—and that other is your brother Charles."
Woodward fixed his eyes upon her face—already scarlet with blushes, and when she ventured to raise hers upon him, she beheld a countenance sunk apparently in the deepest sorrow.
"Alas! Miss Goodwin," he replied, "you have filled my heart with a double grief. I could resign you—of course it would and must be with the most inexpressible anguish—but to resign you to such a—. O!" he proceeded, shaking his head sorrowfully, "you know not in what a position of torture you place me. You said you believed me to be a gentleman; so I trust—I feel—I am, and what is more, a brother, and an affectionate brother, if I—O, my God, what am I to do? How, knowing what I know of that unfortunate young man, could I ever have expected this? In the meantime I thank you for your confidence, Miss Goodwin; I hope it was God himself who inspired you to place it in me, and that it may be the means of your salvation from—but perhaps I am saying too much; he is my brother; excuse me, I am not just now cool and calm enough to say what I would wish, and what you, poor child, neither know nor suspect, and perhaps I shall never mention it; but you must give me time. Of course, under the circumstances you have mentioned, I resign all hopes of my own happiness with you; but, so help me Heaven, if I shall resign all hopes of yours. I cannot now speak at further length; I am too much surprised, too much agitated, too much shocked at what I have heard; but I shall see you, if you will allow me, to-morrow; and as I cannot become your husband, perhaps I may become your guardian angel. Allow me to see you to-morrow. You have taken me so completely by surprise that I. am quite incapable of speaking on this subject, as perhaps—but I know not yet—I must become more cool, and reflect deeply upon what my conduct ought to be. Alas! my dear Miss Goodwin, little you suspect how completely your happiness and misery are in my power. Will you permit me to see you to-morrow?"
"Certainly, sir," replied Alice, "since it seems that you have something of more than ordinary importance to communicate to me—something, which, I suppose, I ought to know. I shall see you."
He then took his leave with an air of deep melancholy and sorrow, and left poor Alice in a state of anxiety very difficult to be described. Her mind became filled with a sudden and unusual alarm; she trembled like an aspen leaf; and when her mother came to ask her the result of the interview, she found her pale as death and in tears.
"Why, Alley, my child," said she, "what is the matter? Why do you look so much alarmed, and why are you in tears? Has the man been rude or offensive to you?"
"No, mamma, he has not; but—but—I am to see him again to-morrow, and until then, mamma, do not ask me anything upon the subject of our interview to-day."
Her mother felt rather gratified at this. There was, then, to be another interview, and that was a proof that Woodward had not been finally discarded. So far, matters did not seem so disheartening as she had anticipated. She looked upon Alice's agitation, and the tears she had been shedding, as the result of the constraint which she had put upon her inclination in giving him, she hoped, a favorable reception; and with this impression she went to communicate what she conceived to be the good intelligence to her husband.
Alice, until the next interview took place, passed a wretched time of it. As the reader knows, she was constitutionally timid and easily alarmed, and she consequently anticipated, something very distressing in the disclosures which Woodward was about to make. That there was something uncommon and painful in connection with Charles Lindsay to be mentioned, was quite evident from Woodward's language and his unaccountable agitation. He was evidently in earnest; and, from the suddenness with which the confession of her attachment to his brother came upon him, it was impossible, she concluded, that he could have had time to concoct the hints which he threw out. Could she have been mistaken in Charles? And yet, why not? Had he not, as it were, abandoned her ever since the occurrence of the family feud? and why should he have done so unless there had been some reason for it? It was quite clear, she thought, that, whatever revelation Woodward was about to make concerning him, it was one which would occasion himself great pain as his brother, and that nothing but the necessity of saving her from unhappiness could force him to speak out. In fact, her mind was in a tumult; she felt quite nervous—tremulous—afraid of some disclosure that might destroy her hopes and her happiness, and make her wretched for life.
On the next day Woodward made his appearance and found Alice by herself in the drawing-room, as when he left her the day before. His countenance seemed the very exponent of suffering and misery.
"Miss Goodwin," said he, "I have passed a period of the deepest anxiety since I saw you last. You may, indeed, read what I have suffered, and am suffering, in my face, for unfortunately it is a tell-tale upon my heart; but I cannot help that, nor should I wish it to be otherwise. Believe me, however, that it is not for myself that I suffer, but for you, and the prospects of your future happiness. You must look upon my conduct now as perfectly disinterested, for I have no hope. What, then, should that conduct be in me as a generous man, which I trust I am, but to promote your happiness as far as I can? and on that I am determined. You say you love my brother; are you certain that your affection is reciprocated?"
"I believe your brother certainly did love me," she replied, with a tremor in her voice, which she could not prevent,
"Just so, my dear Miss Goodwin; that is well expressed—did love you; perhaps it may have been so; possessing anything like a heart, I don't see how it could have been otherwise."
"I will thank you, Mr. Woodward, to state what you have to say with as little circumlocution and ambiguity as possible. Take me out of suspense, and let me know the worst. Do not, I entreat you, keep me in a state of uncertainty. Although I have acknowledged my love for your brother, in order to relieve myself from your addresses, which I could not encourage, still I am not without the pride of a woman who respects herself."
"I am aware of that; but before I proceed, allow me to ask, in order that I may see my way the clearer, to what length did the expression of my brother's affection go?"
"It went so far," she replied, blushing, "as an avowal of mutual attachment; indeed, it might be called an engagement; but ever since the death of his cousin, and the estrangement of our families, he seems to have forgotten me. It is very strange; when I was a portionless girl he was ardent and tender, but, ever since this unfortunate property came into my hands, he seems to have joined in the hard and unjust feeling of his family against me. I have certainly met him since at parties, and on other occasions, but we met almost as strangers; he was not the Charles Lindsay whom I had known when I was comparatively a poor girl; he appeared to shrink from me. In the meantime, as I have already confessed to you, he has my heart; and, so long as he has, I cannot encourage the addresses of any other man."
Woodward paused, and looked upon her with well-feigned admiration and sorrow.
"The man is blind," he at length said, "not only to the fascinations of your person and character, but to his own interests. What is he in point of property? Nothing. He has no rich uncle at his back to establish him in life upon a scale, almost, of magnificence. Why, it is since you came into this property that he ought to have urged his suit with greater earnestness. I am speaking now like a man of the world, Miss Goodwin; and I am certain that he would have done so but for one fact, of which I am aware: he has got into a low intrigue with a peasant's daughter, who possesses an influence over him such as I have never witnessed. She certainly is very beautiful, it is said; but of that I cannot speak, as I have not yet seen her; but I am afraid, Miss Goodwin, from all I hear, that a very little time will disclose her calamity and his guilt. You will now understand what I felt yesterday when you made me acquainted with your pure and virtuous attachment to such a man; what shall I say," he added, rising, and walking indignantly through the room, "to such a profligate?"
"Mr. Woodward," replied Alice, "I can scarcely believe that; you must have been imposed on by some enemy of his. Depend upon it you are. I think I know Charles well—too well to deem him capable of such profligacy; I will not believe it."
"I don't wish you, my dear Miss Goodwin, to believe it; I only wish you to suspend your opinion until time shall convince you. I considered it my duty to mention the fact, and after that to leave you to the exercise of your own judgment."
"I will not believe it," replied Alice, "because I place his estrangement to a higher and nobler motive, and one more in accordance with his honorable and generous character. I do believe, Mr. Woodward, that his apparent coldness to me, of late, proceeds from delicacy, and a disinterestedness that is honorable to him; at least I will interpret his conduct in this light until I am perfectly convinced that he is the profligate you describe him. I do not impute, in the disclosure you have made, ungenerous motives to you; because, if you attempted to displace my affections from your brother by groundless slander or deliberate falsehood, you would be a monster, and as such I would look upon you, and will, if it appears that you are maligning him for selfish purposes of your own. I will now tell you to what I impute his apparent estrangement; I impute it to honor, sir—to an honorable pride. He knows now that I am rich; at least comparatively so, and that he is comparatively poor; he hesitates to renew our relations with each other lest I might suspect him of mingling a selfish principle with his affection. That is the conduct of a man of honor; and until the facts you hint at come out broadly, and to public proof, as such I shall continue to consider him. But, Mr. Woodward, I shall not rest here; I shall see him, and give him that to which his previous affection and honorable conduct have entitled him at my hands—that is, an opportunity of making an explanation to myself. But, at all events, I assure you of this fact, that, if I do not marry him, I shall never marry another."
"Great God!" exclaimed Woodward, "what a jewel he has lost. Well, Miss Goodwin, I have nothing further to say; if I am wrong, time will convict me. I have mentioned these matters to you, not on my own account but yours. I have no hope of your affection; and if there were any living man, except myself, to whom I should wish to see you united, it would be my brother Charles—that is, if I thought he was worthy of you. All I ask of you, however, is to wait a little; remain calm and quiet, and time will tell you which of us feels the deepest interest in your happiness. In the meantime, aware of your attachment to him, as I am, I beg you will no longer consider me in any other light than that of a sincere friend. To seduce innocence, indeed—but I will not dwell upon it; the love of woman, they say, is generous and forgiving; I hope yours will be so. But, Miss Goodwin, as I can approach you no longer in the character of a lover, I trust I may be permitted the privilege of visiting the family as a friend and acquaintance. Now that your decision against me is known, it will be contrary to the wishes of our folks at home; especially of my mother, whose temper, as I suppose you are aware, is none of the coolest; you will allow me, then, to visit you, but no longer as claimant for your hand."
"I shall always be happy to see you, Mr. Woodward, but upon that condition."
After he had token his leave, her parents, anxious to hear the result, came up to the drawing-room, where they found her in a kind of a reverie, from which their appearance startled her.
"Well, Alley," said her mother, smiling, "is everything concluded between you?"
"Yes, mamma," replied Alice, "everything is concluded, and finally, too."
"Did he name the day?" said her father, smiling gravely.
Alice stared at him; then recollecting herself, she replied—
"I thought I told you both that this was a man I could never think of marrying. I don't understand him; he is either very candid or very hypocritical; and I feel it painful, and, besides, unnecessary in me to take the trouble of balancing the character of a person who loses ground in my opinion on every occasion I see him. Of course, I have discarded him, and I know very well that his mother will cast fire and sword between us as she did before; but to do Mr. Woodward justice, he proposes to stand aloof from her resentments, and wishes to visit us as usual."
"Then it's all over between you and him?" said her mother.
"It is; and I never gave you reason to anticipate any other result, mamma."
"No, indeed," said her father, "you never did, Alice; but still I think it is generous in him to separate himself from the resentments of that woman, and as a friend we will be always glad to see him."
"I know not how it is," replied Alice; "but I felt that the expression of his eye, during our last interview, oppressed me excessively; it was never off me. There was a killing—a malignant influence in it, that thrilled through me with pain; but, perhaps, I can account for that. As it is, he has asked leave to visit us as usual, and to stand, with respect to me, in the light of a friend only. So far as I am concerned, papa, I could not refuse him a common privilege of civility; but, to tell you both the truth, I shall always meet him not only with reluctance, but with something almost amounting to fear."
Woodward, now that he had learned his fate, and was aware that his brother stood between him and his expectations, experienced a feeling of vengeance against him and Alice, which he neither could, nor attempted to, restrain. The rage of his mother, too, when she heard that the latter had rejected him, and avowed her attachment to Charles, went beyond all bounds. Her son, however, who possessed a greater restraint upon his feelings, and was master of more profound hypocrisy and cunning, requested her to conceal the attachment of Alice to his brother, as a matter not to be disclosed on any account.
"Leave me to my resources," said he, "and it will go hard or I will so manage Charles as to disentangle him from the consequences of her influence over him. But the families, mother, must not be for the present permitted to visit again. On the contrary, it is better for our purposes that they should not see each other as formerly, nor resume their intimacy. If you suffer your passions to overcome you, even in our own family, the consequence is that you prevent us both from playing our game as we ought, and as we shall do. Leave Charles to me; I shall make O'Connor of use, too; but above all things do not breathe a syllable to any one of them of my having been thrown off. I think, as it is, I have damped her ardor for him a little, and if she had not been obstinate and foolishly romantic, I would have extinguished it completely. As it is, I told her to leave the truth of what I mentioned to her respecting him, to time, and if she does I shall rest satisfied. Will you now be guided by me, my dear mother?"
"I will endeavor to do so," she replied; "but it will be a terrible restraint upon me, and I scarcely know how I shall be able to keep myself calm. I will try, however; the object is worth it. You know if she dies without issue the property reverts to you."
"Yes, mother, the object is worth much more than the paltry sacrifice I ask of you. Keep yourself quiet, then, and we will accomplish our purposes yet. I shall set instruments to work who will ripen our projects, and, I trust, ultimately accomplish them."
"Why, what instruments do you intend to use?"
"I know the girl's disposition and character well. I have learned much concerning her from Casey, who is often there as a suitor for the fair hand of her favorite maid. Casey, however, is a man in whom I can place no confidence; he is too much attached to the rest of the family, and does not at all relish me. I will make him an unconscious agent of mine, notwithstanding. In the meantime, let nothing appear in your manner that might induce them to suspect the present position of affairs between us. They may come to know it soon enough, and then it will be our business to act with greater energy and decision."
And so it was arranged between this precious mother and son.
Woodward who was quick in the conception of his projects, had them all laid even then; and in order to work them out with due effect, he resolved to pay a visit to our friend, Sol Donnel, the herb doctor. This hypocritical old villain was uncle to Caterine Collins, the fortune-teller, who had prognosticated to him such agreeable tiding's on the night of the bonfire. She, too, was to be made useful, and, so far as money could do it, faithful to his designs—diabolical as they were. He accordingly went one night, about the hour mentioned by Donnel, to the cabin of that worthy man; and knocking gently at the door, was replied to in a peevish voice, like that of an individual who had been interrupted in the performance of some act of piety and devotion.
"Who is there?" said the voice inside.
"A friend," replied Woodward, in a low, cautious tone; "a friend, who wishes to speak to you."
"I can't spake to you to-night," replied Sol; "you're disturbin' me at my prayers."
"But I wish to speak to you on particular business."
"What business? Let me finish my padereens and go to bed like a vile sinner, as I am—God help me. Who are you?"
"I don't intend to tell you that just now, Solomon; do you wish me to shout it out to you, in order that the whole neighborhood may hear it? I have private business with you."
"Well," replied the other, "I think, by your voice and language, you're not a common man, and, although it's against my rule to open at this time o' night to any one, still I'll let you in—and sure I must only say my prayers aftherwards. In the manetime it's a sin for you or any one to disturb me at them; if you knew what the value of one sinful sowl is in the sight of God, you wouldn't do it—no, indeed. Wait till I light a candle."
He accordingly lighted a candle, and in the course of a few minutes admitted Woodward to his herbarium. When the latter entered, he looked about him with a curiosity not unnatural under the circumstances. His first sensation, however, was one that affected his olfactory nerves very strongly. A combination of smells, struggling with each other, as it were, for predominance, almost overpowered him. The good and the bad, the pleasant and the oppressive, were here mingled up in one sickening exhalation—for the disagreeable prevailed. The whole cabin was hung about with bunches of herbs, some dry and withered, others fresh and green, giving evidence that they had been only newly gathered. A number of bottles of all descriptions stood on wooden shelves, but without labels, for the old sinner's long practice and great practical memory enabled him to know the contents of every bottle with as much accuracy as if they had been labelled in capitals.
"How the devil can you live and sleep in such a suffocating compound of vile smells as this?" asked Woodward.
The old man glanced at him keenly, and replied,—
"Practice makes masther, sir—I'm used to them; I feel no smell but a good smell; and I sleep sound enough, barrin' when I wake o' one purpose, to think of and repent o' my sins, and of the ungrateful world that is about me; people that don't thank me for doin' them good—God forgive them! amin acheernah!"
"Why, now," replied Woodward, "if I had a friend of mine that was unwell—observe me, a friend of mine—that stood between me and my own interests, and that I was kind and charitable enough to forget any ill-will against him, and wished to recover him from his illness through the means of your skill and herbs, could you not assist me in such a good and Christian work?"
The old fellow gave him a shrewd look and piercing glance, but immediately replied—
"Why, to be sure, I could; what else is the business of my whole life but to cure my fellow-cratures of their complaints?"
"Yes; I believe you are very fortunate in that way; however, for the present, I don't require your aid, but it is very likely I shall soon. There is a friend of mine in poor health, and if he doesn't otherwise recover, I shall probably apply to you; but, then, the party I speak of has such a prejudice against quacks of all sorts, that I fear we must substitute one of your draughts, in a private way, for that of the regular doctor. That, however, is not what I came to speak to you about. Is not Caterine Collins, the fortune-teller a niece of yours?"