Charles James Lever.

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

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"That's the way to the stable," said Wylie, as he opened it, and looked
down the passage; "and here's another door, that I never saw before."

"That's where she do keep the spirits, sir," said one of the men; "'tis
there she do have all the liquor."

"There's nothing like whiskey for a blaze," said Hemsworth, with a half
drunken laugh. "Burst open that door!" - but all their efforts were vain:
it was made with every precaution of strength, and studded over with
strong nails.

"Stop!" said Hemsworth, as he pushed the others rudely away, "there's a
readier plan than yours to force it. I'll blow the lock to pieces!" and,
so saying, he took the pistol from Wylie's hand, and, having leisurely
examined the priming and the flint, placed the muzzle in the lock.

"Be quick, sir, be quick!" said Wylie; "the place is filling with
smoke!"

And so it was: the crackling of the thatch, and the dense masses of
black smoke that filled the cabin, showed that the work of destruction
was begun.

"Here, then: this is to put the seal to your lease, Peter," said
Hemsworth, as he pulled the trigger.

A quick report followed, and then a crashing sound, as of splintered
timber, and, sudden as the lightning flash itself, a noise burst forth
louder than thunder, and at the same moment the house, and all that were
in it, were blown into the air, while the massive rock was shattered
from its base, full fifty feet up above the road. Report after report
followed, each accompanied by some new and fearful explosion, until at
length a great portion of the cliff was rent asunder, and scattered in
huge fragments across the road, where, amid the crumbling masonry and
the charred rafters, lay four black and lifeless bodies, without a trait
which should distinguish one from the other.

All was silent on the spot, but through every glen in the mountains the
echoing sounds sent back in redoubled peals the thunder of that dreadful
explosion, and through many a far-off valley rung out that last requiem
over the dead.

For some time the timbers and the thatch continued to burn, emitting
at intervals lurid bursts of flame, as more combustible matter met the
fire, while now and then a great report, and a sudden explosion, would
announce that some hitherto untouched store of powder became ignited,
until, as day was breaking, the flames waned and died out, leaving the
rent rocks and the ruined cabin the sad memorials of the event.

Nor were these the only occurrences of which the glen was that night
the witness. Mark, his brain burning for the moment when the fray should
commence, rode on amid the storm, the crashing branches and the loud
brawling torrents seeming to arouse the wild spirit within him, and lash
his enthusiasm even to madness. The deafening clamour of the hurricane
increased, as he came nearer the Bay, where the sea, storm-lashed and
swollen, beat on the rocks with a din like artillery.

But louder far than all other sounds were the minute peals of cannon
from the Bay, making the deep valleys ring with their clangour, and
sending their solemn din into many a far-off glen.

"They are coming! they are coming!" cried Mark, as he bounded madly in
his saddle. "What glorious music have they for their march!"

"Stop! - pull in! - hould hard, Master Mark!" screamed a voice from the
side of the road, as a fellow jumped from a cliff, and made towards the
rider.

"Don't delay me now, Terry; I cannot stay," said Mark, as he recognised
the youth, "the French are landing!"

"They are not!" cried Terry, with a yell of despair; "they are going
off, leaving us for ever, and the glen is full of soldiers. The dragoons
is there; ay, not half a mile from you," as he pointed through the gloom
in the direction of the glen.

"The dragoons there! - what treachery is this?"

"I saw them coming round the head of the lake this evening, and I
thought it was after me they were coming; but they never turned off
the road, but went on to the gap of the glen, and there they are now,
waiting, I suppose, for the French to go."

"The French are not going, fool! - they are landing! Don't you hear the
guns - there! and there again! There is but one way now, but a bold heart
needs no more. Let go the bridle, Terry."

"I can't, I won't let go. 'Tis cut to pieces you'll be. I seen them
looking at their swords a while ago. Och, don't twist my hand that way!"

"Leave me free! There is no such armour of proof as recklessness!"

As he spake, he reined in his horse, and, dashing the spurs into his
flanks, sprang beyond Terry, and the next moment was out of sight.
A very few minutes showed that Terry was but too accurate. Around a
blazing fire, beneath the rock, a party of dragoons were dismounted,
vainly seeking to dry their soaked clothes, while in front two mounted
men could be seen with their carbines unslung, ready for action.

A bold dash to force his way through was the only chance remaining. To
depend on his horse's speed, and his own dexterous hand to guide him,
was all his hope. He resolved, therefore, neither to draw sword nor
pistol, but attempt to pass by sheer horsemanship. Few men were either
better suited for a venture so daring, or better equipped at the moment.
The animal he rode was a powerful thoroughbred, trained and managed to
perfection.

Without the slightest noise Mark dismounted, and, ungirthing his saddle,
re-adjusted and fastened it further back. He then looked carefully to
his bridle, to see all was safe there, and loosened the curb, to give
the horse free play of his head. This done, and with his cap pressed
firmly down upon his brow, he sprang into his saddle once more.

The bright blaze enabled him to see the party in front, and, while he
himself escaped all observation, to devise his plans at leisure. He
advanced, therefore, at a slow walk, keeping the horse's feet in the
deep ground, where no noise was made. He counted seven figures around
the fire, and two as sentinels, and suspected at once that the whole
party was not there. Still there was no other chance. To attempt the
mountain would delay him a day at least, and a day now was a life-time.
Creeping noiselessly forward, he came within a few yards of the
outposts, and could distinctly hear the voices as they talked together.
He halted for a second or two, and looked back down the glen. It was an
involuntary action, for even had all not been dark around him, his home,
to which he wished to bid a last adieu, was out of sight.

A cannon-shot rung out at the instant, and, taking it for a signal, Mark
reined in his horse sharply, and then, dashing the spurs to his sides,
made him plunge madly forward, and, with the bound, shot through the
space between the two sentinels, each of whom presented, but feared to
fire, lest he should injure his comrade.

[Illustration: 462]

"Come on - follow me!" cried Mark, waving his hand as if encouraging
others on, and the action turned every look down the glen, in the
direction from whence he came, and whence now came a wild, shrill yell,
the most savage and appalling.

"Fire! - down with him! - fire!" shouted the soldiers to one another, as
Mark, leaning fiat on his horse's main, rode on; and the balls whistled
quick, above and around, but not one struck him. "After him, Jack - after
him!" cried one of the sentinels, who, perceiving that Mark was not
followed, turned his horse to the pursuit; but another yell, wilder than
the first, arrested him, and he heard a voice screaming, "This way,
boys, this way - we have them here!" and Terry, waving his cap, bounded
forward, and called out unceasingly for others to come on. In an instant
the whole attention was turned to the front, while with the stroke of a
sabre poor Terry was stretched upon the ground, bleeding and senseless.

"It is only that cursed fool we used to see at Macroom, about the
barrack gates," said one of the dragoons, as he held a piece of lighted
wood beside his face, "and the other fellow cannot have had much more
sense, or he would never have tried to ride through a squadron of horse.
But there! - he's down now! Did you hear that crash? - that was a horse
that fell!"

So it was; Mark had but passed the first party to fall on a much more
formidable body further on, and his horse, twice wounded, was at last
struck in the shoulder, and fell headlong to the ground pinioning the
rider beneath him. With a dexterity that seemed magical, Mark disengaged
himself from the wounded animal, and drawing his pistols, prepared to
sell his life dearly.

"You are a prisoner, sir," called out the sergeant, as with fearless
step he marched towards him.

"Another pace nearer, and I'll send a bullet through you," said Mark;
"you may have my corpse for your booty, but you'll never lay hands on
me living."

"Don't fire, don't fire, men," cried a voice, as the officer rode up
at the speed of his horse, and then throwing himself from the saddle,
commanded the men to fall back. With looks of astonishment and even
of anger, the dragoons retired, while the captain sheathing his sword,
approached Mark.

"Thank heaven, Mr. O'Donoghue, you have not fired at my men."

"Am I your prisoner, Captain Travers?" said Mark, replacing his weapon.

"No, far from it; it was to serve you I accepted the command of this
party. I knew of the plot by which you were threatened - Hemsworth - - "

"He is gone to his reckoning now," said Mark, who never gave credit to
Kerry's story.

"Not dead - you do not mean that?"

"Even so, sir, but not as I see you suspect."

"No matter now," cried Travers, wildly, for a thousand dreadful fears
came crowding on his mind; "you must escape at once; this will be worse
than the charge of treason itself. Was there any witness to his death?"

"None," said Mark, for he remembered that Kate was still fainting during
the struggle he believed fatal.

"You must escape at once," repeated Travers, for without directly
attributing guilt to Mark, he feared the consequence of this dreadful
event. "Keep in the mountain for some little time, and when this mad
enterprise has blown over - - "

"The country then will be in other hands," interrupted Mark; - "aye, sir,
you may look and feel incredulous, but the time is perhaps not distant
when I may be able to return your present courtesy. The French are
landing - - "

"They are putting out to sea - flying - not advancing," said Travers,
proudly.

"No, no, you mistake them," said Mark, with a smile of incredulity.
"I heard the guns not a quarter of an hour since - would I had never left
them."

"There, take my horse, mount quickly, and make for the Bay, and turn
him loose on the shore - reach the fleet if you can - in any case, escape;
there is no time to lose."

"And you - how are you to account for this?" said Mark. "Will your
loyalty stand so severe a trial as that of having assisted a rebel's
escape?"

"Leave me to meet my difficulties my own way; turn your thoughts to your
own - heaven knows, they are enough."

The tone he spoke in appealed to Mark's feelings more strongly than all
he said before, and grasping Travers' hand, he said -

"Oh, if I had but had your friendship once, how different I might be
this day; and my father too - what is to become of him?"

"Spare him at least the sorrow of seeing his son arraigned on a charge
of treason, if not of worse."

Fortunately Mark heard not the last few words, which rather fell from
Travers inadvertently, and were uttered in a low voice.

"There," cried Mark, as the loud report of several guns pealed forth -
"they have landed - they will soon be here."

As he spoke, a mounted dragoon rode up to Travers, and whispered a few
words in his ear. Frederick motioned the man to fall back, and then
approaching Mark, said -

"I was correct, sir - the French fleet is under weigh - the expedition is
abandoned; away then before your chance is lost - down to the Bay and get
on board; you will at least find a path where there is glory as well as
peril; there - away."

"They cannot have done this," cried Mark, in an agony of passion; "they
would not desert the cause they have fostered, and leave us to our fate
here."

Mark vaulted on Travers' horse as he said this, all feeling for his own
safety merged in his anxiety for the issue of the plot.

"Treachery we have had enough of - we may be well spared the curse of
cowardice. Good-bye, farewell - few, either friends or foes, have done me
the services that you have. If we are to meet again, Travers - - "

"Farewell, farewell," cried Travers; "we shall never meet as enemies,"
and he hastened from the spot, while Mark bending forward in the saddle,
pressed the spurs to his horse, and started.

With the speed of one who cared for nothing less than his own safety,
Mark urged his horse onward, and deserting the ordinary road, he
directed his course to the shore along the base of the mountain - a rough
and dangerous path beset with obstacles, and frequently on the very edge
of the cliff; at last he reached the Bay, over which the dark storm was
raging in all its violence; the wind blowing with short and sudden gusts
sent the great waves thundering against the rocks, and with fearful roar
through the caves and crevices of the coast. Riding madly on till the
white foam dashed over him, he turned on every side, expecting to see
the boats of the fleet making for the land, but all was dreary and
desolate; he shouted aloud, but his voice was drowned in the uproar of
the elements; and then, but not till then, came over him the afflicting
dread of desertion. The vivid lightning shot to and fro over the bleak
expanse of sea, but not a sail was there - all, all were gone.

[Illustration: 467]

There was a projecting promontory of rock which, running out to a
considerable distance in the Bay, shut out all view beyond it; the last
hope he cherished was, that they might have sought shelter in the bay
beneath this, and plunging into the boiling surf, he urged his horse
forward - now madly rearing as the strong sea struck him - now buffeting
the white waves with vigorous chest - the noble beast braved the
storm-lashed water, and bore him alternately bounding and swimming, as
the tide advanced or receded.

The struggle, with all its peril to life, brought back the failing
courage to Mark's heart, and he cheered his horse with a cry of
triumphant delight, as each great wave passed over them, and still they
went on undaunted. It was a short but desperate achievement to round the
point of the promontory, where the sea beat with redoubled fury; but
the same daring intrepidity seemed to animate both horse and rider, and
after a moment of extreme danger, both gained the beach in safety. At
the very same instant that the animal touched the strand, a quick flash
broke over the sea, and then came the thundering report of a cannon.
This was answered by another further out to sea, and then a blue light
burst forth on high, and threw its lurid glare over the spars and canvas
of a large ship - every rope and block, every man and every gun were
displayed in the spectral light. It was a grand, but still an appalling
sight, to see the huge mass labouring in the sea, and then the next
moment to strain the eyes through the black canopy of cloud that closed
around her; for so it was, as the light went out, no trace of the vessel
remained, nor was there aught to mark the spot she had occupied.

From time to time the flash and the report of a gun would show where
some ship struggled with the raging sea; but to Mark all was mystery. He
knew not what it might portend, and hesitated between hope and despair,
whether these might prove the preparations for disembarking, or the last
signal before sailing.

In the low hut of a fisherman, not far from where he was, a light still
twinkled, and thither he hastened: it belonged to the man who had
rowed him on board of the frigate, and with whom Kate had spoken in the
kitchen. As Mark reached the door, he heard the sound of several voices
talking in a low, half-suppressed tone; pushing open the door, he
entered, and found about a dozen fishermen standing over the lifeless
body of a man in a French uniform.

"Who is this? What has happened?" said Mark, hurriedly. "It's one of
the French officers, sir," said Tom McCarthy; "he came ashore with us
this morning, and to-night, when it came on to blow, and he saw the
signals to sail, he insisted on going on board again, and we did our
best for him; we twice put out, and twice were sent back again; but the
last time we tried, the craft was upset, and the poor fellow could not
swim, and we never saw him more, till we found his body on the strand
about an hour ago."

Mark held the light beside the pale features, and saw that he was a
youth of not more than eighteen years; there was no distortion whatever,
and the features were calm and tranquil, as if in sleep.

"Let us lay him in the earth, boys," said Mark, as his voice trembled
with emotion; "it is the least we can do to let him sleep in the land he
came to save."

The men lifted the body without a word, and, preceded by Mark, who
carried a lantern, issued from the hut. A few paces brought them to
a little grassy mound, where the cliff, descending between the rocks,
preserved its rich verdure untrodden and untouched.

"Here, this will do, boys," said Mark; "this rock will mark the spot."

The work was soon over, and as the last turf was laid over him, a
deafening peal of artillery thundered over the sea, and suddenly, lights
shone here and there, through the dark atmosphere.

"He has had a soldier's burial," said Mark; "may his rest be tranquil.
And now" - and his voice assumed a firm and determined tone at the
moment - "and now, who will put me on board of any ship in that fleet?
I have neither gold to offer, nor silver to bribe you. I am poor and
powerless, but if the broad lands that were once our own, were mine now,
I'd give them all for that one service."

"No boat could live ten minutes in that surf; there's a sea running
there would swamp a schooner," said an old man, with white hair.

"We'd never get outside the breakers yonder," said another.

"I think we've had enough of it for one night," muttered a third, with a
side-long glance towards the recent grave.

"And you," said Mark, turning fixedly round to Tom M'Carthy, "what words
of comfort have you for me?"

"Faix, that I'm ready and willin' to go with you, divil may care who
the other is," said the stout-hearted fellow. "I seen the day you jumped
into a boat yourself to take the crew off a wreck below the point there,
and I took an oath that night I'd never see you wanting for two hands
at an oar as long as I could pull one. The waves that isn't too high for
you is not a bit too big for me either."

"Well done, Tom," said a powerful looking young fellow beside him, "and
I'll be the bow oar for you, an' you'll take me."

"And here's two more of us," said another, as he held a comrade by
the hand, "that will never see his honour at a loss, no matter how it
blows."

The doubt and hesitation which prevailed but a moment before, were at
once changed for confidence and resolution, and eight men now hurried to
the beach to launch the boat, and make ready for the enterprize.

"If we could only see a flash, or hear a shot now, we'd know which way
to bear down," said Tom, as he stood on the shore, with his eyes turned
seaward.

"There - there goes one!" cried Mark, as a red flame shot forth and
glittered for a second over the dark water.

"That's the frigate; she's holding on still by her anchors."

"I knew they would not desert us, boys," cried Mark, with wild
enthusiasm, for hope gained on him every moment as peril increased.

"Now for it, and all together," said Tom, as he bent forward against the
whistling storm, and the craft, as if instinct with life, bounded over
the wave, and cleft her way through the boiling surf, while the hardy
fishermen strained every nerve, and toiled with all their energy. Mark
kneeling in the bow, his eyes strained to catch any signal, seemed
perfectly delirious in the transport of his joy.

"Luff her, luff her - here comes a large wave - nobly done, lads - how she
mounts the sea - here's another;" but the warning was this time too late,
for the wave broke over the boat, and fell in torrents over the crew.
With redoubled vigour the stout fellows bent to their work, and once
more the boat sped on her course; while Mark cheered them with a shout
heard even above the storm, and with a deep, mellow voice chanted out
the rude verses of a song -

"The fisherman loves the rippled stream,
And the lover the moon-lit sea,
But the darkening squall
And the sea birds call are dearer far to me.

"To see on the white and crest'd wave
The stormy petrel float,
And then to look back On the stormy track
That glitters behind our boat."

"Avast there, Master Mark, there's wind enough without singing for
more," cried one of the fishermen, who, with the superstition of his
craft, felt by no means pleased at Mark's ditty; "and there comes a
sea to poop a line of battle-ship," and as he said the words, a wave
mountains high rolled past, and left them labouring in the deep trough
of the sea; while the lurid glare of sheet lightning showed all the
ships of the fleet, as, with top-sails bent, they stood out to sea.

"There they go," said one of the fishermen, "and that's all the good
they've done us."

"Pull hard, boys," cried Mark, passionately, "it may not be yet too
late, strain every arm - the fate of our country may rest upon those
bending spars - together, men, together; it is not for life now, it is
Ireland is on the struggle:" thus cheering the drooping courage of
the men, and eagerly bending his glance towards the sea, his own heart
glowed with enthusiasm that made every danger forgotten; and at last,
after an hour of desperate exertion, with strength all but exhausted,
and nearly overcome by fatigue, they beheld the dark hull of a large
ship looming above them. By firing his pistol, Mark attracted the notice
of the watch on deck; his signal was replied to, and the next moment the
boat was alongside, and Mark clambering up the steep side, stood on the
quarter-deck.

"Will the troops not land," said Mark, as the officers crowded eagerly
around him - "is the expedition abandoned?"

"Don't you think the hurricane might answer the question, young man?"
said a weather-beaten officer, who appeared in command - "or are you so
ignorant in naval matters as to suppose that a force could disembark in
a gale like this?"

"It might scare a pleasure party," said Mark, rudely, "but for men who
have come to give and get hard knocks, methinks this need not disconcert
them."

"And who is to aid us if we land?" said the first speaker - "what forces
are in arms to join us? - what preparations for ourselves? - have you
a musket, have you a horse, or do you yourself, in your own person,
represent the alliance we seek for?"

Mark hung down his head abashed and ashamed: too well he knew how
treachery had sapped the foundation of the plot; that, betrayed and
abandoned by their chiefs, the people had become either apathetic
or terror-stricken, and that, if a blow were to be struck for Irish
independence, it must be by the arm of the stranger.

"It is needless to waste words, sir," said the French captain, for such
he was; "the admiral has twice made the signal to stand out to sea. The
French Republic will have suffered loss enough in some of the finest
ships of her navy, without hazarding fifteen thousand brave fellows upon
an exploit so hopeless."

"The Captain says truly," interposed another; "Ireland is not ripe for
such an enterprize; there may be courage enough among your countrymen,
but they know not how to act together. There's no slavery like
dissension."

"That boat will be swamped," said the officer of the watch, as he
pointed to the fishing-craft, which still held on to the leeward of the
ship; "if you are going back to shore, sir, let me advise you, for your
own sake, and your comrades', too, to lose no time about it."

"Far better to come with us," said a powerful looking man in the uniform
of an infantry regiment; "the young gentleman seems inclined to see
service. 'Ma foi,' we seldom lack an opportunity of showing it."

"I'll never go back," said Mark; "I have looked at my country for the
last time."

With many a welcome speech the officers pressed round and grasped his
hands, and for a moment all their misfortunes were forgotten in the joy
with which they received their new comrade.

"Who will be my banker for some gold," said Mark; "those brave fellows



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago → online text (page 40 of 41)