Charles James Lever.

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

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Marmaduke, who already, interested by that inexplicable feeling which
grows out of our pity for idiotcy, entered into his daughter's schemes
for poor Terry's welfare.

A small cottage near the boat-house on the verge of the lake, inhabited
by a labourer and his children, offered the wished-for asylum, and
there Terry was at once installed, and recognised as a member of the
household.




CHAPTER VI. THE BLACK VALLEY.

Although deferred by the accidents of the morning, Sir Marmaduke's visit
to the priest was not abandoned, and at length, he and his daughter
set out on their excursion up the glen. Their road, after pursuing the
highway for about two miles, diverged into a narrow valley, from which
there was no exit save by the mode in which it was entered. Vast masses
of granite rock, piled heap above heap, hung as it were suspended over
their heads, the tangled honey-suckle falling in rich festoons from
these, and the purple arbutus glowing like grape-clusters among the
leaves. It was a mellow, autumnal day, when the warmth of colouring is
sobered down by massive shadows - the impress of the clouds which moved
slowly above. The air was hot and thick, and save when an occasional
breeze came, wafted from the water, was even oppressive.

The silence of the glen was profound - not a bird was heard, nor was
there in the vast expanse of air, a single wing seen floating. As they
rode, they often stopped to wonder at the strange but beautiful effects
of light that glided now slowly along the mountains - disappeared - then
shone again; the giant shadows seeming to chase each other through the
dreary valley. Thus, sauntering along they took no note of time, when at
last the long low cottage, where the priest lived, came in sight. It was
an humble abode, but beautifully situated at the bottom of the glen; the
whole valley lying expanded in front, with its bright rivulet and its
bold sides of granite. The cottage itself was little better than that of
a poor farmer; and save from the ornament of some creepers, which were
trained against the walls, and formed into a deep porch at the
entrance, differed in no respect from such. A few straggling patches of
cultivation, of the very rudest kind, were seen, here and there, but
all without any effort at fence or enclosure. Some wild fruit-trees were
scattered over the little lawn in front, if the narrow strip of grass
that flanked the river could be called such, and here, a small Kerry cow
was grazing, the only living thing to be seen.

A little well, arched over with pieces of rock, and surmounted by a
small wooden cross, stood close to the road-side, and the wild-thorn
that overshadowed it was hung on every side with small patches of rags
of every colour and texture that human dress ever consisted of; a sight
new to the eyes of the travellers, who knew not, that the shrine was
deemed holy, and the tree, the receptacle of the humble offering of
those, whose sorrows of mind and body came there for alleviation and
succour.

Sir Marmaduke dismounted and approached the door, which lay wide open;
he knocked gently with his whip, and as no answer to his summons was
returned, repeated it again and again. He now ventured to call aloud,
but no one came, and at last, both father and daughter began to suspect
there might be no one in the house.

"This is most strange," said he, after a long pause, and an effort to
peep in through the windows, half hid with honey-suckle.

"The place seems totally deserted. Let us try at the back, however."

As the old baronet wended his way to the rear of the cottage, he
muttered a half upbraiding against his daughter for not complying with
his desire to have a groom along with them - a want, which now increased
the inconvenience of their position. She laughingly defended herself
against the charge, and at the same moment sprang down from her saddle,
to assist in the search.

"I certainly perceived some smoke from the chimney as we came up the
glen and there must have been some one here lately, at least," said
she, looking eagerly around on every side.

"This is indeed solitude," muttered her father, as he listened for some
minutes, during which the stillness had an effect most appalling.

While he was speaking, Miss Travers had drawn near to a low latticed
window which lay half open, and as she peeped in, immediately drew back,
and beckoned with her hand for her father to approach, intimating by a
cautious gesture that he should do so noiselessly. Sir Marmaduke came
stealthily to her side, and, leaning over her shoulder, looked into the
room. As both father and daughter exchanged glances, they seemed with
difficulty to refrain from laughing, while astonishment was strongly
depicted on the countenance of each. As they continued to gaze, their
first emotion gradually yielded to a look of intense interest at the
scene before them.

Seated beside the large turf fire of the priest's kitchen, for such it
was, was a youth of some fifteen or sixteen years. His figure, light and
well proportioned, was clad in a fashion which denoted his belonging to
the better class, though neglect and time had made many an inroad on the
Costume. His brow was lofty and delicately formed - the temples marked
with many a thin blue rein, which had given ft look of delicacy to the
countenance, if the deep glow of health had not lit up his cheeks, and
imparted a bright lustre to his eyes. He held before him an open volume,
from which he declaimed rather than read aloud, as it seemed, for the
special delight and amusement of a small ragged urchin of about nine
years old - who, with bare legs and feet, was seated on a little pyramid
of turf, right opposite to him.

Well might Sir Marmaduke and his daughter feel surprise; the volume was
Homer, from which, with elevated voice and flashing eye, the boy was
reading - the deep-toned syllables ringing through the low-vaulted
chamber with a sweet but a solemn music. Contrasted with the fervid
eloquence of the youth, was the mute wonder and rapt attention of the
little fellow who listened. Astonishment, awe, and eager curiosity,
blended together in that poor little face, every lineament of which
trembled with excitement. If a high soaring imagination and elevated
tone of thought were depicted in the one, the other, not less forcibly
realized the mute and trembling eagerness of impassioned interest.

The youth paused for a few seconds, and seemed to be reflecting over
what he read, when the boy, in an accent broken with anxiety, cried
out -

"Read it, again, Master Herbert. Oh, read it again. It's like the cry of
the big stag-hound at Carrig-na-curra."

"It is the language of the gods, Mickey - finer and grander than ever
man spoke," replied the youth with fervour. "Listen to this, here;" and
then, with solemn cadence he declaimed some twenty lines, while, as
if the words were those of an incantation, the little fellow sat
spellbound, with clasped hands and staring eye-balls gazing before him.

"What does it mean, Master Herbert? - what is it?" said he, in panting
eagerness.

"It's about a great hero, Mickey, that was preparing for battle. He was
putting on his armour, a coat and a cap of steel, and he was belting on
his sword."

"Yes, yes," broke in the little fellow, "and wasn't he saying how he'd
murther and kill all before him?"

"Bight enough," said the youth, laughing. "You guessed it well."

"Ah, I knew it," said the boy. "I saw how you clenched your fist, and
your eyes wor shinin' like sparks of fire, and I knew it was darin' them
he was, in the book there. What did he do after, Master Herbert? Just
tell me that, sir."

"He went out in his chariot - "

"Say it like himself first, sir, av it's plazin' to ye," said he, with
a most imploring look of entreaty. "I do be glad to hear it out of the
book."

The youth, thus entreated, resumed the volume, and read on for several
minutes without stopping.

"Oh, that's grand!" said the boy, in a burst of enthusiasm. "'Tis for
all the world the way the thunder comes down the glen - moanin' first,
far off on the mountains, and then swellin' into a big roar, and
afterwards going clap! clap! like a giant clapping his hands. Did he
kill the inimy, master dear?"

"No, he was killed himself, and his body dragged over the battlefield."

"Wirra, wirra, wirra!" broke in the child, while he rung his hands, and
burst forth into a torrent of tumultuous grief.

"He was killed, Mickey, and listen to the lament of his friends for his
death."

Scarcely had the youth read a few lines, when Sir Marmaduke, advancing a
little farther, his shadow fell across the chamber. The youth sprang up
at once, and came towards them. The flush of surprise - it might be, too,
of shame - was on his features; but there was less of awkwardness than
many might have exhibited in the manner of his address, as he said -

"Father Luke is from home, sir. He has been sent for to Ballyvourney - "

"You are his relation, I presume?" said Sir Marmaduke, without letting
him finish his speech.

"I am his pupil," replied the youth, with a tone in which offended pride
was clearly confessed.

"_I_ ask pardon," said the baronet hastily. "It was merely that I might
convey my respectful greetings to the worthy father that I asked the
question. Perhaps you will allow me to trespass so far upon you, and
say, that Sir Marmaduke Travers has been here."

"While Sir Marmaduke was speaking, the youth's eyes were fixed with a
steadfast gaze on the features of the young girl, of whose presence till
then he seemed unconscious. Fixed and earnest as his stare was,
there was nothing in it of rudeness, still less of insult. It was the
unequivocal expression of astonishment, the suddenly-awakened sense of
admiration in one, on whom, till that very instant, beauty had shed no
fascination. His eyes were bent upon her, as Sir Marmaduke thus finished
speaking, and the old man smiled as he saw the wonder-struck admiration
of the boy.

"You will please to say Sir Marmaduke Travers," repeated he once more,
to recall the scattered senses of the youth.

"And his daughter?" murmured the other, as he still continued to stare
at her.

"Yes, his daughter," replied Sir Marmaduke, smiling. "May I ask if there
be no shorter road back to 'the Lodge,' than that yonder? for I perceive
it is full two hours later than I suspected."

"None for those on horseback. The mountain path lies yonder, but even on
foot it is not without danger."

"Come, then, Sybella; let us lose no time. We must ride briskly, to
reach home by day-light. We are late enough already."

"Too late, if you ride not very fast," replied the youth. "The rain
has fallen heavily on the mountains this afternoon. See that waterfall
yonder. I crossed it dry-shod at day-break, and now, it is a cataract.
This river rises rapidly, and in a single night's rain I have seen the
valley all one lake."

"What are we to do then?" cried Miss Travers, eagerly, for now she felt
self-reproach at her refusal to take a groom along with them, and was
vexed with herself, as well as uneasy for her father.

"Keep the left of the valley till you reach the tall black rock they call
'the pulpit' - you know it, at least you must have seen it, as you came
along - then cross the stream, it will be fordable enough by that time,
and make the best of your way along under the cliffs, till you arrive
at the broken bridge - the two buttresses, I mean. Re-cross the stream
there, and gain the meadows, and in some hundred yards you are safe upon
the high road. Away then; lose no more time, now; a minute is all the
space between risk and safety;" and with these words he sprang forward,
and lifted the young girl to her saddle, ere she had time or forethought
to decline the service.

"May we not know the name of our kind adviser?" asked Sir Marmaduke, as
he mounted his horse.

"Hark! there it comes!" said the youth, pointing upwards to the brow of
a cliff, over which a leaping torrent had just bounded. "The mountain
lakes are flooded, when Derrybahn is spouting. Away! away! if you care
for safety."

They turned their horses' heads as he spoke, and with a hasty "good bye"
they spurred forwards. Short as the time had been since they travelled
the same path, the scene was wonderfully changed; the placid stream that
stole along, murmuring over its gravelly bed, now rushed onward with a
yellow current streaked with white foam; the tiny rivulets that came in
slender drops upon the road-side, were now become continuous streams of
water, hurrying on to bear their tribute to the river. The sky itself
was black and louring, resting midway on the mountains, or drifting past
in heavy clouds, while no breeze was stirring below. The many torrents
as they fell, filled the air with a low monotonous sound, like the noise
of tree tops moved by a distant-storm.

"I thought I heard a voice calling to us," said Sir Marmaduke, as for
the first time they slackened their pace, to clear several loose stones
that obstructed the way - "did you hear it?"

"I half thought so, too," replied his daughter; "but I can see no one
near. There it is again!"

They halted and listened; but the swelling uproar of the waterfalls
drowned every sound, and they spurred forward once more, fearing to
loiter longer; yet, both as they went, thought they could trace
the words, "come back, come back;" but from some strange dread of
communicating fears that might not be real, neither told the other.

"He said the left side of the valley; but surely he mistook: see how the
water has gained here, and the opposite bank seems dry."

"Let us follow the advice, father," cried Sybella, "we have no guidance
save his; he could not - would not deceive us, Is it not grand! with all
its danger, I can admire it."

As she spoke, a tremendous clap of thunder broke above their heads, and
made the valley tremble with the sound, while, as if by the shock the
charged clouds were rent open, and the rain descended in torrents. With
the swooping gush of the ocean spray, storm-lashed and drifted, the rain
came down, wrapping in misty darkness every object around them. And now,
the swollen cataracts tore madly down the mountain sides, leaping from
crag to crag, and rending the clayey soil in deep clefts and gashes.
Again the thunder pealed out, and every echo sent hack the sound, till
the whole glen vibrated with the deafening clamour. Still they sped
onward. The terrified horses strained every limb, and dashing madly
on - mid rock and rushing water they went, now, clearing at a bound the
course of some gushing stream - now, breasting the beating rain with
vigorous chest.

The storm increased; the howling wind joined with the deep-toned thunder
into one long continuous roar, that seemed to shake the very air itself.

"Yonder!" said the father, as he pointed to the tall dark pinnacle of
rock, known by the country people as "the Pulpit" - "yonder!"

Sybella strained her eye to see through the dense beating rain, and
at last caught sight of the huge mass, around whose summit the charged
clouds were flying.

"We must cross the river in this place," said the old man, as he
suddenly checked his horse, and looked with terrified gaze on the
swollen stream that came boiling and foaming over to where they stood,
with branches of trees and fragments of rock rolling onward in the tide.
"The youth told us of this spot."

"Let us not hesitate, father," cried the young girl, with a tone of
firm, resolute daring she had not used before - "remember what he said, a
minute may save or ruin us. Great heaven! what is that?"

A terrific shriek followed her words, and she fell with her head upon
her horse's mane; a broad flash of lightning had burst from a dark
cloud, and came with vivid force upon her eyeballs.

"Father, dear father, my sight is gone," she screamed aloud, as lifting
up her head she rubbed the orbs now paralyzed by the shock.

"My child, my child!" cried the old man, with the piercing shriek of a
breaking heart; "look on me, look towards me. Oh, say that you can see
me, now - my brain is turning."

"Oh God, I thank thee!" said the terrified girl, as once more her vision
was restored, and, dimly, objects began to form themselves before her.

With bare head and upturned eyes, the aged man looked up, and poured
forth his prayer of thankfulness to heaven. The raging storm beat on
his brow unfelt; his thoughts were soaring to the Throne of Mercies, and
knew not earth, nor all its sorrows.

A clap of thunder at the moment broke from the dense cloud above them,
and then, in quick succession, like the pealing of artillery, came
several more, while the forked lightning shot to and fro, and at last,
as if the very earth was riven to its centre, a low booming sound was
heard amid the clouds; the darkness grew thicker, and a crash followed
that shook the ground beneath them, and splashed the wild waves on every
side. The spray sprung madly up, while the roaring of the stream grew
louder; the clouds swept past, and the tall Pulpit rock was gone! Struck
by lightning, it had rolled from its centre, and fallen across the
river, the gushing waters of which poured over it in floods, and fell in
white sheets of foam and spray beyond it.

"God is near us, my child," said the old man with fervour; "let us
onward."

Her streaming eyes turned on him one look of affection - the emblem of a
heart's love - and she prepared to follow.

To return was now impossible, the river had already extended the whole
way across the valley in the rear; the only chance of safety lay in
front.

"Keep by my side, dearest," said the father, as he rode first into the
stream, and tried to head the terrified animal against the current.

"I am near you, father, fear not for me," said she firmly, her hold
heart nerved to the danger.

For some seconds the affrighted horses seemed rooted to the earth, and
stood amid the boiling current as if spell-bound; a fragment of a tree,
however, in its course, struck the flank of the leading horse, and
he sprung madly forward, followed by the other. Now, breasting the
stream - now, sinking to the mane beneath it, the noble beasts struggled
fiercely on till near the spot, where the Pulpit-rock had left a space
between it and the opposite bank, and here, a vast volume of water now
poured along unchecked by any barrier.

"To my side - near me, dearest - near me," cried the father, as his horse
dashed into the seething flood and sunk above the crest beneath it.

"I cannot, father - I cannot," screamed the affrighted girl, as with a
bound of terror her horse sprang back from the chasm, and refused to
follow. The old man heard not the words - the current had swept him far
down into the stream, amid the rent branches and the rolling rocks - "My
child, my child," the only accents heard above the raging din.

Twice did the heroic girl try to face the current, but in vain - the
horse plunged wildly up and threatened to fall back, when suddenly
through the white foam a figure struggled on and grasped the bridle at
the head; next moment, a man leaped forward and was breasting the surge
before her -

"Head the stream - head the stream if you can," cried he, who still held
on, while the wild waves washed over him; but the poor horse, rendered
unmanageable through fear, had yielded to the current, and was now each
moment nearing the cataract.

"Cling to me, now," cried the youth, as with the strength of desperation
he tore the girl from the saddle, while with the other hand he grasped
an ash bough that hung drooping above his head. As he did so, the mare
bounded forward - the waves closed over her, and she was carried over the
precipice.

"Cling fast to me, and we are safe," cried the youth, and with vigorous
grasp he held on the tree, and thus supported, breasted the stream and
reached the bank. Exhausted and worn out, both mind and body powerless,
they both fell senseless on the grass.

The last shriek of despair broke from the father's heart as the horse,
bereft of rider, swept past him in the flood. The cry aroused the
fainting girl; she half rose to her feet and called upon him. The next
moment they were locked in each other's arms.

"It was he who saved me, father," said she in accents broken with joy
and sorrow; "he risked his life for mine."

The youth recovered consciousness as the old man pressed him to his
heart.

"Is she safe?" were the first words he said as he stared around him
vaguely, and then, as if overcome, he fell heavily back upon the sward.
A joyous cheer broke forth from several voices near, and at the instant,
several country people were seen coming forward, with Terry at their
head.

"Here we are - here we are, and in good time too," cried Terry; "and if
it wasn't that you took a fool's advice, we'd have gone the other road.
The carriage is in the glen, my lady," said he, kneeling down beside
Sybella, who still remained clasped in her father's arms.

By this time, some of Sir Marmaduke's servants had reached the spot, and
by them the old man and his daughter were assisted toward the high road,
while two others carried the poor youth, by this time totally unable to
make the least exertion.

"This brave boy - this noble fellow," said Sir Marmaduke, as he stooped
to kiss the pale high forehead, from which the wet hair hung
backwards - "Can no one tell me who he is?"

"He's the young O'Donoghue," replied a half dozen voices together; "a
good warrant for courage or bravery any day."

"The O'Donoghue!" repeated Sir Marmaduke, vainly endeavouring in the
confusion of the moment to recall the name, and where he had heard it.

"Ay, the O'Donoghue," shouted a coarse voice near him, as a new figure
rode up on a small mountain pony. "It oughtn't to be a strange name in
these parts. Rouse yourself, Master Herbert, rouse up, my child - sure it
isn't a wettin' would cow you this way?"

"What! Kerry, is this you?" said the youth faintly, as he looked around
him with half-closed eyelids. "Where's my father?"

"Faix, he's snug at the parlour fire, my darlin', where his son ought
to be, if he wasn't turning guide on the mountains, to the enemy of his
kith and kin."

These words were said in a whisper, but with an energy that made the boy
start from the arms of those who bore him.

"Here's the pony, Master Herbert, get up on him, and be off at once;
sure there isn't a blackguard there, with lace on his coat, wouldn't be
laughing at your old clothes when the light comes."

Sir Marmaduke and his daughter were a few paces in advance as these
words were spoken, the old baronet giving directions for bestowing every
care and attention on one he deemed his guest.

The boy, ashamed and offended both, yielded to the counsel, and suffered
himself to be placed upon the saddle.

"Now, then, hould fast, and I'll guide him," said Kerry, as elbowing
the crowd right and left, he sprung forward at a run, and in less than a
minute had disappeared in the darkness.

Sir Marmaduke became distracted at the loss of his benefactor, and
message after message was despatched to bring him back, but all in vain;
Kerry and his pony had already gained so much in advance, none could
overtake them.

"To-morrow then, my child," said Sir Marmaduke, "to-morrow will, I
hope, enable me to speak my gratitude, though I shall not sleep well
to-night - I never rested with so heavy a debt unpaid before."

And with these words they slowly wended their way homeward.




CHAPTER VII. SIR ARCHY'S TEMPER TRIED

It was strange that, although the old man and his tender daughter should
have sustained no other ill results from their adventure, than the
terror which even yet dwelt on their minds, the young and vigorous
youth, well trained to every accident of flood or field, felt it most
seriously.

The exertions he made to overtake Sir Marmaduke and his daughter,
followed by the struggle in the swollen stream, had given such a shock
to his frame, that ere day broke the following morning, he was in a
fever. The mental excitement conspiring with fatigue and exhaustion, had
brought on the symptoms of his malady with such rapidity, that it was
evident, even to the unaccustomed observers around him, his state was
precarious.

Sir Archibald was the first person at the sick youth's bed-side.
The varied fortunes of a long life, not devoid of its own share of
vicissitude, had taught him so much of medical skill, as can give
warning of the approach of fever; and as he felt the strong and frequent
pulse, and saw the flushed and almost swollen features before him, he
recognized the commencement of severe and dangerous illness.



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago → online text (page 5 of 41)