By William Carleton
After the reader shall, have perused the annexed startling and extraordinary narrative, on which I have founded the tale of the Tithe-Proctor, I am sure he will admit that there is very little left me to say in the shape of a preface. It is indeed rarely, that ever a document, at once so authentic and powerful, has been found prefixed to any work of modern Irish Fiction—proceeding as it does, let me add, from the pen of a gentleman whose unassuming character and modesty are only surpassed by the distinction which his name has already gained in one of the most difficult but useful departments of our native literature.
I trust that there will be found nothing in the work which follows that is calculated to give any serious offence. Yet, when we look back upon the contentions, both political and polemical, by which this unhappy country in connection with tithe especially, has been so frequently and so bitterly distracted, we can hardly hope, that any writer, however anxious, nay studious, to avoid giving offence, can expect to treat such a subject without incurring animosity in some quarter. Be this as it may, I have only to say, on behalf of myself, that in composing the work I was influenced by nothing but a firm and honest determination to depict the disturbances arising from the tithe impost with a fair and impartial hand: and if any party shall feel hurt by observations which the necessity of rendering full justice to a subject so difficult have imposed upon me in the discharge of a public duty, I beg them to consider that such observations proceeded from no wish to offend existing prejudices, but are to be looked upon as arising inferentially from those stern and uncompromising claims of truth and justice, which equally disregard the prejudices of any and every party. After all, I am of opinion that the spirit in which the work is written will be found, whilst it correctly delineates the state and condition of the country during the fearful tumults and massacres of the Tithe Rebellion, to have left little, if anything, to be complained of in this respect.
In constructing narratives of this sort, it is to be understood that certain allowances are always made for small anachronisms that cannot be readily got over. The murder of the Bolands, for instance, occurred in the year 1808, and the massacre of Carrickshock, as it has been called, in 1832. It was consequently impossible for me to have availed myself of the annexed "Narrative" and brought in the "Massacre" in the same story, without bringing down the murder of the Bolands to a more recent date.
It may be objected that I have assumed, as the period of my story, one which was calculated to bring into light and action the worst feelings and the darkest criminals of my country. This, however, was not my fault. If they had not existed, I could not have painted them; and so long as my country is disgraced by great crimes, and her social state disorganized by men whoso hardened vices bring shame upon civilization itself, so long, I add, these crimes and such criminals shall never be veiled over by me. I endeavor to paint Ireland, sometimes as she was, but always as she is, in order that she may see many of those debasing circumstances which prevent her from being what she ought to be. In the meantime, I trust the reader will have an opportunity of perceiving that I have not in the Tithe-Proctor, any more than in my other work, forgotten to show him that even in the most startling phases of Irish crime and tumult, I have by no means neglected to draw the warm, generous, and natural virtues of my countrymen, and to satisfy him that a very few guilty wretches are quite sufficient, however unjustly, to blacken and degrade a large district.
There is, however, a certain class of pseudo-patriots in this country, who are of opinion that every writer, professing to depict our national character and manners, should make it a point of conscience to suppress all that is calculated "to lessen us in the eyes of the world," as they are pleased to term it, and only to give to the public the bright and favorable side. It is unnecessary to dwell upon the moral dishonesty and meanness of a principle, at once so disgraceful to literature and so repugnant to truth. These thin-skinned gentlemen are of opinion that the crime itself is a matter of trivial importance compared to the fact of its becoming known, and that provided the outside of the platter is kept clean, it matters not how filthy it may be within.
In the days of my boyhood and early life, the people of Ireland were, generally speaking, an honest, candid, faithful, and grateful people, who loved truth, and felt the practical influence of religious feeling strongly, but so dishonest and degrading has been the long curse of agitation, to which forms of it their moral and social principles have been exposed, that there probably could not be found in any country, an instance in which the virtues of the whole people have been so completely debauched and contaminated (I do not say voluntarily), as those of the Irish have been by the leading advocates of repeal. The degeneracy of character, occasioned by those tampering with our national virtues, is such as we shall not recover from these thirty years to come. Many of our best, mellow-toned, old virtues, that pass in an unbroken link of hereditary beauty from father to son, and from family to family, like some sacred and inestimable heirloom, at once reverenced and loved, are all gone—such as our love of truth, our simple devotion and patriarchal piety, our sincerity in all social intercourse, and others of the same stamp; whilst little else is left us but a barren catalogue of broken and dishonest promises, and the consciousness of having been at once fleeced and laughed at. And it would be well if we could stop here, but truth forces us onward. The Irishman of the present day—the creature of agitation—is neither honest, nor candid, nor manly, nor generous, but a poor, skulking dupe, at once slavish and insolent, offensive and cowardly—who carries, as a necessary consequence, the principles of political dishonesty into the practices of private life, and is consequently disingenuous and fraudulent.
Let me not be misunderstood. I love truth; and have never been either afraid or ashamed to speak it; and I trust I never shall. I now allude to the principles of Conciliation Hall, and the system by which they were led. I feel bound, however, to exempt the party called Young Irelanders from having had any participation in bringing about results so disastrous to the best moral interests of the country. It is true, that, as politicians, they were insane; but then they were at least sincere and honest; and I am satisfied that there is not a man of them, who would not have abandoned the object he had in view, sooner than accomplish it by sacrificing the popular virtues and moral character of the country for its attainment. I have myself been a, strong anti-repealer during my whole life, and though some of the Young Irelanders are my personal friends, yet none know better than they do, that I was strenuously opposed to their principles, and have often endeavored—need I say unsuccessfully?—to dissuade them from the madness of their agitation.
Having made these few necessary observations, I now beg to introduce to my readers the extraordinary narrative already spoken of—a narrative whose force and graphic power will serve only to bring shame upon the feeble superstructure which I have endeavored to erect upon it. It is termed—
THE MURDER OF THE BOLANDS.
In the year 1808, there lived near Croom, in the county of Limerick, a farmer named Michael Boland. He was an intelligent and prosperous man, and the owner of many hundred acres of the best land in that fine county.
He had two sons and two daughters, all grown up to manhood and womanhood, in this year, and the parish chapel never saw, in their time, a finer family for stature, symmetry, and comeliness, attend its mass than Michael Boland, his wife, and children. With the growth of his family, his ambition and desire of increased wealthiness grew; and, by the agency of some hundred pounds, he became the tithe-proctor, or rector of several patches of tithes throughout the county.
At first he was successful in this speculation, and with his increased profits, himself and his children assumed a higher and more important tone and bearing in society. In fact, his sons and daughters passed as ladies and gentlemen, not only in external appearance, but in elegance of manners and cultivation of mind; for he spared no expense on their education, as well in his original as in his subsequent condition of life; besides that at this period, and for a long time previous, the County of Limerick was the great school-house, not only of Munster, but of all Ireland—vide Carleton's "Poor Scholar."
The sudden departure of the Bolands from the intercourse and intimate acquaintance of their former companions and neighbors, as well as the long brooding hatred and opposition of the people to the payment of tithes, soon gave rise to loud murmurs and sarcastic retrospective observations against them; and people far and near took every occasion to offend and insult them—both men and women—-wherever and whenever an opportunity of doing so, in a galling manner, offered. Often were the Misses Boland asked, when mounted on their side-saddles, did they remember when their mother used to be driving her cart-load of tankards of sour milk to the market of Limerick, and sitting there for days retailing it at a penny a gallon, &c.; and as often were the young brothers asked when bursting over an old neighbor's fence, in scarlet and buckskin, if they remembered when their father and mother bore an active hand and shoulder to the carving out and spreading of the manure to the fields, &c.
Far from being abashed at all this, the Bolands only sought ampler opportunities to annoy and exasperate their ill-wishers by more imperious airs to them, and a closer attendance to the gentlemanly sports of the country, but still they gave no tangible cause to quarrel broadly with them. While matters were going on in this way, they received a nocturnal anonymous letter, ordering them to send a few of their abundant stock of arms to a certain lonely place, for the benefit, of the popular legislators of that turbulent county. This summons the Bolands answered by a letter of defiance, and a challenge to the parties to come and take them forcibly if they durst. They were agan summoned for their arms, and cautioned to lower their demand for tithes. To this they sent an exasperating response of defiance, and a challenge, after which they seriously went about fortifying their dwelling, and putting it into the best posture of defence against the assault which they were very certain would be made on them sooner or later.
They built a line of lofty strong stone walls around their house, offices, and other property, and, thus secure, they awaited anxiously the expected visit of their deadly enemies.
In the meantime the messengers of vengeance passed through all the counties of Munster, with an account of the rebellious designs of the Bolands, against the majesty of midnight legislation; and to collect levies of men, ammunition, army, and friends, for the purpose of making a certain destructive attack upon them.
One evening, about the latter end of November, the roads and paths leading to the little village of Kilteely, a few miles to the east of Boland's house, was observed to be more than usually thronged with men, on foot and on horseback, passing, as it were, to and from Limerick, and strangers, apparently, to all the inhabitants and to each other. Shortly after nightfall, the hill of Kilteely was seen covered with men and horses, and within an old ruined house on the top of the hill a dim light was seen to occasionally flitter. This ruin was full of respectably dressed men, and at one end of it, on chairs, and at a table, provided for the occasion, sat twelve of the most respectable of them, and a portly important-looking gentleman on an elevated chair at the end of the table. Two or three candies were burning, and some slips of paper were on the table.
After a silence of a few seconds, the judge asked, in an audible voice, if there was any business to be brought before the court on that night? He was immediately answered in a solemn tone, by more than one voice, that there was a great deal of business, but that only one case, that of Captain Right against Boland, should be brought before him at that present time. The judge then desired that the case be gone into. Whereupon a middle-sized well-set young man, about six-and-twenty years of age, whose name we know, and who sat behind the judge, now brought his chair forward to the table, on the judge's left hand, and unrolling a roll of paper, read in a low, solemn, but audible tone of voice, a series of charges preferred by the said Captain Right against the said Michael Boland and his sons.
The captain was then called up, and he deposed to different charges against the defendants—such as taking beforehand, or in reversion, several small farms over the heads of poor but solvent tenants, turning them adrift on the world, and converting their small agricultural farms into one or more large farms for grazing; thereby adding to the number of the destitute, and contracting the supply of agricultural produce—the payment to his laboring men of only eight-pence a day, which he compounded for in kind—potatoes, milk, &c, at twice, at least, what those commodities fetched him in the neighboring markets. These were only a few of the many charges of petty tyranny preferred against Boland; but the last and greatest of all was his Tithe Exactions.
Several witnesses were called up to prove these weighty offences, after which it was asked if the accused party had been served with notices to desist from those high misdemeanors; and if he had engaged any one to speak for him, or in his favor. After a short pause, a man above the middle size, with snaggy hair and beard, and of a sinister aspect, came up to the table and said, that although he had not been employed or deputed to appear for Mr. Boland and the young masters and misses, his fine sons and daughters, yet justice to the accused compelled him to come forward, and offer a few words in extenuation of the punishment, if any, which should be inflicted for their alleged misdeeds. "First, then," he asked, "was it possible that they, the men then present, should be angry or offended at seeing one of their own race and religion spring up from among them, and take his station with the best of the Cromwellian Shoneens that surrounded and oppressed them? And when he did so spring up, was it any blame to him to avail himself of every means which The Law allowed him to maintain his elevation, though it might be by standing on the shoulders and necks of as good fellows as himself? What had Mr. Boland done but what others had been doing for ages, and were doing still? As for the matter of tithes, sure they should be paid to the minister who they never saw nor cared to see, and if Mr. Boland had profit on them, so much the better, because the less tithe that went into the absent minister's pocket the more would they all be pleased. To be sure the tithe-proctor always exacted to the last farthing, and more than the minister and it is believed that Mr. Boland was not behind any of the trade and some people say, indeed, that, from his knowledge of farming and the ins and outs of people's little tillage, he sometimes exacted to within a trifle of one-fifth of the produce. Indeed, in my own case and I am but a poor brogue-maker, with half-a-dozen acres of the poorest lands of F , he took from me, between citations to the Bishop's Court and other costs, with the original tithes, at least one-fourth of the entire produce of my little farm; nor do I know any one in the parish that fares better than myself, especially the poor people who don't understand the law, and who are not able, or willing, to get into it. However, I confess, I never regretted my own share of the loss, where I knew and thought that it all went to the glory and grandeur of the Masters and Misses Boland. Nor shall I ever forget the cutting-up which young Mick Boland gave me, with the butt-end of his loaded whip, the day I went to their house to complain that their driver had put all my sheep into the pound, for a debt of sixteen shillings, tithe-money. And now, my Lord Justice, as I have said so much of the truth in favor of Mr. Boland and his family, I hope your lordship will pass a merciful and just sentence oh them, and that this just jury won't find these friends to us, to our religion, and to our country, guilty."
There was a suppressed murmur of approbation, accompanied by an audible stamping of feet, at the conclusion of this merciful harangue. But silence 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 the secretary, who sat by the side of the judge on receipt of which that functionary arose and in a solemn, scarcely audible voice, read from the paper a verdict of "guilty" against Michael Boland and his two sons. The judge then immediately arose from his chair, and in a low, solemn, but firm and distinct tone of voice, pronounced the verdict of the court to be, "Death and Dark Destruction to Michael Boland and his two sons," and that the sentence should be executed that very night. On the announcement of the verdict a low shriek of exultation arose from the audience, followed by a simultaneous half-suppressed cry of, "Long life to our Judge! Long life to Buck English!"
The judge stood up again and said: "Now, boys, I know that there is no man here present but a man who has been often well tried in exploits of danger and of death: every man of you is the leader of a party of brave fellows, who, with yourselves, have sworn to sustain the oppressed; crush the tyrant, and right the wronged. Your men are brave, bold, and hearty; keep them to: their duty, and in perfect submission to your orders. Let the old tyrant and his young cubs be cut off, at all hazards, but spare the women—nay, make every possible exertion to save them, but, more especially, and by all means, let the eldest daughter, Miss Anna, be saved, secured, and brought to me, as you all know how long I have vainly endeavored to make her mine. And now, boys, every man to his post, and I, your commander, shall lead you on."
Buck English is a real character—his real name was Ryan, and he had been respectably reared, but gave himself up to the intoxicating excitement of the French Revolution—he also fought in '98, and subsequently, for his intelligence and daring spirit, became the leader of all the lawless and disaffected parties in his native County of Limerick, and, indeed, of all Munster.
The parties within the old ruin now made their appearance on the hill, and every man of them going to the head of his own body, they marched first to Hospital, a contiguous village, where they boldly beat a drum, the sound of which called up, as by enchantment, such a concourse of armed men as frightened the parties themselves. They marched from that, westwards, to Knockany, where they dug up several extensive fields (of grass) belonging to Mr. O'Grady. They marched on then, in the same direction, towards the residence of the Bolands, their numbers increasing as they went along, by voluntary and involuntary parties.
The Bolands, ever on the watch, soon learned that they were to be visited that night by those parties whom they had so long defied, but they never calculated that they Should be attacked by such a strong force as they now learned was approaching them—for it is believed that the actual number could not have been less than five thousand men, contributed by the Counties of Limerick Clare, Kerry, Cork, Waterford, Tipperary, and Kilkenny.
However, they were not daunted, but immediately put themselves in order of battle. They first sent out (off their premises) all their servants, men and women, lest there should be a spy or a traitor among them. They then carried up all their arms and ammunition to the top floor of their (two-story, long, thatched) house. The father and the younger sons planted themselves at one of the window's facing the front. The elder son and the family tutor, a young man of the neighborhood, who would not abandon them in their hour of danger, took their stand at the window which looked directly at the narrow strong door of the wall which inclosed the house. The two daughters, with their mother, took up their places between the two windows, under cover of the wall, and having been well practiced for som, weeks previous, stood prepared to load and hand up the arms to their heroes when the occasion should arrive. About the hour of one o'clock in the morning, the barking of dogs, and an odd random shot, gave the Bolands certain and unmistakable notice that their hour of terror was at hand. And soon they could hear a monotonous sound of moving feet and suppressed voices, under the outer walls of their fortress. A horn was then sounded, and the besieged were called upon to open their gates and surrender at discretion. But no answer was received from within, where all was total darkness and apparent inactivity. Several attempts were now made to burst the strong yard door, but without effect. The assailants then began to fire at the thatch of the dwelling house, as well as on the out-offices, with the intent of setting them in flames; and after several attempts, they ultimately succeeded in igniting the thatch of a detached cow-house, which stood out from the other buildings, and the wind, unfortunately happening to blow from that quarter to the other offices, carried the fire to them, by which they were soon in a blaze. In the meantime, they procured two sledges from a neighboring forge, with which they assaulted the yard door, which they soon broke in. Now there was a dead pause on the part of the assailants—for they knew very well, that to pass on the threshold of this door was certain death. However, the pressure from the rear was so great, that suddenly several men were involuntarily pushed in through the doorway. And now the work of death commenced, for no sooner had the first batch been pressed in, than there was such a well-directed shower of bullets poured out on them from four well-charged blunderbusses, as levelled every man of them with the earth. A moment's pause ensued, and the door was again filled with new aspirants for "fame in the cannon's mouth," who, however, fared as badly as the preceding batch. During this time the assailing party had been busy with crowbars and other instruments, in making several breaches in the yard walls. At length they succeeded in opening entrances in three different places at the same time, and thus in a few minutes several hundred men were precipitated into the yard. And now commenced the work of death in earnest. The assailants were shot down in scores, while the upper windows of the house, from which the deadly firing was so ably kept up, received fifty discharges to the one that issued from them. The house was immediately surrounded, and guards of chosen faithful men were placed at its doors and lower windows, with strict orders to let no one, especially the "old fox," escape, with the exception only of the women.
To add to the dreadful condition of the Bolands, the assailants had now succeeded in igniting the thatch of the dwelling-house, and it was immediately in a blaze. The Bolands and their tutor, ably served by their mother and sisters, still continued to deal death and destruction on the parties outside, without being yet fatigued or disabled. But at length the upper floor became too hot, and the old man, with his wife and daughters, retreated to the lower floor. The brothers and the tutor, however, remained above, but doing less execution, because, when the assailants saw the house on fire, they retreated outside the yard wall, excepting the guard who were placed round the house, and these stood so close to the walls that the party above had not power of injuring them, without fully exposing their own persons at the windows.
While both parties were thus in a fearful state of suspense, the burning roof of the house fell in on the three young men above, and immediately buried them for ever in its destructive flames. The assailing crowds set up a terrific shout of triumph. The floor above now began to crackle, and so dense was the smoke below, that the old man and the woman were in a state little short of suffocation. At last the Proctor became desperate, and opening one of the ground windows, and taking his poor wife by the hand, he attempted to throw himself and her out through it. No sooner, however, had they appeared at the window, than the old man was riddled with bullets from without, and thrown back into the now blazing room from which he had been endeavoring to escape.
The three young men and the old man being now destroyed, a voice in the rear of the crowd called out, in a fierce commanding them, to rescue the women at all hazards, whereupon the sledges were applied to the front door of the house; but while they were thus engaged, the young women unbarred the back door, and rushing out with their mother, uttering the most piercing shrieks, they ran into a stable which was near, before they could be laid hold of. Here, however, the two daughters were immediately seized on by order of the commander of the siege, Buck English, and carried out, but not violently, until they came to the stable-door, where the eldest daughter laid hold of the iron bolt staple of the door-post, and so desperately did she hold it, that she did not let it go till her shoulder was dislocated. They were both carried off then to the Galtee mountains, the usual resort of the Buck, who retained the eldest during pleasure. I forget what became of the younger girl, but the other became deranged, and in that melancholy state was subsequently taken into the "protection," as it is called, of a certain banker of Limerick, who shot himself in that city, to my own knowledge, in 1815. * * *
The scene at the residence of the Bolands, on the morning after the attack, was truly horrifying. The remains of the four men, almost burned to cinders, were dug out of the still burning ruins, nor was the spectacle in the yard and on the neighboring road less frightful; from the multitude of dead bodies with which they were strewn; for most of their stranger assailants who were killed were left on the spot—the party not choosing to be seen carrying them off by daylight. But such of the people of the neighboring parishes as fell, were carried off by friends and acquaintances, and hid during that day, but buried at night at remote distances from their houses, in the newly-ploughed and in the wheat-sown fields. The inquest, &c, being over, the government and the gentry of the county offered a large reward for any information that would lead to the apprehension or knowledge of the actors, especially the commander, in this fearful tragedy. A strong military force was stationed in the neighborhood, and all the bad and suspicious characters of the district were taken up, and committed to gaol on suspicion. However, the original concocters of the murder made their escape, either to England or to the remote parts of Clare, Kerry, and Cork; whilst terror reigned throughout the whole County of Limerick among the farmers at seeing the numbers that were arrested, and the largeness of the reward.
One morning, as a well-known active magistrate of the county was sitting at his breakfast, a strange woman came to his door, and requested to see him on business of importance. He immediately called up two of his servant men, and ordered them to go to the door and see that the woman was really a woman, and that she had no arms about her. This was soon done, and the woman, a real one, was ushered into his worship's presence. She then told him—the room being first cleared of all other people—that, she was the wife of D—— A———, the brogue-maker of F——, that her husband was an honest, industrious man, who knew his own trade and business well, and who knew a great deal about the business of other people, too, and of what was going on in the country—that he was a man of upright and Christian principles, who would always feel it a conscientious duty to aid the laws of his country to preserve social order and punish crime—that he was not a man to be terrified or bribed by any amount of punishment or reward; but that if he were properly managed and kindly treated, he might be found able to give a good deal of useful information.
His worship had the good-natured poor woman taken good care of for that day—and at a late hour of the same night he took and put her comfortably sitting on a horse, behind one of his constables, and, surrounded by a strong military body, horse and foot, marched her in safety; she showing the way to her own house. They found honest Darby sitting by his fire, reading his prayer-book, and in great grief at the unaccountable absence of his wife. He was dreadfully agitated when he found himself arrested, and strongly protested that he was an honest, industrious tradesman, who knew nothing of the wickedness of the world; and wondered much what this was all about.
His worship advised him to be calm—that all should be well, but that he should accompany himself to his house. After Darby had spent several usefully employed days with his new friend, he was transmitted to Limerick gaol, with orders that he should be well treated, and be allowed to see his wife as often as she desired it. The wife soon found that it would be more convenient for her, and perhaps somewhat safer, to be living near her husband, and therefore went to reside in Limerick. The news of Darby's arrest caused no little alarm through the county, and it was soon whispered about that persons were now arrested, of whose participation in the Boland affair no human being could give any hint except himself alone. His wife's rooms became crowded every day with the wives, daughters, and sisters of the men arrested,—and others not arrested, or suspected by any living being; money in hundreds of pounds was poured into her lap to purchase the ignorance, the silence, or the perjury of Darby—and every one went away apparently satisfied with Darby's promises through his faithful wife.
The assizes came down at last. Darby lost all recollection of any money but the large public reward, and on that occasion over twenty men were hanged chiefly on his evidence—though it was very difficult for the crown counsel to bring the poor reluctant man to the point; but when he did make a convicting admission, he took care that it should be a clincher, wrung from him, as he wished it to appear, by a cunning counsel. The gallows at Limerick continued for years after to be fed by Darby with victims for this crime; and several hundred were transported, or went into voluntary banishment on account of this fearful butchery. The writer of this knew well, and was at school with the secretary of the Court of Kilteely Hill.
CHAPTER I.—The Chapel Green of Esker Dearg.
The chapel of Esker Dearg, or the Red Ridge, was situated in a rich and well-cultivated country, that for miles about it literally teemed with abundance. The Red Ridge under which it stood was one of those long eminences, almost, if not altogether, peculiar to Ireland. It was, as the name betokens, a prolonged elevation that ran for nearly a mile and a half in a north-eastern direction without appearing to yield to, or be influenced by, the natural position or undulations of the country through which it went. The epithet of red which was attached to it, originated, according to popular tradition, in a massacre which had taken place upon it during one of the Elizabethan wars, others imputed it to a cause much more obvious and natural, viz., its peculiar appearance during all seasons of the year, owing to the parched and barren nature of the soil, which, in consequence of its dry and elevated Position, was covered only with furze and tern, or thin, short grass that was parched by the sun into a kind of red-brown color.
Under that end of this Esker which pointed nearest to the south-west, stood the chapel we have just mentioned. It was a rather long building with double gables and a double roof, perfectly plain, and with no other ornament, either inside or out, if we except a marble cross that stood against the wall upon the altar, of which the good priest was not a little vain, inasmuch as it had been of his own procuring. A public road of course ran past it, or rather skirted the green unenclosed space, by which, in common with most country edifices, it was surrounded. Another road joined that which we have mentioned, within a few perches of it, so that it stood at what might be nearly considered a cross-road. One or two large trees grew beside it, which gave to its otherwise simple appearance something of picturesque effect, especially during the summer months, when they were thickly covered with leaves, and waved and rustled in the sun to the refreshing breezes of that delightful season.
It was Sunday in the early part of March—we will not name the year—when our story commences. The Red Ridge Chapel was as usual surrounded by the greater portion of the congregation that had assembled to hear Mass. Within its walls there were only a few classes of youngsters, male and female, formed into circles, learning their catechism from the schoolmaster of the neighborhood, the clerk, or some devotee who possessed education enough to qualify himself for that kind office. Here and there in different parts of the chapel were small groups of adult persons, more religiously disposed than the rest, engaged in saying the rosary, whilst several others were performing solitary devotions, some stationary in a corner of the chapel, and others going the circuit around its walls in the performance of the Fourteen Stations of the Cross. Now, all these religious and devotional acts take place previous to the arrival of the priest, and are suspended the moment he commences Mass; into the more sublime majesty of which they appear, as it were, to lose themselves and be absorbed.
The great body of the congregation, however, until the clergyman makes his appearance, are to be found outside, on what is called the Chapel Green. Here they stand in groups, engaged in discussing the topics of the day, or such local intelligence as may interest them; and it is to one of those groups that we now beg to call the attention of our readers.
Under the larger of the two trees we have described stood a circle of the country people, listening to, and evidently amused by, the conversation of an individual whose bearing and appearance we must describe at great length.
He was a person whom at first sight you would feel disposed to class with young men. In other words, you might be led, from the lively flow of his spirits and his peculiarly buoyant manner, to infer that he had not gone beyond thirty or thirty-five. Upon a closer inspection, however, you could easily perceive that his countenance, despite of its healthy hue, was a good deal wrecked and weatherbeaten, and gave indications of those traces, which not only a much longer period of time, but deep and violent passions, seldom fail to leave behind them. His features were regular, and at first glance seemed handsome, but upon a nearer approach you were certain to find that their expression was heartless and disagreeable. They betokened no symptom of humanity of feeling, but were lit up with a spirit of harsh and reckless levity, which, whilst it made him popular with the unthinking multitude, might have been easily understood as the accompaniment, if not the direct exponent, of a bad and remorseless heart. The expression of his mouth was at the same time both hard and wanton, and his eyes, though full of a lively lustre, resembled in their brightness those of a serpent or hyena. His forehead was constructive but low, and, we may say, rather unintellectual than otherwise. He was without whiskers, a circumstance which caused a wound on the back part of his jaw to be visible, and one-half of the left-hand little finger had been shot off in defence of his church and country, according to his own account. This was a subject however, upon which he always affected a good deal of mystery when conversing with the people, or we should say, he took care to throw out such oracular insinuations of what he had suffered in their defence, as, according to their opinion, almost constituted him a martyr. In size he was somewhat above the middle height, compact, and exceedingly well built. His chest was deep and his shoulders powerful, whilst his limbs were full of muscular strength and great activity.
Having thus given a portrait of his person, it only remains that we describe his costume as he appeared on the Sunday in question, and we do so because it may be right to inform our readers, in the outset, that one of his peculiarities was a habit of seldom appearing, for any lengthened period, in the same dress, or indeed in the same locality.
On this occasion he had on a pair of tight buckskin breeches, top-boots and spurs—for he mostly went on horseback—a blue body-coat, with bright gilt buttons, a buff cassimere waistcoat, and a very fashionable hat.
The cravat he wore was of green silk, and was tied in a knot, which might be understood by the initiated as one that entitled him to their confidence and respect. Our readers may not be surprised at this, for, unfortunately so high and bitter have party prejudices and feelings in our disturbed country run, that the very dress has been often forced to become symbolic of their spirit and existence.
The chapel green, as we have said, was covered by the great bulk of the peasantry who were waiting the arrival of the priest. Here was a circle in which stood some rustic politician, who, having had an opportunity of getting a glimpse at some newspaper of the day, was retailing its contents to a greedy circle of listeners about him. There again stood some well-known storyteller, or perhaps a live old senachie, reciting wild and stirring legends to his particular circle. Some were stretched indolently on the grass, or lying about the ditches in the adjoining fields, but by far the greatest and most anxious crowd was assembled under the tree against which Buck English—for by this name was he known—leaned. We should say here, however, that he was not called Buck English, because his name was English, but in consequence of his attempts at pronouncing the English tongue in such a manner as he himself considered peculiarly elegant and fashionable. The man's education was very limited, indeed he had scarcely received any, but he was gifted at the same time with a low vulgar fluency of language which he looked upon as a great intellectual gift, and which, in his opinion, wanted nothing but "tip-top prononsensation," as he termed it, to make it high-flown and gentlemanly.
Our friend "the Buck," as he was universally called, was no sooner perceived in his usual station under the tree than there was a rapid gathering of the assembled crowd to hear him.
"Hallo, Paddy! what's the matther? where are you goin' to in sich a hell of a hurry?"
"Blood alive! man, sure Buck English is at his post to-day."
"How at his post?"
"Why under the three where he always is when he comes here af a Sunday."
"Hut! sure I know that; come, begad, let us hear him."
"Faith, it's he that's up to the outs and ins of everything. Sure the Counsellor himself made mintion of him in a great speech some time ago. It seems the Buck sent him up five pounds in a letther, and the Counsellor read the letther, and said it came from a most respectable gentleman, a friend of his, one Barney—no, not Barney—it wasn't Barney he called him, but—but—let me see—ay, begad—Bir—Birnard—ay, one Birnard English, Esquire, from the Barony of Treena Heela; bekaise, as the Buck doesn't keep himself very closely to any particular place of livin', he dated his letther, I suppose, from the Barony at large."
"At any rate one thing's clear, that he's high up wid the Counsellor, an' if he wasn't one man in ten thousand he wouldn't be that."
They had now reached the tree, and found that, short as the time was, a considerable crowd had already assembled about him, so that they were obliged to stand pretty far out in the circle. One or two young men, sons of most respectable farmers—for it somehow happened that the Buck was no great favorite with the seniors—stood, or rather had the honor of standing, within the circle, for the purpose of "houldin' conversation wid him;" for it could not reasonably be supposed that the Buck could throw away such valuable political information and high-flown English upon mere boors, who were incapable of understanding either the one or the other.
"And so, Mr. English," said one of those whom, he had brought within the circle, "you think the established church, the great heresy of Luther,—will go down at last?"
"Think it, Tom—why, if you get me a book I'll swear it, and that's better than thinking any dee. Didn't Emencipation pess? answer me that."
"Begad it did so, sir,"—from the crowd. "Well," proceeded the Buck, "what doubt or hesiteetion can there be that the seem power and authority that riz our own church won't be keepable of puttin' down the great protesting heresy?"
"See that now," from the crowd; "begad it stands to raison sure enough."
"Certainly," he proceeded, "none what-somever; but then the question is, how can it be effectualized?"
The crowd—"Begad, and so it is."
"Well, my friends, it isn't at oll difficult to determine that particularity: you oll know that a men lives by food—very well; pleece that men in a persition where he can't procur food and the nethrel kensiquence is that he must die. Eh—ha! ha! ha!—do you kimprehind?"
"Not a doubt of it," replied Mr. Crowd, "but sure, at any rate, we will kimprehend it by-an'-by."
"Very well; take the protesting? church or the parsons, for it is oll the seem—deprive them of the mains of support, that is to see, deny them their tithes—don't pay a shilling—hold out to the death, as my friend the Counsellor—great O'Connell says—and as we oil say, practice passive resistance,then you know the establishment must stirve and die of femine and distitootion, as a contributive jidgment for its sins."
Crowd—"Blood alive, isn't that great!"
"What is it?" from the other circle.
"Why, that the parsons, an' all belonging to them, is to die of family prostitution for their sins!"
"Devil's cure to them, then, for they desarve it—at least many of them does, anyhow," says one segment.
"Faith, an' I don't know that either," says another segment. "The parsons, bad as they're spoken of, was, for the most part, willin' to live among us; and, begad, you all know that they're kind friends and good neighbors, an' that the money they get out of the parish comes back into the parish agin—not all as one as absentee landlords. They give employment as far as they're able, an' thar's no doubt but their wives and daughters does a great dale of good among the poor, and so, begad, does the parsons themselves often."
"Who is that wiseecre that spoke last?" asked the Buck; "if I don't misteek he leebors with Dennis Purcel, the procter."
"Ay, an' a very good masther he is," replied the spokesman of the segment; "gives plenty of employment anyhow—although the pay's no great shakes—an' that's more than some that abuses him does."
"There's no one aboosin' him here, my good friend, so don't imegine it—at leest I should be extremely sorry to do so. I respect himself and his family in a very elevated manner, I assoore you. An' what's more, my friend, I'll thank you to report to him that I said so."
Here he looked significantly among the mob, especially as he perceived that the man's eyes were not fixed upon him whilst he spoke, and having thrust his tongue into his cheek, half in derision, and half as it were by a natural action, he succeeded at all events in creating a general laugh; but so easily is a laugh, among such an audience, created, that it is not altogether within our power or penetration to determine the point which occasioned their mirth, unless it were the grimace with which his words were accompanied—or stay—perhaps it was the strong evil odor in which Purcel, the subject of their conversation, must have been held.
"Talk of the devil, Mr. English," replied a stern voice from the listeners, "and he will appear; look down the road there and you'll see Purcel himself an' his family drivin' to mass on the sweat and groans of the people!"
"Not all of them," replied another voice, in a different tone; "there's only himself, his wife, and their two spankin' daughters, upon the jauntin' car; but, blood alive, look at the sons! Devil so purty a lot of sweat and groans I seen this twelvemonth as the two is riding on, in the shape of a pair of blood-horses, so that you may put the blood, Barney, along wid the sweat and the groans, agra. Well done, tithes!—ha! ha! ha!"
The individual laugh that accompanied these last observation was cruel, revolting, and hideous. The Buck sought out the speaker among the crowd, and gave him first a nod of approval—and almost instantly afterward added, with a quick change of countenance, but not until he perceived that this double expression was pretty generally understood—
"Don't, my friend—if they get wealthy and proud upon our groans and tears an' blood, as you say, it is not their invalidity that makes them do so, but ours. Instead, of being cruel to them it is to ourselves we are cruel; for by peeing the aforeseed tithes we are peeing away our heart's blood, an' you know that if we are the fools to pee that way, small bleeme to them if they take it in the shape of good passable cash. They—meening sich men as Purcel—are only the instruments with which the parsons work."
"Ay," replied the stern voice, "but, in case we had the country to ourselves, do you think now, Buck darlin', that when we'd settle off the jidges, an' lawyers, an' sheriffs, an' bailiffs, that we'd allow the jails or the gibbets to stan', or the hangmen to live. No, by japers, we'd make a clane sweep of it; and when sich a man as Purcel becomes a tool in the parsons' hands to grind the people, I don't see that we ought to make fish of one an' flesh of the other."
"Ah, Darby Hourigan, is that you?" exclaimed the Buck; "well, although I don't exaggerate with your severity, yet I will shake hands with you. How do you do Darby? Darby, I think you're a true petriot—but, so far as Mr. Purcel is concirned, I wish you to understand that he is a particular friend of mine, and so is every mimber of his family."
"Faith, an' Mr. Buck, it's more than you are with them, I can tell you."
"But perhaps you are a little misteeken there, Mr. Hourigan," replied the Buck, with a swagger, whilst he raised his head and pulled up the collar of his shirt at both sides, with a great deal of significant self-consequence;—"perhaps you are—I see so, that's oll. Perhaps, I repeat, there is some mimber of that family not presupposed against me, Mr. Hourigan?"
"Well, may be so," replied the other; "but if it be so, it's of late it must have happened, that's what I say."
Hourigan, who was by trade a shoemaker, was also a small farmer; but, sooth to say, a more treacherous or ferocious-looking ruffian you could not possibly meet with in a province. He was spare and big-boned slouchy and stealthy in his gait, pale in face with dark, heavy brows that seemed to have been kept from falling into his deep and down-looking eyes only by an effort. His cheekbones stood out very prominently, whilst his thin, pallid cheeks fell away so rapidly as to give him something the appearance of the resuscitated skeleton of a murderer, for never in the same face were the kindred spirits of murder and cowardice so hideously blended.
Much more dialogue of the description just detailed took place, in which the proctor was not without defenders; but at the same time, as we are bound to record nothing but truth, we are compelled to say, that the majority of the voices were fearfully against him. If, however, he, the proctor and the instrument, had but few to support him, what must we not suppose the defence of the system in all its bearings to have been?
At length, as Purcel and his family approached, the conversation was transferred from the political to the personal, and he, his wife, and his children, received at the hands of the people that satirical abuse, equally unjust and ungenerous, which an industrious family, who have raised themselves from poverty to independence, are in general certain to receive from all those who are deficient in the virtues by which the others rose.
"Ay, there he comes now, ridin' on his jauntin' car, an' does he think that we all forget the time when he went wid his basket undher his arm, wid his half-a-crown's worth of beggarly hardware in it. He begun it as a brat of a boy, an' was called nothin' then but Mahon na gair (that is 'Mat of the-grin'); but, by-and-by, when he came to have a pack over the shoulder, and to carry a yard wan' he began to turn Bodagh on our hands. Felix, it's himself that soon thought to set up for the style an' state."
"At any rate," said the friendly voice aforesaid, "no one can deny but he's a good employer—if he'd give better wages."
"A good employer!" said Hourigan; "we all know he must get his work done—small thanks to him for that, an' a small price he-pays for it."
"We all know the ould proverb," said another individual; "set a beggar on horseback, an' he'll ride to the devil. Whist! here they come."
As the last person concluded, Purcel and the female portion of his family drew up under the shadow of the tree already alluded to, which here overhung the road, so that he came right in contact with the crowd.
"Ah, boys," said he, with his characteristic good-humor, "how are you all? Darby Hourigan, how are your family? Isn't this glorious weather, boys?"
"Blessed weather, sir," replied Hourigan, who became in some degree spokesman. "I hope your honor an' the mistress, sir, an' the young ladies is all well."
"My honor, as you are pleased to call me, was never better in my life; as for the mistress and the young ladies there they are, so judge for yourself, Darby: but Darby my good friend, you have a d—d sneaking, slavish way with you. Why do you call me 'your honor' when you know—for I've often told you—that wouldn't bear it? Am I not one of yourselves? and don't most of you know that I began the world upon half-a-crown, and once carried a hardware basket on my arm?—d—n it, then, speak like a man to a man, and not like a slave, as I'm half inclined to think you are."
"Throth, sir," replied Hourigan, with an indescribable laugh, "an' for all that you say, there's many that gets the title of 'your honor,' that doesn't desarve it as well."
"Ah well, man! Why, there's many a man gets it that doesn't desarve it at all, which is saying more than you said—ha! ha! ha!"
Whilst this little dialogue took place, our worthy Buck had abandoned his place under the ikee, and flown to the car to assist the ladies off—a piece of attention not unobserved by Purcel, who obliquely kept his eye upon that worthy's gallantry, and the reception it was getting from the parties to whom it was offered.
"Leedies," said the Buck, in his politest manner and language, "will you allow me the gallantry to help you off? Mrs. Purcel, I hope you're well. Here, ma'am, aveel yourself of me."
"Thank you, Mr. English; I'm much obliged," she returned, rather coolly.
"Leedies," he proceeded, flying to the other side, "allow me the gallantry."
The two young women, who were full of spirits and good humor, were laughing most heartily, sub silentio, at the attention thus so ceremoniously paid to their mother by a man whom, beyond all human beings, she detested. Now, however, that he came to proffer his "gallantry" to themselves, they were certainly rather hard pressed to maintain or rather regain their gravity.
"Leedies," the Buck continued, "may I have the gallantry to help you off?"
"Oh, thank you, it's too much trouble, Mr. English."
"None on airth, Miss Purcel—do let me have the high-flown satisfaction."
"Oh, well," she replied, "since you will be so polite," and giving him her hand she was about to go down, when suddenly withdrawing it, as if recollecting herself, she said, nodding with comic significance toward her sister Julia—"My sister, Mr. English, have you no gallantry for her?"
"Ah," he whispered, at the same time gratefully squeezing her hand, "you're a first-rate divinity—a tip-top goddess—divil a thing else. Miss Joolia, may I presoome for to have the plisure and polite gallantry to help you off the car; 'pon honor it'll be quite grateful and prejudicial to my feelings—it will, I assoore you!"
"Bless me, whose is that wedding party, Mr. English?" asked Miss Julia, pointing to the opposite direction of the road.
English instantly turned round to observe, when, by a simultaneous act, both sisters stepped nimbly from the car. Miss Julia, as if offended, but at the same time with a comic gravity of expression, exclaimed—
"Oh, fie! Mr. English, is that your boasted gallantry? I'm afraid your eight years' residence in England, however it may have improved the elegance of your language and accent, hasn't much improved your politeness!"
So saying, she and her sister tripped off to the chapel, which they immediately entered. Much about the same time their brothers arrived, mounted, certainly, upon a pair of magnificent hunters, and having handed them over to two lads to be walked about until the conclusion of Mass, they also entered the chapel, for the priest was not now more than three or four hundred yards; distant.
The jest practised so successfully upon our friend the Buck occasioned a general laugh at his expense, a circumstance which filled, him with serious mortification, if not with actual resentment, for it so happened, that one of his great foibles was such a morbid sensibility to ridicule as was absolutely ludicrous.
"Bedad, Mr. English, you wor fairly done there; in spite o' the tall English, you're no match for the ladies. Miss Julia fairly gev' you the bag to hould."
The Buck's eye glittered with bitterness.
"Miss Julia, do you say?" he replied; "why, my good friend, the girl was christened Judy—plain Judy; but now that they've got into high-flown life, you persave, nothing will sarve them but to ape their betthers. However, never mind, I'll see the day yet, and that before long, when saucy Judy won't refuse my assistance. Time about's fair play, you know."
It may be observed here, that Buck English happened to forget himself, which he almost always did whenever he became in earnest: he also forgot his polite language and peculiar elegance of pronunciation. To a vain and weak mind there is nothing more cutting than the consciousness of looking mortified in the eyes of others, and under these circumstances to feel that the laugh is against you, adds one not important item to "the miseries of human life."
The Buck, now that the priest was at the chapel door, walked, with a stride that very much resembled the mock-heroic, towards the place of worship; but, in the opinion of the shrewd spectators, his dignity was sadly tarnished by the humorous contempt implied in the practical jest that had been so adroitly played off at his expense.
CHAPTER II.—The Proctor's Principles and His Family.
For a considerable time previous to the scene described in our last chapter, a principle of general resistance to tithes had been deepening in and spreading over the country. Indeed the opposition to them had, for at least half a century before, risen up in periodical ebullitions that were characterized by much outrage and cruelty. On this account, then, it was generally necessary that the residence of that unpopular functionary, the tithe-proctor, should be always one of considerable strength, in order the more successfully to resist such midnight attacks as hostile combination might make upon it. Purcel, as well as other proctors of his day, had from time to time received threatening notices, not only of a personal nature, but also of premeditated attacks upon his house. The man was, however, not only intrepid and resolute, but cautious and prudent; and whilst he did not suffer himself to be intimidated by threats that for the most part ended in nothing, he took care to keep himself and his family well provided against any attack that might be made upon them.
The history of Matthew Purcel is soon told. It is that of enterprise, perseverance, and industry, tinged a good deal by a sharp insight into business, a worldly spirit, and although associated with a good deal of pride and display, an uncontrollable love of putting money together, not always under circumstances that were calculated to render him popular, nor which could, in point of feeling or humanity, be at all defended. He had commenced the world, as has been already intimated, in character of a hardware pedlar. From stage to stage of that circulating life he advanced until he was able to become a stationary shopkeeper in the town of C———m. The great predilection of his heart, however, was for farming, and in pursuance with his wishes on this subject, he took a large farm, and entered upon its management with considerable spirit and a good deal of skill. His success was beyond his expectations; and, as the spirit of agriculture continued to gain upon him, he gradually lost his relish for every other description of business. He consequently gave up his large shop in C———m, and went to reside upon his farm, with a capital of some thousands, which he owed to the industry of his previous life. Here he added farm to farm, until he found himself proprietor of nearly six hundred acres, with every prospect of adding largely to his independence and wealth.
It was now that his capacity as a man peculiarly well acquainted with the value of land, and of agricultural produce in general, induced him to accept of offers in connection with the collection of tithe, which were a good deal in accordance with his ability and habits. In short, he became a tithe-proctor, and in the course of a few years rented tithes himself to a very large amount.
Such is the brief history of Matthew Purcel, at the period when he makes his appearance upon our humble stage; and it only remains that we add a few particulars with regard to his family. Out of eleven children only four survived—two sons and two daughters—all of whom were exceedingly well educated, the latter accomplished. Purcel's great object in life was more to establish a family than to secure the individual happiness of his children. This was his ambition—the spirit which prompted him, in his dealings with the people, to forget too frequently that the garb of justice may be often thrown over the form of rapacity, and that the authority of law is also, in too many instances, only another name for oppression.
It would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to find in their native province four such children as called him father. His two sons were, in symmetry of figure, strength, courage, manly beauty, and gentlemanly bearing, almost unrivalled. They possessed the manners of gentlemen, without any of that offensive coxcombry on the one side, or awkward affectation of ease on the other, which generally mark the upstart. In fact, although they understood their own worth, and measured their intellectual powers and acquirments successfully with those of rank and birth, they had sense enough to feel that it would have been ridiculous in them to affect by their conduct the prestige of either; and they consequently knew that both discrimination and delicacy were necessary in enabling them to assume and maintain that difficult bearing in society, which prevented them from encroaching on the one side or giving up their proper position on the other. So far so good. Their characters, however, were not without some deep shadows. Whilst we acknowledge that they were generous, resolute, liberal, and of courage, we must also admit that they were warm, thoughtless, and a good deal overbearing to many, but by no means to all, of the peasantry with whom they came in contact. From the ample scale on which their farming was conducted, and in consequence of the vast number of men they necessarily had occasion to employ, they could not but detect among them many instances both of falsehood, dishonesty, and ingratitude. These vices at their hands never received any favor. So far from that, those whom they detected in the commission of them, were instantly turned adrift, Very often after having received a sound horse-whipping. Much abuse also occurred between them and the country people with reference to land, and especially tithes, in which they gave back word for word, and too frequently met concealed or implied threats either by instant chastisement or open defiance; the result of all was, as the reader may perceive, that they had the worst and least scrupulous, and consequently, most dangerous class of persons in the country for their enemies. The name of the elder was John, and the younger Alick; and, soothe to say, two finer-looking, more spirited, or determined young fellows could not be found probably in the kingdom. The relative position, then, in which they and the people, or rather the worst class of them, stood to each other, and the bitter disparaging taunts and observations with which the proctor and his sons were treated, not only on the chapel green, but almost wherever they appeared, are now, we trust, intelligible to the reader.
Of the daughters, Mary and Julia, we have not so much to observe. They were both very beautiful; and, as we have already said, highly accomplished. Both, too, were above the middle height and sizes, and remarkable for the singular elegance and symmetry of their figures. Mary, the eldest, was a dark beauty, with a neck and bosom like snow, and hair black as the raven's wing; whilst Julia, on the contrary, was fair, and if possible, more exquisitely rounded than her sister. Her eyes, of a blue gray, were remarkable for an expression of peculiar depth and softness, whilst Mary's dark brown were full at once of a mellow and penetrating light. In other respects they resembled each other very much, both being about the same height and size, and altogether of a similar bearing and figure. Mary's complexion was evidently inherited from her mother, who was, at the opening of our narrative, a black-haired, handsome woman, with a good deal of determination about her mouth and brow, but with a singularly benevolent expression when she smiled. She, too, had received a good, plain education, and was one of those naturally well-mannered women who, whilst they are borne forward into greater respectability by the current of prosperity, can assume, without effort, the improved tone of better society to which they are raised.
There were few women in her sphere of life, or indeed in any sphere of life, who dispensed more good to the poor and distressed than Mrs. Purcel; and in all her kindness and charities she was most cordially aided and supported by her admirable daughters. Within a wide circle around her dwelling, sickness and destitution, or unexpected calamity, were ever certain to be cheered by the benevolent hand of herself or her daughters. The latter, indeed, had latterly relieved her, in a great degree, if not altogether, of all her distant and outdoor charities, so that little now was left to her management but the claims of such poor as flocked for assistance to the house.
Mass having been concluded, and the benediction given in the chapel of Red Ridge, Mr. Purcel and his family soon appeared among the crowd on the green, preparing to return home. The car was driven up opposite the chapel door, to the place where they were in the habit of waiting for it. The two brothers came out along with their sisters, and signed to the lads who had been holding their horses to bring them up. In the meantime, Buck English, unabashed by the rebuff he had received, once more approached, and just as the car had come up, tendered his gallantry—as he called it—with his usual politeness.
"I trust, leedies, that as you were not kin-descending enough to let me have the gallantry of helping you off, you will let me have the pleasure of helping you on?"
"That lady behind you appears to have prior claims upon you, Mr. English."
"Behind me!" he exclaimed, turning about. "Why, Miss Joolia, there's no leddy behind me."
In the meantime she beckoned to her brother who, while the, proctor was assisting his wife to take her seat, helped up both the girls, who nodding to the Buck, said—
"Thank you, Mr. English: we feel much obliged for your gallant intentions; quite as much, indeed, as if you had carried them into effect."
This joke, so soon played off after that which had preceded it, and upon the same person, too, occasioned another very general laugh at the Buck's expense; and, beyond a doubt, filled him with a double measure of mortification and resentment.
"There you go," he muttered, "and it was well said before Mass, that if you set a beggar on horseback he'll ride to the divil."
"To whom do you apply that language?" asked Alick Purcel.
"To one Michael Purcel, a tithe-proctor, an oppressor and a grinder of the poor," returned Buck, fiercely.
"And, you insolent scoundrel, how dare you use such language to my father?" said the other. "I tell you, that if it were not from a reluctance to create an unbecoming quarrel so near the house of God, and so soon after his worship, I would horsewhip you, you illiterate, vulgar rascal, where you stand."
"I would be glad to catch you making the attempt," replied the Buck, with a look of fury; "because I would give you such a lesson as you would never forget. I would let you know that it isn't your father's unfortunate tenants and day-laborers you have before you—and that you scourge like hounds in a kennel."
Purcel was actually in the act of springing at him, whip in hand, when, fortunately, the priest interfered, and prevented a conflict which, from the strength and spirit by which the parties were animated, must have been a fearful one.
"What is this?" said the worthy man; "in God's name, what does this scandalous conduct, in such a place, and on such an occasion, mean? Come between these madmen," he proceeded, addressing the crowd, which had now collected about them. "Keep them asunder!"
The two men were separated; but as each felt himself under the influence of strong resentment, they glared at one another with looks of fiery indignation.
"You had better keep out of my way, you impudent scoundrel," said Purcel, shaking his whip at him; "and hark ye, make no more attempts to pay attention to any of my sisters, or, by the heavens above me, I will trace you through all your haunts, and flog you as I would a dog."
"I'll take care to give you the opportunity before long, Squire Purcel, or rather Squireen Purcel," replied the Buck; "and what is more, I'll see you and yours in my power yet."
"You're too ready wid your whip, Mr. Purcel," said several voices from among the crowd; "and you do think it's dogs you have to dale wid, as Mr. English says."
"No," said Purcel, with scom; "I deny it; my whip is never raised unless to the shoulders of some slavish, lying, and dishonest scoundrel, whom I prefer to punish rather than to prosecute."
"Take. care it doesn't come aginst you, then, some o' these days," said a voice.
"Ay," added another, "or some o' these nights!"
"Ah, you ungrateful and cowardly crew," he replied, "who have not one drop of manly blood in your veins, I despise you. Like all thorough cowards, you are equally slavish and treacherous. Kindness is thrown away upon you, generosity you cannot understand, for open fight or open resentment you have neither heart nor courage—but give you the hour of midnight, and your unsuspecting victim asleep—or place you behind the shelter of a hedge, where your cowardly person is safe and invisible, with a musket or blunderbuss in your hands, and a man before whom you have crawled in the morning like reptiles, you will not scruple to assassinate that night. Curse upon you! you are a disgrace to any Christian country, and I despise, I say, and defy you. As for you, Buck English, avoid my path, and cross neither me nor any member of my family."
"Alick Purcel," said English, "mark my words—I'll put my thumb upon you and yours yet. I say, mark them; for the day will come when you will remember them to your cost."
Purcel gave him a stern look, and merely said—"I'm prepared for you;" after which he and his brother John mounted their horses and dashed off at a rapid pace towards their father's house, followed by the groans and hootings of the people—far above all whose voices was heard that of Buck English, in loud and contemptuous tones.
On relating the occurrence at home, the father, as was his custom, only laughed at it.
"Pooh, Alick," said he, "what does it signify? Have we not been annoyed for years by these senseless broils and empty threats? Don't think of them."
"I, father!" replied his son; "do you imagine that I ever bestow a second thought upon them? Not I, I assure you. However, there is one thing would most unquestionably gratify me, and that is, an opportunity of cudgelling Buck English; because, upon second consideration, horse-whipping would be much too gentlemanly a style of chastisement for such a vulgar and affected ruffian."
"I regret very much, however," said his sister Julia, "that I have been the cause of all this; but really, as Mary here knows, the absurdity of his language was perfectly irresistible."
"Yes," replied her sister; "but, in fact, he is constantly annoying and persecuting her, and very few would bear such nonsense and absurdity from him with so much good-humor as Julia does. I grant that it is very difficult to be angry with so ridiculous a fool; but I do agree with Julia, that it is better to laugh at him, for two seasons: the first is, because he is a fit object for ridicule; and the second, because it is utterly impossible to resist it."
"I don't think he will annoy Julia again, however," said Alick.
"Not until the next opportunity," observed his brother, "when, you may take my word for it, he will be as ridiculously polite and impudent as ever."
"Not a doubt of it," said the father; "the rascal's incurable, and little did I imagine when I asked him once or twice to dine here that I was preparing such an infliction for poor Julia. Julia didn't he write to you?"
"I certainly had the honor of receiving a very elaborate love-letter from him," replied Julia, laughing, "which I will show you some of these days; but, for my part, I think the fool is beneath resentment, and it is merely on that principle that I have treated him with good-humored contempt."
"He is certainly as good as a farce," said the father; "and if the rascal had kept from making love, I should have still been glad to have him here from time to time to amuse us."
"How does he live at all?" asked Mrs. Purcel; "for, by all accounts, he has no fixed place of residence, nor any known means of support."
"Faith, Nancy, that's a subject upon which we are all aiqually ignorant," replied her husband; "but that the fellow lives, and can live comfortably—ay, and has plenty of money, there can be no earthly doubt. At the same time, that there is much talk about him, and a great deal of mystery too, is a sure case on the other hand. Well, never mind, Jack; I asked your old tutor, M'Carthy, to dine here to-day; he has come home to the country after having gained a scholarship, I believe they call it, in Trinity College."
"I'm glad you did, father," replied John, "and I'm much obliged to you. Yes, he has gained first place, and I knew he would."
"He intends going to the bar, he tells me."
"He will be heard from yet, or I renounce all claims to common sense," replied the other. "There is, unquestionably, a brilliant career before him."
"I would rather, in the meantime," observed Mrs. Purcell, "that he had continued steadfast to his religion. They tell me that he has become a Protestant."
"Why, I believe he couldn't gain a scholarship, as you call it, Jack, without becoming a member of the Established Church."
"No, sir, he could not."
"Well, then," proceeded the proctor, "what great harm? Why, I believe in my soul, that if it weren't for the bigotry of priests and parsons, who contrive to set the two churches together by the ears, there would be found very little difference between them. For my part, I believe a good, honest Protestant will go to heaven when a scoundrel Papist won't, and vice versa. The truth is, begad, that it's six of one and half a dozen of the other; and sorry would I be to let so slight a change as passing from one religion to the other ever be a bar to the advancement or good fortune of any one of my children!"
"I would much rather not hear you say so, Mat," replied his wife; "nor do I ever wish my children to gain either wealth or station in the world by the sacrifice of the highest principle that can bind the heart—that of religion."
"Pooh, Nancy, you speak like a woman who never looked beyond the range of the kitchen and larder, or thought beyond the humdrum prayers of your Manual. I wish to see my children established; I wish to see them gain station in the world; I wish to make them the first of their family; and I do assure you, Nancy, that it is not such a trifle as the difference between popery on the one hand, and Protestantism on the other, that I'd suffer—that is, if they will be guided by me—to stand between them and the solid advantages of good connection, and a proper standing in the world. I say, then, boys and girls, don't be fools; for, as for my part, I scarcely think, to tell God's truth, that there's to the value of sixpence between the two creeds."
"Father," said Mary, laughing, "you're a man of a truly liberal disposition in these matters."
"But, papa," said Julia, with an arch look, "if there be not the value of sixpence between the two creeds, perhaps there is more than that between the two clergy?"
The proctor shook his head and laughed.
"Ah, Judy, my girl, you have me there," he replied; "that goes home to the proctor, you baggage. Devil a thing, however, like an endowed church, and may God keep me and all my friends from the voluntary system!—ha! ha! ha! Come, now, for that same hit at the old proctor, you must walk over here and play me my old favorite, the 'Cannie Soogah,' just to pull down your pride. The 'Cannie Soogah,' you know, is the Irish for Jolly Pedlar, and a right jolly pedlar your worthy father was once in his days."
"By the way, papa," said Mary, "talking of that—what has become of the pleasant man that goes under that name or nickname—the pedlar that calls here occasionally?"
"I saw him in the market yesterday," replied her father, "and a fine, hale fellow he is of his years. For a man of fifty he's a miracle of activity and energy."
"They say he is wealthy," observed John, "and I shouldn't wonder. You ought to give a good guess at that, father—ha! ha! ha!"
"Right, John, I ought, and I think he is. You don't know how money gathers with a successful pedlar, who is up to his business. I am inclined to think that the Cannie Soogah is the only man who can throw any light on the history of Buck English."
"Who the devil is that impudent scoundrel, father? for it appears that, as regards his birth, family, and origin, nobody knows anything certain about him."
"And that is just the position in which I stand," replied his father. "It is a subject on which he himself gives no satisfaction to any one. When asked about it, he laughs in jour face, and replies that he doesn't exactly know, but is of the opinion that he is the son of his father—whoever that was; but that, he says, he is not wise enough to know either, and then, after another laugh at you, he leaves you."
"How does he live?" asked John, "for he has no visible means of support—he neither works nor is engaged in any profession, and yet he dresses well."
"Well! John;" exclaimed Julia.
"Perhaps I ought not to say—well, Julia; but at all events, he is very fond of being considered a buck, and he certainly dresses up to that character."
"He admits that he was eight years in England," said his father; "although, for my part, it's just as likely that he spent seven years of that time in Botany Bay; if not, I should have no objection that something should occur to make him spend the remainder of his life there."
"Why should you wish the man so ill, papa'?" asked Mary.
"Why, Mary—faith for a very good reason, my dear child; because I don't wish to see your sister annoyed and persecuted by the scoundrel. The fellow is so impudent that he will take no rebuff."
"By the way, father, where does M'Carthy stop, now that he is in the country?" asked Alick, with some hesitation, and a brow a little heightened in color.
"For the present," replied the other, "he stops with our friend, O'Driscol, the new magistrate. Faith, it's a shove-up for O'Driscol to get on the Bench. Halloo! there's M'Carthy's knock—I'm sure I know it."
The proctor was right; but notwithstanding his quickness and sagacity, there was another individual in the room at that moment who recognized it sooner than he did. Julia arose, and withdrew under some pretence which we cannot now remember, but I really because she felt that had she remained until M'Carthy's entrance, her blushes would have betrayed her.
"M'Carthy is a very handsome young-fellow," observed John—"would he think of entering any pretensions to Katherine O'Driscol?"
"What d—d stuff you often talk, John—begging your pardon," replied his brother; "he has hard reading, and his profession to think of—both of which he will find enough for him, setting Katherine O'Driscol and love out of the question."
"Very good, Alick," said John. "Ha! ha ha! I thought I would touch you there. The bait took, my boy; jealousy, jealousy, father."
Alick, on finding that he was detected, forced himself into a confused laugh, and, in the meantime, M'Carthy entered.
Nothing could surpass the cordiality of his reception. A holiday spirit was obvious among the family—at least among all who were then visible. Secretly, however, did his eye glance about in search of one, on whose reception of him more depended than a thousand welcomes from all the rest. In about twenty minutes Julia made her appearance, but to any person in the secret, it was obvious that she was combating with much inward, if not with some appearance of external confusion and restraint. After the first greetings were over, however, she gradually recovered her self-possession, and was able to join in the conversation without embarrassment or difficulty.
CHAPTER III.—Mountain Legislation, and its Executive of Blood.
After dinner that day, and while the gentlemen were yet at table, Mary and Julia, who, as we have said, had relieved their mother of those benevolent attentions which she had been in the habit of paying to the neighboring sick and poor, proceeded on their way to the cottage of a destitute woman in the next village, who was then lying in what was considered to be a hopeless state. The proctor himself, while he exacted with a heartless and rapacious hand the last penny due to him, was yet too good a tactician to discountenance these spontaneous effusions of benevolence on the part of his wife and daughters. With a good deal of ostentation, and that peculiar swagger for which many shrewd and hard-hearted men of the world are remarkable, he actually got the medicine himself for the helpless invalid in question, not forgetting at the same time to make the bystanders in the apothecary's shop acquainted with the extent of his own private charity and that of his family besides. The girls had proceeded a part of the way on their charitable errand, when it occurred to them that the medicine, which their father had procured on the preceding day, had been forgotten, and as the sick woman was to commence taking it at a certain hour that evening, it was necessary that either one or both should return for it.
"You needn't come back, Julia," said Mary; "I will myself run home and fetch it. And accordingly her sister went back at a quick step towards her father's house. The spot where Julia stood to await the return, of her sister was within a few yards of a large white-thorn double ditch, on each side of which grew a close hedge of thorns, that could easily afford room for two or three men to walk abreast between them. Here she had not remained more than a minute or two, when, issuing from the cover of the thorns, and approaching her with something of a stage strut, our friend, Buck English, made his appearance.
"Miss Joolia," he exclaimed, with what was intended for a polite bow, "I hope you will pardon me for this third liberty I teek in offering to spake to you. I see," he proceeded, observing her rising indignation, "that you are not inclined to hear me, but I kim here to give you a bit of advice as a friend—listen to my proposals, if you're wise—and don't make me the enemy of yourself or your family, for so sure as you reject me, so certainly will you bring ruin upon both yourself and them. I say this as a friend, and merk me, the day may come when you will oll remember my words too late."
There was a vehemence in his language, which could admit of no mistake as to the fixed determination of his purpose; his lips were compressed, his eyebrows severely knit, and his unfeeling, hyena eye scintillated with a fire that proceeded as much from an inclination to revenge as affection. Julia Purcel, however, though a women, possessed no whit of her sex's cowardice; on the contrary, her bosom heaved with indignant scorn, and her eye gave him back glance for glance, in a spirit that disdained to quail before his violence.
"Do you dare to threaten me or my family, sir?" she replied; "I think you should know us better than to imagine that the threats of a ruffian, for such I now perceive you to be, could for a moment intimidate either them or me. Begone, sir, I despise and detest you—until this moment, I looked upon and treated you as a fool, but I now find you are a villain—begone, I say; I scorn and defy you."
"You defy me, do you?"
"Yes, I have said it, I defy you."
"Well, then, so be it," he replied, "you must take the consequences, that's all, and let your favorite, M'Carthy, look to himself too."
Having uttered these significant words, ha reentered the double ditch, along which a common pathway went, and in a minute or two was out of sight.
Mary, on her return, at once perceived, by the flushed cheek and kindled eye of her sister, that something had discomposed her. "Why, goodness me, dear Julia, you look disturbed or frightened; what is the matter?"
"Disturbed I am," she replied, "but not at all frightened. This worthy lover of mine, whom nothing can abash, has honored me with another interview."
"Is it after the scene between him and my brother to-day?"
"Certainly," she replied, with a smile, for she now began once more to look upon the matter in a ludicrous point of view, "and has threatened not only myself, but the whole family with destruction, unless I favor his addresses—ha! ha! ha! He has one good quality in a lover, at all events—perseverance."
"Say rather effrontery and impudence," replied Mary.
"Yes, I admit that," said her sister; "but at any rate, they very often go together, I believe."
She then related the dialogue that took place, at which her sister, who was equally remarkable for courage, only laughed.
"The fellow after all is only a fool," she observed. "If he were anything else, or if he had any serious intention of carrying such threats into effect, he most assuredly would not give expression to them, or put you on your guard against them. No, he is only a fool and not worth thinking about: let him go."
They then proceeded to the cabin of poor Widow Cleary, to whom they administered the medicine with their own hands, and to whose children they brought their mother's orders to attend the house, that they might be relieved with that comfortable food which their destitute circumstances so much required.
On their return home, the relation of the incident which we have just narrated very much amused the family, with the exception of M'Carthy, who expressed himself not quite at ease after having heard English's threats. "There is an extraordinary mystery about that man," he observed; "no one knows or can tell who he is; you can call him a fool, too, but take my word that there never hung mystery about a fool yet; I fear he will be found to be something much worse than a fool."