Charles James Lever.

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

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Vague and confused images of the previous night's adventure, or visions
of the dark valley and the tempest, occupied all the boy's thoughts; and
though he endeavoured, when spoken to, to preserve coherency and memory,
the struggle was unavailing; and the immediate impression of a question
past, his mind wandered back to the theme which filled his brain.

"How was it then?" said Sir Archy, who, as he sat beside the sick bed,
questioned the youth about his adventure. "You said something of a
horse?"

"Yes; she was riding. Oh, how bravely she rode too! It was fine to see
her as the spray fell over her like a veil, and she shook the drops from
her hair."

"Whence came she? Who was the lady?"

"Take care - take care," said the youth in a solemn whisper, and with a
steadfast look before him; "Derrybahn has given warning - the storm is
coming. It is not for one so tender as you to tempt the river of the
black valley."

"Be still, my boy," said the old man; "you must not speak thus; your
head will ache if you take not rest - keep quiet."

"Yes; my head, my head," muttered he vaguely, repeating the words which
clinked upon his mind. "She put her arm round my neck - There - there,"
cried he, starting up wildly in his bed, "catch it - seize it - my feet
are slipping - the rock moves - I can hold no longer; there - there," and
with a low moaning sigh he sunk back fainting on the pillow.

Sir Archibald applied all his efforts to enforce repose and rest; and
having partially succeeded, hastened to the O'Donoghue's chamber, to
confer with the boy's father on what steps should be taken to procure
medical aid.

It was yet some hours earlier than the accustomed time of his waking, as
the old man saw the thin and haggard face of Sir Archy peering between
the curtains of his bed.

"Well, what is it?" said he, in some alarm at the unexpected sight. "Has
Gubbins issued the distress? Are the scoundrels going to sell us out?"

"No, no; it is another matter brings me here," replied M 'Nab, with a
gravity even deeper than usual.

"That infernal bond! By God, I knew it; it never left my dreams these
last three nights. Mark was too late, I suppose, or they wouldn't take
the interest, and the poor fellow sold his mare to get the money."

"Dinna fash about these things now," said M'Nab with impatience, "It's
that poor callant, Herbert - he's very ill - it's a fever he's caught.
I'm thinking."

"Oh Herbert!" said O'Donoghue, with a tone of evident relief, that
his misfortunes had taken any other shape than the much-dreaded one of
money-calamity. "What of him?"

"He's in a fever; his mind is wandering already."

"Not a bit of it; it's a mere wetting - a common cold: the boy fell into
the river last night at the old bridge there; Kerry told me something
about it; and so, maybe, Mark may reach Cork in good time after all."

"I am no speaking of Mark just now," said M'Nab tartly, "but of
the other lad, wha may be dangerously ill, if something be nae done
quickly."

"Then, send for Roach. Let one of the boys saddle a horse and ride over
to Killarney. Oh! I was forgetting; let a fellow go off on foot, he'll
get there before evening. It is confoundedly hard to have nothing in the
stables, even to mount a messenger. I hope Mark may be able to manage
matters in Cork. Poor fellow, he hates business as much as I do myself."

Sir Archy did not wait for the conclusion of this rambling reply. Long
before it was over, he was half-way down stairs in search of a safe
messenger to despatch to Killarney for Doctor Roach, muttering between
his teeth as he went -

"We hae nae muckle chance of the docter if we canna send the siller to
fetch him, as weel as the flunkie. Eh, sirs? - he's a cannie chiel, is
auld Roach, and can smell a fee as soon as scent a fever," and with this
sensible reflection he proceeded on his way.

Meanwhile the O'Donoghue himself had summoned energy enough to slip
on an old and ragged dressing-gown, and a pair of very unlocomotive
slippers, with which attired, he entered the sick boy's room.

"Well, Herbert, lad," said he, drawing the curtains back, and suffering
the grey light to fall on the youth's features, "what is the matter?
your uncle has been routing me up with a story about you."

He ceased suddenly, as his eyes beheld the change a few hours had
wrought in the boy's appearance: "His eyes, deep-buried in their orbits,
shone with an unnatural lustre - his cheeks were pale and sunken, save
where a bright patch of florid red marked the centre of each; his lips
were dry and shrivelled, and had a slight tremulous motion, as if he
were muttering to himself.

"Poor fellow," said the father, "how dreadfully ill he looks. Have you
any pain, my boy?"

The boy knew the voice, and recognized the kindly accent, but could not
hear or understand the words; and as his eyes glistened with delight,
he stole his burning hand from beneath the bed-clothes, and held it out,
all trembling, towards his father.

"How sudden this has been: you were quite well last night, Herbert."

"Last night!" echoed the boy, with a strange emphasis on the only words
he had caught up.

"No, by the way, it was the night before I mean. I did not see you last
night; but, cheer up, my dear boy; we've sent for Roach - he'll put you
to rights at once. I hope Mark may reach home before the doctor goes.
I'd like to have his advice about that strain in the back."

These last words were uttered in soliloquy, and seemed to flow from a
train of thought very different from that arising from the object before
him. Sunk in these reflections, he drew near the window, which looked
out upon the old court-yard behind the house, and where now a very
considerable crowd of beggars had assembled to collect the alms usually
distributed each morning from the kitchen. Each was provided with
an ample canvas bag, worn over the neck by a string, and capable of
containing a sufficiency of meal or potatoes, the habitual offering, to
support the owner for a couple of days at least. They were all busily
engaged in stowing away the provender of various sorts and kinds, as
luck, or the preference of the cook, decided, laughing or grumbling
over their portions, as it might be, when Sir Archibald M'Nab hurriedly
presented himself in the midst of them - an appearance which seemed to
create no peculiar satisfaction, if one were to judge from the increased
alacrity of their movements, and the evident desire they exhibited to
move off.

[Illustration: 079]

The ODonoghue laughed as he witnessed the discomfiture of the ragged
mob, and let down the window-sash to watch the scene.

"'Tis going we are; God be good to us!"

"Ye needn't be cursing that way," said an old hag, with a sack on her
back, large enough to contain a child.

"Eyah! the Lord look down on the poor," said a little fat fellow, with
a flannel night-cap and stockings without any feet; "there's no pity now
at all, at all."

"The heavens be your bed, any way," said a hard-featured little woman,
with an accent that gave the blessing a very different signification
from the mere words.

"Blessed Joseph! sure it isn't robbers and thieves we are, that ye need
hunt us out of the place."

Such were the exclamations on every side, intermingled with an
undergrowl of the "Scotch naygur" - "the ould scrape-gut," and other
equally polite and nattering epithets.

"This is no a place for ye, ye auld beldames and blackguards; awa wi'
ye - awa wi' ye at once."

"Them's the words ye'll hear in heaven yet, darlint," said an old fiend
of a woman with one eye, and a mouth garnished by a single tooth.
"Them's the very words St. Peter will spake to yourself."

"Begorra, he'll not be strange in the other place anyhow," muttered
another. "'Tis there hell meet most of his countrymen."

This speech was the signal for a general outburst of laughter.

"Awa wi ye, ye ragged deevils; ye'r a disgrace to a Christian country.'

"Throth we wear breeches an us," said an old fellow on crutches; "and
sure I hear that's more nor they do, in the parts your honour comes
from."

Sir Archy's passion boiled over at this new indignity. He stormed and
swore, with all the impetuous rage of one beside himself with passion;
but the effect on his hearers was totally lost The only notice they took
was an occasional exclamation of -

"There it is now! Oh, blessed father! hear what he says! Oh, holy
mother! isn't he a terrible man?" - comments by no means judiciously
adapted to calm his irritation. Meanwhile symptoms of evacuating the
territory were sufficiently evident. Cripples were taken on the backs
and shoulders of their respective friends; sacks and pouches were slung
over the necks. Many a preparatory shake of the rags showed that the
wearer was getting ready for the road, when Sir Archy, suddenly checking
himself in the full torrent of his wrath, cried out -

"Bide a wee - stay a minit, ye auld beasties - I hae a word to say to some
amang ye."

The altered tone of voice in which he spoke seemed at once to have
changed the whole current of popular feeling; for now they all chimed in
with -

"Arrah, he's a good man after all; sure 'tis only a way he
has" - sentiments which increased in fervency as Sir Archibald took a
tolerably well-filled purse from his pocket, and drew out some silver
into his hand, many exclaiming -

"'Tis the kind heart often has the hard word; and sure ye can see in his
face he isn't cruel.'

"Hear till me," cried Sir Archy aloud, as he held up a shilling before
their wistful eyes, "there's mony a ane among ye, able to earn siller.
Which o' ye now will step down to Killarney, and tell the docter he's
wanted up here wi a' despatch? Ye maun go fast and bring him, or send
him here to-night; and if ye do, I'll gie ye this piece o' siller money
when ye come back."

A general groan from that class whose age and infirmities placed them
out of the reach of competitorship, met this speech, while from the
more able section, a not less unequivocal expression of discontent broke
forth.

"Down to Killarney," cried one; "begorra, I wonder ye didn't say Kenmare
when ye war about it - the devil a less than ten miles it is."

"Eyah! I'll like to see my own four bones going the same road; sorra a
house the whole way where there's a drop of milk or a pratie."

"That's the charity to the poor, I suppose," said the fat fellow of the
night-cap. "'Tis wishing it I am, the same charity."

"We wor to bring the doctor on our back, I hope," said a cripple in a
bowl.

"Did ever man hear or see the like o' this?" exclaimed M'Nab, as with
uplifted hands he stared in wonderment around him. "One wad na believe
it."

"True for you, honey," joined in one of the group. "I'm fifty-three
years on the road, and I never heerd of any one askin' us to do a hand's
turn, afore."

"Out of my sight, ye worthless ne'er-do-weels; awa wi ye at once and for
ever. I'll send twenty miles round the country, but I'll hae a mastiff
here, 'ill worry the first o' ye that dares to come near the house."

"On my conscience, it will push you hard to find a wickeder baste nor
yourself."

"Begorra, he won't be uglier any how."

And with these comments, and the hearty laughter that followed, the
tattered and ragged group defiled out of the yard with all the honours
of war, leaving Sir Archy alone, overwhelmed with astonishment and
anger.

A low chuckling laugh, as the sash was closed over head, made him look
up, and he just caught a glimpse of O'Donoghue as he retired from the
window; for in his amusement at the scene, the old man forgot the sick
boy and all about him, and only thought of the ridiculous interview he
had witnessed.

"His ain father - his ain father!" muttered Sir Archy, as with his
brows contracted and his hands clasped behind his back, he ruminated in
sadness on all he saw. "What brings ye back again, ye lazy scoundrels?
How dare ye venture in here again?"

This not over-courteous interrogatory was addressed to poor Terry the
Woods, who, followed by one of Sir Marmaduke's footmen, had at that
instant entered the yard.

"What for, are ye come, I say? and what's the flunkie wanting beside
ye?"

Terry stood thunderstruck at the sudden outbreak of temper, and turned
at once to the responsible individual, to whom he merely acted as guide,
to make a reply.

"And are ye tramping it too?" said M'Nab, with a sneering accent as he
addressed the footman. "Methinks ye might hae a meal's meat out o'
the goold lace on your hat, and look mair like a decent Christian
afterwards. Ye'r out of place maybe."

These last words were delivered in an irony, to which a tone of
incredulity gave all the sting; and these only were intelligible to the
sleek and well-fed individual to whom they were addressed.

In all likelihood, had he been charged with felony or highway robbery,
his self-respect might have sustained his equanimity; any common
infraction of the statute-law might have been alleged against him
without exciting an undue indignation; but the contemptuous insinuation
of being "out of place" - that domestic outlawry, was more than human
endurance could stomach; nor was the insult more palatable coming from
one he believed to be a servant himself. It was therefore with the true
feeling of outraged dignity he replied -

"Not exactly out of place jest now, friend; though, if they don't treat
you better than your looks show, I'd recommend you trying for a new
situation."

Of a verity, Sir Archibald's temper was destined to sore trials that
morning; but this was a home thrust, for which no forethought could have
prepared him.

"I hope I am no' going to lose my senses," said he, as he pressed his
hands on either side of his temples. "May the Lord keep me from that
worst of a' human calamities."

This pious wish, uttered with real, unfeigned fervency, seemed to act
like a charm upon the old man's temper, as though the very appeal had
suggested a calmer and more patient frame of mind. It was, then, with
all the dignity of his natural character, when unclouded by momentary
flashes of passion, that he said -

"What may be your errand here this morning?"

Few and simple as the words were, there was that in their quiet,
unassuming delivery, which in a second recalled the footman to a
full consciousness of his impertinent mistake. He saw at once the
immeasurable gulph, impassible to any effort of assumption or insolence,
which separated them, and with the ready tact of his calling, he
respectfully took off his hat, and held forth a sealed letter, without
one word of reply or apology.

Sir Archibald put on his spectacles, and having carefully read the
superscription, turned back towards the house without speaking.

"Here is a letter for you, O'Donoghue," said he, as he entered the
parlour where the chief was already seated at his breakfast, while
Kerry O'Leary, a short distance behind his chair, was relating the
circumstances of the last night's adventure.

"Is it from Mark?" said the old man eagerly; and then glancing at
the writing, he threw it from him in disappointment, and added, "I am
getting very uneasy about that lad."

"Had ye no' better read the letter; the messenger wha brought it seems
to expect an answer," interposed M'Nab.

"Messenger! - eh - not by post? Is Hemsworth come back?" exclaimed
O'Donoghue, with an evident degree of fear in his manner.

"No, sir," said Kerry, guessing to what topic his master's thoughts were
turning; "the Captain is not coming, they say, for a month or six weeks
yet."

"Thank God," muttered O'Donoghue; "that scoundrel never leaves me a
night's rest, when I hear he's in the neighbourhood. Will you see what's
in it, Archy? - my head is quite confused this morning; I got up three
hours before my time."

Sir Archibald resumed his spectacles, and broke the seal. The contents
were at some length it would seem, for as he perused the letter to
himself, several minutes elapsed.

"Go on, Kerry," said O'Donoghue; "I want to hear all about this
business."

"Well, I believe your honour knows the most of it now; for when I came
up to the glen, they were all safe over, barrin' the mare; poor Kittane,
she was carried down the falls, and they took her up near a mile below
the old bridge, stone dead; Master Mark will fret his heart out when he
hears it."

"This is a very polite note," interposed Sir Archy, as he laid the
letter open before him, "from Sir Marmaduke Travers, begging to know
when he may be permitted to pay his personal respects to you, and
express his deep and grateful sense - his own words - of your son's
noble conduct in rescuing his daughter at the hazard of his life. It is
written with much modesty and good sense, and the writer canna be other
than a true gentleman."

"Travers - Travers," repeated O'Donoghue; "why that's the man himself. It
was he bought the estate; he's Hemsworth's principal."

"And if he be," replied M'Nab, "canna an honest man ha'e a bad servant?
There's nothing about Hemsworth here. It's a ceevil demand from one
gentleman to anither."

"So it is, then, Sir Marmaduke, that has been staying at the lodge these
some weeks past. That was Mark's secret - poor dear boy, he wouldn't tell
me, fearing it would annoy me. Well, what is it he wants."

"To visit you, O'Donoghue."

"What nonsense; the mischiefs done already. The mortgage is forclosed;
and as for Carrignacurra, they can do nothing before the next term;
Swaby says so, at least."

"Can ye no' comprehend. It is no law document; but a ceevil way to make
your acquaintance. Sir Marmaduke wad pay his respects to ye."

"Well, let him come," said O'Donoghue, laughing; "he's sure to find
me at home. The sheriff takes care of that for him. Mark will be here
to-morrow or next day; I hope he won't come before that."

"The answer must be a written one," said M'Nab; "it wad na be polite to
gie the flunkie the response."

"With all my heart, Archy, so that I am not asked to indite it. Miles
O'Donoghue are the only words I have written for many a year" - and he
added, with a half bitter laugh - "it would have been as well for poor
Mark, if I had forgotten even that same."

Sir Archibald retired to write the answer, with many a misgiving as to
the substance of the epistle; for while deeply gratified at heart, that
his favourite, Herbert, had acquitted himself so nobly, his own pride
was mortified, as he thought over the impressions a visit to the
O'Donoghue household might have on the mind of a "haughty Southern," for
such in his soul he believed him.

There was no help for it, however; the advances were made in a spirit
so very respectful, every line breathed such an evident desire, on the
writer's part, to be well received, that a refusal, or even a formal
acceptance of the proffered visit, was out of the question. His reply,
then, accepted the intended honour, with a profession of satisfaction;
apologising for his omission in calling on Sir Marmaduke, on the score
of ill health, and concluded by a few words about Herbert, for whom
many inquiries were made in the letter. This, written in the clear,
but quaint, old-fashioned characters of the writer's time, and signed,
"O'Donoghue," was carefully folded, and enclosed in a large square
envelope, and with it in his hand, M'Nab re-entered the breakfast room.

"Wad you like to hear the terms of the response, O'Donoghue, before I
seal it up?" asked Sir Archy, with an air of importance.

"No, no; I am sure it's all right and proper. You mentioned, of course,
that Mark was from home, but we were expecting him back every day."

"I didna make ony remark o' that kind. I said ye wad be happy to see
him, and felt proud at the honour of making acquaintance wi' him."

"Damn me if I do, then, Archy," broke in the old man roughly. "For so
great a stickler for truth as yourself, the words were somewhat out
of place. I neither feel pride nor honour on the subject. Let it go,
however, and there's an end to it."

"I've despatched a messenger for Roach to Killarney; that bit of a
brainless body, Terry, is gone by the mountain road, and we may expect
the docter here to-night;" and with these words, Sir Archy departed to
send off his epistle; and the O'Donoghue leaned back in his easy chair,
sorely wearied and worried by the fatigues of the day.




CHAPTER VIII. THE HOUSE OF SICKNESS

How painfully is the sense of severe illness diffused through every
part of a household. How solemn is the influence it sheds on every
individual, and every object; the noiseless step, the whispered words,
the closed curtains, the interruption to the ordinary avocations of
life, or the performance of them in gloom and sadness. When wealth and
its appliances exist, these things take all the features of extreme care
and solicitude for the sufferer; all the agencies of kindness and
skill are brought into active exertion, to minister to the rich man in
sickness; but when poverty and its evils are present - when the struggle
is against the pressure of want, as well as the sufferings of malady,
the picture is indeed a dark one.

The many deficiencies in comfort, which daily habit has learned to
overlook, the privations which in the active conflict with the world
are forgotten, now, come forth in the solitude of the sick house, to
affright and afflict us, and we sorrow over miseries long lost to memory
till now.

Never since the fatal illness which left O'Donoghue a widower, had
there been any thing like dangerous sickness in the house; and like most
people who have long enjoyed the blessings of uninterrupted health,
they had no thought for such a calamity, nor deemed it among the
contingencies of life. Now, however, the whole household felt the
change. The riotous laughter of the kitchen was silenced, the loud
speaking hushed, the doors banged by the wind, or the ruder violence
of careless hands, were closed noiselessly - every thing betokened that
sorrow was there. O'Donoghue himself paced to and fro in the chamber of
the old tower, now, stopping to cast a glance down the glen, where he
still hoped to see Mark approaching, now, resuming his melancholy walk
in sadness of heart.

In the darkened sick-room, and by the bed, sat Sir Archibald, concealed
by the curtain, but near enough to give assistance to the sick boy
should he need it. He sat buried in his own gloomy thoughts, rendered
gloomier, as he listened to the hurried breathings and low mutter-ings
of the youth, whose fever continued to increase upon him. The old
ill-tempered cook, whose tongue was the terror of the region she dwelt
in, sat smoking by the fire, nor noticed the presence of the aged fox
hound, who had followed Kerry into the kitchen, and now lay asleep
before the fire. Kerry himself ceased to hum the snatches of songs and
ballads, by which he was accustomed to beguile the weary day. There was
a gloom on every thing, nor was the aspect without doors more cheering.
The rain beat heavily in drifts against the windows; the wind shook the
old trees violently, and tossed their gnarled limbs in wild confusion,
sighing with mournful cadence along the deep glen, or pouring a long
melancholy note through the narrow corridors of the old house. The sound
of the storm, made more audible by the dreary silence, seemed to weigh
down every heart. Even the bare-legged little gossoon, Mickey, who had
come over from Father Luke's with a message, sat mute and sad, and as
he moved his naked foot among the white turf ashes, seemed to feel the
mournful depression of the hour.

"'Tis a dreadful day of rain, glory be to God!" said Kerry, as he drew
a fragment of an old much-soiled newspaper from his pocket, and took
his seat beside the blazing fire. For some time he persevered in his
occupation without interruption; but Mrs. Branaghan having apparently
exhausted her own reflections, now turned upon him to supply a new
batch.

"What's in the news, Kerry O'Leary? I think ye might as well read it
out, as be mumbling it to yourself there," said she, in a tone seldom
disputed in the realm she ruled.

"Musha then," said Kerry, scratching his head, "the little print bates
me entirely; the letters do be so close, they hav'n't room to stir in,
and my eyes is always going to the line above, and the line below, and
can't keep straight in the furrow at all. Come here, Mickey, alanah!
'tis you ought to be a great scholar, living in the house with his
reverence. They tell me," continued he, in a whisper to the cook - "they
tell me, he can sarve mass already."

Mrs. Branaghan withdrew her dudeen at these words, and gazed at the
little fellow with unmixed astonishment, who, in obedience to the



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago → online text (page 6 of 41)