"Father," said Charles, "if you regard or respect me, I entreat of you to abandon any such project. Ferdora O'Connor is now the favorite there. He is rich and I am poor; no, the only favor I ask is that you will never more allude to the subject in my hearing."
"But I will allude to it, and I will demand an explanation besides," replied Lindsay.
"Father," observed Harry, "I trust that no member of this family is capable of an act of unparalleled meanness. I, myself, pleaded my brother's cause with that heartless and deceitful girl in language which could not be mistaken. And what was the consequence? Because I ventured to do so I have been forbidden to visit there again. They told me, without either preface or apology, that they will have no further intercourse with our family. Ferdora O'Connor is the chosen man."
"It is false," said his sister, her eyes sparkling with indignation as she spoke; "it is abominably false; and, father, you are right; seek an explanation from the Goodwins. I feel certain that there are evil spirits at work."
"I shall, my dear girl," replied her father; "it is only an act of justice to them. And if the matter be at all practicable, I shall have Charles and her married still."
"Why not think of Harry?" said his wife; "as the person originally destined to receive the property, he has the strongest claim."
"You are talking now in the selfish and accursed principles of the world," replied Lindsay. "Charles has the claim of her early affection, and I shall urge it."
"Very well," said his wife; "if you succeed in bringing about a marriage between her and Charles, I will punish both you and him severely."
"As how, madam?" asked her husband.
"Are you aware of one fact, Lindsay?"
"I am aware of one melancholy fact," he replied, sarcastically.
"And, pray, what is it?" she inquired.
"Faith," he replied, "that I am your husband."
"O, yes—just so—that is the way I am treated, children; you see it and you hear it. But, now, listen to me; you know, Lindsay, that the property I brought you, as your unfortunate wife, was property in my own right; you know, too, that by our marriage settlement that property was settled on me, with the right of devising it to any of my children whom I may select for that purpose. Now, I tell you, that if you press this marriage between Charles and Alice Goodwin, I shall take this property into my own hands, shall make my will in favor of Harry, and you and your children may seek a shelter where you can find one."
"Me and my children! Why, I believe you think you have no children but Harry here. Well, you may do as you like with your property; I am not so poor but I and my children can live upon my own. This house and place, I grant you, are yours, and, as for myself, I am willing to leave it to-day; a life of exclusion and solitude will be better than that which I lead with you."
"Papa," said Maria, throwing her arms about his neck and bursting into tears, "when you go I shall go; and wherever you may go to, I shall accompany you."
"Father," said Charles, in a choking voice, and grasping his hand as he spoke, "if you leave this house you shall not go alone. Neither I nor Maria shall separate ourselves from you. We will have enough to live on with comfort and decency."
"Mother," said Harry, rising up and approaching her with a face of significant severity; "mother, you have forced me to say—and heaven knows the pain with which I say it—that I am ashamed of you. Why will you use language that is calculated to alienate from me the affections of a brother and sister whom I love with so much tenderness? I trust you understand me when I tell you now that I identify myself with their feelings and objects, and that no sordid expectation of your property shall ever induce me to take up your quarrel or separate myself from them. Dispose of your property as you wish; I for one shall not earn it by sacrificing the best affections of the heart, nor by becoming a slave to such a violent and indefensible temper as yours. As for me, I shall not stand in need of your property—I will have enough of my own."
They looked closely at each other; but that look was sufficient. The cunning mother thoroughly understood the freemason glance of his eye, and exclaimed,—
"Well, I see I am abandoned by all my children; but I will endeavor to bear it. I now leave you to yourselves—to meditate and put in practice whatever plot you please against my happiness. Indeed, I know what a consolation my death would be to you all."
She then withdrew, in accordance with the significant look which Harry gave towards the door.
"Harry," said Lindsay, holding out his hand, "you are not the son of my blood, but I declare to heaven I love you as well as if you were. Your conduct is noble and generous; ay, and as a natural consequence, disinterested; there is no base and selfish principle in you, my dear boy; and I honor and love you as if I were your father in reality."
"Harry," said Maria, kissing him, "I repeat and feel all that dear papa has said."
"And so do I," exclaimed Charles, "and if I ever entertained any other feeling, I fling it to the winds."
"You all overrate me," said Harry; "but, perhaps, if you were aware of my private remonstrances with my mother upon her unfortunate principles and temper, you would give me more credit even than you do. My object is to produce peace and harmony between you, and if I can succeed in that I shall feel satisfied, let my mother's property go where it may. Of course, you must now be aware that I separate myself from her and her projects, and identify myself, as I said, with you all. Still, there is one request I have to make of you, father, my dear father, for well I may call you so; and it is that you will not, as an independent man and a gentleman, attempt to urge this marriage, on which you seem to have set your heart, between Charles and Goodwin's daughter. You are not aware of what I know upon this subject. She and Ferdora O'Connor are about to be married; but I will not mention what I could mention until after that ceremony shall have taken place."
"Well," said his sister, "you appear to speak very sincerely, Harry, but I know and feel that there is some mistake somewhere."
"Harry," said Lindsay, "from what has occurred this morning, I shall be guided by you. I will not press this marriage, neither shall I stoop to seek an explanation."
"Thank you, sir," replied Harry. "I advise you as I do because I would not wish to see our whole family insulted in your person."
Maria and her brother Charles looked at each other, and seemed to labor under a strange and somewhat mysterious feeling. The confidence, however, with which Harry spoke evidently depressed them, and, as they entertained not the slightest suspicion of his treachery, they left the apartment each with a heavy heart.
Harry, from this time forward, associated more with his brother than he had done, and seemed to take him more into his confidence. He asked him out in all his sporting expeditions; and proposed that they should each procure a shooting dress of the same color and materials, which was accordingly done; and so strongly did they resemble each other, when dressed in them, that in an uncertain light, or at a distance, it was nearly impossible to distinguish the one from the other. In fact, the brothers were now inseparable, Harry's object being to keep Charles as much under his eye and control as possible, from an apprehension that, on cool reflection, he might take it into his head to satisfy himself by a personal interview with Alice Goodwin as to the incomprehensible change which had estranged her affection from him.
Still, although the affection of those brothers seemed to increase, the conduct of Harry was full of mystery. That the confidence he placed in Charles was slight and partial admitted of no doubt. He was in the habit, for instance, of going out after the family had gone to bed, as we have mentioned before; and it was past all doubt that he had been frequently seen accompanied, in his midnight rambles, by what was known in the neighborhood as the Black Spectre, or, by the common people, as the Shan-dhinne-dhue, or the dark old man. These facts invested his character, which, in spite of all his plausibility of manner, was unpopular, with something of great dread, as involving on his part some unholy association with the evil and supernatural. This was peculiarly the age of superstition and of a belief in the connection of both men and women with diabolical agencies; for such was the creed of the day.
One evening, about this time, Caterine Collins was on her way home to Rathfillan, I when, on crossing a piece of bleak moor adjacent to the town, a powerful young fellow, dressed in the truis, cloak, and barrad of the period, started up from a clump of furze bushes, and addressed her as follows:—
"Caterine," said he, "are you in a hurry?"
"Not particularly," she replied; "but in God's name, Shawn, what brings you here? Are you mad? or what tempts you to come within the jaws of the law that are gaping for you as their appointed victim? Don't you know you are an outlaw?"
"I will answer your first question first," he replied. "What tempted me to come here? Vengeance—deep and deadly vengeance. Vengeance upon the villain who has ruined Grace Davoren. I had intended to take her life first; but I am an Irishman, and will not visit upon the head of the innocent girl, whom this incarnate devil has tempted beyond her strength, the crime for which he is accountable."
"Well, indeed, Shawn, it would be only serving him right; but, in the meantime, you had better be on your guard; it is said that he fears neither God nor devil, and always goes well armed; so be cautious, and if you take him at all, it must be by treachery."
"No," said the outlaw, indignantly, "I'll never take him or any man by treachery. I know I am an outlaw; but it was the merciless laws of the country, and their injustice to me and mine, that made me so; I resisted them openly and like a man; but, bad as I am supposed to be, I will never stain either my name or my conscience by an act of cowardly treachery. I will meet this dark villain face to face, and take my revenge as a brave man ought. You say he goes well armed, and that is a proof that he feels his own guilt; yes, he goes well armed, you say; so do I, and it will not be the treacherous murderer that he will meet, but the open foe."
"Well," replied Caterine, "that is just like you, Shawn; and it is no wonder that the women were fond of you."
"Yes," said he, "but the girl that was dearer to me a thousand times than my own life has proved faithless, because there is a stain upon my name—a stain, but no crime, Caterine; a stain made by the law, but no crime. Had her heart been loyal and true, she would have loved me ten times more in consequence of my very disgrace—if disgrace I ought to call it; but instead of that—but wait—O, the villain! Well, I shall meet him, I trust, before long, and then, Caterine, ah, then!"
"Well, Shawn, if she has desalted you, I know one that loves you better than ever she did, and that would never desart you, as Grace Davoren has done."
"Ah, Caterine," replied the outlaw, sorrowfully, "I am past that now; my heart is broke—I could never love another. What proof of truth or affection could any other woman give me after the treachery of her who once said she loved me so well? She said, indeed, some time ago, that it was her father forced her to do it, but that was after she had seen him, for well I know she often told me a different story before the night of the bonfire and the shower of blood. Well, Caterine, that shower of blood was not sent for nothing. It came as the prophecy of his fate, which, if I have life, will be a bloody one."
"Shawn," replied Caterine, as if she had not paid much attention to his words, "Shawn, dear Shawn, there is one woman who would give her life for your love."
"Ah," said Shawn, "it's aisily said, at all events—aisily said; but who is it Caterine?"
"She is now speaking to you," she returned. "Shawn, you cannot but know that I have long loved you; and I now tell you that I love you still—ay, and a thousand times more than ever Grace Davoren did."
"You!" said Shawn, recoiling with indignation; "is it you, a spy, a fortune-teller, a go-between, and, if all be true, a witch; you, whose life and character would make a modest woman blush to hear them mentioned? Why, the curse of heaven upon you! how dare you think of proposing such a subject to me? Do you think because I'm marked by the laws that my heart has lost anything of its honesty and manhood? Begone, you hardened and unholy vagabond, and leave my sight."
"Is that your language, Shawn?"
"It is; and what other language could any man with but a single spark of honesty and respect for himself use toward you? Begone, I say."
"Yes, I will begone; but perhaps you may live to rue your words: that is all."
"And, perhaps, so may you," he replied. "Leave my sight. You are a disgrace to the name of woman."
She turned upon her heel, and on the instant bent her steps towards Rathfillan House.
"Shawn-na-Middogue," she said as she went along, "you talk about revenge, but wait till you know what the revenge of an insulted woman is. It is not an aisy thing to know your haunts; but I'll set them upon your trail that will find you out if you were to hide yourself in the bowels of the earth, for the words you used to me this night. Dar manim, I will never rest either night or day until I see you swing from a gibbet."
Instead of proceeding to the little town of Rathfillan, she changed her mind and turned her steps to Rathfillan House, the residence, as our readers are aware, of the generous and kind-hearted Mr. Lindsay.
On arriving there she met our old acquaintance, Barney Casey, on the way from the kitchen to the stable. Observing that she was approaching the hall-door with the evident purpose of knocking, and feeling satisfied that her business could be with none of the family except Harry, he resolved to have some conversation with her, in order, if possible, to get a glimpse of its purport. Not, indeed, that he entertained any expectation of such a result, because he knew the craft and secrecy of the woman he had to deal with; but, at all events, he thought that he might still glean something significant even by her equivocations, if not by her very silence. He accordingly turned, over and met her.
"Well, Caterine, won't this be a fine night when the moon and stars comes out to show you the road home again afther you manage the affair you're bent on?"
"Why, what am I bent on?" she replied, sharply.
"Why, to build a church to-night, wid the assistance of Mr. Harry Woodward."
"Talk with respect of your masther's stepson," she replied, indignantly.
"And my sweet misthress's son," returned Barney, significantly. "Why, Caterine, I hope you won't lift me till I fall. What did I say disrespectful of him? Faith, I only know that the wondher is how such a devil's scald could have so good and kind-hearted a son," he added, disentangling himself from her suspicions, knowing perfectly well, as he did, that any unfavorable expression he might utter against that vindictive gentleman would most assuredly be communicated to him with comments much stronger than the text. This would only throw him out of Harry's confidence, and deprive him of those opportunities of probably learning, from their casual conversation, some tendency of his mysterious movements, especially at night; for that he was enveloped in mystery—was a fact of which he felt no doubt whatsoever. He accordingly resolved to cancel the consequences even of the equivocal allusion to him which he had made, and which he saw at a glance that Caterine's keen suspicions had interpreted into a bad sense.
"So you see, Katty," he proceeded, "agra-machree that you wor, don't lift me, as I said, till I fall; but what harm is it to be fond of a spree wid a purty girl? Sure it's a good man's case; but I'll tell you more; you must know the misthress's wig took fire this mornin', and she was within an inch of havin' the house in flames. Ah, it's she that blew a regular breeze, threatened to make the masther and the other two take to their travels from about the house and place, and settle the same house and place upon Mr. Harry."
"Well, Barney," said Caterine, deeply interested, "what was the upshot?"
"Why, that Masther Harry—long life to him—parted company wid her on the spot; said he would take part wid the masther and the other two, and tould her to her teeth that he did not care a damn about the property, and that she might leave it as a legacy to ould Nick, who, he said, desarved it better at her hands than he did."
"Well, well," replied Caterine, "I never thought he was such a fool as all that comes to. Devil's cure to him, if she laves it to some one else! that's my compassion for him."
"Well, but, Caterine, what's the news? When will the sky fall, you that knows so much about futurity?"
"The news is anything but good, Barney. The sky will fall some Sunday in the middle of next week, and then for the lark-catching. But tell me, Barney, is Mr. Harry within? because, if he is, I'd thank you to let him know that I wish to see him. I have a bit of favor to ask of him about my uncle Solomon's cabin; the masther's threatnin' to pull it down."
Now, Barney knew the assertion to be a lie, because it was only a day or two previous to the conversation that he had heard Mr. Lindsay express his intention of building the old herbalist a new one. He kept his knowledge of this to himself, however.
"And so you want him to change the masther's mind upon the subject. Faith and you're just in luck after this mornin's skirmish—skirmish! no bedad, but a field day itself; the masther could refuse him nothing. Will I say what you want him for?"
"You may or you may not; but, on second thoughts, I think it will be enough to say simply that I wish to spake to him particularly."
"Very well, Caterine," replied Barney, "I'll tell him so."
In a few minutes Harry joined her on the lawn, where she awaited him, and the following dialogue took place between them:
"Well, Caterine, Casey tells me that you have something particular to say to me."
"And very particular indeed, it is, Mr. Harry."
"Well, then, the sooner we have it the better; pray, what is it?"
"I'm afeard, Mr. Woodward, that unless you have some good body's blessin' about you, your life isn't worth a week's purchase."
"Some good body's blessing!" he replied ironically; "well, never mind that, but let me know the danger, if danger there be; at all events, I am well prepared for it."
"The danger then is this—and terrible it is—that born devil, Shawn-na-Middogue, has got hold of what's goin' on between you and Grace Davoren."
"Between me and Grace Davoren!" he exclaimed, in a voice of well-feigned astonishment. "You mean my brother Charles. Why, Caterine, that soft-hearted and softheaded idiot, for I can call him nothing else, has made himself a perfect fool about her, and what is worst of all, I am afraid he will break his engagement with Miss Goodwin, and marry this wench. Me! why, except that he sent me once or twice to meet her, and apologize for his not being able to keep his appointment with her, I know nothing whatsoever of the unfortunate girl, unless that, like a fool, as she is, it seems to me that she is as fond of him as he, the fool, on the other hand, is of her. As for my part, I shall deliver his messages to her no more—and, indeed, it was wrong of me ever to do so."
The moon had now risen, and Caterine, on looking keenly and incredulously into his face, read nothing there but an expression of apparent sincerity and sorrow for the indiscretion and folly of his brother.
"Well," she proceeded, "in spite of all you tell me I say that it does not make your danger the less. It is not your brother but yourself that he suspects, and whether right or wrong, it is upon you that his vengeance will fall."
"Well, but, Caterine," he replied, "could you not see Shawn-na-Middogue, and remedy that?"
"How, sir?" she replied.
"Why, by telling him the truth," said the far-sighted villain, "that it is my brother, and not I, that was the intriguer with her."
"Is that generous towards your brother, Mr. Woodward? No, sir; sooner than bring the vengeance of such a person as Shawn upon him, I would have the tongue cut out of my mouth, or the right arm off my body."
"And I, Caterine," he answered, retrieving himself an well as he could; "yes, I deserve to have my tongue cut out, and my right arm chopped off, for what I have said. O, no; if there be danger let me run the risk, and not poor, good, kind-hearted Charles, who is certainly infatuated by this girl. He is to meet her to-morrow night at nine o'clock, in the little clump of alders below the well, but I shall go in his place—that is, if I can prevail upon him to allow me—and endeavor once for all to put an end to this business: mark that I said, if he will allow me, although I scarcely think he will. Now, good-night, and many thanks for your good wishes towards myself and him. Accept of this, and good-night again." As he spoke he placed some money in her unreluctant hand, and returned on his way home.
CHAPTER XIV. Shawn-na-Middogue Stabs Charles Lindsay
Shawn-na-Middogue Stabs Charles Lindsay in Mistake for his Brother
Shawn-na-Middogue, though uneducated, was a young man of no common intellect. That he had been selected to head the outlaws, or rapparees, of that day, was a sufficient proof of this. After parting from Caterine Collins, on whom the severity of his language fell with such bitterness, he began to reflect that he had acted with great indiscretion, to say the least of it. He knew that if there was a woman in the barony who, if she determined on it, could trace him to his most secret haunts, she was that woman. He saw, too, that after she had left him, evidently in deep indignation, she turned her steps towards Rathfillan House, most probably with an intention of communicating to Harry Woodward the strong determinations of vengeance which he had expressed against him. Here, then, by want of temper and common policy, had he created two formidable enemies against himself. This, he felt, was an oversight for which he could scarcely forgive himself. He resolved, if possible, to repair the error he had committed, and, with this object in view, he hung about the place until her return should afford him an opportunity of making such an explanation as might soothe her into good humor and a more friendly feeling towards him. Nay, he even determined to promise her marriage, in order to disarm her resentment and avert the danger which, he knew, was to be apprehended from it. He accordingly stationed himself in the shelter of a ditch, along which he knew she must pass on her way home. He had not long, however, to wait. In the course of half an hour he saw her approach, and as she was passing him he said in a low, confidential voice,—
"Who is that?" she asked, but without exhibiting any symptoms of alarm.
"It's me," he replied, "Shawn."
"Well," she replied, "and what is that to me whether it's you or not?"
"I have thought over our discourse a while ago, and I'm sorry for what I've said;—will you let me see you a part of the way home?"
"I can't prevent you from comin'," she replied, "if you're disposed to come—the way is as free to you as to me."
They then proceeded together, and our readers must gather from the incidents which are to follow what the result was of Shawn's policy in his conversation with her on the way. It is enough to say that they parted on the best and most affectionate terms, and that a certain smack, very delicious to the lips of Caterine, was heard before Shawn bade her good-night.
Barney Casey, who suspected there was something in the wind, in consequence of the secret interview which took place between Caterine Collins and Harry, conscious as he felt that it was for no good purpose, watched that worthy gentleman's face with keen but quiet observation, in the hope of being able to draw some inference from its expression. This, however, was a vain task. The face was impassable, inscrutable; no symptom of agitation, alarm, or concealed satisfaction could be read in it, or anything else, in short, but the ordinary expression of the most perfect indifference. Barney knew his man, however, and felt aware, from former observations, of the power which Woodward possessed of disguising his face whenever he wished, even under the influence of the strongest emotions. Accordingly, notwithstanding all this indifference of manner, he felt that it was for no common purpose Caterine Collins sought an interview with him, and with this impression on his mind he resolved to watch his motions closely.
The next day Harry and Charles went out to course, accompanied by Barney himself, who, by the way, observed that the former made a point to bring a case of pistols and a dagger with him, which he concealed so as that they might not be seen. This discovery was the result of Barney's vigilance and suspicions, for when Harry was prepared to follow his brother, who went to put the dogs in leash, he said:
"Barney, go and assist Mr. Charles, and I will join you both on the lawn."
Barney accordingly left the room and closed the door after him; but instead of proceeding, as directed, to join Charles, he deliberately put his eye to the key-hole, and saw Harry secrete the pistols and dagger about his person. Each, also, brought his gun at the suggestion of Harry, who said, that although they went out merely to course, yet it was not improbable that they might get a random shot at the grouse or partridge as they went along. Upon all these matters Barney made his comments, although he said nothing upon the subject even to Charles, from whom he scarcely ever concealed a secret. That Harry was brave and intrepid even to rashness he knew; but why he should arm himself with such secrecy and caution occasioned him much conjecture. His intrigue with Grace Davoren was beginning to be suspected. Shawn-na-Middoque might have heard of it. Caterine Collins was one of Woodward's agents—at least it was supposed from their frequent interviews that she was, to a certain degree, in his confidence; might not her request, then, to see him on the preceding night proceed from an anxiety, on her part, to warn him against some danger to be apprehended from that fearful freebooter? This was well and correctly reasoned on the part of Barney, and, with those impressions fixed upon his mind, he accompanied the two brothers on the sporting expedition of the day.
We shall not dwell upon their success, which was even better than they had expected. Nothing, however, occurred to render either pistols or dagger necessary; but Barney observed that, on their return home, Harry made it a point to come by the well where he and Grace Davoren were in the habit of meeting, and, having taken his brother aside, he pointed to the little dark clump of alders, which skirted a small grove, and, having whispered something to him which he could not hear, they passed on by the old, broken boreen, which we have described, and reached home loaded with game, but without any particular adventure. Barney's vigilance, however, was still awake, and he made up his mind to ascertain, if possible, why Harry had armed himself, for as yet he had nothing but suspicion on which to rest. He knew that whenever he went out at night or in the evening he always went armed; and this was only natural, for the country was in a dangerous and disturbed state, owing, as the report went, to the outrages against property which were said to have been committed by Shawn-na-Middogue and his rapparees. During his sporting excursions in the open day, however, he never knew him to go armed in this manner before, because, on such occasions he had always seen his pistols and dagger hanging against the wall, where he usually kept them. On this occasion, however, Woodward went like a man who felt apprehensive of some premeditated violence on the part of an enemy. Judging, therefore, from what he had seen, as well as from what he conjectured, Barney, as we said, resolved to watch him closely.
In the meantime, the state of poor Alice Goodwin's health was deplorable. The dreadful image of Harry Woodward, or, rather, the frightful power of his Satanic spirit, fastened upon her morbid and diseased imagination with such force, that no effort of her reason could shake it off. That dreadful eye was perpetually upon her and before her, both asleep and awake, and, lest she might have any one point on which to rest for comfort, the idea of Charles Lindsay attachment to Grace Davoren would come over her, only to supersede one misery by introducing another. In this wretched state she was when the calamitous circumstances, which we are about to relate, took place.
Barney Casey was a good deal engaged that evening, for indeed he was a general servant in his master's family, and was expected to put a hand to, and superintend, everything. He was, therefore, out of the way for a time, having gone to Rathfillan on a message for his mistress, whom he cursed in his heart for having sent him. He lost little time, however, in discharging it, and was just on his return when he saw Harry Woodward entering the old boreen we have described; and, as the night was rather dark, he resolved to ascertain—although he truly suspected—the object of this nocturnal adventure. He accordingly dogged him at a safe distance, and, in accordance with his suspicions, he found that Woodward directed his steps to the clump of alders which he had, on their return that day, pointed out to his brother. Here he (Barney) ensconced himself in a close thicket, in order to watch the event. Woodward had not been many minutes there when Grace Davoren joined him. She seemed startled, and surprised, and disappointed, as Casey could perceive by her manner, or rather by the tones of her voice; but, whatever the cause of her disappointment may have been, there was little time left for either remonstrances or explanation on the part of her lover. Whilst addressing her, a young and powerful man bounded forward, and, brandishing a long dagger—the dreaded middogue—plunged it into his body, and her companion fell with a groan. The act was rapid as lightning, and the moment the work of blood and vengeance had been accomplished, the young fellow bounded away again with the same speed observable in the rapidity of his approach. Grace's screams and shrieks were loud and fearful.
"Murdherin' villain of hell," she shouted after Shawn—for it was he—"you have killed the wrong man—you have murdered the innocent This is his brother."
Barney was at her side in a moment.
"Heavenly Father!" he exclaimed, shocked and astounded by her words, "what means this? Is it Mr. Charles?"
"O, yes," she replied, not conscious that in the alarm and terror of the moment she had betrayed herself, or rather her paramour—"innocent Mr. Charles I'm afeard is murdhered by that revengeful villain; and now, Barney, what is to be done, and how will we get assistance to bring him home? But, cheerna above! what will become of me!"
"Mr. Charles," said Barney, "is it possible that it is you that is here?"
"I am here, Barney," he replied, with difficulty, "and, I fear, mortally wounded."
"God forbid!" replied his humble but faithful friend—"I hope it is not so bad as you think."
"Take this handkerchief," said Charles, "tie it about my breast, and try and stop the blood. I feel myself getting weak."
This Barney proceeded to do, in which operation we shall leave him, assisted by the unfortunate girl who was indirectly the means of bringing this dreadful calamity upon him.
Shaivn-na-Middogue. was not out of the reach of hearing when Grace shouted after him, having paused to ascertain, if possible, whether he had done his work effectually. That Harry Woodward was Grace's paramour, he knew; and that Charles was innocent of that guilt, he also knew. All that Caterine Collins had told him on the preceding night went for nothing, because he felt that Woodward had coined those falsehoods with a view to screen himself from his (Shawn's) vengeance. But in the meantime Grace's words, uttered in the extremity of her terror, assured him that there had been some mistake, and that one brother might have come to explain and apologize for the absence of the other. He consequently crept back within hearing of their conversation, and ascertained with regret the mistake he had committed. Shawn, at night, seldom went unattended by several of his gang, and on this occasion he was accompanied by about a dozen of them. His murderous mistake occasioned him to feel deep sorrow, for he was perfectly well acquainted with the amiable and generous character which Charles bore amongst his father's tenantry. His life had been, not only inoffensive, but benevolent; whilst that of his brother—short as was the time since his return to Rathfillan House—was marked by a very licentious profligacy,—a profligacy which he attempted in vain to conceal. Whilst Grace Davoren and Casey were attempting to staunch the blood which issued from the wound, four men, despatched by Shawn for the purpose, came, as if alarmed by Grace's shrieks, to the scene of the tragedy, and, after having inquired as to the cause of its occurrence, precisely as if they had been ignorant of it, they proposed that the only thing to be done, so as to give him a chance for life, was to carry him home without a moment's delay. He was accordingly raised upon their shoulders, and, with more sympathy than could be expected from such men, was borne to his father's house in apparently a dying state.
It is unnecessary to attempt any description of the alarm which his appearance there created. His father and Maria were distracted; even his mother manifested tokens of unusual sorrow, for after all she was his mother; and nothing, indeed, could surpass the sorrow of the whole family. The servants were all in tears, and nothing but sobs and wailings could be heard throughout the house. Harry Woodward himself put his handkerchief to his eyes, and seemed to feel a deep but subdued sorrow. Medical aid was immediately sent for, but such was his precarious condition that no opinion could be formed as to his ultimate recover+y.
The next morning the town of Rathfillan, and indeed the parish at large, were in a state of agitation, and tumult, and sorrow, as soon as the melancholy catastrophe had become known. The neighbors and tenants flocked in multitudes to learn the particulars, and ascertain his state. About eleven o'clock Harry mounted his horse, and, in defiance of the interdict that had been laid upon him, proceeded at a rapid pace to Mr. Goodwin's house, in order to disclose—with what object the reader may conjecture—the melancholy event which had happened. He found Goodwin, his wife, and Sarah Sullivan in the parlor, which he had scarcely entered when Mr. Goodwin got up, and, approaching him in a state of great alarm and excitement, exclaimed,—
"Good Heavens, Mr. Woodward! can this dreadful intelligence which we have heard be true?"
"O, you have heard it, then," replied Woodward. "Alas! yes, it is too true, and my unfortunate brother lies with life barely in him, but without the slightest hope of recovery. As for myself I am in a state of absolute distraction; and were it not that I possess the consciousness of having done everything in my power as a friend and brother to withdraw him from this unfortunate intrigue, I think I should become fairly crazed. Miss Goodwin has for some time past been aware of my deep anxiety upon this very subject, because I deemed it a solemn duty on my part to let her know that ha had degraded himself by this low attachment to such a girl, and was consequently utterly unworthy of her affection. I could not see the innocence and purity imposed upon, nor her generous confidence placed on an unworthy object. This, however, is not a time to deal harshly by him. He will not be long with us, and is entitled to nothing but our forbearance and sympathy. Poor fellow! he has paid a heavy and a fatal penalty for his crime. Alas, my brother! cut down in the very prime of life, when there was still time enough for reformation and repentance! O, it is too much!"
He turned towards the window, and, putting his handkerchief to his eyes, did the pathetic with a very good grace.
"But," said Mrs. Goodwin, "what were the exact circumstances under which the deplorable act of vengeance was committed?"
"Alas! the usual thing, Mrs. Goodwin," replied Harry, attempting to clear his throat; "they met last night between nine and ten o'clock, in a clump of alders, near the well from which the inhabitants of the adjoining hamlet fetch their water. The outlaw, Shawn-na-Middogue, a rejected lover of the girl's, stung with jealousy and vengeance, surprised them, and stabbed my unfortunate brother, I fear, to death."
"And do you think there is no hope?" she added, with tears in her eyes; "O, if he had only time for repentance!"
"Alas! madam, the medical man who has seen him scarcely holds out any hope; but, as you say, if he had time even to repent, there would be much consolation in that."
"Well," observed Goodwin, his eyes moist with tears, "after this day, I shall never place confidence in man. I did imagine that if ever there was an individual whose heart was the source of honor, truth, generosity, disinterestedness, and affection, your brother Charles was that man. I am confounded, amazed—and the whole thing appears to me like a dream; at all events, thank God, our daughter has had a narrow escape of him."
"Pray, by the way, how is Miss Goodwin?" asked. Harry; "I hope she is recovering."
"So far from that," replied her father, "she is sinking fast; in truth we entertain but little hopes of her."
"On the occasion of my last visit here you forbade me your house, Mr. Goodwin," said Woodward; "but perhaps, now that you are aware of the steps I have taken to detach your daughter's affections from an individual whom I knew at the time to be unworthy of them, you may be prevailed on to rescind that stern and painful decree."
Goodwin, who was kind-hearted and placable, seemed rather perplexed, and looked towards his wife, as if to be guided by her decision.
"Well, indeed," she replied, "I don't exactly know; perhaps we will think of it."
"No," replied Sarah Sullivan, who was toasting a thin slice of bread for Alice's breakfast. "No; if you allow this man to come about the place, as God is to judge me, you will both have a hand in your daughter's death. If the devils from hell were to visit here, she might bear it; but at the present moment one look from that man would kill her."
This remonstrance decided them.
"No, Mr. Woodward," said Goodwin, "the truth is, my daughter entertains a strong prejudice against you—in fact, a terror of you—and under these circumstances, and considering, besides, her state of health, we could not think of permitting your visits, at least," he added, "until that prejudice be removed and her health restored—if it ever shall be. We owe you no ill-will, sir; but under the circumstances we cannot, for the present, at least, allow you to visit us."
"Well," replied Woodward, "perhaps—and I sincerely trust—her health will be restored, and her prejudices against me removed, and when better times come about I shall look with anxiety to the privilege of renewing my intimacy with you all."
"Perhaps so," returned Mr. Goodwin, "and then we shall receive your visits with pleasure."
Woodward then shook hands with him and his wife, and wished them a good morning.
On his way home worthy Suil Balor began to entertain reflections upon his prospects in life that he felt to be rather agreeable. Here was his brother, whom he had kindly sent to apologize to Grace Davoren for the impossibility from illness of his meeting her according to their previous arrangement; yes, we say he feigned illness on that evening, and prevailed on the unsuspecting young man to go in his stead, in order, as he said, to give her the necessary explanations for his absence. Charles undertook this mission the more willingly, as it was his firm intention to remonstrate with the girl on the impropriety of her conduct, in continuing a secret and guilty intrigue, which must end only in her own shame and ruin. But when Harry deputed him upon such a message he anticipated the very event which had occurred, or, rather, a more fatal one still, for, despite his hopes of Alice Goodwin's ill state of health, he entertained strong apprehensions that his stepfather might, by some accidental piece of intelligence, be restored to his original impressions on the relative position in which she and Charles stood. An interview between Mr. Lindsay and her might cancel all he had done; and if every obstruction which he had endeavored to place between their union were removed, her health might recover, their marriage take place, and then what became of his chance for the property? It is true he had managed his plans and speculations with great ability. Substituting Charles, like a villain as he was, in his own affair with Grace Davoren, he contrived to corroborate the falsehood by the tragic incident of the preceding night. Now, if this would not satisfy Alice of the truth of his own falsehood, nothing could. That Charles was the intrigant must be clear and palpable from what had happened, and accordingly, after taking a serious review of his own iniquity, he felt, as we said, peculiarly gratified with his prospects. Still, it cannot be denied that an occasional shadow, not proceeding from any consciousness of guilt, but from an apprehension of disappointment, would cast its deep gloom across his spirit. With such terrible states of feeling the machinations of guilt, no matter how successful its progress may be, are from time to time attended; and even in his case the torments of the damned were little short of what he suffered, from a dread of failure, and its natural consequences—an exposure which would bar him out of society. Still, his earnest expectation was that the intelligence of the fate of her lover would, considering her feeble state of health, effectually accomplish his wishes, and with this consoling reflection he rode home.
His great anxiety now was, his alarm lest his brother should recover. On reaching Rathfillan House he proceeded to his bedroom, where he found his sister watching.
"My dear Maria," said he, in a low and most affectionate voice, "is he better?"
"I hope so," she replied, in a voice equally low; "this is the first sleep he has got, and I hope it will remove the fever."
"Well, I will not stop," said he, "but do you watch him carefully, Maria, and see that he is not disturbed."
"O, indeed, Harry, you may rest assured that I shall do so. Poor, dear Charles, what would become of us all if we lost him—and Alice Goodwin, too—O, she would die. Now, go, dear Harry, and leave him to me."
Harry left the room apparently in profound sorrow, and, on going into the parlor, met Barney Casey in the hall.
"Barney," said he, "come into the parlor for a moment. My father is out, and my mother is upstairs. I want to know how this affair happened last night, and how it occurred that you were present at it. It's a bad business, Barney."
"Devil a worser," replied Barney, "especially for poor Mr. Charles. I was fortunately goin' down on my kalie to the family of poor disconsolate Granua (Grace), when, on passing the clump of alders, I heard screams and shouts to no end. I ran to the spot I heard the skirls comin' from, and there I found Mr. Charles, lyin' as if dead, and Grace Davoren with her hands clasped like a mad woman over him. The strange men then joined us, and carried him home, and that's all I know about it."
"But, can you understand it, Barney? As for me, I cannot. Did Grace say nothing during her alarm?"
"Divil a syllable," replied Barney, lying without remorse; "she was so thunderstruck with what happened that she could do nothing nor say anything but cry out and scream for the bare life of her. They say she has disappeared from her family, and that nobody knows where she has gone to. I was at her father's to-day, and I know they are searchin' the country for her. It is thought she has made away with herself."
"Poor Charles," exclaimed his brother, "what an unfortunate business it has turned out on both sides! I thought he was attached to Miss Goodwin; but it would appear now that he was deceiving her all along."
"Well, Mr. Harry," replied Barney, dryly, or rather with some severity, "you see what the upshot is; treachery, they say, seldom prospers in the long run, although it may for a while. God forgive them that makes a practice of it. As for Master Charles, I couldn't have dreamt of such a thing."
"Nor I, Barney. I know not what to say. It perplexes me, from whatever point I look at it. At all events, I hope he may recover, and if he does, I trust he will consider what has happened as a warning, and act upon better principles. May God forgive him!"
And so ended their dialogue, little, indeed, to the satisfaction of Harry, whom Barney left in complete ignorance of the significant exclamations by which Grace Davoren, in the alarm of the moment, had betrayed her own guilt, by stating that Shawn-na-Middogue had stabbed the wrong man.
Sarah Sullivan—poor, thoughtless, but affectionate girl—on repairing with the thin toast to her mistress's bedroom, felt so brimful of the disaster which had befallen Charles, that—-now believing in his guilt, as she did, and with a hope of effectually alienating Alice's affections from him—she lost not a moment in communicating the melancholy intelligence to her.
"O, Miss Alice!" she exclaimed, "have you heard what has happened? O, the false fend treacherous villain! Who would believe it? To lave a beautiful lady like you, and take up with sich a vulgar vagabone! However, he has suffered for it. Shawn-na-Middogue did for him."
"What do you mean, Sarah?" said her mistress, much alarmed by such a startling-preface; "explain yourself. I do not understand, you."
"But you soon will, miss. Shawn-na-Middogue found Mr. Charles Lindsay and Grace Davoren together last night, and has stabbed him to death; life's only in him; and that's the gentleman that pretended to love you. Devil's cure to the villain!"
She paused. The expression of her mistress's face was awful. A pallor more frightful than that of death, because it was associated with life, overspread her countenance. Her eyes became dim and dull; her features in a moment were collapsed, and resembled those of some individual struck by paralysis—they were altogether without meaning. She clasped and unclasped her hands, like one under the influence of strong hysterical agony; she laid herself back in bed, where she had been sitting up expecting her coffee, her eyes closed, for she had not physical strength even to keep them open, and with considerable difficulty she said, in a low and scarcely audible voice,—"My mother!"
Poor Sarah felt and saw the mischief she had done, and, with streaming eyes and loud sobbings, lost not a moment in summoning Mrs. Goodwin. In truth she feared that her mistress lay dying before her, and was immediately tortured with the remorseful impression that the thoughtless and indiscreet communication she had made was the cause of her death. It is unnecessary to describe the terror and alarm of her mother, nor of her father, when he saw her lying as it were between life and dissolution. The physician was immediately sent for, but, notwithstanding all his remedies, until the end of the second day, there appeared no change in her. Towards the close of that day an improvement was perceptible; she was able to speak and take some nourishment, but it was observed that she never once made the slightest allusion to the disaster which had befallen Charles Lindsay. She sank into a habitual silence, and, unless when forced to ask for some of those usual attentions which her illness required, she never ventured to indulge in conversation on any subject whatsoever. One thing, however, struck Sarah Sullivan, which was, that in all her startings, both asleep and awake, and in all her unconscious ejaculations, that which appeared to press upon her most was the unceasing horror of the Evil Eye. The name of Charles Lindsay never escaped her, even in the feverish agitation of her dreams, nor in those exclamations of terror and alarm which she uttered.
"O, save me!—save me from his eye—he is killing me! Yes, Woodward is a devil—he is killing me—save me—save me!"
Well had the villain done his work; and how his web of iniquity was woven out we shall see.
On leaving Barney, that worthy gentleman sought his mother, and thus addressed her:—
"Mother," said he, apparently much moved, "this is a melancholy, and I trust in heaven it may not turn out a fatal, business. I'm afraid poor Charles's case is hopeless."
"O, may God forbid, poor boy!" exclaimed Mrs. Lindsay; "for, although he always joined his father against me, still he was in other respects most obliging to every one, and inoffensive to all."
"I know that, and I am sorry that this jade—and she is a handsome jade, they say—should have gained such a cursed influence over him. That, however, is not the question. We must think of nothing now but his recovery. The strictest attention ought to be paid to him; and as it has occurred to me that there is no female under this roof who understands the management of a sick bed, we ought, under these circumstances, to provide a nurse for him."
"Well, indeed, that is true enough, Harry, and it is very kind and considerate of you to think of it; but who will we get? The women here are very ignorant and stupid."
"I have been making inquiries," he replied, "and I am told there is a woman in Rathfillan, named Collins, niece to a religious herbalist or herb doctor, who possesses much experience in that way. It is just such a woman we want."
"Well, then, let her come; do you go and engage her; but see that she will not extort dishonest terms from you, because there is nothing but fraud and knavery among these wretches."
Harry lost little time in seeming the services of Caterine Collins, who was that very day established as nurse-tender in Charles Lindsay's sick room.
Alice's illness was now such as left little expectation of her recovery. She was stated, and with good reason, to be in a condition absolutely hopeless; and nothing could exceed the regret and sorrow which were felt for the benevolent and gentle girl. We say benevolent, because, since her accession to her newly-acquired property, her charities to the poor and distressed were bountiful and generous, almost beyond belief; and even during her illness she constituted her father as the agent—and a willing one he was—of her beneficence. In fact, the sorrow for her approaching death was deep and general, and the sympathy felt for her parents such as rarely occurs in life.
Of course it is unnecessary to say that these tidings of her hopeless illness did not reach the Lindsays. On the second morning after Harry's visit he asked for a private interview with his mother, which was accorded to him.
"Mother," said he, "you must pay the Goodwins another visit—a visit, mark you, of sympathy and condolence. You forget all the unpleasant circumstances that have occurred between the families. You forget everything but your anxiety for the recovery of poor, dear Alice."
"But," replied his mother, "I do not wish to go. Why should I go to express a sympathy which I do not feel? Her death is only a judicial punishment on them for having inveigled your silly old uncle to leave them the property which would have otherwise come to you as the natural heir."
"Mother," said her dutiful son, "you have a nose, and beyond that nose you never yet have been able to look with anything like perspicuity. If you don't visit them, your good-natured noodle of a husband will, and perhaps the result of that visit may cut us out of the property forever. At breakfast this morning you will propose the visit, which, mark you, is to be made in the name and on behalf of all the family. You, consequently, being the deputation on this occasion, both your husband and Maria will not feel themselves called upon to see them. You can, besides, say that her state of health precludes her from seeing any one out of her own family, and thus all risk of an explanation will be avoided. It is best to make everything safe; but that she can't live I know, because I feel that my power and influence are upon her, and that the force of this Evil Eye of mine has killed her. I told you this before, I think."
"Even so," said his mother; "it is only what I have said, a judicial punishment for their villany. Villany, Harry, never prospers."
"Egad, my dear mother," he replied, "I know of nothing so prosperous: look through life and you will see the villain thrive upon his fraud and iniquity, where the honest man—the man of integrity, who binds himself by all the principles of what are called honor and morality—is elbowed out of prosperity by the knave, the swindler, and the hypocrite. O, no, my dear mother, the two worst passports to independence and success in life are truth and honesty."
"Well, Harry, I am a bad logician, and will not dispute it with you; but I am far from well, and I don't think I shall be able to visit them for two or three davs at least."
"But, in the meantime, express your intention to do so—on behalf of the family, mark; assume your right as the proprietor of this place, and as its representative, and then your visit will be considered as the visit of the whole family. In the meantime, mark me, the girl is dead. I have accomplished that gratifying event, so that, after all, your visit will be a mere matter of form. When you reach their house you will probably find it the house of death."
"And then," replied his mother, "the twelve hundred a year is yours for life, and the property of your children after you. Thank God!"
That morning at breakfast she expressed her determination to visit the Goodwins, making it, she said, a visit from the family in general; such a visit, she added, as might be proper on their (the Lindsays) part, but yet such an act of neighborhood that, while it manifested sufficient respect for them, would preclude all hopes of any future intercourse between them.
Mr. Lindsay did not relish this much; but as he had no particular wish, in consequence of Charles's illness, to oppose her motives in making the visit, he said she might manage it as she wished—he would not raise a fresh breeze about it. He only felt that he was sincerely, sorry for the loss which the Goodwins were about to experience.
CHAPTER XV. The Banshee.—Disappearance of Grace Davoren.
In the meantime it was certainly an unquestionable fact that Grace Davoren had disappeared, and not even a trace of her could be found. The unfortunate girl, alarmed at the tragic incident of that woful night, and impressed with a belief that Charles Lindsay had been murdered by Shawn-na-Middogue, had betaken herself to some place of concealment which no search on behalf of her friends could discover. In fact, her disappearance was involved in a mystery as deep as the alarm and distress it occasioned. But what astonished the public most was the fact that Charles, whose whole life had been untainted by a single act of impropriety, much less of profligacy, should have been discovered in such a heartless and unprincipled intrigue with the daughter of one of his father's tenants, an innocent girl, who, as such, was entitled to protection rather than injury at his hands.
Whilst this tumult was abroad, and the country was in an unusual state of alarm and agitation, Harry Woodward took, matters very quietly. That he seemed to feel deeply for the uncertain and dangerous state of his brother, who lay suspended, as it were, between life and death, was evident to every individual of his family. He frequently took Caterine Collins's place, attended him personally, with singular kindness and affection, gave him his drinks and decoctions with his own hand; and, when the surgeon came to make his daily visit, the anxiety he evinced in ascertaining whether there was any chance of his recovery was most affectionate and exemplary. Still, as usual, he was out at night; but the mystery of his whereabouts, while absent, could never be penetrated. On those occasions he always went armed—a fact which he never attempted to conceal. On one of these nights it so happened that Barney Casey was called upon to attend at the wake of a relation, and, as his master's family were apprised of this circumstance, they did not of course expect him home until a late hour. He left the wake, however, earlier than he had proposed to do, for he found it a rather dull affair, and was on his way home when, to his astonishment, or rather to his horror, he saw Harry Woodward—also on his way home—in close conversation with the supernatural being so well known by description as the Shan-dhinne-dhuv; or Black Spectre. Now, Barney was half cowardly and half brave—that is to say, had he lived in an enlightened age he would have felt little terror of supernatural appearances; but at the period of our story such was the predominance of a belief in ghosts, fairies, evil spirits, and witches, that he should have been either less or more than man could he have shaken off the prevailing superstitions, and the gross credulity of the times in which he lived. As it was, he knew not what to think. He remembered the character which had been whispered abroad about Harry Woodward, and of his intercourse with supernatural beings—he was known to possess the Evil Eye; and it was generally understood that those who happened to be endowed with that accursed gift were aided in the exercises of it by the powers of darkness and of evil. What, then, was he to do? There probably was an opportunity of solving the mystery which hung around the midnight motions of Woodward. If there was a spirit before him, there was also a human being, in living flesh and blood—an acquaintance, too—an individual whom he personally knew, ready to sustain him, and afford, if necessary, that protection which, under such peculiar circumstances, one fellow-creature has a right to expect from another. Now Barney's way home led him necessarily—and a painful necessity it was—near the Haunted House; and he observed that the place where they stood, for they had ceased walking, was about fifty yards above that much dreaded mansion. He resolved, however, to make the plunge and advance, but deemed it only good manners to give some intimation of his approach. He was now within about twenty yards from them, and made an attempt at a comic song, which, however, quivered off into as dismal and cowardly a ditty as ever proceeded from human lips. Harry and the Spectre, both startled by the voice, turned round to observe his approach, when, to his utter consternation, the Shan-dhinne-dhuv sank, as it were, into the earth and disappeared. The hair rose upon Barney's head, and when Woodward called out:
"Who comes there?"
He could scarcely summon voice enough to reply:
"It's me, sir," said he; "Barney Casey."
"Come on, Barney," said Woodward, "come on quickly;" and he had scarcely spoken when Barney joined him.
"Barney," said he, "I am in a state of great terror. I have felt ever since I passed that Haunted House as if there was an evil spirit in my company. The feeling was dreadful, and I am very weak in consequence of it. Give me you arm."
"But did you see nothing, sir?" said Barney; "didn't it become visible to you?"
"No," replied the other; "but I felt as if I was in the presence of a supernatural being, and an evil one, too."
"God protect us, Mr. Harry! then, if you didn't see it I did."
"You did!" replied the other, startled; "and pray what was it like?"
"Why, a black ould man, sir; and, by all accounts that ever I could hear of it, it was nothing else than the Shan-dhinne-dhuv. For God's sake let us come home, sir, for this, if all they say be true, is unholy and cursed ground we're standin' on."
"And where did it disappear?" asked Woodward, leading him by a circuit from the spot where it had vanished.
"Just over there, sir," replied Barney, pointing to the place. "But, in God's name, let us make for home as fast as we can. I'll think every minute an hour till we get safe undher our own roof."
"Barney," said Woodward, solemnly, "I have a request to make of you, and it is this—the common report is, that the spirit in question follows our family—I mean by my mother's side. Now I beg, as you expect my good will and countenance, that, for my sake, and out of respect for the family in general, you will never breathe a syllable of what you have seen this night. It could answer no earthly purpose, and would only send abroad idle and unpleasant rumors throughout the country. Will you promise this?"
"Of course I promise it," replied Barney; "what object could I gain by repeatin' it?"
"None whatsoever. Well, then, be silent on the subject, and let us reach home as soon as we can."
It would be difficult to describe honest Barney's feelings as they went along. He imagined that he felt Harry's arm tremble within his, and when he thought of the reports concerning the evil spirit, and its connection with Mrs. Lindsay's family, his sensations were anything but comfortable. He tossed and tumbled that night for hours in his bed before he was able to sleep, and when he did sleep the Shan-dhinne-dhuv rendered his dreams feverish and frightful.
Precisely at this period, before Mrs. Lindsay had recovered from her indisposition, and could pay her intended visit to the Goodwins, a circumstance occurred which suggested to Harry Woodward one of the most remorseless and Satanic schemes that ever was concocted in the heart of man. He was in the habit occasionally of going down to the kitchen to indulge in a smoke and a piece of banter with the servants. One evening, whilst thus amusing himself, the conversation turned upon the prevailing superstitions of the day. Ghosts, witches, wizards; astrologers, fairies, leprechauns, and all that could be termed supernatural, or even related to or aided by it, were discussed at considerable length, and with every variety of feeling. Amongst the rest the Banshee was mentioned—a spirit of whose peculiar office and character Woodward, in consequence of his long absence from the country, was completely ignorant.
"The Banshee!" he exclaimed; "what kind of a spirit is that? I have never heard of it."
"Why, sir," replied Barney, who was present, "the Banshee—the Lord prevent us from hearin' her—is always the forerunner of death. She attends only certain families—principally the ould Milesians, and mostly Catholics, too; although, I believe, it's well known that she sometimes attends Protestants whose families have been Catholics or Milesians, until the last of the name disappears. So that, afther all, it seems she's not over-scrupulous about religion."
"But what do you mean by attending families?" asked Woodward; "what description of attendance or service does she render them?"
"Indeed, Mr. Harry," replied Barney, "anything but an agreeable attendance. By goxty, I believe every family she follows would be very glad to dispense with her attendance if they could."
"But that is not answering my question, Casey."
"Why, sir," proceeded Barney, "I'll answer it. Whenever the family that she follows is about to have a death in it, she comes a little time before the death tikes place, sits either undher the windy of the sick bed or somewhere near the house, and wails and cries there as if her very heart would break. They say she generally names the name of the party that is to die; but there is no case known of the sick person ever recoverin' afther she has given the warnin' of death."
"It is a strange and wild superstition," observed Woodward.
"But a very true one, sir," replied the cook; "every one knows that a Banshee follows the Goodwin family."
"What! the Goodwins of Beech Grove?" said Harry.
"Yes, sir," returned the cook; "they lost six children, and not one of them ever died that she did not give the warnin'."
"If poor Miss Alice heard it," observed Barney, "and she in the state she's in, she wouldn't live twenty-four hours afther it."
"According to what you say," observed Woodward, "that is, if it follows the family, of course it will give the warning in her case also."
"May God forbid," ejaculated the cook, "for it's herself, the darlin' girl, that 'ud be the bitther loss to the poor and destitute."
This kind ejaculation was fervently echoed by all her fellow-servants; and Harry, having finished his pipe, went to see how his brother's wound was progressing. He found him asleep, and Caterine Collins seated knitting a stocking at his bedside. He beckoned her to the lobby, where, in a low, guarded voice, the following conversation took place between them:
"Caterine, have you not a niece that sings well? Barney Casey mentioned her to me as possessing a fine voice."
"As sweet a voice, sir, as ever came from a woman's lips; but the poor thing is delicate and sickly, and I'm afeard not long for this world."
"Could she imitate a Banshee, do you think?"
"If ever woman could, she could. There's not her aquil at the keene, or Irish cry, livin'; she's the only one can bate myself at it."
"Well, Caterine, if you get her to go to Mr. Goodwin's to-morrow night and imitate the cry of the Banshee, I will reward her and you liberally for it. You are already well aware of my generosity."
"Indeed I am, Mr. Woodward; but if either you or I could insure her the wealth of Europe, we couldn't prevail on her to go by herself at night. Except by moonlight she wouldn't venture to cross the street of Rathfillan. As to her, you may put that out of the question. She's very handy, however, about a sick bed, and I might contrive, undher some excuse or other, to get her to take my place for a day or so. But here's your father. We will talk about it again."
She then returned to the sick room, and Harry met Mr. Lindsay on the stairs going up to inquire after Charles.
"Don't go up, sir," said he; "the poor fellow, thank God, is asleep, and the less noise about him the better."
Both then returned to the parlor.
About eleven o'clock the next night Sarah Sullivan was sitting by the bedside of her mistress, who was then, fortunately for herself, enjoying, what was very rare with her, an undisturbed sleep after the terror and agitation of the day, when a low, but earnest and sorrowful wailing was heard, immediately, she thought, under the window. It rose and fell alternately, and at the close of every division of the cry it pronounced the name of Alice Goodwin in tones of the most pathetic lamentation and woe. The natural heat and warmth seemed to depart out of the poor girl's body; she felt like an icicle, and the cold perspiration ran in torrents from her face.
"My darling misthress," thought she, "it's all over with you at last. There is the sign—the Banshee—and it is well for yourself that you don't hear it, because it would be the death of you at once. However, if I committed one mistake about Misther Charles's misfortune, I will not commit another. You shall never hear of this from me."
The cry was then heard more distant and indistinct, but still loaded with the same mournful expression of death and sorrow; but in a little time it died away in the distance, and was then heard no more.
Sarah, though she had judiciously resolved to keep this awful intimation a secret from Miss Goodwin, considered it her duty to disclose it to her parents. We shall not dwell, however, upon the scene which occurred on the occasion. A belief in the existence and office of the Banshee was, at the period of which we write, almost universally held by the peasantry, and even about half a century ago it was one of the strongest dogmas of popular superstition. After the grief of the parents had somewhat subsided at this dreadful intelligence, Mr. Goodwin asked Sarah Sullivan if his daughter had heard the wail of this prophetic spirit of death; and on her answering in the negative, he enjoined, her never to breathe a syllable of the circumstance to her; but she told him she had come to that conclusion herself, as she felt certain, she said, that the knowledge of it would occasion her mistress's almost immediate death.
"At all events," said her master; "by the doctor's advice we shall leave this place tomorrow morning; he says if she has any chance it will be in a change of air, of society, and of scenery. Everything here has associations and recollections that are painful, and even horrible to her. If she is capable of bearing an easy journey we shall set out for the Spa of Ballyspellan, in the county of Kilkenny. He thinks the waters of that famous spring may prove beneficial to her. If the Banshee, then, is anxious to fulfil its mission it must follow us. They say it always pays three visits, but as yet it has paid us only one."
Mrs. Lindsay had now recovered from her slight indisposition, and resolved to pay the last formal visit to the Goodwins,—a visit which was to close all future intercourse between the families; and our readers are not ignorant of her motives for this, nor how completely and willingly she was the agent of her son Harry's designs. She went in all her pomp, dressed in satins and brocades, and attended by Barney Casey in full livery. Her own old family carriage had been swept of its dust and cobwebs, and put into requisition on this important occasion. At length they reached Beech Grove, and knocked at the door, which was opened by our old Mend, Tom Kennedy.
"My good man," she asked, "are the family at home?"
"What! not at home, and Miss Goodwin so ill?—dying, I am told. Perhaps, in consequence of her health, they do not wish to see strangers. Go and say that Mrs. Lindsay, of Rathnllan House, is here."
"Ma'am, they are not at home; they have left Beech Grove for some time."
"Left Beech Grove!" she exclaimed; "and pray where are they gone to? I thought Miss Goodwin was not able to be removed."
"It was do or die with her," replied Tom. "The doctor said there was but one last chance—change of air, and absence from dangerous neighbors."
"But you did not tell me where they are gone to."
"I did not, ma'am, and for the best reason in life—because I don't know."
"You don't know! Why, is it possible they made a secret of such a matter?"
"Quite possible, ma'am, and to the back o' that they swore every one of us upon the seven gospels never to tell any individual, man or woman, where they went to."
"But did they not tell yourselves?"
"Devil a syllable, ma'am."
"And why, then, did they swear you to secrecy?"
"Why, of course, ma'am, to make us keep the secret."
"But why swear you, I ask again, to keep a secret which you did not know?"
"Why, ma'am, because they knew that in that case there was little danger of our committin' parjury; and because every saicret which one does not know is sure to be kept."
She looked keenly at him, and added, "I'm inclined to think, sirrah, that you are impertinent."
"Very likely, ma'am," replied Tom, with great gravity. "I've a strong notion of that myself. My father before me was impertinent, and his last dying words to me were, 'Tom, I lay it as a last injunction upon you to keep up the principles of our family, and always to show nothing but impertinence to those who don't deserve respect.'"
With a face scarlet from indignation she immediately ordered her carriage home, but before it had arrived there the intelligence from another source had reached the family, together with the fact that the Banshee had been heard by Mr. Goodwin's servants under Miss Alice's window. Such, indeed, was the fact; and the report of the circumstance had spread through half the parish before the hour of noon next day.
The removal of Alice sank heavily upon the heart of Harry Woodward; it seemed to him as if she had gone out of his grasp, and from under the influence of his eye, for, by whatever means he might accomplish it, he was resolved to keep the deadly power of that eye upon her. He had calculated upon the voice and prophetic wail of the Banshee as being fatal in her then state of health; or was it this ominous and supernatural foreboding of her dissolution that caused them to fly from the place? He reasoned, as the reader may perceive, upon the principle of the Banshee being, according to the superstitious notions entertained of her, a real supernatural visitant, and not the unscrupulous and diabolical imitation of her by Catherine Collins. Still he thought it barely possible that the change of air and the waters of the celebrated spring might recover her, notwithstanding all his inhuman anticipations. His brother, also, according to the surgeon's last report, afforded hopes of convalescence. A kind of terror came over him that his plans might fail, because he felt almost certain that if Alice and his brother both recovered, Mr. Lindsay might, or rather would, mount his old hobby, and insist on having them married, in the teeth of all opposition on the part of either himself or his mother. This was a gloomy prospect for him, and one which he could not contemplate without falling back upon still darker schemes.
After the night on which Barney Casey had seen him and the Black Spectre together we need scarcely say that he watched Barney closely, nor that Barney watched him with as keen a vigilance. Whatever Woodward may have actually felt upon the subject of the apparition, Barney was certainly undecided as to its reality; or if there existed any bias at all, it was in favor of that reality. Why did Woodward's arm tremble, and why did the man, who was supposed ignorant of fear, exhibit so much terror and agitation on the occasion? Still, on the other hand, there appeared to be a conversation, as it were, between them, and a familiarity of manner considerably at variance with Woodward's version of the circumstances. Be this as it might, he felt it to be a subject on which he could, by no process of reasoning, come to anything like a definite conclusion.
Woodward now determined to consult his mother as to the plan of their future operations. The absence of Alice, and the possible chance of her recovery, rendered it necessary that some new series of projects should be adopted; but although several had occurred to him, he had not yet come to a definite resolution respecting the selection he would make. With this view he and his conscientious mother closeted themselves in her room, and discussed the state of affairs in the following dialogue:
"Mother," said he, "this escape of Miss Curds-and-whey is an untoward business. What, after all, if she should recover?"
"Recover!" exclaimed the lady; "why, did you not assure me that such an event was impossible—that you were killing her, and that she must die?"
"So I still think; but so long as the notion of her recovery exists, even only as a dream, so certainly ought we to provide against such a calamity."
"Ah! Harry," she exclaimed, "you may well term it a calamity, for such indeed it would be to you."
"Well, but what do you think ought to be done, my dear mother? I am anxious to have both your advice and opinion upon our future proceedings. Suppose change of air—the waters of that damned brimstone spring, and above all things, the confidence she will derive from the consciousness that she is removed from me and out of my reach—suppose, I say, that all these circumstances should produce a beneficial effect upon her, then how do I stand?"
"Why, with very little hope of the property," she replied; "and then what tenacity of life she has! Why, there are very few girls who would not have been dead long ago, if they had gone through half what she has suffered. Well, you wish to ask me how I would advise you to act?"
"Of course I do."
"Well, then, you have heard the old proverb: It is good to have two strings to one's bow. We shall set all consideration of her aside for a time, and turn our attention to another object."
"What or who is that, mother?"
"You remember I mentioned some time ago the names of a neighboring nobleman and his niece, who lives with him. The man I allude to as Lord Bilberry, but is now Earl of Cockletown. He was raised to this rank for some services he rendered the government against the tories, who had been devastating the country, and also against some turbulent papists who were supposed to have privately encouraged them in their outrages against Protestant life and property. He was a daring and intrepid man when in his prime of life, and appeared to seek danger for its own sake. He is now an old man, although a young peer, and was always considered eccentric, which he is to the present day. Some people look upon him as a fool, and others as a knave; but in balancing his claims to each, it has never yet been determined on which side the scale would sink. He is the proprietor of a little fishing village on the coast, and on this account he assumed the title of Cockletown; and when he built himself a mansion, as they term it, he would have it called by no other name than that of Cockle Hall. It is true he laughs at the thing himself, and considers it a good joke."
"And so it is," replied her son; "but what about the lady, his niece?"
"Why, she is a rather interesting person."
"Yes, about thirty-four or so; but she will inherit his property."
"And have you any notion of what that may amount to?" asked her calculating son.
"I could not exactly say," she replied; "but I believe it is handsome. A great deal of it is mountain, but they say there are large portions of it capable of being reclaimed."
"But how can the estate go to her?"
"Simply because there is no other heir," replied his mother; "they are the last of the family. It is not entailed."
"Thirty-four!" ruminated Woodward. "Well, I have seen very fine girls at thirty-four; but in personal appearance and manner what is she like?"
"Why, perhaps a critical eye might not call her handsome; but the general opinion on that point is in her favor. Her manners are agreeable, so are her features; but it is said that she is fastidious in her lovers, and has rejected many. It is true most of them were fortune-hunters, and deserved no better success."
"But what do you call me, mother?"
"Surely not a fortune-hunter, Harry. Is not there your granduncle's large property who is a bachelor, and you are his favorite."
"But don't you know, mother, that, as respects my granduncle, I have confided that secret to you already?"
"I know no such thing, you fool," she replied, looking at him with an expression in her odious eyes which could not be described; "I am altogether ignorant of that fact; but is there not the twelve hundred per annum which reverts to you on the demise of that dying girl?"
"True, my dear mother, true; you are right, I am a fool. Of course I never told you the secret of my disinheritance by the old scoundrel."
"Ah, Harry, I fear you played your cards badly there. You knew he was religious, and yet you should become a seducer; but why make free with his money?"
"Why? Why, because he kept me upon the tight curb; but, as these matters are known only to ourselves, I see you are right. I am still to be considered his favorite—his heir—and am here only on, a visit."
"Well, but, Harry, he must have dealt liberally with you on your departure from him?"
"He! Don't you know I was obliged to fly?—to take French leave, I assure you. I reached Rathfillan House with not more than twenty pounds in my pocket."
"But how does it happen that you always appear to have plenty of money?"
"My dear mother, there is a secret there; but it is one which even you shall not know,—or come, you shall know it. Did you ever hear of a certain supernatural being which follows your family, which supernatural being is known by the name of the Black Spectre, or some such denomination which I cannot remember?"
"I don't wish to hear it named," replied his mother, deeply agitated. "It resembles the Banshee, and never appears to any one of our family except as a precursor of his death by violence."
Woodward started for a moment, and could not avoid being struck at the coincidence of the same mission having been assigned to the two spirits, and he reflected, with an impression that was anything but agreeable, upon his damnable suggestion of having had recourse to the vile agency of Caterine Collins in enacting the said Banshee, for the purpose of giving the last fatal blow to the almost dying Alice Goodwin. He felt, and he had reason to feel, that there was a mystery about the Black Spectre, which, for the life of him, he could not fathom. He was, however, a firm and resolute man, and after a moment or two's thought he declined to make any further disclosure on the subject, but reverted to the general topic of their conversation.
"Well, mother," said he, "after all, your speculation may not be a bad one; but pray, what is the lady's name?"
"Riddle—Miss Riddle. She is of the Clan-Riddle family, a close relation to the Nethersides of Middle town."
"And a devilish enigmatical name it is," replied her son, "as is that of all her connections."
"Yes, but they were always close and prudent people, who kept their opinions to themselves, and wrought their way in the world with great success, and without giving offence to any party. If you marry her, Harry, I would advise you to enter public life, recommend yourself to the powers that be, and, my word for it, you stand a great chance of having the title of Cockletown revived in your person."
"Well, although the title is a ridiculous one, I should have no objection to it, notwithstanding; but there will certainly arise some difficulty when we come to the marriage settlements. There will be sharp lawyers there, whom we cannot impose upon; and you know, mother, I am without any ostensible property."
"Yes, but we can calculate upon the death of cunning Alice, who, by her undue and flagitious influence over your uncle, left you so."
"Ay, but such a calculation would never do either with her uncle or the lawyers. I think we have nothing to fall back upon, mother, but your own property. If you settle that upon me everything will go right."
"And leave myself depending upon Lindsay? No, no," replied this selfish and penurious woman; "never, Harry—never, never; you must wait until I die for that. But I can tell you what we can do; let us enter upon the negotiation—let us say for the time being that you have twelve hundred a-year, and, while the business is proceeding, what is there to prevent you from going to recruit your health at Balleyspellan, and kill out Alice Goodwin there, as well as if she remained at home? By this plan, before the negotiations are closed, you will be able to meet Miss Riddle with twelve hundred a-year at your back. Alice Goodwin! O, how I hate and detest her—ay, as I do hell!"
"The plan," replied her son, "is an excellent one. We will commence operations with Lord Cockletown and Miss Riddle, in the first place; and having opened negotiations, as you say, I shall become unwell, and go for a short time to try what efficacy the waters of Ballyspellan may have on my health—or rather on my fortunes."
"We shall visit them to-morrow," said the mother.
"So be it," replied the son; and to this resolution they came, which closed the above interesting dialogue between them. We say interesting, for if it has not been such to the reader, it was so at least to themselves.
CHAPTER XVI. A House of Sorrow.
—After which follows a Courting Scene.
The deep sorrow and desolation of spirit introduced by the profligate destroyer into the humble abode of peace and innocence is an awful thing to contemplate. In our chapter headed "The Wake of a Murderer" we have attempted to give a picture of it. The age, indeed, was one of licentiousness and profligacy. The reigning monarch, Charles the Second, of infamous memory, had set the iniquitous example to his subjects, and surrounded his court by an aristocratic crew, who had scarcely anything to recommend them but their imitation of his vices, and this was always a passport to his favor, whilst virtue, morality, and honor were excluded with contempt and derision. In fact, the corrupt atmosphere of his court carried its contagion throughout the empire, until the seduction of female innocence became the fashion of the day, and no man could consider himself entitled to a becoming position in society who had not distinguished himself by half a dozen criminal intrigues either with the wives or daughters of his acquaintances. When we contemplate for a moment the contrast between the abandoned court of that royal profligate, and that under which we have the happiness to live—the one, a sty of infamy, licentiousness, and corruption; the other, a well, undented of purity, virtue, and honor, to whose clear mind unadulterated waters nothing equivocal, or even questionable, dares to approach, much less the base or the tainted—we say that, on instituting this comparison and contrast, the secret of that love and affectionate veneration which we bear to our pure and highminded Queen, and the pride which we feel in the noble example which she and her Royal Consort have set us, requires no illustration whatsoever. The affection and gratitude of her people are only the meed due to her virtues and to his. We need not apologize to our readers for this striking contrast. The period and the subject of our narrative, as well as the melancholy scene to which we are about to introduce the reader, rendered it an impossibility to avoid it.