Charles James Lever.

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

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"To the office of the Upper Secretary, sir, I am to address all his
letters," said Wylie, for the first time venturing on a slight approach
to a smile.

"His hotel, I mean. Where does he stop in the city?"

"He usually stays in the Lower Castle-yard, sir, when in town, and
probably will be there now, as the Privy Council is sitting, and they
may want to examine him."

The slow measured tone in which these few words were uttered gave them a
direct application to Mark himself which made him flush deeply. He stood
for a few seconds, seemingly in doubt, and then turned his steps towards

"Did you hear what the young O'Donoghue said, there, as he passed?" said
Wylie to a labouring man who stood gazing after the youth.

"I did, faix," replied the other; "I heerd it plain enough."

"Tell me the words, Pat - I'd like to hear them."

"'Tis what he said - 'He's escaped me this time; but, by G - , he'll not
have the same luck always.'"

"It was Mr. Hemsworth he was after," said Wylie. "It was him he meant."

"To be sure it was; didn't I hear him asking after him."

"All right - so you did," added Wylie, nodding. "Take care you don't
forget the words, that's all, and here's the price of a glass to keep
your memory fresh."

And he chucked a sixpence to the man, who, as he caught it, gave a look
of shrewd intelligence, that showed he felt there was a compact between

Mark moved homewards in deep thought. There was a time when
disappointment would have irritated him rather than have suggested
any new expedient for success. Now he was changed in this respect. If
baffled, he did not feel defeated. His first anger over, he began
to think how best he should obtain a meeting with Hemsworth, and a
retractation of his calumnies against himself. To venture back to Dublin
would have been unsafe on every account. The informations sworn against
him by Lanty Lawler might be at any moment used for his capture. In
Glenflesk alone was he safe; so long as he remained there, no force
Government would think of sending against him could avail; nor was it
likely, for the sake of so humble an individual as himself, that they
would take measures which would have the effect of disclosing their
knowledge of the plot, and thus warn other and more important persons
of the approaching danger. Mark's first determination to leave home
at once, was thus altered by these casual circumstances. He must await
Hemsworth's return, since, without the explanation he looked for, he
never could bring himself to take leave of his friends. As he pondered
thus, a servant in Hemsworth's livery rode rapidly past him. Mark looked
suddenly up, and perceived, with some surprise, from the train of dust
upon the road, that the man was coming from Carrig-na-curra. Slight as
the incident was, he turned his thoughts from his own fortunes to fix
them on those of his cousin Kate. By what magic this man Hemsworth
had won favour in her eyes he could not conceive. That he should have
overcome all the prejudices of his father was strange enough; but that
Kate, whose opinions of people seldom or ever underwent a change, and
who of all others professed to dislike that very plausibility of
manner which Hemsworth possessed, that she could forgive and forget the
tyrannies with which his name was associated - she whose spirit no sordid
bait could tempt, nor any mean object of personal ambition bias - this
was, indeed, inexplicable. Twice or thrice a thought flashed across him,
if it should not be true, - if it were merely one of those rumours which
the world builds on circumstances, - that Hemsworth's intimacy was the
sole foundation for the report, and the friendly interchange of visits
the only reason for the story.

"I must know this," said Mark; "it may not be too late to save her. I
may have come back in the very nick of time, and if so, I shall deem
this piece of fortune more than enough to requite all the mischances of
my life."

As he spoke thus he had reached the little flower-garden, which, in
front of the tower, was the only spot of cultivation around the old
building. His eye wandered over the evidences of care, few and slight as
they were, with pleasant thoughts of her who suggested the culture, when
at the turn of a walk he beheld his cousin coming slowly towards him.

"Good morrow, Mark," said she, extending her hand, and with a smile that
betokened no angry memory of the preceding night; "you took but little
sleep for one so much fatigued as you were."

"And you, cousin, if I mistake not, even as little. I saw a light
burning in your room when day was breaking."

"An old convent habit," said she, smiling; "our matins used to be as

A low, soft sigh followed this speech.

"Yes," said Mark, "you have reason to regret it; your life was happier
there; you had the pleasure of thinking, that many a mile away in this
remote land, there were relatives and friends to whom you were dear, and
of whom you might feel proud; sad experience has told you how unworthy
we are of your affection, how much beneath your esteem. The cold
realities that strip life of its ideal happiness are only endurable when
age has blunted our affections and chilled our hearts. In youth their
poignancy is agony itself. Yes, Kate, I can dare to say it, even to you,
would that you had never come amongst us."

"I will not misunderstand you, Mark; I will not affect to think that,
in your speech, there is any want of affection for me; I will take it
as you mean it, that it had been better for me; and, even on your own
showing, I tell you, nay. If I have shed some tears within these old
walls, yet have my brightest hours been passed within them. Never, until
I came here, did I know what it was to minister to another's happiness;
never did I feel before the ecstacy of being able to make joy more
pleasurable, and sorrow less afflicting. The daughter feeling has filled
up what was once a void in my poor heart; and when you pity me for this
life of loneliness, my pulse has throbbed with delight to think how a
duty, rendered by one as humble and insignificant as I am, can ennoble
life, and make of this quiet valley a scene of active enjoyment."

"So you are happy here, Kate," said he, taking her hand, "and would not
wish to leave it?"

"No, Mark, never; there would be no end to my ambition were the great
world open to me, and the prizes all glittering before me - ambitions
which should take the shape not of personal aggrandizement, but high
hope for objects that come not within a woman's sphere. Here, affection
sways me; there, it might be prejudice or passion."

"Ambition!" muttered Mark, catching at the word; "ambition, the penalty
you pay for it is far too high; and were the gain certain, it is dearly
bought by a heart dead to all purer emotions, cold to every affection of
family and kindred, and a spirit made suspecting by treachery. No, Kate,
no, the humblest peasant on that mountain, whose toil is for his daily
bread, whose last hope at night is for the health that on the morrow
shall sustain more labour, he, has a nobler life than those who nourish
high desires by trading on the crimes and faults of others. I had
ambition once; God knows, it grew not in me from any unworthy hope of
personal advantage. I thought of myself then as meanly as I now do; but
I dreamt, that, by means, humble and unworthy as mine, great events
have been sometimes set in motion. The spark that ignites the train is
insignificant enough in itself, though the explosion may rend the solid
masonry that has endured for ages. Well, well, the dream is over now;
let us speak of something else. Tell me of Herbert, Kate. What success
has he met with in the University?"

"He failed the first time, but the second trial made ample amends for
that defeat. He carried away both prizes from his competitors, Mark,
and stands now, confessedly, the most distinguished youth of his day;
disappointment only nerved his courage. There was a failure to avenge,
as well as a goal to win, and he has accomplished both."

"Happy fellow, that his career in life could depend on efforts of his
own making - who needed but to trust his own firm resolve, and his own
steady pursuit of success, and cared not how others might plot, and
plan, and intrigue around him."

"Very true, Mark; the prizes of intellectual ambition have this
advantage, that they are self won; but, bethink you, are not other
objects equally noble - are not the efforts we make for others more
worthy of fame than those which are dictated by purely personal desire
of distinction?"

Mark almost started at the words, whose direct application to himself
could not be doubted, and his cheek flushed, partly with pride, partly
with shame.

"Yes," said he, after a brief pause, "these are noble themes, and can
stir a heart as sorrow-struck as mine - but the paths that lead upwards,
Kate, are dark and crooked - the guides that traverse them are false and

"You have, indeed, found them so," said Kate, with a deep sigh.

"How do you mean, I have found them so?" cried Mark, in amazement at the

"I mean what I have said, Mark, that betrayal and treachery have tracked
you for many a day. You would not trust me with your secret, Mark, nor
yet confide in me, when an accident left it in my possession. Chance has
revealed to me many circumstances of your fortune, and even now, Mark,
I am only fearful lest your own prejudices should hazard your safety.
Shall I go on? May I speak still more plainly?"

Mark nodded, and she resumed -

"One who never favoured the cause you adopted, probably from the very
confederates it necessitated - yet saw with sympathy how much truth
and honour were involved in the struggle, has long watched over
you - stretching out, unseen, the hand to help, and the shield to protect
you. He saw in you the generous boldness of one whose courage supplies
the nerve, that mere plotters trade upon, but never possess. He saw,
that once in the current, you would be swept along, while they would
watch you from the shore. He, I say, saw this, and with a generosity the
greater, because no feelings of friendship swayed him, he came forward
to save you."

"And this unseen benefactor," said Mark, with a proud look of scornful
meaning, "his name is - - "

"I will not speak it, if you ask me thus," said Kate, blushing, for she
read in his glance the imputation his heart was full of. "Could you
so far divest yourself of prejudice as to hear calmly, and speak
dispassionately, I could tell you anything - everything, Mark."

"No, Kate, no," said he, smiling dubiously; "I have no right to ask,
perhaps not to accept of such a confidence."

"Be it so, then," said she, proudly, "we will speak of this no more;
and with a slight bow, and a motion of her hand, she turned into another
alley of the garden, and left Mark silently musing over the scene.
Scarcely, however, had she screened herself from his view by the
intervening trees, than she hastened her steps, and soon gained the
house. Without stopping to take breath, she ascended the stairs, and
tapped at Sir Archy's door.

"Come in, my sweet Kate," said he, in his blandest voice, "I should know
that gentle tap amid a thousand; but, my dear child, why so pale? - what
has agitated you? - sit down and tell me."

"Read this, sir," said she, taking a letter from the folds of her
handkerchief - "this well tell you all, shorter and more collectedly than
I can. I want your advice and counsel, and quickly too, for no time is
to be lost.

"This is Mr. Hemsworth's writing," said Sir Archy, as he adjusted his
spectacles to read. "When did you receive it?"

"About an hour ago," answered Kate, half impatient at the unhurried
coolness of the old man's manner, who at last proceeded to examine the
epistle, but without the slightest show of anxiety or eagerness. His
apathy was, however, short-lived - short expressions of surprise broke
from him, followed by exclamations of terror and dismay, till at length,
laying down the letter, he said, "Leave me, sweet Kate, leave me to read
and reflect on this alone; be assured I'll lose no time in making up
my mind about it, for I see that hours are precious here." And as she
glided from the room, Sir Archy placed the open letter on a table before
him, and sat down diligently to re-consider its contents.


The letter, over which Sir Archy bent in deep thought, was from
Hemsworth. It was dated from the night before, and addressed to Kate
O'Donoghue, and, although professing to have been hurriedly written, an
observer, as acute as Sir Archy, could detect ample evidence of great
care and consideration in its composition. Statements seemingly clear
and open, were in reality confused and vague; assertions were qualified,
and, in lieu of direct and positive information, there were scattered
throughout, hopes, and fears, wishes, and expectations, all capable of
being sustained, whatever the issue of the affair they referred to.

The letter opened with a respectful apology for addressing Miss
O'Donoghue; but pleading that the urgency of the case, and the motives
of the writer, might be received as a sufficient excuse. After stating,
in sufficiently vague terms, to make the explanation capable of a double
meaning, the reasons for selecting her, and not either of her uncles,
for the correspondence, it entered at once upon the matter of the
communication, in these words: -

"I have hesitated and doubted, Miss O'Donoghue, how far my
interference in the affairs of your family may be
misconstrued, and whether the prejudices which were once
entertained to my disadvantage might not now be evoked to
give a false colouring to my actions. These doubts I have
resolved, by reflecting that they are for the most part
personal, and that if I succeed in rendering real service,
the question is comparatively indifferent what light or
shadow it may seem to throw on my conduct. A candid and
impartial judgment I certainly look to from _you_, and I
confess myself at liberty to lay less store by the opinions
of others."

Continuing for a brief space in this strain, the letter went on
to mention that the sudden return of Mark had left the writer no
alternative but to venture on this correspondence, whatever the
consequences - consequences which, the writer palpably inferred, might
prove of the last moment to himself. The explanation - and, for the
reader's sake, it is better to spare him Hemsworth's involved narrative,
and merely give its substance - was chiefly, that information of Mark
O'Donoghue's complicity in the plot of the United Irish party had been
tendered to Government, and supported by such evidence that a Judge's
warrant was issued for his apprehension and the seizure of all his
papers; partly from friendly interference - this was dubiously and
delicately put by Hemsworth - and partly from the fact that his extreme
youth and ignorance of the real views of the insurgents were pleaded in
his favour, the execution of this warrant was delayed, and the young man
suffered to go at large. So long as he withdrew himself from the company
of the other conspirators, and avoided publicity, the Government was
willing to wink at the past. It had been, however, determined on,
that should he either be found mixed up with any of the leaders of the
movement in future, or should he venture to return to Glenflesk, where
his influence amongst the peasantry was well known to, and apprehended
by the Government, then there should no longer be any hesitation in the
line to be followed. He was immediately to be apprehended and sent
up under a sufficient escort to Dublin, to take his trial, with five
others, for high treason. The proofs of his guilt were unquestionable,
consisting of letters written and received, conversations to which
witnesses could depose, as well as an intimacy for months long with
Barrington, whose active participation in the schemes of rebellion was
as well known, as the notorious fact of his being a convicted felon.
To found a hope upon his innocence was thus shown to be perfectly
impossible. His most trusted associates were the evidence against him;
documents in his hand-writing were also in the hands of the law-officers
of the Crown, and, in fact, far more than enough to bring him to the

Hemsworth, who gently hinted all through, how far his interference had
been beneficial, was one of those entrusted with Mark's arrest, should
he ever dare to re-appear in his native country. The orders of the
Privy Council on this score were positive and clear, and admitted of no
possible misconception.

"You may judge, then," continued he, "what were my feelings
on seeing him suddenly enter the house last night - to think
that, while I was enjoying the pleasure of your society, and
the hospitable attentions of your home, I had actually in my
pocket at the moment the official order to apprehend the
eldest son of my entertainer - the friend and companion of
your childhood - to bring grief and mourning beneath the roof
where I had passed so many happy hours - to dispel all the
dreams I had begun to nourish of a neighbourhood connected
by ties of kindness and good will. I had to choose between
the alternative of this, or else, by a palpable avoidance of
my duty, criminate myself, and leave my conduct open to the
most dangerous comments of my enemies. The latter involved
only myself. I have adopted it, and before this letter
reaches your hands, I shall be on my way up to Dublin,
nominally to attend the Council, but in reality to escape
the necessity my onerous position would impose. None save
those beneath your roof know that I have met Mr. Mark
O'Donoghue, and I shall be half-way to Dublin before his
arrival in the country is suspected. So much, in brief, for
the past and the present. Now for the future. There are two
courses open to this young gentleman, or to those who would
serve and befriend him. One is, by a free and unlimited
confession to the Government of all the circumstances of the
plot, so far as they have come to his knowledge, the parties
interested, their several shares in the undertaking, with
every detail of date and time, to sue for a pardon for
himself - a grace which, I need scarcely say, I will use all
my influence to obtain. The other mode is, by a
temporary exile; to withdraw himself from the notice of the
Government, until the danger having perfectly passed over,
political acrimony will have abated, and the necessity for
making severe examples of guilt be no longer urgent. This
latter course I opine to be preferable, on many grounds. It
demands no sacrifice of private feeling - no surrender of
honour. It merely provides for safety, reserving the future
untrammelled by any pledge. Neither need the absence be long;
a year or two at farthest; the probabilities are, that
with their present knowledge of the schemes of the
insurgents, the Government can either precipitate events, or
retard and protract them at will. Their policy, in this
respect, depending on the rank and importance of those who,
by either line of procedure, would be delivered into their
hands. Arguing from what they have already done, I should
pronounce it likely that their game will be to wait, to
weaken the hopes and break the spirit of the United party,
by frequent defections; to sow distrust and suspicion
amongst them, and thus, while avoiding the necessity of
bloodshed, to wear out rebellion by a long and lingering
fear. If, then, others, whose age and position involved a
greater prominence in these schemes, would require a longer
banishment to erase the memory of the acts, your young
relative, who has both youth and its rashness to plead for
him, need not reckon on so lengthened an absence from his
native land.

"Above all things, however, remember that not an hour is to
be lost. Any moment may disclose to the Crown some new
feature of the plot, and may call forth measures of
stringent severity, The proclamation offering a reward for
the apprehension of four persons, of whom your cousin is
one, is already printed, and in the office of the Secretary.
An hour would see it all over the walls of the capital, in a
day or two more, it would reach every remote corner, of the
land. Then, all efforts on my part would be ineffectual,
were they even possible. Reflect on this. It is not a mere
question of fine or even imprisonment. It is life itself is
on the issue, and life which, in surrendering, will blast a
great name with dishonour, and a great house with obloquy
and shame; for there has been no struggle, no effort, no
bold and generous exposure to danger, to palliate treason,
and gloss over its faults. All has been plotting and
contriving for alien assistance and foreign help; no self-
reliance, no patriotism, which, if mistaken, was still
sincere and manly. Reflect on all this, and think that a
life offered up in such a cause has no martyrdom to throw
lustre on the grave shared with the felon and the
highwayman. Forgive me if, in the warmth of my zeal, I have
said one word which may offend. If I had not spoken thus
forcibly, I should be a traitor to my own heart.

"I have written hurriedly, and I doubt not, in some
respects, unadvisedly; but the sincerity of my purpose will
plead for me, should the indiscretion of my zeal require
apology. You will, perhaps, ask why I should have imposed a
task difficult as this upon you - why I should have loaded
you with a responsibility so weighty? My answer is simply, I
dared not write to the O'Donoghue on the subject of his
son's indiscretion - to impugn the acts of the young man,
would be to forfeit all influence with the old one. You will
then say, why not address Sir Archibald? For the simple
reason, that the prejudices of his country are too strong in
him to make due allowances for those who err from excitable
or impetuous natures; not only would he judge too harshly
of Mark, but he would be anxious to record that judgment as
a warning to Herbert, for whom alone he is interested. I
therefore make it a strenuous request - nay, more, I esteem
it as the term of a compact between us, that you do not show
this letter either to the O'Donoghue or to his brother. I
have expressed myself openly and candidly to you, but with a
tacit assurance that my confidence is not to be extended to
others. In the part I have taken, I already incur
considerable risk. This is a period when loyalty cannot
afford to be even suspected; yet have I jeoparded mine in
befriending this youth. I now conclude, dear madam, assuring
you that any danger I incur, or any anxiety I feel, will be
amply repaid if I only know that you think not unworthily of

"William Hemsworth."

Sir Archy studied this letter with the patient care a lawyer bestows
upon a brief. He thought over each sentence, and weighed the expressions
in his mind with deep thought. It had been his fortune, in early life,
to have been thrown into situations of no common difficulty, and his
mind had, in consequence, acquired a habit of shrewd and piercing
investigation, which, though long disused, was not altogether forgotten;
by the aid of this faculty, Hemsworth's letter appeared to him in a
very different light from that in which Kate viewed it. The knowledge of
every circumstance concerning Mark evinced an anxiety which he was very
far from attributing to motives of friendship. Sir Archy well knew the
feelings of dislike which subsisted between these two men - how then
account for this sudden change on Hemsworth's part? - to what attribute
this wonderful interest concerning him?

"Let us see," said the old man to himself, "let us see the fruit, and
then we may pronounce upon the tree. Where and to what does Hemsworth's
benevolence point, dishonour or banishment? Such are the terms he
offers; such are the alternatives his kindness suggests. Might these
have no other motive than friendship? - might they not he the offspring
of feelings very different indeed? What benefit might he derive from

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago → online text (page 31 of 41)