"Well," said the father, "I'm glad to hear you say even that much. I hope it maybe betther wid you than we all think; an' oh! grant it, sweet mother o' Heaven, this day! Now carry yourself quietly afore the people. If they abuse you, don't fly into a passion, but make allowance for their grief and misery."
In the mean time, the tumult was deepening as it approached M'Kenna's house. The report had almost instantly spread through in the village which Reillaghan lived; and the loud cries of his father and brothers, who, in the wildness of their despair, continually called upon his name, had been heard at the houses which lay scattered over the neighborhood. Their inmates, on listening to such unusual sounds, sought the direction from which they proceeded, for it was quite evident that some terrible calamity had befallen the Reillaghans, in consequence of the son's name being borne on the blasts of night with such loud and overwhelming tones of grief and anguish. The assembly, on reaching M'Kenna's, might, therefore, be numbered at thirty, including the females of Reillaghan's immediate family, who had been strung by the energy of despair to a capability of bearing any fatigue, or rather to an utter insensibility of all bodily suffering.
We must leave the scene which ensued to the reader's imagination, merely observing, that as neither the oath which young Frank had taken on the preceding night, nor indeed the peculiar bitterness of his enmity towards the deceased, was known by the Reillaghans, they did not, therefore, discredit the account of his death which they had heard.
Their grief was exclamatory and full of horror: consisting of prolonged shrieks on the part of the women, and frantic howlings on that of the men. The only words they uttered were his name, with epithets and ejaculations. Oh a Vichaul dheelish—a Vichaul dheelish—a bouchal bane machree—wuil thu marra—wuil thu marra? "Oh, Michael, the beloved—Michael, the beloved—fair boy of our heart—are you dead?—are you dead?" From M'Kenna's the crowd, at the head of which was Darby More, proceeded towards the mountains, many of them bearing torches, such as had been used on their way to the Midnight Mass. The moon had disappeared, the darkness was deepening, and the sky was overhung with black heavy clouds, that gave a stormy character to scenery in itself re wild and gloomy.
Young M'Kenna and the pilgrim led them to the dreary waste in which the corpse lay. It was certainly an awful spectacle to behold these unhappy people toiling up the mountain solitude at such an hour, their convulsed faces thrown into striking relief by the light of the torches, and their cries rising in wild irregular cadences upon the blast which swept over them with a dismal howl, in perfect character with their affliction, and the circumstances which produced it.
On arriving within view of the corpse, there was a slight pause; for, notwithstanding the dreadful paroxysms of their grief, there was something still more startling and terrible in contemplating the body thus stretched out in the stillness of death, on the lonely mountain. The impression it produced was peculiarly solemn: the grief was hushed for a moment, but only for a moment; it rose again wilder than before, and in a few minutes the friends of Reillaghan were about to throw themselves upon the body, under the strong impulse of sorrow and affection.
The mendicant, however, stepped forward "Hould back," said he; "it's hard to ax yez to do it, but still you must. Let the neighbors about us here examine the body, in ordher to see whether it mightn't be possible that the dacent boy came by his death from somebody else's hand than his own. Hould forrid the lights," said he, "till we see how he's lyin', an' how the gun's lyin'."
"Darby," said young Frank, "I can't but be oblaged to you for that. You're the last man livin' ought to say what you said, afther you seein' us both forget an' forgive this day. I call upon you now to say whether you didn't see him an' me shakin' hands, and buryin' all bad feelin' between us?"
"I'll spake to you jist now," replied the mendicant. "See here, neighbors, obsarve this; the boy was shot in the breast, an' here's not a snow wreath, but a weeshy dhrift that a child 'ud step acrass widout an accident. I tell you all, that I suspect foul play in this."
"Hell's fire," exclaimed the brother of the deceased, "what's that you say? What! Can it be—can it—can it—that you murdhered him, you villain, that's known to be nothin' but a villain? But I'll do for you!" He snatched at the gun as he spoke, and would probably have taken ample and fearful vengeance upon Frank, had not the mendicant and others prevented him.
"Have sinse," said Darby; "this is not the way to behave, man; lave the gun lyin' where she is, till we see more about us. Stand back there, an' let me look at these marks: ay, about five yards—there's the track of feet about five yards before him—here they turn about, an' go back. Here, Savior o' the world! see here! the mark, clane an' clear, of the butt o' the gun! Now if that boy stretched afore us had the gun in his hand the time she went off, could the mark of it be here? Bring me down the gun—an' the curse o' God upon her for an unlucky thief, whoever had her! It's thrue!—it's too thrue!" he continued—"the man that had the gun stood on this spot."
"It's a falsity," said Frank; "it's a damnable falsity. Rody Teague, I call upon you to spake for me. Didn't you see, when we went out to the hills, that it was Mike carried the gun, an' not me?"
"I did," replied Rody. "I can swear to that."
"Ay," exclaimed Prank, with triumph; "an' you yourself, Darby, saw us, as I said, makin' up whatsomever little differences there was betwixt us."
"I did," replied the mendicant, sternly; "but I heard you say, no longer ago than last night—say!—why you swhore it, man alive!—that if you wouldn't have Peggy Gartland, he never should. In your own stable I heard it, an' I was the manes of disappointin' you an' your gang, when you thought to take away the girl by force. You're well known too often to carry a fair face when the heart under it is black wid you."
"All I can say is," observed young Reillaghan, "that if it comes out agin you that you played him foul, all the earth won't save your life; I'll have your heart's blood, if I should hang for it a thousand times."
This dialogue was frequently interrupted by the sobbings and clamor of the women, and the detached conversation of some of the men, who were communicating to each other their respective opinions upon the melancholy event which had happened.
Darby More now brought Reillaghan's father aside, and thus addressed him:—
"Gluntho! (* Listen)—to tell God's thruth, I've sthrong suspicions that your son was murdhered. This sacred thing that I put the crass upon people's breast wid, saves people from hangin' an' unnatural deaths. Frank spoke to me last night, no longer ago, to come up an' mark it an' him to-morrow. My opinion is, that he intinded to murdher him at that time, an' wanted to have a protection agin what might happen to him in regard o' the black deed."
"Can we prove it agin him?" inquired the disconsolate father: "I know it'll be hard, as there was no one present but themselves; an' if he did it, surely he'll not confess it."
"We may make him do it maybe," said the mendicant; "the villain's asily frightened, an' fond o' charms an' pisthrogues,* an' sich holy things, for all his wickedness. Don't say a word. We'll take him by, surprise; I'll call upon him to touch the corpse. Make them women—an' och, it's hard to expect it—make them stop clappin' their hands an' cryin'; an' let there be a dead silence, if you can."
During this and some other observations made by Darby, Frank had got the gun in his possession; and, whilst seeming to be engaged in looking at it, and examining the lock, he actually contrived to reload it without having been observed.
"Now, neighbors," said Darby, "hould your tongues for a weeshy start, till I ax Frank M'Kenna a question or two. Frank M'Kenna, as you hope to meet God, at Judgment, did you take his life that's lyin' a corpse before us'?"
"I did not," replied M'Kenna; "I could clear myself on all the books in Europe, that he met his death as I tould you; an' more nor that," he added, dropping upon his knees, and uncovering his head, "may I die widout priest or prayer—widout help, hope, or happiness, upon the spot where he's now stretched, if I murdhered or shot him."
"I say amin to that," replied Darby; "Oxis Doxis Glorioxis!—So far, that's right, if the blood of him's not an you. But there's one thing more to be done: will you walk over undher the eye of God, an' touch the corpse? Hould back, neighbors, an' let him come over alone: I an' Owen Reillaghan will stand here wid the lights, to see if the corpse bleeds."
"Give me, too, a light," said M'Kenna's father; "my son must get fair play, anyway: must be a witness myself to it, an' will, too."
"It's but rasonable," said Owen Reillaghan; "come over beside Darby an' myself: I'm willin' that your son should stand or fall by what'll happen."
Frank's father, with a taper in his hand, immediately went, with a pale face and trembling steps, to the place appointed for him beside the corpse, where he took his stand.
When young M'Kenna heard Darby's last question he seemed as if seized by an inward spasm: the start which he gave, and his gaspings for breath, were visible to all present. Had he seen the spirit of the murdered man before him, his horror could not have been greater; for this ceremony had been considered a most decisive test in cases of suspicion of murder—an ordeal, indeed, to which few murderers wished to submit themselves. In addition to this we may observe, that Darby's knowledge of the young man's character was correct; with all his crimes he was weak-minded and superstitious.
He stood silent for some time after the ordeal had been proposed to him; his hair became literally erect, with the dread of this formidable scrutiny, his cheeks turned white, and the cold perspiration fell from him in large drops. All his strength appeared to have departed from him; he stood, as if hesitating, and even energy necessary to stand seemed to be the result of an effort.
"Remember," said Darby, pulling out the large crucifix which was attached to his heads, "that the eye of God is upon you. If you've committed the murdher, thrimble; if not, Frank, you've little to fear in touchin' the corpse."
Frank had not uttered a word; but, leaning himself on the gun, he looked wildly around him, cast his eyes up to the stormy sky, then turned them with a dead glare upon the corpse and the crucifix.
"Do you confiss the murdher?" said Darby.
"Murdher!" rejoined Frank: "no! I confess no murdher: you villain, do you want to make me guilty;—do you want to make me guilty, you deep villain?"
It seemed as if the current of his thoughts and feelings had taken a new direction, though it is probable that the excitement which appeared to be rising within him was only the courage of fear.
"You all wish to find me guilty," he added: "but I'll show you that I'm not guilty."
He immediately walked towards the corpse, and stooping down, touched the body with one hand, holding the gun in the other. The interest of that moment was intense, and all eyes were strained towards the spot. Behind the corpse, at each shoulder—for the body lay against a small snow-wreath, in a recumbent position—stood the father of the deceased and the father of the accused, each wound up by feelings of a directly opposite character to a pitch of dreadful excitement over them, in his fantastic dress and white beard, stood the tall mendicant, who held up his crucifix to Frank, with an awful menace upon his strongly marked countenance. At a little distance to the left of the body stood other men who were assembled, having their torches held aloft in their hands, and their forms bent towards the corpse, their laces indicating expectation, dread, and horror The female relations of the deceased nearest his remains, their torches extended in the same direction, their visages exhibiting the passions of despair and grief in their wildest characters, but as if arrested by some supernatural object immediately before their eyes, that produced a new and more awful feeling than grief. When the body was touched, Frank stood as if himself bound by a spell to the spot. At length he turned his eyes to the mendicant, who stood silent and motionless, with the crucifix still extended in his hand.
"Are you satisfied now?" said he.
"That's wanst," said the pilgrim: "you're to touch it three times."
Frank hesitated a moment, but immediately stooped again, and touched it twice in succession; but it remained still and unchanged as before! His father broke the silence by a fervent ejaculation of thanksgiving to God for the vindication of his son's character which he had just witnessed.
"Now!" exclaimed M'Kenna, in a loud, exulting tone, "you all see that I did not murdher him!"
"You did!" said a voice, which was immediately recognized to be that of the deceased.
M'Kenna shrieked aloud, and immediately fled with his gun towards the mountains, pursued by Reillaghan's other son. The crowd rushed in towards the body, whilst sorrow, affright, exultation, and wonder, marked the extraordinary scene which ensued.
"Queen o' Heaven!" exclaimed old M'Kenna, "who could believe this only they hard it?"
"The murdher wouldn't lie?" shrieked out Mrs. Reillaghan—"the murdher wouldn't lie!—the blood o' my darlin' son spoke it!—his blood spoke it; or God, or his angel, spoke it for him!"
"It's beyant anything ever known!" some exclaimed, "to come back an' tell the deed upon his murdherer! God presarve us, an' save us, this night! I wish we wor at home out o' this wild place!"
Others said they had heard of such things; but this having happened before their own eyes, surpassed anything that could be conceived.
The mendicant now advanced, and once more mysteriously held up his crucifix.
"Keep silence!" said he, in a solemn, sonorous voice: "Keep silence, I say, an' kneel I down all o' yez before what I've in my hand. If you want to know who or what the voice came from, I can tell yez:—it was the crucifix THAT SPOKE!!"
This communication was received with a feeling of devotion too deep for words. His injunction was instantly complied with: they knelt, and bent down in worship before it in the mountain wilds.
"Ay," said he, "little ye know the virtues of that crucifix! It was consecrated by a friar so holy that it was well known there was but the shadow of him upon the earth, the other part of him bein' night an' day in heaven among the archangels. It shows the power of this Crass, any way; an you may tell your frinds, that I'll sell bades touched wid it to the faithful at sixpence apiece. They can be put an your padareens as Dicades, wid a blessin'. Oxis Doxis Glorioxis—Amin! Let us now bear the corpse home, antil it's dressed and laid out dacently as it ought to be."
The body was then placed upon an easy litter, formed of great-coats buttoned together, and supported by the strongest men present, who held it one or two at each corner. In this manner they advanced at a slow pace, until they reached Owen Reillaghan's house, where they found several of the country-people assembled, waiting for their return.
It was not until the body had been placed in an inner room, where none were admitted until it should be laid out, that the members of the family first noticed the prolonged absence of Reillaghan's other son. The moment it had been alluded to, they were seized with new alarm and consternation.
"Hanim an diouol!" said Reillaghan, bitterly, in Irish, "but I doubt the red-handed villain has cut short the lives of my two brave sons! I only hope he may stop in the country: I'm not widout friends an' followers that 'ud think it no sin in a just cause to pay him in his own coin, an' to take from him an' his a pound o' blood for every ounce of ours they shed."
A number of his friends instantly volunteered to retrace their way to the mountains, and search for the other son. "There's little danger of his life," said a relation; "it's a short time Frank 'ud stand him particularly as the gun wasn't charged. We'll go, at any rate, for 'fraid he might lose himself in the mountains, or walk into some o' the lochs on his way home. We had as good bring some whiskey wid us, for he may want it badly."
While they had been speaking, however, the snow began to fall and the wind to blow in a manner that promised a heavy and violent storm. They proceeded, notwithstanding, on their search, and on whistling for the dog, discovered that he was not to be found.
"He went wid us to the mountains, I know," said the former speaker; "an' I think it likely he'll be found wid Owen, wherever he is. Come, boys, step out: it's a dismal night, any way, the Lord knows.
"Och, och!" And with sorrowful but vigorous steps they went in quest of the missing brother.
Nothing but the preternatural character of the words which Were so mysteriously pronounced immediately before Owen's pursuit of M'Kenna, could have prevented that circumstance, together with the flight of the latter, from exciting greater attention among the crowd. His absence, however, now that they had time to reflect on it, produced unusual alarm, not only on account of M'Kenna's bad character, but from the apprehension of Owen being lost in the mountains.
The inextinguishable determination of revenge with which an Irishman pursues any person who, either directly or indirectly, takes the life of a near relation, or invades the peace of his domestic affections, was strongly illustrated by the nature of Owen's pursuit after M'Kenna, considering the appalling circumstances under which he undertook it. It is certainly more than probable that M'Kenna, instead of flying would have defended himself with the loaded gun, had not his superstitious fears been excited by the words which so mysteriously charged him with the murder. The direction he accidentally took led both himself and his pursuer into the wildest recesses of the mountains. The chase was close and desperate, and certainly might have been fatal to Reillaghan, had M'Kenna thought of using the gun. His terror, however, exhausted him, and overcame his presence of mind to such a degree, that so far from using the weapon in his defence, he threw it aside, in order to gain ground upon his pursuer. This he did but slowly, and the pursuit was as yet uncertain. At length Owen found the distance between himself and his brother's murderer increasing; the night was dark, and he himself feeble and breathless: he therefore gave over all hope of securing him, and returned to follow those who had accompanied him to the spot where his brother's body lay. It was when retracing his path that the nature of his situation occurred to him: the snow had not began to fall, but the appearance of the sky was strongly calculated to depress him.
Every person knows with what remarkable suddenness snow storms descend. He had scarcely advanced homewards more than twenty minutes, when the gray tempest spread its dusky wings over the heavens, and a darker shade rapidly settled upon the white hills—now becoming indistinct in the gloom of the air, which was all in commotion, and groaned aloud with the noise of the advancing storm. When he saw the deep gloom, and felt the chilling coldness pierce his flesh so bitterly, he turned himself in the direction which led by the shortest possible line towards his father's house. He was at this time nearly three miles from any human habitation; and as he looked into the darkness, his heart began to palpitate with an alarm almost bordering on hopelessness. His dog, which had, up till this boding' change, gone on before him, now partook in his master's apprehensions, and trotted anxiously at his feet.
In the meantime the winds howled in a melancholy manner along the mountains, and carried with them from the upper clouds the rapidly descending sleet. The storm-current, too, was against him, and as the air began to work in dark confusion, he felt for the first time how utterly helpless a thing he was under the fierce tempest in this dreadful solitude.
A length the rushing sound which he first heard in the distance approached him in all its terrors; and in a short time he was staggering, like a drunken man, under the incessant drifts which swept over him and about him. Nothing could exceed the horrors of the atmosphere at this moment. From the surface of the earth the whirlwinds swept immense snow-clouds that rose up instantaneously, and shot off along the brows and ravines of the solitary wild, sometimes descending into the valleys, and again rushing up the almost perpendicular sides of the mountains, with a speed, strength, and noise, that mocked at everything possessing life; whilst in the air the tumult and the darkness continued to deepen in the most awful manner. The winds seemed to meet from every point of the compass, and the falling drifts flew backward and forward in every direction; the cold became intense, and Owen's efforts to advance homewards were beginning to fail. He was driven about like an autumn leaf, and his dog, which kept close to him, had nearly equal difficulty in proceeding. No sound but that of the tempest could now be heard, except the screaming of the birds as they were tossed on sidewing through the commotion which prevailed. In this manner was Owen whirled about, till he lost all knowledge of his local situation, being ignorant whether he advanced towards home or otherwise, His mouth and eyes were almost filled with driving sleet; sometimes a' cloud of light sandlike drift would almost bury him, as it crossed, or followed, or opposed his path; sometimes he would sink to the middle in a snow-wreath, from which he extricated himself with great difficulty; and among the many terrors by which he was beset, that of walking into a lake, or over a precipice, was not the least paralyzing. Owen was a young man of great personal strength and activity, for the possession of which, next to his brother, he had been distinguished among his companions; but he now became totally exhausted; the chase after M'Kenna, his former exertion, his struggles, his repeated falls, his powerful attempts to get into the vicinity of life, the desperate strength he put forth in breaking through the vortex of the whirlwind, all had left him faint, and completely at the mercy of the elements.
The cold sleet scales were now frozen to ice on his cheeks; his clothes were completely incrusted with the hard snow, which had been beating into them by the strength of the blast, and his joints were getting stiff and benumbed. The tumult of the tempest, the whirling of the snow-clouds, and the thick snow, now falling, and again tossed upwards by sudden gusts to the sky, deprived him of all power of reflection, and rendered him, though not altogether blind or deaf, yet incapable of forming any distinct opinion upon what he saw or heard. Still, actuated by the unconscious principle of self preservation, he tottered on, cold, feeble, and breathless, now driven back like a reed by the strong rush of the storm, or prostrated almost to suffocation under the whirlwinds, that started up like savage creatures of life about him.
During all this time his faithful dog never abandoned him; but his wild bowlings only heightened the horrors of his situation. When he fell, the affectionate creature would catch the flap of his coat, or his arm, in his teeth, and attempt to raise him; and as long as his master had presence of mind, with the unerring certainty of instinct, he would turn him, when taking a wrong direction, into that which led homewards.
Owen was not, however, reduced to this state without experiencing sensations of which no language could convey adequate notions. At first he struggled heroically with the storm; but when utter darkness threw its impervious shades over the desolation around him, and the fury of the elements grew so tremendous, all the strong propensities to life became roused, the convulsive throes of a young heart on the steep of death threw a wild and corresponding energy into his vigorous frame, and occasioned him to cling to existence with a tenacity rendered still stronger by the terrible consciousness of his unprepared state, and the horror of being plunged into eternity unsupported by the rites of his church, whilst the crime of attempting to take away human life lay on his soul. Those domestic affections, too, which in Irishmen are so strong, became excited; his home, his fireside, the faces of his kindred, already impressed with affliction for the death of one brother, were conjured up in the powerful imagery of natural feeling, the fountains of which were opened in his heart, and his agonizing cry for life rose wildly from the mountain desert upon the voice of the tempest. Then, indeed, when the gulf of a twofold death yawned before him, did the struggling spirit send up its shrieking prayer to heaven with desperate impulse. These struggles, however, as well as those of the body, became gradually weaker as the storm tossed him about, and with the chill of its breath withered him into total helplessness. He reeled on, stiff and insensible, without knowing whither he went, falling with every blast, and possessing scarcely any faculty of life except mere animation.
After about an hour, however, the storm subsided, and the clouds broke away into light, fleecy columns before the wind; the air, too, became less cold, and the face of nature more visible. The driving sleet and hard, granular snow now ceased to fall; but were succeeded by large feathery flakes, that descended slowly upon the still air.
Had this trying scene lasted much longer, Owen must soon have been a stiffened corpse. The child-like strength, however, which just enabled him to bear up without sinking in despair to die, now supported him when there was less demand for energy. The dog, too, by rubbing itself against him, and licking his face, enabled him, by a last effort, to recollect himself, so as to have a glimmering perception of his situation. His confidence returned, and with a greater degree of strength. He shook, as well as he could, the snow from his 'clothes, where it had accumulated heavily, and felt himself able to proceed, slowly, it is true, towards his father's house, which he had nearly reached when he met his friends, who were once: more hurrying out to the mountains in quest of him, having been compelled to return in consequence of the storm, when they had I first set out. The whiskey, their companionship, and their assistance soon revived him. One or two were despatched home before them, to apprise the afflicted family of his safety; and the intelligence was hailed with melancholy joy by the Reillaghans. A faint light played for a moment over the gloom Which had settled among them, but it was brief; for on ascertaining the safety of their second son, their grief rushed back with renewed violence, and nothing could be heard but the voice of sorrow and affliction.
Darby More, who had assumed the control of the family, did everything in his power to console them; his efforts, however, were viewed with a feeling little short of indignation.
"Darby," said the afflicted mother, "you have, undher God, in some sense, my fair son's death to account for. You had a dhrame, but you wouldn't tell it to us. If you had, my boy might be livin' this day, for it would be asy for him to be an his guard."
"Musha, poor woman," replied Darby, "sure you don't know, you afflicted crathur, what you're spakin' about. Tell my dhrame! Why, thin, it's myself towld it to him from beginning to ind, and that whin we wor goin' to mass this day itself. I desired him, on the paril of his life, not to go out a tracin' or toards the mountains, good or bad."
"You said you had a prayer that 'ud keep it back," observed the mother, "an' why didn't you say it?"
"I did say it," replied Darby, "an' that afore a bit crassed my throath this mornin'; but, you see, he broke his promise of not goin' to the mountains, an' that was what made the dhrame come thrue."
"Well, well, Darby, I beg your pardon, an' God's pardon, for judgin' you in the wrong. Oh, wurrah sthrue! my brave son, is it there you're lyin' wid us, avourneen machree!" and she again renewed her grief.
"Oh, thin, I'm sure I forgive you," said Darby: "but keep your grief in for a start, till I say the De Prowhinjis over him, for the pace an' repose of his sowl. Kneel down all of yez."
He repeated this prayer in language which it would require one of Edward Irving's adepts in the Unknown Tongues to interpret. When he had recited about half of it, Owen, and those who had gone to seek him, entered the house, and after the example of the others, reverently knelt down until he finished it.
Owen's appearance once more renewed their grief. The body of his brother had been removed to a bed beyond the fire in the kitchen; and when Owen looked upon the features of his beloved companion, he approached, and stooped down to kiss his lips. He was still too feeble, however, to bend by his own strength; and it is also probable that the warm air of the house relaxed him. Be this, however, as it may, he fell forward, but supported himself by his hands, which were placed upon the body; a deep groan was heard, and the apparently dead man opened his eyes, and feebly exclaimed—"A dhrink? a dhrink!"
Darby More, had, on concluding the De profundus, seated himself beside the bed on which Mike lay; but on hearing the groan, and the call for drink, he leaped rapidly to: his legs and exclaimed, "My sowl to hell an' the divil, Owen Reillaghan, but your son's alive!! Off wid two or three of yez, as the divil can dhrive yez, for the priest an' docthor!! Off wid yez! ye damned spalpeens, aren't ye near there by this! Give us my cant! Are yez gone? Oh, by this and by that—hell—eh—aren't yez—" But ere he could finish the sentence, they had set chit.
"Now," he exclaimed in a voice whose tremendous tones were strongly at variance with his own injunctions—"Now, neighbors, d—n yez, keep silence. Mrs. Reillaghan, get a bottle of whiskey an' a mug o' wather. Make haste. Hanim an diouol! don't be all night!"
The poor mother, however, could not stir; the unexpected revulsion of feeling which she had so suddenly experienced was more than she could sustain. A long fainting-fit! was the consequence, and Darby's commands were obeyed by the wife of a friendly neighbor.
The mendicant immediately wetted Mike's lips, and poured some spirits, copiously diluted with water, down his throat; after which he held the whiskey-bottle, like a connoisseur, between himself and the light. "I hope," said he, "this whiskey is the raal crathur." He put the bottle to his mouth as he spoke, and on holding it a second time before his eye, he shook his head complacently—"Ay," said he, "if anything could bring the dead back to this world, my sowl to glory, but that would. Oh, thin, it would give the dead life, sure enough!" He put it once more to his lips, from which it was not separated without relinquishing a considerable portion of its contents.
"Dhea Grashthias!" he exclaimed; "throth, I find myself, the betther o' that sup, in regard that it's good for this touch 'o' configuration that I'm throubled wid inwardly! Doxis Doxis Glorioxis? Amin!" These words he spoke in a low, placid voice, lest the wounded man might be discomposed by his observations.
The rapidity with which the account of Mike's restoration to life spread among the neighbors was surprising. Those who had gone for the priest and doctor communicated to all they met, and these again to others: that in a short time the house was surrounded by great numbers of their acquaintances, all anxious to hear the particulars more minutely.
Darby, who never omitted an opportunity of impressing the people with a belief in his own sanctity, and in that of his crucifix came out among them, and answered their inquiries by a solemn shake of his head, and a mysterious indication of his finger to the crucifix, but said nothing more. This was enough. The murmur of reverence and wonder spread among them, and ere long there were few present who did not believe that Reillaghan had been restored to life by a touch of Darby's crucifix; an opinion which is not wholly exploded until this day.
Peggy Gartland, who fortunately had not heard the report of her lover's death until it was contradicted by the account of his revival, now entered, and by her pale countenance betrayed strong symptoms of affection and sympathy. She sat by his side, gazing mournfully on his features, and with difficulty suppressed her tears.
For some time before her arrival, the mother and sisters of Mike had been removed to another room, lest the tumultuous expression of their mingled joy and sorrow might disturb him. The fair, artless girl, although satisfied that he still lived, entertained no hopes of his recovery; but she ventured, in a low, trembling voice, to inquire from Darby some particulars of the melancholy transaction which was likely to deprive her of her betrothed husband.
"Where did the shot sthrike him, Darby?"
"Clane through the body, avillish; jist where Captain Cramer was shot at the battle o' Bunker's Hill, where he lay as good as dead for twelve hours, and was near bein' berried a corp, an' him alive all the time, only that as they were pullin' him off o' the cart, he gev a shout, an' thin, a colleen dhas, they began to think he might be livin' still. Sure enough, he was, too, an' lived successfully, till he died wid dhrinkin' brandy, as a cure for the gout; the Lord be praised!"
"Where's the villain, Darby?"
"He's in the mountains, no doubt, where he had thim to fight wid that's a match for him—God, an' the dark storm that fell awhile agone. They'll pay him, never fear, for his thrachery to the noble boy that chastised him for your sake, acushla oge! (* my young pulse) sthrong was your hand, a Veehal, an' ginerous was your affectionate heart; an' well you loved the fair girl that's sitting beside you! Throth, Peggy, my heart's black with sarrow about the darlin' young man. Still, life's in him; an' while there's life there's hope; glory be to God!"
The eulogium of the pilgrim, who was, in truth, much attached to Mike, moved the heart of the affectionate girl, whose love and sympathy were pure as the dew on the grass-blade, and now as easily affected by the slightest touch. She remained silent for a time, but secretly glided her hand towards that of her lover, which she clasped in hers, and by a gentle and timid pressure, strove to intimate to him that she was beside him. Long, but unavailing, was the struggle to repress her sorrow; her bosom heaved; she gave two or three loud sobs, and burst into tears and lamentations.
"Don't cry, avourneen," whispered Darby—"Don't cry; I'll warrant you that Darby More will ate share of your weddin' dinner an' his, yit. There's a small taste of color comin' to his face, which, I think, undher God, is owin' to my touchin' him wid the cruciwhix. Don't cry, a colleen, he'll get over it an' more than it, yit, a colleen bawn!"
Darby then hurried her into the room where Mike's mother and sisters were. On entering she threw herself into the arms of the former, laid her face on her bosom, and wept bitterly. This renewed the mother's grief: she clasped the interesting girl in a sorrowful embrace; so did his sisters. They threw themselves into each other's arms, and poured forth those touching, but wild bursts of pathetic language, which are always heard when the heart is struck by some desolating calamity.
"Husht!" said a neighboring man who was present; "husht! it's a shame for yez, an' the boy not dead yit."
"I'm not ashamed," said Peggy: "why should I be ashamed of bein' sarry for the likes of Mike Reillaghan? Where was his aquil? Wasn't all hearts upon him? Didn't the very poor on the road bless him whin he passed? Who ever had a bad word agin him, but the villain that murdhered him? Murdhered him! Heaven above! an' why? For my sake! For my sake the pride of the parish is laid low! Ashamed! Is it for cryin' for my betrothed husband, that was sworn to me, an' I to him, before the eye of God above us? This day week I was to be his bride; an' now—now—Oh, Vread Reillaghan, take me to you! Let me go to his mother! My heart's broke, Vread Reillaghan! Let me go to her: nobody's grief for him is like ours. You're his mother, an' I'm his wife in the sight o' God. Proud was I out of him: my eyes brightened when they seen him, an' my heart got light when I heard his voice; an' now, what's afore me?—what's afore me but sorrowful days an' a broken heart!"
Mrs. Reillaghan placed her tenderly and affectionately beside her, on the bed whereon she herself sat. With the corner of her handkerchief she wiped the tears from the weeping girl, although her own flowed fast. Her daughters, also, gathered about her, and in language of the most endearing kind, endeavored to soothe and console her.
"He may live yet, Peggy, avourheen," said his mother; "my brave and noble son may live yet, an' you may be both,happy! Don't be cryin' so much, asthore galh machree (* The beloved white (girl) of my heart); sure he's in the hands o' God avourneen; an' your young heart won't be broke, I hope. Och, the Lord pity her young feelins!" exclaimed the mother affected even by the consolation she herself offered to the betrothed bride of her son: "is it any whundher she'd sink undher sich a blow! for, sure enough, where was the likes of him? No, asthore; it's no wondher—it's no wondher! lonesome will your heart be widout him; for I know what he'd feel if a hair of your head was injured."
"Oh, I know it—I know it! There was music in his voice, an' grah and. kindness to every crathur on God's earth; but to me—to me—oh, no one knew his love to me, but myself an' God. Oh, if I was dead, that I couldn't feel this, or if my life could save his! Why didn't the villain,—the black villain, wid God's curse upon him—why didn't he shoot me, thin I could never be Mike's wife, an' his hand o' murdher might be satisfied? If he had, I wouldn't feel as I do. Ay! the warmest, an' the best, an' the dearest blood of my heart, I could shed for him. That heart was his, an' he had a right to it. Our love wasn't of yistherday: afore the links of my hair came to my showldhers I loved him, an' thought of him; an many a time he tould me that I was his first! God knows he was my first, an' he will be my last, let him live or die."
"Well, but, Peggy achora," said his sister, "maybe it's sinful to be cryin' this way, an' he not dead."
"God forgive me, if it's a sin," replied Peggy; "I'd not wish to do anything sinful or displasin' to God; an' I'll sthrive to keep down my grief: I will, as well as I can."
She put her hands on her face, and by all effort of firmness, subdued the tone of her grief to a low, continuous murmur of sorrow.
"An' along wid that," said the sister, "maybe the noise is disturbin' him. Darby put us all out o' the kitchen to have pace an' quietness about him."
"An' 'twas well thought o' Darby," she replied; "an' may the blessin' o' God rest upon him for it! A male's mate or a nights lodgin' he'll never want under my father's roof for that goodness to him. I'll be quiet."
There was now a short pause, during which those in the room heard a smack, accompanied by the words, "Dheah. Grashthias! throth I'm the betther o' that sup, so I am. Nothin' keeps this thief of a configuration down but it. Dheah Grashthias for that! Oh, thin, this is the stuff! It warms the body to the top o' the nails!"
"Don't spare it, Darby," said old Reillaghan, "if it does you good."
"Avourneen," said Darby, "it's only what gives me a little relief I ever take, jist by way of cure, for it's the only thing does me good, when I am this-a-way."
Several persons in the neighborhood were, in the mean time, flocking to Reillaghan's house. A worthy man, accompanied by his wife, entered as the pilgrim had concluded. The woman, in accordance with the custom of the country, raised the Irish cry, in a loud melancholy wail, that might be heard at a great distance.
Darby, who prided himself on maintaining silence, could not preserve the consistency of his character upon this occasion, any more than on that of Mike's recent symptoms of life.
"Your sowl to the divil, you faggot!" he exclaimed, "what do you mane? The divil whip the tongue out o' you! are you going to come here only to disturb the boy that's not dead yet? Get out o' this, an' be asy wid your skhreechin', or by the crass that died for us, only you're a woman, I'd tumble you wid a lick o' my cant. Keep asy, you vagrant, an' the dacent boy not dead yet. Hell bellows you, what do you mane?"
"Not dead!" exclaimed the woman, with her body bent in the proper attitude, her hands extended, and the crying face turned with amazement to Darby. "Not dead! Wurrah, man alive, isn't he murdhered?"
"Hell resave the matther for that!" replied Darby. "I tell you he's livin' an' will live I hope, barrin' your skirlin' dhrives the life that's in him out of him. Go into the room there to the women, an' make yourself scarce out o' this, or by the padareens about me, I'll malivogue you."
"We can't be angry wid the dacent woman," observed old Reillaghan, "in regard that she came to show her friendship and respect."
"I'd be angry wid St. Pettier," said Darby, "an' 'ud not scruple to give him a lick o' my c—— Lord presarve us! what was I goin' o say! Why, throth, I believe the little wits I had are all gone a shaughran! I must fast a Friday or two for the same words agin St. Pether. Oxis Doxis Glorioxis—Amin."
Hope is strong in love and in life. Peggy, now that grief had eased her heart of its load of accumulated sorrow, began to reflect upon Darby's anecdote of Captain Cramer, which she related to those about her. They all rejoiced to hear that it was possible to be wounded so severely and live. They also consoled and supported each other, and expressed their trust that Mike might also recover. The opinion of the doctor was waited for with such anxiety as a felon feels when the foreman of the jury hands down the verdict which consigns him to life or death.
Whether Darby's prescription was the result of chance or sagacity we know not. We are bound, however, to declare that Reillaghan's strength was in some degree restored, although the pain he suffered amounted to torture. The surgeon (who was also a physician, and, moreover, supplied his own medicines) and the priest, as they lived in the same town, both arrived together. The latter administered the rites of his church to him; and the former, who was a skilful man, left nothing undone to accomplish his restoration to health. He had been shot through the body with a bullet—a circumstance which was not known until the arrival of the surgeon. This gentlemen expressed much astonishment at his surviving the wound, but said that circumstances of a similar nature had occurred, particularly on the field of battle, although he admitted that they were few.
Darby, however, who resolved to have something like a decided opinion from him, without at all considering whether such a thing was possible, pressed him strongly upon the point.
"Arrah, blur-an-age, Docthor Swither, say one thing or other. Is he to live or die? Plain talk, Docthor, is all we want, an' no feasthalagh (* nonsense)."
"The bullet, I am inclined to think," replied the Doctor, "must either not have touched a vital part, or touched it only slightly. I have known cases similar, it is true; but it is impossible for me to pronounce a decisive opinion upon him just now."
"The divil resave the yarrib* ever I'll gather for you agin, so long as my name's Darby More, except you say either 'life' or 'death,'" said Darby, who forgot his character of sanctity altogether.
* Herb-Men of Darby's cast were often in the habit of collecting rare medicinal plants for the apothecaries; and not bad botanists some of them were.
"Darby, achora," said Mrs. Reillaghan, "don't crass the gintleman, an' him sthrivin' to do his best. Here, Paddy Gormly, bring some wather till the docthor washes his hands."
"Darby," replied the Doctor, to whom he was well known, "you are a good herbalist, but even although you should not serve me as usual in that capacity, yet I cannot say exactly either life or death. The case is too critical a one; but I do not despair, Darby, if that will satisfy you."
"More power to you, Docthor, achora. Hell-an-age, where's that bottle? bring it here. Thank you, Vread. Docthor, here's wishin' you all happiness, an' may you set Mike on his legs wanst more! See, Docthor—see, man alive—look at this purty girl here, wid her wet cheeks; give her some hope, ahagur, if you can; keep the crathur's spirits up, an' I'll furnish you wid every yarrib in Europe, from the nettle to the rose."
"Don't despair, my good girl," said the Doctor, addressing Peggy. "I hope, I trust, that he may recover; but he must be kept easy and quiet."
"May the blessing of God, sir, light down on you for the same words," replied Peggy, in a voice tremulous, with gratitude and joy.
"Are you done wid him, Docthor?" said old Reillaghan.
"At present," replied the Doctor, "I can do nothing more for him; but I shall see him early to-morrow morning."
"Bekase, sir," continued the worthy man, "here's Darby More, who's afflicted with a comflamboration, or some sich thing, inwardly, an' if you should ase him, sir, I'd pay the damages, whatever they might be."
The Doctor smiled slightly. "Darby's complaint," said he, "is beyond my practice; there is but one cure for it, and that is, if I have any skill, a little of what's in the bottle here, taken, as our prescriptions sometimes say, 'when the patient is inclined for it.'"
"By my sou—sanctity, Docthor," said Darby, "you're a man of skill, any how, an' that's well known, sir. Nothin', as Father Hoolaghan says, but the sup of whiskey does this sarra of a configuration good. It rises the wind off o' my stomach, Docthor!"
"It does, Darby, it does. Now let all be peace and quietness," continued the Doctor: "take away a great part of this fire, and don't attempt to remove him to any other bed until I desire you. I shall call again tomorrow morning early."
The Doctor's attention to his patient was unremitting; everything that human skill, joined to long experience and natural talent, could do to restore the young man to his family was done; and in the course of a few weeks the friends of Keillaghan had the satisfaction of seeing him completely out of danger.
Mike declared, after his recovery, that though incapable of motion on the mountains, he was not altogether insensible to what passed around him. The loud tones of their conversation he could hear. The oath which young M'Kenna uttered in a voice so wild and exalted, fell clearly on his ear, and he endeavored to contradict it, in order that he might be secured and punished in the event of his death. He also said; that the pain he suffered in the act of being conveyed home, occasioned him to groan feebly; but that the sobs, and cries, and loud conversation of those who surrounded him, prevented his moans from being heard. It is probable, after all, that were it not for the accidental fall of Owen upon his body, he might not have survived the wound, inasmuch as the medical skill, which contributed to restore him, would not have been called in.
Though old Frank M'Kenna and his family felt an oppressive load of misery taken off their hearts by the prospect of Reillaghan's recovery, yet it was impossible for them to be insensible to the fate of their son, knowing as they did, that he must have been out among the mountains during the storm. His unhappy mother and Rody sat up the whole night, expecting his return, but morning arrived without bringing him home. For six days afterwards the search for him was general and strict; his friends and neighbors traversed the mountain wastes until they left scarcely an acre of them unexplored. On the sixth day there came a thaw, and towards the close of the seventh he was found a "stiffened corpse," upon the very spot where he had shot his rival, and on which he had challenged the Almighty to stretch him in death, without priest or prayer, if he were guilty of the crime with which he had been charged. He was found lying with a, circle drawn round him, his head pillowed upon the innocent blood which he had shed with the intention of murder, and a bloody cross marked upon his breast and forehead. It was thought that in the dread of approaching death he had formed it with his hand, which came accidentally in contact with the blood that lay in clots about him.
The manner of his death excited a profound and wholesome feeling among the people, with respect to the crime which he attempted to commit. The circumstances attending it, and his oath upon the spot where he shot Reillaghan, are still spoken of by the fathers of the neighboring villages, and even by some who were present at the search for his body, it was also doubly remarkable on account of a case of spectral illusion which it produced, and which was ascribed to the effect of M'Kenna's supernatural appearance at the time. The daughter of a herdsman in the mountains was strongly affected by the spectacle of his dead body borne past her father's door. In about a fortnight afterwards she assured her family that he appeared to her. She saw the apparition, in the beginning, only at night; but ere long it ventured, as she imagined, to appear in day-light. Many imaginary conversations took place between them; and the fact of the peasantry flocking to the herd's house to satisfy themselves as to the truth of the rumor, is yet well remembered in the parish. It, was also affirmed, that as the funeral of M'Kenna passed to the churchyard, a hare crossed it, which some one present struck on the side with a stone. The hare, says the tradition, was not injured, but the sound of the stroke resembled that produced on striking an empty barrel.
We have nearly wound up our story, in which we have feebly endeavored to illustrate scenes that were, some time ago, not unusual in Irish life. There is little more to be added, except that Mike Reillaghan almost miraculously recovered; that he and Peggy Gartland were happily married, and that Darby More lost his character as a dreamer in that parish, Mike, with whom, however, he still continued a favorite, used frequently to allude to the speaking crucifix, the dream aforesaid, and his bit of fiction, in assuring his mother that he had dissuaded him against "tracing" on that eventful day.
"Well, avourneen," Darby would exclaim, "the holiest of us has our failins; but, in throth, the truth of it is, that myself didn't know what I was sayin', I was so through other (* agitated); for I renumber that I was badly afflicted with this thief of a configuration inwardly at the time. That, you see, and your own throubles, put my mind ashanghran for 'a start. But, upon my sanctity,—an' sure that's a great oath wid me—only for the Holy Carol you bought from me the night before, an' above all touchin' you wid the blessed Cruciwhix, you'd never a' got over the same accident. Oh, you may smile an' shake your head, but it's thruth whether or not! Glory be to God!"
The priest of the parish, on ascertaining correctly the incidents mentioned in this sketch, determined to deprive the people of at least one pretext for their follies. He represented the abuses connected with such a ceremony to the bishop; and from that night to the present time, the inhabitants of Kilnaheery never had, in their own parish, an opportunity of hearing a Midnight Mass.
THE DONAGH; OR, THE HORSE STEALERS.
Carnmore, one of those small villages that are to be found in the outskirts of many parishes in Ireland, whose distinct boundaries are lost in the contiguous mountain-wastes, was situated at the foot of a deep gorge or pass, overhung by two bleak hills, from the naked sides of which the storm swept over it, without discomposing the peaceful little nook of cabins that stood below. About a furlong farther down were two or three farm-houses, inhabited by a family named Cassidy, men of simple, inoffensive manners, and considerable wealth. They were, however, acute and wise in their generation; intelligent cattle-dealers, on whom it would have been a matter of some difficulty to impose an unsound horse, or a cow older than was intimated by her horn-rings, even when conscientiously dressed up for sale by the ingenious aid of the file or burning-iron. Between their houses and the hamlet rose a conical pile of rocks, loosely leaped together, from which the place took its name of Carnmore.
About three years before the time of this story, there came two men with their families to reside in the upper village, and the house which they chose as a residence was one at some distance from those which composed the little group we have just been describing. They said their name was Meehan, although the general report went, that this was not true; that the name was an assumed one, and that some dark mystery, which none could penetrate, shrouded their history and character. They were certainly remarkable men. The elder, named Anthony, was a dark, black-browed person, stern in his manner, and atrociously cruel in his disposition. His form was Herculean, his bones strong and hard as iron, and his sinews stood out in undeniable evidence of a life hitherto spent in severe toil and exertion, to bear which he appeared to an amazing degree capable. His brother Denis was a small man, less savage and daring in his character, and consequently more vacillating and cautious than Anthony; for the points in which he resembled him were superinduced upon his natural disposition by the close connection that subsisted between them, and by the identity of their former pursuits in life, which, beyond doubt, had been such as could not bear investigation.
The old proverb of "birds of a feather flock together," is certainly a true one, and in this case it was once more verified. Before the arrival of these men in the village, there had been two or three bad characters in the neighborhood, whose delinquencies were pretty well known. With these persons the strangers, by that sympathy which assimilates with congenial good or evil, soon became acquainted; and although their intimacy was as secret and cautious as possible, still it had been observed, and was known, for they had frequently been seen skulking together at daybreak, or in the dusk of evening.
It is unnecessary to say that Meehan and his brother did not mingle much in the society of Carnmore. In fact, the villagers and they mutually avoided each other. A mere return of the common phrases of salutation was generally the most that passed between them; they never entered into that familiarity which leads to mutual intercourse, and justifies one neighbor in freely entering the cabin of another, to spend a winter's night, or a summer's evening, in amusing conversation. Few had ever been in the house of the Meehans since it became theirs; nor were the means of their subsistence known. They led an idle life, had no scarcity of food, were decently clothed, and never wanted money; circumstances which occasioned no small degree of conjecture in Carnmore and its vicinity.
Some said they lived by theft; others that they were coiners; and there were many who imagined, from the diabolical countenance of the older brother, that he had sold himself to the devil, who, they affirmed, set his mark upon him, and was his paymaster. Upon this hypothesis several were ready to prove that he had neither breath nor shadow; they had seen him, they said, standing under a hedge-row of elder—that unholy tree which furnished wood for the cross, and on which Judas hanged himself—yet, although it was noon-day in the month of July, his person threw out no shadow. Worthy souls! because the man stood in the shade at the time. But with these simple explanations Superstition had nothing to do, although we are bound in justice to the reverend old lady to affirm that she was kept exceedingly busy in Carnmore. If a man had a sick cow, she was elf-shot; if his child became consumptive, it had been overlooked, or received a blast from the fairies; if the whooping-cough was rife, all the afflicted children were put three times under an ass; or when they happened to have the "mumps," were led, before sunrise to a south-running stream, with a halter hanging about their necks, under an obligation of silence during the ceremony In short, there could not possibly be a more superstitious spot than that which these men of mystery had selected for their residence. Another circumstance which caused the people to look upon them with additional dread, was their neglect of mass on Sundays and holydays, though they avowed themselves Roman Catholics. They did not, it is true, join in the dances, drinking-matches, football, and other sports with which the Carnmore folk celebrated the Lord's day; but they scrupled not, on the other hand, to mend their garden-ditch or mould a row of cabbages on the Sabbath—a circumstance, for which two or three of the Carnmore boys were, one Sunday evening when tipsy, well-nigh chastising them. Their usual manner, however, of spending that day was by sauntering lazily about the fields, or stretching themselves supinely on the sunny side of the hedges, their arms folded on their bosoms, and their hats lying over their faces to keep off the sun.
In the mean time, loss of property was becoming quite common in the neighborhood. Sheep were stolen from the farmers, and cows and horses from the more extensive graziers in the parish. The complaints against the authors of these depredations were loud and incessant: watches were set, combinations for mutual security formed, and subscriptions to a considerable amount entered into, with a hope of being able, by the temptation of a large reward, to work upon the weakness or cupidity of some accomplice to betray the gang of villains who infested the neighborhood. All, however, was in vain; every week brought some new act of plunder to light, perpetrated upon such unsuspecting persons as had hitherto escaped the notice of the robbers; but no trace could be discovered of the perpetrators. Although theft had from time to time been committed upon a small scale before the arrival of the Meehans in the village, yet it was undeniable that since that period the instances not only multiplied, but became of a more daring and extensive description. They arose in a gradual scale, from the henroost to the stable; and with such ability were they planned and executed, that the people, who in every instance identified Meehan and his brother with them, began to believe and hint that, in consequence of their compact with the devil, they had power to render themselves invisible. Common Fame, who can best treat such subjects, took up this, and never laid it aside until, by narrating several exploits which Meehan the elder was said to have performed in other parts of the kingdom, she wound it up by roundly informing the Carnmorians, that, having been once taken prisoner for murder, he was caught by the leg, when half through a hedge, but that; being most wickedly determined to save his neck, he left the leg with the officer who took him, shouting out that it was a new species of leg-bail; and yet he moved away with surprising speed, upon two of as good legs as any man in his majesty's dominions might wish to walk off upon, from the insinuating advances of a bailiff or a constable!
The family of the Meehans consisted of their wives and three children, two boys and a girl; the former were the offspring of the younger brother, and the latter of Anthony. It has been observed, with truth and justice, that there is no man, how hardened and diabolical soever in his natural temper, who does not exhibit to some particular object a peculiar species of affection. Such a man was Anthony Meehan. That sullen hatred which he bore to human society, and that inherent depravity of heart which left the trail of vice and crime upon his footsteps, were flung off his character when he addressed his daughter Anne. To him her voice was like music; to her he was not the reckless villain, treacherous and cruel, which the helpless and unsuspecting found him; but a parent kind and indulgent as ever pressed an only and beloved daughter to his bosom. Anne was handsome: had she been born and educated in an elevated rank in society, she would have been softened by the polish and luxury of life into perfect beauty: she was, however, utterly without education. As Anne experienced from her father no unnatural cruelty, no harshness, nor even indifference, she consequently loved him in return; for she knew that tenderness from such a man was a proof of parental love rarely to be found in life. Perhaps she loved not her father the less on perceiving that he was proscribed by the world; a circumstance which might also have enhanced in his eyes the affection she bore him. When Meehan came to Carnmore, she was sixteen; and, as that was three years before the incident occurred on which we have founded this narrative, the reader may now suppose her to be about nineteen; an interesting country girl, as to person, but with a mind completely neglected, yet remarkable for an uncommon stock of good nature and credulity.
About the hour of eleven o'clock, one winter's night in the beginning of December, Meehan and his brother sat moodily at their hearth. The fire was of peat which had recently been put down, and, from between the turf, the ruddy blaze was shooting out in those little tongues and, gusts of sober light, which throw around the rural hearth one of those charms which make up the felicity of domestic life. The night was stormy, and the wind moaned and howled along the dark hills beneath which the cottage stood. Every object in the house was shrouded in a mellow shade, which afforded to the eye no clear outline, except around the hearth alone, where the light brightened into a golden hue, giving the idea of calmness and peace. Anthony Meehan sat on one side of it, and his daughter opposite him, knitting: before the fire sat Denis, drawing shapes in the ashes for his own amusement.
"Bless me," said he, "how sthrange it is!"
"What is?" inquired Anthony, in his deep and grating tones.
"Why, thin, it is sthrange!" continued the other, who, despite of the severity of his brother, was remarkably superstitious—"a coffin I made in the ashes three times runnin'! Isn't it very quare, Anne?" he added, addressing the niece.
"Sthrange enough, of a sartinty," she replied, being unwilling to express before her father the alarm which the incident, slight as it was, created in her mind; for she, like her uncle, was subject to such ridiculous influences. "How did it happen, uncle?"
"Why, thin, no way in life, Anne; only, as I was thryin' to make a shoe, it turned out a coffin on my hands. I thin smoothed the ashes, and began agin, an' sorra bit of it but was a coffin still. Well, says I, I'll give you another chance,—here goes one more;—an', as sure as gun's iron, it was a coffin the third time. Heaven be about us, it's odd enough!"
"It would be little matther you were nailed down in a coffin," replied Anthony, fiercely; "the world would have little loss. What a pitiful cowardly rascal you are! Afraid o' your own shadow afther the 'sun goes down, except I'm at your elbow! Can't you dhrive all them palavers out o' your head? Didn't the sargint tell us, an' prove to us, the time we broke the guardhouse, an' took Frinch lave o' the ridgment for good, that the whole o' that, an' more along wid it, is all priestcraft?"
"I remimber he did, sure enough: I dunna where the same sargint is now, Tony? About no good, any way, I'll be bail. Howsomever, in regard o' that, why doesn't yourself give up fastin' from the mate of a Friday?"
"Do you want me to sthretch you on the hearth?" replied the savage, whilst his eyes kindled into fury, and his grim visage darkened into a satanic expression. "I'll tache you to be puttin' me through my catechiz about aitin' mate. I may manage that as I plase; it comes at first-cost, anyhow: but no cross-questions to me about it, if you regard your health!"
"I must say for you," replied Denis, reproachfully, "that you're a good warrant to put the health astray upon us of an odd start: we're not come to this time o' day widout carryin' somethin' to remimber you by. For my own part, Tony, I don't like such tokens; an' moreover, I wish you had resaved a thrifle o' larnin', espishily in the writin' line; for whenever we have any difference, you're so ready to prove your opinion by settin' your mark upon me, that I'd rather, fifty times over, you could write it with pen an' ink."
"My father will give that up, uncle," said the niece; "it's bad for any body to be fightin', but worst of all for brothers, that ought to live in peace and kindness. Won't you, father?"
"Maybe I will, dear, some o' these days, on your account, Anne; but you must get this creature of an uncle of yours, to let me alone, an' not be aggravatin' me with his folly. As for your mother, she's worse; her tongue's sharp enough to skin a flint, and a batin' a day has little effect on her."
Anne sighed, for she knew how long an irreligious life, and the infamous society with which, as her father's wife, her mother was compelled to mingle, had degraded her.
"Well, but, father, you don't set her a good example yourself," said Anne; "and if she scoulds and drinks now, you know she was a different woman when you got her. You allow this yourself; and the crathur, the dhrunkest time she is, doesn't she cry bittherly, remimberin' what she has been. Instead of one batin' a day, father, thry no batin' a day, an' maybe it 'ill turn out betther than thump-in' an' smashin' her as you do."
"Why, thin, there's truth and sinse in what the girl says, Tony," observed Denis.
"Come," replied Anthony, "whatever she may say I'll suffer none of your interference. Go an' get us the black bottle from the place; it'll soon be time to move. I hope they won't stay too long."
Denis obeyed this command with great readiness, for whiskey in some degree blunted the fierce passions of his brother, and deadened his cruelty; or rather diverted it from minor objects to those which occurred in the lawless perpetration of his villany.
The bottle was got, and in the meantime the fire blazed up brightly; the storm without, however, did not abate, nor did Meehan and his brother wish that it should. As the elder of them took the glass from the hands of the other, an air of savage pleasure blazed in his eyes, on reflecting that the tempest of the night was favorable to the execution of the villanous deed on which they were bent.
"More power to you!" said Anthony, impiously personifying the storm; "sure that's one proof that God doesn't throuble his head about what we do, or we would not get such a murdherin' fine night as is in it any how. That's it! blow and tundher away, an' keep yourself an' us, as black as hell, sooner than we should fail in what we intend! Anne, your health, acushla!—Yours, Dinny! If you keep your tongue off o' me, I'll neither make nor meddle in regard o' the batin' o' you."
"I hope you'll stick to that, any how," replied Denis; "for my part I'm sick and sore o' you every day in the year. Many another man would put salt wather between himself and yourself, sooner nor become a battin'-stone for you, as I have been. Few would bear it, when they could mend themselves."
"What's that you say?" replied Anthony, suddenly laying down his glass, catching his brother by the collar, and looking him with a murderous scowl in the face. "Is it thrachery you hint at?—eh? Sarpent, is it thrachery you mane?" and as he spoke, he compressed Denis's neck between his powerful hands, until the other was black in the face.
Anne flew to her uncle's assistance, and with much difficulty succeeded in rescuing him from the deadly gripe of her father, who exclaimed, as he loosed his hold, "You may thank the girl, or you'd not spake, nor dare to spake, about crossin' the salt wather, or lavin' me in a desateful way agin. If I ever suspect that a thought of thrachery comes into your heart, I'll do for you; and you may carry your story to the world I'll send you to."
"Father, dear, why are you so suspicious of my uncle?" said Anne; "sure he's a long time livin' with you, an' goin' step for step in all the danger you meet with. If he had a mind to turn out a Judas agin you, he might a done it long agone; not to mintion the throuble it would bring on his own head seein' he's as deep in everything as you are."
"If that's all that's throubling you," replied Denis, trembling, "you may make yourself asy on the head of it; but well I know 'tisn't that that's on your mind; 'tis your own conscience; but sure it's not fair nor rasonable for you to vent your evil thoughts on me!"
"Well, he won't," said Anne, "he'll quit it; his mind's throubled; an', dear knows, it's no wondher it should. Och, I'd give the world wide that his conscience was lightened of the load that's upon it! My mother's lameness is nothin'; but the child, poor thing! An' it was only widin three days of her lyin'-in. Och, it was a cruel sthroke, father! An' when I seen its little innocent face, dead an' me widout a brother, I thought my heart would break, thinkin' upon who did it!" The tears fell in showers from her eyes, as she added, "Father, I don't want to vex you; but I wish you to feel sorrow for that at laste. Oh, if you'd bring the priest, an' give up sich coorses, father dear, how happy we'd be, an' how happy yourself 'ud be!"
Conscience for a moment started from her sleep, and uttered a cry of guilt in his spirit; his face became ghastly, and his eyes full of horror: his lips quivered, and he' was about to upbraid his daughter with more harshness than usual, when a low whistle, resembling that of a curlew, was heard at a chink of the door. In a moment he gulped down another glass of spirits, and was on his feet: "Go, Denis, an' get the arms," said he to his brother, "while I let them in."
On opening the door, three men entered, having their great coats muffled about them, and their hats slouched. One of them, named Kenny, was a short villain, but of a thick-set, hairy frame. The other was known as "the Big Mower," in consequence of his following that employment every season, and of his great skill in performing it. He had a deep-rooted objection against permitting the palm of his hand to be seen; a reluctance which common fame attributed to the fact of his having received on that part the impress of a hot iron, in the shape of the letter T, not forgetting to add, that T was the hieroglyphic for Thief. The villain himself affirmed it was simply the mark of a cross, burned into it by a blessed friar, as a charm against St. Vitus's dance, to which he had once been subject. The people, however, were rather sceptical, not of the friar's power to cure that malady, but of the fact of his ever having moved a limb under it; and they concluded with telling him, good-humoredly enough, that notwithstanding the charm, he was destined to die "wid the threble of it in his toe." The third was a noted pedlar called Martin, who, under pretence of selling tape, pins, scissors, etc., was very useful in setting such premises as this virtuous fraternity might, without much risk, make a descent upon.
"I thought yez would out-stay your time," said the elder Meehan, relapsing into his determined hardihood of character; "we're ready, hours agone. Dick Rice gave me two curlew an' two patrich calls to-day. Now pass the glass among yez, while Denny brings the arms. I know there's danger in this business, in regard of the Cassidys livin' so near us. If I see anybody afut, I'll use the curlew call: an' if not, I'll whistle twice on the patrich (* partridge) one, an' ye may come an. The horse is worth eighty guineas, if he's worth a shillin'; an' we'll make sixty off him ourselves."
For some time they chatted about the plan in contemplation, and drank freely of the spirits, until at length the impatience of the elder Meehan at the delay of his brother became ungovernable. His voice deepened into tones of savage passion, as he uttered a series of blasphemous curses against this unfortunate butt of his indignation and malignity. At length he rushed out furiously to know why he did not return; but, on reaching a secret excavation in the mound against which the house was built, he found, to his utter dismay, that Denis had made his escape by an artificial passage, scooped out of it to secure themselves a retreat in case of surprise or detection. It opened behind the house among a clump of black-thorn and brushwood, and wis covered "with green turf in such a manner as to escape the notice of all who were not acquainted with the secret. Meehan's face on his return was worked up into an expression truly awful.
"We're sould!" said he; "but stop, I'll tache the thraithur what revenge is!"
In a moment he awoke his brother's two sons, and dragged them by the neck, one in each hand, to the hearth.
"Your villain of a father's off," said he, "to betray us; go, an' folly him; bring him back, an' he'll be safe from me: but let him become a slag agin us, and if I should hunt you both into bowels of the airth, I'll send yez to a short account. I don't care that," and he snapped his fingers—"ha, ha—no, I don't care that for the law; I know how to dale with it, when it comes! An' what's the stuff about the other world, but priestcraft and lies!"
"Maybe," said the Big Mower, "Denis is gone to get the foreway of us, an' to take the horse himself. Our best plan is to lose no time, at all events; so let us hurry, for fraid the night might happen to clear up."
"He!" said Meehan, "he go alone! No; the miserable wretch is afeard of his own shadow. I only wondher he stuck to me so long: but sure he wouldn't, only I bate the courage in, and the fear out of him. You're right, Brian," said he upon reflection, "let us lose no time, but be off. Do ye mind?" he added to his nephews; "Did ye hear me? If you see him, let him come back, an' all will be berrid; but, if he doesn't, you know your fate!" Saying which, he and his accomplices departed amid the howling of the storm.
The next morning, Carnmore, and indeed the whole parish, was in an uproar; a horse, worth eighty guineas, had been stolen in the most daring manner from the Cassidys, and the hue-and-cry was up after the thief or thieves who took him. For several days the search was closely maintained, but without success; not the slightest trace could be found of him or them. The Cassidys could very well bear to lose him; but there were many struggling farmers, on whose property serious depredations had been committed, who could not sustain their loss so easily. It was natural under these circumstances that suspicion should attach to many persons, some of whom had but indifferent characters before as well as to several who certainly had never deserved suspicion. When a fortnight or so had elapsed, and no circumstances transpired that might lead to discovery, the neighbors, including those who had principally suffered by the robberies, determined to assemble upon a certain day at Cassidy's house, for the purpose of clearing themselves, on oath, of the imputation thrown out against some of them, as accomplices in the thefts. In order, however, that the ceremony should be performed as solemnly as possible, they determined to send for Father Farrell, and Mr. Nicholson, a magistrate, both of whom they requested to undertake the task of jointly presiding upon this occasion; and, that the circumstance should have every publicity, it was announced from the altar by the priest, on the preceding Sabbath, and published on the church-gate in large legible characters ingeniously printed with a pen by the village schoolmaster.
In fact, the intended meeting, and the object of it, were already notorious; and much conversation was held upon its probable result, and the measures which might be taken against those who should refuse to swear. Of the latter, description there was but one opinion, which was that their refusal in such a case would be tantamount to guilt. The innocent were anxious to vindicate themselves from suspicion: and, as the suspected did not amount to more than a dozen, of course, the whole body of the people, including the thieves themselves, who applauded it as loudly as the other, all expressed their satisfaction at the measures about to be adopted. A day was therefore appointed, on which the inhabitants of the neighborhood, particularly the suspected persons, should come to assemble at Cassidy's house, in order to have the characters of the innocent cleared up, and the guilty, if possible, made known.
On the evening before this took place, were assembled in Meehan's cottage, the elder Meehan, and the rest of the gang, including Denis, who had absconded, on the night of the theft.
"Well, well, Denny," said Anthony, who forced his rugged nature into an appearance of better temper, that he might strengthen the timid spirit of his brother against the scrutiny about to take place on the morrow—perhaps, too, he dreaded him—"Well, well. Denny, I thought, sure enough, that it was some new piece of cowardice came over you. Just think of him," he added, "shabbin' off, only because he made, with a bit of a rod, three strokes in the ashes that he thought resembled a coffin!—ha, ha, ha!"
This produced a peal of derision at Denis's pusillanimous terror.
"Ay!" said the Big Mower, "he was makin' a coffin, was he? I wondher it wasn't a rope you drew, Denny. If any one dies in the coil, it will be the greatest coward, an' that's yourself."
"You may all laugh," replied Denis, "but I know such things to have a manin'. When my mother died, didn't my father, the heavens be his bed! see a black coach about a week before it? an' sure from the first day she tuck ill, the dead-watch was heard in the house every night: and what was more nor that, she kept warm until she went into her grave; * an' accordingly, didn't my sisther Shibby die within a year afther?"
* It is supposed in Ireland, when a corpse retains, for a longer space of time than usual, any thing like animal heat, that some person belonging to the family of the deceased will die within a year.
"It's no matther about thim things," replied Anthony; "it's thruth about the dead-watch, my mother keepin' warm, an' Shibby's death, any way, But on the night we tuck Cassidy's horse, I thought you were goin' to betray us: I was surely in a murdherin' passion, an' would have done harm, only things turned out as they did."
"Why," said Denis, "the truth is, I was afeard some of us would be shot, an' that the lot would fall on myself; for the coffin, thinks I, was sent as a warnin'. How-and-ever, I spied about Cassidy's stable, till I seen that the coast was clear; so whin I heard the low cry of the patrich that Anthony and I agreed on, I joined yez."
"Well, about to-morrow," observed Kenny—"ha, ha, ha!—there'll be lots o' swearin'—Why the whole parish is to switch the primer; many a thumb and coat-cuff will be kissed in spite of priest or magistrate. I remimber once, when I was swearin' an alibi for long Paddy Murray, that suffered for the M'Gees, I kissed my thumb, I thought, so smoothly, that no one would notice it; but I had a keen one to dale with, so says he, 'You know for the matther o' that, my good fellow, that you have your thumb to kiss every day in the week,' says he, 'but you might salute the book out o' dacency and good manners; not,' says he, 'that you an' it are strangers aither; for, if I don't mistake, you're an ould hand at swearin' alibis.'
"At all evints, I had to smack the book itself, and it's I, and Barney Green, and Tim Casserly, that did swear stiffly for Paddy, but the thing was too clear agin him. So he suffered, poor fellow, an' died right game, for he said over his dhrop—ha, ha, ha!—that he was as innocent o' the murder as a child unborn: an' so he was in one sinse, bein' afther gettin' absolution."
"As to thumb-kissin'," observed the elder Meehan; "let there be none of it among us to-morrow; if we're caught at it 'twould be as bad as stayin' away altogether; for my part, I'll give it a smack like a pistol-shot—ha, ha, ha!"
"I hope they won't bring the priest's book," said Denis. "I haven't the laste objection agin payin' my respects to the magistrate's paper, but somehow I don't like tastin' the priest's in a falsity."
"Don't you know," said the Big Mower, "that with a magistrate's present, it's ever an' always only the Tistament by law that's used. I myself wouldn't kiss the mass-book in a falsity."
"There's none of us sayin' we'd do it in a lie," said the elder Meehan; "an' it's well for thousands that the law doesn't use the priest's book; though, after all, aren't there books that say religion's all a sham? I think myself it is; for if what they talk about justice an' Providence is thrue, would Tom Dillon be transported for the robbery we committed at Bantry? Tom, it's true, was an ould offender; but he was innocent of that, any way. The world's all chance; boys, as Sargint Eustace used to say, and whin we die there's no more about us; so that I don't see why a man mightn't as well switch the priest's book as any other, only that, somehow, a body can't shake the terror of it off o' them."
"I dunna, Anthony, but you and I ought to curse that sargint; only for him we mightn't be as we are, sore in our conscience, an' afeard of every fut we hear passin'," observed Denis.
"Spake for your own cowardly heart, man alive," replied Anthony; "for my part, I'm afeared o' nothin'. Put round the glass, and don't be nursin' it there all night. Sure we're not so bad as the rot among the sheep, nor the black leg among the bullocks, nor the staggers among the horses, any how; an' yet they'd hang us up only for bein' fond of a bit o' mate—ha, ha, ha!"
"Thrue enough," said the Big Mower, philosophizing—"God made the beef and the mutton, and the grass to feed it; but it was man made the ditches: now we're only bringin' things back to the right way that Providence made them in, when ould times were in it, manin' before ditches war invinted—ha, ha, ha!"
"'Tis a good argument," observed Kenny, "only that judge and jury would be a little delicate in actin' up to it; an' the more's the pity. Howsomever, as Providence made the mutton, sure it's not harm for us to take what he sends."
"Ay; but," said Denis,
"'God made man, an' man made money; God made bees, and bees made honey; God made Satan, an' Satan made sin; An' God made a hell to put Satan in.'
Let nobody say there's not a hell; isn't there it plain from Scripthur?"
"I wish you had the Scripthur tied about your neck!" replied Anthony. "How fond of it one o' the greatest thieves that ever missed the rope is! Why the fellow could plan a roguery with any man that ever danced the hangman's hornpipe, and yet he be's repatin' bits an' scraps of ould prayers, an' charms, an' stuff. Ay, indeed! Sure he has a varse out o' the Bible, that he thinks can prevent a man from bein' hung up any day!"
While Denny, the Big Mower, and the two Meehans were thus engaged in giving expression to their peculiar opinions, the Pedlar held a conversation of a different kind with Anne.
With the secrets of the family in his keeping, he commenced a rather penitent review of his own life, and expressed his intention of abandoning so dangerous a mode of accumulating wealth. He said that he thanked heaven he had already laid up sufficient for the wants of a reasonable man; that he understood farming and the management of sheep particularly well: that it was his intention to remove to a different part of the kingdom, and take a farm; and that nothing prevented him from having done this before, but the want of a helpmate to take care of his establishment: he added, that his present wife was of an intolerable temper, and a greater villain by fifty degrees than himself. He concluded by saying, that his conscience twitched him night and day for living with her, and that by abandoning her immediately, becoming truly religious, and taking Anne in her place, he hoped, he said, to atone in some measure for his former errors.