James Murphy.

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

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recovered health was not enough. And at Orchard Cottage
it formed an admirable reason for his visits.

Joe's welfare, however good-natured the visitor was in


inquiring about it, occupied a very small portion of his care
when there.

It was so pleasant to sit by Norah's side, and listen to her
quiet conversation as her busy fingers plied the needles, or
to listen to her musical voice as she read in the cool shadow
of the apple-trees ; or again, when Joe was fishing in the
stream below in the meadows to walk with him there, and
while he intently threw his line across the eddying pools it
was perfectly oriental in its luxury to lie at ease tempting the
lazy slumbering trout to rise, with the pleasant carpet of
grass beneath, and the pleasant sun shining on them from
the blue sky above.

The path of life had grown pleasant and more beautiful
for him to tread. His lot was cast in pleasant places, and
the golden thread of love and beauty was weaving itself into
his heart and brain and nature. The world seemed to have
grown more beautiful, the air pleasanter, the earth more near
to perfection than he ever knew it before.

So at least he thought, one morning, as he placed his foot
in the stirrup, the steel foot-rest of which was warm with the
rays of the early sun, and, vaulting into the saddle, sat there
composedly awaiting the coming of the Colonel, to bid him
good-bye for the day.

" I am afraid there is an end of your love-making, Rupert,"
said the Colonel as he handed him a letter. He was always
fond of pretending that Rupert's rides were in the direction
of Grangemore Castle, and his visits to the heiress. " Read
that — there's a letter of recall."

" That's very sudden," said Rupert, as he read the letter
where he sat on horseback. " I did not expect this."

" You are glad to get back again," said the Colonel, mis*

266 ''CONVICT No. 25."

taking his surprise. " So I should too. I am heartily tired
of this unfortunate country."

" I should like to see a little more of it. I have scarcely
seen any of it yet," said Rupert, holding the letter he had
just read in his hands, and sitting in his saddle with an ill-
concealed air of disappointment and annoyance.

" I think it is very fortunate for you to get away. How
soon does it say ? "

" This day week," said Rupert, glancing at it. " They
sca.rcely gave me time even to get well."

*' The best thing you can do then, Rupert," said the
Colonel cheerily, "is to turn your horse's head in some
other direction if you want to see the country. You have
ridden often enough in that. It must be as familiar to you
as the valleys in Devonshire by this time."

" I must ride out to acquaint them with the recall this one
time, at any rate," said Rupert, as he sat undecided in the

" Very well, Rupert. I am sorry you are leaving us. But
you should be very glad of it. There is not much here to at-
tract an Englishman. You are very fortunate in getting away."

" I should rather stay a little longer, for all that," thought
Rupert, as he cantered down the barrack square, passed the
sentinel at the gates, and went forward in the direction of
Orchard Cottage.

" It's a singular thing," thought he to himself, as he rode
past the quarry, " that that place, so unfortunate for my
uncle, should have led me into such scenes so outside
the path of my intended duties. And should have intro-
duced me to Grangemore and to — Norah ! Ay, Norah !
Beautiful Norah ! "


As the young girl's face and eyes raised themselves before
him in imagination, he put spurs to his horse and trotted
more quickly.

He was anxious to know what would Norah think of his
going. What position did he hold in her regard ? What in
her heart ? Would she feel as lonely and sorrowful at the
parting as his present pangs told him he unmistakably
would ? Was she as glad to see him as he was to see her ?

These and many other curious questions arose in his mind
as he rode along, creating within him more distrust and un-
easiness than he would have thought possible yesterday.
His previous visits had been paid without any very well de-
fined intentions. They gave him pleasure. The sweet face
of Norah, the pleasant raillery of Maury, the unembarrassed
ease of his intercourse, the absence of all ceremony, and the
delicacy and reserve that covered all things as with a silver
mantle, made them extremely agreeable to him.

It was only now, that he was about to leave ; that these
pleasant hours were to conclude.; that the fair face of the
handsome girl should no more come before him ; that he
felt as if he were parting with something very dear to him,
and that ties of tenderness he wotted not of before had
woven themselves round his heart, and pained him now in
their threatened severance.

To banish these reflections that seared him with a pain
he had never felt before, he turned up the boreen that
led from the road to the cottage. The gate of the meadow
behind it was opened, and so he carelessly cantered in that

As he passed by, the windows that opened on to the
meadow were thrown wide, and he saw, with something of a

268 ''CONVICT No. 25."

start, that an addition had been unaccountably made to the
household at the Orchard.

A young man was sitting within whom he had never seen
there before. Nevertheless there was something in his face,
some familiar look or expression, which made it seem to
him as if he had somewhere before seen it. On the sofa,
very pale and white, lay another, as if very ill ; and, holding
the hand of the latter was — to his intense astonishment —
none other than Norah ! Yes, kneeling at the side, and
holding his hand.

The feeling of surprise and astonishment was almost
instantaneously followed by another and a very different

It was one of anger and jealousy. Who were those of
whom he had heard nothing before ? What mystery was
there surrounding the house that had been so carefully kept
from his knowledge ? Whom was this with whom Norah
was on terms of such extraordinary intimacy ?

These questions he could not answer. Nor was the in-
formation he received when he rode round into the garden
calculated to remove the distrusts and suspicions excited in
his mind. Norah met him outside the door with her usual
grace and friendliness — told him Joe had gone on fishing
towards the Shannon, that Maury had driven by the lower
road to Athlone, and that, all the cares of house devolving
upon herself, he should excuse her want of courtesy in not
asking him to descend and rest himself.

Astonished and astounded at this sudden change in the
state of affairs, Rupert, after a short time, during which he,
however, could note no alteration in Norah's manner or
friendliness towards him, turned his horse's head round


and considerably damped and disappointed, took his way
once more round the boreen, at a much slower rate than that
by which he had come, and emerged on the high road.

Who were they of whom he had unexpectedly got a
glimpse ? Who were these strangers, and how long had they
been there ? Had they been there all the time of his visit-
ings, and, if so, why had their presence been concealed from

What were they to Norah that she should thus minister
to them with so much aifection and solicitude ? Could she
have been keeping this mystery from him all the time of his
visits, frank and unreserved as she seemed to be ? .

But then, again. What right had he to challenge her
conduct ? What control had he, or what right to exercise,
over her actions ? What was he to Norah, or Norah to him,
that he should care what other friends and relationships she
had ? There was Lucy Hargrave, for instance

Poor Rupert !

All the high pedestal of uncare, and platonic indifference
which he was seeking to build, before that unhappy thought
vanished into thin space !

Lucy Hargrave was a beautiful girl, no doubt, with frank
manners and pleasing address. But when Norah's unname-
able handsomeness and winsomeness rose up side by side
with hers in his imagination, it was only then that he knew
how dearly he loved her, and what a hold she had got over
him ; and how her bright eyes and radiant smile and winning
ways had been silently and unconsciously, and unfelt, weav-
ing the silver web of love around his heart with a force of
prevailing power stronger than bands of twisted steel.

And as this knowledge came to his thoughts, came also

270 ** CONVICT No. 25."

crowding with it the former doubts and distrusts. Who was
this friend for whom she showed such soHcitude ? Who was
the other that sat at the window ? Why had she not even
hinted at these acquaintances during any of his visits?

Could either of them be had she, then, a lover ? Was

the charming manner, the brightness of those welcoming
eyes, merely the outcome of her natural ways, and meaning
nothing more than the ordinary greetings to one whom
chance had made an acquaintance ?

The very thought smote his soul with a feeling of

".Perhaps it is so," he thought. " Perhaps it is so. I
ought to ride back again and find out."

He had reined his horse partly round as he spoke, and
spoke aloud irresolutely.

" Yet why should I go back ? To ask her who were those
in the house ! As if I had a right to make use of knowledge
which I only gained by chance — and by a rude chance too,
for I had no business to ride that way. And what else ?
To ask a young lady — a stranger of a month ago ! — pooh i
Rupert, you are dreaming I " said he, addressing himself

" And if you are, Mr. Clarendon," said a voice beside
him, " the best way to banish it is by a good rattling ride ! "
Rupert looked around him with a start. The absorbing
nature of his meditations had left him without sight or hear-
ing for outward objects, and it was with a feeling of surprise,
that he was unable at first to control, that he noticed Sir
Hardinge and Lucy with their horses reined up beside him.
The public road, not much frequented, had a border of
thick grass extending on each side, parallel to the hedge,


and this had in a great degree dulled the tread of the
horses' feet.

Rupert lifted his hat to Miss Lucy, and, exerting his
faculty of self-possession, was speedily at his ease among them.

" Do you often soliloquise like this, Mr. Clarendon ? "
said Miss Hargrave.

" No, I should hope not. I did not even know I was
soliloquising now," said Rupert genially.

" There was no doubt, from the fragment of conversation
we were unintentional listeners to," said Miss Hargrave,
laughing, " you are not exaggerated in your opinion of

Rupert not knowing or remembering, by reason of the
start he had received, what it was exactly that he had been
saying, and whether, by some unfortunate mischance, he had
not mentioned Norah's name, was a little embarrassed.

" Yes," said he, " I was in a humour for a little self-
upraiding at that moment."

"For living in Ireland, I warrant you," said Sir Hardinge.
" I agree with you there ! Under the present unfortunate
condition of the country it is anything but a pleasant place
to live in. Only think of it! A splendid house I was
building on a farm from which I was obliged to dispossess
a tenant, was burned down last night ! Burned to the
ground ! What a horrible race of people ! "

" Who burned it ? " asked Rupert, not clear, from the
statement, as to whom was incriminated.

" Who burned it ! " echoed Sir Hardinge with some sur-
prise. " Why, who burned it but those wretched people —
a people whom I am sorry to say are growing more furious
and ruffianly every year."

272 ''CONVICT No, 25."

" But what motive ? " said Rupert, as he turned his horse
round, and, placing Miss Hargrave between them, rode on
with them. " What motive could they have ? People don't
act without some motive in these things."

"No motive whatever. These people are too ignorant
for motives. Their whole intention latterly is to burn and

" Can they not be prevented ? "

" We are trying that."


" Well, we have applied for a barrack on the townland.
The application has been signed by all the magistrates in
the county."

" Ah ! "

" Yes, there will be some thirty men stationed there.
That will quell the foul spirit."

" I should think so," said Rupert. " Thirty armed men
is a formidable force."

" It is formidable in other ways than by force of arms,"
said Sir Hardinge.

" More formidable ? "

Rupert looked puzzled.

"Yes, much more formidable."

" I confess I don't understand," said Rupert.

" In this way," said Sir Hardinge, in explanation. " They
have to pay for it."

" To pay for what ? "

" For this force."

" Who have ? "

" The people."

" Do you mean the people who have done this deed ? "


" No ; we don't know them^ you know."

" And who then ? "

'' The people generally."

"The innocent?"

"Yes, certainly. All."

" You don't mean," said Rupert, reining back his horse
and riding round, with a pleasant apology to Miss Lucy, to
Sir Hardinge's side, the better to hear him — " you don't
mean that people who may have had nothing to do with this
burning — nay more, may abhor and detest it, for we must
assume there are some such in the land — have to bear this
expense ? "

" Certainly," said Sir Hardinge, amused at the simplicity
of the other. "Certainly. And to pay for the burning,

" Even though they did not know or approve of it ? "

" Certainly ! "

" But do you think that justice ? "

" Certainly, I think it justice."

"It seems to me," said Rupert, "rather an uncivilised

"As how?" asked Sir Hardinge.

" Why, as punishing the innocent with the guilty — and
doing so knowingly."

" Knowingly ? "

"Yes ; not by accident or intention. A man may," said
Rupert, " be hung sometimes by mistake, but it is by mis-
take ; but here the punishment is quite otherwise."

" But what would you have ? How preserve the peace
otherwise ? How preserve order ? "

" Well, that is a question I am not competent to answer,"

274 " CONVICT No. 25."

said the officer. "Generally speaking I should say by
leaving no stone unturned to arrest the guilty parties."

" That is much more easier said than done. You don't,"
said Sir Hardinge, " know the people around you or you
would not say that."

" I do not ; therefore it was that I said I was not com-
petent to answer the question how order was to be preserved.
But on general grounds I think punishing the innocent with
the guilty is much more likely to make the innocent become
guilty than to make the rogues honest men. For the latter
are not likely to sorrow over the sufferings of their innocent'

"Yet you see it is repeatedly done. The great Duke
himself, when he captured a hostile town in Spain, did not
wait to see who were the guilty and hostile parties. He
punished, by levies of immense sums of money, and other-
wise, the innocent with the guilty."

" Oh, yes ; but that was in the time of war, when "

" But we are in a state of war here."

" I did not know that," said Kupert, rather chagrined at
the interruption.

" Yes, we have the Irish enemy always here— before as
and around us."

" The Irish enemy ! "

" Yes, the Irish enemy ; always ready to shoot, and slay,
and burn."

" I confess I have not seen any indication of it, and I
have ridden about the country constantly. I have never,"
said Rupert, " met friendlier or kindlier people ; more quick,
courteous, and ready to give information or to answer a


" But you are not a landlord ! "

" No, truly ; but I am a stranger and an Englishman, yet
they have never offended me."

" But you are not a landlord. If you were "

" Does not that look pretty, Mr. Clarendon ? " asked Miss
Hargrave, pointing with her whip to a rising ground in the
distance, near a bend of the road. She asked the question
more to divert the conversation of the gentlemen from its
present subject, which had an unpleasant tendency, and in
which she could not well bear a part, than because of any
interest she had or felt in the scenery indicated,

" It is. Miss Hargrave," said Rupert courteously, " ex-
quisite ; the colours are beautifully intermixed. That field
of waving corn, for instance, how well it contrasts with the
dark foliage of the trees in the background, and with the
striking greenness of the grass-fields beside it."

" I like the country when the Autumn arrives," said Miss

"So do I," said Rupert enthusiastically; "and I think
it would be very difficult to find a more beautiful landscape
than this. It may want the mountain scenery of other
lands, but it has a rich hue and changefulness of colour
peculiar to itself. It gives to one's mind a sense of wealth
and fertility very pleasing."

"That sloping hill you admire so much, Mr. Clarendon,"
said Sir Hardinge.
■ " Yes," said Rupert, looking again admiringly at it.

" That is another instance of v/hat I was saying. Tenants
of mine lived there. I had to dispossess them. Why?
This is a nearly perfect illustration of what I was saying. It
was necessary, in the due and proper management of the

276 " CONVICT No. 25."

estate, to dispossess them. I could have given them a farm
as good elsewhere. They would not have it. They had old-
fashioned notions of keeping to tlie same place. .1 could
not permit that. If I wanted to improve the estate I could
not possibly allow their notions to interfere with mine.
Don't you think so ? "

" Yes," said Rupert vaguely, with an indistinct notion of
what he was saying, for at that moment Norah Moore's face
appeared before his imagination in all its wondrous beauty,
and removed him, in spirit at least, far from his present

" Just so," said Sir Hardinge pleasantly ; " I knew you
were too sensible not to admit the justice of what I was
saying. But, further than that, a son of the woman who
held that farm as tenant from me had the audacity to join
a society originated really for the purpose of murdering all
landlords in the country, and for which he was afterwards
transported. What do you think of that ? "

" It was deplorable," assented Rupert.

" Yes. What was left me to do ? The only thing that
was left me to do was to dispossess them, which I did.
And I am informed the misguided tenants around me think
that was an act of injustice. That alone will show you the
character of the people among whom we live."

" Yes."

" It was a clear question as to who should be owner, you
see, Mr. Clarendon," said Miss Hargrave.

" It was, of course," assented Rupert negligently.

" It was something more," said Sir Hardinge, very much
pleased at this endorsement of his proceedings ; " it was a
question of disputed authority ; it was a question of property


and law and order versus revolution and midnight societies.
The rights of property must be maintained here as in Eng-
land, Mr. Clarendon ; and if we were to allow these to
succumb, where would we be ? Now, these Moores, for
instance, if "

" I beg your pardon. Sir Hardinge, what name did you
say ? "

Rupert had been thinking of Norah Moore all the time ;
and as the name dropped from the lips of Sir Hardinge, it
awoke his dreaming brain and wandering attention at once.
Wherefore his question.

" Moore," said Sir Hardinge, little pleased at this mark
of inattention.

" Yes, yes. Sir Hardinge," said Rupert courteously, now
quite alive to his story. " They were dispossessed."

" Yes. There was nothing .else to be done."

" Of course not," said Rupert, whose attention again was
wandering. There was a magnet somewhere in Norah
Moore's sparkling eyes — though magnets as a rule do not
sparkle — that drew his thoughts forcibly back to Orchard
Cottage.' " What became of them ? "

" I don't know. The son, as I told you, was transported,
but what became of the others I do not know."

" But a very odd thing," continued Sir Hardinge, as the
officer made no remark on the last statement, " in connec-
tion with the affair is that the convict ship in which Moore
was being brought to the penal settlements was wrecked."

" Where ? " asked Rupert, interested all at once.

" In the Bay of Biscay."

" In a storm ? "

" In one of the most violent storms that came over the

278 ''CONVICT No. 25."

seas for years, which the oldest seaman failed to remember
anything to equal. Hundreds of vessels on sea that
night failed to report since, and the conclusion is they
foundered. Foundered, at any rate, did the convict ship ;
and thus this unfortunate young man was saved from further
misdeeds by the merciful interposition of Providence — and

" Very curious," said Rupert in deep thought, but whether
his remark applied to the interposition of Divine Providence
in that behalf, or to something else that was in his head, is

"Yes," said Miss Hargrave, "but turning from those
matters, which too long have occupied our attention, I think
it must be close on luncheon time. You will lunch with us,
Mr. Clarendon — will you not ? "

"I shall have much pleasure," said Rupert, and they
turned their horses' heads in the direction of Grange niore
Castle, and cantered pleasantly along the road, Rupert doing
his best to arrest his wandering attention and carry on the



When Rupert and his friends arrived at Grangemore he was
much surprised to find Colonel Montfort there also. The
colonel had ridden after him, in the expectation of over-
taking him and accompanying him in his ride, but failing
to do so, had turned up to the castle in hope of finding


Rupert was very glad to meet him there, and was further
glad when he accepted the invitation to remain at Grange-
more for dinner.

The day passed very pleasantly. After luncheon they had
a long ride through the country, and after dinner they strolled
through the long corridors of arching trees, through
which the setting sun streamed in broken and radiant mag-
nificence, as through the glowing casements of Spanish

After dusk, Sir Hardinge, his lady and son and daughter
with the colonel and Rupert, sat on the balcony till late, the
gentlemen smoking their cigars and chatting about every
odd matter that turned up. It was, as Sir Hardinge and
his family learned with great regret, the last v/eek which
Rupert should spend in Ireland, and the subject occupied
a good deal of their conversation, and made the desire to
prolong it greater.

He had fallen in so much with their ways and identified
himself so much with the individuality of each one, that he
had perfectly established himself in the regards of all, and
they were, therefore, extremely sorry for his going. Miss
Hargrave was particularly troubled at it, for in their long
and careless wanderings through the garden and under the
stately trees of the lawn, during his convalescence, they
had been thrown so much together, that her regard for him
developed rapidly — a feeling which Rupert had reciprocated
up to the day of his visit to Joe.

The hour arrived, however, when it was necessary to leave,
and Rupert and the colonel, with many invitations to come
again the next day, or some day before Rupert's departure,
and with promises on his part to do so, took their leave.

2So " CONVICT No. 25."

It was intensely dark, and close on midnight, when they
turned their horses' heads homewards.

"It's a long way round, Rupert," said Colonel Montfort,
" to go by the road it would be three or four miles at least.
Is there not a short-cut somewhere in this direction — a
boreen or bridle-path or something or other through the
fields ? "

" There is," said Rupert, " but I doubt if we can make it
out in the darkness."

*' We had better try," said the colonel. " I detest these
long rides where there's a short-cut available."

" You would find yourself much sooner at the barrack
by taking the longer way," said Rupert. "It is almost
impossible to see your hand in this darkness."

" No matter," said the colonel, " we shall try it. The
moon will rise in a short time."

" All right," said Rupert assentingly. " This is the path
as well as I know it."

" Lead on then, Rupert," said the colonel. " We can
scarcely fail to go straight, knowing the direction."

Rupert took the lead, and went on at a gentle trot where
they were enabled to see that the path led through an open
field, but more slowly where it got intermingled with the

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Online LibraryJames MurphyConvict No. 25; or, the clearances of Westmeath : a story of the Whitefeet → online text (page 18 of 28)