"I'll see you when I come back, Eody; don't be from about the place."
And as he spoke, a single spring brought him over the stile at which they held the foregoing conversation.
On advancing, he found himself in one of his father's fields, under the shelter of an elder-hedge. Here he paused, and seemed still somewhat uncertain as to the direction in which he should proceed. At length he decided; the way towards Peggy Gartland's was that which he took, and as he walked rapidly, he soon found himself at the village in which she lived.
It was now a little after twilight; the night was clear the moon being in her first quarter, and the clouds through which she appeared to struggle, were light and fleecy, but rather cold-looking, such, in short, as would seem to promise a sudden fall of snow. Frank had passed the two first cabins of the village, and was in the act of parrying the attacks of some yelping cur that assailed him, when he received a slap on the back, accompanied by a gho manhi Dhea gliud, a Franchas, co wul thu guilh a nish, a rogora duh?*
* God save you, Frank! where are you going now, you black rogue?
"Who's this?" exclaimed Frank: "eh! why, Darby More, you sullin' thief o' the world, is this you?"
"Ay, indeed; an' you're goin' down to Peggy's?" said the the other, pointing significantly towards Peggy Gartland's house. "Well, man, what's the harm? She may get worse, that is, hopin' still that you'll mend your manners, a bouchal: but isn't your nose out o' joint there, Frank, darlin'?"
"No sich thing at all, Darby," replied Frank, gulping down his indignation, which rose afresh on hearing that the terms on which he stood with Peggy were so notorious.
"Throth but it is," said Darby, "an' to tell the blessed thruth, I'm not sarry that it's out o' joint; for when I tould you to lave the case in my hands, along wid a small thrifle o' silver that didn't signify much to you—whoo! not at all: you'd rather play it at cards, or dhrink it, or spind it wid no good. Out o' joint! nrasha, if ever a man's nose was to be pitied, and yours is: why, didn't Mike Reillaghan put it out o' joint, twist? first in regard to Peggy, and secondly by the batin' he gave you an it."
"It's well known, Darby," replied Frank, "that 'twas by a chance blow he did it; and, you know, a chance blow might kill the devil."
"But there was no danger of Mike's gettin' the chance blow," observed the sarcastic vagrant, for such he was.
"Maybe it's afore him," replied his companion: "we'll have another thrial for it, any how; but where are you goin', Darby? Is it to the dance?"
Me! Is it a man "wid two holy ordhers an him?* No, no! I might go up, may be, as far as your father's, merely to see the family, only for the night that's in it; but I'm goin' to another frind's place to spind my Chris'mas, an' over an' above, I must go to the Midnight Mass. Frank, change your coorses, an' mend your life, an' don't be the talk o' the parish. Remimber me to the family, an' say I'll see them soon."
* The religious orders, as they are termed, most commonly entered into by the peasantry, are those of the Scapular and St. Francis. The order of Jesus—or that of the Jesuits, is only entered into by the clergy and the higher lay classes.
"How long will you stop in the neighborhood?" inquired Frank.
"Arrah why, acushla?" replied the mendicant, softening his language.
"I might be wantin to see you some o' these days," said the other: "indeed, it's not unlikely, Darby; so don't go, any how, widout seein' me."
"Ah!" said Darby, "had you taken a fool's advice—but it can't be helped now—the harm's done, I doubt; how-an'-ever, for the matther o' that, may be I have as good as Peggy in my eye for you; by the same token, as the night's could, warm your tooth, avick; there's waker wather nor this in Lough Mecall. Sorra sup of it over I keep for my own use at all, barrin' when I take a touch o' configuration in my bowels, or, may be, when I'm too long at my prayers; for, God help me, sure I'm but sthrivin', wid the help o' one thing an' another, to work out my salvation as well as I can! Your health, any how, an' a merry Chris'mas to you!—not forgettin' myself," he added, putting to his lips a large cow's horn, which he kept slung beneath his arm, like the bugle of a coach-guard, only that this was generally concealed by an outside coat, no two inches of which were of the same materials of color. Having taken a tolerably large draught from this, which, by the "way, held near two quarts, he handed it with a smack and a shrug to Frank, who immediately gave it a wipe with the skirt of his coat, and pledged his companion.
"I'll be wantin'," observed Frank, "to see you in the hollydays—faith, that stuff's to be christened yet, Darby—so don't go till we have a dish o' discoorse about somethin' I'll mintion to you. As for Peggy Gartland, I'm done wid her; she may marry ould Nick for me."
"Or you for ould Nick," said the cynic, "which would be nearly the same thing: but go an, avick, an' never heed me; sure I must have my spake—doesn't every body know Darby More?"
"I've nothin' else to say now," added Frank, "and you have my authority to spread it as far as you plase. I'm done wid her: so good-night, an' good cuttin' (* May what's in it never fail) to your horn, Darby!—You damn ould villian!" he subjoined in a low voice, when Darby had got out of his hearing: "surely it's not in yourself, but in the blessed words and things you have about you, that there is any good."
"Musha, good-night, Frank alanna," replied the other;—"an' the divil sweep you, for a skamin' vagabone, that's a curse to the country, and has kep me out o' more weddins than any one I ever met wid, by your roguery in puttin' evil between frinds an' neighbors, jist whin they'd be ready for the priest to say the words over them! Good won't come of you, you profligate."
The last words were scarcely uttered by the sturdy mendicant, when he turned round to observe whether or not Frank would stop at Larry Gartland's, the father of the girl to whom he had hitherto unsuccessfully avowed his attachment.
"I'd depind an him," said he, in a soliloquy, "as soon as I'd depind upon ice of an hour's growth: an', whether or not, sure as I'm an my way to Owen Reillaghan's, the father of the dacent boy that he's strivin' to outdo, mayn't I as well watch his motions, any way?"
He accordingly proceeded along the shadowy side of the street, in order to avoid Frank's eye, should he chance to look back, and quietly dodged on until he fairly saw him enter the house.
Having satisfied himself that the object of Frank's visit to the village was in some shape connected with Peggy Gartland, the mendicant immediately retraced his steps, and at a pace more rapid than usual, strided on to Owen Reillaghan's, whither he arrived just in time to secure an excellent Christmas-eve dinner.
In Ireland, that description of mendicants which differ so strikingly from the common crowd of beggars as to constitute a distinct species, comprehends within itself as anomalous an admixture of fun and devotion, external rigor and private licentiousness, love of superstition and of good whiskey, as might naturally be supposed, without any great sketch of credulity, to belong to men thrown among a people in whom so many extremes of character and morals meet. The known beggar, who goes his own rounds, and has his own walk, always adapts his character to that of his benefactor, whose whims and peculiarities of temper he studies with industry, and generally with success. By this means, joined to a dexterity in tracing out the private history of families and individuals, he is enabled to humor the capprices, to manage the eccentricities, and to touch with a masterly hand the prejudices, and particular opinions, of his patrons; and this he contrives to do with great address and tact. Such was the character of Darby More, whose person, naturally large, was increased to an enormous size by the number of coats, blankets, and bags, with which he was encumbered. A large belt, buckled round his body, contained within its girth much more of money, meal, and whiskey, than ever met the eye; his hat was exceedingly low in the crown; his legs were cast in at least three pairs of stockings; and in his hand he carried a long cant, spiked at the lower end, with which he slung himself over small rivers and dykes, and kept dogs at bay. He was a devotee, too, notwithstanding the whiskey horn under his arm; attended wakes, christenings, and weddings: rubbed for the rose (* a scrofulous swelling) and king's evil, (for the varlet insisted that he was a seventh son); cured toothaches, colics, and headaches, by charms; but made most money by a knack which he possessed of tatooing into the naked breast the representation of Christ upon the cross. This was a secret of considerable value, for many of the superstitious people believed that by having this stained in upon them, they would escape unnatural deaths, and be almost sure of heaven.
When Darby approached Reillaghan's house, he was considering the propriety of disclosing to his son the fact of having left his rival with Peggy Gartland. He ultimately determined that it would be proper to do so; for he was shrewd enough to suspect that the wish Frank had expressed of seeing him before he left the country, was but a ruse to purchase his silence touching his appearance in the village. In this, however, he was mistaken.
"God save the house!" exclaimed Darby, on entering—"God save the house, an' all that's in it! God save it to the North!" and he formed the sign of the cross in every direction to which he turned: "God save it to the South! + to the Aiste! + and to the Waiste! + Save it upwards! + and save it downwards! + Save it backwards! + and save it forwards! + Save it right! + and save it left! + Save it by night! + save it by day! + Save it here! + save it there! + Save it this way! + an' save it that way! + Save it atin'! + + + an' save it drinkin'! + + + + + + + + Oxis Doxis Glorioxis—Amin. An' now that I've blessed the place in the name of the nine Patriarchs, how are yez all, man, woman, an' child? An' a merry Christmas to yez, says Darby More!"
Darby, in the usual spirit of Irish hospitality, received a sincere welcome, was placed up near the fire, a plate filled with the best food on the table laid before him, and requested to want nothing for the asking.
"Why, Darby," said Reillaghan, "we expected you long ago: why didn't you come sooner?"
"The Lord's will be done! for ev'ry man has his throubles," replied Darby, stuffing himself in the corner like an Epicure; "an' why should a sinner like me, or the likes of me, be without thim? 'Twas a dhrame I had last night that kep me. They say, indeed, that dhrames go by contriaries, but not always, to my own knowledge."
"An' what was the dhrame about, Darby?" inquired Reillaghan's wife.
"Why, ma'am, about some that I see on this hearth, well, an' in good health; may they long live to be so! Oxis Doxis Glorioxis—Amin!" + + +
"Blessed Virgin! Darby, sure it would be nothin' bad that's to happen? Would it, Darby?"
"Keep yourself aisy on that head. I have widin my own mind the power of makin' it come out for good—I know the prayer for it. Oxis Doxis!" + +
"God be praised for that, Darby; sure it would be a terrible business, all out, if any thing was to happen. Here's Mike that was born on Whissle * Monday, of all days in the year, an' you know, they say that any child born on that day is to die an unnatural death. We named Mike after St. Michael that he might purtect him."
* The people believe the superstition to be as is stated above. Any child born on Whitsunday, or the day after, is supposed to be doomed to die an unnatural death. The consequence is, that the child is named after and dedicated to some particular saint, in the hope that his influence may obviate his evil doom.
"Make yourself aisy, I say; don't I tell you I have the prayer to keep it back—hach! hach!—why, there's a bit stuck in my throath, some way! Wurrah dheelish, what's this! Maybe, you could give me a sup o' dhrink—wather, or anything to moisten the morsel I'm atin? Wurrah, ma'am dear, make haste, it's goin' agin' the breath wid me!"
"Oh, the sorra taste o' wather, Darby," said Owen; "sure this is Christmas-eve, you know: so you see, Darby, for ould acquaintance sake, an' that you may put up an odd prayer now an' thin for us, jist be thryin' this."
Darby honored the gift by immediate acceptance.
"Well, Owen Reillaghan," said he, "you make me take more o' this stuff nor any man I know; and particularly by rason that bein' given, wid a blessin', to the ranns, an' prayers, an' holy charms, I don't think it so good; barrin', indeed, as Father Donnellan towld me, when the wind, by long fastin', gets into my stomach, as was the case today, I'm often throubled, God help me, wid a configuration in the—hugh! ugh—an' thin it's good for me—a little of it."
"This would make a brave powdher-horn, Darby Moore," observed one of Reilla-ghan's sons, "if it wasn't so big. What do you keep in it, Darby?"
"Why, avillish, (* my sweet) nothin' indeed but a sup o' Father Donnellan's holy water, that they say by all accounts it costs him great trouble to make, by rason that he must fast a long time, and pray by the day, afore he gets himself holy enough to consecrate it."
"It smells like whiskey, Darby," said the boy, without any intention, however, of offending him. "It smells very like poteen."
"Hould yer tongue, Risthard," said the elder Reillaghan; "what 'ud make the honest man have whiskey in it? Didn't he tell you what's in it?"
"The gorsoon's right enough," replied Darby. "I got the horn from Barny Dalton a couple o' days agone; 'twas whiskey he had in it, an' it smells of it sure enough, an' will, indeed, for some time longer. Och! och! the heavens be praised, I've made a good dinner! May they never know want that gave it to me! Oxis Doxis Glorioxis—Amin!" + + +
"Darby, thry this again," said Reillaghan, offering him another bumper.
"Troth an' I will, thin, for I find myself a great dale the betther of the one I tuck. Well, here's health an' happiness to us, an' may we all meet in heaven! Risthard, hand me that horn till I be goin' out to the barn, in ordher to do somethin' for my sowl. The holy wather's a good thing to have about one."
"But the dhrame, Darby?" inquired Mrs. Reillaghan. "Won't you tell it to us?"
"Let Mike follow me to the barn," he replied, "an' I'll tell him as much of it as he ought to hear. An' now let all of yez prepare for the Midnight Mass; go there wid proper intuitions, an' not to be coortin' or dhrinkin' by the way. We're all sinners, any way, an' oughtn't to neglect our sowls. Oxis Doxis Glorioxis. Amin!"
He immediately strided with the horn under his arm, towards the barn, where he knelt, and began his orisons in a tone sufficiently loud to be heard in the kitchen. When he was gone, Mrs. Reillaghan, who, with the curiosity natural to her sex, and the superstition peculiar to her station in life, felt anxious to hear Darby's dream, urged Mike to follow him forthwith, that he might prevail on him to detail it at full length.
Darby, who knew not exactly what the dream ought to be, replied to Mike's inquiries vaguely.
"Mike," said he, "until the proper time comes, I can't tell it; but listen; take my advice, an' slip down to Peggy Gartland's by and by. I have strong suspicions, if my dhrame is thrue, that Frank M'Kenna has a design upon her. People may be abroad this night widout bein' noticed, by rason o' the Midnight Mass; Frank has, friends in Kilnaheery, down behind the moors; an' the divil might tempt him to bring her there. Keep your eye an him, or rather an Peggy. If my dhrame's true, he was there this night."
"I thought I gave him enough on her account," said. Mike. "The poor girl hasn't a day's pace in regard of him; but, plase goodness, I'll soon put an end to it, for I'll marry her durin' the Hollydays."
"Go, avick, an' let me finish my Pudheran Partha: I have to get through it before the Midnight Mass comes. Slip down, and find out what he was doin'; and when you come back, let me know."
Mike, perfectly aware of young M'Kenna's character, immediately went towards Lisrum, for so the village where Peggy Gartland lived was called. He felt the danger to be apprehended from the interference of his rival the more acutely, inasmuch as he was not ignorant of the feuds and quarrels which the former had frequently produced between friends and neighbors, by the subtle poison of his falsehoods, which were both wanton and malicious. He therefore advanced at an unusually brisk pace, and had nearly reached the village, when he perceived in the distance a person resembling Frank approaching him at a pace nearly as rapid as his own.
"If it's Frank M'Kenna," thought he, "he must pass me, for this is his straight line home."
It appeared, however, that he had been mistaken; for he whom he had supposed to be the object of his enmity, crossed the field by a different path, and seemed to be utterly ignorant of the person whom he was about to meet—so far, at least, as a quick, free, unembarrassed step could intimate his unacquaintance with him.
The fact, however, was, that Reillaghan, had the person whom he met approached him more nearly, would have found his first suspicions correct. Frank was then on his return from Gartland's, and no sooner perceived Reillaghan, whom he immediately recognized by his great height, than he took another path in order to avoid him. The enmity between these rivals was, deep and implacable; aggravated on the one hand by a sense of unmerited injury, and on the other by personal defeat and the bitterest jealousy. For this reason neither of them wished to meet, particularly Frank M'Kenna, who not only hated, but feared his enemy.
Having succeeded in avoiding Reillaghan, the latter soon reached home; but here he found the door closed, and the family, without a single exception, in the barn, which was now nearly crowded with the youngsters of both sexes from the surrounding villages.
Frank's arrival among them gave a fresh impulse to their mirth and enjoyment. His manners were highly agreeable, and his spirits buoyant almost to levity. Notwithstanding the badness of his character in the opinion of the sober, steady, and respectable inhabitants of the parish, yet he was a favorite with the desolate and thoughtless, and with many who had not an opportunity of seeing him except in his most favorable aspect. Whether he entertained on this occasion any latent design that might have induced him to assume a frankness of manner, and an appearance of good-humor, which he did not feel, it is difficult to determine. Be this as it may, he made himself generally agreeable, saw that every one was comfortable, suggested an improvement in the arrangement of the seats, broke several jests on Bariry and Granua Waile—which, however, were returned with interest—and, in fact, acquitted himself so creditably, that his father whispered with a sigh to his mother—"Alley, achora, wouldn't we be the happy family if that misfortunate boy of ours was to be always the thing he appears to be? God help him! the gommach, if he had sinse, and the fear o' God before him, he'd not be sich a pace o' desate to sthrangers, and such a divil's limb wid ourselves: but he's young, an' may see his evil coorses in time, wid the help o' God."
"Musha, may God grant it!" exclaimed his mother: "a fine slip he is, if his heart 'ud only turn to the right thoughts. One can't help feelin' pride out o' him, when they see him actin' wid any kind o' rason."
The Irish dance, like every other assembly composed of Irishmen and Irishwomen, presents the spectators with those traits which enter into our conception of rollicking fun and broad humor. The very arrangements are laughable; and when joined to the eccentric strains of some blind fiddler like Barny Dhal, to the grotesque and caricaturish faces of the men, and the modest, but evidently arch and laughter-loving countenances of the females, they cannot fail to impress an observing mind with the obvious truth, that a nation of people so thoughtless and easily directed from the serious and useful pursuits of life to such scenes, can seldom be industrious and wealthy, nor, despite their mirth and humor, a happy people.
The barn in which they danced on this occasion was a large one. Around the walls were placed as many seats as could be spared from the neighbors' houses; these were eked out by sacks of corn laid length-wise, logs of round timber, old creels, iron pots with their bottoms turned up, and some of them in their usual position. On these were the youngsters seated, many of the "boys" with their sweethearts on their knees, the arms of the fair ones lovingly around their necks; and, on the contrary many of the young women with their bachelors on their laps, their own necks also gallantly encircled by the arms of their admirers. Up in a corner sat Barny, surrounded by the seniors of the village, sawing the fiddle with indefatigable vigor, and leading the conversation with equal spirit. Indeed, his laugh was the loudest, and his joke the best; whilst, ever and anon, his music became perfectly furious—that is to say, when he rasped the fiddle with a desperate effort "to overtake the dancers," from whom, in the heat of the conversation, he had unwittingly lagged behind.
Dancing in Ireland, like everything else connected with the amusement of the people, is frequently productive of bloodshed. It is not unusual for crack dancers from opposite parishes, or from distant parts of the same parish, to meet and dance against each other for victory. But as the judges in those cases consist of the respective friends or factions of the champions, their mode of decision may readily be conjectured. Many a battle is fought in consequence of such challenges, the result usually being that not he who has the lightest heel, but the hardest head, generally comes off the conqueror.
While the usual variety of Irish dances—the reel, jig, fling, three-part-reel, four-part-reel, rowly-powly, country-dance, cotillion, or cut-along (as the peasantry call it), and minuet, vulgarly minion, and minionet—were going forward in due rotation, our readers may be assured that those who were seated around the walls did not permit the time to pass without improving it. Many an attachment is formed at such amusements, and many a bitter jealousy is excited: the prude and coquette, the fop and rustic Lothario, stand out here as prominently to the eye of him who is acquainted with human nature, as they do in similar assemblies among the great: perhaps more so, as there is less art, and a more limited knowledge of intrigue, to conceal their natural character.
The dance in Ireland usually commences with those who sit next the door, from whence it goes round with the sun. In this manner it circulates two or three times, after which the order is generally departed from, and they dance according as they can. This neglect of the established rule is also a fertile source of discord; for when two persons rise at the same time, if there be not room for both, the right of dancing first is often decided by blows.
At the dance we are describing, however, there was no dissension; every heart appeared to be not only elated with mirth, but also free from resentment and jealousy. The din produced by the thumping of vigorous feet upon the floor, the noise of the fiddle, the chat between Barny and the little sober knot about him, together with the brisk murmur of the general conversation, and the expression of delight which sat on every countenance, had something in them elevating to the spirits.
Barny, who knew their voices, and even the mode of dancing peculiar to almost every one in the barn, had some joke for each. When a young man brings out his sweetheart—which he frequently does in a manner irresistibly ludicrous, sometimes giving a spring from the earth, his caubeen set with a knowing air on one side of his head, advancing at a trot on tiptoe, catching her by the ear, leading her out to her position, which is "to face the fiddler," then ending by a snap of the fingers, and another spring, in which he brings his heel backwards in contact with his ham;—we say, when a young man brings out his sweetheart, and places her facing the fiddler, he asks her what will she dance; to which, if she as no favorite tune, she uniformly replies—"Your will is my pleasure." This usually made Barny groan aloud.
"What ails you, Barny?"
"Oh, thin, murdher alive, how little thruth's in this world! Your will's my pleassure! Baithirshin! but, sowl, if things goes an, it won't be long so!"
"Why, Barny," the young man would exclaim, "is the ravin' fit comin' over you?"
"No, in troth, Jim; but it's thinkin' of home I am. Howandiver, do you go an; but, naboklish! what'll ye have?"
"'Jig Polthouge,' Barny: but on your wrist ma bouchal, or Katty will lave us both ut o' sight in no time. Whoo! success! clear the coorse. Well done, Barny! That's the go."
When the youngsters had danced for some time, the fathers and mothers of the village were called upon "to step out." This was generally the most amusing scene in the dance. No excuse is ever taken on such occasions, for when they refuse, about a dozen young fellows place them, will they will they, upright upon the floor, from whence neither themselves nor their wives are permitted to move until they dance. No sooner do they commence, than, they are mischievously pitted against each other by two sham parties, one encouraging the wife, the other cheering on the good man; whilst the fiddler, falling in with the frolic, plays in his most furious style. The simplicity of character, and, perhaps, the lurking vanity of those who are the butts of the mirth on this occasion, frequently heighten the jest.
"Why, thin, Paddy, is it strivin' to outdo me you are? Faiks, avourneen, you never seen that day, any way," the old woman would exclaim, exerting all her vigor.
"Didn't I? Sowl, I'll sober you before I lave the flure, for all that," her husband would reply.
"An' do you forget," she would rejoin, "that the M'Carthy dhrop is in me; ay, an' it's to the good still."
And the old dame would accompany the boast with a fresh attempt at agility; to which Paddy would respond by "cutting the buckle," and snapping his fingers, whilst fifty voices, amidst roars of laughter, were loud in encouraging each.
"Handle your feet, Kitty, darlin'—the mettle's lavin' him!"
"Off wid the brogues, Paddy, or she'll do you. That's it; kick off the other, an' don't spare the flure."
"A thousand guineas on Katty! M'Carthy agin Gallagher for ever!—whirroo!"
"Blur alive the flure's not benefittin by you, Paddy. Lay on it, man!—That's it!—Bravo!—Whish!—Our side agin Europe!"
"Success, Paddy! Why you could dance the Dusty Miller upon a flure paved wid drawn razures, you're so soople."
"Katty for ever! The blood's in you, Katty; you'll win the day, a ban choir! (* decent woman). More power to you!"
"I'll hould a quart on Paddy. Heel an' toe, Paddy, you sinner!"
"Right an' left, Katty; hould an', his breath's goin'."
"Right an' wrong, Paddy, you spalpeen. The whiskey's an you, man alive: do it decently, an' don't let me lose the wager."
In this manner would they incite some old man, and, perhaps, his older wife, to prolonged exertion, and keep them bobbing and jigging about, amidst roars of laughter, until the worthy couple could dance no longer.
During stated periods of the night, those who took the most prominent part in the dance, got a plate and hat, with which they went round the youngsters, to make collections for the fiddler. Barny reserved his best and most sarcastic jokes for these occasions; for so correct was his ear, that he felt little difficulty in detecting those whose contributions to him were such as he did not relish.
The aptitude of the Irish for enjoying humorous images was well displayed by one or two circumstances which occurred on this night. A few of both sexes, who had come rather late, could get no other seats than the metal pots to which we have alluded. The young women were dressed in white, and their companions, who were also their admirers, exhibited, in proud display, each a bran-new suit, consisting of broadcloth coat, yellow-buff vest, and corduroy small-clothes, with a bunch of broad silk ribbons standing out at each knee. They were the sons and daughters of respectable farmers, but as all distinctions here entirely ceased, they were fain to rest contented with such seats as they could get, which on this occasion consisted of the pots aforesaid. No sooner, however, had they risen to dance than the house was convulsed with laughter, heightened by the sturdy vigor with which, unconscious of their appearance, they continued to dance. That part of the white female dresses which had come in contact with the pots, exhibited a circle like the full moon, and was black as pitch. Nor were their partners more lucky: those who sat on the mouths of the pots had the back part of their dresses streaked with dark circles, equally ludicrous. The mad mirth with which they danced, in spite of their grotesque appearance, was irresistible. This, and other incidents quite as pleasant—such as the case of a wag who purposely sank himself into one of the pots, until it stuck to him through half the dance—increased the laughter, and disposed them to peace and cordiality.
No man took a more active part in these frolics than young Frank M'Kenna. It is true, a keen eye might have noticed under his gayety something of a moody and dissatisfied air. As he moved about from time to time, he whispered something to above a dozen persons, who were well known in the country as his intimate companions, young fellows whose disposition and character were notoriously bad. When he communicated the whisper, a nod of assent was given by his confidants, after which it might be remarked that they moved round to the door with a caution that betrayed a fear of observation, and quietly slunk out of the barn one by one, though Frank himself did not immediately follow them. In about a quarter of an hour afterwards, Rody came in, gave him a signal and sat down. Frank then followed his companions, and after a few minutes Rody also disappeared. This was about ten o'clock, and the dance was proceeding with great gayety and animation.
Frank's dread of openly offending his parents prevented him from assembling his associates in the dwelling-house; the only convenient place of rendezvous, therefore, of which they could avail themselves, was the stable. Here they met, and Frank, after uncorking a bottle of poteen, addressed them to the following effect:
"Boys, there's great excuse for me, in regard of my fight wid Mike Reillaghan; that you'll all allow. Come, boys, your healths! I can tell yez you'll find this good, the divil a doubt of it; be the same token, that I stole it from my father's Christmas dhrink; but no matther for that—I hope we'll never do worse. So, as I was sayin', you must bear me out as well as you can, when I'm brought before the Dilegates to-morrow, for challengin' and strikin' a brother.* But, I think, you'll stand by me, boys?"
* Those connected with illegal combinations are sworn to have no private or personal quarrels, nor to strike nor provoke each other to fight. He and Mike were members of such societies.
"By the tarn-o'-war, Frank, myself will fight to the knees for you."
"Faith, you may depend on us, Frank, or we're not to the fore."
"I know it, boys; and now for a piece of fun for this night. You see—come, Lanty, tare-an'-ounkers, drink, man alive—you see, wid regard to Peggy Gartland—eh? what the hell! is that a cough?"
"One o' the horses, man—go an."
"Rody, did Darby More go into the barn before you came out of it?"
"Darby More? not he. If he did, I'd a seen him surely."
"Why, thin, I'd kiss the book I seen him goin' towards the barn, as I was comin' into the stable. Sowl, he's a made boy, that; an' if I don't mistake, he's in Mike Reillaghan's intherest. You know divil a secret can escape him."
"Hut! the prayin' ould crathur was on his way to the Midnight Mass; he thravels slow, and, of coorse, has to set out early; besides, you know, he has Carols, and bades, and the likes, to sell at the chapel."
"Thrue, for you, Rody; why, I thought he might take it into his head to watch my motions, in regard that, as I said, I think him in Mike's intherest."
"Nonsense, man, what the dickens 'ud bring him into the stable loft? Why, you're beside yourself?"
"Be Gor, I bleeve so, but no matther. Boys, I want yez to stand to me to-night: I'm given to know for a sartinty that Mike and Peggy will be buckled to durin' the Hollydays. Now, I wish to get the girl myself; for if I don't get her, may I be ground to atoms if he will."
"Well, but how will you manage? for she's fond of him."
"Why, I'll tell you that. I was over there this evenin', and I understand that all the family is goin' to the Midnight Mass, barrin' herself. You see, while they are all gone to the 'mallet-office,'* we'll slip down wid a thrifle o' soot on our mugs, and walk down wid her to Kilnaheery, beyant the mountains, to an uncle o' mine; an' affcher that, let any man marry her who chooses to run the risk. Be the contints o' the book, Atty, if you don't dhrink I'll knock your head agin the wall, you gommoch!"
* Mass, humorously so called, from the fact of those who attend it beating their breasts during their devotions.
"Why, thin, by all that's beautiful, it's a good spree; and we'll stick to you like pitch."
"Be the vartue o' my oath, you don't desarve to be in it, or you'd dhrink dacent. Why, here's another bottle, an' maybe there's more where that was. Well, let us finish what we have, or be the five crasses, I'll give up the whole business."
"Why, thin, here's success to us, any way; an' high hangin' to them that 'ud desart you in your skame this blessed an' holy night that's in it!"
This was re-echoed by his friends, who pledged themselves by the most solemn oaths not to abandon him in the perpetration of the outrage which they had concerted. The other bottle was immediately opened, and while it lasted, the details of the plan were explained at full length. This over, they entered the barn one by one as before, except Frank and Rody, who as they were determined to steal another bottle from the father's stock, did not appear among the dancers until this was accomplished.
The re-appearance of these rollicking and reckless young fellows in the dance, was hailed by all present; for their outrageous mirth was in character with the genius of the place. The dance went on with spirit; brag dancers were called upon to exhibit in hornpipes; and for this purpose a table was bought in from Frank's kitchen on which they performed in succession, each dancer applauded by his respective party as the best in the barn.
In the meantime the night had advanced; the hour might be about half-past ten o'clock; all were in the zenith of enjoyment, when old Frank M'Kenna addressed them as follows:—
"Neighbors, the dickens o' one o' me would like to break up the sport—an', in throth, harmless and dacent sport it is; but you all know that this is Christmas night, and that it's our duty to attind the Midnight Mass. Anybody that likes to hear it may go, for it's near time to be home and prepare for it; but the sorra one o' me wants to take any of yez from your sport, if you prefer it; all I say is, that I must lave yez; so God be wid yez till we meet agin!"
This short speech produced a general bustle in the barn; many of the elderly neighbors left it, and several of the young persons also. It was Christmas Eve, and the Midnight Mass had from time immemorial so strong a hold upon their prejudices and affections, that the temptation must indeed have been great which would have prevented them from attending it. When old Frank went out, about one-third of those who were present left the dance along with them; and as the hour for mass was approaching, they lost no time in preparing for it.
The Midnight Mass is, no doubt, a phrase familiar to our Irish readers; but we doubt whether those in the sister kingdoms, who may honor our book with a perusal, would, without a more particular description, clearly understand it.
This ceremony-was performed as a commemoration not only of the night, but of the hour in which Christ was born. To connect it either with edification, or the abuse of religion, would be invidious; so we overlook that, and describe it as it existed within our own memory, remarking, by the way, that though now generally discontinued, it is in some parts of Ireland still observed, or has been till within in a few years ago.
The parish in which the scene of this story is laid was large, consequently the attendance of the people was proportionably great. On Christmas day a Roman Catholic priest has, or is said to have, the privilege of saying three masses, though on every other day in the year he can celebrate but two. Each priest, then, said one at midnight, and two on the following day.
Accordingly, about twenty or thirty years ago, the performance of the Midnight Mass was looked upon as an ordinance highly important and interesting. The preparations for it were general and fervent; so much so, that not a Roman Catholic family slept till they heard it. It is true it only occurred once a year; but had any person who saw it once, been called upon to describe it, he would say that religion could scarcely present a scene so wild and striking.
The night in question was very dark, for the moon had long disappeared, and as the inhabitants of the whole parish were to meet in one spot, it may be supposed that the difficulty was very great, of traversing, in the darkness of midnight, the space between their respective residences, and the place appointed by the priest for the celebration of mass. The difficulty, they contrived to surmount. From about eleven at night till twelve or one o'clock, the parish presented a scene singularly picturesque, and, to a person unacquainted with its causes, altogether mysterious. Over the surface of the surrounding country were scattered myriads of blazing torches, all converging to one point; whilst at a distance, in the central part of the parish, which lay in a valley, might be seen a broad focus of red light, quite stationary, with which one or more of the torches that moved across the fields mingled every moment. These torches were of bog-fir, dried and split for the occasion; all persons were accordingly furnished with them, and by their blaze contrived to make way across the country with comparative ease. This Mass having been especially associated with festivity and enjoyment, was always attended by such excessive numbers, that the ceremony was in most parishes celebrated in the open air, if the weather were at all favorable. Altogether, as we have said, the appearance of the country at this dead hour of the night, was wild and impressive. Being Christmas every heart was up, and every pocket replenished with money, if it could at all be procured. This general elevation of spirits was nowhere more remarkable than in contemplating the thousands of both sexes, old, young, each furnished, as before said, with a blazing flambeau of bog-fir, all streaming down the mountain sides, along the roads, or across the fields, and settling at last into one broad sheet of fire. Many a loud laugh might then be heard ringing the night echo into reverberation; mirthful was the gabble in hard guttural Irish; and now and then a song from some one whose potations had been, rather copious, would rise on the night-breeze, to which a chorus was subjoined by a dozen voices from the neighboring groups.
On passing the shebeen and public-houses, I the din of mingled voices that issued from them was highly amusing, made up, as it was, of songs, loud talk, rioting and laughter, with an occasional sound of weeping from some one who had become penitent in big drink. In the larger public-houses—for in Ireland there usually are one or two of these in the immediate vicinity of each chapel, family parties were assembled, who set in to carouse both before and after mass. Those however, who had any love affair on hands generally selected the shebeen house, as being private, and less calculated to expose them to general observation. As a matter of course, these jovial orgies frequently produced such disastrous consequences, both to human life and female reputation, that the intrigues between the sexes, the quarrels, and violent deaths resulting from them, ultimately occasioned the discontinuance of a ceremony which was only productive of evil. To this day, it is an opinion among the peasantry in many parts of Ireland, that there is something unfortunate connected with all drinking bouts held upon Christmas Eve. Such a prejudice naturally arises from a recollection of the calamities which so frequently befell many individuals while Midnight Masses were in the habit of being generally celebrated, although it is not attributed to their existence.
None of Frank M'Kenna's family attended mass but himself and his wife. His children having been bound by all the rules of courtesy to do the honors of the dance, could not absent themselves from it; nor, indeed, were they disposed to do so. Frank, however, and his "good woman," carried their torches, and joined the crowds which flocked to this scene of fun and devotion.
When they had arrived at the cross-roads beside which the chapel was situated, the first object that presented itself so prominently as to attract observation was Darby More, dressed out in all his paraphernalia of blanket and horn, in addition to which he held in his hand an immense torch, formed into the figure of a cross. He was seated upon a stone, surrounded by a ring of old men and women, to whom he sang and sold a variety of Christmas Carols, many of them rare curiosities in their way, inasmuch as they were his own composition. A littlee beyond them stood Mike Keillaghan and Peggy Gartland, towards both of whom he cast from time to time a glance of latent humor and triumph. He did not simply confine himself to singing his carols, but, during the pauses of the melody, addressed the wondering and attentive crowd as follows:—
"Good Christians—This is the day—howandiver, it's night now, Glory be to God—that the angel Lucifer appeared to Shud'orth, Meeshach, an' To-bed-we-go, in the village of Constantinople, near Jerooslem. The heavens be praised for it, 'twas a blessed an' holy night, an' remains so from that day to this—Oxis doxis glorioxis, Amin! Well, the sarra one of him but appeared to thim at the hour o' midnight, but they were asleep at the time, you see, and didn't persave him go—wid that he pulled out a horn like mine—an', by the same token, it's lucky to wear horns about one from that day to this—an' he put it to his lips, an' tuck a good dacent—I mane, gave a good dacent blast that soon roused them. 'Are yez asleep?' says he, when they awoke: 'why then, bud-an'-age!' says he, 'isn't it a burnin' shame for able stout fellows like yez to be asleep at the hour o' midnight of all hours o' the night. Tare-an'-age!' says he, 'get up wid yez, you dirty spalpeens! There's St. Pathrick in Jerooslem beyant; the Pope's signin' his mittimus to Ireland, to bless it in regard that neither corn, nor barley, nor phaties will grow on the land in consequence of a set of varmints called Black-dugs that ates it up; an' there's not a glass o' whiskey to be had in Ireland for love or money,' says Lucifer. 'Get up wid yez,' says he, 'an' go in an' get his blessin'; sure there's not a Catholic-in the counthry, barrin' Swaddlers, but's in the town by this,' says he: 'ay, an' many of the Protestants themselves, and the Black-mouths, an' Blue-bellies, (* Different denominations of Dissenters) are gone in to get a share of it. And now,' says he, 'bekase you wor so heavy-headed, I ordher it from this out, that the present night is to be obsarved in the Catholic church all over the world, an' must be kept holy; an' no thrue Catholic ever will miss from this pariod an opportunity of bein' awake at midnight,' says he, 'glory be to God!' An' now, good Christians, you have an account o' the blessed Carol I was singin' for yez. They're but hapuns a-piece; an' anybody that has the grace to keep one o' these about them, will never meet wid sudden deaths or accidents, sich as hangin', or drownin', or bein' taken suddenly wid a configuration inwardly. I wanst knew a holy man that had a dhrame—about a friend of his, it was——Will any of yez take one?—
"Thank you, a colleen: my blessin', the bless-in' o' the pilgrim, be an you! God bless you, Mike Reillaghan; an' I'm proud that he put it into your heart to buy one for the rasons you know. An' now that Father Hoolaghan's comin', any of yez that 'ill want them 'ill find me here agin when mass is over—Oxis doxis glorioxis, Amin!"
The priest at this time made his appearance, and those who had been assembled on the cross-roads joined the crowd at the chapel. No sooner was it bruited among them that their pastor had arrived, than the noise, gabble, singing, and laughing were immediately hushed; the shebeen and public-houses were left untenanted; and all flocked to the chapel-green, where mass was to be said, as the crowd was too large to be contained within the small chapel.
Mike Reillaghan and Peggy Gartland were among the last who sought the "green;" as lovers, they probably preferred walking apart, to the inconvenience of being jostled by the multitude. As they sauntered on slowly after the rest, Mike felt himself touched on the shoulder, and on turning round, found Darby More beside him.
"It's painful to my feelin's," observed the mendicant, "to have to say this blessed night that your father's son should act so shabby an' ondacent."
"Saints above! how, Darby?"
"Why, don't you know that only for me—for what I heard, an' what I tould you—you'd not have the purty girl here at your elbow? Wasn't it, as I said, his intintion to come and whip down the colleen to Kilnaheery while the family 'ud be at mass; sure only for this, I say, you bosthoon, an' that I made you bring her to mass, where 'ud the purty colleen be? why half way to Kilnaheery, an' the girl disgraced for ever!"
"Thrue for you, Darby, I grant it: but what do you want me to do?"
"Oh, for that matther, nothin' at all, Mike; only I suppose that when your tailor made the clothes an you, he put no pockets to them?"
"Oh, I see where you are, Darby! well, here's a crown for you; an' when Peggy an' I's made man and wife, you'll get another."
"Mike, achora, I see you are your father's son still; now listen to me: first you needn't fear sudden death while you keep that blessed Carol about you; next get your friends together goin' home, for Frank might jist take the liberty, wid about a score of his 'boys,' to lift her from you even thin. Do the thing, I say—don't thrust him; an' moreover, watch in her father's house tonight wid your friends. Thirdly, make it up wid Frank; there's an oath upon you both, you persave? Make it up wid him, if he axes you: don't have a broken oath upon you; for if you refuse, he'll put you out o' connection, (* That is, out of connection with Ribbonism) an' that 'ud plase him to the back-bone."
Mike felt the truth and shrewdness of this advice, and determined to follow it. Both young men had been members of an illegal society, and in yielding to their passions so far as to assault each other, had been guilty of perjury. The following Christmas-day had been appointed by their parish Delegates to take the quarrel into consideration; and the best means of escaping censure was certainly to express regret for what had occurred, and to terminate the hostility by an amicable adjustment of their disputes.
They had now reached the chapel-green, where the scene that presented itself was so striking and strange, that we will give the reader an imperfect sketch of its appearance. He who stood at midnight upon a little mount which rose behind the chapel, might see between five and six thousand torches, all blazing together, and forming a level mass of red dusky light, burning against the dark horizon. These torches were so close to each other that their light seemed to blend, as if they had constituted one wide surface of flame; and nothing could be more preternatural-looking than the striking and devotional countenances of those who were assembled at their midnight worship, when observed beneath this canopy of fire. The Mass was performed under the open sky, upon a table covered with the sacrificial linen, and other apparatus for the ceremony. The priest stood, robed in white, with two large torches on each side of his book, reciting the prayers in a low, rapid voice, his hands raised, whilst the congregation were hushed and bent forward in the reverential silence of devotion, their faces touched by the strong blaze of the torches into an expression of deep solemnity. The scenery about the place was wild and striking; and the stars, scattered thinly over the heavens, twinkled with a faint religious light, that blended well with the solemnity of this extraordinary worship, and rendered the rugged nature of the abrupt cliffs and precipices, together with the still outline of the stern mountains, sufficiently visible to add to the wildness and singularity of the ceremony. In fact, there was an unearthly character about it; and the spectre-like appearance of the white-robed priest as he
"Muttered his prayer to the midnight air,"
would almost impress a man with the belief that it was a meeting of the dead, and that the priest was repeating, like the Gray Friar, his
"Mass of the days that were gone."
On the ceremony being concluded, the scene, however, was instantly changed: the lights were waved and scattered promiscuously among each other, giving an idea of confusion and hurry that was strongly contrasted with the death-like stillness that prevailed a few minutes before. The gabble and laugh were again heard loud and hearty, and the public and shebeen houses once more became crowded. Many of the young I people made, on these occasions, what is I called "a runaway;" (* Rustic elopement) and other peccadilloes took place, for which the delinquents were "either read out from the altar," or sent; probably to St. Patrick's Purgatory at Lough Derg, to do penance. Those who did not choose to stop in the whiskey-houses now hurried home with all speed, to take some sleep before early Mass, which was to be performed the next morning about daybreak. The same number of lights might therefore be seen streaming in different ways over the parish; the married men holding the torches, and leading their wives; bachelors escorting their sweethearts, and not unfrequently extinguishing their flambeaux, that the dependence of the females upon their care and protection might more lovingly call forth their gallantry.
When Mike Reillaghan considered with due attention the hint which Darby More had given him, touching the necessity of collecting his friends as an escort for Peggy Gartland, he had strong reasons to admit its justness and propriety. After Mass he spoke to about two dozen young fellows who joined him, and under their protection Peggy now returned safely to her father's house.
Frank M'Kenna and his wife reached home about two o'clock; the dance was comparatively thin, though still kept up with considerable spirit. Having solemnized himself by the grace of so sacred a rite, Frank thought proper to close the amusement, and recommend those whom he found in the barn to return to their respective dwellings.
"You have had a merry night, childher," said he; "but too much o' one thing's good for nothin'; so don't make a toil of a pleasure, but go all home dacently an' soberly, in the name o' God."
This advice was accordingly followed. The youngsters separated, and M'Kenna joined his family, "to have a sup along wid them and Barny, in honor of what they had hard." It was upon this occasion he missed his son Frank, whose absence from the dance he had not noticed since his return until then.
"Musha, where's Frank," he inquired: "I'll warrant him, away wid his blackguards upon no good. God look down upon him! Many a black heart has that boy left us! If it's not the will o' heaven, I fear he'll come to no good. Barny, is he long gone from the dance?"
"Troth, Frank, wid the noise an' dancin', an' me bem' dark," replied Barny, shrewdly, "I can't take on me to say. For all you spake agin him, the sorra one of him but's a clane, dacent, spirited boy, as there is widin a great ways of him. Here's all your, healths! Faix, 'girls, you'll all sleep sound."
"Well," said Mrs. M'Kenna, "the knowledge of that Darby More is unknowable! Here's a Carol I bought from him, an' if you wor but to hear the explanations he put to it! Why Father Hoolaghan could hardly outdo him!"
"Divil a-man in the five parishes can dance 'Jig Polthogue' wid him, for all that," said Barny. "Many a time Granua an' I played it for him, an' you'd know the tune upon his feet. He undherstands a power o' ranns and prayers, an' has charms an' holy herbs for all kinds of ailments, no doubt."
"These men, you see," observed Mrs. M'Kenna, in the true spirit of credulity and superstition, "may do many things that the likes of us oughtn't to do, by raison of their great fastin' an' prayin'."
"Thrue for you, Alley," replied her husband: "but come, let us have a sup more in comfort: the sleep's gone a shraugran an us this night, any way, so, Barny, give us a song, an' afther that we'll have a taste o' prayers, to close the night."
"But you don't think of the long journey I've before me," replied Barny: "how-and-iver, if you promise to send some one home wid me, we'll have the song. I wouldn't care, but the night bein' dark, you see, I'll want somebody to guide me."
"Faith, an' it's but rasonable, Barny, an' you must get Rody home wid you. I suppose he's asleep in his bed by this, but we'll rouse him!"
Barny replied by a loud triumphant laugh, for this was one of his standing jests.
"Well, Frank," said he, "I never thought you war so soft, and me can pick my steps me same at night as in daylight! Sure that's the way I done them to-night, when one o' Granua's strings broke. 'Sweets o' psin,' says I; 'a candle—bring me a candle immediately.' An' down came Rody in all haste wid a candle. 'Six eggs to you, Rody,' says myself, 'an' half-a-dozen o' them rotten! but you're a bright boy, to bring a candle to a blind man!' and then he stood a bouloare to the whole house—ha, ha, ha!"
Barny, who was not the man to rise first from the whiskey, commenced the relation of his choicest anecdotes; old Frank and the family, being now in a truly genial mood, entered into the spirit of his jests, so that between chat, songs, and whiskey, the hour had now advanced to four o'clock. The fiddler was commencing another song, when the door opened, and Frank presented himself, nearly, but not altogether in a state of intoxication; his face was besmeared with blood; and his whole appearance that of a man under the influence of strong passion, such as would seem to be produced by disappointment and defeat.
"What!" said the father, "is it snowin', Frank? Your clothes are covered wid snow!"
"Lord, guard us!" exclaimed the mother, "is that blood upon your face, Frank?"
"It is snowin', and it is blood that's upon my face," answered Frank, moodily—"do you want to know more news?"
"Why, ay indeed," replied his mother, "we want to hear how you came to be cut?"
"You won't hear it, thin," he replied.
The mother was silent, for she knew the terrible fits of passion to which he was subject.
The father groaned deeply, and exclaimed—"Frank, Frank, God help you, an' show you the sins you're committin', an' the heart-scaldin' you're givin' both your mother and me! What fresh skrimmage had you that you're in that state?"
"Spare yourself the throuble of inquirin'," he replied: "all I can say," he continued, starting up into sudden fury—"all I can say, an' I say it—I swear it—where's the prayer-book?" and he ran frantically to a shelf beside the dresser on which the prayer-book lay,—"ay! by him that made me I'll sware it—by this sacred book, while I live, Mike Keillaghan, the husband of Peggy Gartland you'll never be, if I should swing for it! Now you all seen I kissed the book!" as he spoke, he tossed it back upon the shelf.
The mirth that had prevailed in the family was immediately hushed, and a dead silence ensued; Frank sat down, but instantly rose again, and flung the chair from him with such violence that it was crashed to pieces; he muttered oaths and curses, ground his teeth, and betrayed all the symptoms of jealousy, hatred, and disappointment.
"Frank, a bouchal," said Barny, commencing to address him in a conciliatory tone—"Frank, man alive——"
"Hould your tongue, I say, you blind vagabone, or by the night above us, I'll break your fiddle over your skull, if you dar to say another word. What I swore I'll do, an' let no one crass me."
He was a powerful young man, and such was his temper, and so well was it understood, that not one of the family durst venture a word of remonstrance.
The father arose, went to the door, and returned. "Barny," said he, "you must content yourself where you are for this night. It's snowin' heavily, so you had betther sleep wid Rody; I see a light in the barn, I suppose he's after bringing in his bed an' makin' it."
"I'll do any thing," replied the poor fiddler, now apprehensive of violence from the outrageous temper of young Frank.
"Well, thin," added the good man, "let us all go to bed, in the name of God. Micaul, bring Barny to the barn, and see that he's comfortable."
This was complied with, and the family quietly and timidly retired to rest, leaving the violent young man storming and digesting his passion, behind them.
Mass on Christmas morning was then, as now, performed at day-break, and again the Roman Catholic inhabitants of the parish were up betimes to attend it. Frank M'Kenna's family were assembled, notwithstanding their short sleep, at an early breakfast; but their meal, in consequence of the unpleasant sensation produced by the outrage of their son, was less cheerful than it would I otherwise have been. Perhaps, too, the gloom which hung over them, was increased by the snow that had fallen the night before, and by the wintry character of the day, which was such as to mar much of their expected enjoyment. There was no allusion made to their son's violence over-night; neither did he himself appear to be in any degree affected by it. When breakfast was over, they prepared to attend mass, and, what was unusual, young Frank was the first to set out for the chapel.
"Maybe," said the father, after he was gone—"maybe that fool of a boy is sarry for his behavior. It's many a day since I knew him to go to mass of his own accord. It's a good sign, any way."
"Musha," inquired his mother, "what could happen atween him an' that civil boy, Mike Reillaghan?"
"The sorra one o' me knows," replied his father: "an' now that I think of it, sure enough there was none o' them at the dance last night, although I sent himself down for them. Micaul," he added, addressing the other son, "will you put an your big coat, slip down to Reillaghan's, an' bring me word what came atween them at all; an' tell Owen himself the thruth that this boy's brakin' our hearts by his coorses."
Micaul, who, although he knew the cause of the enmity between these rivals, was ignorant of that which occasioned his brother's rash oath, also felt anxious to ascertain the circumstances of the last quarrel. For this purpose, as well as in obedience to his father's wishes, he proceeded to Reillaghan's and arrived just as Darby More and young Mike had set out for mass.
"What," said the mendicant, "can be bringing Micaul down, I wondher? somethin' about that slip o' grace, his brother."
"I suppose, so," said Mike; "an' I wish the same slip was as dacent an' inoffensive as he is. I don't know a boy livin' I'd go farther for nor the same Micaul.—He's a credit to the family as much as the other's a stain upon them."
"Well, any how, you war Frank's match, an' more, last night. How bitther he was bint on bringin' Peggy aff', when he an' his set waited till they seen the country clear, an' thought the family asleep? Had you man for man, Mike?"
"Ay, about that; an' we sat so snug in Peggy's that you'd hear a pin fallin'. A hard tug, too, there was in the beginnin'; but whin they found that we had a strong back, they made away, an' we gave them purshute from about the house."
"You may thank me, any how, for havin' her to the good; but I knew by my dhrame, wid the help o' God, that there was somethin' to happen; by the same a token, that your mother's an' her high horse about that dhrame. I'm to tell it to her, wid the sinse of it, in the evenin', when the day's past, an' all of us in comfort."
"What was it, Darby? sure you may let me hear it."
"Maybe I will in the evenin'. It was about you an' Peggy, the darlin'. But how will you manage in regard of brakin' the oath, an' sthrikin' a brother?"
"Why, that I couldn't get over it, when he sthruck me first: sure he's worse off. I'll lave it to the Dilegates, an' whatever judgment they give out, I'll take wid it."
"Well," observed Darby, sarcastically, "it made him do one good turn, any way."
"What was that, Darby? for good turns are but scarce wid him."
"Why, it made him hear mass to-day," replied the mendicant; "an' that's what he hadn't the grace to do this many a year. It's away in the mountains wid his gun he'd be, thracin', an' a fine day it is for it—only this business prevints him. Now, Mike," observed. Darby, "as we're comin' out upon the boreen, I'll fall back, an' do you go an; I have part of my padareem to say, before I get to the chapel, wid a blessin'; an' we had as good not be seen together."
The mendicant, as he spoke, pulled out a long pair of beads, on which he commenced his prayers, occasionally accosting an aquaintance with the Gho mhany Deah ghud, (* God save you) and sometimes taking a part in the conversation for a minute or two, after which he resumed the prayers as before.
The day was now brightening up, although the earlier part of the morning had threatened severe weather. Multitudes were flocking to the chapel; the men well secured in frieze great-coats, in addition to which, many of them had their legs bound with straw ropes, and others with leggings made of old hats, cut up for the purpose. The women were secured with cloaks, the hoods of which were tied with kerchiefs of some showy color over their bonnets or their caps, which, together with their elbows projecting behind, for the purpose of preventing their dress from being dabbled in the snow, gave them a marked and most picturesque appearance.
Reillaghan and M'Kenna both reached the chapel a considerable time before the arrival of the priest; and as a kind of Whiteboy committee was to sit for the purpose of investigating their conduct in holding out so dangerous an example as they did, by striking each other, contrary to their oaths as brothers under the same system, they accordingly were occupied each in collecting his friends, and conciliating those whom they supposed to be hostile to them on the opposite party. It had been previously arranged that this committee should hold a court of inquiry, and that, provided they could not agree, the matter was to be referred to two hedge-schoolmasters, who should act as umpires; but if it happened that the latter could not decide it, there was no other tribunal appointed to which a final appeal could be made.
According to these regulations, a court was opened in a shebeen-house, that stood somewhat distant from the road. Twelve young fellows seated themselves on each side of a deal table, with one of the umpires at each end of it, and a bottle of whiskey in the middle. In a higher sphere of life it is usual to refer such questionable conduct as occurs in duelling, to the arbitration of those who are known to be qualified by experience in the duello. On this occasion the practice was not much departed from, those who had been thus selected as the committee being the notoriously pugnacious "boys" in the whole parish.
"Now, boys," said one of the schoolmasters, "let us proceed to operations wid proper spirit," and he filled a glass of whiskey as he spoke. "Here's all your healths, and next, pace and unanimity to us! Call in the culprits."
Both were accordingly admitted, and the first speaker resumed—"Now, in the second place, I'll read yez that part of the oath which binds us all under the obligation of not strikin' one another—hem! hem! 'No brother is to strike another, knowing him to be such; he's to strike him—hem!—neither in fair nor market, at home nor abroad, neither in public nor in private, neither on Sunday nor week-day, present or absent, nor—'"
"I condimn that," observed the other master—"I condimn it, as bein' too latitudinarian in principle, an' containing a para-dogma; besides it's bad grammar."
"You're rather airly in the market wid your bad grammar," replied the other: "I'll grant you the paradogma, but I'll stand up for the grammar of it, while I'm able to stand up for anything."
"Faith, an' if you rise to stand up for that," replied his friend, "and doesn't choose to sit down till you prove it to be good grammar, you'll be a standin' joke all your life."
"I bleeve it's purty conspicuous in the parish, that I have often, in our disputations about grammar, left you widout a leg to stand upon at all," replied the other.
This sally was well received, but his opponent was determined to push home the argument at once.
"I would be glad to know," he inquired, "by what beautiful invintion a man could contrive to strike another in his absence? Have you good grammar for that?"
"And did you never hear of detraction?" replied his opponent; "that is, a man who's in the habit of spaking falsehoods of his friends whin their backs are turned—that is to say, whin they are absent. Now, sure, if a man's absent whin his back's turned, mayn't any man whose back's turned be said to be absent—ergo, to strike a man behind his back is to strike him whin he's absent. Does that confound you? where's your logic and grammar to meet proper ratiocination like what I'm displaying?"
"Faith," replied the other, "you may have had logic and grammar, but I'll take my oath it was in your younger years, for both have been absent ever since I knew you: they turned their backs upon you, man alive; for they didn't like, you see, to be keepin' bad company—ha, ha, ha!"
"Why, you poor crathur," said his antagonist, "if I'd choose to let myself out, I could make a hare of you in no time entirely."
"And an ass of yourself," retorted the other: "but you may save yourself the throuble in regard of the last, for your frinds know you to be an ass ever since they remimber you. You have them here, man alive, the auricles," and he pointed to his ears.
"Hut! get out wid you, you poor Jamaica-headed castigator, you; sure you never had more nor a thimbleful o' sinse on any subject."
"Faith, an' the thimble that measured yours was a tailor's, one widout a bottom in it, an' good measure you got, you miserable flagellator! what are you but a nux vomica? A fit of the ague's a thrifle compared to your asinity."
The "boys" were delighted at this encounter, and utterly forgetful of the pacific occasion on which they had assembled, began to pit them against each other with great glee.
"That's a hard hit, Misther Costigan; but you won't let it pass, any how."
"The ague an' you are ould acquaintances," retorted Costigan; "whenever a skrimmage takes place, you're sure to resave a visit from it."
"Why, I'm not such a hare as yourself," replied his rival, "nor such a great hand at batin' the absent—ha, ha, ha!"
"Bravo, Misther Connell—that's a leveller; come, Misther Costigan, bedad, if you don't answer that you're bate."
"By this and by that, man alive, if you don't mend your manners, maybe I'd make it betther for you to be absent also. You'll only put me to the throuble of men din' them for you."
"Mend my manners!" exclaimed his opponent, with a bitter sneer,—"you to mend them! out wid your budget and your hammer, then; you're the very tinker of good manners—bekase for one dacency you'd mend, you'd spoil twenty."
"I'm able to hammer you at all events, or, for that matther, any one of your illiterate gineration. Sure it's well known that you can't tach Voshther (Voster) widout the Kay."
"Hould there, if you plase," exclaimed one of his opponent's relations; "don't lug in his family; that's known to be somewhat afore your own, I bleeve. There's no Informers among them, Misther Costigan: keep at home, masther, if you plase."
"At home! That's more than some o' your own cleavings (* distant relations) have been able to do," rejoined Costigan, alluding to one of the young fellow's acquaintances who had been transported.
"Do you mane to put an affront upon me?" said the other.
"Since the barrhad (* cap) fits you, wear it," replied Costigan.
"Very right, masther, make him a present of it," exclaimed one of Costigan's distant relations; "he desarves that, an' more if he'd get it."
"Do I?" said the other; "an' what have you to say on the head of it, Bartle?"
"Why, not much," answered Bartle, "only that you ought to've left it betune them; an' that I'll back Misther Costigan agin any rascal that 'ud say there was ever a dhrop of his blood in an Informer's veins."
"I say it for one," replied the other.
"And I, for another," said Connell; "an' what's worse, I'll hould a wager, that if he was searched this minute, you'd find a Kay to Gough in his pocket, although he throws Vosther in my teeth: the dunce never goes widout one. Sure he's not able to set a dacent copy, or headline, or to make a dacent hook, nor a hanger, nor a down stroke, and was a poor scholar, too!"
"I'll give you a down stroke in the mane time, you ignoramus," said the pedagogue, throwing' himself to the end of the table at I which his enemy sat, and laying him along the floor by a single blow.
He was instantly attacked by the friend of the prostrate academician, who was in his turn attacked by the friend of Costigan. The adherents of the respective teachers I were immediately rushing to a general engagement, when the door opened, and Darby More made his appearance.
"Asy!—stop wid yees!—hould back, ye I disgraceful villains!" exclaimed the mendicant, in a thundering voice. "Be asy, I say. Saints in glory! is this the way you're settlin' the dispute between the two dacent young men, that's sorry, both o' them, I'll go bail, for what they done. Sit down, every one o' yez, or, by the blessed ordhers I wear about me, I'll report yez to Father Hoolaghan, an' have yez read out from the althar, or sint to Lough Derg! Sit down, I say!"
As he spoke, he extended his huge cant between the hostile parties, and thrust them one by one to their seats with such muscular energy, that he had them sitting before another blow could be given.
"Saints in glory!" he exclaimed again, "isn't this blessed doins an the sacred day that's in it! that a poor helpless ould man like me can't come to get somethin' to take away this misfortunit touch o' configuration that I'm afflicted wid in cowld weather—that I can't take a little sup of the only thing that I cures me—widout your ructions and battles! You came here to make pace between two dacent men's childher, an' you're as bad, if not worse, yourselves!—Oh, wurrah dheelish, what's this! I'm in downright agony! Oh, murdher sheery! Has none o' yez a hand to thry if there's e'er a dhrop of relief in that bottle? or am I to die all out, in the face o' the world, for want of a sup o' somethin' to warm me?"
"Darby, thry the horn," said M'Kenna.
"Here, Darby," said one of them, "dhrink this off, an' my life for yours, it'll warm you to the marrow!"
"Och, musha, but I wanted it badly," replied Darby, swallowing it at once; "it's the only thing that does me good when I'm this way. Deah Graslhias! Oxis Doxis Glorioxis. Amin!"
"I think," said M'Kenna, "that what's in the horn's far afore it."
"Oh, thin, you thoughtless crathur, if you knew somethin' I hard about you a while ago, you'd think otherwise. But, indeed, it's thrue for you; I'm sure I'd be sarry to compare what's in it to anything o' the kind I tuck. Deah Grasthias! Throth, I'm asier now a great dale nor I was."
"Will you take another sup, Darby?" inquired the young fellow in whose hands the bottle was now nearly empty; there's jist about another glass."
"Indeed, an' I 'will, avillish; an' sure you'll have my blessin' for it, an' barrin' the priest's own, you couldn't have a more luckier one—blessed be God for it—sure that's well known. In throth, they never came to ill that had it, an' never did good that got my curse! Hoop! do you hear how that rises the wind off o' my stomach! Houp!—Deah Grasthias for that!"
"How did you larn all the prayers an' charms you have, Darby?" inquired the bottle-holder.
"It would take me too long to tell you that, avillish! But, childher, now that you're all together, make it up wid one another. Aren't you all frinds an' brothers, sworn brothers, an' why would you be fightin' among other? Misther Costigan, give me your hand; sure I heard a thrifle o' what you were sayin' while I was suckin' my dudeen at the fire widout. Come here, Misther Connell. Now, before the saints in glory, I lay my bitter curse an him that refuses to shake hands wid his inimy. There now—I'm proud to see it. Mike, avourneen, come here—Frank M'Kenna, gustho (* come hither), walk over here; my bitther heart's curse upon of yez, if you don't make up all quarrels this minit! Are you willin, Mike lieillaghan?"
"I have no objection in life," replied Mike, "if he'll say that Peggy Gartland won't be put to any more throuble through his manes."
"There's my hand, Mike," said Frank, "that I forget an' forgive all that's past; and in regard to Peggy Gartland, why, as she's so dark agin me, I lave her to you for good."*
"Well! see what it is to have the good intintions!—to be makin' pace an' friendship atween inimies! That's all I think about, an' nothin' gives me greater pleas—Saints o' glory!—what's this!—Oh wurrah!—that thief of a—wurrah dheelish!—that touch o' configuration's comin' back agin!—O, thin, but it's hard to get it undher!—Oh!"—
"I'm sarry for it, Darby," replied he who held the now empty bottle; "for the whiskey's out."
"Throth, an' I'm sarry myself, for nothin' else does me good; an' Father Hoolaghan says nothin' can keep it down, barrin' the sup o' whiskey. It's best burnt, wid a little bit o' butther an it; but I can't get that always, it overtakes me so suddenly, glory be to God!"
"Well," said M'Kenna, "as Mike an' myself was the manes of bringin' us together, why, if he joins me, we'll have another bottle."
"Throth, an' its fair an' dacent, an' he must do it; by the same a token, that I'll not lave the house till it's dhrunk, for there's no thrustin' yez together, you're so hot-headed an' ready to rise the hand," said Darby.
M'Kenna and Mike, having been reconciled, appeared in a short time warmer friends than ever. While the last bottle went round, those who had before been on the point of engaging in personal conflict, now laughed at their own foibles, and expressed the kindness and good-will which they felt for each other at heart.
"Now," said the mendicant, "go all of you to mass, an' as soon as you can, to confission, for it's not good to have the broken oath an' the sin of it over one. Confiss it, an' have your conscience light: sure it's a happiness that you can have the guilt taken off o' yez, childher."
"Thrue for you, Darby," they replied; "an' we'll be thinkin' of your advice."
"Ay, do, childher; an' there's Father Hoolaghan comin' down the road, so, in the name o' Goodness, we haven't a minnit to lose."
They all left the shebeen-house as he spoke except Frank and himself, who remained until they had gone out of hearing.
"Darby," said he, "I want you to come up to our house in the mornin', an' bring along wid you the things that you Stamp the crass upon the skin wid: I'm goin' to get the crucifix put upon me. But on the paril o' your life, don't brathe a word of it to mortual."
"God enable you, avick! it's a good intintion. I will indeed be up wid you—airly too, wid a blessin'. It is that, indeed—a good intintion, sure enough."
The parish chapel was about one hundred perches from the shebeen-house in which the "boys" had assembled; the latter were proceeding there in a body when Frank overtook them.
"Mike," said he aside to Reillaghan, "we'll have time enough—walk back a bit; I'll tell you what I'm thinkin'; you never seen in your life a finer day for thracin; what 'ud you say if we give the boys the slip, never heed mass, an' set off to the mountains?"
"Won't we have time enough afther mass?" said Reillaghan.
"Why, man, sure you did hear mass once to-day. Weren't you at it last night? No, indeed, we won't be time enough afther it; for this bein' Chris'mas day, we must be home at dinner-time; you know it's not lucky to be from the family upon set days. Hang-an-ounty, come: we'll have fine sport! I have cocksticks * enough. The best part of the day 'll be gone if we wait for mass. Come, an' let us start."
* A cockstick was so called from being used on Cock- Monday, to throw at a cook tied to a stake, which was a game common among the people It was about the length of a common stick, but much heavier and thicker at one end.
"Well, well," replied Reillaghan, "the sorra hair I care; so let us go. I'd like myself to have a rap at the hares in the Black Hills, sure enough; but as it 'ud be remarkable for us to be seen lavin' mass, why let us crass the field here, an' get out upon the road above the bridge."
To this his companion assented, and they both proceeded at a brisk pace, each apparently anxious for the sport, and resolved to exhibit such a frank cordiality of manner as might convince the other that all their past enmity was forgotten and forgiven.
The direct path to the mountains lay by M'Kenna's house, where it was necessary they should call, in order to furnish themselves with cocksticks, and to bring dogs which young Frank kept for the purpose. The inmates of the family were at mass, with the exception of Frank's mother, and Rody, the servant-man, whom they found sitting on his own bed in the barn, engaged at cards, the right hand against the left.
"Well, Rody," said Frank, "who's winnin'?"
"The left entirely," replied his companion: "the divil a game at all the right's gettin', whatever's the rason of it, an' I'm always turnin' up black. I hope none of my friends or acquaintances will die soon."
"Throw them aside—quit of them," said Prank, "give them to me, I'll put them past; an' do you bring us out the gun. I've the powdher an' shot here; we may as well bring her, an' have a slap at them. One o' the officers in the barracks of —— keeps me in powdher an' shot, besides givin' me an odd crown, an' I keep him in game."
"Why, thin, boys," observed Rody, "what's the manin' o' this?—two o' the biggest inimies in Europe last night an' this mornin' an' now as great as two thieves! How does that come?"
"Very asy, Rody," replied Reillaghan; "we made up the quarrel, shuck hands, an's good frinds as ever."
"Bedad, that bates cock-fightin'," said Body, as he went to bring in the gun.
In the mean time, Prank, with the cards in his hand, went to the eave of the barn, I thrust them up under the thatch, and took out of the same nook a flask of whiskey.
"We'll want this," said he, putting it to his lips, and gulping down a portion. "Come Mike, be tastin'; and aftherwards i put this in your pocket."
Mike followed his example, and was corking the flask when Rody returned with the gun.
"She's charged," said Frank; "but we'd betther put in fresh primin' for 'fraid of her hangin' fire."
He then primed the gun, and handed it to Reillaghan. "Do you keep the gun, Mike," he added, "an' I'll keep the cocksticks. Rody, I'll bet you a shillin' I kill more wid! the cockstick, nor he will wid the gun, will you take me up?"
"I know a safer thrick," replied Rody; "you're a dead aim wid the cockstick, sure enough, an' a deader with the gun, too; catch me at it."
"You show some sinse, for a wondher," observed Frank, as he and his companion left the barn, and turned towards the mountains, which rose frowning behind the house. Rody stood looking after them until they wound up slowly out of sight among the hills; he then shook his head two or three times, and exclaimed, "By dad, there's somethin' in this, if one could make out: what it is. I know Frank."
Christmas-day passed among the peasantry, as it usually passes in Ireland. Friends met before dinner in their own, in their neighbors', in shebeen or in public houses, where they drank, sang, or fought, according to their natural dispositions, or the quantity of liquor they had taken. The festivity of the day might be known by the unusual reek of smoke that danced from each chimney, by the number of persons who crowded the roads, by their bran-new dresses,—for if a young man or country girl can afford a dress at all, they provide it for Christmas,—and by the striking appearance of those who, having drunk a little too much, were staggering home in the purest happiness, singing, stopping their friends, shaking hands with them, or kissing them, without any regard to sex. Many a time might be seen two Irishmen,' who had got drunk together, leaving a fair or market, their arms about each other's necks, from whence they only removed them to kiss and hug one another more lovingly. Notwithstanding this, there is nothing more probable than that these identical two will enjoy the luxury of a mutual battle, by way of episode, and again proceed on their way, kissing and hugging as if nothing had happened to interrupt their friendship. All the usual effects of jollity and violence, fun and fighting, love and liquor, were, of course, to be seen, felt, heard, and understood on this day, in a manner much more remarkable than on common occasions; for it maybe observed, that the national festivals of the Irish bring-out their strongest points of character with peculiar distinctness.
The family of Frank M'Kenna were sitting down to their Christmas dinner; the good man had besought a blessing upon the comfortable and abundant fare of which they were about to partake, and nothing was amiss, save the absence of their younger son.
"Musha, where on earth can this boy be stayin'?" said the father: "I'm sure this, above all days in the year, is one he oughtn't to be from home an."
The mother was about to inform him of the son's having gone to the mountains, when the latter returned, breathless, pale, and horror-struck.
Rody eyed him keenly, and laid down the bit he was conveying to his mouth.
"Heavens above us!" exclaimed his mother, "what ails you?"
He only replied by dashing his hat upon the ground, and exclaiming, "Up wid yez!—up wid yez!—quit your dinners! Oh, Rody! what'll be done? Go down to Owen Reillaghan's—go 'way—go down—an' tell thim—Oh, vick-na-hoie! but this was the unfortunate day to us all? Mike reillaghan is shot with my gun; she went off in his hand goin' over a snow wreath, an' he's lyin' dead in the mountains?"
The screams and the wailing which immediately rose in the family were dreadful. Mrs. M'Kenna almost fainted; and the father, after many struggles to maintain his firmness, burst into the bitter tears of disconsolation and affliction. Rody was calmer, but turned his eyes from one to another with a look of deep compassion, and again eyed Frank keenly and suspiciously.
Frank's eye caught his, and the glance which had surveyed him with such a scrutiny did not escape his observation. "Rody," said he, "do you go an' brake it to the, Reillaghans: you're the best to do it; for, when we were settin' out, you saw that he-carried the gun, an' not me."
"Thrue for you," said Rody; "I saw that, Frank, and can swear to it; but that's all I did see. I know nothing of what happened in the mountains."
"Damnho sheery orth! (* Eternal perdition on you!) What do you mane, you villain?" exclaimed Prank, seizing the tongs, and attempting to strike him: "do you dar to suspect that I had any hand in it."
"Wurrah dheelish, Frank," screamed the sisters, "are you goin' to murdher Rody?"
"Murdher," he shouted, in a paroxysm of fury, "Why the curse o' God upon you all, what puts murdher into your heads? Is it my own family that's the first to charge me wid it?"
"Why, there's no one chargin' you wid it," replied Rody; "not one, whatever makes you take it to yourself."
"An' what did you look at me for, thin, the way you did? What did you look at me for, I say?"
"Is it any wondher," replied the servant coolly, "when you had sich a dreadful story to tell?"
"Go off," replied Frank, now hoarse with passion—"go off! an' tell the Reillaghans what happened; but, by all the books that ever was opened or shut, if you breathe a word about murdher—about—if you do, you villain, I'll be the death o' you!"
When Rody was gone on this melancholy errand, old M'Kenna first put the tongs, and everything he feared might be used as a weapon by his frantic son, out of his reach; he then took down the book on which he had the night before sworn so rash and mysterious an oath, and desired his son to look upon it.
"Frank," said he, solemnly, "you swore on that blessed book last night, that Mike Reillaghan never would be the husband of Peggy Gartland—he's a corpse to-day! Yes," he continued, "the good, the honest, the industhrious boy is"—his sobs became so loud and thick that he appeared almost suffocated. "Oh," said he, "may God pity us! As I hope to meet my blessed Savior, who was born on this day, I would rather you wor the corpse, an' not Mike Reillaghan!"
"I don't doubt that," said the son, fiercely; "you never showed me much grah, (* affection) sure enough."
"Did you ever desarve it?" replied the father. "Heaven above me knows it was too much kindness was showed you. When you ought to have been well corrected, you got your will an' your way, an' now see the upshot."
"Well," said the son, "it's the last day ever I'll stay in the family; thrate me as bad as you plase. I'll take the king's bounty, an' list, if I live to see to-morrow."
"Oh, thin, in the name o' Goodness, do so," said the father; "an' so far from previntin' you, we'll bless you when you're gone, for goin'."
"Arrah, Frank, aroon," said Mrs. M'Kenna, who was now recovered, "maybe, afther all, it was only an accident: sure we often hard of sich things. Don't you remimber Squire Elliott's son, that shot himself by accident, out fowlin'? Frank, can you clear yourself before us?"
"Ah, Alley! Alley!" exclaimed the father, wiping away his tears, "don't you remimber his oath, last night?"
"What oath?" inquired the son, with an air of surprise—"What oath, last night? I know I was drunk last night, but I remimber nothing about an oath."
"Do you deny it, you hardened boy?"
"I do deny it; an' I'm not a hardened boy. What do you all mane? do you want to dhrive me mad? I know nothin' about any oath last night;" replied the son in a loud voice. The grief of the mother and daughters was loud during the pauses of the conversation. Micaul, the eldest son, sat beside his father in tears.
"Frank," said he, "many an advice I gave you between ourselves, and you know how you tuck them. When you'd stale the oats, an' the meal, and the phaties, an' hay, at night, to have money for your cards an' dhrinkin', I kept it back, an' said nothin' about it. I wish I hadn't done so, for it wasn't for your good: but it was my desire to have, as much pace and quietness as possible."
"Frank," said the father, eyeing him solemnly, "it's possible that you do forget the oath you made last night, for you war in liquor: I would give the wide world that it was thrue. Can you now, in the presence of God, clear yourself of havin' act or part in the death of Mike Reillaghan?"
"What 'ud ail me," said the son, "if I liked?"
"Will you do it now for our satisfaction, an' take a load of misery off of our hearts? It's the laste you may do, if you can do it. In the presence of the great God, will you clear yourself now?"
"I suppose," said the son, "I'll have to clear myself to-morrow, an' there's no use in my doin' it more that wanst. When the time comes, I'll do it."
The father put his hands on his eyes, and groaned aloud: so deep was his affliction, that the tears trickled through his fingers during this fresh burst of sorrow. The son's refusal to satisfy them renewed the grief of all, as well as of the father: it rose again, louder than before, whilst young Frank sat opposite the door, silent and sullen.
It was now dark, but the night was calm and agreeable. M'Kenna's family felt the keen affliction which we have endeavored to describe; the dinner was put hastily aside, and the festive spirit peculiar to this night became changed into one of gloom and sorrow. In this state they sat, when the voice of grief was heard loud in the distance; the strong cry of men, broken and abrupt, mingled with the shrieking wail of female lamentation.
The M'Kennas started, and Frank's countenance assumed an expression which it would be difficult to describe. There was, joined to his extreme paleness, a restless, apprehensive, and determined look; each trait apparently struggling for the ascendancy in his character, and attempting' to stamp his countenance with its own expression.
"Do you hear that?" said his father. "Oh, musha, Father of heaven, look down an' support that family this night! Frank if you take my advice, you'll lave their sight; for surely if they brain you on the spot, who could blame them?"
"Why ought I lave their sight?" replied Frank. "I tell you all that I had no hand in his death. The gun went off by accident as he was crassin' a wreath o' snow. I was afore him, and when I heard the report, an' turned round, there he lay, shot an' bleedin'. I thought it mightn't signify, but on lookin' at him closely, I found him quite dead. I then ran home, never touchin' the gun at all, till his family and the neighbors 'ud see him. Surely, it's no wondher I'd be distracted in my mind; but that's no rason you should all open upon me as if I had murdhered the boy!"