Charles James Lever.

The O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago online

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youth's shoulder, half choked with sobs.

As the O'Donoghue slowly ascended the stairs, towards his bedroom, Mark
threw himself upon a chair, and buried his face in his hands. His sorrow
was a deep one. The resolve he had just abandoned, had been for many
a day the cherished dream of his heart - his comfort under every
affliction - his support against every difficulty. To seek his fortune
in some foreign service - to win an honourable name, even though in a
strange land, was the whole ambition of his life; and so engrossed was
he in his own calculations, that he never deigned a thought of what his
father might feel about it. The poverty that eats its way to the heart
of families seldom fails to loosen the ties of domestic affection. The
daily struggle, the hourly conflict with necessity, too often destroy
the delicate and trustful sense of protection that youth should
feel towards age. The energies that should have expanded into homely
affection and mutual regard, are spent in warding off a common enemy;
and with weary minds and seared hearts the gentler charities of life
have few sympathies. Thus was it here. Mark mistook his selfishness
for a feeling of independence; he thought indifference to others meant
confidence in himself - and he was not the first who made the mistake.

Tired with thinking, and harassed with difficulties, through which he
could see no means of escape, he threw open the window, to suffer the
cool night air to blow upon his throbbing temples, and sat down beside
the casement, to enjoy its refreshing influence. The candles had burned
down in the apartment, and the fire, now reduced to a mere mass of red
embers, scarce threw a gleam beyond the broad hearth-stone. The old
tower itself flung a dark shadow upon the rock, and across the road
beneath it, and, except in the chamber of the sick boy, in a distant
part of the building, not a light was to be seen.

The night was calm and star-lit: a stillness almost painful reigned
around. It seemed as if exhausted nature, tired with the work of storm
and hurricane, had sunk into a deep and wearied sleep. Thousands of
bright stars speckled the dark sky; yet the light they shed upon the
earth, but dimly distinguished mountain and valley, save where the'
calm surface of the lake gave back their lustre, in a heaven, placid
and motionless as their own. Now and then, a bright meteor would shoot
across the blue vault, and disappear in the darkness; while in tranquil
splendour, the planets shone on, as though to say, the higher destiny
is to display an eternal brightness, than the brilliancy of momentary
splendour, however glittering its wide career.

The young man gazed upon the sky. The lessons which, from human lips, he
had rejected with scorn and impatience, now sunk deeply into his nature,
from those silent monitors. The stars looked down, like eyes, into his
very soul, and he felt as if he could unburthen his whole heart of its
weary load, and make a confidence with heaven.

"They point ever downwards," said he to himself, as he watched the
bright streak of the falling stars, and moralized on their likeness to
man's destiny. But as he spoke, a red line shot up into the sky, and
broke into ten thousand glittering spangles, shedding over glen and
mountain, a faint but beauteous gleam, scarce more lasting than the
meteor's flash. It was a rocket sent up from the border of the Bay, and
was quickly answered by another from the remote end of the Glen. The
youth started, and leaning out from the window, looked down the valley;
but nothing was to be seen or heard - all was silent as before, and
already the flash of the signals, for such they must have been he could
not doubt, had faded away, and the sky shone in its own spangled beauty.

"They are smugglers!" muttered Mark, as he sank back in his chair; for
in that wild district such signals were employed without much fear, by
those who either could trust the revenue as accomplices, or dare them
by superior numbers. More than once it had occurred to him to join this
lawless band, and many a pressing invitation had he received from the
leaders to do so; but still, the youth's ambition, save in his darkest
hours, took a higher and a nobler range: the danger of the career was
its only fascination to him. Now, however, all these thoughts were
changed: he had given a solemn pledge to his father never to leave him;
and it was with a feeling of half apathy he sat, pondering over what
cutter it might be that had anchored, or whose party were then preparing
to land their cargo.

"Ambrose Denner, belike," muttered he to himself, "the Flemish fellow,
from the Scheldt - a greedy old scoundrel too, he refused a passage to
a poor wretch that broke the jail in Limerick, because he could not pay
for it. I wish the people here may remember it to him. Maybe its Hans
'der Teufel,' though, as they call him; or Flahault - he's the best of
them, if there be a difference. I've half a mind to go down the Glen
and see;" and while he hesitated, a low, monotonous sound of feet, as
if marching, struck on his ear; and as he listened, he heard the distant
tramp of men, moving in, what seemed, a great number. These could not
be the smugglers, he well knew: reckless and fearless as they were, they
never came in such large bodies as these noises portended.

There is something solemn in the sound of marching heard in the
stillness of the night, and so Mark felt it, as with cautious breathing
he leaned upon the window, and bent his ear to listen. Nearer and nearer
they came, till at last the footfalls beat loudly on the dull ground
as, in measured tread, they stepped. At first a dark moving mass, that
seemed to fill the narrow road, was all he could discern, but as
this came closer, he could perceive that they marched in companies of
divisions, each headed by his leader, who, from time to time, stepped
from his place, and observed their order and precision. They were all
country people; their dress, as well as he could discern, the common
costume of every day, undistinguished by any military emblem. Nor did
they carry arms; the captains alone wore a kind of white scarf over the
shoulder, which could be distinctly seen, even by the imperfect light.
They, alone, carried swords, with which they checked the movements from
time to time. Not a word was uttered in the dense ranks - not a murmur
broke the stillness of the solemn scene, as that host poured on. The one
command, "Right shoulders forward - wheel!" being given at intervals, as
the parties defiled beneath the rock, at which place the road made an
abrupt turning.

So strange the spectacle, so different from all he had ever witnessed
or heard of, the youth, more than once half doubted lest, a wearied and
fevered brain had not called up the illusion; but as he continued to
gaze on the moving multitude, he was assured of its reality; and now
was he harassed by conjectures what it all should mean. For nearly an
hour - to him it seemed many such - the human tide flowed on, till at
length the sounds grew fainter, and the last party moved by, followed,
at a little distance, by two figures on horseback. Their long cloaks
concealed the wearers completely from his view, but he could distinctly
mark the steel scabbards of swords, and hear their heavy clank against
the horses' flanks.

Suffering their party to proceed, the horsemen halted for a few seconds
at the foot of the rock, and as they reined in, one called out to the
other, in a voice, every syllable of which fell distinctly on Mark's
ears -

"That's the place, Godfrey; and even by this light you can judge of its
strength."

"But why is he not with us?" said the other hastily. "Has he not an
inheritance to win back - a confiscation to wipe out?"

"True enough," said the first speaker; "but eighty winters do not
improve a man's nerve for an hazardous exploit. He has a son though,
and, as I hear, a bold fellow."

"Look to him, Harvey: it is of moment that we should have one so near
the Bay. See to this quickly. If he be like what you say, and desires a
command - " The rest was lost in the sound of their retreating hoofs,
for already the party resumed their journey, and were in a few minutes
hidden from his view.

With many a conflicting doubt, and many a conjecture, each wilder than
the other, Mark pondered over what he had seen, nor noted the time as it
slipped past, till the grey tint of day-dawn warned him of the hour. The
rumbling sounds of a country cart just then attracted his attention, and
he beheld a countryman, with a little load of turf, on his way to the
market at Killarney. Seeing that the man must have met the procession,
he called aloud -

"I say, my good man, where were they all marching, to-night - those
fellows?"

"What fellows, your honour?" said the man, as he touched his hat
obsequiously.

"That great crowd of people - you could not help meeting them - there was
no other road they could take."

"Sorra man, woman, or child I seen, your honour, since I left home, and
that's eight miles from this," and so saying he followed his journey,
leaving Mark in greater bewilderment than before.




CHAPTER XIII. THE GUARDSMAN

Leaving for a brief season Glenflesk and its inhabitants, we shall ask
of our readers to accompany us to London, to a scene somewhat different
from that of our last chapter.

In a handsomely furnished drawing-room in St. James's street, where the
appliances of ease and luxury were blended with the evidence of those
tastes so popular among young men of fashion of the period, sat, or
rather lay, in a deep cushioned arm-chair, a young officer, who, even
in the dishabille of the morning, and with the evident traces of fatigue
and dissipation on his brow, was strikingly handsome. Though not more
than three or four-and-twenty, the habits of his life, and the assured
features of his character, made him appear several years older. In
figure he was tall and well-proportioned, while his countenance
bore those lineaments which are pre-eminently distinguished as
Saxon, - massive but well-chiselled features, the harmony of whose
expression is even more striking than their individual excellence,
a look of frank daring, which many were prone to attribute to
superciliousness, was the most marked trait in his face, nor was the
impression lessened by a certain "_hauteur_," which military men of the
time assumed, and which, he, in particular, somewhat prided himself on.

The gifts of fortune and the graces of person will often seem to invest
their possessor with attributes of insolence and overbearing, which are,
in reality, nothing more than the unbridled buoyancy of youth and power
revelling in its own exercise.

We have no fancy to practise mystery with our reader, and shall at
once introduce him to Frederick Travers, Sir Marmaduke's only son, and
Captain in the first regiment of Guards. Wealth and good looks were
about as popular fifty years ago, as they are in the year we write in,
and Frederick Travers was as universal a favorite in the circles he
frequented as any man of his day. Courtly manners, spirits nothing could
depress, a courage nothing could daunt, expensive tastes, gratified as
rapidly as they were conceived, were all accessaries which won their
way among his acquaintances, and made them proud of his intimacy, and
boastful of his friendship. That circumstances like these should have
rendered a young man self-willed and imperious, is not to be wondered
at, and such was he in reality - less, however, from the unlimited
license of his position, than from an hereditary feature which
distinguished every member of his family, and made them as intolerant of
restraint, as they were wayward in purpose. The motto of their house was
the index of their character, and in every act and thought they seemed
under the influence of their emblazoned inscription, "A tort et à
travers."

Over his father, Frederick Travers exercised an unlimited influence;
from his boyhood upward he had never met a contradiction, and the
natural goodness of his temper, and the affectionate turn of his
disposition, made the old man believe in the excellence of a system,
whose success lay less in its principle, than in the virtue of him, on
whom it was practised.

Sir Marmaduke felt proud of his son's career in the world, and enjoyed
to the utmost all the flattery which the young man's acceptance in
society conferred; he was proud of him, almost as much as he was fond of
him, and a letter from Frederick had always the effect of restoring his
spirits, no matter how deep their depression the moment before.

The youth returned his father's affection with his whole heart; he
knew and valued all the high and generous principles of his nature; he
estimated with an honest pride those gifts which had won Sir Marmaduke
the esteem and respect of his fellow-citizens; but yet, he thought he
could trace certain weaknesses of character, from which his own more
enlarged sphere of life had freed him.

Fashionable associates, the society of men of wit and pleasure, seem
often to suggest more acute and subtle views of life, than are to be
obtained in less exalted and distinguished company; the smart sayings
and witty epigrams which are current among clever men appear to be so
many texts in the wisdom of the world. Nothing is more common than this
mistake; nothing more frequent than to find, that intercourse with such
people diffuses few, if any, of their distinguishing merits among their
less gifted associates, who rarely learn any thing from the intercourse,
but a hearty contempt for all who are debarred from it. Frederick was of
this school; the set he moved in was his religion - their phrases, their
prejudices, their passions, he regarded as standards for all imitation.
It is not surprising, then, if he conceived many of his father's notions
obsolete and antiquated, and had they not been his, he would have
treated them as ridiculous.

This somewhat tedious explanation of a character with whom we have not
any very lengthened business hereafter, demands some apology from us,
still, without it we should be unable to explain to our reader the
reason of those events to whose narrative we are hastening.

On the table, among the materials of a yet untasted breakfast, lay an
open letter, of which, from time to time, the young man read, and as
often threw from him, with expressions of impatience and anger. A
night of more than ordinary dissipation had made him irritable, and the
contents of the epistle did not seem of a character to calm him.

"I knew it," said he at last, as he crushed the letter in his hand. "I
knew it, well; my poor father is unfit to cope with those savages; what
could ever have persuaded him to venture among them I know not! the few
hundreds a year the whole estate produces, are not worth as many weeks'
annoyance. Hemsworth knows them well; he is the only man fit to deal
with them. Heigho!" said he, with a sigh, "there is nothing for it
I suppose, but to bring them back again as soon as may be - and this
confounded accident Hemsworth has met with in the Highlands, will lay
him on his back these five weeks - I must e'en go myself. Yet nothing was
ever more ill-timed. The Queen's fête at Frogmore, fixed for Wednesday;
there's the tennis match on Friday, - and Saturday, the first day of the
Stag hounds. It is too bad. Hemsworth is greatly to blame; he should
have been candid about these people, and not have made his Pandemonium
an Arcadia. My father is also to blame; he might have asked my advice
about this trip; and Sybella, too - why didn't she write? She above all
should have warned me about the folly;" and thus did he accuse in
turn all the parties concerned in a calamity, which, after all, he saw
chiefly reflected in the inconvenience it caused himself.

Now, assuredly, Hemsworth requires some vindication at our hands. It had
never entered into that worthy man's most imaginative conceptions, to
believe a visit from Sir Marmaduke to his Irish property within the
reach of possibility; for although, as we have already said, he was in
the constant habit of entreating Sir Marmaduke to bestow this mark of
condescension on his Irish tenants, he ever contrived to accompany the
recommendation with certain casual hints about the habits and customs
of the natives, as might well be supposed sufficient to deter a more
adventurous traveller than the old baronet; and while he pressed him to
come, and see for himself, he at the same time plied him with newspapers
and journals, whose columns were crammed with the fertile theme of
outrage; the editorial comments on which often indicated a barbarism
even deeper than the offence they affected to deplore. The accident
which ultimately led to Sir Marmaduke's hurried journey, was a casualty
which Hemsworth had overlooked, and when he heard that the family were
actually domesticated at "the Lodge," his regrets were indeed great. It
was only on the day before the intelligence reached him - for the letter
had followed him from place to place for a fortnight - that he had the
misfortune to break his leg, by a fall from a cliff in deer shooting.
Whatever the urgency of the measure, he was totally incapable of
undertaking a journey to Ireland, whither, under other circumstances, he
would have hastened with all speed. Hemsworth's correspondent, of whom
we shall have occasion to speak more, hereafter, was the sub-agent of
the estate, - a creature of his own, in every sense, and far more in his
interest, than in that of his principal. He told him, in forcible terms,
how Sir Marmaduke had commenced his work of Irish reformation; that,
already, both the baronet and his daughter had undertaken the task
of improvement among the tenantry; that rents were to be lowered,
school-houses erected, medical aid provided for the sick and suffering,
more comfortable dwellings built, more liberal wages allowed; he
narrated, how rapidly the people, at first suspicious and distrustful,
were learning to feel confidence in their benefactor, and anxious to
avail themselves of his benevolence; but more than all, he dwelt
upon the conviction, which every hour gained ground among them, that
Hemsworth had misrepresented the landlord, and that, so far from being
himself the instrument of, he had been the obstacle to, their welfare
and happiness. The letter concluded with a pressing entreaty for his
speedy return to "the Lodge," as, should he be longer absent, the
mischief would become past remedy.

Never did agent receive an epistle more alarming; he saw the game, for
which he had been playing half a lifetime, slip from him at the very
moment of winning. For above twenty years his heart was set upon
becoming the owner of the estate; all his plans, his plots, his
machinations, had no other end or object. From the deepest stroke of his
policy, to the most trivial act of his power, he had held this in view.
By his artful management a veil was intercepted between the landlord and
the people, which no acuteness on either side could penetrate. The very
acts intended as benefits by the owner of the soil, passed through such
a medium, that they diverged from their destined direction, and fell,
less as blessings than inflictions. The landlord was taught to regard
the tenant, as incurably sunk in barbarism, ignorance, and superstition.
The tenant to suppose the landlord, a cruel, unfeeling task-master, with
no care but for his rent; neither sympathy for their sufferings, nor
sorrow for their calamities. Hemsworth played his game like a master;
for while obtaining the smallest amount of rental for his chief, he
exacted the most onerous and impoverishing terms from the people. Thus
diminishing the apparent value of the property, he hoped one day to
be able to purchase, and at the same time preparing it for becoming a
lucrative and valuable possession, for although the rents were nominally
low, the amount of fees and "duty-labor" were enormous. There was
scarcely a man upon the property whose rent was paid to the day and
hour, and for the favour of some brief delay, certain services were
exacted, which virtually reduced the tenants to a vassalage the most
miserable and degrading.

If, then, the eye ranged over a district of a poverty-struck and
starving peasantry, with wretched hovels, naked children, and rude,
unprofitable tillage, let the glance but turn to the farm around "the
Lodge," and, there, the trim fences, the well-weeded corn, and the
nicely-cultivated fields, were an evidence of what well-directed labour
could effect; and the astounding lesson seemed to say: - Here is an
object for imitation. Look at yonder wheat: see that clover, and the
meadow beyond it. They could all do likewise. Their land is the same,
the climate the same, the rent the same; but yet ignorance and obstinacy
are incurable. They will not be taught - prefer their own barbarous ways
to newer and better methods - in fact, are beyond the lessons of either
precept or example.

Yet what was the real case? To till that model-farm, to make these
fields the perfection you see them, families were starving - age, left
to totter to the grave, uncared-for - manhood, pining in want and misery,
and infancy, to dawn upon suffering, to last a life long. Duty-labour
calls the poor man from the humble care of his own farm, to come, with
his whole house, and toil upon the rich man's fields, the requital for
which is some poor grace of a week's or a month's forbearance, ere he be
called on for that rent these exactions are preventing him from earning.
Duty-labour summons him from his own profitless ground, to behold the
fruits his exertions are raising for another's enjoyment, and of which
he must never taste! Duty-labour calls the days of fair sky and sunshine,
and leaves him the gloomy hours of winter, when, with darkness without,
and despair within, he may brood, as he digs, over the disproportioned
fortunes of his tyrant and himself! Duty-labour is the type of a
slavery, that hardens the heart, by extinguishing all hope, and
uprooting every feeling of self-confidence and reliance, till, in abject
and degraded misery, the wretched man grows reckless of his life, while
his vengeance yearns for that of his task master.

Nor does the system end here; - the agent must be conciliated by presents
of various kinds; - the humble pittance, wrung from misery, and hoarded
up by industry, must be offered to him, as the means of obtaining some
poor and petty favour, most frequently, one, the rightful due of the
asker. A tyranny like this spreads its baneful influence far beyond the
afflictions of mere poverty - it breaks down the spirit, it demoralizes
the heart of a people; for where was black-mail ever extorted, that
it did not engender cruelty on the one hand, and abject slavery on the
other?

So far from regarding those placed above them in rank and station, as
their natural friends and protectors, the peasantry felt the great man
as their oppressor; they knew him not, as their comforter in sickness,
their help in time of trouble - they only saw in him, the rigid exactor
of his rent, the merciless task-master, who cared not for time or
season, save those that brought round the period of repayment; and as,
year by year, poverty and misery ate deeper into their natures, and hope
died out, fearful thoughts of retribution flashed upon minds, on which
no prospect of better days shone; and, in the gloomy desolation of their
dark hours, they wished and prayed for any change, come in what shape,
and surrounded by what danger it might, if only this bondage should
cease.

Men spoke of their light-heartedness, their gaiety of temper, their
flashing and brilliant wit. How little they knew that such qualities,
by some strange incongruity of our natures, are the accompaniments
of deeply-reflective and imaginative minds, overshadowed by lowering
fortune. The glittering fancy, that seems to illumine the path of life,
is often but the wild-fire that dances over the bleak and desolate
heath.

Their apathy and indifference to exertion was made a matter of reproach
to them; yet, was it ever known that toil should be voluntary, when
hopeless, and that labour should be endured without a prospect of
requital?

We have been led, almost unconsciously, into this somewhat lengthened
digression, for which, even did it not bear upon the circumstances of
our story, we would not seek to apologize to our reader. Such we believe
to have been, in great part, the wrongs of Ireland - the fertile source
of those thousand evils under which the land was suffering. From this
one theme have arisen, most, if not all, the calamities of the country.



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago → online text (page 11 of 41)