William Carleton.

The Black Prophet: A Tale Of Irish Famine Traits And Stories Of The Irish Peasantry, The Works of William Carleton, Volume Three online

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Online LibraryWilliam CarletonThe Black Prophet: A Tale Of Irish Famine Traits And Stories Of The Irish Peasantry, The Works of William Carleton, Volume Three → online text (page 1 of 32)
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Produced by David Widger





THE BLACK PROPHET:

A TALE OF IRISH FAMINE.


By William Carleton




CHAPTER I. - Glendhu, or the Black Glen; Scene of Domestic Affection.


Some twenty and odd years ago there stood a little cabin at the foot
of a round hill, that very much resembled a cupola in shape, and which,
from its position and height, commanded a prospect of singular beauty.
This hill was one of a range that ran from north to southwest; but in
consequence of its standing, as it were, somewhat out of the ranks, its
whole appearance and character as a distinct feature of the country were
invested with considerable interest to a scientific eye, especially
to that of a geologist. An intersection or abrupt glen divided it from
those which constituted the range or group alluded to; through this, as
a pass in the country, and the only one for miles, wound a road into an
open district on the western side, which road, about half a mile after
its entering the glen, was met by a rapid torrent that came down from
the gloomy mountains that rose to the left. The foot of this hill, which
on the southern side was green and fertile to the top, stretched off and
was lost in the rich land that formed the great and magnificent valley
it helped to bound, and to which the chasm we have described was but an
entrance; the one bearing to the other, in size and position, much the
same relation that a small bye-lane in a country town bears to the great
leading street which constitutes its principal feature.

Noon had long passed, and the dim sun of a wet autumnal day was sloping
down towards the west through clouds and gloom, when a young girl of
about twenty-one or twenty-two years of age came out of the cabin we
have mentioned, and running up to the top of a little miniature hill or
knob that rose beside it, looked round in every direction, as if anxious
to catch a glimpse of some one whom she expected. It appeared, however,
that she watched in vain; for after having examined the country in every
direction with an eye in which might be read a combined expression of
eagerness, anger and disappointment, she once more returned to the cabin
with a slow and meditating step. This she continued to do from time
to time for about an hour and a half, when at length a female appeared
approaching, whom she at once recognized.

The situation of this hovel, for such, in fact, it must be termed,
was not only strikingly desolate, but connected also with wild and
supernatural terrors. From the position of the glen itself, a little
within which it stood, it enjoyed only a very limited portion of the
sun's cheering beams. As the glen was deep and precipitous, so was the
morning light excluded from it by the northeastern hills, as was that of
evening by those which rose between it and the west. Indeed, it would
be difficult to find a spot marked by a character of such utter solitude
and gloom. Naturally barren, it bore not a single shrub on which a bird
could sit or a beast browse, and little, of course, was to be seen in
it but the bare gigantic projections of rock which shot out of its steep
sides in wild and uncouth shapes, or the grey, rugged expanses of which
it was principally composed. Indeed, we feel it difficult to say whether
the gloom of winter or the summer's heat fell upon it with an air of
lonelier desolation. It mattered not what change of season came, the
place presented no appearance of man or his works. Neither bird or beast
was seen or heard, except rarely, within its dreary bosom, the only
sounds it knew being the monotonous murmurs of the mountain torrent, or
the wild echoes of the thunder storms that pealed among the hills about
it. Silence and solitude were the characteristics which predominated in
it and it would not be easy to say whether they were felt more during
the gloom of November or the glare of June.

In the mouth of this glen, not far from the cabin we have described, two
murders had been committed about twenty years before the period of our
narrative, within the lapse of a month. The one was that of a carman,
and the other of a man named Sullivan, who also had been robbed, as it
was supposed the carman had been, for the bodies of both had been made
way with and were never found. This was evident - in the one case by the
horse and cart of the carman remaining by the grey stone in question,
on which the traces of blood were long visible; and in the other by the
circumstance of Sullivan's hat and part of his coat having been found
near the cabin in question on the following day, in a field through
which his path home lay, and in which was a pool of blood, where his
foot-marks were deeply imprinted, as if in a struggle for life and
death. For this latter murder a man named Dalton had been taken up,
under circumstances of great suspicion, he having been the last person
seen in the man's company. Both had been drinking together in the
market, a quarrel had originated between them about money matters, blows
had been exchanged, and Dalton was heard to threaten him in very strong
language. Nor was this all. He had been observed following or rather
dogging him on his way home, and although the same road certainly led
to the residence of both, yet when his words and manner were taken into
consideration, added to the more positive proof that the footmarks left
on the place of struggle exactly corresponded with his shoes, there
could be little doubt that he was privy to Sullivan's murder and
disappearance, as well probably as to his robbery. At all events the
glen was said to be haunted by Sullivan's spirit, which was in the
habit, according to report, of appearing near the place of murder, from
whence he was seen to enter this chasm - a circumstance which, when taken
in connection with its dark and lonely aspect, was calculated to impress
upon the place the I reputation of being accursed, as the scene of
crime and supernatural appearances. We remember having played in it
when young, and the feeling we experienced was one of awe and terror, to
which might be added, on contemplating the "dread repose" and solitude
around us, an impression that we were removed hundreds of miles from
the busy ongoings and noisy tumults of life, to which, as if seeking
protection, we generally hastened with a strong sense of relief, after
having tremblingly gratified our boyish curiosity.

The young girl in question gave the female she had been expecting any
thing but a cordial or dutiful reception. In personal appearance
there was not a point of resemblance between them, although the _tout
ensemble_ of each was singularly striking and remarkable. The girl's
locks were black as the raven's wing: her figure was tall and slender,
but elastic and full of symmetry. The ivory itself was not more white
nor glossy than her skin; her teeth were - bright and beautiful, and her
mouth a perfect rosebud. It is unnecessary to say that her eyes
we're black and brilliant, for such ever belong to her complexion and
temperament; but it in necessary to add, that they were piercing and
unsettled, and you felt that they looked into you rather than at you or
upon you. In fact, her features were all perfect, yet it often happened
that their general expression was productive of no agreeable feeling on
the beholder. Sometimes her smile was sweet as that of an angel, but let
a single impulse or whim be checked, and her face assumed a character of
malignity that made her beauty appear like that which we dream of in an
evil spirit.

The other woman, who stood to her in the relation of step-mother, was
above the middle size. Her hair was sandy, or approaching to a pale red;
her features were coarse, but regular; and her whole figure that of
a well-made and powerful woman. In her countenance might be read a
peculiar blending of sternness and benignity, each evidently softened
down by an expression of melancholy - perhaps of suffering - as if some
secret care lay brooding at her heart. The inside of the hovel itself
had every mark of poverty and destitution about it. Two or three stools,
a pot or two, one miserable standing bed, and a smaller one gathered up
under a rug in the corner, were almost all that met the eye on entering
it; and simple as these meagre portions of furniture were, they bore no
marks of cleanliness or care. On the contrary, everything appeared to be
neglected, squalid and filthy - such, precisely, as led one to see at a
glance that the inmates of this miserable hut were contented with their
wretched state of life, and had no notion whatsoever that any moral or
domestic duty existed, by which they might be taught useful notions of
personal comfort and self-respect.

"So," said the young woman, addressing her step-mother, as she entered,
"you're come back at last, an' a purty time you tuck to stay away!"

"Well," replied the other, calmly, "I'm here now at any rate; but I see
you're in one of your tantrums, Sally, my lady. What's wrong, I say? In
the mean time don't look as if you'd ait us widout salt."

"An' a bitter morsel you'd be," replied the younger, with a flashing
glance - "divil a more so. Here am I, sittin', or running out an' in,
these two hours, when I ought to be at the dance in Kilnahushogue,
before I go to Barny Gormly's wake; for I promised to be at both. Why
didn't you come home in time?"

"Bekaise, achora, it wasn't agreeable to me to do so. I'm beginnin' to
got ould an' stiff, an' its time for me to take care of myself."

"Stiffer may you be, then, soon, an' oulder may you never be, an' that's
the best I wish you!"

"Aren't you afeard to talk to me in that way?" said the elder of the
two.

"No - not a bit. You won't flake me now as you used to do. I am able an'
willin' to give blow for blow at last, thank goodness; an' will, too, if
ever you thry that thrick."

The old woman gazed at her angrily, and appeared for a moment to
meditate an assault. After a pause, however, during which the brief but
vehement expression of rising fury passed from her countenance, and her
face assumed an expression more of compassion than of anger, she simply
said, in a calm tone of voice -

"I don't know that I ought to blame you so much for your temper, Sarah.
The darkness of your father's sowl is upon yours; his wicked spirit is
in you, an' may Heaven above grant that you'll never carry about with
you, through this unhappy life, the black an' heavy burden that weighs
down his heart! If God hasn't said it, you have his coorse, or something
nearly as bad, before you. Oh! go to the wake as soon as you like,
an' to the dance, too. Find some one that'll take you off of my hands;
that'll put a house over your head - give you a bit to ait, an' a rag to
put on you; an' may God pity him that's doomed to get you! If the woeful
state of the country, an' the hunger an' sickness that's abroad, an'
that's comin' harder an' faster on us every day, can't tame you or keep
you down, I dunna what will. I'm sure the black an' terrible summer
we've had ought to make you think of how we'll get over all that's
before us! God pity you, I say again, an' whatever poor man is to be
cursed wid you!"

"Keep your pity for them that wants it," replied the other, "an' that's
not me. As for God's pity, it isn't yours to give, and even if it was,
you stand in need of it yourself more than I do. You're beginning
to praich to us now that you're not able to bait us; but for your
praichments an' your baitins, may the divil pay you for all alike! - as
he will - an' that's my prayer."

A momentary gush of the step-mother's habitual passion overcame her; she
darted at her step-daughter, who sprung to her limbs, and flew at her
in return. The conflict at first was brief, for the powerful strength of
the elder female soon told. Sarah, however, quickly disengaged herself,
and seizing an old knife which lay on a shell that served as a dresser,
she made a stab at the very heart of her step-mother, panting as she did
it with an exulting vehemence of vengeance that resembled the growlings
which a savage beast makes when springing on its prey.

"Ha!" she exclaimed, "you have it now - you have it! Call on God's pity
now, for you'll soon want it. Ha! ha!"

The knife, however, owing to the thick layers of cloth with which the
dress of the other was patched, as well as to the weakness of the thin
and worn blade, did not penetrate her clothes, nor render her any injury
whatsoever. The contest was again resumed. Sarah, perceiving that she
had missed her aim, once more put herself into a posture to renew the
deadly attempt; and the consequence was, that a struggle now took place
between them which might almost be termed one for life and death. It was
indeed a frightful and unnatural struggle. The old woman, whose object
was, if possible, to disarm her antagonist, found all her strength - and
it was great - scarcely a match for the murderous ferocity which was now
awakened in her. The grapple between them consequently became furious;
and such was the terrible impress of diabolical malignity which passion
stamped upon the features of this young tigress, that her step-mother's
heart, for a moment quailed on beholding it, especially when associated
with the surprising activity and strength which she put forth., Her dark
and finely-pencilled eye-brows were fiercely knit, as it were, into one
dark line; her lips were drawn back, displaying her beautiful teeth,
that were now ground together into what resembled the lock of death: her
face was pale with over-wrought with resentment, and her deep-set eyes
glowed with a wild and flashing fire that was fearful, while her
lips were encircled with the white foam of revengeful and deadly
determination; and what added most to the terrible expression on her
whole face was the exulting smile of cruelty which shed its baleful
light over it, resolving the whole contest, as it were, and its
object - the murder of her step-mother - into the fierce play of some
beautiful vampire that was ravening for the blood of its awakened
victim.

After a struggle of some two or three minutes, the strength and coolness
of the step-mother at length prevailed, she wrested the knife out of
Sarah's hands and, almost at the same moment, stumbled and fell. The
other, however, was far from relaxing her hold. On the contrary, she
clung to her fiercely, shouting out -

"I won't give you up yet - I love you too well for that - no, no, it's
fond of you I'm gettin'. I'll hug you, mother, dear; ay will I, and kiss
you too, an' lave my mark behind me!" and, as she spoke, her step-mother
felt her face coming in savage proximity to her own.

"If you don't keep away, Sarah," said the other, "I'll stab you. What do
you mane, you bloody devil? It is going to tear my flesh with your teeth
you are? Hould off! or, as heaven's above us, I'll stab you with the
knife."

"You can't," shouted the other; "the knife's bent, or you'd be done for
before this. I'll taste your blood for all that!" and, as the words were
uttered, the step-mother gave a sudden scream, making at the same time a
violent effort to disentangle herself, which she did.

Sarah started to her feet, and flying towards the door, exclaimed with
shouts of wild triumphant laughter -

"Ha, ha, ha! do you feel anything? I was near havin' the best part of
one of your ears - ha, ha, ha! - but unfortunately I missed it; an' now
look to yourself. Your day is gone, an' mine is come. I've tasted-your
blood, an' I like it - ha, ha, ha! - an' if as you say it's kind father
for me to be fond o' blood, I say you had better take care of yourself.
And I tell you more: we'll take care of your fair-haired beauty for
you - my father and myself will - an' I'm told to act against her, an' I
will too; an' you'll see what we'll bring your pet, _Gra Gal_ Sullivan,
to yet! There's news for you!"

She then went down to the river which flowed past, in whose yellow and
turbid waters - for it was now swollen with rain - she washed the blood
from her hands and face with an apparently light heart. Having meditated
for some time, she fell a laughing at the fierce conflict that had just
taken place, exclaiming to herself -

"Ha, ha, ha! Well now if I had killed her - got the ould knife into her
heart - I might lave the counthry. If I had killed her now, throth it 'ud
be a good joke, an' all in a fit of passion, bekase she didn't come home
in time to let me meet him. Well, I'll go back an' spake soft to her,
for, afther all, she'll give me a hard life of it."

She returned; and, having entered the hut, perceived that the ear and
cheek of her step-mother were still bleeding.

"I'm sorry for what I did," she said, with the utmost frankness and good
nature. "Forgive me, mother; you know I'm a hasty devil - for a devil's
limb I am, no doubt of it. Forgive me, I say - do now - here, I'll get
something to stop the blood."

She sprang at the moment, with the agility of a wild cat, upon an old
chest that stood in the corner of the hut, exhibiting as she did it, a
leg and foot of surpassing symmetry and beauty. By stretching herself
up to her full length, she succeeded in pulling down several old cobwebs
that had been for years in the corner of the wall; and in the act of
doing so, disturbed some metallic substance, which fell first upon the
chest, from which it tumbled off to the ground, where it made two or
three narrowing circles, and then lay at rest.

"Murdher alive, mother!" she exclaimed, "what is this? Hallo! a
tobaccy-box - a fine round tobaccy-box of iron, bedad - an what's this on
it! - let me see; two letthers. Wait till I rub the rust off; or stay,
the rust shows them as well. Let me see - P. an' what's the other? ay,
an' M. P. M. - arra, what can that be for? Well, devil may care! let it
lie on the shelf there. Here now - none of your cross looks, I say - put
these cobwebs to your face, an' they'll stop the bleedin'. Ha, ha,
ha! - well - ha, ha, ha! - but you are a sight to fall in love wid this
minute!" she exclaimed, laughing heartily at the blood-stained visage
of the other. "You won't spake, I see. Divil may care then, if you don't
you'll do the other thing - let it alone: but, at any rate, there's the
cobwebs for you, if you like to put them on; an' so _bannatht latht_,
an' let that be a warnin' to you not to raise your hand to me again.

'A sailor courted a farmer's daughter
That lived contageous to the isle of Man,'" &c.

She then directed her steps to the dance in Kilnahushogue, where one
would actually suppose, if mirth, laughter, and extraordinary buoyancy
of spirits could be depended on, that she was gifted, in addition to her
remarkable beauty, with the innocent and delightful disposition of an
angel.

The step-mother having dressed the wound as well as she could, sat down
by the fire and began to ruminate on the violent contest which had just
taken place, and in which she had borne such an unfortunate part. This
was the first open and determined act of personal resistance which she
had ever, until that moment, experienced at her step-daughter's hands;
but now she feared that, if they were to live, as heretofore, under
the same roof, their life would be one of perpetual strife - perhaps
of ultimate bloodshed - and that these domestic brawls might unhappily
terminate in the death of either. She felt that her own temper was none
of the best, and knew that so long as she was incapable of restraining
it, or maintaining her coolness under the provocations to which the
violent passions of Sarah would necessarily expose her, so long must
such conflicts as that which had just occurred take place between them.
She began now to fear Sarah, with whose remorseless disposition she
was too well acquainted, and came to the natural conclusion, that a
residence under the same roof was by no means compatible with her own
safety.

"She has been a curse to me!" she went on, unconsciously speaking aloud;
"for when she wasn't able to bate me herself, her father did it for her.
The divil is said to be fond of his own; an' so does he dote on her,
bekase she's his image in everything that's bad. A hard life I'll lead
between them from this out, espeshially now that she's got the upper
hand of me. Yet what else can I expect or desarve? This load that is on
my conscience is worse. Night and day I'm sufferin' in the sight of God,
an' actin' as if I wasn't to be brought in judgment afore him. What am
I to do? I wish I was in my grave! But then, agin', how am I to face
death? - and that same's not the worst; for afther death comes judgment!
May the Lord prepare me for it, and guide and direct me how to act! One
thing, I know, must be done - either she or I will lave this house; for
live undher the same roof wid her I will not."

She then rose up, looked out of the door a moment, and, resuming her
seat, went on with her soliloquy -

"No; he said it was likely he wouldn't be home to-night. Wanst he gets
upon his ould prophecies, he doesn't care how long he stays away; an'
why he can take the delight he does in prophesyin' and foretellin'
good or evil, accordin' as it sarves his purpose, I'm sure I don't
know - espeshially when he only laughs in his sleeve at the people
for believin' him; but what's that about poor _Gra Gal_ Sullivan? She
threatened her, and spoke of her father, too, as bein' in it. Ah, ah! I
must watch him there; an' you, too, my lady divil - for it 'ill go
hard wid me if either of you injure a hair of her head. No, no, plaise
God! - none of your evil doins or unlucks prophecies for her, so long,
any way, as I can presarve her from them. How black the evenin' is
gatherin', but God knows that it's the awful saison all out for the
harvest - it is that - it is that!"

Having given utterance to these sentiments, she took up the tobacco-box
which Sarah had, in such an accidental manner, tumbled out of the wall,
and surveying it for some moments, laid it hastily on the chest, and,
clasping her hands exclaimed -

"Saviour of life! it's the same! Oh, merciful God, it's thrue! it's
thrue! - the very same I seen wid him that evenin': I know it by the
broken hinge and the two letthers. The Lord forgive me my sins! - for I
see now that do what we may, or hide it as we like, God is above all!
Saviour of life, how will this end? an' what will I do? - or how am I to
act? But any way, I must hide this, and put it out of his reach."

She accordingly went out, and having ascertained that no person saw her,
thrust the box up under the thatch of the roof, in such a way that it
was impossible to suspect, by any apparent disturbance of the roof, that
it was there; after which, she sat down with sensations of dread that
were new to her, and that mingled themselves as strongly with her
affections as it was possible for a woman of a naturally firm and
undaunted character to feel them.




CHAPTER II. - The Black Prophet Prophesies.


At a somewhat more advanced period of the same evening, two men were on
their way from the market-town of Ballynafail, towards a fertile portion
of the country, named Aughamuran, which lay in a southern direction
from it. One of them was a farmer, of middling, or rather of struggling,
circumstances, as was evident from the traces of wear and tear that were
visible upon a dress that had once been comfortable and decent, although
now it bore the marks of careful, though rather extensive repair. He
was a thin placid looking man, with something, however, of a careworn
expression in his features, unless when he smiled, and then his face
beamed with a look of kindness and goodwill that could not readily be
forgotten. The other was a strongly-built man, above the middle size,
whose complexion and features were such as no one could look on with
indifference, so strongly were they indicative of a twofold character,
or, we should rather say, calculated to make a twofold impression.
At one moment you might consider him handsome, and at another his
countenance filled you with an impression of repugnance, if not of
absolute aversion; so stern and inhuman were the characteristics which
you read in it. His hair, beard, and eye-brows were an ebon black, as
were his eyes; his features were hard and massive; his nose, which was
somewhat hooked, but too much pointed, seemed as if, while in a plastic
state, it had been sloped by a trowel towards one side of his face, a
circumstance which, while taken in connection with his black whiskers
that ran to a point near his mouth, and piercing eyes, that were too
deeply and narrowly set, gave him, aided by his heavy eyebrows, an
expression at once of great cruelty and extraordinary cunning. This



Online LibraryWilliam CarletonThe Black Prophet: A Tale Of Irish Famine Traits And Stories Of The Irish Peasantry, The Works of William Carleton, Volume Three → online text (page 1 of 32)