Charles James Lever.

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he did come. This for a while made matters worse ; so many

N



178 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

directions were given, questions asked, and demands made,
that it was clearly impossible to hear any one voice ; and
there stood the manager, swinging his arms about like an
insane telegraph, now running to the stage-box at one side,
then crossing over to the other, to maintain a little private
conversation by signs, till the sense of the house spoke out
by accidently catching a glimpse of me in the side-scenes.

" ' Is it your pleasure, my lords, ladies, and gentlemen, that
this actor should not appear again before you ? '

"'Yes yes. No no no,' were shouted from hundreds
of voices.

" ' What am I to understand,' said he, bowing with his
arms crossed submissively before him ; ' I submit myself to
your orders. If Mr. Cregan doos not meet your approba-
tion "

" ' Throw him into the dock ! break his neck ! set him
adrift on a log down the Gulf-stream ! chip him up for
bark! buni him for charcoal!' and twenty other like
humane proposals burst forth together ; and so not waiting
to see how far the manager's politeness would carry him, I
fled from the theatre. Yes, Cullinane, I fled with shame and
disgust from that fickle public, who applaud with ecstasy to-
day that they may condemn with infamy to-morrow. Nor
was I deceived by the vain egotism of supposing that I was
the object of their ungenerous anger. Alas ! my friend, the
evil lay deeper it was my Irish name and family they sought
to insult ! The old grudge that they bear us at home, they
carry over the seas with them. How plain it is ; they never
can forgive our superiority. It is this they seek revenge
upon wherever they find us."

I own that in giving this peculiar turn to my narrative, I
was led by perceiving that my listener had begun to show a
most lamentable want of sympathy for myself and my suffer-
ings, so I was driven to try what a little patriotism might do
in arousing his feelings : and I was right. Some of Culli-
nane's connexions had been Terrys or Blackfeet or White-
feet, or some one or other of those pleasant fraternities who
study ball- practice, with a landlord for the bull's-eye. He at
once caught up the spirit of my remarks, and even quoted
some eloquent passages of Mr. O'Connell, about the width of
our shoulders, and the calves of our legs, and other like
personal advantages, incontestably showing as they do that
we never were made to be subject to the Saxon. It was the
law of the land, however, which had his heartiest abhorrence.
This, like nine-tenths of his own class in Ireland, he regarded



A NIGHT IN THE "LOWER TOWN." 179

as a sytematic means of oppression, invented by the rich
to give them the tyrannical dominion over the poor. Nor is
the belief to be wondered at, considering how cognizant the
peasant often is of all the schemes and wiles by which a con-
viction is compassed ; nay, the very adroitness of a legal
defence in criminal cases the feints, the quips, the strata-
gems instead of suggesting admiration for those barriers by
which the life and liberty of a subject is protected, only
engendered a stronger conviction of the roguish character of
that ordeal where craft and subtlety could do so much.

It was at the close of a very long diatribe over Irish law
and lawyers, that Cullinane, whose confidence increased each
moment, said, with a sigh, " Ay ! they worn't so 'cute in
ould times, when my poor grandfather was tried, as they are
now, or maybe he'd have had betther luck."

" What happened to him ? " said I.

" He was hanged, acushla ! " said he, knocking the ashes
out of his pipe as leisurely as might be, and then mumbling
a scrap of a prayer below his breath.

" For what ? " asked I, in some agitation ; but he didn't
hear me, being sunk in his own reflections, so that I was
forced to repeat my question.

" Ye never heerd of one Mr. Shinane, of the Grove ? "
said he, after a pause ; " of coorse ye didn't 'tis many years
ago now : but he was well known oncet, and owned a great
part of Ennistymore, and a hard man he was. But no
matter for that he was a strong, full man, with rosy cheeks,
and stout built, and sorra a lease in the country had not his
life in it ! a thing he liked well, for he used to say, ' It'll be
the ruin of ye all, if any one shoots me ! ' "Well, my grand-
father rest his sowl in glory ! was his driver, and used to
manage everything on the property for him ; and considerin'
what a hard thing it is, he was well liked by the country
round all but by one man, Maurice Cafferty by name. I
never seed him, for it was all 'fore I was born, but the name
is in, my mind, as if I knew him well I used to hear it
every night of my life when I was a child !

" There was a dispute about Cafferty's houldin'. and my
grandfather was for turnin' him out, for he was a bad tenant ;
but Mr. Shinane was afeerd of him, and said, ' Leave him
quiet, Mat,' says he ; ' he's a troublesome chap, and we'll get
rid of him in our own good time; but don't drive him to
extremities : I told him to come up to the cottage this morn-
ing: come with me there, and we'll talk to him.' Now the
cottage was a little place about two miles off, in the woods,

N 2



180 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

where the master used to dine sometimes in summer, when
they were chipping bark, but nobody lived there.

" It was remarked by many that morning, as they went
along, that my grandfather and Mr. Shinane were in high
words all the time, at least so the people working in the fields
thought, and even the childer that was picking bark said that
they were talking as if they were very angry with each other.

"This was about eleven o'clock, and at the same time
Cafferty, who was selling a pig in Ennistymore, said to the
butcher, ' Be quick, and tell me what you'll give, for I must
go home and clean myself, as I'm to speak to the master
to-day about my lease.' Well, at a little before twelve Caf-
ferty came through the wood, and asked the people had they
seen Mr. Shinane pass by, for that he tovvld him to meet him
at the cottage ; and the workmen said yes, and more by token
that he was quarrellin' with Mat Cullinane. ' I'm sorry for
that,' says Cafferty, ' for I wanted him to be in a good
humour, and long life to him ! ' The words wasn't well out,
but what would they see but my grandfather running towards
them, at the top of his speed, screeching out like mad, ' The
master's murdered ! the master's kilt dead ! ' Away they all
went to the cottage, and there upon the floor was the dead
body, with an axe buried deep in the skull so deep that only
the thick part of the iron was outside. That was the dreadful
sight ! and sure enough, after looking at^the corpse, every eye
was turned on my grandfather, who was leaning on the
dresser, pale, and trembling, and his hands and knees all
covered with blood. ' How did it happen, Mat ? ' said three
or four together ; but Cafferty muttered, ' It's better ask
nothing about it ; it's not likely he'll tell us the truth ! '

" The same night my grandfather was arrested on suspicion
and brought to Ennis, where he was lodged in gaol ; and
although there was no witness agin' him, nor anything more
than I towld ye, the high words between them, the axe being
my grandfather's, the blood on his clothes and hands, and his
dreadful confusion when the people came up, all these went
so hard against him, and particularly as the judge said it was
good to make an example, that he was condemned ; and so
it was he was hanged on the next Saturday in front of the
gaol!"

" But what defence did he make ? what account did he give
of the circumstance ? "

<{ All he could tell was, that he was standing beside the
master at the table, talking quietly, when he heard a shout
and a yell in the wood, and he said, ' They're stealing the



A NIGHT IN THE "LOWER TOWN." 181

bark out there ; they'll not leave us a hundredweight of it
yet ! ' and out he rushed into the copse. The shouting grew
louder, and he thought it was some of the men cryin' for help,
and so he never stopped running till he came where they were
at work felling trees. ' What's the matter ? ' says he, to the
men, as he came up panting and breathless ; ' where was the
screeching ? '

" ' We heerd nothing,' says the men.

" ' Ye heerd nothing ! didn't ye hear yells and shouting
this minute?'

" ' Sorra bit,' says the men, looking strangely at each other,
for my grandfather was agitated, and trembling, between
anger and a kind of fear ; just as he said afterwards, ' as if
there was something dreadful going to happen him ! ' ' Them
was terrible cries, anyway ! ' says my grandfather ; and with
that he turned back to the cottage, and it was then that he
found the master lying dead on his face, and the axe in his
skull. He tried to lift him up, or turn him over on his back,
and that was the way he bloodied his hands, and all the front
of his clothes. That was all he had to say, and to swear
before the sight of Heaven that he didn't do it !

" No matter ! they hanged him for it ! Ay, and I have an
ould newspaper in my trunk this minit, where there's a great
discoorse about the wickedness of a crayture going out of the
world wid a lie on his last breath ! "

" And you think he was innocent ? " said I.

" Sure, we know it ! sure, the priest said to my father,
' take courage/ says he, ' your father isn't in a bad place.
If he's in purgatory,' says he, ' he's not over the broken
bridge, where the murderers does be, but in the meadows,
where the stream is shallow and stepping-stones in it ! and
every stone costs ten masses sorra more ! ' God help us !
but blood is a dreadful thing ! " And with this reflection,
uttered in a voice of fervent feeling, the hardy peasant laid
down his pipe ; and I could see, by his muttering lips, and
clasped hands, that he was offering up a prayer for the soul's
rest of his unhappy kinsman.

" And what became of Cafferty ? " said I, as he finished his
devotions.

" 'Twas never rightly known ; for, after he gave evidence
on the trial, the people didn't like him, and he left the
place ; some say he went to his mother's relations down in
Kerry!"

The deep-drawn breathings of the sleepers around us ; the
unbroken stillness of the night; the fast-expiring embers,



182 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

which only flickered at intervals, contributed their aid to
make the story more deeply affecting ; and I sat pondering
over it, and canvassing within my mind all the probabilities
of the condemned man's guilt or innocence ; nor, I must own
it, were all my convictions on the side of the narrator's belief ;
but even that very doubt heightened the interest considerably.
As for Cullinane, his thoughts were evidently less with the
incidents of the characters as they lived, than with that long
pilgrimage of expiation, in which his imagination pictured
his poor relative still a wanderer beyond the grave.

The fire now barely flickered, throwing from time to time
little jets of light upon the sleeping figures around us, and then
leaving all in dark indistinctness. My companion also,
crouching down, hid his face within his hands, and either
slept or was lost in deep thought, and I alone of all the party
was left awake, my mind dwelling on the tale I had just
heard with a degree of interest to which the place and the
hour strongly contributed.

I had been for some time thus, when the sound of feet
moving heavily over head, attracted my attention, they
were like the sluggish footsteps of age, but passing to and
fro with what seemed haste and eagerness. I could hear a
voice, too, which even in its indistinctness I recognized as
that of the old woman ; and once or twice fancied I could
detect another, whose accents sounded like pain and suffering.
The shuffling footsteps still continued, and I heard the old
crazy sash of the window opon, and after an interval, shut
again, while I distinctly could catch the old hug's voice,
saying, " It's all dark without; there's no use ' trying! ' " a
low whining sound followed ; and then I heard the old woman
slowly descending the stairs, and by the motion of her hand
along the wall I conjectured that she had no light.

She stopped as she came to the door, and seemed to listen
to the long-drawn breathing of the sleepers ; and then she
pushed open the door and entered. With a strange dread
of what this might mean, I still resolved to let the event
take its course ; and, feigning deepest sleep, I lay back
against the wall, and watched her well.

Guiding herself along by the wall, she advanced slowly,
halting every second or third step to listen, a strange pre-
caution, since her own asthmatic breathing was enough to
mask all other sounds. At last she neared the grate ; and
then her thin and cord-like fingers passed from the wall, to
rest upon my head. It was with a kind of thrill I felt them ;
for I perceived by the touch that she did not know on what



A NIGHT IN THE "LOWER TOWN." 183

her band was placed. She knelt down now, close beside me,
and stooping over, stirred the embers with her fingers, till
she discovered some faint resemblance to fire, amid the dark
ashes. To brighten this into flame, she blew upon it for
several minutes, and, even taking the live embers in her hands,
tried in every way to kindle them.

With a patience that seemed untirable, she continued at
this for a long time ; now selecting from the hearth some
new material to work upon, and now abandoning it for
another ; till when I had almost grown drowsy in watching
this monotonous process, a thin bright light sprung up, and
I saw that she had lighted a little piece of candle that she
held in her hand. I think even now I have her before me,
as, crouched down upon her knees, and sheltering the candle
from the current air of the room, she took a stealthy, but
searching glance at the figures, who in every attitude of
weariness, were sleeping heavily around.

It was not without a great effort that she regained her
feet, for she was very old and infirm ; and now she retraced
her steps cautiously as she came stooping at intervals to
listen, and then resuming her way as before. I watched her
till she passed out ; and then, as I heard her first heavy
foot-step on the stair, I slipped off my shoes, and followed
her.

My mind throughout the whole of that night had been
kept in a state of tension, that invariably has the effect of
magnifying the significance of every even the very com-
monest occurrences. It resembles that peculiar condition in
certain maladies, when the senses become preternaturally
acute ; in such moments the reason is never satisfied with
drawing only from inferences for any fact before it ; it seeks
for more, and in the effort becomes lost in the mazes of mere
fancy. I will own, that as with stealthy step, and noiseless
gesture, I followed that old hag, there was a kind of ecstasy
in my terror which no mere sense of pleasure could convey.
The light seemed to show ghastly shapes, as she passed, on
the green and mouldy walls ; and her head, with its masses
of long and straggling grey hair, nodded in shadow like some
unearthly spectre.

As she came nigh the top, I heard a weak and whining cry,
something too deep for the voice of infancy, but seeming too
faint for manhood. " Ay, ay," croaked the hag harshly, " I'm
coming I'm coming ! " and as she said this, she pushed
open a door, and entered a room, which, by the passing gleam
of light as she went, I perceived lay next to the roof, for



184 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

the rafters and the tiles were both visible, as there was no
ceiling.

I held my breath as I slowly stole along, and then reaching
the door as it lay half ajar, I crouched down and peeped in.



CHAPTER XVII.

A "BOKOTJ," AND "MY LUCUBRATIONS ON THE ST. LAWREKCB."

WHEN the light of the candle which the old woman carried
had somewhat dissipated the darkness, I could see the whole
interior of the room ; and certainly, well habituated as I had
been from my earliest years to such sights, poverty like this
I never had seen before ! Not a chair nor table was there ;
a few broken utensils for cooking, such as are usually thrown
away as useless among rubbish, stood upon the cold hearth.
A few potatoes on one broken dish, and a little meat on
another, were the only things like food. It was not for some
minutes that I perceived in the corner a miserable bed of
straw confined within a plank, supported by two rough
stones ; nor was it till I had looked long and closely, that I
saw that the figure of a man lay extended on the bed, his
stiffened and outstretched limbs resembling those of a corpse.
Towards this the old woman now tottered with slow steps,
and setting the small piece of candle upright in a saucer, she
approached the bed. " There it is, now ; look at it, and
make yer mind aisy," said she, placing it on the floor beside
the bed, in such a position that he could see it.

The sick man turned his face round, and as his eyes met
the light, there came over his whole features a wondrous
change. Livid and clammy with the death sweat, the rigid
muscles relaxed, and in the staring eye-balls and the parted
lips there seemed a perfect paroxysm of emotion. " Is that
it ? are ye sure that's it? " cried he, in a voice to which the
momentary excitement imparted strength.

" To be sure I am ; I seen Father Ned bless it himself and
sprinkle it too ! " said she.

" Oh ! the heavenly " He stopped, and in a lower



A " SCENE." 185

voice added, " Say it for me, Molly! say it for me, Molly !
T can't say it myself."

"Keep your eyes on the blessed candle! " said the hag,
peevishly ; " 'tis a quarter dollar it cost me."

" Wouldn't he come, Molly ? did he say he wouldn't
corne? "

" Father Ned ! arrah, 'tis likely he'd come here at night,
with the Tapageers on their rounds, and nothing to give
him when he kem ! "

" Not to hear my last words ! not to take my confession!"
cried he, in a kind of shriek. " Oh ! 'tis the black list of
sins I have to own to ! "

" Whisht whisht ! " cried the hag. " 'Tis many a year ago
now ; maybe it's all forgot."

"No, it's not," cried the dying man, with a wild energy
he did not seem to have strength for. " When you wor
away, Molly, he was here, standing beside the bed."

The old hag laughed with a horrid sardonic laugh.

"Don't don't, for the love of ah I can't say T can't
say it," cried he, and the voice died away in the effort.

" What did he say to ye when he kem ? '' said she, in a
scoffing tone.

" He never spoke a word, but he pressed back the cloth
that was on his head, and I saw the deep cut in it, down to
the very face ! "

" Well, I am sure it had time to heal before this time,"
said the woman, with a tone of mockery that at last became
palpable to the dying man.

" Where's Dan, Molly did he never come back since ?"

" Sorra bit : he said he'd go out of the house, and never
come back to it. You frightened the boy with the terrible
things you say in your ravings."

" Oh ! murther murther my own flesh and blood de-
sart me."

" Then why won't you be raisonable why won't you hould
your peace about what happened long agone ?"

" Because I can't," said he, with a peevish eagerness.
" Because I'm going where it's all known a'ready."

" Faix, and I wouldn't be remindin' them any way!" said
the hag, whose sarcastic impiety added fresh tortures to the
dying sinner.

" I wanted to tell Father Ned all T wanted to have masses
for him that's gone the man that suffered instead of me !
Oh dear ! Oh dear! and nobody will come to me."

" If ye cry that loud I'll leave you too," said the hag.



186 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CEEGAN.

" They know already 'tis the spotted fever ye have, and
the Tapageers would burn the house under ye, if I was
to go."

" Don't go, Molly don't leave me," he cried, with heart-
rending anguish. " Bring the blessed candle nearer, I don't
see it well."

" You'll see loss of it soon, 'tis nigh out," said she, snuff-
ing the wick with her fingers.

The dying man now stretched out his fleshless fingers to-
wards the light, and I could see by his lips that he was
praying. " They're calling me now," cried he, " Molly,"
and his voice of a sudden grew strong and full, " don't ye
hear them ? there it is again Maurice Cafferty Maurice
Cafferty, yer wantin'."

" Lie down and be at peace," said she, rudely pushing him
back on the bed.

" The blessed candle where's the blessed candle ? "
shrieked he.

" 'Tis out," said the hag, and as she spoke the wick fell
into the saucer, and all was dark.

A wild and fearful cry broke from the sick man, and re-
echoed through the silent house, and ere it died away I had
crept stealthy back to my place beside my companions.

" Did ye hear anything, or was I dreamin' ? " said Joe to
me ; " I thought I heard the most dreadful scream like a
man drownin'."

" It was a dream, perhaps," said I, shuddering at the
thought of what I had just witnessed, while I listened with
terrible anxiety for any sound overhead, but none came ;
and so passed the long hours till day-dawn.

Without revealing to my companion the terrible scene I
had been witness to, I told him that we were in the same
house with a fearful malady an announcement I well knew
had greater terror for none than an Irish peasant. He at
once decided on departing ; and, although day was barely
breaking, he awoke the others, and a low whispering con-
versation ensued, in which I felt, or imagined at least, that I
was an interested party. At last, Joe turning towards me,
said, " And you, sir, what do you mean to do ? "

"The very question," said I, " that I cannot answer. If 1
were to follow my inclination, I'd turn homeward ; if 1 must
yield to necessity, I'll call upon the Governor- General, and
remain with him till I hear from my friends."

There was a pause a moment of deliberation seemed to
fall upon the bystanders, which at length was broken by the



A " SCENE." 187

old man saying, "Well, good luck be with you, any way 'tis
the best thing you could do ! "

I saw that I had overshot my bolt, and with difficulty con-
cealed my annoyance at my own failure. My irritation was,
I conclude, sufficiently apparent, for Joe quickly said,
" We're very sorry to part with you ; but if we could be of
any use before we go "

" Which way do you travel ? " said I, carelessly.

" That's the puzzle, for we don't know the country. 'Tis
New Orleans we'd like to go to first."

"Nothing easier," said I. "Take the steamer to
Montreal, cross over into the States, down Lake Champlain
to Whitehall, over to Albany, and then twenty hours down
the Hudson brings you to New York."

" You know the way well ! " said Joe, with an undisguised
admiration for my geography, which, I need not tell the
reader, was all acquired from books and maps.

"I should think so ! " said I, " seeing that I might travel it
blindfold ! "

" Is it dangerous ? Are there Injians ? " said the old man,
whose mind seemed very alive to the perils of red men.

" There are some tribes on the way," said I ; " but the
white fellows you meet with are worse than the red ones
such rogues, and assassins, too ! "

" The saints presarve us ! How will we ever do it ? "

" Look out for some smart fellow who knows the way, and
thoroughly understands the people, and who can speak
French fluently, for the first part of the journey, and who
is up to all the Yankee roguery, for the second. Give him full
power to guide and direct your expedition, and you'll have
both a safe journey and a pleasant one."

" Ay, and where will we get him ? " cried one.

"And what would he be askin' for his trouble?" said
another ; while Joe, with an assenting nod, reiterated both
questions, and seemed to expect that answer from me.

" It ought to be easy enough in such a city as this," said
I, negligently. " Are you acquainted with Forbes and
Gudgeon ? They are my bankers. They could, I am sure,
find out your man at once."

" Ah, sir, we know nobody at all ! " exclaimed Joe, in an
accent of such humility, that I actually felt shocked at my
own duplicity.

" By Jove ! " said I, as though a sudden thought had
struck me, " very little would make me go with you myself."
A regular burst of joy from the whole party here interrupted



188 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

me. " Yes, I'm quite in earnest," said I, with a dignified
air. " This place will be excessively distasteful to me hence-
forth. I have placed myself in what is called a false position
here, and 'twere far better to escape from it at once."

" That would be the making of us, all out, if ye could



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 19 of 50)