James Murphy.

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

. (page 23 of 28)
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342 ''CONVICT No. 2^.''

quickened his pace it was still beside him. There seemed
to be no escape — no possible chance of avoiding it. More
than that, he felt by some certain sense within him, that
the ghostly partner of his walk knew what he was even
thinking of!

He had never looked in the direction of the shadow, or
whatever it was, that moved at his side. Nor could he da
so if all the world were to be reward of the effort !

Mile after mile — he knew not how many — he had no
thought of time or space, or no power of thinking there-
of — he travelled over the moorlands that stretched along:
the sea.

Every step was laden with terrors. Whatever agony he
suffered in prison was added to an hundred-fold as the
noiseless form beside him kept pace with him, moving as
he moved, hurrying as he hurried, halting as he halted in
the uncertain footing of the swampy low-lands.

Such night of terrors seldom man passed before !

Bodily pain the will can sometimes overcome; even, if
otherwise, the dulled senses become accustomed to it ; and
at the worst there are moments of relaxation from even the
most intense.

But no sense of relief came — or could come — to the
increasing fears that grew with every step he moved.

Was this the same visitant that, passing through bolt and
bar and fastened door, stood beside him in the darkness of
the prison-cell?

That one talked — spoke to him ; this one moved silently
beside him.

Oh ! terror unutterable !

He was weary with walking, yet still, with eyes averted,..


he moved on. The perspiration had burst through every
pore of his body ; had dried ; had burst forth again with a
fresh accession of insupportable — of supernatural — fear !

Would his agony never end ?

A light shone on his gaze — a faint light ; and presently a
building formed itself to his eyes out of the gloom.

He knew it well — knew it from its cruciform shape and
the sign that surmounted the gable-end.

It was a building that in the evil days of the penal laws —
and the not less evil days of antiquated bigotry in those
remote districts — could be only erected in some waste place,
in some no-man's land. It was the chapel.

Some sense of succour came to him. The light shining
in the humble thatched edifice, was the lamp burning in the
Sanctuary before the altar !

As if the silent being at his side knew what thought
possessed him, it moved closer to him !

He could almost feel its impalpable touch at his elbow !

He was passing by the opened door. Some ceremony
had been going on, now over, and the building though still
unclosed, was apparently empty. ,

He turned sharply — to go in.

It was his only chance for safety, relief, and succour !

At the moment he felt himself seized by something that,
as it touched his neck, seemed to burn him. A hot burning
breath was on his face ! The clutch seemed to rend his
frame !

It was like no touch of earthly thing !

With a cry of mortal fear, with a strength rendered super-
natural by this fresh accession of terror, in a frenzy of over-
powering agony, he burst from the thing that clutched

344 ''CONVICT No. 25."

him, and flew into the little church ! It seemed to him as
if a shriek of unearthly rage and despair rang through the
building from the door as, guided by the light of the pale
lamp dimly burning in the Sanctuary, he flew in that direc-

A statue stood at one side of the carpeted altar — shining
whitely in the gloom.

" Oh ! Comfortress of the afflicted ! "

He threw himself before it, clasped one arm around it ;
and, his strength now wholly given way, whilst the big
drops of perspiration burst from his forehead, fell senseless
beside it !



When Phelim awoke the sun was streaming in through the
chancel windows. The noise of the key turning in the doors
fell on his ears. Then he knew that, whilst he lay there
unconscious in the gloom, the chapel doors had been closed,
and that he had lain alone all through the night.

But what a blessed sense of relief and happiness seemed
within him as he raised himself from where he lay ! What
a consciousness that the days of his mental torture and
suffering were over !

Plainly, as if he saw it written on the walls around hina,
he knew that his respite from the bad past had come. How
or wherefore he knew it, it was beyond his power to tell ;
but knew it he did— and for a certainty.


What had happened him whilst he lay unconscious, from
whence had the succour come— who knows?

There are more things in heaven and on earth than are
dreamt of in philosophy. It were but poor existence this of
ours if the wonderful works of the Unknown were bounded
by man's limited knowledge.

But so it was, at any rate, be the explanation what it
may, that the load of terror was removed from the soul of
the afflicted man, and the light of happiness came there

He hid himself in a corner of the church, whilst the
attendant was opening the door, and remained unobserved.
Then he knew by the gathering of the people, and the
preparations at the altar, that Mass was going to be said I
And then he suddenly remembered that it was one of the
holidays of the year.

It was the first time he had assisted at Mass during ten
long years.

He was not, to look at — even unarrayed in convict dress
— a very dignified personage, nor was the edifice itself, with
its thatched roof and clay floor, a very gorgeous temple ;
but I doubt if from the very finest people kneeling at the
same moment in the basilica of St. Peter's in Rome, more
fervent or more acceptable prayers of thanksgiving went up
to the High Throne above. Indeed, as elegant apparel and
cultivated accents don't tell for much in that connexion, it
is hardly presumptuous to say there did not.

Mass over, and the people departing, Phelim rose from
his knees and departed with them.

Making his way by one conveyance or another, he finally
found himself the next evening on board the boat that went

346 ''CONVICT No, 25."

along the Shannon to Athlone. Not caring, however, to
face all at once the crowds likely to await the advent of
the boat there, he got off at a little landing-place, some few
miles lower down, intending to strike inland when it grew
dusk. Kevin Moore had told him where he should likely
be found, what distance he lived from Athlone, and in what
direction ; and Phelim had little doubt that he should
readily iind his way there.

Accordingly he left the boat, and in the mellow warmth
of the summer evening strolled along the banks of the river,
until dusk would permit of his proceeding unobserved to
his destination. For still, the vague fear of detection was
present to him.

Tired with his unceasing journeying, he selected a spot
where a barrier of stones went out some distance into the
river. It was a quiet, solitary place, and he could rest there

He sat himself down, and pulling out a flask with which
he had provided himself, and regaling himself therefrom,
looked at the river where it ran broken and murmuring
against the barrier of stones.

He felt thankful and content. With the certain con-
sciousness — how coming to him he did not know — that he
was safe from further evil troublings, he was, though tired
and way-worn, light-hearted, and, as a consequence, perhaps,
soon dropped off fast asleep.

He awoke quite of a sudden, startled out of his sleep
by — he knew not what !

The stars were glimmering in the sky overhead ; the river
in the gloom ran musically murmuring against the barrier
of rocks ; and the trees overhead hung their branches


in the still night above him. What had woke him? There
was something in his ears that had roused him, though he
could not remember what it was. He paused a moment to
think ? What was it ?

It was in vain to try to remember. Perhaps some inci-
dent of his dreaming brain.

It was late in the night ; he could see that by the multi-
tude of stars that shone in the sky overhead ; and it was
time for him to be going on his journey.

He was sore with travelling and with his rest on the
grass ; and he was about applying the flask again to his lips,
to create a warmth in his frame, when a sound came on his
ears — a moan I Then all at once he knew that it was that
sound that had awoke him !

He listened again to catch the direction whence it

Again it came to him. A faint half moan, half sigh, as
of some one dying ! It came from the direction of the
river — from the barrier of stones that he had noticed before
he went to sleep.

Without wasting a moment, he hurried in the direction,
but he could see nothing. Whatever it was, it must be
further out. Taking off his shoes that he might not slip on
the dank moss or the stones, he carefully picked his way
outwards to where the current of the river broke strongly
against them.

That moan again ! Where did it come from ?

Looking more intently he noticed a black something
lying against the stones, as if flung there by the rushing

Taking his careful way thereto, he stooped down. What I

348 ''CONVICT No. 25."

Tlie form of a woman ! What brought her there, in the
drowning river !

With ready hands he lifted the form, and stepping from
stone to stone bore her to the bank.

He felt her pulse. She was not dead — though not very
far from it. He poured some drops from his flask between
her parted lips — thank God that there was some still left
for the purpose !

What was to be done ? The creature would die — must
die — if she were left there in the cold. Was there noplace
to which she could be brought ? — no one that could afford
shelter to a dying person ?

Phelim Rorke leaving the senseless woman, ran to the
summit of a little hill that lay behind where he had lain.
Scanning the neighbourhood for sign of habitation to which
he could convey her, he failed to see any. Alas ! the
clearances had swept houses and families from that neigh-
bourhood and made it a waste whereon naught but cattle

He was in utter despair.

Suddenly a light flashed on his gaze. It came from not
a very far distance. Marking the direction with his eye —
for the light died as swiftly as it appeared — he sped swiftly
forwards. His way led through brake and swamp and
brambles, but he kept on undeviatingly. Life was sacred,
and he, the runner, had tasted enough of sorrow not to make
him feel for the miseries of others.

Finally he came to the house. Much to his surprise he
found it to be an uninhabited cabin, in which a log-fire
burned. Much to his surprise, also, he saw that the door
and doorposts lay across the threshold, as if a struggle had


taken place there. But this occupied his attention but for
a moment.

More to the purpose was the fact that there was a fire
burning, and that there was plenily of fuel in the place^
Throwing on several logs of wood, he went back as quickly
as he could to the place where the drowning form lay. lie
felt her pulse again. Thank God ! there was still life
there !

Lifting the form in his arms, lightly and tenderly as he
might that of a child, he essayed to bear her to the cottage.
He was not very strong, and his life in prison was not cal-
culated to put much muscle in him ; but with the courage
and determination there was in him he would have borne
the weight had the distance been twice as far. Still it was
a great relief when, his dripping burthen still in his arms, he
stepped once more over the fallen door, and gained the
welcome shelter of the fire.

In the days of old, Phelim, as we have already seen, lived
by the sea shore. He was familiar with the means taken
for the resuscitation of drowning persons. These now he
put into practice ; but, although he had the satisfaction of
seeing the pulse grow stronger, there was no sign of returning
consciousness. Marvelling much over this unusual feature,
he bethought him that there must be something more than
mere immersion in the water amiss.

A deep wound in the head explained the matter. She
had fallen downwards into the stream, and so had caused
the wound.

He was much perplexed what to do. Surgical assistance
he knew to be necessary, but how could he go for it and
leave the insensible .'^irl there — for with the daylight he

350 "COI^i^JCT No. 25/'

saw she was young, and that her features were, making
allowance for circumstances, not at all uncomely.

It was out of the question. He could not leave the
dying girl all alone in the doorless cabin. It was impos-

It was the next day when the patient manifested symptoms
of recovery and opened her eyes.

"I hope you are better, my dear ? " inquired Phelim
with a kindness and tenderness that might have done
honour to the chivalry of a Crusader.

" Where am I ? "

"You're safe, my dear. Keep quiet and rest yourself.
You're in safe hands."

"Where is Keliff?"

" I don't know, my dear," answered Phelim, not knowing
what other answer to make, for he noticed a sudden look
of terror in her eyes, as she asked the question ; " he's not

The wandering eyes closed again, and as they did, for a
moment Phelim thought they had closed for ever.

But they had not, and some muttering sounds after a
time came from her lips. He stooped down to listen.

He started up in astonishment.

" Kevin Moore ! — Norah Moore ! Good God ! How
does she happen to know them? — and why does she
mention their names ? "

He poured a few drops more from his flask between her
lips — for, sorely as he needed refreshment himself, he spared
it for her.

The stimulant revived her. She opened her eyes again.

" Are you better ? Do you feel stronger ? "


*' I feel better— a little."

*' Do you think you could speak without distressing your-

A faint motion of the head indicated assent.

" Take a little drop of this, an' maybe you might. There
now ! — you're better."

She raised her hand to her head.

" I know, my dear — I know. It's there the harm is. But
you'll get better. I am sure you will."

A feeble dissent, with a motion of the head, showed
that she, like himself, did not believe in his encouraging

" D'ye think you could spake ? Because if you could
I'd like you to answer me this : You spoke of Kevin Moore
just now What's that ? What do you say ? "

" Hanged ! "

Intently as he listened this was the only word that reached
his ears.

" Take your time and rest yourself," said Phelim in a
paroxysm of impatience ; *' what's that you said ? "

" He will be hanged." Clearly but faintly.

" Good God ! What's that you say ? Is it of Kevin
Moore you're speaking ? "

Another slight motion of the head indicated affirmation.

" Who'll hang him ? What'll he be hanged for ? "

The only intelligible words that reached his ears were
« the burnin'."

" What burnin' ? Good God ! Isn't this awful ? " cried
Phelim in utter dismay, as the girl again closed her eyes.
But after a short time she opened them.

" Did he — do any ^p^m ? " asked Phelim, anxious to

352 ''CONVICT No. 25."

utilize the uncertain rtioments of consciousness, to glean the
information that he somehow judged was of importance.


*'An, why will they hang him? Is he accused in the
■wrong ?


"Where is he now?"

The only word that fell on his ear was significant as if she
had said a thousand. It was only the one word "Jail."

" The Lord protect us ! You don't say that ? "

There was no answer.

" He's in jail — an' accused in the wrong of a burnin'. Is
that it ? " asked Phelim hurriedly, summarizing the informa-
tion he had gleaned. " Is that it ? "

" Yes," very faintly.

" An' you know that it's in the wrong ? "

" Yes," more faintly.

" And, maybe, if you had the strength you could prove
it — could show that he was innocent?"

" Yes " ; this time scarcely audible.

" Merciful Providence ! " cried Phelim in dismay, as
he looked at the eyes before him, again darkening into
unconsciousness, and, with some strange presentment,
connected her drowning form in the river with the hinted
charge against his friend. " What's to be done ? Sure as
fate 1 there's some trouble in store for Kevin. An' this poor
thing was dhrowned and murdered — nothing else. See
here ! my dear," said he, addressing the half conscious
girl, " I'm going to Athlone — it can't be very far from this —
to get a doctor. I must go — you'll die if I don't. You'll
be safe here on this bed of rushes an' heath, till I kum


back. I won't be long. An', plaise God! I'll bring
assistance back wid me — don't fear. Good-bye — an' God
bless you ! I won't be long."

Erecting the fallen door, and placing it for protection in
its place, he passed out into the dusky evening.

Swiftly as his feet could carry him he ran along the river-
side. He knew Athlone was on the Shannon, and that by
keeping to the stream he should reach it.

With a presentment that there was unknown danger
occurring to Kevin, and that his safety depended in some
way on the recovery of the wounded girl — that the, to him,
saving knowledge was in her unconscious brain — he sped
along with the speed of startled deer.

Never before did swifter foot pace the moory lands
bordering on the Shannon. If he had been flying for his
own life he could not have bent himself to the task more

Every moment was of what importance he knew not, but
in its very vagueness seeming larger and more impressive.
One thing was absolutely necessary : medical assistance
should be provided for the injured girl, before her Hfe
ebbed wholly away.

Breathless and perspiring he gained the street of Athlone,
what time the clamour was at its height; what time the
cry of " Prisoner's escaped ! " rang through the streets, and
Rupert Clarendon at the head of his dragoons rode out
under the barrack archway.

354 ''CONVICT No. 25."



When the rescuing hands had surrounded the prison-van,
and torn Kevin thereout, the first thing done was to wrap
him in a heavy frieze overcoat similar to that worn by
Charley, and hurry him through the crowded streets, where
in a second or two, and in the all-pervading excitement, his
identity was quickly lost.

" Follow me, Kevin, for your life," whispered Charley in
his ear.

"Whereto, Charley?"

" Never mind," said Charley ; " follow me."

And accordingly the rescued prisoner quietly glided after
him, unrecognised, through the hurrying crowds.

In pursuance of the plan sketched by the rescuers, and
so far carried out, it was determined that the place of his
hiding should be in the principal hotel of the town. It
was easy enough to effect this, for the proprietor was friendly
to the people — among whom his business found its largest
clientele— 3ind. for this latter reason, and for others, was quite
ready to fall into plans of the leaders of the newly-formed
Society. There was wisdom in the scheme, too, for being
the most unlikely place that a fugitive would seek shelter
in, it was the last that would be searched. There would,
therefore, be time enough to find some means of getting
him out of the country. Few would suspect the principal
inn as his hiding-place ; and it was quite certain that every


hut and cabin in the town and farm-house in the country
would be searched before the officers of the law would think
of seeking there.

When Charley, therefore, turned into the hotel, pushing
its inner glass door before him quietly and collectedly, Kevin
caught him by the arm.

" Where are you going, Charley ? Surely you are not
going in here ! "

" Yes, I am," said Charley. " Don't say a word, but
follow me. Walk quietly and coolly after me."

They walked slowly and deliberately up the stairs, meeting
no servant, for they were all out in the streets watching the
curious and inexplicable tumult in the distance \ but also
meeting no proprietor.

" Where the deuce can he be ? " thought Charley in
dismay, as he walked up the stairs; " he promised to meet
us here."

" Isn't this a strange place to come, Charley ? " again
whispered Kevin, as the uproar outside fell with renewed
force on his ears.

" No ; it's the best place — and the safest."


" Yes. We arranged it so. You will be safer here than

" I hope you're right," whispered the late prisoner

" I know I am. But the landlord should be here to
meet us — confound him ! "

" Did he promise ? "

" Yes, he did. And he is absent now when every minute
is worth a year. May the devil ! But he will be here

356 ''CONVICT No. 25."

soon, Kevin ; and meantime," said Charley, glancing into a
sitting-room, " here's an empty apartment. Step in here,
and we can lock the door and wait his return."

Pushing Kevin in before him, he quietly turned the key
in the door, and fastened themselves securely therein.

" We're safer here, Kevin ; we couldn't be safer unless

Hallo ! Who's this ? "

This exclamation was drawn from him, just as he turned
to address his friend, after locking the door.

For — unseen, in the recess of the window, and in the
heavy curtains that shaded it, a gentleman had been standing
gazing out into the street ; and now, attracted by noises in
his private sitting-room, he turned round to see who the
intruders were.

As he did so his eyes fell on Kevin's face, and Kevin's on
his, at one and the same moment.

The latter started back in dismay, cannoning against his

" It isn't possible, I meet you here again," said the
strange gentleman, advancing towards Kevin with out^
stretched hand.

*' It is, indeed," said Kevin hurriedly, hesitating to take,
under the circumstances, the proffered hand, but finally
doing so.

"When did you come here?'*

" Some weeks ago."

" Well, this is certainly wonderful. I did not expect to
meet you here."

"When did you come?" asked Kevin, to break the
awkwardness of the moment, and not clearly knowing what,
else to say.


" This evening. I have been attached, as Military Doctor,
to the regiment here. I have not yet called on the colonel ;
but, having just dined, mean now to do so. And what do
■you here ? "

" This," said Kevin, "is my native place."

'* Ah, so I think I remember you telling me."

" I hope you sustained no injury after the night in Paris."

" No. Thanks to you, my good friend, else I should have
a different story to tell. But," said he, with a sudden re-
currence of thought, " what brought you back here ? Did
you get a release or "

The strange gentleman did not finish his query, for at the
moment a squadron of dragoons galloped hurriedly through
the street outside, the crowds opening and making a lane
for them — which incident catching on his attention diverted
his thoughts in that direction.

" This seems a rather lively place," said he. " Are Irish
towns usually as stormy as this ? "

"No," said Kevin, whilst Charley laying his hand on his
arm silently warned him to decamp. But the former stood
his ground, unheeding of the impatient touch.

" There is something unusual on foot, then ? "

"There is."

"What might it be? If Ireland is like this generally,
I must say it deserves the rollicking character it has got.
What is up now ? "

" A prisoner's escaped."

*• Escaped ! "

" Yes, from the soldiers."

'' What was he ? "

^* A prisoner— sentenced to death ! "

358 ''CONVICT No. 25."

"Eh? For what? Murder?"

« No ; for "

"Who was he?"

" I," said Kevin calmly — whilst his words fell with affright
on his companion's ears.

" Kevin," he whispered, " for the love of God follow me.
Fly, or you are lost. There is yet time. I shall lock the
door, and prevent any one following us ! "

But Kevin unheeded his whisper ; and declined to move.
He felt, and truly, that chance of flight for him was lost.

"You ! " cried the stranger in astonishment.

" My old luck has followed me. I was found guilty of
what my hands never did," said Kevin hurriedly. " I have
been tried and sentenced. I have been rescued, and I am
here ! "

" This is an awkward business. I am very sorry to hear
it — very sorry to see you in this predicament," said the
stranger gravely.

"I am in your hands — my Hfe is in your hands," said
Kevin in desperation.

" In my hands ! " said the gentleman, with a quiet smile.
" Why should it be in my hands ? What have I to do with
the matter ? "

" As you belong to the army — and "

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Online LibraryJames MurphyConvict No. 25; or, the clearances of Westmeath : a story of the Whitefeet → online text (page 23 of 28)