James Murphy.

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

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Phelim glanced up and around with something of his old
look, but it quickly vanished as he said :

" No."

" Thank God for that ! " said Kevin.

"Amen ! Glory be to His holy name I "

A few days after they left for Paris. The generous cap-
tain had not only left sufficient means to carry them over
the period of illness, but enough to defray their expenses to

Arrived at his uncle's house, Kevin for the first time
learned of the break-up of his home in Ireland, of the dis-
possession of his mother and sister. Further, learned to his
surprise that Norah had been nearly all the time since living
with his uncle, the Abbe, until a few days previously, on hear-
ing of her mother's illness, she had hurried back to attend her.

All this only made him the more anxious to get back.
He felt upon wires until he should see her again, and until
he should see the fair face of Maury O'Keefife.

The Abbe was too glad, however, to see his nephew, whom
he had not seen since he was a little child on a former visit
to Paris, to permit himself or friend to leave for a few days.
It was with considerable reluctance he consented to his
returning at all, but Kevin was too steadfast in his intention,
and the Abbe gave way.

Making use of their new-found liberty, and the delightful
sense of unconstraint that accompanied it, he and his friend
rambled through the streets of Paris during their few days
of stay.


The magnificence of the buildings ; the splendour of the
streets ; the surpassing richness and beauty of the shops j
the long boulevards crowded with beauty and fashion ; had
unceasing charms for them. Their eyes had been so long
accustomed to the whitewashed walls of the cell, or the bare
bleak surroundings of the prison yard, that the sight seemed
to them a glimpse of Paradise.

But it was in the night time, when its long lines of lamps,
lighting up its streets with a brilliancy that they had never
seen before, and when the crowds, moving and shifting
apast with the ever-changing forms of a kaleidoscope, gave
the streets such a panoramic effect, that they loved to stroll
leisurely through the boulevards and thoroughfares.

It was on the fifth or sixth night after their arrival that
Kevin and his friend were walking leisurely about. They
had branched off, without intending it, from the great
thoroughfares, and found themselves in one of those narrow
and gloomy streets that, before the days of the third
Napoleon and Baron Haussman, formed such quaint and
old-fashioned scenes in the daytime, but became at night
such dangerous places for unwary travellers.

" We have lost our way, Phelimj I fear," said Kevin.

" So I think," said Phelim. " We have not been here
before, that I can remember,"

" No, we have not," said Kevin, as he glanced up at the
high gloomy houses, and up and down the lightless street.
" But I think this leads to the river. If we got to the quays
I think I should know my way."

" Let us go on then. We must go on anyhow, for we
cannot remain here all night."

They proceeded down the narrow street. Occasionally a

236 " CONVICT No. 25"

figure, lurking in the darkened doorways, startled them by
suddenly protruding its head, and at other times the loud
noise of uproar in some of the gloomy and dilapidated
houses warned them that they were in dangerous quarters.

" Which way shall we turn, I wonder," said Kevin, as
they reached the corner of the street that seemed to debouch
into ways still narrower and more lightless. " This does
not seem a promising look-out."

"No," said Phelim, "I think we had better go back.
This does not look like the way to the quays."

" No; I don't think it does. We must go back — but hush !"
The noise of uproar and clamour burst on them from a
few doors away. It came with singular suddenness, and in
a moment further a voice cried out —

" Help ! murder ! Help ! help ! Murder ! "
" God bless us ! " said Kevin. " What is that ? That's a
stranger that's being murdered — an Irishman, too. Listen ! "
No further sounds grew on the night air, but some
distance down the gloomy street they could see with dis-
tinctness some forms moving and tussling about — evidently

" There's some bad work going on there," said Kevin
hurriedly. " I won't look on, Phelim, and see murder
done — not even here. Stay here a moment ! Phelim, while
1 run down and see what's amiss ! "

" No," said Phelim, with equal excitement ; " I'll go with

" Come, then, Phelim ; and come quickly ! "
Running at the top of his speed, and followed by his
companion, Kevm flew in the direction where the tussling
was going on.


A few men — three or four — were engaged around a form
that lay apparently senseless at their feet. They had paid
no attention to the footsteps of the two men as they
approached, possibly mistaking them for friends and accom-
plices ; and it was only when Kevin burst in on them with
" Murderers and robbers, what do you here ? " that they
found out their mistake.

Kevin's skill in athletics on the bog of Mullawnmore
stood him in good stead here, for catching one of them by
the shoulder with a swing and a sudden trip he flung him
heavily against the railings, whilst, as another tried to run
past him, with a dexterous movement of his foot he flung
him heavily on his face on the kerbstone.

The others, with the cowardice peculiar to robbers, fled.

" He is dead, poor fellow ! " said Kevin, as he bent over
the senseless victim. " They have killed him."

" Murder, rpbbers, police ! " he shouted at the top of his
voice, forgetting in his excitement that he was in a strange
city where his words could not be understood. Finally he
placed his fingers in his lips, and blew a whistle so shrill
that it made the night birds startle from the eaves of the
high houses, and rang with weird and strange effect in the
narrow and silent street.

It was answered by another whistle afar off, and whilst
they looked and listened lights were seen at the farther end
of the street rapidly advancing ; the military tread of men
rang on the pavement ; and in a few seconds a night patrol
of gendarmes was beside them.

"There has been murder here," said Kevin as they came

" So I see — or something like it," said the chief of the

238 '' CONVICT No. 25,"

patrol, answering him in excellent English. "You are
foreigners — English I see. How did it happen ? "

Kevin rapidly explained to him the circumstances.

" Jacque's gang ! " said the gendarme. "You came in
good time. Quarter of an hour more, and the river would
have had his body. His friends might search the Morgue
for him to-morrow. He is not dead, ho\yever. His heart
beats," he said, as he took the lantern from one of the men
and stooped down. " They were disturbed a little too

" Is he badly hurt ? " asked Kevin.

" I cannot say. They usually do this business more
effectually. But he has been robbed. There is nothing in
his pockets. See here."

He took from the ground, where it lay beside him, a
fragment of gold chain.

" He must have struggled pretty well with them. They
do not usually give time for even that. Here, men, carry
him to the nearest wine shop."

In a few seconds the men unfolded, to Kevin's surprise,
a rope stretcher, which they usually carried with them, and
by an ingenious contrivance, with their batons, soon made
it sufficiently strong to bear the stranger on. Lifting the
prostrate form they bore him along to a corner shop, through
whose half-closed door the lights gleamed in pleasant and
striking contrast with the gloom of the street.

His period of unconsciousness was short, for as they bore
him into the little parlour, and poured a drop of brandy
between his lips, he feebly asked, " Where am I ? "

"Among friends at present," said the chief.

" What has happened me? "


" Rest yourself for the present. You will learn all a little
later on."

" I have been assaulted, I think."

" Yes j and you may thank your countryman here for
your life."

Kevin glanced at Phelim with the most intense surprise ;
and as he did he saw that the same expression of wonder-
ment was in his companion's eyes that he knew to be in his

" It is most extraordinary," he said in a whisper.

" It is," assented Phelim.

" I never saw anything so surprising."

" Nor I."

" Was there ever such a wonderful meeting ? "

" I think not."

Whilst they were thus whispering in short and broken
sentences, the garotted man roused himself sufficiently to
glance at the faces that surrounded him. His eyes passed
lightly over those of the gendarmerie ; but as he glanced at
the two that accompanied them, a curious expression passed
also into his face. He withdrew his eyes for a moment,
rubbed them with his extended fingers, and again bestowed
a further look of a very inquirmg character upon them.

" Do my eyes deceive me ? " Am I," said he — sitting
upright in his astonishment — " dreaming or swooning

" You are not swooning or dreaming, doctor ; you are
quite wide awake," said Kevin pleasantly.

" It is not possible "

" It is quite possible," said Kevin, again breaking in on
the conversation, to prevent any revealments that might

240 '' CONVICT No. 25."

bring them into unnecessary trouble or surveillance from
the gendarmerie. " We are the same two you formerly
knew in Portsmouth."

The doctor closed his eyes in utter surprise and bewilder-
ment, then opening them, asked —

" How did you come here ? "

" We shall tell you when you are able to come away with

In less than an hour, and with the assistance of some
good old brandy provided by madame the innkeeper, he
was able to leave; and the gendarmerie, politely seeing
them safe out of the dangerous quarters into the crowded
and lighted thoroughfares, bade them good night, or rather
good morning.

On their way home they stated in full and without any
reservation the story of their escape, all of which their
former medical attendant listened to with the most attentive

" It is an extremely curious business," he said finally ;
" and a remarkably fortunate thing for me that it occurred,
else I should likely enough be found in the Morgue

" They had time enough to rob you, though," said Kevin.

" Yes," said he, as he searched his pockets ; " they have
not left me a farthing. Rather an awkward thing in Paris,
of all other cities."

" If you will come with me," said Kevin, " I may be able
to remove that awkwardness."

The doctor did not hesitate a second to accompany
them to the Abbe's, where he formed a very welcome addi-
tion to their party, and from whom he received a loan of


sufficient amount to defray his expenses in Paris and his
journey to England, whence he could pay the obligation.

" Good-bye," said he, as he parted with his two friends at
the Calais station, " Keep clear of Portsmouth for the

" We are not likely to see you there again," said Kevin in
high good humour.

" No, you are not ; for a different reason, however, from
what you fancy. I am leaving there. I have been attached
to one of the regiments — stationed, I believe, indeed, some-
where in Ireland. Good-bye."

"Good-bye — good-bye," cried the two former convicts as
their good-natured friend moved off in the parting train.

A few days afterwards both took their leave of Paris, and
arrived in London. Thence Phelim took his journey to
Bristol to catch the boat to Limerick, whence he could pro-
ceed to Clare ; whilst Kevin started without delay to Dublin
and thence to Westmeath.



The dusk had fallen by imperceptible degrees, until, to the
softened glory of an August evening the thick darkness of
night succeeded.

The harvest-clad sides of Carrigbrae were shrouded in
gloom; the orchard trees raised themselves like guarding
sentinels, barely seen through the darkness ; and, save the
corncrake in the fields or the murmuring ripple of the


242 ''CONVICT No. 25."

streamlet through the meadow, there was no sound to
disturb the silence of the night.

Withinside the Orchard House the lights had been long
lit, and were still burning — a very unusual thing, for, in the
harvest time particularly, early to bed and early to rise was
the custom. The workers, who, to avail themselves of the
summer hours, were up and at work as soon as day dawned,
must perforce, if they were to preserve their strength, retire
to bed with the waning daylight.

On this particular evening, however, the lights were
burning late, but the time at last came when it was necessary
they should prepare to retire.

"We may as well say the Rosary now," said Mrs.
O'Keeffe ; " we did not say it once since the harvest began,
and we may as well say it now."

" Well, mother," ^aid Maury, " say only one decade of
the Rosary. We're all so tired. Finish with that, and don't
be tackin' on any other prayer to it. Remember we've to
be up early in the morning."

" You ought to thank God, Maury, that you have health
and strength to say it, and not to be grumblin' about it."

" I'm not grumbling, mother ; but I wish we had said it
early in the evening, and then we'd have had it over us."

" I declare she looks upon her prayers as a task," said
Joe, who thought very hard himself of going to say long
prayers at that unreasonable hour, and who would have
been much more content to have simply blessed himself,
said a Pater and Ave and gone to bed. " As a task !
There's a nice christianable young woman ! "

" I'll engage, if the truth were known, you'd think worse
yourself of saying them than I do," said Maury ; " I suppose


you didn't say the Rosary twice these thirty years, until the
fall in the quarry frightened you."

"There's more ov id," said Joe gravely. *' Not likin' to
say your prayers, number wan ; tellin' lies about your
neighbour in regard of his age, number two ; misjudgin'
your neighbour's moral character, number three. Three
nice sins for a girl to commit in five minutes or less,
Three nice sins afore sayin' the Rosary."

" Moral character," said Maury, pushing him out of the
way. "Who ever saw an old coachman with a moral
character, or any character but one as tattered as an ould
hat you'd put up to scare away the crows. Stand out of the
way until I lay down the table."

The table in question was a long one which stood up
against the kitchen wall, and rested on an iron bar, on
which it hinged. When needed for use one end was sup-
ported by this iron bar, the other by a hinging prop ; but
otherwise it rested upright on the iron bar against the wall,
out of the way.

It was usually let down for the meals; whenever, of
winter nights, a game of cards was played ; or when any
other festivity was in course ; also on occasions when the
Rosary was being read, that the head of the house might
kneel at the end, or such others of the family or chance
visitors as wished at the sides. But if they choose to kneel
elsewhere they might — there was no limitation placed on

" I'll help you to let it down," said Joe officiously.

"Well, you needn't. I can let it down myself," said
Maury, with an assumed appearance of angry haughtiness.

" You're in a nice state to say prayers, you are," said

244 ''CONVICT No. 25."

Joe. " * From anger, patience, an' ill-will, the Lord deliver
us ! ' Mrs. O'Keeffe, would you mind, when you finish the
Rosary, sayin' the Litany ov the Saints ? I think it would
do me a dale ov good."

Mrs. O'Keeffe took up Joe's request as being profoundly
serious, and was too simple in her way to notice the dry
jocularity and malicious drollery that lay lurking beneath it.

" Indeed, I will, Joe ; an' I'm very glad you asked me.
Don't mind Maury. It's too much sleep she gets."

" Thank you, ma'am," said Joe gratefully, whilst a look at
Maury across the table attested his malicious delight. " An'
if you say a few Father an' Aves when that's finished, I'd
like it very much. Wouldn't you, Miss Norah ? "

As every eye was directed by this abrupt question to
Norah, where she knelt at the table beside Mrs. O'Keeffe,
with the candle shining full on her face, there was nothing
for it but to say promptly —

" Yes ; to be sure," and then covered her face with her
two hands to hide the blush the abruptness of the question
called into it.

" There ! Glory be to God," said Joe in a pious under-
tone, with that sorrowful gravity with which people sometimes
talk over the failings of their neighbours, " what differ there
is between people — brought up side by side, you might say.
Wan likin' to say her prayers, the other hatin' 'em."

" If you don't say your prayers properly I'll throw this
turf at you," said Maury ;, with difficulty repressing a laugh.

'' Maury ! " said Mrs. O'Keeffe, laying down her prayer-
book, and glancing with great reproof at her daughter, " I'm
astonished at your conduct. Do you remember what you're
going to say ? "


As Maury glanced with mortified good-humour at Joe,
who knelt at the other side of the table from her, and saw
the expression of assumed gravity and sanctity that was on
his eyes and pursed-up lips, she had much difficulty to keep
from laughing again.

As, however, that was what he wanted, and as it would
bring further censure upon her, besides being an unpardon-
able breach of rural good manners, she with great difficulty
restrained herself ; and placing her hands over her face and
eyes to shut out all view of him, gave her attention to the

The latter was finished, and Mrs. O'Keeffe commenced,
in obedience to the pious request of Joe, to recite the
Litany of the Saints.

Maury withdrew her hands from her eyes, and in doing
so let them fall on Joe's face. The latter, who had been
apparently thinking of something else, immediately assumed
once more his look of supernatural and preposterous piety.
The laugh rose from Maury's light heart, at this ridiculous
assumption of sanctity, but before it had developed itself too
much it was turned into a hushed cough.

Afraid, however, to trust her laughing humour any longer
to the tempting fiend opposite, Maury rose from her
place; and, on pretext of finding it quieter, knelt in a
darkened corner of the kitchen, which the light of the
candle failed to illume, and where she said the responses
in undisturbed shadow.

" From imprisonment and the perils of death," read out
the old woman.

"Oh, Lord deliver us!" responded half a dozen voices
in subdued tones of prayer.

246 ''CONVICT No. 25."


A shriek from Maury fell with startling effect on the silent
praying group.

"There is some one at the window looking in ! — there
is some one at the window ! Look I See who it is ! " she
cried in frightened tones.

All present started swiftly to their feet. All eyes were
at once turned to where the little window of the kitchen
reflected the darkness of the starless summer night outside.
The light of the candle being in their eyes, they could see
in it nothing but blackness.

But Maury, who had been kneeling in the shadow, had
readier quickness in seeing, and she averred she had seen
a man's face gazing in at them and taking note of the
proceedings through the window !

Her exceeding nervousness, and almost hysterical fear,
in marked contrast to her light-hearted manner previously,
showed at once that her statement was true — that her fears
were real, and not imaginary.

" Let us see if there's anyone about the out-houses or in
the bawn^^ said Charley, who happened to be present, the
young man of whom we have made note before at the
funeral in the Abbey graveyard.

Taking the candle from the table and placing it in a
lantern, that it should not be extinguished, he hurried out,
accompanied by the two men servants, and searched the
houses and the hawn diligently ; while the three trembling
women and the servant girl and Joe, who was as yet unable
to move swiftly about, remained within in the darkness.

" V/iere are the skiethogs, mother ? Throw some of them
on the fire, an' don't lave us in the dark like that ! " said


Maury, who, clinging to her mother and Norah, was in a
state of intense fear. " I'll die if I'm left in the dark. Mother,
for the love of God get me a light ! "

" Let me go, Maury, and I will," said the old woman,
who was held fast in the girl's unconscious grasp. " You're
holdin' me so tight I can't stir. Let me go, Maury, let me

But Maury could not let go the grasp her startled hands
had laid hold of ; and the old woman was fain to bid the
servant throw some split bogwood on the white ashes of the
smouldering fire.

*' You'll get a heap of it on the shelf. Throw it on the
fire at once an' it will light up. God betune us an' all harm 1
are you sure you saw anyone, Maury ? "

" Don't ask me, mother ! don't ask me ! To be sure I

" God betune us an' all harm ! tYiQ good people were always
hangin' about Mrs. Moore's afore they were turned out, too,"
said Mrs. O'Keeffe, in whose kind, patient, simple heart the
dread of eviction was the only fear that ever arose, morning,
noon, or night. *' It's the fairies you saw, Maury."

" It was not fairies who used to come about our place,"
said Norah quietly, somewhat frightened too, but much more
composed than the others.

She had, young as she was, gone through seas of troubles.
She had heard feet often prowling about their quiet home in
the stillness of the night-time. She had seen faces peering
in at the window — not kindly faces of fairies in sympathy
with her troubles — but faces jealous of their comfort, and
hungering, hungering for the fine fields her ancestors' c^re
and industry had made out of barren lands. She had seen

248 ''CONVICT No. 25."

the roof-tree stripped over her mother's head, and that
mother turned away in her old age from the place where her
young married days were passed and her children born,
to die on a stranger's floor. She had seen her brother borne
off among guarding soldiers to prison on a false charge ;
and amid the gleaming lights of the Court, had heard the
words of a harsh judge sentence the young fellow to penal
servitude for seven years.

All this she had seen and passed through ; and whilst
sorrow and affliction failed to dim the entrancing brightness
of her eyes, or the fascinating beauty of her face, it had left
within her heart a strength and firmness that not ordinary
events easily disturbed.

" It was not fairies who used to come about our place. They
would not have turned us out of house and home. But —
oh ! my God I — whose face is that I see ? Who is standing
at the door — outside in the darkness ? Oh ! Maury ! — for
God's sake ! — look — see who it is ! " she screamed in great
affright as the light of the skiethog, waven in Joe's hand, dis-
closed a form standing at the door, and a face appearing —
as a dead man's face of a moonlight night might be seen
peering from above a tombstone — out of the gloom !

Lifting her eyes, Maury, not less frightened than Norah
herself, looked in the direction indicated. But the impres-
sion made on her mind by the apparition was vastly different
from that made on Norah's, and the effect caused on her
terrors different in the same degree ; for, quickly recovering
herself, she snatched the torch hastily from Joe's hand, and
walked boldly to the door — the light advancing before her,
and throwing its brightness on the bawn outside. As she
did so the form outside advanced to meet her.


** Kevin ! Kevin ! " the young girl attempted to cry ; but
the stranger, advancing quickly, placed his hand on her
mouth, and, drawing her to him, kissed her.

" Who is inside, Maury ? " he asked hurriedly ; but the
cry of the young girl had awakened the attention of the
others, and as she, disengaging herself from his embrace,
ran and closed the door, Norah had seen who it was, and
in a second more had her arms around his neck.

"Kevin! Kevin! can this be you? Is it really you I
see ? Oh, Kevin, is it you I have my arms around again ?
Is it you, or how did you come back ? "

" Hush, Norah ! It is I. Don't speak so loud. I ought
not to have come here to-night, but I could not help it. I
could not bear to wait a minute."

" Oh ! Kevin ! Kevin ! Can it be possible you have
returned ? I can hardly believe it. Oh ! Kevin ! I am so
glad to see you ! "

" And I am so glad to see you, Norah. I was in Paris,

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Online LibraryJames MurphyConvict No. 25; or, the clearances of Westmeath : a story of the Whitefeet → online text (page 16 of 28)