A chief constable of police, accompanied by a body of forty men well armed, started from near the proctor's house, in order to execute a decree of the Court of Chancery, or rather to protect those who were about to do so, by first holding an auction, and serving a process from the same court afterwards, in another place. For the first mile or so there was not much notice taken of them; a few boys only, and some women, kept hooting and screaming at their heels as they went along. Within about two miles or so of the place of their destination, men began to appear upon the hills in increasing groups, and horns were soon sounding in every direction. This, however, was not all; on reaching a chapel, the bell began to ring, and, in a short time, as they advanced, the bells of the whole country around them were pealing rapidly and with violence. The crowds now began to coalesce, and to gather about them in such a manner that they, kept them completely hemmed in; and in this manner they proceeded, until they arrived at the premises on which the auction was to be held. The peasantry were formidably armed with every sort of weapon that the moment could supply; for, on such occasions as this, the people never used fire-arms. These, carried in the open day, might enable the police to know the persons of those who illegally possessed them, and, consequently, get such individuals into trouble. Their arms, on this occasion, consisted of pitchforks, spades, shovels, scythes, bill-hooks, and heavy sticks, whilst it was observed that several of those who carried these weapons in one hand, carried a round, destructive stone about two or three pounds' weight, in the other. A powerful man, who wore a sash across his shoulders, and a military cap that was peaked so as to conceal his face, appeared as leader, and seemed completely to direct and regulate their motions. The state of tumult throughout and over the face of the country was indeed frightful, and it is very likely that a chief constable and only forty police felt the danger of their position and the utter inadequacy of their numbers, either to carry the decrees of the law into execution, or to defend themselves, with anything like success, against the burning ferocity of the armed multitudes by whom they were surrounded.
At length the auction commenced, and the first article put up for competition was a fine heifer, but not an individual present would open his lips to bid for her; and, on a little further examination, it was ascertained that all the cattle had been branded with the word tithe, in large and legible characters. The family on whom the execution was about being levied, walked, about at their ease, and rather seemed to enjoy the matter, as a triumph over law, than as a circumstance that was calculated to depress or annoy them. They offered no obstruction; neither did they, on the other hand, afford the slightest possible facility to the officers of the law. They were strictly and to the letter passive.
The heifer alluded to having been put aside for want of a bidder, a fine cow was put up, and all the usual cajoling and seductive provocations to competition and purchase were held out, but in vain. Every nourish of the bailiff, who acted as auctioneer, was lost, as it were, on empty space, and might as well have been uttered in a desert. Butter-casks, kitchen' vessels, and everything on which the impress could be affixed, was marked with the hated brand of "tithe." No one, however, would bid; and when the bailiffs, on seeing that none present was either willing or courageous enough to do so, began to bid themselves, the silence of the people still remained unbroken. They then put up some furniture, all of which was branded "tithe;" but, on purchasing it for another market, they found that it was impossible to remove it, as neither horse nor cart, nor any available vehicle for that purpose, could be had at any cost. So far, therefore, the law and all its authority, supported besides by a large body of constabulary, were completely defeated, and it was obvious that, unless those on whom the perilous duty of executing it fell, came provided with the means of removing the property, that is to say, with horses, carts, and a body of military besides, every such auction must terminate in failure.
The shortness of the day, and the distance they had to go, when taken in connection with the ferocious state of the people, prevented the bailiffs and their protectors from serving the process, to which we have alluded, on another party. It was therefore determined on to abandon the property for the present, and execute the service on the following day.
The next morning opened with the same dull, dark, and desolute appearance, as did the preceding. On this occasion, there was no auction to hold and but one process to serve, only a single bailiff was necessary. No diminution, however, was made in the number-of police who attended; and, indeed, the party selected for the service of this day ought rather to have been increased, inasmuch as the bailiff in question had rendered himself so justly obnoxious to the people, that it was fatuity itself to suppose that, smarting as they were under the scoundrel's wanton and obscene insults, it was possible they would suffer him to escape. The party had, consequently, no sooner set out, than the horns once more began to blow, the bells to ring, and the whole country around to stir into tumult and action. The same arms as we haye already mentioned were in requisition, with some old pike-handles, and an occasional rusty pike or two that may have seen service in '98.
On the previous day the people had resolved to maintain an armed neutrality, and to observe, unless attacked, the spirit of passive resistance in its strictest sense. Now, however, the man who, confiding in and abusing the protection and authority of the Court of Chancery, had so grossly insulted them by language that was both indecent and unchristian; who had not only attacked their want of morals, but ridiculed their religion;—this person, we say, was within their grasp, and let what might be the result, they were determined, to a man, "to have the process-server or blood" for such was the expression. The people now shouted, and had evidently made up their minds, not only to secure the process-server, but to attack the police themselves, at any risk. Such was the apprehension of this, that their officer deemed it necessary to halt his party, and order them to prime and load, which they did. Whilst they halted, so did the assailants; but, upon resuming their march to the house of the tithe-defaulter, the crowds, who were every moment increasing in number and in fury, resumed their march also, gradually closing upon and coming nearly into contact with them. Indeed, they were now so close, that the object of all this preparation, and concert, and motion, could be distinctly ascertained from their language and demeanor. Ever and anon there arose from them, extending far and wide over the country, one general cry and exclamation, accompanied by menacing gestures and blazing eyes:—
"The process-server or Blood!—Butler or blood!"
This unfortunate individual, having put a copy of the process under the door, took his place in the centre of the police, who turned to the left of the house for the purpose of retreating; and it is to be deplored that the retreat in question was not conducted with more discipline and judgment.
On this occasion, as well as on that of the preceding day, the same person who acted as the popular leader was present, dressed as before, in a sash, and peaked cap that concealed the greater portion of his countenance, which was, besides, otherwise disguised. On arriving at the defaulter's house, this man took off his sash, lest it might make him a more conspicuous object for the police, in case of a recounter, and put it into his pocket, from which one end of it, however, protruded. Two other leaders held subordinate rank under him, a circumstance which gave to the whole proceedings a character of premeditated concert, and deliberation.
From the house of the defaulter, the police, encircling the process-server, proceeded in a certain direction to a place called Tennison's Gate; but so closely were they now pressed upon by the multitude that they were obliged to keep them off with their bayonets. Their threats, their increasing numbers, and their irrepressible fury, now excited such alarm in the minds of the police, that one of them, calling to his officer, entreated him to take them into the open field, where alone their arms could afford them protection; or if not, he added, that they must fall a sacrifice to the vengeance of their enemies. At that instant, two or three of the leaders of the people were in commotion with that gentleman, one of them resting his hand upon his horse's neck, and the other so close to him that his words could be distinctly heard.
"Captain G——s," said the latter, "don't be afraid—meek yourself aisy—not a hair of your head, nor any of the police, will be touched; we only want the process-server; let him be given up, and you will be safe."
"Sooner than give him up to you," he replied, "we will, every man of us, part with our lives. Sacrifice us you may, but we will never surrender our charge."
Instead, however, of following the sound advice of one of his own men, the chief constable, credulous to infatuation, allowed the infuriated body, by which he and his men were surrounded, still to press in upon him, without taking those precautions which common sense, coolness, and the insecurity of his position, should have dictated.
By the time they had passed the place called Tennison's Gate, a large body had collected in their front, blocking up the road they had to pass, and which would have conducted, them in a different direction, but not one so peculiarly perilous. From this they made a turn to the left into a lane that would have led them back again to a little village, through which they had already passed, the bell of which was already sounding their death-knell. The constabulary, by turning into the narrow lane at the left, unconsciously approached the very ambush into which the people, or rather their more disciplined leaders, had intended to decoy them. This lane was enclosed by walls, and on one side the ground was considerably elevated and covered with stones, thus affording to their assailants every possible opportunity of completing their destruction. The unfortunate men were pressed by a crowd on their right, composed of those who occupied the elevation; another crowd pressed upon their rear; whilst a third body obstructed them in front, thus keeping them pent up, and at the mercy of the crowds on every side.
It is quite obvious that the person in command of the constabulary was not only unfit for his duty, but ignorant of anything like military discipline or manoeuvring. He must have completely lost his presence of mind, otherwise his easiness of belief and simplicity are utterly unaccountable. As it was, in two or three minutes after the hollow assurances of good-will uttered by those whom he saw bristling at the same time with vengeance about him, an effort was made by a man to drag the unfortunate process-server out of the lines. He was immediately pulled back by a policeman, but was scarcely restored to his place, When he was struck on the side of the head with a wattle. The blow caused him to stagger, and would have caused him to fall, but that he was seized and kept upon his legs by the policeman. He had not time, however, to recover his steadiness, when he was felled to the ground by a blow from a stone, which sent him to the ground a corpse. A general assault with every description of rude and formidable weapons, now commenced upon the unfortunate constabulary. Their imbecile and uncautious officer fired his pistol and in a moment afterwards was knocked from his horse and instantly put to death. The crowd now rushed on them from all sides, and so sharp, short, and decisive was the massacre, that in about the space of two minutes, twelve men lay butchered on the spot.
Other scenes of violence and bloodshed there were, but none so frightful as the above. Most persons remember Rathcormac and Newtonbarry, but we do not imagine that a recapitulation of such atrocities can be at all agreeable to the generality of our readers, and for this reason we content ourselves with barely alluding to them, as a corroboration of the disorganized condition of society which then existed, and which we are now attempting to describe.
But perhaps nothing, after all, can test the inextinguishable hatred of tithes which prevailed at that period, more than the startling and almost incredible fact that the government, aided by as sound a lawyer, and as able an attorney-general as ever lived, and a powerful bar besides, were not able, during the following spring and summer assizes, to convict a single individual concerned in this massacre, which is now a portion of our country's history, and still well remembered as that of Carrickshock, in the county of Kilkenny.
This double triumph of the people over the tithe and police, created a strong sensation throughout the kingdom, and even shook the two houses of parliament with dismay.
Indeed, there probably never existed in Ireland, any combination or confederacy of the people so bitter, or with such a deeply-rooted hold upon the popular mind as that against tithes, as it slumbered and revived from time to time. And what is rather singular, too, the frequent agitations arising from it, which in its periodical returns convulsed the country, were almost uniformly, or at least very frequently, productive of a collateral one against priests' dues. Up until the year '31, however, or '32, the agitators against tithes were more for their reduction than their extinction. The reduction of tithes and priests' dues went, as we have said, very frequently together, or rather the one generally produced the other. The Threshers, in their early existence, were as active in their attempts to diminish the income of the priests by intimidation, as they were that of the parson. Their plan was, with white shirts over their clothes, and white handkerchiefs round their hats so as to conceal the features, to pay a nightly visit to some quiet and timid man, whom they swore, on pain of death, to visit the neighboring chapel in order to inform the priest, in the face of his own congregation, that unless he reduced the fees for marriage to half-a-guinea, those of baptism to nineteen-pence half-penny, and celebrate Mass for thirteen pence, he might prepare his coffin. If he got hay and oats for his horse at a station, he was at liberty to take them, but if not, he was to depart quietly, on pain of smarting for it. The unfortunate individuals on whom they imposed this painful and dangerous duty, were much to be pitied whilst this confederacy lasted. To submit to an illegal oath, without reporting the matter to the next magistrate, was a capital felony, as it was voluntarily to execute any of their criminal behests. If, then, the unfortunate individual pitched upon for the performance of this extraordinary office refused to discharge it, he was probably shot by the Threshers or Carders, and if he carried their wishes into effect, he was liable to be hanged by the government, so that his option lay between the relative comforts of being hanged or shot—a rather anomalous state of society, by the way.
The vengeance of the people against Purcel and his sons had now risen or was fast rising, to its height. This intrepid man and these resolute young men, aided by the writs of rebellion and the executive authorities, had nerved themselves up to the collection of tithe, through a spirit that was akin to vengeance. In fact, they felt an inhuman delight—at least the father and his eldest son did—in levying the execution of the writs in the most pitiless and oppressive manner. They themselves provided horses and carts, and under protection of the military and police—for both were now necessary—they swept off cattle, crops, and furniture, at a ruinous value to the defaulters. At length they proceeded to the house of a struggling widow, whose only son, exasperated at the ruin which their proceedings had wrought upon his mother, in an unguarded moment, induced a few thoughtless boys like himself to resist the law. It was an act of folly for which his life paid the penalty. He was shot dead on the spot, and his death proved the signal for raising the gloomy curtain that veils the last of the drama in which the tithe-proctor makes his appearance.
Soon after the death of this youth, John Parcel had occasion to go to Dublin, to transact some business with the Rev. Dr. Turbot, and on his way to the metropolis he was obliged to stop for more than an hour at the county town, to await the arrival of the mail-coach. As he lingered about the door of the coach-office, he noticed a crowd of persons corning down the street, bearing something that resembled a human figure on a beir. It was evidently the corpse of some person, but at the same time he felt it could not have been a funeral, inasmuch as he saw that it came from the churchyard instead of going to it. The body was covered with a mort-cloth, so that he could not ascertain whether it was that of a man or a woman. Walking at its head as a chief mourner does at a funeral, was an old man with gray hair, who appeared to have every feature of his venerable countenance impressed with the character of an affliction which no language could express. He neither spoke nor looked to either side of him, but walked onward in a stupor of grief that was evidently too deep for tears—for he shed none, his face was pale even unto ghastliness, whilst at the same time there was a darkness over it, which evidently proceeded from the gloom of a broken down and hopeless heart.
John Purcel, after making some inquiry as to the cause of this singular procession, was enabled, from several of the by-standers, to ascertain the following affecting and melancholy particulars. The reader cannot forget the conversation between the proctor and his sons, concerning the murder of a certain farmer named Murray, in the early part of this narrative. The poor youth who had been appointed, under the diabolical system of Whiteboyism, to perpetrate that awful crime, was the very young man who, during the journey of the Whiteboys to the mountains, had held a kind of sotto voce conversation with the mysterious person who proved himself to be so sincere a friend to Frank M'Carthy. A misunderstanding for several years, or rather a feeling of ill-will, had subsisted between his father and Murray, and as this circumstance was known, the malignant and cowardly miscreants availed themselves of it to give a color of revenge to the murder, in order to screen themselves. At all events, the poor misguided youth, who had been stimulated with liquor, and goaded on to the commission of the crime, from fear of a violent death if he refused it, was tried, found guilty, and executed, leaving his childless father and mother, whose affections were centred in him, in a state of the most indescribable despair and misery. By the intercession and influence of friends, his body was restored to them, and interred in the churchyard, from which the procession just mentioned had issued. The heart, however—or to come nearer the truth—the reason of the mother—that loving mother—could not bear the blow that deprived her of her innocent boy—her pride, her only one. In about a week after his interment she proceeded one morning to his grave, bearing with her the breakfast which the poor youth had been accustomed to take. This, in fact, became her daily habit, and here she usually sat for hours, until in most cases her woe-stricken husband, on missing her, was obliged, by some pardonable fiction, to lure her home under the expectation of seeing him. This continued during spring, summer, autumn, and the greater portion of winter—up in fact until the preceding night. She had, some time during the course of that night, escaped from her poor, husband while he slept, and having entered the grave-yard by stone steps that were in a part of the wall—for a passage went through it—she reached her boy's grave, where it was supposed, after having for some time, probably until lassitude and sorrow, and a frame worn down by her peculiar calamity, had induced sleep—she was found dead in the course of the morning—an afflicting but beautiful instance of that undying love of a mother's heart, which survives the wreck of all the other faculties that compose her being.
Her miserable husband and friends were then bearing her body home, in order that it might be waked decently and with due respect, ere it should mingle with the ashes of him whom she had loved so well. So much for the consequences of being concerned in those secret and criminal confederacies, that commit such fatal ravages, not only in society, but in domestic life, and stand so strongly opposed to the laws of both God and man.
Purcel, on reaching the metropolis, was a great deal astonished at the change which he observed in Dr. Turbot. That gentleman's double chin had followed the carnal fortunes of the church that supported it. The rosy dewlap, in fact, was no longer visible, if we except a slight pendulous article, which defied the whole nomenclature of colors to classify its tint, and was only visible when his head and neck assumed a peculiar attitude. In fact, the change appeared to Purcel to have been an exceedingly beneficial one. The gross carnal character of his whole appearance was gone; his person had become comparatively thin, and had a far and distant, but still an approximating, tendency to something of the apostolic. He was now leading by compulsion, a reasonable and natural life, and one not so much at variance with the simple principles of his religion, whatever it might be with those of the then establishment. His horses and carriages and powdered servants were all gone too, so was the rich air of wealth and costly luxury which formerly breathed throughout his fine mansion, in one of the most fashionable streets of the metropolis. His eye, no longer loaded by the bloodshot symptoms of an over-fed and plethoric constitution, was now clear and intellectual, and there appeared to be an unencumbered activity about his jaws that argued a vigor and quickness of execution in matters of a sumptuary character, which, when gross and unwieldy from luxury, they never could reach. He was by no means in his usual spirits, it is true, but then he was in much better health, and a vague report of something in the shape of a loan to the clergy, to the tune of a million, gave him a considerable degree of cheerfulness.
John Purcel, having dispatched his business with him as quickly as he could, called upon M'Carthy in college. This gentleman having, in fact, heard such an account of the threats and determinations of vengeance with which the Purcel family were threatened, had felt deep anxiety as to their fate. He had written more than once to them on the subject, entreating that, as their wealth had rendered them independent, they would remove either to Lisnagola or Dublin. This, however, was a determination to which they had come recently themselves, and one portion of John's business to the metropolis was connected with it.
On the day previous to Purcel's visit to M'Carthy, that young man had received the following short and somewhat mysterious communication from the country:—
"Mr. M'Carthy.—Sir—If you wish to save some of Mr. Purcel's family—save them all you cannot—and if you have courage, and isn't afraid to risk your life, you will come down to Longshot Lodge and wait there till you here more from 'One that has proved himself your Friend'."
This determined M'Carthy; and when John Purcel asked him to spend the Christmas with them, he felt gratified at the alacrity with which the other embraced his offer. The next morning they started for Longshot Lodge, and in due time were cordially greeted by the proctor and his family.
The day before Christmas—universally known as Christmas Eve—at length arrived. On that morning, our friend Mr. Temple and his family were seated at breakfast with easy and cheerful hearts, when the following conversation took place; and we introduce it for the purpose of gratifying our readers, who, we are certain, will rejoice in hearing the circumstances that form its subject matter.
"Charles, my dear, I always knew that my dear grandpapa was a kind and forgiving man; and, to tell the truth, I felt a conviction that such sincerity of heart, and such unexampled purity of purpose as yours, would not be permitted long to suffer. Read the letter again my love."
Her husband, whose mild features were absolutely radiant with an expression of delight—an expression that was elevated, besides, with a glow of fervent and devotional feeling—now read the letter again, which was to the following effect:—
"My dear Maria,—I do not think that a man of my years—now near seventy-two—who feels how many duties he has neglected in this life, and who, consequently, knows how much he requires to be forgiven, ought any longer to class himself with those who are disposed to withhold their pardon from human error. I wrote some time ago to your father, requesting, nay, commanding him, to suffer himself to be reconciled to you; but his reply was, that, although he was not averse to it in due time, yet he said that for the present he must decline it—not so much, he added, for want of affection for you, as that he might the more strongly manifest a sense of his displeasure at your conduct, in throwing yourself away upon an 'educated beggar.'"
The hectic of a moment, as Sterne beautifully says, came across his fine and handsome features as he uttered the words; and he added, "He forgets, my love, that my family is not, as your grandpapa says, inferior to his own."
"Do not dwell on that, dearest Charles," she added, "but let us hear good old grandpapa out."
"No, my dear Maria, I differ with your papa; Mr. Temple was not an educated beggar, but an educated and accomplished gentleman, whose family, in point of blood and birth; is equal even to ours. Still, my love, you know that on many accounts, and as persons to whom you were so justly dear, and who felt such a strong interest in your settlement and position in life, we had reason to feel offended at the step you took in marrying him. That, however, is past—and now let it be forgotten. Your papa still loves you tenderly, my Maria; for I could observe that in a passage where he said it was necessary that you should suffer a little longer, there were the marks of tears—and of tears too, that fell thickly. Now, however, for something that will cheer my own favorite. I have succeeded in getting Mr. Temple appointed to the living of Ballynolan, in a safe and quiet part of the country, not many miles from Drumgooran Castle."
"That you know my dear Charles, is his own family seat."
"I know, my love, it is; however, to proceed—from Drumgooran Castle; so that I will once more enjoy the pleasure of having you near me.. The living is worth about five hundred a-year, after paying two curates and all other claims; so that, with frugality and moderation, you may live comfortably at least. Ah! my dear Maria, you knew the avenue to grandpapa's affections, when you called your eldest son after him. Present him with the enclosed, in my name, and tell Mr. Temple that he shall have a communication from me in a few days—it will be one of business; and I trust soon to have the pleasure of making his acquaintance.
"I am, my dear Maria, your ever affectionate grandfather,
The enclosure alluded to was a bank post-bill for two hundred pounds. It is unnecessary, however, to dwell upon the happiness which this communication conferred upon Mrs. Temple and her affectionate family. She saw her accomplished and amiable husband's brilliant talents and many rare virtues, about to be rewarded—she saw poverty, distress, and famine driven from their hearth—she saw her beloved children about to be placed in circumstances not unbecoming their birth; and, having contemplated all this, she wept once more with a sense of happiness, as pure as it was unexpected.
Breakfast was now over—a plain and severely frugal one, by the way, it was—and her husband was about to proceed to Lisnisgola, in order to get the bank post-bill changed, when, from the parlor where they sat, he saw the Cannie Soogah approaching the hall-door, the huge pack, as usual, on his shoulder.
"Here, my love, comes that benevolent pedlar," he exclaimed, "whose conduct, on the occasion you mentioned, was at once so delicate and generous."
He then stepped to the window, and raised it as our friend approached, who, on seeing him, put his hand to his hat, exclaiming, "Many happy returns of the saison, sir, to you and your family! My Christmas-box on you!"
"I thank you, my friend," replied Mr. Temple, "and I sincerely wish you the same."
Mrs. Temple now approached also, bent her head kindly and condescendingly, in token of salutation, with a blush which she could not prevent. The worthy pedlar perfectly understood the blush—a circumstance by which he was a good deal embarrassed himself, and which occasioned him to feel in rather a difficult position. He felt flattered, however, by her condescension; and instead of merely touching his hat to her he pulled it off and stood respectfully uncovered.
"Put on your hat, my friend," said Temple; "the morning is too cold to stand with a bare head—pray put it on."
"I know, your honor," replied the pedlar, "the respect that is due to you both, and especially, sir," he added, in that tone, and with that peculiar deference, so gratifying to a husband who loves and is proud of his wife—"especially, sir, to her, for I know her family well—as who doesn't!"
"By the way," said Mrs. Temple, "I think you committed a mistake on the occasion of your last call here?"
"A mistake, ma'am!" said he, with well-feigned surprise—"well, indeed, ma'am, it's not unlikely; for, to tell you the truth, I've a vile mimory—sorra thing a'most but I disremimber, in a day or two after it happens."
"Do you not remember," she proceeded, with a melancholy smile, "a negotiation we had when you were here last?"
"A what, ma'am?"
"A—a—purchase you made from me," she added.
"From you!" he exclaimed, with apparent astonishment; "well, then, I can't say that I have any recollection of it—I remember something—that is, some dalins or other I had wid the maid, but I don't remember purchasin' anything from you, ma'am."
"It was a shawl," she replied, "which you purchased, if you remember, and paid for, but which you forgot to bring with you."
"Why, then," he exclaimed, after rubbing his head with his fore-finger, "bad cess to me if I can remimber it; but the truth is, ma'am, I make so many purchases, and so many sales, that like the priest and them that confess to him, the last thing fairly drives the one that went afore it out o' my head."
"You paid six guineas," continued Mrs. Temple, "for the shawl, but left it behind you."
"Well, bedad, ma'am," said the pedlar, smiling, "it's aisy to see that you're no rogue, at any rate. In the present case, thin," he added, "I suppose you wish to give me the shawl?"
"Oh, certainly," she replied, "if you wish for it; but at the same time I would much rather keep the shawl and return you the money."
"I'm in no hurry, ma'am for either shawl or money, if it isn't—hem—if it isn't just convanient."
"You are an honest, sterling fellow," said her husband, "and I assure you that we thoroughly appreciate your delicacy and worth. I know Mrs. Temple would prefer keeping the shawl, and if you will call in the course of the evening, I shall return the money to you. I must first go into Lisnagola to get change for a note."
"Thank you, sir," replied the Cannie, "but it is time enough—I am in no hurry at all—not the laist; it will do when I call again.. And now that that's settled—and many thanks to you, ma'am," he added, bowing to Mrs. Temple, "for thinkin' of it, I'd be glad to have a word or two wid you, sir, if you plaise."
"Certainly," said Mr. Temple, going to the hall-door, and opening it, "come in a moment; leave your pack in the hall there, and come this way."
He then proceeded to the library, whither the pedlar followed him; and after looking about him with something like caution, he said, "You know Mr. Purcel, the proctor, sir?"
"Of course I do," replied Mr. Temple.
"I'm not askin' it as a question," he proceeded; "but I wish to say, that as you do know him and his sons, it's possible you may save them from destruction. I was tould by a stranger that I never seen before, and that I didn't know from Adam, that his house is to be attacked either this night or to-morrow night."
"Can you not say which?" asked Mr. Temple.
"No," replied the Cannie Soogah; "I axed the stranger the same question, and he couldn't tell me. Now, sir, you know them, and I know how much they respect you; and the thing is this,—I think if you'd see them, and thry to get them to go to Lisnagola, or some safe place, takin' their lives and money along wid them, you'd save them from murdher; they'd be apt to listen to you; but as for me, or the likes o' me, they'd laugh at me; indeed, they're rather wishin' for an attack, in hopes they might get revenge upon the people, for, to tell you the truth, they've been foolish enough to say so; an' as their words has gone abroad, the people's determined, it seems, to let them know which o' them is strongest."
"Well," replied the curate, "I am sorry to hear this—it is dreadful. That they are unpopular—nay, detested—I know; as I do, also, that they have latterly gone daring lengths—oppressive and unjustifiable lengths —in collecting tithes. I shall, however, see them, and endeavor to make them take refuge in some place of security."
"It will be a good act," said the pedlar, "and if I can do anything, humble as I am, to save them, I'll do it."
"I think they ought to get a party of police to protect the house," observed Mr. Temple.
"I know they ought, sir," replied the pedlar, "but the truth is, they're so proud and foolhardy, that the very mention of such a thing throws them into a fury."
"That is unfortunate," said the other. "At all events, I shall leave nothing undone within my power to prevail on them to take steps for their security. You may rely on it," he added, "that whatever I can do for that purpose, I shall do."
"Well, now," said the Cannie, "my mind, thank God's, aisier. I'll lose no time myself in seein' what I can do to prevent this business; that is, I mane, their stayin' in the house," he added, as if checking or correcting himself.
He then bade Mr. Temple good morning, and hurried away, without waiting to see his fair friend, Lilly, as was his custom to do.
CHAPTER XVII.—Midnight Court of Justice
—Sentence of the Proctor and His Sons.
Breakfast in the proctor's, on the morning of Christmas Eve, was eaten as if it had been a funeral meal. The proctor himself could not raise his spirits, which were generally high and cheerful. John and Alick were much more serious than usual; and were it not for the presence of M'Carthy, the meal in question would have been a very gloomy one indeed. Even M'Carthy himself felt the influence of the spirit that prevailed, and found that all his attempts to produce cheerfulness or mirth among them were by no means successful. The two sons, as if acting under the influence of some unaccountable presentiment, engaged themselves in casting bullets for the fire-arms with which the house was furnished, whilst M'Carthy spent his time with the ladies, and endeavored to amuse them as well as ha could. About twelve o'clock John rode into the town of Lisnagola to bring home a blunderbuss which he had sent the day before, by Mogue Moylan, for the purpose of having it furnished with a new ramrod. Mogue being engaged in some matters of a pressing nature, John determined to go for it himself, especially as he wanted to lay in a better supply of powder. Of this Mogue knew nothing.
Mr. Temple soon made his appearance, but, as the pedlar feared, the object of his visit was not attended with success. He urged all the arguments in his power upon the proctor and his son Alick, to remove instantly, and at once, to Lisnagola, or some other neighboring town, where, for the present, they might be safe. Instead of listening to the argument of instant removal, they laughed it to scorn. In the course of the following week, they said, it was their intention to remove; but to think of breaking up their family on a Christmas Eve, with a guest in their house too!—the thing was out of the question. A few days made no great difference; and their mind was fixed not to disturb their family or their guest, then.
Soon after Mr. Temple had gone, Julia Purcel met M'Carthy in the hall, and asked him for a moment to the dining-room, in a voice which was tremulous with agitation.
"Alas! Frank," she exclaimed, whilst the tears streamed from her eyes, "I feel a weight like that of death upon my heart. I fear there is some dreadful calamity hanging over this family."
"Why, my dear Julia," he replied, wiping the tears from her eyes, "will you suffer yourself to be overcome by a weakness of mind so unworthy of you? The morning is dark and gloomy, and calculated, apart from such silly anticipations—pardon me, Julia—to fill the mind with low spirits. Cheer up, my dear girl; is not this season, in a peculiar manner, set apart for cheerfulness and enjoyment? Why, then, will you indulge in this weak and foolish melancholy?"
"I would not feel as I do," she replied, "but the truth is—now do not scold me, Frank—in fact I had an omen of calamity last night!"
"An omen! how is that?" he asked. "On bidding my papa and John goodnight, as I was going to bed, about eleven o'clock, I saw them both standing below me at the foot of the stairs, in the hall. I started, and turning again into the drawing-room, where I had just left them, saw that there they certainly stood, without scarcely having had time to change their position."
"A mere physical illusion, my dear Julia; nothing else."
"But is it not said," she added, "that to see the likeness of an individual late at night is an omen of almost immediate death?"
"It has been said so, I admit, my dear Julia, as have fifty thousand follies equally nonsensical. But to hear you, Julia, talk in this manner! upon my word, I'm surprised at it."
"You will not think of leaving us, dear Frank, until we get to a place of safety?"
"Unquestionably not; but you are alarming yourself unnecessarily."
"Well, perhaps I am," she said, gaining confidence from his firmness of manner; "but I assure you, Frank, I am not timid, nor a coward. I can load a gun, pistol, or blunderbuss, and what is better still, can discharge them without shrinking; so can my sister; but with respect to anything of a supernatural character—"
"You are a great coward. I perceive that; but, my dear Julia, to pass to a subject of the deepest interest to my happiness:—why is it that there has been an appearance of gloom and distrust about you for such a length of time? I think there should be nothing but the most unbounded confidence between us."
"Have you been perfectly candid with me, Frank?"
"If you remember, dear Julia, you did not afford me an opportunity. You looked as if you felt offended, and I could perceive that you had withdrawn your confidence."
"My mind is too much distracted now," she replied, "to speak on this subject; but, if you wish it, I shall tell you, on Monday next, why I have appeared so."
"Wish it! alas! my dear Julia, I can only say that my affection for you knows no bounds. Julia, you know I have loved you; and, happen what may, I shall carry that affection for you to my grave. Only say that the affection which you have already confessed for me is not cooled or diminished; only say it, dearest life, and you will relieve my heart of a heavy load."
She fixed her beautiful dark eyes upon him, as if she were in the act of scrutinizing his very spirit; at length, she seemed to have arrived at a fixed conclusion; two or three tears slowly followed each other down her cheeks, and she replied, "I fear, Frank, I have been led to do you injustice; that is, to doubt your truth or your honor; yes," she added, in a low confiding voice, "I feel that I love you as I ever did. But I am depressed, and my heart is full of an unaccountable sorrow."
"My ever—ever dear—dearest Julia!" he exclaimed, as he pressed her to his heart; where she sobbed, and tenderly reacknowledged her love. "On Monday, however," she observed, after having somewhat composed herself, "I shall tell you, at full length, the circumstances that have disturbed me with respect to you." Another kiss as they separated, and so it was arranged between them.
When Mogue Moylan heard that John purcel had gone to the gunsmith's for the blunderbluss, he stealthily sought the barn where he slept, and, putting on a great frieze coat, he went to the haggard; approached the stack, and thrusting his hand up the thatch, secured a case of pistols that had been left with him and Jerry Joyce for their defence, and fixing them under his coat, deliberately took his departure.
"I'll have betther luck," he said to himself, "to join the boys, and as I have my own party among them that'll stand to me, we'll have the best chance. I'm to take charge o' the girls for him, after the men's shot; an' it'll go hard if I don't do him out o' the one he's set upon. If I sted in the house, as I intended at first, maybe it's a bullet from the boys I'd get into me. No—no—every way—think of it as I will, it's my wisest plan to cut; an' at any rate, he'd find me out now about the blunderbuss. Have her, however, I will, or lose a fall for it."
This was Mogue's last appearance but one about the proctor's establishment.
John Purcel, on inquiring for the blunderbuss at the gunmaker's heard that Mogue had waited until the ramrod was put in, after which the man said he brought it home; a fact which Purcel never doubted. On the contrary, he felt annoyed at his own stupidity for not having asked Mogue the question before he went; and he consequently blamed himself more than he did Mogue. On his way home, however, he met Mogue; and it is necessary to state that none of the Purcel family returned to their house, for a considerable time past, by the same way, unless indeed very rarely. Mogue had come out upon the road, which he was crossing just as John turned a corner, and came plump upon him.
"What is the reason, Mogue," he asked, "That you didn't let me know you had brought home the blunderbuss?"
"That I may be happy, Mr. John, but it was bekaise you didn't ax me; an' a beautiful new ramrod it has now, at any rate."
"Where are you bound for, Mogue?"
"Why, up to Harry Sproule's for paper and writin' things for the ladies. Any news in Lisnagola, Mr. John?"
"Nothing that's good, at any rate," replied the other; "except that the country, Mogue, must be put under martial law."
He set spurs to his horse on uttering these words, and immediately rode on.
"Ay," said Mogue, as he looked bitterly after him, "there you go, you blasted tyrant!
"Martial law! Ah, if I had her from among you, I didn't care the divil's blazes had you all, as they will soon; an' that may be, I pray Jasus this day! Martial law! ah, bad luck to you!"
On reaching home, John Purcel made no immediately inquiry about the blunderbuss, having taken it for granted that all was right, nor was Mogue's disappearance or treachery at all suspected, until late in 'the course of the night.
Twilight was now setting in, when a strange man called at the proctor's and said he wished to speak with Mr. M'Carthy. M'Carthy came to the hall-door, and looking at him keenly inquired his business.
"I don't know," said the man; "I can only tell you what I was desired to say to you."
"Well, let us hear even that," said the other.
"I was bid to ax you, if you wish to sarve this family."
"I do, most certainly."
"In that case, then, you're to follow me," said the man.
"I have no such intention, I assure you, my good fellow," replied the other.
"Very well, then, I have done my duty," said the man, turning to depart.
"But," said our friend, "will you not let me know who it was that sent you."
"I tell you," replied the stranger, "that I don't know. I was bid to say to you that the hour is come, and the man, and that's all I know; barrin' that as I said you wor bid to come wid me, if you wish to sarve thia family. Now I must go."
"Stop a moment," said M'Carthy, "till I return into the house, and let them know I'm going out."
"No," replied the other; "if you do, you won't find me here when you come back. This instant, or never."
"To serve this family, you say?"
"To sarve this family, I was bid to say. I know nothing, an' can say nothing about it myself."
"Come, then," said M'Carthy, resolutely, and thinking of the note he had received in college, "I trust you, or rather I will trust the man that sent you;" and having uttered these words, he departed with the stranger. The scene now changes to a hill, three or four miles distant from the proctor's house, called Crockaniska, at the foot of which was a small but beautiful lake or tarn, from which a graceful little stream fell down into a green and picturesque valley, that lay to the south below it. The shades of evening were beginning to deepen, but for a considerable time before, the road that went past it was observed to be more than usually-thronged with men, some on foot and others on horseback; all presenting a solemn and determined aspect, as if bent upon some dangerous enterprise that must be accomplished, and all apparently strangers to the inhabitants of the place, and to each other. On the brow of the hill stood a picturesque ruin, and the hill itself was literally covered with men and horses; for it was evident, by the fatigued and travel-stained appearance of both, that they had come from a far distance. After dusk had set in, the crowd assumed an appearance of stern repose, but at the same time, and somewhat contrasting with this dreadful stillness, pale lights might be seen flitting from time to time through the ragged apertures, and vacant windows of the ruin. Inside this dreary old building were those who, from the greater respectability of their dress, appeared to be their leaders; men of trust and authority among them, by whose will and opinions they were to be guided. A table and chairs, provided on this occasion, were placed for the transaction of business, and on these, after some proceedings, conducted with a good deal of form, had been transacted, twelve comfortably, if not well-dressed looking farmers sat, whilst on another chair, considerably elevated above the rest, a person in the garb at least of a gentleman, seemed to preside over, and regulate the business of the night.
After a short silence, the judge asked, in an audible voice, if there was any business to be brought before "The Court of Right," on that occasion. He was immediately answered, in a solemn and almost melancholy tone of voice, that there was a great deal of business before the court, but that only one case, that of Captain Right against Purcel Senior and sons, was for hearing and adjudication on that occasion.
On hearing the name of Purcel, the judge took from his pocket a broad, blood-red ribbon, as did also each of the twelve farmers who constituted the jury, and having tied it about his left arm, in which they imitated him, he composed himself for the resumption of business. The ribbons were a twofold symbol, signifying, in the first place, that the Purcels had shed the blood of the people, and were to be tried for murder; and in the second, that if found guilty, the sentence of Captain Right would exact from them the fearful penalty of blood for blood. A compact, well knit, and intelligent young man, about twenty-six years of age, now rose up, and unrolling a long scroll of paper, read in a low but distinct voice, a long and dark series of charges preferred by the aforesaid Captain Right against the said Matthew Purcel and his sons. That person, on this occasion, was the representative of Captain Right.
The judge then observed, that the charges must be proved to the satisfaction of the jury, and called upon Captain Right's advocate to substantiate them. It would spin out our description to a fatiguing length, were we to go through all the cases of oppression, fraud, and cruelty, that were brought home to the unfortunate proctor; against whom, if we are to take him as the exponent of his heartless class, every one of them was strictly true.
He was found guilty, for instance, of taking—often beforehand, or in reversion—several small farms over the heads of poor but solvent tenants; turning them adrift on the world, and consolidating their holdings into one large stock farm for grazing; there by adding to the number of the destitute, and diminishing the supply of food for the people.
He was found guilty of paying to his laborers the wretched sum of only eightpence a day; which he paid by the vile truck system—that is to say by forcing them to take potatoes, milk, meal, &c, at nearly twice what the same commodities brought in the open market.
His sons were found guilty of insolence and cruelty, against such poor and distressed persons as had occasion to go to the proctor's office, for the purpose of asking indulgence, or time to meet their engagements. Their insolence and cruelty consisted in giving abusive language to, and horsewhipping them as if they were not men, or possessed of the same rights, privileges, and feelings, as themselves. These were only a few of the charges, involving petty tyranny, oppression, and rapacity, against Purcel and his sons; but the last, and greatest, and most odious of them all, was the ruin he had brought, upon so many, by his tithe exactions, and the expenses he had heaped on them by processes of law, in recovering that blood-stained impost, as it was not improperly called.
Those were all proved by witnesses, and although we must admit, that the great body of the evidence was true, in point of fact, yet there was not a word said, of the insolence, threatening language, falsehood, evasion, and defiance, which Purcel and his sons had in general experienced from the people, before they had been forced to have recourse, in matters of tithe, to such harsh proceedings against them. When the case for Captain Right was about to close, there was a slight stir, and a low indistinct murmur ran through those who thronged the ruin.
"There is another charge still to come," said the young man who conducted the prosecution; "we pass by the three massacres, and all the blood that was shed in them; and all the sorrow and misery, and affliction that they occasioned—we pass them by, I say, and to show all here present that we are not like Purcel and his sons, resolved to avail ourselves of any advantage against those we prosecute, I will just confine myself to one case of murder, instead of many—because you all know, that if they are found guilty upon one count, it will be sufficient for our purpose. Widow Flanagan, come up and prove your sorrowful case."
A pale, emaciated woman, whose countenance was the very reflex of affliction and despair, now was assisted to make her way from the further part of the building. She was dressed in the deepest mourning, with the exception of the ribbons, which were, like the rest, a deep blood-red, as an indication that one of her family had been murdered.
"Widow Flanagan," said the counsel for Captain Right, "will you have the goodness to state your distressing case?"
"Oh, no, no!" she exclaimed; "I'll not state it—I'm beginnin' to fear what your intentions is this night; and as for me, I'll not help you, by act or word, to fulfil that fearful intention. Oh, change it!" she exclaimed; "there has been too much blood shed in the country; too much bad work every way in it. Call upon God to change your hearts, and go home to your families while your hands isn't yet stained with blood! You all know what the law is when it's let loose upon you, as it ought be, whenever you commit murther, and take away your fellow-crature's life. I forgive Purcel and his sons; it was neither him nor them that took my boy's life, but the sogers—oh, no!" she exclaimed, "I see what you're bint on, and why you are sittin' to try the unfortunate Purcels. I read it in your black fearful looks, and dark faces—may God turn your hearts, and forgive you for bringin' me here this night! Surely you ought to know that one like me, who suffered so much by the spillin' of blood, wouldn't wish to see my fellow-cratures sufferin' as I am? Oh, no! I forgive the Purcels, and why shouldn't you? an' the worst prayer I have for them is, that God may forgive them and change their hearts!" Alas! that we should say so, but the truth is, that no charge against Purcel, how bitter and malignant soever it might have been, could have occasioned such a deep-seated and uncontrollable vengeance against the unfortunate family, as the language of this extraordinary and great-minded peasant woman. There was nothing further said at the moment, every attention was paid to her wishes; in accordance with which a party of men and horses were sent to convey her safely home.
When she was gone, a neighbor of hers, who was present, came forward, and made an accurate and affecting statement of the circumstances connected with the death, or, as he termed it, and as we fear it was the murder of her son.
"The poor, lovin' boy's mother," he proceeded, "the heart-broken Christian woman, that you all seen and heard this night, was not long after a fit of sickness. She was barely able to move about, but not to work or do anything in the house. When they came out to take away their property, she had two cows, but only one of them gave any milk. They wor axed to take the dry cow and any other part of the property they might think proper, but, 'for God's sake!' said the boy, 'as my poor mother is only risin' out of her illness, lave us the cow that can give her the drop of milk; the black water will kill her if you don't.' But no, this they wouldn't do; but what did they do? Why, they left the dry cow behind them, and tuck away the one that gave the kindly drop o' milk to the sick widow and her poor family; they then brought off—ay—swept away—six times the amount of what she owed; which they bought in for a song. It's well known that of late Purcel and his sons swore that they'd execute every process in the sevairest and most expensive manner upon the people, and as they kept their oath I hope too we'll keep ours. Well, it was when the poor boy saw the drop o' milk, as he said, goin' from his poor mother, that he opposed them. You all know the rest; he was shot stone-dead bekaise he loved that mother. The case is now in your hands, and this is all I have to say, barrin' to ask you, gintlemen of the jury, to take a look at this, and think of him it belonged to, that's now laid low in an airly and untimely grave, through Mat Purcel and his sons."
He then placed a lock of fair and beautiful hair, which had been taken from the youth's brow, in the hands of the foreman, and resumed his seat.
Oh, human nature! especially Irish human nature, what a mystery art thou!
The foreman, on receiving it, held it in his hands for some time, and so completely was he touched by the beauty of the tress, and the affection of him to whom it had belonged, that the tears gushed from his eyes; and as these men, who were then in the very act of trampling upon the laws of God and men, looked at it, one by one, there was scarcely a dry eye among them. As water, however, is frequently sprinkled over fire, in order to enkindle it into a more scorching heat, so did the tears they shed add fresh strength and fury to the vengeance which smouldered within them.
This closed the case for Captain Right, and the judge asked if there was any one present prepared with a defense for Mat Pur-eel and his sons.
Our old friend, Darby Hourigan, who dressed himself in rags for the occasion, then came forward; and, after pulling up the waistband of his breeches, and twisting his revolting features into what he designed for, but what no earthly being could suppose, a grin, he spoke as follows:—"My lard, an' gintlemen o' the jury, it 'ud be a hard case if we suffered poor Misther Purcel and his two daicent, ginerous, kind-hearted sons, to be condimed 'idout a word at all in their definse. First, then, is it fair that we should be angry bekaise one of our own race and rallagion should spring up from among ourselves, and take his station over us like the Cromwellian shoneens, that are doin' oppression upon uz and our shildres! An', hadn't he as good a right to get the law at his back as they have? an' to make it bring him through the same hard-hearted coorses that made him rich and keep us poor? What had he done but what others had been doin' for ages, an' wor doin' still? ay, by jabers, an' 'ud continue to do unless the people put a stop to it. Worn't his sons gintlemen no less? Didn't they go out to hunt dressed in top-boots, buck-skin breeches, scarlet coats, and velvet jockey-caps; and didn't his daughters ride about upon blood-horses an' side-saddles? An' why are they called blood-horses do yez know? Ah, by jabers, if yez don't I'll tell you—it's bekaise they wor bought and maintained by the blood of the poor? Ay, they do all this, but if they do, who's to blame them? Poor! ershisin! Arra what was I sayin'? Sure they do it bekaise we all have plenty to ait and dhrink, plenty to wear; good coats to our backs, like this"—and here he shook the rags he dangled about him in hundreds; "good breeches to—hem—no matther—good shoes and stockings to our feet; good heads to our hats—hut! I mane good hats to our heads—and fusht-rate linen to our shkins; ay—sich as this," he added again. "Whisht!" he exclaimed, with a laugh like an Eclipse, "bad luck to the fatther of it, but I forgot at home—along wid the other eleven—or stop—here it is to the good still," pointing to his naked skin, "an' be my sowl, boys—my lard an' gintlemen o' the jury, I mane—it's the weavor of this linen that'll stand to us yet.
"Gintlemin, I do maintain that there's a great dale to be said for Mat Purcel. To be sure he skrewed the last fardin' out of uz, but where was there ever a tithe-procthor that didn't do the same thing? An' sure if he tuck as much as he could from huz, an' gev as little as he could to the parson, wasn't it all so much the betther? Wasn't it weakenin' their fat church and fattening our weak on'?—where's the honest Catholic could say a word aginst that? To be sure, we all know that, by his knowledge of farmin', and all the ins and outs of our little tillage, he contrived, one way or other, to take about the fifth of our little produce; but then if he did, didn't he say it was all by way of friendship an' indulgence to us? Sure didn't himself tell us that only he pitied us an' felt for us, he'd a' been ten times harsher than he was, an' so he would, be coorse, an' 'tis thankful we have a right to be, an' not grumblin' at all at all.
"I hould half a dozen could an' miserable acres, an' about three weeks ago, he tuck about one-fourth of the whole produce, owin' to citations to the bishop's coorts, an' a long string o' costs jined to the tithe itself—bad luck to it!—an' didn't he prove to me that he let me off for a song, an' was the best-hearted procthor that ever strewed a defaulther? Well, an' isn't every small farmer, that doesn't wish to go law, or isn't able to right himself, as well off as I am—glory be to God! I declare, thin, I don't see why we should be angry wid so kind an' merciful a man.
"Thin, again, it made a man religious, an' was aiquil to goin' to one's duty, to go to ax time or indulgence from his sons. It isn't a clear case that you'd get the indulgence, but it is a clear case that you wor sure to get a horsewhippin'. Now, you know a horse-whippin' 'ud make a man repint goin' to him, an' when a man's in a repintin' state, he may as well repint for whatever sins he has committed, while his hand's in.
"Altogether, thin, my lard an' gintlemin o' the jury, I think it's clear that Purcel an' his sons is a great benefit to the counthry about us, an' that they ought to be acquitted, especially as it's likely that they have more processes to sarve, more auctions to hould an' may be, more widow's sons to take on the hands of their poor strugglin' motherss the crathurs, that's badly able to support them; and anyhow, nobody can blame a man'll that opens the gates of heaven for his fellow creature's sowl, and sends him there.
"I hope, my lard an' gintlemen, that I has now done my duty in defendin' the Purcels and that I've proved to your satisfaction that they ought to be acquitted."
This harangue of Hourigan's was received with singular alternations of fierce rage, and mirth that was still fiercer and more frightful. At the conclusion of it there was a loud stamping of feet, accompanied by an exulting uproar of approbation. Silence, however, being called, the jurors put their heads together across the table, and in less than two minutes their foreman handed up the issue paper to a person who acted as register and secretary to the meeting. On receipt of this, that worthy functionary, in a solemn, deep, and barely audible voice, read a verdict of "guilty," which was received in solemn silence by the assembly.
The judge then rose, and in a voice that was also solemn but distinct, pronounced the sentence of the court to be—"Death and dark destruction to Matthew Purcel and his sons," with an order that it should be carried into execution on that very night. The judge then addressed them at some length, pretty closely to the following effect:
"Now, my friends," said he, "there is no man in this building who has not before now been engaged in affairs of danger and of death. Every one of you is the leader of a party of determined fellows, who fear nothing. Our business is—to susteen the oppressed, to crush tyrants, and to right those who have been wronged. I am not sorry that the person in command over me is absent to-night, for I look upon the office I hold, and the exploit we are engaged on, as a high honor. If that person, however, is not with us he is engeeged for us, and will send us a strong reinforcement in the course of the night. I don't expect that the attack on Purcel's house will deteen us long, and after that we have other visits to meek, and several fields of pasture to dig up. You all know who I mane when I mention the man that has authority over us."
"We do," replied the crowd; "three cheers for him!" This was accordingly responded to, and the speaker proceeded.
"You are to understand," said he, "that Purcel and his two sons are this night to die, and their house and pleece to be reduced to ashes. There is one thing, however, that I must strongly impress upon you—remember that you are not to injure any of the faymales of the family in the slightest degree. The second daughter must be taken and brought to a mounted guard that will be ready behind the garden-hedge, to bear her off to the mountains—they know themselves where. I will overteek them, or perhaps be there by the upper road before them. If any of you has a fancy for the other sister, I'm not the man that will stand in your way; but in order to encourage you to do your dooty, I now decleer that it is the man who will best distinguish himself among you that must get her. You all know what you are to do. The old tyrant, root and branches, is to be cut off, and his second daughter secured to me. You have been told the password for the night, and if you find any men among you that knows it not, put him instantly to death as a spy and a traitor. And now, my brave fellows, every man to his post, and I, who am for this night at least' your commander, will lead you on. Come, then, follow me, and again I say—'Death and dark destruction to Matthew Purcel and his two sons!'"
In a few minutes the vast multitude was in motion, all dressed in white shirts and disguised by blackened faces. The were certainly a fierce and formidable body, amounting, it is calculated, to not less than five thousand men, collected, as it was well known, from the seven adjoining counties.
The aspect of the sky, on this awful night, was long remembered by the inhabitants of that part of the country. Over towards the west, and away as far as the south, it seemed! to be one long mass of deep, angry-looking fire, that seemed both frightful and portentous, and made the spectator feel as if a general and immediate conflagration of the heavens was about to take place: whilst stretched nearer in point of space to the eye, were visible large bars of cloud that seemed, from their crimson color, to be masses of actual blood. In fact, the whole firmament was full of gloom and terror, and pregnant with such an appalling spirit of coming storm as apparently to threaten the destruction of the elements.
It was quite evident, from the disturbed and unsettled appearance of the country for miles around, and from the circumstance of such an unusual multitude being on foot in the course of the evening, that some deed of more than ordinary importance or danger was to be done. The Purcel's, ever on the watch, soon learned that they were to be attacked on that very night by those who had threatened them so often, and to whom they themselves had so frequently sent back a stern and fierce defiance. Little had they calculated, however, that the onset would be made by men so well armed and in such prodigious multitudes.
Such was the state of society at that period, that scarcely any one individual could place confidence in another. The Purcels, knowing that they were looked upon by the people in a hostile spirit, and aware of the disguises which those secret confederacies, that are so peculiar to our unfortunate country, often take for treacherous and vindictive purposes, came to the resolution of putting every servant in the house, male and female, from off the premises. This they did on discovering Mogue Moylan's treachery with respect to the fire-arms; for, in point of fact, they knew not on whom to depend. M'Carthy's disappearance was also a mystery which occasioned them considerable anxiety and doubt. That he should have abandoned them in the very moment of danger, was a circumstance quite out of their calculation. On the other hand, it was obvious that he had done so, and that from whatever motive his conduct proceeded, he distinctly separated himself from them, at the very crisis when his presence and assistance might have been of service.
In the meantime they began to make preparations for their defence. Purcel's dwelling-house was a long, two-storied building, deeply thatched. He himself and his eldest son carried up a large supply of arms and ammunition to the top room, where they took their station so as to command the large gate of the recently-built fortress wall, by which the house and adjoining premises were surrounded. Alick, his mother and sisters, remained below, in such a position that they could command the gate also, without exposing themselves to danger. The mother and daughters had been well trained to load and even to discharge fire-arms; and now they were both competent and willing to take an important part in defense of their own lives, as well as those who were so dear to them.
"Well," said John Purcel, when every necessary preparation had been made, "I never could, have dreamt that Frank M'Carthy was either a coward or a traitor."
"I very much fear," replied his brother, "that he is either the one or the other, if not both. If he has got a hint—ha!—do you hear that again?—they are firing still as they come along—if he has got a hint of this attack and abandoned us, I have not words to express my contempt for him. What a bravo lover you have got, Julia!" he exclaimed, turning to his sister, "thus to desert you in the hour of danger."
Julia made no immediate reply, but, after wiping away some bitter tears, she at length said, "I will not believe it—it cannot be possible: I know it is very strange and unaccountable, and I certainly cannot understand it."
"Do you imagine it possible that M'Carthy could belong to this confederation of blood?" asked Alick; "I at least have been told so much: however, perhaps time will tell us more about it. For my part—"
He had nearly pronounced the words, when a heavy trampling of feet, joined to a deep murmur of suppressed voices, was heard; a horn was then sounded, and, in about half a minute afterwards, Purcel and his sons were called upon to surrender and admit the assailants. From the moment the first shots were heard, on the part of the approaching enemy, the Purcels concealed all their lights, so that, when the former reached the outer wall, the house seemed wrapped in obscurity—as if the family were buried in sleep.
They now assailed the gate, but soon found that there was little likelihood of forcing an entrance without heavier implements than those they had in their possession. On ascertaining that this was not practicable, they began to fire at the roof of the dwelling-house, and at those of the out-offices, with the hope that some portion of the wadding, when lighted, might ignite them. In this, after repeated attempts and failures, they were ultimately successful. A cow-house that stood detached from the other buildings, and, in point of proximity, nearest the gate, at length caught the flame, and in a few minutes began to burn. This, to be sure, might have been of little consequence to the insurgents, Were it not that the wind, which was gusty and blew sometimes with a good deal of strength, now and then swept the blaze over to the other offices, which were, consequently, soon in flames; and it was now obvious that the dwelling-house, from its position and the direction of the blast, could not possibly escape.
Hitherto, there was no appearance of either light or life in the proctor's dwelling, and the insurgents were by no means satisfied with the progress they had made. It is true, they felt confident that none of the Purcels had escaped since they approached the house—a circumstance which was impossible, in consequence of the cordon of the enemy that had been drawn around the outer wall. Another surmise, however, maddened them almost to fury. Could it be possible that the objects of their hatred had abandoned the house in the earlier part of the night, and thus defrauded them of their vengeance? The thought was intolerable; but that was a point which they would now be in a capacity soon to ascertain.
Finding that the gate, as we said, was impregnable, unless with stronger implements, they had sent to a smith's forge in the neighborhood, from whence they obtained two or three sledge-hammers. By the aid of these they soon shivered the gate to pieces, and, having accomplished this, they—
Before we proceed further, it is necessary to state, that the light of the burning cow-house fell upon them with the strength and clearness of a summer noon; whilst, on the other hand, the proctor's family, from the position of the house, were in complete obscurity.
The advantage was, consequently, all on one side; the Purcels, when the gate was demolished, saw the crowd clearly and distinctly, but the crowd could not at all see them. Feather-beds and other defenses had been placed at the windows, in such a manner that the firing from the house could be delivered with almost perfect impunity to the inmates, but with dreadful and deadly effect upon the assailants. The latter, having accomplished the destruction of the gate, were in the act of entering, when, all at once, such a well-directed volley was poured among them as caused every man of the front ranks to fall dead. Four blunderbusses had been discharged among them—three by the proctor and his two sons, and one by his eldest daughter Mary. The fatal effect with which this fire was delivered caused a momentary pause, and the aggressive crowd was forced to rush back in a kind of wavy motion, that resembled the undulations of a retreating serpent. An immediate return, however, took place; and, in about half a minute, those in front, however reluctant, were forced forward by the pressure from without. Again did a well-directed fire bring down those who were thrust forward, and the consequence was that a back action took place, which enabled those in front to retire for the present from what they clearly saw was certain death.
So far the proctor's family were triumphant, and would have been so, were it not for the conflagration of the offices, which every moment threatened their own house with destruction. There was not now one among the crowd hardy enough to attempt an entrance by the open gate-which entrance they knew to be only another name for death. Two circumstances, however, were at work against the brave and intrepid proctor and his equally brave and intrepid sons. Crowbars had been procured, and three breaches were being made in those parts of the wall which the windows of the house did not command, and what was still equally, if not more dreadful to the besieged, was the fact of the dwelling-house having taken fire, from the flames that were wafted to it by the conflagration of the adjoining offices. The breaches having been effected, the assailants precipitated themselves into the yard; and now commenced the work of destruction in reality. The latter were shot down in scores; whilst at the same time, the windows of the house from which this destructive fire was kept up so ably, received fifty discharges to one that had been made from them. The house was immediately surrounded, and guards were placed at the doors and lower windows, with strict and fatal orders to allow none of the family to escape, with the exception of the females—one of whom was to be secured, as the reader knows, for a particular purpose, and the rest as chance or passion might direct.
The Purcels, in the meantime, ably served and assisted by Mrs. Purcel and her daughters, continued to deal death and destruction on the parties outside, without being yet either fatigued or disabled. At length the terrible light of the roof that was burning over them, and the stifling heat which began to oppress them, startled the proctor into a state of feeling so awful, that it obliterated from his awakened conscience all external impressions of the dreadful havoc of human life which was taking place about him. The feeling was deepened by a discovery that the gate had been broken and breaches made in the walls, as well as by the incredible multitude of armed persons about the premises, most of whom were now distinctly visible by the glare of the conflagration.
The life of Matthew Purcel, though unstained by any of those gross crimes which separate man from his fellows, or draw down the punishment of the law upon those who commit them, was, nevertheless, in a singular degree, unfeeling, oppressive, and rapacious. Though plausible and clever in his manner, and anxious to stand well with the world, he was, at the same time, relentless and implacable, a tyrant within the petty sphere of his influence, a despiser of all those principles that were not calculated, no matter how, to elevate and enrich. He ground the poor, and wrung, by the most oppressive extortion, out of their sweat and labor, all and much more than they could afford to give him. With destitution and poverty in their most touching and pitiable shapes, he never had one moment's sympathy, nor did the widow or orphan ever experience a single act of benevolence or mercy at his hands.
There was now a short pause in the work of destruction, but it was evident to him and his family that some new element of action was at work among the multitude, though of its character and object they could form no possible conjecture. The Purcels had now a short space for reflection, and but a short one, for they all felt, by the increasing heat that proceeded from the burning roof, that they could not long abide under it. Alick and the females had joined John and his father in the top room, and the latter now saw clearly that fate, in its most dreadful and appalling shape, was on him and his whole family, for it was clear, as matters stood, that neither he nor his sons, at all events, could escape the vengeance of the infuriated multitude. In this condition, his veins swollen, and the perspiration standing in large beads upon his forehead, he took one fearful and agonizing glance upon his past life, and felt, now that he stood on the verge of eternity, that the retrospect was like a glimpse of hell. The change that came over his features was frightful beyond all belief; his face became nearly black, and his eyes, which grew bloodshot almost in a few minutes, had, notwithstanding, a sharp delirious expression of terror that no language could depict.
"Great God! father," exclaimed his son John, who first noticed, this change in his appearance, "what is the matter with you?"
"We are lost!" he exclaimed; "oh, my past life! Great Heaven! if I had but one act of kindness to look back upon, I could dare death. Children, the tortures of hell are upon me! Here is death at my throat, but how will I die? Hallo—look!" he exclaimed, "do you see it?—it is all black—black and bloody—black and bloody—that life of mine! Crimes—crimes—crimes against the poor—against the widow and the orphan! Why did I do it? Eh, why did I oppress, and grind, and murder! Ay, murder!—where's Widow Flanagan's son?—where's all the blood I was the means of shedding?—where are the rotten corpses that are now festering in the grave, because I was rapacious and an oppressor? Hallo! I say, don't curse me—or rather, do curse me—damn me—damn my soul—damn my soul—ha! what am I saying?—who brought me to this? Who? why who but the black and damnable parsons—ay, the parsons and their d—d heretical church! However, I'll have my revenge, for hell is lined with them—paved with them—circled with them; and there I'll find them in burning squads to welcome me—ha! ha! ha! Welcome, Proctor! Tithe-Proctor! God's Perdition! what a name! what a character? Tithe-Proctor!—that is rogue, oppressor, scourge, murderer!—and all for what? For a dead, lazy, gross, overgrown heresy! Ay, lazy parsons that I brought myself to this for, to perdition for! But then I was proud too—oh, it was a great thing to creep up from poverty and cunning to broadcloth and top-boots, to saddle horse, then a jaunting-car, to shake hands with the great parsons, who despised me all the while and made me their tool and scapegoat! Oh, yes, and to have my sons able to hunt in red coats and top-boots, and my daughters to ride on side-saddles—how do you do, gintlemen?—ladies, your most obedient! but, where are we?—what is this? Is this the light of hell, and these the devils with their black faces? And yet, I did intend to repent and to be merciful to the poor; and now here comes damnation! and why? have I not murdered you all?—where am I?—who am I? I am not Matthew Purcel, the Tithe-Proctor, I hope—make that clear, and I'll give you—or could it be a dream?—no, no, it is real, a real fact; and the gulf of damnation yawns for me! Ha!—well—come, then, let us die like men; give me the blunderbuss; now, down with the villains—down with the villains!"
His family had been standing between the shelter of two windows, almost transfixed into stone with horror at the blasphemous agonies under which his frantic spirit was raging and writhing. The truth is, that the frightful certainty of death to himself and his family, in such an unprepared state, together with the rapid glance of his ill-spent life, joined to his exertion and the suffocating heat of the room, had, all combined, induced what may be well termed this insane paroxysm of despair and guilt.
On seizing the blunderbuss, he rushed, now distinctly visible in the light, and forgetful that the multitude were on the watch for him, over towards one of the unprotected windows, where he was followed by his son John, for the purpose of being dragged out of danger. He had just discharged the blunderbuss at their leader, who was on the point of making his way to the hall-door, when the ruffian fell stone-dead, and almost simultaneously, he and his son John were literally perforated with a shower of bullets.
"We must die, also," exclaimed Alick to his mother and his sisters; "we must die,—but let us die firmly. Any death, however, is better than one of fire; here we cannot stay longer. Stoop now, so that we may pass that part of the wall that is beneath the windows, until we reach the lower floor; if we expose ourselves only for a moment, we must share their fate. Great God! what a fate and what a night!"
By following his advice, they reached the lower floor in safety, and had scarcely done so, when the burning roof crashed in upon the bodies of the proctor and his son, of whose remains nothing but a few cinders were found the next morning. The falling in of the roof was accompanied by a considerable explosion, owing to the powder which they had left behind them, and the noise of which caused the crowd that was now hemming in the house to pause for a moment, but only for a moment; for they knew now by the explosion, that the ammunition of their enemies was gone, and that "the old fox and his cubs," as they called them, were probably incapable of further resistance; a reflection which, as it stood not in the way of their cowardice, seemed to increase their fury.
"Revenge now, boys," shouted a hundred voices; "they have shot our leader along with the rest. Come on then, sledge in the doors an' windies, an' if we lave a single inch of the villains together, may we be hanged like dogs! Come on, then, they are helpless now; their ammunition's gone, an' they can do us no harm. Blood for blood as far as they go; it's into inches we must hew them—into inches—come on, then!"
A furious assault instantly commenced at the doors and windows. It was, indeed, a frightful thing to see these men, with their white shirts and black visages, fiercely at work; panting and inflamed with ungovernable rage and vengeance, the red turbid blaze of the burning building lighting them into the similitude of incarnate devils, let loose upon some hellish mission of destruction and blood. Their own fury, however, impeded their progress, for as they passed onwards to the door, urged by the worst passions of man, it was found that their violence, thus broken and diminished by the struggle, had prevented them from making anything like a rapid progress in breaking in the powerfully-fortified door. There was consequently another slight pause, during which a circumstance occurred that added a terrible sublimity to the scene.
We have said, that the sky looked angry and portentous, and such was the fact. During the pauses that now occurred, the distant darkness of the surrounding country was momentarily dispelled by a stronger and more terrific fire than that which now shot up its red and waving pyramids from the burning houses before them. All at once the black sky opened, and from the chasm of angry clouds a sheet of red lightning flashed, lighting up the darkness of the country around them in a fearful manner; but above all things, and what gave a super-added horror to the scene, was the influence which that light, that seemed to proceed from the vengeance of God, had upon that which proceeded from the vengeance of man. The sheeted volume swept down, and for an instant poured over the blazing roofs, the tottering walls, the bleeding corpses and the black-visaged men who stood in multitudes about the place, panting with the mad intoxication of crime; it poured upon them, we say, a light so strong, penetrating, and intense, that its fearful distinctness was enough to paralyze the heart, and awe those who were present from the prosecution of their vengeance. It was, in fact, as if the Almighty Himself had sent down His avenging angel from the heavens, to pour His light upon them, in order to bear testimony against the dreadful work of blood in which they were engaged. Nor was this all. Ere the pause was broken, a burst of thunder, so deep, so loud, and so terrible, in such an hour, pealed from a point of the sky on their right, taking its course in the direction of the proctor's house, where, in one terrific explosion, it seemed to burst exactly over their heads. Some were awed, but we all know that companionship fortifies the heart in the commission of crime, and in a few minutes the Almighty, His fires of vengeance,—and His midnight thunders, were all alike forgotten.
The assault on the door was now renewed with, if possible, more ferocious violence; and it became evident to the unfortunate and now helpless inmates, that they must soon fall into the hands of those from whom they could expect no mercy. We say they were in a helpless state; and this was occasioned by the explosion, which left them without ammunition, even if they had had their firearms. Such, however, was their hurry in escaping from the falling roof, joined to the shock and stupor caused by the death of John and his father, that they thought not for a moment of anything but mere self-preservation. Owing to these causes they brought no weapons of defence with them; and now, in consequence of the fallen roof and explosion, their fire-arms were beyond their reach, and useless. They stood now ghastly—their features rigid like those of the dead—calm and without a tremor—but with a melancholy fortitude that was as noble as it was rare and unprecedented. At length Mrs. Purcel spoke:—"Alick," said she, "you must save yourself: we may receive some mercy at the hands of these men, but you will not; hide yourself somewhere, and, when they come in, we will say that you perished with your father and brother."