James Murphy.

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

. (page 24 of 28)
Online LibraryJames MurphyConvict No. 25; or, the clearances of Westmeath : a story of the Whitefeet → online text (page 24 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Kevin paused — indeed not knowing what to say.

" If I belong to the Service here," said the gentleman,,
anxious to remove an impression, which he saw existed on
Kevin's mind, " my business is certainly not that of arresting
or detecting escaping prisoners — more particularly when
that prisoner is one to whom I myself owe my life. I am-
not a policeman, remember."


" Then you won't " Charley was about to break in

with a question, but halted after the first words, finding the
query he was about to put an awkward one.

" I will not inform on your whereabouts you were about
to say. Relieve your mind of that impression. I will not.
I am in no way bound to do so. Quite the contrary. I
shall be very glad — hearing you say you are innocent, and
I am sure your words are true — to see you free. At least,
if I cannot aid you, I shall do nothing to prevent it. And
now, as this is an awkward meeting, I shall leave. If I can
be of service, reckon upon me at any time. I trust we may
yet meet under happier circumstances."

Saying which, the prison doctor once more shook hands
with his former patient ; left the apartment ; stayed outside
a moment to kindle a light ; and then, cigar in mouth, with
the easiest notichalance possible, descended the stairs, and
passed out into the street on bis way to the barracks to
report his arrival to the colonel.

But he had scarcely emerged into the street, when a
sudden shock dashed not only the cigar from his lips, but
the breath nearly out of his body.

" What the devil I — Where are you driving to after this
confounded fashion ? " exclaimed the doctor, catching hold
forcibly, by the collar, of a little man who, with head bent
down, had been rushing as fast as he could through the
street, perfectly heedless of the crowds thereon, of the
clamour or its cause, or of whoso might be in his way — and
in consequence of which rather inconsiderate proceeding
had come full tilt with his head against the young gentle-
man's breast with great force. " What in the name of the
Furies makes you run in this way ? — you confounded fool ! "

36o ''CONVICT No. 25."

— at the same time shaking him roughly, and apparently
not quite decided whether he should administer him there
and then a very proper kicking.

Whatever hesitation he had as to this latter, was quickly put
an end to by the precipitate runner himself, who with equal
impulsiveness tearing himself free, stepped back a paceortwo,
and, lifting his head, surveyed the gentleman for a moment.

" Tare an ages ! It isn't you that's in it, is it, doctor ?
No, it can't be ! Oh, doctor, honey, 'twas the Lord Himself
threw you in my way ! "

" I should rather think," said the doctor angrily, for he
had been butted against rather severely, " it was the devil
threw you in my way, my friend. But stay ! — who are you
that happens to know me ? "

'* Ah, don't mind that now. You're the very man I want.
I was hurryin' for a doctor this minit. Glory be to God !
that I kum across you."

" Stay a moment ! You're not "

*' Clareman ? Indeed I am."

" And so you, too, are here ? "

" Ah, doctor, we haven't time to talk about that now ;
you're wantin' badly."


"About three or four miles from here."

" There or four miles ! Nonsense, man ; you must get
another doctor."

" Faix I won't. Nobody must come but yourself. As I
said afore, 'twas God threw you in my way. It's a case of
murder, that's what it is."

" Murder ! " echoed the doctor.

" That's what it is — murder and dhrownin'."


" What on earth have I to do with that ? I don't know
anything about the matter. I haven't been quite an hour
in Athlone yet."

" Sorra may care ! you must come. An* we're waitin' too
long as it is."

"But what have I to do with a case of murder or drown-
ing. " It's the police and the coroner that "

" Hama mon dhoulV said Phelim, with great insistence ;
** no, it's you that's wantin'. You can save her life."

" How can I bring the dead to life ? "

" Dead ! Who said she was dead ? "

" Isn't it a case of murder ? '*

" Tare an ages ! to be sure it is."

"And drowning?"

" Ay, it is."

*' Then what use could I be — even if I could go, which
I cannot. I cannot bring the dead to life."

" Blood an ouns ! Sure she's not dead."

" Then it isn't a case of murder."

" Sure it's all as one. 'T would be murder, if I didn't
save her."

"I am not clear that I understand you, even
yet," said the doctor perplexedly and making a movement
as if he wanted to sheer off from his new acquaint-

" Blessed Providence ! this is how it is," said Phelim,
breathless, afraid he should lose this fortunate chance of
finding a doctor. " I am comin' along the banks of the
Shannon. 1 find a woman dhrownin' in the river. I lift
her out, and find that she was thrown in with the side of
her head broken in. I learn that she can save a prisoner

362 ''CONVICT No. 25."

now in jail. An innocent man. You know him, Convict
No. 25."

"No. 25?" said the doctor, recurring to the interview

** Ay, she knows he's innocent, and can prove it. 'Twas
to keep her from provin' it she was flung in, in my

" Where is this person ? "

"A few miles from here. We'll be no time reachin' it.
Do, for God's sake, doctor — come ! "

Phelim Rorke, as he saw a softening of the doctor towards
him, renewed his entreaties.

" How could we get there ? "

" A car will take us in no time."

" Well, I suppose I had better go," said the doctor with
no great eagerness. " Her head broken in, you say ? "

" Ay, an' it's only the mercy of God if she lives till we
get there."

" Well, I have no instruments nor appliances. I see an
apothecary's over the way. I shall probably get what I
want there. Provide a car as quickly as possible. Here is
a sovereign "

"I have plenty of money — lots," said Phelim in rare
delight at the doctor's acquiescence, and mentally blessing
his stars at the fortunate meeting.

And without further ado, he hurried away, before the
Englishman had time to take his hand out of his pocket.

" Well, this is a pretty nice experience of Ireland for one
afternoon," thought the latter, as with difficulty he made
his way through the tumultuous crowds, across the street to
the apothecary's shop. '* First I met a prisoner under sen-


tence of death, rescued from the law, and apparently brought
to the principal establishment in the town as a proper and
fitting place to secrete him. Next I am brought — by an
escaped convict, too ! — to a patient who has been both
murdered and drowned at one and the same time. And
all this before I am quite an hour in the place ! If the rest
of my period of service be as lively as this, I shall not die
of ennui in Ireland at any rate."

When the doctor had completed his purchase in the
shop, and had them parcelled up, he looked towards the
door, and saw the uncouth face of Convict No. 37 looking
inwards therefrom.

" I see you have made no delay," said he as he came out.
** What's this you have got on the car ? " pointing to a large
bundle which was piled up thereon.

" Blankets," answered Phelim laconically.

" You have your thoughts about you at any rate," said
the doctor admiringly. " Now drive on as quickly as you
can, for I want to be back before the barracks close."

Phelim did not need to be told twice, and conveying the
intimation in a whisper to the driver, they took their seats,
and as soon as they got free of the crowded streets, drove
with great rapidity in the direction of the abandoned cottage.

There was but little spoken on the way.

Phelim Rorke was too busy thinking of the poor girl
dying in the hut, and was filled with apprehensions lest she
should die before they reached her.

The Englishman, on the other hand, was revolving in his
mind the curious fact that here he was, before he had been
more than a day in Ireland — and not much more than an
hour in Athlone — the centre of some plot of which he knew

364 ''CONVICT No. 25."

nothing other than that there was murder and wrong and
mystery in it.

" Well," he thought, " it is a nice beginning — and forced
into it almost in spite of myself! I am a consummate
fool — that's precisely what I am. However, I shall see the
end of it now, as I am here. What an extraordinary land
this is ! And what an extremely active life my two precious
convicts seem to be leading — with the noose almost around
.their necks. Stay ! It's not right to say that, though ;
they saved my life once — and I owe them both a good turn
for it. And — I shall pay it ! "

With which resolve, he dismissed all further annoying
thoughts of his position \ and, letting his eyes fall on the
river, now sparkling with the stars that had crept out
through the mists on high, wondered how it could look in
the daylight, and whether he should, during the autumn
days, have good fishing therein.



Colonel Montfort was sitting in his office in the barrack,
weary and disheartened.

In his capacity, as commandant of the garrison, he had
made one of the number of magistrates sitting beside the
judge during the earlier portion of the trial ; but had left
when Norah had given her evidence. He had no doubt
whatever as to the nature of the verdict that would be


brought in, nor yet as to the sentence that would be

But, withal, he was dissatisfied, uncomfortable and per-
plexed. There was a vague feeling over him that the youth
under trial was innocent. There was an inscrutable air
pervading the surroundings that somehow impressed him
with the belief that they were incompatible with the guilt of
the prisoner.

It might have arisen from the appearance of the latter
himself; it might have arisen from the unusual grace and
beauty of the two girls that had come to bear witness to his
innocence ; or it might have come from the disbelief in his
guilt clearly manifest in the faces of the crowding country-
men : but whatever the reasons that gave birth to it, it was
rankling uncomfortably in his heart.

*' I am not quite sure," thought the officer, as he made
effort to read some military documents placed before him,
and failed, " that I have not been assisting at a judicial
murder. What would have induced him to burn the mansion
at a time when perfect secrecy was essential to his liberty
and safety ? He does not look like an incendiary. And
then — that sister of his ! To think that she — with her grace,
her beauty, her refinement — would come deliberately to
forswear herself ! — Pshaw ! the thing is impossible ! It's a
strange land ! I wish I were out of it. I wish I could
exchange to England — to the colonies — anywhere."

The colonel's reflections were suddenly broken in upon
by a loud and hurried knocking at the outer door.

Before he had time to call " Come in," the inner door was
pushed open, and the sergeant of the guard rushed in

366 ''CONVICT NO. 25."

" Colonel Montfort ! there is "

He paused for want of breath.

" Well ? Go on. What's amiss ? "

" You must order the troops out."

" The troops out ! For what ? "

" There's a disturbance in the streets.'*

*' What sort of a disturbance ? Of what nature ? "

" The prisoner's been rescued."

"Rescued!" said the Colonel, startingtohis feet. "Where?"

" In the streets."

" In the streets ! " said the Colonel, bewildered.

" Yes, on the way from the courthouse to the jail."

"By whom?"

"The people."

" Where were the guard ? "

" Beaten and disarmed."

" Send Lieutenant Clarendon to me ! — quick ! And tell
the bugler to sound the boot and saddle ! "

The Colonel stood for a moment, in utter amazement, at
the boldness and effrontery of this attempt. So much so,
indeed, that Rupert, who attended immediately, stood for
some time before him without arresting his attention.
" You sent for me, sir," he said, finally.
" Oh, this you, Rupert ! There is some disturbance in
the streets. The guard of soldiers has been attacked, and
the prisoner rescued by the mob. Take the dragoons with
you at once. Quell the riot, whatever it is ; disperse the
crowds and retake the prisoner ! Use no more force than
is necessary ; but, if necessary, use your arms — and in any
case enforce order. I shall send a regiment of rifles after
you. Clear the streets, and retake the prisoner ! "


Rupert Clarendon, as much amazed as his Colonel, was
the next moment in the saddle, and at the head of the
dragoons, flying through the barrack gates and into the
streets ; not clearly certain what it was he was called on to do.

But there was no foe to fight. The work had been done
and over. Hurrying groups filled the streets, disorderly in
their rushings but not riotous. The houses on either side
were crowded with people who rushed thereinto, they knew
not from what danger ; the overturned van, with its entour-
age of fallen horses and men, stood in disarray in the street ;
but trace of the fugitive there was none ! He had vanished
. — no one knew where !

It was not easy for horsemen — of all others — to follow
and seek him out. They might clear the streets — and
did; the people disappearing rapidly by bye streets and
across the fields to their homes, near or afar, or crowding
into the taverns and ale houses, which were filled to suffo-
cation ; but what further lay for them to do. It would be
absurd for them to gallop along one road when a dozen
converged on the town ; equally absurd to follow a road at
all, when it was palpable that the rescued prisoner would
not follow any beaten track in his efforts to gain shelter.

Wherefore, when the streets were cleared, all signs of
disturbance vanished ; and, order so far restored, Rupert
rode back with his dragoons to report to the Colonel, and
to receive, if need be, further orders.

" Lieutenant Clarendon," said the Colonel, when Rupert
had informed him of the results, " Sir Hardinge has been
here with me — so has his lordship, the judge. The law has
been most flagrantly set at defiance, and the prisoner
rescued by an outrageous, but well conceived and apparently

368 ''CONVICT No. 25."

well-organised, stratagem. He must be recovered at all
hazards, and brought back — placed within the bars of the
jail again."

" But how ? " asked Rupert, who felt hurt and pained at
the severe and cold manner and address of the Colonel.

" The prisoner has escaped," said the Colonel severely.
" He will — so Sir Hardinge thinks, and so too the judge —
endeavour to make for his home. You must go there at
once, and if there, seize him."

" I, Colonel Montfort ? " said Rupert, in a state of mental
agony, as this new feature of the business disclosed itself to

" You ; and why not, sir ? "

" It is hardly soldier's duty this," said Rupert, in despair.
•* It is policeman's duty."

" It is a soldier's duty to enforce the law of his sovereign,
sir," said the Colonel sharply, "and to prevent its being
outraged or set at defiance."
" But in this case ? "

** Well, in this case ? " said the Colonel, as his eyebrows
descended in wrath.

" In this instance, Colonel Montfort," said Rupert, with

deep embarrassment, "if it be absolutely necessary that "

" Absolutely necessary, sir," said the Colonel, in unmis-
takable anger and surprise .

" That this should be done," said Rupert, hurrying to get
through what he had to say lest the Colonel should indig-
nantly and abruptly stop him, " I would feel obliged — you
would place me under great obligation — if you would
appoint another officer in my place."

The Colonel drew himself up in a towering rage.


"Excuse me, Lieutenant Clarendon," said he, quietly,
but with a voice thick with suppressed passion, " did I hear
you aright ? "

" I cannot go — indeed I cannot — Colonel Mont fort. My
heart, my very nature, rebels against this sort of duty."

" See, sir ! this bears out fully what Sir Hardinge has just
told me. I am not quite certain at this moment that my
proper duty would not be to place you under arrest and
have you tHed by courtmartial ! But "

" Colonel Montfort ! just hear me — just one word "

" But I spare you, not for your own sake," said the angry
officer, " but for those of your family who have long been
friends of mine. Go, sir ! and execute your duty ! And
remember, so long as you are again under my commands I
that a soldier's first lesson is obedience — and the second to
uphold the laws of his King and country. Go, sir ! "

With a sore and distracted heart Rupert passed out from
the colonel's presence. His words had stung him, and he
knew they were deserved. But what could he do ? Was
he once more to be the unwilling instrument of bringing
sorrow and trouble to these afflicted hearts — was he once
more to enter the home, where he had been made so warmly
welcome, on this hateful mission ?

Truly he would have done anything at the moment to
save them from trouble. He would have charged single-
handed on a battery of artillery,, and died at the cannon's
mouth, rather than cause the blue eyes, that had so
lately brightened at his coming, further shame ; would
have suffered any misfortune — but dishonour — rather than
undergo the confusion of meeting her reproachful glance in

his miserable and hateful quest.

2 A

370 ''CONVICT No. 25."

Scarcely knowing what he did, but with a bewildered hope
that some accident might happen to him on the way, and so
prevent his reaching there, Rupert mounted his horse and,
placing himself at the head of his detachment, cantered
through the street, and on to the road that led to Carrigbrae.

Never did gallant soldier ride on more hateful errand.
With maledictions on the country — the landlords and the
tenants alike — and with a pain and confusion and humilia-
tion he had never felt before at his heart and whirling
through his brain, he rode on.

Meanwhile the colonel resumed his seat at his table,
littered with reports and miUtary documents. But it was
out of the question for him to pay any attention to these
now. If Rupert's mind was tortured, the colonel's was by
no means easy.

During the interview with which Sir Hardinge had favoured
him, he had learned a good deal of Rupert's doings which
surprised and distressed him. That he — an officer of His
Majesty's service — should have been consorting with
returned convicts and conspirators shocked him. That he
should have become so infatuated about the convict's sister
distressed him. That she was beautiful, exquisite — endowed
with a grace and winsomeness rarely seen, could not be
denied. But to think of their different positions ! What
would be said of this in England ? What would Rupert's
aristocratic relations think of it ? And what a laxity of rule
and command would attach to himself, that these things
should have been going on, under his very eyes, and with
the cognizance of the whole neighbourhood, without his
knowing of it. The whole matter was annoying; and it
was not made any pleasanter by this news of the prisoner's


escape. Whilst the colonel would not be sorry — on the
contrary, would have been very glad to see him set free —
escaping in this manner was not only an outrage on the law,
but an offence to himself and to his command. He was
therefore determined that no effort should be spared to
make him amenable to the law.

In the midst of his annoyances and perplexities a rap came
a second time on the door of his office. The colonel had
been sitting with his feet towards the fire and his back to
the door, and was gazing in disturbed reverie into the fire-
gleams, when the knock fell on his ears.

"Some further news about this confounded business,"
thought he. Then, aloud, without moving his gaze from the
fire— "Well?"

There was no answer to this query, so thinking he had
not been heard, he said more loudly and sharply, " Well ?
what is it ? "

Finding no response to this either, he turned round with
a blended feeling of anger and surprise — when he suddenly
started up.

" Why 1 — no ! it cannot be you ! " advancing forward and
shaking hands most cordially with the newcomer, who in
heavy travelling dress, although it was summer time, stood
a little inside the door, the sergeant beside him. A stout
low-sized man with a hearty, well-favoured, but weather-
beaten face.

" I hardly think it can be you, though," said the stranger
warmly returning the greeting, "if this be the kind
of reception you give an old friend. Is this your Irish
hospitality ? "

"Why, in truth," said Colonel Montfort, laughing, and in

372 ''CONVICT No. 25."

great delight, " I was v/rapped in a reverie 8.nd a rather un-
pleasant one. I little expected to see your welcome face
when I looked around. Where did you come from ? Have
you dropped out of the skies or risen out of the Shannon —
or what ? "

"Neither— I "

"Never mind. You can tell me again. Take off that
heavy coat. Stay a moment ! you had better come to my
quarters. We shall have more leisure to talk there. And
so you have come to Athlone. Who could have dreamt of
seeing you here ? "

"Why you don't suppose I sailed across the country.
Why shouldn't I turn up here ? " said the stranger pleasantly,
as he cast his eyes around the colonel's luxurious quarters
when they reached there.

" Upon my word, I don't know. Only that you would be
the last man — and the most welcome — that I could expect
to see here. There ! take that arm-chair," said the colonel,
as he took forth a decanter and some cigars, "and tell me
what blessed angel guided your footsteps in this direction."

" Why, you see," said the stranger, divesting himself of
his overcoat, and taking the proffered seat, " I was on my
way to Cork to take charge of a new ship there, and remem-
bering that you were in Athlone, thought I would veer to
the west and look you up."

" For which a thousand thanks. Try that maraschino —
or would you prefer brandy ? You sailors like something

" If it's all the same to you, my dear Montfort, I shall
take some of your Irish whiskey. I don't think there is
anything like it, short of ambrosia."


" All right. Here you are ! Cigars, too — strong or mild
as you like. And now," said Colonel Montfort, taking an
arm-chair opposite and disposing his feet on the fender,' as
he nipped the end of his cigar, **tell me all the news.
Where have you been, and what are you up to ? What a
long time it is since we sailed to Calcutta together ? "

" It is a long time. You seem to have comfortable
quarters here," said the stranger, rather digressingly, as he
looked again around the handsome apartment.

" Better than being at sea ?" inquired the colonel, laughing,

" Yes — sometimes. How long have you been here ? "

" About three years. And if you believe me, my dear
captain, I didn't care how soon I was journeying with you
again to India."

*' What ! and leave all this ease and luxury? "

" Just so," said the colonel ; " and leave all this ease and
luxury. I was just wishing it, or something of the kind, a
few seconds before you came in."

" Place not pleasant ? "

" No — not pleasant. Quite the contrary. But I am not
going to trouble you with my grievances before you are well
seated in my house. Tell me about yourself? Do you
like that whiskey, to begin with ? "

" It's splendid," said the captain. " It ought to be grand
to live in a land where this can be always had in calm or in

' '* It's one of the few things — the few good things — this
blessed country possesses," said Montfort, again laughing.
*' What do you do to Cork ? "

*' To take command of a troop ship."

'" Indeed. Going where to ? "

374 ''CONVICT No. 25."

" To where you mentioned just now, India."

"I wish to the Lord I was going with you," said the
colonel, heartily.

" I wish you were — though, as for me, I should rather
have my old ship."

"Why did you select this command? Hadn't you your
choice ? "



" Why, you see, Montfort, my dear fellow, my last voyage
was unfortunate. My ship was wrecked, and I was one of
the few — the very few — that escaped with their lives. With
nothing hut their lives."

" Ran on the rocks ? "

"Why, no. She foundered in one of the most terrific
gales that ever, I do believe, swept the seas."

" You were fortunate to save your life. But you were
always too good a fellow to be drowned, Jervis. Ship and

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 24 26 27 28

Online LibraryJames MurphyConvict No. 25; or, the clearances of Westmeath : a story of the Whitefeet → online text (page 24 of 28)