James Murphy.

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

. (page 7 of 28)
Online LibraryJames MurphyConvict No. 25; or, the clearances of Westmeath : a story of the Whitefeet → online text (page 7 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


recalling with an effort his mind from the scenes and
memories on which it had been dwelling.

" That's strange now," said Phelim, " for my wife's
name — her maiden name — was Mary Moore."

" Well, that's another bond between us," said Kevin, with
some slight degree of airiness in his manner. " And from
this day out "

" Would you mind callin' * Phelim Rorke ' again," said
the Convict earnestly, interrupting him. " I want to see
whether I'd know myself by it. It's so long since I heard it.
Ten years, you know."

" Certainly," said Kevin. " Phelim "

" No, no. Wait until I stand wid my back to you at the
end of the cell. Now call," said he, as he assumed that
position.



92 ''CONVICT No, 25."

" Phelim Rorke ! " said Kevin.

" Call it again," said the other.

" Phelim Rorke ! "

Phelim turned round, walked back depressedly, and re-
seated himself on the side of the bed.

" No ; I wouldn't know myself by it," said he, " only that
it was Mary's name — the light of glory to her ! — I wouldn't
know it was mine. It's so long since I heard it, you know.
Ten years ! Think of them ! Ten years ! Never anything
but 37 — always 37. How could I know myself by it now ? "

" It isn't easy," said Kevin, who was reflecting within
himself whether the day would ever come to him when the
sound of his own name would become strange and unfamiliar
to him. It was with something of a shudder he thought of
such a contingency.

" At any rate, from this day out," said he, breaking off
this gloomy reflection, "Phelim, we're to remain sworn
friends. You have saved my life, and you have tied me to
you by the strongest ties of gratitude and affection."

" Don't ! Don't spake like that," said Phelim. " It softens
me. I don't think I am the same man at all for the past
three weeks. An' I feel worse since you got well enough to
spake. It's like to me as if I was a little boy again, and
heard people talkin' to me. It's ten years since I talked so
much to anyone. Always * you there, 37 I D — n you I why
don't you stand straight?' or * 37 I see you ! Blow your
eyes, why don't you pick your oakum ? ' or ' why don't you
hammer that jumper better ? ' or ' did you never handle a

crowbar before, you lazy Irish ! ' Them was always

the cry of the warder," continued Phelim, " an' God knows
they wor like music in my ears — bad as they wor^ — when



THE CONVICT CELL, 93

I'd come out after forty-eight hours bread and water, in a
darkened cell — athout a stim of light, an' as silent as if it
was, ay miles, down under the ground."

" They never put me there" said Kevin.

" They put me often enough there," said Phelim.

" What used you do ? "

" What used I do ? Nothin'. What did I ever do to
get sentenced at all ? Nothin'. But sometimes they'd put
me in because I was so sick — so blind with sickness — that
I couldn't see the oakum afore me, or so wake I couldn't
hould the jumper or the crowbar in my hand. More times,
maybe, I'd be thinkin' of home — God help me ! as if I had
a home to think of — an' would forget to salute the warders.
Or, maybe, ov a night whin I wouldn't sleep a wink until
mornin' — an' that was two or three times every week — an'
then I might sleep so heavy that I wouldn't hear the call ;
or, maybe, I'd be so blind and wake wid sickness I couldn't
find my clothes — though, God knows, I hadn't far to go to
find 'em — or whin I got 'em didn't put 'em on me in time
to be out wid the rest. But anyhow 'twas always forty-eight
hours on bread an' water. An' always in a darkened cell,
wid not a stim o' light, an' silent as if it wor a thousand
miles under ground."

Kevin looked at him with a feeling of deep sympathy.
They were indeed untold horrors to have endured for ten
long years. What wonder that brooding fancies arose in
the man's mind ? Nay, the wonder was that any human
brain could stand such treatment — that the light of reason
and intelligence held its place at all during these years of
suffering.

" An' always," pursued Phelim, as his mind unconsciously



94 ''CONVICT No. 25."

warmed with these dreadful memories and grew excited,
" always he used to come to me there. I think I never was
in that darkened silent cell that he didn't come to me. On
an' off — on an' off. Black as the cell was I could always
see him. I could always know aforehand he was comin'."

He shrouded his eyes with his hands as if to shut out the
dreaded object.

To divert his thoughts from it, Kevin said —

" Phelim ! "

" Yes."

" That convict ship — did she sail ? "

" She did."

'• And the rest, did they go ? "

"They did."

" What will they do with us — when I get well ? "

" Send us in another."

" Are you sure ? Who said so ? "

"The doctor."

" The doctor ! Was there a doctor here then ? "

" There was ; came every day, too."

" He was not bound to do that ? "

" Bound to do that ! " said Phelim, with contempt. " Av
coorse he wasn't. All he was bound to do — or any ov 'em —
is to let the crathures die as fast as they can. They think,
maybe, it's the best thing for them — and, if they do, they're
right. But, whether they do or do not, they do it — most
ov 'em. But he came every day."

" He must be a good fellow."

"The best," said Phelim, laconically. "He'll be here
to-morrow, and you will see him. Go to sleep. It's growin'
dark, and you've been talkin' too much."



THE CONVICT CELL. 95

With which suggestion Kevin agreed ; and his companion,
after helping him to turn into an easier position, threw him-
self down in his usual corner, and, curling himself into a
knot, went to sleep also.

I don't know whether, if it were worth an angel's while
ever to turn into a convict cell, or into this convict cell in
particular — which, considering all the trouble and swearing
that was employed to convict its inmates, the relief it was
to the landlords to be rid of them, and the solemnity that
the " eminent Judge " used in sentencing them, is perhaps
not likely ; but, if he did, I wonder whether he looked with
any degree of favour on that little human entity, curled up
in a corner, and recorded his three weeks' work in the
angelic recording book ?

I wonder, further, if, passing thence to the mansion of
my Lord Mortgagor or Sir Francis Haymarket, he found
any one thing in the whole lives of that noble lord and that
right hon. baronet to match the ready and unselfish aid and
tenderness accorded by Convict No. 37 to Convict No. 25 ?
I trow not.



96 ''CONVICT No. 25."



CHAPTER IX.

THE RUINED CASTLE.

That ancient ruin, standing on an elevation in the bog,
through which the sunUght gleamed, making its ivy-covered
walls sparkle with glintings of gold, as we saw it from the
terraces of Grangemore Castle one evening, is before us as
we wend our way along the solid road, unbordered by wall
at either side, which led to it in the days when banners
waved from its donjon, and brave men and fair ladies rode
from under its now ruined archway.

A procession is even now passing along the road preceded
by cries ; but the cries are cries of wailing, " keening," in
fact, for the procession is a funeral ; of which, even if the
cries did not inform us, we might be otherwise assured by
the coffin, resting on its bier, carried on the shoulders of
four men, which, with constant shifting of its bearers, has
been its manner of carriage for the four miles it has passed.

Entering the graveyard,' which slopes down from the ruin
in a rough, declivitous sort of way, the processionists scatter
themselves over it ; the coffin, preceded by some friends
who repeat the De Profundis, is carried first to a smaller ruin
called "the chapel," where, tradition has it, the dust of a
great abbot reposes, whose name has been all but lost, but
of whose great sanctity stories still survive. Here the
prayers are said again, the bier is once more raised, and the
procession of mourners moves on to the grave wherein the
poor remnant of mortality is to be laid. As the dust falls



THE RUINED CASTLE, 97

with hollow sound on the coffin, shutting out for evermore
the form lying within from human sight — and, in a few
years, from human remembrance — the mourners' cries arise
again. So they have sounded on similar occasions there
for thousands of years ; so they will continue to sound till
the great consuming fire lights up our globe — and the race
of man vanishes.

" If the landlords don't turn 'em all off — which they're
very likely to do, if they go on as they're goin' — long afore
that," was the practical comment upon this moralising,
indulged in by one of the processionists, as a number of
farmers, young and old, sat on a tombstone, listening to the
"keen " of the wailers.

The commentator was a tall man, thin and worn and sad-
looking, whose quiet, resigned manner showed somehow in
very great contrast with the firmness that his square face,
heavy eyebrows, and massive chin would be expected to
display. But it might have been hardship or sorrow that
had thinned his face, as it thinned his body, and brought
out these marked angularities of countenance. Or, again, it
might be token of a latent strength and firmness of character,
waiting some favourable opportunity or emergency for
development.

" That's thrue enough for you. Darby Kelly ! " said
another, with a promptness which showed how much the
remark ran with the current of his thoughts ; " that's thrue
enough, for sorra wan will soon be left to have a funeral,
or to come to a funeral, if things go on as they're
goin'."

" I hear Sir Hardinge had a walker on the lands of
Carrigbrae yesterday."

G



98 ''CONVICT No. 25."

*'An' three or four Scotch graziers lookin' at it," said
another.

"Ay, an' what's more, wan ov them has taken it — the
whole townland. An' what's more, has marked out the
place for the new mansion he's goin' to build. An' what's
more, he'll have it in his hands clear of tenantry this day
twelve-months. He says it's fine land for young stock and
for sheep-raisin'. Faix, an' he's right; though may be it
would be better in the long run to see the cows, and the
horses, and the hens, and the ducks, and the hay an' oats,
an' whate — and the Christians— gro win' on it," said Darby
Kelly, in a depressed, complaining sort of way.

"You're right enough there," said the man who had first
spoken in response to him ; " but you're wrong in say in'
that the Scotchman is going to get' that — at laste a new
Scotchman. The steward had that promised to him long
enough afore Kevin Moore an' his mother an' sister wor
turned out ov it."

" I know better nor that," said Billy, with emphasis.
" The steward was only promised that farm. But the new
man has taken the whole townland — that farm as well as
the rest. It's all to be turned into one big farm. I know
that for certain."

A variety of exclamations burst from the hearers as they
beard this news, each one expressing his surprise according
to his own fashion, and according to the intensity of the
sensation which struck him.

"But sure that can't be. It's impossible that can be,
Darby. Why there's five or six families on that townland.
What would be done with them ? "

" What would be done wid 'em ? " said Darby, re-echoing



THE RUINED CASTLE, 99

the question. " What would be done wid 'em but turn 'em
out. Turn 'em out to beg, or go to the poorhouse, or rot.
Or do as was done with Kevin Moore, thransport 'em ;
that's the handiest way, bekaise then there's no danger to
the landlord and no cost to the rates."

" I can't and I won't believe," said a very young man
who had not spoken before, "that they are going to be
turned out, or that Sir Hardinge has let the townland. Why,
it would be murder — it would be death to the creatures."

"Hould your tongue, Charley," said Darby, sharply;
" if you can't spake sense don't spake at all. Wasn't the
townland of Carrick cleared? Wasn't the townland of
Ballyclare cleared ? Where are the people that lived there
snug and confortable ? Some dead, some in the workhouse,
some in America. Is there wan stone upon another where
they lived ? Not wan. Isn't the grass growin' where the
bedroom was, and the parlour was, and the kitchen was,
and the hearthstone was? Don't the bullocks and the
heifers graze over 'em ? What's to prevent 'em doin' now
what they did then ? What's to hinder 'em levellin' Carrig-
brae as they levelled Carrick and Ballyclare ? Nothin' ;
nothin' that I can see at any rate."

" Well, all I can say," said another farmer, who sat on a
tombstone, silently listening to what was going on, and
apparently intent on the music he was making by kicking
the iron tip of his boot against the marble side of the tomb,
** it's an awful state of things that people can't be let live
where they were born, an' their fathers afore 'em ; but that
they must be runnin' the chance always of being hunted
out like wild dogs, whenever cattle, or sheep, or stock of
any kind is fetching high prices."



loo ''CONVICT No, 25."

" Aye," said another, " an' they payin' now an' all their
lives, the highest penny for the land. Workin' late and
early, mornin', noon, an' night, to make the rent. Makin'
butter — not to eat it, but to sell it ; raisin' fowl — not to eat
'em, but to sell 'em ; everything but the praties alone goes
for the landlord. The praties and the buttermilk. That's
all we have. An' yet we won't be left even that, if there's a
chance of more bein' made by turnin' us out. Oughtn't
they be glad to get well paid for the land, and let us live in
peace ? "

" The time will come, believe me," said Darby Kelly,
" when they'll be glad to get high rents, or low rents, or
any rents. And glad to be allowed to live at all. But they
have it their own way now, an' so much the worse for us.
For you may think and say what you's like, but what hap-
pens on one townland will happen on another ; and afore
this time twelve-months you'll not see a stick nor a stone in
Carrigbrae, nor a single living thing, except shorthorns."

" Sure no one in the world 'ud have the heart to turn out
Maury Oge an' her mother an' the little ones. Where
would you see a finer family from Maury down, or where
would you see the like of herself ? " said Charley again.

" That's true," broke in the silent man again, suspending
the tapping of his heel where his foot hung down against
the stone. " That's true. Divil a finer in Westmeath or
in Ireland. The man that 'ud turn her out, and lave her
athout a roof over her, mustn't be a man at all, but the divil
in a man's likeness."

"Whist! boys. There's the prayers. The coffin is
covered."

The group assembled looked in the direction of the



THE RUIA^ED CASTLE.^ loi

grave ; and seeing those assembled there with their hats off
repeating the concluding prayers, took their own off in
reverence, and silently engaged in prayer until they saw the
mourners put on their hats again, the prayers being over.

" That poor fellow is in his long home at last. God be
merciful to him ! " said one of the former group. " All his
thrubbles are over. There'll be no breakin' his rest to-
night."

"Aye, God forgive him his sins!" said Darby ; "he'll
be quiet an' lonesome to-night under the clay. But he got
a fine long life an' a comfortable one. And whin a man
gets that an' lives a decent honest life — what more does he
want or can he expect in this world ? He gets up in the
mornin' to see the sun lighting up the hedges, and the
meadows, and the crops around him ; he sees the dew
glistenin' on the grass, an' hears the lark singin' in the sky ;
he comes home in the evenin' pleasant an' happy, and he
sleeps sound all night. He has Sunday to rest himself;
and he has an odd fair day to meet his neighbours an' see
old friends, an' enjoy himself. What more can any man
want in this world ? "

Verily, nothing more. In the quiet primitive life which
Darby had pictured for his gossippers was the summum
bonutn of human happiness. A lifetime so spent might
pass along the even tenor of its way — through its morning,
and its noon, and its evening — until the darkening shadows
of that night comes, that comes inevitably to all, wherein
no man can work, without leaving pain of regret or remorse
behind it.

" It would be fine enough ; God knows, none of us would
ask better, if it weren't for the unaisiness wer'e in with these



I02 ''CONVICT No, 25."

cursed blaguards ov landlords. There can't be a Sunday
evening where there's a song or a dance for the young people,
but when they're goin' away, and they say, rejoicin', to wan
another, ' that we may be as well off this time twelve-month,'
that they don't say in their own minds, ' God help us, there
is not much chance ov that ! ' If there's a little amusement
here or there, an' a pleasant harmless night is spent, the
first thing, when it's over, that occurs to a body's mind
is — ' I wonder what'll the landlord think of the farm. Will
he lave us in it, or will he give us notis next half-year ? '
That's always it ! The landlord is before an' behind in the
people's thoughts. His very name would poison the happi-
ness of any gathering. The curse ov "

" Stop that, Charley. I tould you afore to spake sinse,
if you spake at all. Charley, you said some things now
that had sinse enough in 'em. But cursin' isn't sinse. You
might curse 'em (or bless 'em aither) for anything one ov
'em cared. They'd spend more money for a show-off in
one night in London than they'd make by turnin' out wan
ov these poor families to starve, an' die, an' rot. Cursin'
indeed ! Much they care for cursin' ! If cursin' wud do
'em any harm, they've got more curses from ruined crathers
than 'ud make the skies melt an' come down on their heads
in a burnin' shower. But the skies won't come down on
their heads in a burnin' shower ; nor no thin' else '11 happen
'em in this world ; an' they'll go on turnin' out an' perse-
cuting if they're let— if they're let."

" An' to be sure they'll be let. Who's to hinder 'em ?
Can anyone tell me who's to hinder 'em ?" said Darby again,
as no one spoke.

" Couldn't we join together an' take the law agin 'em ? "



THE RUINED CASTLE. 103

inquired Charley thoughtfully. " If we got a great coun-
sellor from Dublin "

" The law ! " said Darby, " the law ! Who made the law
but themselves ? Who made it so that they can turn every
livin' bein' out but themselves ? Who makes it still but them-
selves ? This Act of Parliament, an' that Act of Parliament,
an' t'other Act of Parliament. An' if there's any weakness
in the law anywhere, so far as they're consarned, can't they
make another Act of Parliament at wanst that'll stop the
hole ? To be sure they can, an' to be sure they will."

" Aye," said the silent man, still profoundly finding out
the echoes in the tombstone with his boot heel, " an' who
works the law but themselves ? Who sits on the bench but
themselves ? Who says what must be done but themselves ?
Pay a big counsellor in Dublin to come down an' make a
speech ! Well, he comes an' makes a speech. The court-
house is crowded to listen to him. The landlords are as
glad to listen to him as anybody else, because it's so seldom
they hear a good speech. The bench is crowded as well as
the court. But how does it end ? I'll tell you. The great
lawyer finishes his great speech, an' puts his law books into
his bag, and hurries to catch the mail-car to Dublin. The
people are ready to fall at his feet, he's said such fine things
about 'em. Very well. They cheer him through the streets.
But what do the landlords on the bench do ? They whisper
on the bench for a little while together, or they go into the
magistrates' room, where you can hear em' laughin' and
cnjoyin' themselves ; an' they come out in half an hour or
so, an' they say : — * That man must go to gaol for trespass' ;
or, ' we send him to gaol with hard labour for this, that, or
the other ! ' Just the very same as if there wasn't a great



I04 ''CONVICT No. 25."

lawyer within forty thousand millions ov miles of the
place."

" That's just the very way, Bryan," broke in Darby.
"That's the very way. For why? Do you know why? I'll
tell you. Whatever these men on the bench think is right,
that's the law. It's athin their discretion. That's the way
ov it. Much the very same as to say — Whatever you have
raison to think as fair men is fair, the law will back you up
in that ! What do these villains think is fair ? To root the
people out. When they are rooted out to send them — for fear
ov 'em — to gaol or to thransportation. An' the law backs
'em up in that. Be coorse, if they make a mistake you can go
to a higher coort agin 'em at as much expense as id pay your
rent for the year, an' more ; an' maybe the Dublin coort '11
be wid you, an' maybe it '11 be agin you. But if it be for
you asself, they won't have as much as a farthing to pay.
It's not to be done ; it's set aside, an' that's all about it.
They may do the same thing the very next coort-day wid
somebody else, an' the same expense 'ud have to be gone
through to get it set aside — athout costing them a farthin'.
There's a Castle lawyer in Dublin paid for defendin' 'em
alone. An' the taxes that pays him the crathurs that bring
'em into coort have to pay, as well as everything else. So
there's the law, and there's what it '11 do for you ! "

" That's all very fine," said Charley again ; " bud what's
to be done ? You're both showin' us what can't be done.
This can't be done, an' that other can't be done. Will
you now tell us what can be done ? We can't all wait until
we're turned out, an' when we are turned out, wait until
the landlords get us arrested, an' thried, an' thransported."

" Now you're speakin' a little sense, Charley," said Darby



THE RUINED CASTLE. 105

approvingly. " That's what we ought to see about. An' to
see about, too, afore it's too late. I suppose you were often
in a haggard when they wor puUin' down a stack o' wheat
to thrash it ? "

" Ay, a thousand times," said Charley.

" Well, you've seen the rats jump out ov it according as
the sheaves came off it ? "

"Ay, lots of times," answered Charley again.

"Well, did you ever see a rat that was flying for it's life
an' was chased into a corner? What did the rat do?
You've seen it often. When it was chased into that corner,
what did it do ? Lie down to be kilt ? No ; it turned and
fought for its life, and got off safe often. Where would you
see rats hunted the way we're hunted ? The landlord says
— ' Go out ! Leave your home.' You go to law with him.
He's the lawmaker. He sits on the bench. If you go to
law wid him, you go into the coort afore him — afore him
an' his friends, who are as bad, if not worse, than himself.
That's how it is."

" Well," said Charley, " we all know that. Knew it as
well afore you spoke as we do now. But your talk don't
put us much farther for'ard on the road. Not a bit. What's
to be done ? That's what I want to know."

"Charley's right. Darby," said the silent hammerer on
the tombstone. "Charley is right. Talk is chape, but
what's to be done ? Tell us that, an' you'll tell us what
we'd like to hear."

" For my part," said Charley, " I'd rather be carried into
the graveyard here any day, an' see everyone belongin' to
me go afore me, than be turned out. We'd be at rest here
an' free from thrubbles ; but what rest could there be for us,



loO . CONVICT No. 25."

scattered and wanderin' like paupers — not like, but actually
paupers — up an' down the country side, so long as the lan'-
lords and the polis didn't arrest us an' clap us in gaol.
Look at Kevin Moore. Where was there ever a young
fellow like him in this county or any other county in Ireland ?
Nowhere. Where was there ever such a nice, handsome,
accomplished girl as his sister ? No, not goin' to any chapel
in the land. Where was the widow so respected by high
an' low, through a long life, as their mother ? Yet look at
what happened ! The mother died on a sthranger's flure ;
the daughter gone out ov the country for shelter in a
sthrange land, an' the son thransported."

" You're sayin' now yourself what you blamed me for a
minit ago," said Darby. " Don't we all know that athout
bein' tould it over an' over again."

"If I am it's only to find out what's to be done to save
ourselves. I wouldn't waste ten minutes talkin' here if it
wasn't for that."

" Charley's right again," said the hammerer. " That's
what we all want to know."

" Very well," assented Darby ; " but who'll tell us ?
We're all agreed it's hard for ourselves an' our childer to be
hunted out to die on the tiigh road. Aren't we ? "



Online LibraryJames MurphyConvict No. 25; or, the clearances of Westmeath : a story of the Whitefeet → online text (page 7 of 28)