William Carleton.

Ellen Duncan; And The Proctor's Daughter The Works of William Carleton, Volume Two online

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Produced by David Widger




By William Carleton


There are some griefs so deep and overwhelming, that even the best
exertions of friendship and sympathy are unequal to the task of soothing
or dispelling them. Such was the grief of Ellen Duncan, who was silently
weeping in her lone cottage on the borders of Clare - a county at that
time in a frightful state of anarchy and confusion. Owen Duncan, her
husband, at the period about which our tale commences, resided in the
cabin where he was born and reared, and to which, as well as a few acres
of land adjoining, he had succeeded on the death of his father. They had
not been long married, and never were husband and wife more attached.
About this time outrages began to be perpetrated; and soon increased
fearfully in number. Still Owen and Ellen lived happily, and without
fear, as they were too poor for the marauders to dream of getting
much booty by robbing; and their religion being known to be "the ould
religion ov all ov all," in a warfare that was exclusively one of party,
they were more protected than otherwise. Owen never was particularly
thrifty; and as his means were small, was generally embarrassed, or
rather somewhat pinched in circumstances. Notwithstanding this, however,
he was as happy as a king; and according to his unlettered neighbors'
artless praise, "there wasn't a readier hand, nor an opener heart in the
wide world - that's iv he had id - but he hadn't an' more was the pity."
His entire possessions consisted of the ground we have mentioned, most
part of which was so rocky as to be entirely useless - a cow, a couple
of pigs, and the "the uld cabin," which consisted of four mud walls,
covered with thatch, in which was an opening, "to let in the day-light,
an' to let out the smoke." In the interior there was no division, or
separate apartment, as the one room contained the cooking materials, and
all other necessaries, beside their bed, which was placed close to the
fire, and, of course, nearly under the opening in the roof. If any one
spqke to Owen about the chances of rain coming down to where they slept,
his universal answer was, "Shure we're naither shugar nor salt, anyhow;
an' a dhrop ov or a thrifle ov wind, was niver known to do any body
harm - barrin' it brought the typhus; but God's good, an' ordhers all for
the best." Owen had been brought up in this way, and so he could live by
his labor, he never thought of needless luxuries; and Ellen, seeing him
contented, was so herself.

For some months previous to the time of which we write, Owen's affairs
had been gradually getting worse and worse; and it was with no pleasing
anticipations that he looked forward to his approaching rent day. His
uneasiness he studiously kept a secret from his wife, and worked away
seemingly with as much cheerfulness as ever, hoping for better days, and
_trusting in Providence!_ However, when within a week of the time that
he expected a call from the agent, he found that with all his industry
he had been only able to muster five and twenty shillings, and his rent
was above five pounds. So, after a good deal of painful deliberation, he
thought of selling his single cow, thinking that by redoubled exertion
he might after a while be enabled to repurchase her; forgetting, that
before the cow was sold was really the time to make the exertion. A
circumstance that greatly damped his ardor in this design was the
idea of his wife's not acquiescing in it; and one evening, as they sat
together by the light of the wood and turf fire, he thus opened his
mind -

"Ellen, asthore, its myself that's sorry I haven't a fine large cabin,
and a power o' money, to make you happier an' comfortabler than you

"Owen," she interrupted, "don't you know I'm very happy? an' didn't
I often tell you, that it was the will of Providence that we shud be
poor'? So it's sinful to be wishin' for riches."

"Bud, Ellen acushla, it's growi'n' worse wid us every day; an' I'm
afeard the trouble is goin' to come on us. You know how hard the
master's new agint is - how he sould Paddy Murphy's cow, an' turned him
out, bekase he couldn't pay his rint; an' I'm afeard I'll have to sell
_Black Bess_,' to prevint his doin' the same wid us."

"Well, Owen agra, we mustn't murmur for our disthresses; so do whatever
you think right - times won't be always as they are now."

"Bud, Ellen," said he, "you're forgettin' how you'll miss the dhrop ov
milk, an' the bit of fresh butter, fur whin we part wid the poor baste,
you won't have even thim to comfort you."

"Indeed, an' iv I do miss them, Owen," she answered, "shure it's no
matther, considherin' the bein' turned out ov one's home into the world.
Remember the ould sayin' ov, 'out ov two evils always chuse the laste;'
an' so, darlint, jist do whatever you think is fur the best."

After this conversation, it was agreed on by both that Owen should set
out the next day but one for the town, to try and dispose of the "cow,
the crathur;" and although poverty had begun to grind them a little,
still they had enough to eat, and slept tranquilly. However, it so
happened, that the very morning on which he had appointed to set out,
_Black Bess_ was seized for a long arrear of a tax that had not been
either asked or paid there for some time, and driven off, with many
others belonging to his neighbors, to be sold. Now you must know, good
reader, that there is a feeling interwoven, as it were, in the Irish
nature, that will doggedly resist anything that it conceives in the
slightest or most remote degree oppressive or unjust; and that feeling
then completely usurped all others in Owen's mind. He went amongst his
friends, and they condoled with one another about their grievances;
there was many a promise exchanged, that they would stand by each other
in their future resistance to what they considered an unlawful impost.
When the rent-day came, by disposing of his two pigs, and by borrowing
a little, he was enabled to pay the full amount, and thus protract for
some time the fear "ov bein' turned out on the world."

Some days after the whole country was in a tumult - Daly, "the procthor,"
was found murdered in the centre of the high road; and there was no clue
perceptible, by which the perpetrators of the crime could be discovered.
The very day before, Owen had borrowed the game-keeper's gun, to go, as
he said, to a wild, mountainous part of the country to shoot hares; and
from this circumstance, and his not having returned the day after, a
strong feeling of suspicion against him was in the minds of most. In
fact, on the very evening that we have represented Ellen sitting in
tears, the police had come to the cabin in search of him; and their
report to the magistrate was, that he had absconded. His wife was in
a miserable state of mind, and her whole soul was tortured with
conflicting emotions. Owen's long absence, as well as his borrowing
the gun, seemed to bespeak his guilt; and yet, when she recollected the
gentleness of his manner, and his hitherto blameless life, she could not
deem him so, no matter how circumstances seemed against him. But then,
the harrowing idea that it might be, came in to blast these newly formed
hopes, and her state of suspense was one of deep and acute misery.

She was sitting, as we have said, alone; the fire, that had consisted
of two or three sods of turf heaped upon the floor, had almost entirely
gone out; the stools and bosses were tossed negligently here and there;
and the appearance of the entire apartment was quite different from its
usual neat and tidy trim. Her head was bent a little, and her hands were
clasped tightly around her knees, while her body was swaying to and fro,
as if the agitation of her mind would not allow of its repose. Her
eyes were dry, but red from former weeping; and she was occasionally
muttering, "No, he can't be guilty" - "Owen commit a murdher! - It must be
an untruth!" and such like expressions. Gradually, as she thus thought
aloud, her motions became more rapid, and her cheeks were no longer dry,
while the light that entered through the open door becoming suddenly
shaded, she turned round, and raised her tearful eyes to question the
intruder. She sprang eagerly forward, and hung on his neck, (for it was
Owen himself,) while she! joyfully exclaimed -

"Oh, heaven be praised, yer come back at last, to give the lie to all
their reports, an' to prove yer innocence."

"Ellen, my darlint," he answered, "I knew you'd be glad to get me back,"
and he kissed! again and again her burning lips; "but what do you mane,
acushla? - What reports! do you spake ov, an' ov what am I accused?"

"Oh, thin, Owen, I'm glad you didn't even hear ov id; an' the poliss
here searchin' the house to make you pres'ner. Shure, avick, Bill Daly,
the procthor, that sazed poor Black Bess, was murdhered the very mornin'
you wint to shoot the hares; an' on account ov yer borryin' the gun, an'
threatenin' him the day ov the sale, they said it was you that done id;
but I gev thim all the lie, fur I knew you wor innocent. Now, Owen,
ahagur, you look tired, sit down, an' I'll get you somethin' to ate.
Och, bud I'm 'glad that yer returned safe!"

The overjoyed wife soon heaped fresh turf on the fire, and partly
blowing, partly fanning it into a flame, hung a large iron pot I over
it, from a hook firmly fixed in the wall. While these preparations were
going forward, Owen laid aside his rough outside coat, and going to the
door, looked out, as if in irresolution.

"Ellen," at length said he, turning suddenly round, "I'm thinkin' that
I'd betther go to the poliss barrack an' surrindher - or rather, see what
they have to say agin me; as I'm an innocent man, I've no dhread; an' if
I wait till they come an' take me, it'll look as iv I was afeard."

"Thrue for you, agra," she answered; "bud it's time enough yit a bit - no
one knows ov yer bein' here. You look slaved, an' had betther rest
yerself, an' ate a pratee or two. I have no milk ov my own to offer you
now, but I'll go an' thry an' get a dhrop from a neighbor."

When Ellen returned with a little wooden noggin full, her husband was
sitting warming his hands over the fire; and it was then she recollected
that he had not brought back the gun with him; besides, when she cast a
glance at his clothes, they were all soiled with mud and clay, and torn
in many places. But these circumstances did not for a moment operate
in her mind against him, for she knew from the very manner of his first
question, and the innocence of his exclamation, that the accusations and
suspicions were all false. Even though he had not attempted to explain
the cause of his protracted absence, she felt conscious that it was not
guilt, and forbore to ask any question about it. It was he first opened
the subject, as they sat together over their frugal meal.

"Ellen," said he, "sence I saw you last, I wint through a dale ov
hardship; an' I little thought, on my return, that I'd be accused ov so
black a crime."

"Och, shure enough, Owen darlint; but I hope it 'ill be all for the
best. I little thought I'd see the day that you'd be suspected ov

"Well, Ellen aroon, all's in it is, it can't be helped. Bud as I was
sayin' - whin I left this, I cut acrass by Sheemus Doyle's, an' so up
into the mountain, where I knew the hares were coorsin' about in plenty.
I shot two or three ov thim; an' as night began to fall, I was thinkin'
ov comin' home, whin I heerd the barkin' ov a dog a little farther up,
in the wild part, where I never ventured afore. I dunna what prompted me
to folly id bud, any how, I did, an' wint on farther an' farther. Well,
Ellen agra, I at last come to a deep valley, full up a'most of furze an'
brambles, an' I seen a black thing runnin' down the edge ov id. It was
so far off, I thought it was a hare, an' so I lets fly, an' it rowled
over an' over. Whin I dhrew near, what was it bud a purty black spaniel;
an' you may be shure I was sorry for shootin' it, an' makin' such a
mistake. I lays down the gun, an' takes id in my arms, an' the poor
crathur licked the hand that shot id. Thin suddenly there comes up three
sthrange min, an' sazin' me as if I wor a child, they carrid me down wid
them, cursin' an' abusin' me all the way. As they made me take a solemn
oath not to revale what I saw there, I can't tell you any more: but they
thrated me badly, an' it was only yestherday I escaped."

"Well, Owen, ahagur, we ought to be thankful that you're back here safe;
bud do you think the magisthrate will be satisfied with this story - they
are always anxious to do justice, but they must be satisfied."

"In throth, they are, machree: but shure I'll sware to id; an', besides,
you know, the raal murdherer may be discovered - for God never lets it,
ov all other crimes, go athout punishment. An' now I'll just go to the
barracks at onst, an' be out ov suspinse."

Ere Duncan had concluded his sentence, the tramp of feet was heard
outside, and in a few seconds the cabin was full of armed men, who came
to take him prisoner. He had been seen entering his cabin; and they
immediately, as soon as they could muster a party, set out to make him
captive. As he was known to most of them, and did not make the slightest
attempt at resistance, they treated him gently, but bound his hands
firmly behind his back, and took every necessary precaution. Though
Ellen, while it seemed at a distance, had conversed calmly about his
surrender, she was violently agitated at the appearance of the armed
force. She clung to her husband's knees, and refused to part with him,
wildly screaming, "He's innocent! My husband's innocent!" and when
all was prepared, she walked by his side to the magistrate's house, (a
distance of three miles,) her choking sobs and burning tears attesting
the violence of her uncontrolled feelings. A short examination was gone
through there; and the circumstantial evidence that was adduced made
the case look very serious. One man positively swore, that he had seen
Duncan pass by in the morning, in the direction where the body was
found, and that he was armed with a gun. Another, that in about an
hour afterwards he had heard a shot, but supposed it was some person
coursing, and that the report was just where the body was found, and
where Owen had been seen proceeding to. His only cow having been seized
by Daly, a threat that he was heard uttering, and his absence from home,
was duly commented on; and finally, he was committed to prison to
abide his trial at the Ennis Assizes. While all this was going
forward, Ellen's emotions were most agonizing. She stared wildly at
the magistrate and the two witnesses; and as the evidence was proceeded
with, she sometimes hastily put back her hair, as if she thought she was
under the influence of a dream. But when his final committal was made
out, and her mind glanced rapidly at the concurrent testimony, and the
danger of Owen, she rushed forward, and flinging her arms round him,
wildly exclaimed -

"They shan't part us - they shan't tear us asunder! No, no, Owen, I will
go wid you to preson! Oh, is id come to this wid us? - You to be dhragged
from home, accused of murdher - and I - I - Father of marcies, keep me in
my sinses - I'm goin' mad - wild, wild mad!"

"Ellen!" said Owen, gently unwinding her arms, and kissing her forehead,
while a scalding tear fell from his eye on her cheek - "Ellen, asthore
machree! don't be overcome. There's a good girl, dhry yer eyes. That
God that knows I'm guiltless, 'ill bring me safe through all. May his
blessin' be on you, my poor colleen, till we meet agin! You know you
can come an' see me. Heaven purtect you, Ellen, alanna! - Heaven purtect

When he was finally removed, she seemed to lose all power, and but
for the arm of a bystander would have fallen to the ground. It was not
without assistance that she was at length enabled to reach her cabin.

It is strange how man's feelings and powers are swayed by outward
circumstances, and how his pride and strength may be entirely overcome
by disheartening appearances! So it was with Owen: although constantly
visited in prison by his faithful wife - although conscious of his
own innocence - and although daily receiving assurances of hope from a
numerous circle of friends - yet still his spirit drooped; the gloom of
imprisonment, the idea of danger, the ignominy of public execution and
all the horrors of innocent conviction, gradually wore away his mental
strength; and when the assize time approached, he was but a thin shadow
of the former bluff, healthy Owen Duncan. In so short a time as this,
can care and harrowing thought exercise its influence on the human

Never was there a finer or more heavenly morning than that which ushered
in the day of trial. The court-house was crowded to suffocation, the mob
outside fearfully numerous, and never before, perhaps, was Ennis in such
a state of feverish excitement. Daly's murder was as nought in the minds
of all, in comparison with Duncan's accusation. Alas! the former was an
occurrence of too frequent repetition, to be very much thought of;
but the latter - namely, Owen's being suspected - was a subject of
the extremest wonder. His former high character - his sobriety - his
quietness, and his being a native of the town, in some measure accounted
for this latter feeling; and there was an inward conviction in most
men's minds, that he was guiltless of the crime for which he was
accused. Although the court-house was crowded, yet when the prisoner
was called to the bar, a pin could be heard to drop in any part of the
place. There was a single female figure leaning on the arm of an aged
and silver-haired, though hale and healthy countryman, within a few feet
of the dock; and as the prisoner advanced, and laying his hand on the
iron railing, confronted the judges and the court, she slowly raised the
hood of the cloak, in which she was completely muffled, and gazed long
and earnestly on his face. There was in that wistful look, a fear - a
hope - an undying tenderness; and when his eye met hers, there was a
proud, yet soft and warm expression in its glance, that reassured her
sinking heart. As she looked round on the court, and the many strange
faces, and all the striking paraphernalia of justice, a slight shudder
crept silently over her frame, and she clung closer to her companion, as
if to ask for all the protection he could afford. It was Ellen and her
father who came, the former summoned as a witness, and the latter to
accompany and support the daughter of his aged heart.

Duncan was arraigned: and on being asked the usual question of "guilty,
or not guilty?" he answered in a clear, calm voice, "Not guilty, my
Lord!" and the trial proceeded. The same evidence that was given at the
magistrate's house was a second time repeated; and, evidently, its train
of circumstances made a deep impression on the court. While the first
part of the examination was going forward, Ellen remained as motionless
as a statue, scarcely daring to move or breathe; but when the
depositions went more and more against Owen, her respirations became
quick, short, and gaspish; and when the crier desired her to get up on
the table, it was with difficulty that she obeyed him. When seated,
she gazed timidly round on the crowd of counsellors and the judges, as
though to bespeak their sympathy; but then, not meeting a single glance
from which to glean even the shadow of hope, she covered her face with
her hands. A moment or two elapsed, and she grew more assured, and the
counsel for the Crown proceeded with the examination.

"Ellen Duncan, is not that your name?" was the first question.

"It is, Sir," she shrinkingly answered, without raising her eyes.

"Do you know the prisoner at the bar?"

"Do I know the pres'ner at the bar?" she reiterated; "do I know Owen
Duncan? Shure, isn't he my husband?"

"Do you recollect the night of the twenty-first of September?"

"I do, Sir."

"Can you swear to whether your husband was at home on that night or

Her voice faltered a little as she answered in the negative; and on the
presiding judge repeating the question, with the addition of, "Did he
return at all next day?" it seemed as if she first thought that her
answers might criminate him still farther, and clasping her I hands
convulsively together, and raising her face to the bench, while the
scalding tears chased each other down her sunken cheek, she passionately
exclaimed -

"Oh, for the love of heaven, don't ask me any thing that 'ill be worse
for him! Don't, counsellor jewel, don't! don't ask me to swear any thing
that 'ill do him harm; for I can't know what I'm sayin' now, as the
heart within me is growin' wake."

After a few cheering expressions from the bench, who evidently were
much moved by her simply energetic language and action, she was asked
whether she could tell the Court where her husband spent that and the
following nights; and with all the eagerness that an instantaneously
formed idea of serving him could give, she answered -

"Oh, yis! yis! my Lord, I can. He was in the mountains shootin' wid Phil
Doran's gun, an' he was sazed by some men, that made him stop wid thim,
an' take an oath not to revale who they wor, an' they thrated him badly;
so afther three days he made his escape, and come home to the cabin,
whin he was taken by the poliss."

"One word more, an' you may go down - What was done with that gun?"

The judge's hard and unmoved tone of voice seemed to bring misgiving
to her mind, and she trembled from head to foot as she falteringly
answered -

"The wild boys of the mountain kep' it, my Lord, an' so he couldn't
bring id home wid him. But, indeed, my Lord, indeed he's innocent - I'll
swear he never done it! Fur, oh! iv you knew the tindherness ov his
heart - he that niver hurt a fly! Don't be hard on him for the love ov
mercy, an' I'll pray for you night an' day."

This was the last question she was asked, and having left the table,
and regained her former position by her father's side, she listened with
moveless, motionless intensity to the judge's "charge." He recapitulated
the evidence - dwelt on the strong circumstances that seemed to bespeak
his guilt - spoke of the mournful increase of crime - of laws, and life,
and property being at stake - and finally closed his address with a
sentence expressive of the extreme improbability of the prisoner's
defence; for he, on being asked if he had any thing further to say,
replied in the negative, only asserting, in the most solemn manner, his
innocence of the charge.

The jury retired, and Ellen's hard, short breathings, alone told that
she existed. Her head was thrown back, her lips apart, and slightly
quivering, and her eyes fixedly gazing on the empty box, with an anxious
and wild stare of hope and suspense. Owen's face was very pale, and
his lips livid - there was the slightest perceptible emotion about the
muscles of his mouth, but his eye quailed not, and his broad brow had
the impress of an unquenched spirit as firmly fixed as ever on its
marble front. A quarter of an hour elapsed, and still the same agonizing
suspense - another, and the jury returned not - five minutes, and they
reentered. Ellen's heart, beat as if it would burst her bosom; and
Owen's pale cheek became a little more flushed, and his eye full of
anxiety. The foreman in a measured, feelingless tone pronounced the word
"Guilty!" and a thrill of horror passed through the entire court, while
that sickness which agonizes the very depths of the soul convulsed
Owen's face with a momentary spasm, and he faltered "God's will be
done." The judge slowly drew on the black cap, and still Ellen moved
not - it seemed as if the very blood within her veins was frozen, and
that her life's pulses no more could execute their functions. No man,
however brave or hardened, can view the near approach of certain death,
and be unmoved; and as that old man, in tremulous tones, uttered the
dread fiat of his fate, Owen's eyes seemed actually to sink within
his head - the veins of his brow swelled and grew black, and his hands
grasped the iron rail that surrounded the dock, as though he would force
his fingers through it. When all was over, and the fearful cap drawn
off, Ellen seemed only then to awake to consciousness. Her eyes
slowly opened to their fullest extent - their expression of despair was
absolutely frightful - a low, gurgling, half-choking sob forced itself
from between her lips, and ere a hand could be outstretched to save her,
she fell, as if quickly dashed to the ground by no mortal power - her

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Online LibraryWilliam CarletonEllen Duncan; And The Proctor's Daughter The Works of William Carleton, Volume Two → online text (page 1 of 3)