James Murphy.

Convict No. 25; or, the clearances of Westmeath : a story of the Whitefeet online

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almost at the same moment, he knew that the cut-away mast
of the ship was floating beside him.

" Can you hold this, Phelim ? Try and lay hold of this ! *
shouted he, as he guided his companion's hand to the rope.

Having done this, he lifted himself by the aid of a rope on
to the mast, and placed himself athwart it, the ropes that
ran beside it affording firm footing for his feet. He next
lifted up his companion, and, as he struck the blinding spray
from his own eyes, fastened him securely on the floating mast.


And thus through the long night, while the waves ran
and the hurricane blew, and the lightning streaked the inky
skies, they wandered on through the unknown sea !

" A hand ! give me a hand ! "

The words coming in the lull of the storm attracted
Kevin's torpid attention.

Looking around him, he saw, a few feet from him, a form
clinging to a spar, the arms thrown around it, and the head
alone visible above the water.

The day was beginning to break, and the white surface
of the surf-covered sea began to brighten as the rays of the
early dawn fell upon it.

" Why, it's the captain ! "

" Is it ? " said Phelim, as the words fell on his ear, and he
relaxed his strained hold on the rope before him.

" Can you catch this rope ? " said Kevin, as he caught up
an end of one of the flapping ropes beside him.

" No," said the captain. " My arms are too stiff. Try
and reach this, and draw it near. If I let go I shall sink."

A lurch of the wave brought the spar something nearer,
and Kevin stretching forward his hand caught it and drew
it alongside.

" Give me your hand now."

" Take hold of it. I cannot let go ! "

Kevin caught hold of the clinging hand, and gently un-
locking its grasp, drew the captain near, and helped him to
a seat on the mast before him, and between himself and
Convict No. 37.

He was too weak and too numb in his limbs to be able
to sit steadily ; so Kevin, holding him until he was in some
degree able to keep a firm seat, they all clung to the mast

i88 ''CONVICT No. 25."^

as it rose and fell and twisted and turned on the waves for

" What are these clouds in front of us ? " asked, at last,
Kevin, as he noticed black banks of clouds facing them.

" These are not clouds," said the captain when he re-
covered somewhat. " These are the bluffs of the French
coast, and, thank God ! we are beating rapidly on to them."

" The French coast ! " said Kevin, as his heart leaped
rejoicing at the news.

" The French coast ! " said Phelim, as a dream of liberty
sent the blood rushing to his heart, and back again.

"Yes, the French coast," said the captain. "I know
it well. I was wrecked here once before. We are driving
straight to it. The mast, with its cords and sails, acts like
a boat."

" Thank God ! " said Kevin fervently.

"Thank God!" said Phelim.

" You may well say ' Thank God,' " said the captain.
" We have so far had a wonderful escape."

" What's become of the ship ? " asked Kevin.

" Sunk — drowned ! " said the captain.

" And the" — he was going to say " convicts," but he said
" passengers ? "

" I believe all drowned."

** All drowned?"

"Yes; she sank under our feet. She's resting on the
bottom long ago — hours ago."

" How did you escape ? "

** Swam out and clung to the spar. And you ? "

" Happened by chance to grasp the ropes of this," said
Kevin, motioning to the mast on which they were sitting.


" And your companion ? "

" Did likewise."

" You were very fortunate/'

" Which we may, under God, thank you for."

"Well, you've repaid me," said the captain gratefully.
" If we can steer her safe to a landing place now ! This
surf near the shore is the most dangerous place of all."

With gradual growth of the brightening morning the gale
abated. But the sea still remained very rough, and as the
tide was flowing, the mast still was beaten shorewards by
each succeeding wave.

Nearer and nearer by rapid degrees it advanced.

First, the cloud-like horizon grew more distinct, and gave
way to the hills and uplands. Then came white houses in
the distance, on which the rising sun shed its pleasant rays,
as indeed it did also on the white surf rushing past them —
turning its crest into emerald and gold. Then also in the
distance came clearer the rocks on the cliff, then the shining
strands glistening with summer heat. Then they could see
the bathing places, whereon crowds of people seemed to be

" Have you a handkerchief?" asked the captain.

Kevin said " No. Convicts," said he brightly, " were not
provided with them."

" You're not likely to be convicts long now," replied the,
captain; an assurance which, although they had realized
that fact long before, nevertheless added a new delight to
their hearts and a new vigour to their arms.

" If you can put your hand in my pocket," said the captain,
" you will find one.*

« I'll try. '

I90 ''CONVICT No. 25."

" Have you got it ? "


" Then hold it up. Have you anything to hold it up with? "

" No," said Kevin, looking around for something.

" There's a piece of wreck, a floating splinter on the water.
Could you reach it ? "

" Yes ; I've got it," said Kevin, as, after some dabbling
with his foot, he succeeded in attracting it within reach.

" Put it through the handkerchief. Hold it up and wave
it. They may see it,"

Kevin did so, and sitting as upright as he could, waved
the handkerchief — waved it for some time.

" They see it ! " exclaimed the captain joyfully.

" Are you certain ? "

" Yes. At least I think so."


" Yes, they do I Wave it again. Yes, they are running
for the boats. They have launched them ! "

" Are they coming this way ? "

Kevin's position behind the others did not enable him to
distinguish their movements.

'* No, they're not, I'm afraid. They're going South.
Keep waving the signal."

" My arms are growing tired," said Kevin. " I shall reel
and fall ofif. I'm quite giddy, My head is reeling."

" Yes, they are ! they are ! " cried the captain. " They
are pulling straight this way. Hurrah ! "

They were indeed pulling straight in their direction.
Lusty hands and manly forms, with the red and white caps
of the Garronese fishermen, were pulling seaward rapidly
towards them.


So rapidly that what was at first but a mere dim speck on
the water, in thirty minutes or so showed itself to be a large
boat pulled by six lusty oars, that, now riding on a white-
capped wave, now hidden from them in the trough of the
sea^ ever and always bravely came nearer and nearer.

No sentenced man in Ireland years ago on the scaffold
awaiting a reprieve, looked more anxiously for the white
flag waving in the messenger's hands than did the men
tumbling in on the broken mast look for the boat, as it
dipped In the trough of the sea to re-appear on the crest of
the snow-white wave !

Very soon, however, they came beside. Very soon their
swarthy countenances, pleasant and smiling and full of
welcome, took survey of them. And very soon the hail of
voices speaking a tongue which none of them understood —
save in its import of help and welcome and congratula-
tion — came on their ears !

A grappling iron was quickly thrown to catch the mast,
and friendly arms were extended to lift them off.

Kevin first, as being the readiest with his hands to help
himself inboard; the captain next, as having less use of
himself, his limbs being numb with long suspension in the

And Phelim.

"What about Phelim? What's amiss with Phelim?"
asked Kevin in great alarm, as three or four fishermen,
leaning over the side of the boat, sought to break his hold
on the ropes.

" What's amiss with Phelim ? He's dead ! " burst out
Kevin, as he now remembered that for some time past he
had not spoken.

192 ''CONVICT No, 25/'

" No, he's not dead," said the captain, as he bent over
where the French fishermen were firmly but kindly essaying
to relieve his tight grasp on the ropes, and to lift him in.
" But he's insensible. The fatigue was too much for

"Perhaps the approach of freedom was too much for
him," thought Kevin. " Ten years, poor fellow ! Ten years
was a long time."

The ready hands of the Frenchmen with some difficulty
shortened the matter by cutting the ropes that he held on
to, and lifting his stiffened form into the boat.

Casting the mast adrift, they devoted their attention to
him, and whilst one chafed his hands, another bound his
feet in warm blankets, and a third gently poured a few drops
of strong brandy down his throat.

Thus, steadily rowing back, they reached the land of
France and freedom.



" We're glad you're come, Mr. Canavan," said a voice as
he entered.

The salutation proceeded from one of a number of people
that were sitting on some fallen fragments of a wall. Their
bare feet in the moonlight shone with great distinctness,
and as this struck him, a voice which he at once recognised
said —

" First meeting of the Whitefeet, Harry."

" No, but of the Barefeet," spoke another.

" No, the Whitefeet— the Whitefeet ! "


"Yes, I think it shall be the Whitefeet," said the Prophet.
" It's a good name. It's striking and appropriate."

" The Whitefeet then be it," said all acquiescingly.

And so a name long memorable in the annals of Ireland
was instituted. A name which has written itself strongly on-
the statute-book ; still more strongly on the penal registers
of Ireland ; but still more markedly on the hearts of the
farmers of the land.

" How many are here?" asked Darby.

" Sixteen ; I counted 'em already," said the man who
made music with his heel on the tombstone at the funeral.

" And the men on guard ? "

"Ay; that'll make twenty."

"Enough to do good work," said the music-maker.
'* Who's to tell us what's to be done, now that we are here."

" Wouldn't it be well to take the names of all tltat are
here ? " said Darby Kelly, cautiously. " It's no harm to
know 'em all. Who'll take 'em ? "

"Yes, yes, take 'em down. Let's know 'em all," said the
members, catching up the unexpected intention of the sug-

"Who'll take 'em?"

" Will you, Mr. Canavan ? "

" Certainly," said the Prophet, coming out from where
he stood in the shadow into the moonlight. " Certainly.
Every one should lend a hand. If you don't — one and all,
big and little, rich and poor, young and old — stand by one
another now, there won't be one of your seed and breed
left in the country this time five years. And," said he, as
his tall, slender form stood out in relief — in strong relief —
against the moonlight, " remember ! I say it. I, who have


194 ''CONVICT No. 25."

no object of my own to gain. I hold no land. I never
shall. But I love to think that the people, many of them
my relations, and all of them my friends, who live on the
land now, shall live there until they are carried to the
graveyard outside j and that their children and children's
children after them may live there too in peace and happi-
ness. And I warn you to remember that, without banding
yourselves together closely, there is no hope for this. Re-
member the story of the bundle of sticks. Now. Give me
the names ? "

" Maybe," said Darby Kelly, interposing, " it wouldn't
be fair to take the names until you see whether they are all
ov the one mind in regard to what we may be goin' to
agree to."

" No ; take the names I take the names ! " was chorused
by many. " You can sthrek 'em out after if they want id."

In deference to this nearly unanimous wish, the Prophet,
writing with his pencil, took down the names of those pre-
sent — took down also the names of those who kept watch
and ward at the entrances.

"Now, then, boys," said the Prophet, "that's done.
There's no use in remaining longer here in your bare feet,
with the cold dew on the grass, than you can help." He
said this as the white feet of the parties assembled showed
through the darkness. " So anyone who has a proposal to
make had better do so."

"You spake sound, Mister Canavan," said the music-
maker, standing up, " as you always do. What I say is :
we can't stand this much longer. We won't be in the land
ov Ireland at all this time twelve months if we don't do
something for ourselves. Our land is bein' taken bit by bit


from us, an' we'll soon have none ov id. I say now, an* I
mane id when I say id, I'll let no man, whether an Irish-
man — a black sheep ov an Irishman — or a Scotch grazier
take or hould a foot of land that I own. No ; so help me
God ! Though I died on the scaffold high ! "

The vigour and earnestness with which the music-maker
said this could have been felt through the air, in the blackest
night that ever closed over Egypt, so much will, determina-
tion and volition there were in his words !

" There ! " said Charley. '- There ! that's right ! That's
beginnin' at the beginnin'. As long as they're allowed to
bid an' bid an' hould the lands, so long the people '11 be
turned out."

*'Aye, will they," said Darby, with vehement concur-

" You've hit the nail on the head at wanst," said Charley,
lifting his athletic form from the seat, to clap the music-
maker on the back. " That's the first thing to do."

" Very well," said the Prophet. " Let us reduce this to

" Just so."

" That's right."

"Put it down on paper."

" Read it out, an' let all agree to it."

Exclamations like these resounded on all sides.

*' Very well, boys," said the Prophet, writing in the moon-
light. " Here it is : —

" Rule No. I. — That no one shall be allowed or per-
mitted to take lands of another."

" Say no Scotchman, Englishman, or Irishman," said one,
anxious to define the matter.

196 ''CONVICT No. 25."

"No; he says 'No one,'" said several voices. "That
covers all."

"How is that to be carried out?" asked Darby Kelly, in
a half-whisper.

" In any way. In any way that's necessary ; but it must
be carried out."

" I wouldn't do it athout givin' 'em notice. I'd warn 'em
off first," said Charley.

"That's fair enough," said the music-maker.

" Put it down. Let it be left to three or four men selected
to carry out the order. First give 'em notis."

" But how is to be carried out ? "

" No matter how, so long as they do carry it out."

" No, I say : First give 'em notis."

" How is the notice to be given ? " asked the Prophet, as
he duly reduced the order to writing.

" Put the notis on the doore," said Darby Kelly.

" No," said the music-maker ; " that would only lade to
thransportation or hangin' ; it would be runnin' into the
lion's mouth, an' for no use. I say, post it to 'em ; or, better
again, dig a grave on the farm, and lave the notice in it.
They'll surely get that. They'll know the mainin' ov that.
Anybody can send a letter. There's not much pluck nor
spirit nor danger in doin' it. But anybody won't dig a grave
wid the gallows or the convict ship at bis back."

" You're right there."


" That's the way to say it ! " came from several.

" Yes, I think so," said the Prophet. " A notice like that
commends itself to their attention. Nobody would mind a
letter. The landlord himself, or his wife, might do that."


^ An' they often do," chorused several voices.

" Here's the Rules now, boys. Stand up. Draw closer
and listen."

" 'Rule No. I. — That no one shall be permitted or allowed
to take the lands of another.'

** * Rule No. 2. — That all who in the past or in the future
took, or shall take, the lands of an evicted tenant shall be
warned to give them up.'

" 'Rule No. 3. — That the form of notice to be adopted and
recognised by this assembly shall be the digging of a grave
on some portion of the grounds, and the placing therein of
the forbidden notice.'

" Has anyone anything to say about those rules ? " asked
the Prophet, after reading them.

"I think," said Darby Kelly, "there ought to be a time
mentioned. I'd say seven days afther for 'em to give up the
lands. Their blood be upon their own heads then if they

" No, no," said Charley. " I'd give 'em more time. I'd
give 'em a month. A week is too short. I'd give 'em
fair straight notis, an' act upon it, athout fail, when the time
was up."

"Yes, yes; that's fair. Let it be a month's notis. A
week 'ud be too short," cried several.

"Very well," said the Prophet. "Here is Rule No. 4,
then —

" ' That the time given in such notice shall be one month.'
Do you agree to that ? "

" Yes, yes — to be sure," was echoed around.

" Well, boys," said Darby Kelly, standing up, " I think if
these rules be carried out, the divil a manv you'll find turned

198 ''CONVICT No, 25."

out in this country agin. If the landlords find their farms
idle, they'll pause a bit before they turn out the present

" You make a great mistake if you think that," said the
music-maker 5» " half ov 'em if they wor beggared an' starvin'
'ud keep turnin' out the people just to show their power, an'
not to be put down. That must be stopped too. They
must see that they're in danger themselves as well as the

" Aye, just so," said Charley, interrupting ! " the devil's
good luck to 'em ! — they'd suffer imprisonment an' loss
themselves just to show how they're able to drive the tenants
to starvation and beggary. The only thing the cowardly
dogs are afraid ov is their lives ! "

" The sorra thruer word than that you, nor many that's
oulder than you, ever spoke, Charley," said the music-maker.
" What's fifty or sixty pounds a year — the rent of one farm —
to one ov 'em. But look at the ruin an' misfortune the loss
ov the farm is to the tenant an' his wife, an' his little gos-
soons an' colleens. The landlord an' his wife '11 never be
a cup of tay the poorer for it ; but the tenant and his family
'11 be in misery and sorra an' starvation until they go into
the clay. The work won't be half done if you lave him out."

" Maybe you're right," said Darby Kelly thoughtfully.

" Maybe I'm right ! Don't you know Fm right ? "

"That's all very well wid Sir Hardinge," said a young
fellow. " He's at home here. What '11 you do wid them
that are off in London or in Paris ? "

" What '11 we do wid 'em ? Sarve the wan the same as
the other. Let the man in London or Paris find out he's no
safer from his misdeeds than the wan in Grangemore. Let


'em all lam that the people must live in the land, an' won't
let their childre be turned out to starve," said the music-

" Aye," said Darby, who, notwithstanding his depressed
appearance, had a vein of dry humour in him, which latter
days had turned into a gloomy and saturnine channel, " let
'em know for certain that the people of this counthry have
the very same right to live in pace and quietness as the
people that live in England, or France, or Spain, or any-
where else. Because if God didn't intend that they would,
He'd have printed it on the side of the mountains, or put
it up on a big board over Westmeath, an' printed on it, in
big letters, * The people that live here aren't to be like other
people, bekaise they've no right to be here at all.' That's
what He'd have said."

"Aye," said another young fellow jokingly, "or He'd
have written it on the Shannon river itself. 'This is the
landlords' ground ; an' they may keep it idle or not as they

" No," said Charley, ready always to adopt anything that
had a touch of humour in it ; " but He'd have printed it on
the sky wid a lot of stars in the darkness of night, so that
all Westmeath could see it — an' big enough not to hurt the
landlords' eyes thryin' to read it, ' This land was given to
Queen Bess an' Oliver Cromwell, an' other saints, an' to
their seed, breed, an' generation, an' friends an' relations,
for ever, an' they may do what they like wid it.' "

"Stop this," said the Prophet, interposing authoritatively,
" this borders on profanation. It is putting a palpable truth
almost sacrilegiously. Is there any one to say what's to be
done with regard to this proposal ? "

200 ''CONVICT No, 25."

" Do you mean in regard to the landlords ? " said the

" Yes," said the Prophet.

" Well, I say, boys ! — an' you ought to listen to me. Listen
to me all ov you ! If you want to stay in Westmeath, and
live there in comfort wid your wives and families — or the
young fellows wid their fathers and mothers — you must
make the landlords do what is right, as well as the land-
grabbers. Just the same. An' I say now that you must be
prepared to carry out the rule that's made, whether they live
in London or Paris or elsewhere. It's very aisy to find out."

" Aisy enough, if it comes to that," said Darby.

" Well, boys, the night is growing late ; suspicion may
attach to your being out so late ; and in any case we're too
long here in the dank grass wet with dew. Here's the rule,
as I have drafted it —

" ' No. 5. — That a notice personally served to be given to
every exterminating landlord, and that the expenses incurred
thereby be made up by subscription. That one month's
notice be given him — which notice the server be solemnly
sworn to carry out wherever he may be.' "

"Yes, that's right," was assentingly whispered through
the gathering.

" Now, boys, here's just one other thing," said the Prophet.
" These rules must be carried out. They must be enforced,
else our time is completely wasted here to-night. A meeting
cannot carry them out. You must delegate the work to a
committee of three or four, with full powers to them to en-
force these rules, raise moneys, and pay men. Whom will
you appoint ? Appoint good, active men, for the rules made
here to-night will soon rule all Westmeath. You must know


them already without much thinking. So, boys, make up
your minds, and be quick. It's growing late."

The committee was not long in being formed. The pro-
minent men were well known, and in everybody's mind. So
the names of the music-maker, Charley, Darby Kelly, and,
finally, much against his will, of the Prophet himself, with
two others — old men and cautious — were named and
appointed on the committee.

"Very well, boys," said the Prophet, "you have made
the rules and heard them read. Also you've appointed the
committee, and know their names. Now, stand up ! Stand
up in the moonlight ! You need not swear. But all who
agree to the rules, and prepare to abide by them, hold up
their hands. Say after me : — * In the name of God, who
made this land of Ireland for the Irish race, and who ordained
that men should live in freedom, we promise to abide by
these rules and to carry them out, and to obey the orders of
the committee when called on.' All who agree to that lift
their right hands in the moonlight." All did so.

" Now, boys, remember ! No oath that shoneen magis-
trate or his clerk ever gave you on his greasy book in court
is half so binding and solemn as that. The maledictions of
God will follow the breaker of it. It is the form of oath St.
Patrick left in the Book of Downpatrick to be used by the
Irish people in times of danger of enemies and invasion ;
and anyone who breaks it will die like Dermott, with the
flesh stripping off his bones and the limbs rotting asunder
from his body."

As the youth stood upright, with his arm still extended in
the moonlight, it would be hard to convey an idea of a more
striking figure.

202 ''CONVICT No, 25."

His words as he uttered them, standing with arm uplifted
in the moonlight, were very impressive.

" We'll keep our words."

" Don't fear us."

" Send for us when you want us."

" Anything is better than beggary or the poorhouse."

" I'd die on the gallows any day afore I'd let another take
my farm."

Such expressions as these, repeated from one and another,
answered the adjuration of the speaker.

" I think we may go now, boys," said the Prophet, as a
heavy fit of coughing admonished him that he had been
already too long under the night air. "We have nothing
more to do to-night. You will get notice when you are wanted
again. Go different ways through the bog, so that too many
of you won't be seen together : — and good-night ! "

" Good-night ! good-night ! " resounded in whispered
words on all sides, as the barefooted members took their
departure, waiting until they got through the quaking
morasses of the bog to put on their shoes.

Darby Kelly, the music-maker, Charlej', and the Prophet,

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Online LibraryJames MurphyConvict No. 25; or, the clearances of Westmeath : a story of the Whitefeet → online text (page 13 of 28)