James Murphy.

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

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into their dreadful hands again ! "

Her mind was too excited to hear the words which Rupert
addressed to her. In the turmoil of her excited thoughts
she was even unconscious of his presence.

Construing her manner to mean anger and dislike to
himself, and finding no response to his words, he slowly
withdrew from the apartment ; and his guide, with the
sergeant and one or two others, proceeded, under his un-
willing superintendence, to search the premises.

" See, sir ! This, perhaps, is one of the criminals whom
you seek," said Norah, as she led the way into the room
where the injured youth lay.

The hurt which he had received had added to the tendency


to consumption that possessed him, and his wounded lungs,
instead of healing, had grown worse. The blood had poured
time after time with remitting frequency from his lungs.
His face, as he sat propped with pillows, was thin and pale,
and it did not need an experienced eye to see that the
shadows of death were hovering around him^

He looked up with surprise as he saw the soldiers enter.
He guessed at once the purport of their visit, and a stern
flush settled on his face as he made a movement to rise. But
the weakness of his frame feebly answered the indignant
prompting of his spirit, and he lay back again. It was only
then that he really felt how much his strength had departed,
and in a feeling of intense sorrow and sadness at his useless-
ness, he placed his hands across his eyes. " If he only had
the strength he had six months agone."

Poor Prophet ! that strength was gone, never on this earth
to be restored.

Norah promptly understood the fiery look of alarm and
indignation that flushed across his pallid face, and rightly
knew that the sorrowful gestures arose mainly from his sense
of his powerlessness to help her.

Passing over to his bedside she placed her hand with
gentle touch on his forehead.

" Don't fret, Harry," she said gently. " You will have
your old strength back again. Don't heed these worries."

Rupert stood paralysed with shame. He was overcome
with annoyance that he should have thus, in discharge of
policemen's duties, intruded into the sick chamber ; and
Norah's gentle kindliness to the patient made him ready to
sink to the ground at what he considered — in the agony of
his tortured feelings — his own cruelty and unmanliness.

298 ''CONVICT No. 25."

" Come out of this, men — come away from the sick
chamber. Come out, you scoundrel ! " said he, in his
disgust, catching the guide by the collar and hurling him
out of the apartment ; " how dare you bring his Majesty's
soldiers to insult a sick room ! "

Notwithstanding that he was cowed a little by this rough
treatment, the guide insisted on making further search even
to the out-offices, the barn, the cowhouse, the stable ; but
there was no discovery.

There was nobody there.

Very much pleased with the non-results of his unpleasant
mission, Rupert had arrived at the orchard gate where he
had first seen Norah, for the purpose of ordering the men
to withdraw and form up, when he was electrified by a cry
from the guide.

" There he is ! There he is. Seize him, men ! There is
the returned convict ! There is the burner ! Seize him ! "

And, not content with this, dashed off himself in the
direction to which he pointed.

A cry of anguish and despair burst simultaneously from
the lips of the two girls. They had come out to see the
soldiers move off, whilst their trembling lips and white faces
indicated how much they wished to see them do so, and
their tremulous anxiety lest the fugitive might return before
that movement had taken place.

The cry of torture and agony that burst from their lips
showed how their fervent hopes and anticipations had been
dashed to pieces !

Looking in the direction Rupert perceived a young fellow
in the grasp of his soldiers. The prisoner appeared to have
been taken by surprise, and, as if advancing homewards


through the orchard, he had been prevented by preoccu-
pation of mind, or by the thick growth of apple- trees, from
seeing the soldiers. So that he was seized and handcuffed
before he was aware of it.

" Kevin ! Kevin ! Oh, Kevin ! was it for this you re-
turned ! " cried Maury, as she flew in agony to him. But
Norah, the first scream of terror and dismay over, sank
down in a swoon on that very seat where her bright eyes
had first looked up to Rupert, carrying surprise and admira-
tion and love into his heart.

In a paroxysm of love, self-anger and disgust, he knelt at
the young girl's feet, not at first comprehending that she
had fainted.

" Norah, forgive me — forgive me, the unwitting cause of
this sorrow ! I am pained — I am broken-hearted — that I
should have been — Oh, merciful God ! she is insensible.
Norah ! Norah ! Here, some one, attend to this poor girl,
and " .

But Mrs. O'Keeffe stood at his elbow, and gently moving
him aside, bestowed her attention upon the broken-hearted
girl, bathing her forehead and opening her dress to give her

Meanwhile Maury had reached Kevin, and throwing her
arms around him as if she would tear him from his captors,
addressed him in pitiful and imploring language.

" Oh, Kevin, Kevin ! light of my heart and glory of my
eyes, was it for this you came back ! Oh, Kevin, are we
again separated — and so soon! Oh, merciful Mother of
God protect us this day ! Oh, Kevin, Kevin ! what are we
to do without you ! "

The sergeant, who appeared to take even more command

300 ''CONVICT No. 25."

in the matter now than Rupert, desired the men to bring
their captive forward. It was with difficulty they were able
to separate her from him. They were about to use harsh
measures when Rupert arrived on the scene.

" Hold there, men ! None of that ! " said he, sharply
as some of them were about to force her hands. " None
of that. Don't touch her ! Stand aside — at once ! "

The soldiers fell back, and Maury, hearing the sound of
his voice, withdrew her twining arms from Kevin, and threw
herself at Rupert's knees.

" Oh ! Mr. Clarendon ! have pity on us. Don't take him
away again. He has been long enough away ! He has
done no harm ! In the sight of God and man he has done
no harm ! He was only too true and too good and too
loving. It is only villains like this man," pointing to the
guide, " that swore away his freedom before, and they will
swear away his liberty and life again. Spare him — oh, spare
him — if only for his sister's sake 1 "

" Rise up, Maury ! rise up ! Don't kneel to me. For
God's sake stand up."

He bent down and lifted her up in his arms.

" What is this you say, Maury ? " he whispered. " What
do you say of his sister ? Is this Norah's brother ? "

" Oh, yes, yes," sobbed Maury, with much difficulty
keeping herself from swooning also.

" Her brother — that was transported ? "

"Yes, yes, the same."

"Heaven save and forgive me! What cruel destiny
sent me here ! " said the young officer, now completely
overwhelmed with distress.

" You will let him free, Mr. Clarendon — will you not ? "


said Maury, who, in her anxiety and impatience, thought
she saw him softening, and that he had only to say the word
and the captive was free.

" Alas ! Maury, what you ask is impossible. I could not
now, though it were my own brother that stood there. But
I will ."

He paused a little to try and recollect what it was that he
could do.

"You will, Mr. Clarendon, let him free?" cried Maury,
with a strong disposition to fall at his knees again.

" I cannot, Maury. I am sorry — I am sorely grieved —
that I cannot — but I shall • see that he is fairly treated. I
shall do everything I can for her sake," he added in a burst
of despair at his helplessness.

" But he is innocent, Mr. Clarendon — innocent. He never
did hurt or harm to anyone, though he was sorely tried and
punished himself," implored Maury.

"What is he accused of? " asked Rupert, turning to the
sergeant and his guide.

" Of burning Grangemore Castle last night among other
things — of being a returned convict," said his guide.

" Liar ! " said Maury, turning fiercely round on him ; " he
never did it — never dreamt of it. And if he was convicted
— who swore against him ? Who ? You, liar and coward
that you are ! And if anyone set fire to the castle — if it
wasn't an accident — there was no one would do it sooner
Ihan yourself. The cowardly tongue that would swear a lie
would find a cowardly hand to do worse. You may disguise
yourself — but you will get your reward sooner or later."

The guide crouched beneath her denunciation. All the
more, indeed, that he had often cast envious glances on

302 ''CONVICT No. 25."

herself, and "made up to her," as the country people
phrased it.

But Maury, though ready to bandy a pleasant word with
him as with everybody else, out of the lightness of her heart,
never entertained a thought about him further. Still the
dull, heavy nature of the Scotchman mistook her nod and
smile and sparkling repartee for liking, if not love ; and one
of his reasons for seeking the farm of the Moores, and for
having Kevin transported, was that he might the more
readily obtain the graces of the handsome daughter of
Orchard Cottage.

He had not, indeed, until now known how much he was
destroying his prospects with this untoward adventure. His
dull brain had not the quickness to perceive that even if
there were a chance for him this mode of procedure would
have destroyed it. The belief that impelled him was that
if Kevin Moore were once banished without prospect of
return Maury would be the more readily inclined to entertain
his proposals — the magnet that attracted her being removed-
There was no further time for delay, so the sergeant, who
was uneasy, said, and Rupert found it necessary to return.

"You will explain to Norah — Miss Moore — Maury," said
he, " how little aware I was of where I was going, or what
it was I was compelled to do. God knows, I have suffered
more this morning than I have ever suffered before. But,
Maury" — and he whispered into her ear — "tell her to keep
her heart up ; tell her her brother shall be well taken care
of. I have friends, Maury, powerful friends — and it will go
hard with me or I shall see justice done her brother."

And shaking hands with the weeping girl, the soldiers
moved off, bringing their prisoner away with them ; formed


up in the same part of the lane they had separated in ; and
in a few moments the tread of their retreating horses alone
reached Maury's ears where she had thrown herself on her
knees in the orchard, half in swoon and half in frantic

The heavy cloud of smoke that arose from the burning
pile darkened the way, as they cantered over the road near
it, on their way to Athlone. But a heavier cloud of sorrow
and regret lay on Rupert's heart, and an equal weight of
darkness and terror, though of a different kind, on that cf
his captive.

For whilst the former was filled with annoyance and
trouble for the part it had been his cruel duty to perform,
and for the renewed sorrow and shame he had been the
means of bringing on the beautiful girl whom he would have
given his life to protect, the mind of his captive conjured up
dreadful scenes of the prison yard and the convict cell, until
his eyes darkened with terror.

Every day of hopeless sorrow, every night of sleepless
suffering he had endured before ; every foot of the weary-
way he had walked, with the fetters on his hands, before his
exhausted senses grew oblivious in the fever, came up to
his mind with wonderful vividness. Never to see Ireland
again : never to see his sister's face ; never to see the love-
light kindling for him in Maury's eyes — never

The cavalcade swept through the barrack gate of Athlone
before his mind had taken cognisance of the fact that he had
yet reached the town.

He soon heard the old familiar sound — so awful in its
familiarity — of the bolt fastening in the door outside, and
the click of the lock that firmly fastened and secured it.

304 ''CONVICT No. 25."



"Well, boys," said Darby Kelly, as three men sat in the
firelight of a semi-deserted cabin on the banks of the
Shannon, ostensibly with the intention of fishing, for some
rods and lines and a fishing net were beside them, some
nights after the burning of Grangemore mansion — indeed
on the eve of the trial of the prisoner ; " we didn't think we'd
be called together s6 soon last time we met."

"No, nor for such a purpose," said the music-maker — ■
this time occupied not in making music with his iron heel
on the moss-covered side of a tomb, but in the more con-
genial occupation ot throwing bog-timber on the burning

" Av coorse not," said the former, as his deep-set eyes
glared into the coals ; " who could have expected that ? It's
a strange world, but the strangest thing any wan ever heard
of is to think that Kevin Moore kem back out of the say and
the storm an' is on his thrial again."

** Ay," said Charley, holding a tin measure, containing
whiskey, in his hands, "an' as innocent of what he's charged
wid as the child unborn."

** He had no more to do wid it nor you an' I have,
Charley," said Darby Kelly. "Pass the dhrink round.
My throat is as dry as a limekiln wid thinkin' ov it. It's
little ov that kind ov thing he had in his head I'm thinkin'."

" He'll be found guilty for all that — take my word for it,"
said the music-maker, re-seating himself at the fire, and like
the others gazing gloomily into it."


" An' '11 be hanged too — if there's nothin' to stop 'em,"
said Charley, in a Idull, heavy way.

" Ay," said Darby Kelly, " as they've hung many a man
afore. An' as they will many a wan agin. Much they care
about it. What's to be done ? "

This appeared to be a question — like many other ques-
tions — more easily asked than answered. So all present
seemed to think, for there was no reply. The tin measure
passed silently from one to the other, but no one spoke.

" What's to be done ? " the speaker asked again, as no
response came. ** Bekaise if he is hanged in the wrong an*
no finger lifted to save him, we might as well all quit the
counthry at wanst."

" You're right there," said the music-maker.

" Av coorse I am. If they hang him they'll hang more
nor him. They're like tigers, one drop ov blood only sets
'em thirstin' for more."

"True enough," said Charley, glaring more steadfastly
into the fire, which, blazing up, had now begun to throw
grotesque shadows on the whitewashed walls and thatched

" The man that's turned out after this may look out for
himself if anything takes place that's not right — no matter
whether he did it or whether he didn't."

"So he may," assented Charley.

" Well, what's to be done ? " inquired the music-maker
sinking his voice to a whisper. " No matter what comes
or goes there ought to be some effort made to save him.
For in savin' him we're savin' ourselves."

"That's so" assented Darby Kelly. "But what is to be
done ? No one can get into the jail."


3o6 ''CONVICT No, 25."

" No, unless one was a bird."

"An' the sojers '11 be around him when he comes out?"
" Ay will they — by the score."

" Then, what's to be done ? " inquired the speaker, with
great discontent in his whispered questioning.

There was no response to this question either, for all
were busy thinking, but without finding any likely way out
of the difficulty, and it was not a time for volunteering idle

"There would be no use in thryin' to rescue him as
soon as he comes out ov the jail — on the way to the court-
house ? " suggested the music-maker, more because he felt
it necessary to keep the conversation open than for any
practicability or feasibility his suggestion had.

" Not the laste," said Darby Kelly. " They'd cut down
the whole barony in twenty minutes wid their swords or
they'd shoot 'em down wid their fire-locks."

"Ay," said Charley, "an' supposin' a sudden attack did
relaise him, how long would he be free ? Where could he
go to in the broad daylight ? Where, that he wouldn't be
rearrested and brought back in half-an-hour ? "

" That's true," said Darby Kelly, with a huskiness in his
voice that betokened a sinking at his heart. "But some-
thin' must be done. I declare to God, I'd rather die myself
ihan see him danglin' from the gallows."

" God bless us ! " said Charley, as the vivid picture thus
presented to his mind shocked him. "It won't — it mustn't
— come to that."

" Then you'd better think what can be done to prevent

" I can't think ov any thing," said the music-maker


despondingly. "We can't fight all the regimints in
Athlone ? "

" No, we can't," assented Darby Kelly.

" I haven't slept a wink this night thinkin' ov id," pursued
the music-maker. " If I do fall off for a short time it's
thinkin' ov the gallows I am, and the form danglin' from id.
A form swingin' an' swayin' an' shudderin', wid the white
cloth over its face — like the time Farrell Kinsella was hung
for what he had no hand, act, or part in — you all remimber
that, an' how "

"For God's sake, stop that," said Charley, with great
earnestness. " I feel as if there was a rope around my own
neck this minit. There's a cold shiver down my back as if
a stream of ice-water were runnin' down it. Don't spake
of hangin' "

" Boys, look ! " said Darby Kelly, in tones so strange and
significant, and so out of the usual tenor of the conversation,
that all eyes were quickly turned on him. His gaze was fixed
on the white-washed wall, and thither all eyes followed his.

" The Cross of Christ be about as !" was the terrified
expression of Charley. " What's that ? What's the manin'
ov that ? "

A shudder passed through the group as they looked on
the wall, and they drew closer around the fire. For plainly
and unmistakably outlimned thereon, in rough shadow,
thrown by some unseen barrier, that interposed between the
wall and the blazing logs on the hearth, was the figure of — a
man hanging ! A man with slouched hat bent down over
his eyes, with beard on the chin, as shown by the profile of
the face. As it swayed and changed, lifted and fell, with
the rising and falling of the fire-light, it did indeed seem to

3o8 ''CONVICT No. 25."

the astonished gazers — whose eyes were fascinated by the
weird appearance — as if it swayed and moved with the
muscular contractions of suffering !

" God save us ! What is it ? " whispered Darby Kelly in
accents that seemed pregnant with horror.

" I don't know," said Charley, shudderingly. " Look !
it's changing "

" It's going ! — thanks be to God ! " said Darby Kelly
under his teeth, " it's fading. It's gone I "

Whether it was a chance shadow thrown by the fire or not.
it certainly was palpably dying out — vanishing — and when
th*^ speaker had ceased it had, indeed, become invisible
Beam and rope and swaying figure had disappeared, and
there was no shadow nor picture on the white-washed wall.

"That's an extraordinary thing, isn't it?" asked the
music-maker, who had remained spell- bound under its

"Awful," assented the others, still fearing to speak aloud.
" What was it ? "

" It was a shadow the fire threw," said the music-maker,
anxious to relieve the gloom and the weird feeling by saying
something cheerful.

" Maybe it was," said Darby Kelly doubtfully. " Did you
see the face — an' the nose? D'ye know anyone it was

" Don't talk any more about it," said Charley with a
gruesome shiver. " Let it be. Is there any use in staying
here longer ? "

" I don't think there is," said the music-maker. " I feel
as if I were a-chokin'. Come away. We can talk freer
outside 1 "


" So we can," assented Darby Kelly, " there's a cowld
shiver over me — I don't know why. We oughn't to stay
here a minit more."

" I'll tell you what we'll do," said Charley : '' Let us go
and see Harry Canavan. He's very bad, but he'll be glad
to see us, an' he'll advise us what to do. Anyhow there's
no good to be done stoppin' here ; so come along. There's
somethin' unlucky about this house. We shouldn't have
come here at all, Hanna mon dhoull Did ye hear that?
There's some one dhrownin' in the Shannon outside ! "

All started to their feet, the recent terror driven away,
or rather added to, by the newer one. For borne in
through the rickety door, or down the chimney, or in both
ways together, came — all the more startingly that they had
been talking in nervous whispers — a cry that seemed pent-up
with agony and deadly fear ! It rang on them, from the
night and darkness outside, so laden, so pregnant with
terror and desperation that none but one on the brink
of sudden and unexpected and deadly peril could give
utterence to !

'* There's a woman dhrownin' in the river sure enough,"
said Darby Kelly, after listening for a second or two for a
repetition of the cry. " Come on, boys, there's a life to be
saved, an' not a minit to be lost ! "

All rushed to the door ; but it had been firmly barred and
locked on their entering, and in the haste now the lock
refused to turn. In their feverish hurry even the bolts made
of rough wood, that would, under other circumstances, have
been easily removed by quiet hands, but got the more en-
tangled in their nervous haste.

" What the dhouVs amiss with it ? " said the music-maker

3IO ''CONVICT No. 25."

impatiently, " pull it down, boys, door an' all ! The hinge
is rotten, an' one good pull '11 bring it down."

" That's the very thing," said Charley breathlessly. " Lay
hould o' that bolt, both of you, an' pull."

It would have been a stronger door than this one was to
have resisted the vigorous, half-frantic arms that essayed to
tear it down ; and, accordingly, with one sudden effort of
strength they tore it inwards — ^joint and door-posts, bolts,
locks, door and all !

" Now, boys," said Darby Kelly, preparing to leap across
the fallen door and debris^ " let's run ; we may yet be in
time Good Providence ! — who is this ? "

The question was addressed to a figure that stood con-
fronting them at the door, standing clearly enough against
the darkness outside ! A form with beard on the chin,
shaved face, and a slouched hat bent down in the excite-
ment, or for purpose of disguise, over his face.

The three men, cut short in their hurried intention, looked
at one another with startled significance, as their eyes fell
on the form confronting them.

*' It's the steward," burst from all lips simultaneously.

" It is," said the figure, advancing a little towards them,
which gave them opportunity to see how fluttered and ex-
cited he was. " Did you hear a cry ? "

" Ay did we ! " cried all together. " What was it ? "

" I don't know," said the steward, smoothing down his
front and collar, which were torn and in disorder. " I heard
it, and was running to see what it was when I heard the
noise here."

" It's very strange," said the music-maker; "where was
it ? Where did it come from ? It must be some one


dhrownin'. For God's sake let us hurry. Where d'ye think
it kem from ? "

" I thought it came from here," said the steward. " I
couldn't tell where else it could come from."

" Nonsense ! " said the music-maker \ " it's from some life
a-losin' in the river. Come on an' see ! "

And without more ado he leaped the fallen door, followed
by all the others, and hurried riverwards — tenants and
steward for once in their lives making common cause.

But there was no sign of drowning person on the swift
rushing Shannon stream. Nor was there cry to indicate
that any living thing was struggling for life on its dark
waters. They scattered and ran up and down its banks as
swiftly as they could, considering the scrubby brushwood
and tangle of rushes and flaggers that grew thereon. They
called aloud to see if any response would come to their cries.
But none came.

" There's no use in waiting longer," said Darby Kelly,
after nearly an hour had been spent in fruitless search.

" I think not. God be merciful to her, whoever it was,"
said the music-maker ; " she'll not see the sun rise to-morrow.
The Shannon won't give up its dead to-night."

" Have you — have you anything to drink ? " asked the
steward, who was shivering as in ague fit. " I'm cold and
wet. I think I am ill."

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Online LibraryJames MurphyConvict No. 25; or, the clearances of Westmeath : a story of the Whitefeet → online text (page 20 of 28)