Charles James Lever.

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

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Saturday. I always went down in the mornings to Mary M'Kelly's, before
the bag came in, and as she could not read over well, I sorted the
letters for her myself, and slipped in these among your own."

Hemsworth and his companion exchanged looks. Probably never did glances
more rapidly reveal the sentiments of two hearts. Each, well knew the
villainy of the ether; but Hemsworth for the first time saw himself in
another's power, and hesitated how far the advantage of the discovery
was worth the heavy price he should pay for it; besides that the habits
of his life made him regard the breach of confidence, incurred in
reading another man's letter, in a very different light from his
underbred associate, and he made no gesture to take them from his hand.

"This has an English post-mark," said Wylie, purposely occupying himself
with the letter, to avoid noticing Hemsworth's hesitation.

"You have not broken the seals, I hope," said Hemsworth, faintly.

"No, sir; I knew better than that," replied Wylie, with well-assumed
caution. "I knew your honour had a right to it, if you suspected the
correspondence was treasonable, because you're in the Commission, and
it's your duty; but I could'nt venture it, of myself."

"I'm afraid your law is not very correct, Master Wylie," said Hemsworth,
who felt by no means certain as to the sincerity of the opinion.

"It's good enough for Glenflesk, anyhow," said the fellow, boldly; for
he saw that in Hemsworth's present nervous condition, audacity might
succeed where subserviency would not.

"By which you mean that we have the case in our own hands, Wylie; well,
you're not far wrong in that; still, I cannot break open a letter.

"Well, then, I'm not so scrupulous when my master's interests are
concerned;" and so saying, he tore open each in turn, and threw them on
the bed. "There, sir, you can transport me for the offence whenever you
like."

"You are a strange fellow, Sam," said Hemsworth, whose nerves were too
much shaken by illness, to enable him to act with his ordinary decision,
and he took up one of the letters, and perused it slowly. "This is
merely an announcement of his arrival in Dublin; he has waited upon, but
not seen the Secretary - -finds it difficult to obtain an audience - press
of parliamentary business for the new session - no excitement about the
United party. What tidings has the other? Ha! - . what's this?" - -and
his thin and haggard face flushed scarlet. "Leave me, Sam; I must have a
little time to consider this. Come back to me in an hour."

Wylie said not a word, but moved towards the door; while in his sallow
features a savage smile of malicious triumph shone.

As Hemsworth flattened out the letter before him on the bed, his eyes
glistened and sparkled with the fire of aroused intelligence: the
faculties which, during his long illness, had lain in abeyance, as
if refreshed and invigorated by rest, were once more excited to their
accustomed exercise; and over that face, pale and haggard by sickness, a
flush of conscious power stole, lighting up every lineament and
feature, and displaying the ascendancy of mental effort over mere bodily
infirmity.

"And so this Scotchman dares to enter the list with _me_," said he, with
a smile of contemptuous meaning; "let him try it."




CHAPTER XLIV. THE MOUNTAIN AT SUNRISE.

A little lower down the valley than the post occupied by Terry as his
look-out, was a small stream, passable by stepping-stones; this was the
usual parting place of the two brothers, whenever Herbert returned
home for a day or so, and this limit Mark rarely or never transgressed,
regarding it as the frontier of his little dominion. Beside this
rivulet, as night was falling, Mark sat, awaiting with some impatience
his brother's coming, for already the third evening had passed in which
Herbert promised to be back, and yet he had not come.

Alternately stooping to listen, or straining his eyes to see, he waited
anxiously; and while canvassing in his mind every possible casualty he
could think of to account for his absence, he half resolved on pushing
forward down the glen, and, if necessary, venturing even the whole way
to Carrig-na-curra. Just then a sound caught his ear - he listened, and
at once recognized Terry's voice, as, singing some rude verse, he came
hastening down the glen at his full speed.

"Ha! I thought you'd be here," cried he, with delight in his
countenance; "I knew you'd be just sitting there on that rock."

"What has happened, then, Terry, that you wanted me?"

"It was a message a man in sailor's clothes gave me for your honour
this morning, and, somehow, I forgot to tell you of it when you passed,
though he charged me not to forget it."

"What is it, Terry?"

"Ah, then, that's what I misremember, and I had it all right this
morning. Let me think a bit."

Mark repelled every symptom of impatience, for he well knew how the
slightest evidences of dissatisfaction on his part would destroy every
chance of the poor fellow regaining his memory, and he waited silently
for several minutes. At last, thinking to aid his recollection, he
said -

"The man was a smuggler, Terry?"

"He was, but I never saw him before. He came across from Kinsale,
over the mountains. Botheration to him, why didn't he say more, and
I wouldn't forget it now." "Have patience, you'll think of it all
by-and-by."

"Maybe so. He was a droll-looking fellow, with a short cutlash at his
side, and a hairy cap on his head; and he seemed to know yer honour
well, for he said -

"'How is the O'Donoghues - don't they live hereabouts?"

"'Yes,' says I, 'a few miles down that way.'

"'Is the eldest boy at home," says he.

"'Maybe he is, and maybe he isn't,' says I, for I wouldn't tell him
where you were.

"'Could you give him a message,' says he, from a friend?'

"'Av it was a friend,' says I.

"'A real friend,' says he. 'Tell him - just tell him - - '

"There it is now - divil a one o' me knows what he said."

Mark suffered no sign of anger to escape him, but sat without speaking a
word, while Terry recapitulated every sentence in a muttering voice, to
assist him in remembering what followed.

"I have it now," said he at last; and clapping his hands with glee, he
cried out, "them's the very words he said -

"'Tell Mr. Mark, it's a fine sight to see the sun rising from the top
of Hungry Mountain; and if the wind last, it will be worth seeing
tomorrow.'"

"Were those his words?" asked Mark eagerly.

"Them, and no other - I have it all in my head now."

"Which way did he take when he left you?"

"He turned up the glen, towards Googawn Barra, and I seen him crossing
the mountain afterwards; but here comes Master Herbert;" and at the same
instant he was seen coming up the valley at a fast pace.

When the first greetings were over, Herbert informed Mark that a certain
stir and movement in the glen and its neighbourhood far the last few
days had obliged him to greater caution; that several strangers had been
seen lurking about Carrig-na-curra; and that in addition to the military
posted at Mary's, a sergeant's guard had that morning arrived at "the
Lodge," and taken up their quarters there. All these signs of vigilance
combined to make Herbert more guarded, and induced him to delay for a
day or two his return to the shealing.

"Hemsworth has been twice over at our house," continued Herbert, "and
seems most anxious about you; he cannot understand why we have not
heard from my uncle. It appears to me, Mark, as if difficulties were
thickening around us; and yet this fear may only be the apprehension
which springs from mystery. I cannot see my way through this dark and
clouded atmosphere."

"Never fret about the dangers that come like shadows, Herbert.
Come up the mountain with me to-morrow at sunrise, and let us take
counsel from the free and bracing air of the peak of old Hungry."

Herbert was but too happy to find his own gloomy thoughts so well
combatted, and in mutual converse they each grew lighter in heart;
and when at last, wearied out, they lay down upon the heather of the
shealing, they slept without a dream.

It was still dark as midnight when Mark awoke and looked at his
watch - it wanted a quarter of four. The night was a wild and gusty one,
with occasional showers of thin sleet, and along the shore the sea beat
heavily, as though a storm was brewing at a distance off.

The message of the smuggler was his first thought on waking, but could
he venture sufficient trust in Terry's version to draw any inference
from it? Still, he resolved to ascend the mountain, little favourable
as the weather promised for such an undertaking. It was not without
reluctance that Herbert found himself called upon to accompany his
brother. The black and dreary night, the swooping wind, the wet spray,
drifting up to the very shealing, were but sorry inducements to stir
abroad; and he did his utmost to persuade him to defer the excursion to
a more favourable moment.

"We shall be wet through, and see nothing for our pains, Mark," said he,
half sulkily, as the other overruled each objection in turn.

"Wet we may possibly be," said Mark; "but with the wind, northing
by west, the mist will clear away, and by sunrise the coast will be
glorious; it is a spring-tide, too, and there will be a sea running
mountains high."

"I know well we shall find ourselves in a cloud on the top of the
mountain; it is but one day in a whole year any thing can be seen
favourably."

"And who is to say this is not that day? It is my birth-day, Herbert - a
most auspicious event, when we talk of fortunate occurrences."

The tone of sarcasm he spoke these words in, silenced Herbert's
scruples, and without further objection he prepared to follow Mark's
guidance.

The drifting rain, and the spongy heavy ground in which at each moment
the feet sank to the very instep, made the way toilsome and weary, and
the two brothers seldom spoke as they plodded along the steep ascent.

Mark's deep pre-occupation of mind took away all thought of the dreary
road; but Herbert followed with reluctant steps, half angry with himself
for compliance with what he regarded as an absurd caprice. The way was
not without its perils, and Mark halted from time to time to warn his
brother of the danger of some precipice, or the necessity to guard
against the slippery surface of the heather. Except at these times, he
rarely spoke, but strode on with firm step, lost in his own reflections.

"We are now twelve hundred feet above the lake, Herbert," said he, after
a long silence on both sides, "and the mountain at this side is like a
wall. This same island of ours has noble bulwarks for defence."

Herbert made no reply; the swooping clouds that hurried past, heavily
charged with vapour, shut out every object; and to him the rugged path
was a dark and cheerless way. Once more they continued their ascent,
which here became steeper and more difficult at every step; and although
Mark was familiar with each turn and winding of the narrow track, more
than once he was obliged to stop, and consider the course before him.
Herbert, to whom these interruptions were fresh sources of irritation,
at length exclaimed -

"My dear Mark, have we not gone far enough yet, to convince you
that there is no use in going farther. It is dark as midnight this
moment - you yourself are scarcely certain of the way - there are
precipices and gulleys on every side - and grant that we do reach the
top for sunrise, what shall we be able to see amid the immense masses of
cloud around us?"

"No, Herbert, that same turning back policy it is, which thwarts success
in life. Had you yourself followed such an impulse, you had not gained
the honours that are yours. Onward, is the word of hope to all. And what
if the day should not break clearly, it is a fine thing to sit on the
peak of old Hungry, with the circling clouds wheeling madly below you,
to hear the deep thundering of the sea far, far away, and the cry of the
curlew mingling with the wailing wind - to feel yourself high above the
busy world, in the dreary region of mist and shadow. If at such times
as this the eye ranges not over leagues of coast and sea, long winding
valleys and wide plains, the prophetic spirit fostered by such agencies
looks out on life, and images of the future flit past in cloudy shapes
and changing forms. There, see that black mass that slowly moves along,
and seems to beckon us with giant arm. You'd not reject an augury so
plain."

"I see nothing, and if I go on much farther this way, I shall feel
nothing either, I am so benumbed with cold and rain already."

"Here, then, taste this - I had determined to give you nothing until we
reached the summit."

Herbert drained the little measure of whiskey, and resumed his way more
cheerily.

"There is a bay down here beneath where we stand - a lovely little nook
in summer, with a shore like gold, and waves bright as the greenest
emerald. It is a wild and stormy spot to-day - no boat could live a
moment there; and so steep is the cliff, this stone will find its way to
the bottom within a minute."

And as Mark spoke he detached a fragment of rock from the mountain,
and sent it bounding over the edge of the precipice, while Herbert,
awe-struck at the nearness of the peril, recoiled instinctively from the
brink of the cliff.

"There was a ship of the Spanish Armada wrecked in that little bay - they
show you still some mounds of earth upon the shore they call the
Spaniards' graves," said Mark, as he stood peering through the misty
darkness into the depth below. "The peasantry had lighted a fire on this
rock, and the vessel, a three-decker, decoyed by the signal, held on her
course, in shore, and was lost. Good heavens!" cried he, after a brief
pause, "why has this fatality ever been our lot? Why have we welcomed
our foes with smiles, and our friends with hatred and destruction? These
same Spaniards were our brethren and our kindred, and the bitter enemies
of our enslavers; and even yet we can perpetuate the memory of their
ruin, as a thing of pride and triumph. Are we for ever to be thus, or is
a better day to dawn upon us?"

Herbert, who by experience knew how much more excited Mark became by
even the slightest opposition, forbore to speak, and again they pursued
their way.

They had continued for some time thus, when Mark, taking Herbert's arm,
pointed to a dark mass which seemed to loom straight above their heads,
where, towering to a considerable height, it terminated in a sharp
pinnacle.

"Yonder is the summit, Herbert - courage for a quarter of an hour more,
and the breach is won."

The youth heaved a heavy sigh, and muttered -

"Would it were so."

If Herbert became dispirited and worn out by the dark and dreary way,
where no sight nor sound relieved the dull monotony of fatigue, Mark's
spirit seemed to grow lighter with every step he went. As if he had left
his load of care with the nether world, his light and bounding movement,
and his joyous voice, spoke of a heart which, throwing off its weight of
sorrow, revelled once more in youthful ecstasy.

"You who are a poet, Herbert, tell me if you have faith in those
instinctive fancies which seem to shadow forth events."

"If you mean to ask me whether, from my present sensations, I anticipate
a heavy cold, or a fit of rheumatism, I say, most certainly," replied
Herbert, half doggedly.

Mark smiled, and continued -

"No, those are among the common course of events. What I asked for was
an explanation of my own feelings at this moment. Why, here upon this
lone and gloomy mountain, a secret whispering at my heart tells me to
hope - that my days and nights of disaster are nigh oyer - and that the
turning point of my life is at hand, eyen as that bold peak above us."

"I must confess, Mark, this is a strange time and place for such
rose-coloured visions," said Herbert, as he shook the rain from his
soaked garments; "_my_ imagination cannot carry me to such a lofty
flight."

Mark was too intent upon his own thoughts to bestow much attention on
the tone and spirit of Herbert's remark, and he pressed forward towards
the summit with every effort of his strength. After a brief but toilsome
exertion he reached the top, and seated himself on a little pile of
stones that marked the point of the mountain. The darkness was still
great; faint outlines of the lesser mountains beneath could only
be traced through the masses of heavy cloud that hung, as it were,
suspended above the earth; while over the sea an unusual blackness was
spread. The wind blew with terrific force around the lofty peak where
Mark sat, and in the distant valleys he could hear the sound of crashing
branches as the storm swept through the wood; from the sea itself, too,
alow booming noise arose, as the caves along the shore re-echoed to the
swelling clangour of the waves.

Herbert at last reached the spot, but so exhausted by the unaccustomed
fatigue, that he threw himself down at Mark's feet, and with a wearied
sigh exclaimed -

"Thank heaven, there is no more of it."

"Day will not break for half an hour yet," said Mark, pointing westward;
"the grey dawn always shows over the sea. I have seen the whole surface
like gold, before the dull mountains had one touch of light."

The heavy breathing of the youth, as he lay with his head on Mark's
knees, attracted him; he looked down, and perceived that Herbert had
fallen into a calm and tranquil sleep.

"Poor fellow," cried Mark, as he smoothed the hair upon his brow, "this
toil has been too much for him."

Placing himself in such a position as best to shelter his brother from
the storm, Mark sat awaiting the breaking dawn. The hopes that in the
active ascent of the mountain were high in his heart, already began to
fail; exertion had called them forth, and now, at he sat silently amid
the dreary waste of darkness, his spirit fell with every moment. One
by one the bright visions he had conjured up faded away, his head fell
heavily on his bosom, and thoughts gloomy and dark as the dreary morning
crowded on his brain.

As he remained thus deep sunk in sad musings, the grey dawn broke over
the sea, and gradually a pinkish hue stained the sky eastward. The
rain, which up to this time drifted in heavy masses, ceased to fall; and
instead of the gusty storm, blowing in fitful blasts, a gentle breese
rolled the mists along the valleys, as if taking away the drapery of
Night at the call of Morning. At first the mountain peaks appeared
through the dense clouds; and then, by degrees, their steep sides,
begirt with rock, and fissured with many a torrent. At length the deep
valleys and glens began to open to the eye, and the rude cabins of the
peasants, marked out by the thin blue wreath of smoke that rose into the
air, ere it was scattered by the fresh breeze of morning. Over the sea
the sunlight glittered, tipping the glad waves that danced and sported
towards the shore, and making the white foam upon the breakers look
fairer than snow itself. Mark looked upon the scene thus suddenly
changed, and shaking his brother's arm, he called out -

"Awake, Herbert! see what a glorious day is breaking. Look, that is
Sugarloaf, piercing the white cloud; and yonder is Castletown. See how
the shore is marked out in every jutting point and cliff. I can see the
Kenmare river as it opens to the sea."

"It is indeed beautiful," exclaimed Herbert, all fatigue forgotten in
the ecstasy of the moment. "Is not that Garran Thual, Mark, that rears
its head above the others?"

But Mark's eyes were turned in a different direction, and he paid no
attention to the question.

"Yes," cried Herbert, still gazing intently towards, the land, "and that
must be Mangerton. Am I right, Mark?"

"What can that mean?" said Mark, seizing Herbert's arm, and pointing to
a distant point across Bantry Bay. "There, you saw it then."

"Yes, a bright flash of flame. See, it burns steadily now." "Ay, and
there's another below Beerhaven, and another yonder at the Smuggler's
Rock."

And while he was yet speaking, the three fires blazed out, and continued
to burn brilliantly in the grey light of the morning. The dark mist that
moved over the sea gave way before the strong breeze, and the tall spars
of a large ship were seen as a vessel rounded the point, and held on her
course up Bantry Bay. Even at the distance Mark's experienced eye could
detect that she was a ship of war - her ports, on which the sun threw
a passing gleam, bristled with guns, and her whole trim and bearing
bespoke a frigate.

"She's a King's ship, Mark, in pursuit of some smuggler," said Herbert;
"and the fires we have seen were signals to the other. How beautifully
she sails along; and see, is not that another?"

Mark made no reply, but pointed straight out to sea, where now seven
sail could be distinctly reckoned, standing towards the Bay with all
their canvas set. The report of a cannon turned their eyes towards
the frigate, and they perceived that already she was abreast of Whitty
Island, where she was about to anchor.

"That gun was fired by her: and see, there goes her ensign. What does
that mean, Mark?"

"It means Liberty, my boy!" screamed Mark, with a yell that sounded
like madness. "France has come to the rescue! See, there they
are - eight - nine of them! - and the glorious tricolor floating at every
mast! Oh, great heaven! in whose keeping the destinies of men and
kingdoms lie, look favourably upon our struggle now. Yes, my brother,
I was right - a brighter hour is about to shine upon our country! Look
there - think of those gallant fellows that have left home and country to
bring freedom across the seas, and say, if you will be less warm in
the cause than the alien and the stranger. How nobly they come along!
Herbert, be with us - be of us, now!"

"Whatever be our ills, here," said Herbert sternly, "I know of no
sympathy to bind us to France; nor would I accept a boon at such hands,
infidel and blood-stained as she is."

"Stop, Herbert; let us not here, where we may meet for the last time,
interchange aught that should darken memory hereafter. My course is
yonder."

"Farewell, then, Mark; I will not vainly endeavour to turn you from your
rash project. The reasons that seemed cold and valueless in the hour
of tranquil thought, have few chances of success in the moment of your
seeming triumph."

"Seeming triumph!" exclaimed Mark, as a slight change coloured his
cheek. "And will you not credit what your eyes reveal before you?
Are these visions? Was that loud shot a trick of the imagination? Oh!
Herbert, if the loyalty you boast of, have no better foundation than
these fancies, be with your country - stand by her in the day of her
peril."

"I will do so, Mark, and with no failing spirit either," said Herbert,
as he turned away, sad and sorrow-struck.

"You would not betray us," cried Mark, as he saw his brother preparing
to descend the mountain.

"Oh, Mark, you should not have said this."

And in a torrent of tears he threw himself upon his brother's bosom. For
some minutes they remained close locked in each other's arms, and then
Herbert, tearing himself away, clasped Mark's hand in both of his, and
kissed it. The last "Good-bye" broke from each lip together, and they
parted.

Mark remained on the spot where his brother had left him, his eyes
fixedly directed towards the Bay, where already a second ship had
arrived - a large three-decker, with an admiral's pennon flying from the
mast-head. The first burst of wild enthusiasm over, he began to reflect
on what was next to be done. Of course he should lose no time in
presenting himself to the officers in command of the expedition,
and making known to them his name, and the place he occupied in the
confidence of his countrymen. His great doubt was, whether he should not
precede this act by measures for assembling and rallying the people, who
evidently would be as much taken by surprise as himself at the sudden
arrival of the French.

The embarrassment of the position was great; for although deeply
implicated in the danger of the plot, he never had enjoyed either
intimacy or intercourse with its leaders. How then should he satisfy the
French that his position was such as entitled him to their confidence?
The only possible escape to this difficulty was by marshalling around
him a considerable body of the peasantry, ready and willing to join the
arms and follow the fortunes of the invaders.

"They cannot long distrust me with a force of three hundred men at my
back," exclaimed Mark aloud, as he descended the mountain with rapid



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago → online text (page 36 of 41)