J. H. Riddell.

Berna Boyle. A Love Story of the County Down online

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Online LibraryJ. H. RiddellBerna Boyle. A Love Story of the County Down → online text (page 1 of 34)
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Reverse the glass of the nineteenth century, let the sands of
time sift swiftly backwards for nearly thirty-four years, and I
will show you a tiny village nestling among the green slopes of

But the merest hamlet ! Spite of the railway station less
than a mile distant ; the post-office and public-house combined,
situated just where the Comber Road branches off from the
Newtonards ; the smithy hard by ; the church, perched aloft
on one of those quaint low hills that have won for the county
a not inapt comparison to a basket of eggs ; the police barracks,
the remarkable-looking Rectory, the mail-car running along
the highway twice a day, the Presbyterian meeting-house—
surely, the smallest and most unpretending of picturesque
villages !

Only one side to it, and that extremely imperfect ! First a
row of one-storied cottages, where dwelt the local cobbler and
tailor, both deadly jealous of town ways and town notions.
Then fields advanced boldly to the front, succeeded, after a
short space, by the police barracks, a couple of its occupants,
privates in the Irish constabulary, being generally encountered
lounging on the footpath opposite. A little further, a few
more cottages were scattered beside the road ; at the extreme


end of the village, beyond the lane which still winds up to the
gate of the graveyard, stood proudly forth the shop, where
nothing could be bought, it might have been supposed, that
any human creature would desire to purchase. Close to the
turning leading to the Rectory was a second smithy, for the
neighbourhood was (and is) one much given to farming, and
found constant need of a farrier's services ; a few detached
houses, farm and otherwise, lay back from the left-hand side of
the road — the right being skirted, as stated, by humble cottages ;
the whole place looked green and white by reason of the green
fields and the white-washed houses. Up on the hillsides lay
great masses of trees and belts of plantation, and higher still
you could see roads winding over the heights whence lovely
views were to be obtained of Belfast Lough, and the Antrim
mountains, of Scrabo close at hand, and, on a clear day, a
glimpse of Scotland — as the crow flies, little more than twenty
miles distant from that extreme point of the county Down,
close to which the English steamers plough their way, while,
keeping between the Copelands and Donaghadee, they shape
an almost direct course southward down the Channel.

It was a summer's morning in the July of 1S50 ; the barley
and the flax both needed sun ; the potatoes, anxiously watched
for signs of that fatal blight, could have borne any amount of
heat and been the better for it. The grass had grown well and
was more than ready for the scythe, and the rain was coming
down in torrents. It was a morning to make sad the heart of
any farmer. All through the district, from the Rectory to the
hovel, there was "mourning and lamentation and woe :" the
labourers could not work ; the horses were standing idle in the
stable, eating their heads off. Masters and men, for once of
one mind, looked mournfully out at the weather. Steadily the
rain held on — dripping through the leaves, plashing into the
pools, swelling the streams, soaking the earth. In the whole
of that village there were no creatures happy but the ducks,
which waddled about quacking, literally embarrassed by the
wealth in the way of dirt Providence was providing for them.


About a mile out of the village, in the Craigantlet direction,
which is the nearest route to Bangor — not on the crest of the
rising ground, that opens to any one who has patiently toiled
up the long incline such an unexpected and magnificent stretch
of sea, and mountain, and headland, and smiling, restful land ;
but admirably placed on the slope of the hill, so as to be
protected from the north-east wind — stood a house of some
pretension. It was enbowered in trees. It was approached
by an avenue upon which the foot fell almost as noiselessly as
on the turf of the lawn. There was a great silence about the
place. When you entered the gate the world seemed left
behind. It was an old mansion — once the Dower House of a
noble family — but it had descended in the social scale, till it
simply " went with the land " — was thrown in as a mere
makeweight with the farm. Scarcely charged for in the rent
— the tenant was continually grumbling concerning the expense
entailed upon him by the "tumbledown old barrack" — where
ladies in stomachers and farthingales, and patches and high-
heeled shoes, and powdered hair, once rustled through the
wainscoted rooms ; and handsome gallants came wooing, and
dark deeds, it was said, were done — notably one which caused
the imprint of a blood-stained hand on the wall, and the drip
of blood on the black oak staircase ; and the legend that now
and then the ghost of a murdered woman might be seen by
some human being more especially favoured than his fellows.

Through the years the house had been persistently falling
from its once high estate. As the family to whom it belonged
grew greater it grew less. Time went on, and the mansion, as
the winters and summers came and went, got more and more
dilapidated ; each successive tenant refused it even one poor
coat of paint ; each occupier left it in worse plight than his
predecessor. The ladies of the great family had long ceased
to inhabit a nook so utterly out of the world. In London, or
Bath, or Paris, or any other favourite resort, they spent the few
pounds the Dower House brought them by way of rental.
The memory of man could not extend to the time when a


Dame Bountiful, residing under the shadow of those ancient
trees, blessed the neighbourhood with her gracious presence.

The former days were gone, and the prestige of the old
Dower House with them. It had sunk surely, if slowly. First
it was let to a Xewtonards man, who, having gone out to India
without a penny, came back, to quote the country-side gossip,
possessed of "millions and millions."

Unfortunately, he brought back in addition a native wife and
half a dozen dark-skinned black-eyed children, all of whom, being
regarded as intruders, and treated as such, the *' rajah " — so his
neighbours generally called him — sold off his furniture, packed
up his belongings, and took boat for England. Then a sporting
character, in great request at mess and bachelor dinners, who,
it was credibly asserted, fought mains of cocks in the dining-
room and had boxing matches in the great barn, remained in
Ardilaw for the space of two years, at the expiration of which
term he drank himself to death, greatly to the satisfaction of
many worthy people. After that the place was let for the
summer to persons able to drive across to Holy wood " for the
bathing." Then it went down another step, and was rented
by a Belfast shopkeeper, who wanted country air for his
children, and grass where those children could tumble about
and grow up wild.

When it had been knocked almost out of human recog-
nition by the young fry, their papa died ; his business collapsed,
and Ardilaw was again in the market. This time a gentleman
farmer thought he would essay a wrestle with the poor hill-
side land, and a contest with ignorance and the elements ; but
five successive bad seasons, to say nothing of relays of in-
competent labourers and dishonest bailiffs, compelled his

For a year and four months the house stood empty.
Weeds grew rank in the orchard and kitchen garden, roses
bloomed and faded in the parterres once tended by My Lady,
moss covered the drive, the leaves lay where they had fallen
on the lawn, from the windows no men's or women's eyes looked


out upon a landscape destitute of the attraction of human life
and human movement. Some few persons came to view, but
no one remained to rent. Then suddenly the whole village
was astounded, and possibly shocked, to hear Hewson Muir,
of Kilmoon Farm, had rented the Dower House — stock, lock,
and barrel; land, water, wood, and bog — as tenant-at-will,
under the great family, who "ought to have known better"
than let the " old place to a man little more nor a labourer."
Presumably the great family, like lesser families, understood
its own business at least as well as its critics. It was a family
which had its personal interests at heart, and always found a
way, spite of settlements and entails, of getting rid of unre-
munerative and troublesome property. To cut a long story
short, before Mr. ]Muir had been a year in possession, Ardilaw
changed hands, and passed into the keeping of a certain Lyle
Gamsey, commonly reported to be the " wickedest man in the

The sinister reputation of that gentleman who fought cocks
in his dining-room, and hob-nobbed with the Heenan of his
day, paled when contrasted against the scorching sins of Lyle
Garnsey. In Mr. Garnsey's case distance lent enchantment to
the view : what were a few cocks mangled and bleeding near
Belfast in com.parison with crimes committed in Dublin and
London and "furrin parts " ?

Over many a turf fire the misdoings of " the Squire "' were
spoken of with bated breath, the future of his only child, a
daughter, discussed, and his owm eventual destination more
than hinted at.

Between this new landlord and ]Mr. Muir the most friendly
relations were soon established ; though the former was almost
an infidel and the latter a red-hot Orangeman, though one was
a Liberal and the other a Tory. Mr. ]\Iuir sternly maintained
" ye might chance to meet worse nor Lyle Garnsey,"' while Mr.
Gamsey was wont to declare he considered " Mr. Muir a most
excellent person." Twice a year, when he went to pay his
rent, Mr. ]\Iuir dined at Beechneld, and it was a sight to behold


him grively accepting viands he did not hke, served in a
fashion to which he was not accustomed, from the hands of a
footman who had much ado to conceal tlie disgust he felt at
having to wait " upon such a fellow."

The years went by, and Mr. Muir, at all events, made
money out of Ardilaw. If nobody v^lse had ever managed to ex-
tract a profit from the land, Mr. Muir did. He rarely worked
himself, but he was without peer in the matter of seeing that
other people " wrought" as they should. Sometimes he might
have been seen guiding the jjlough, dressed in decent black, his
coat a swallow-tail, and his shirt white as snow ; but, as a rule,
he preferred watching the turning up of the clods, and following
while some one else harrowed and cast seed into the ground.

He was tall, over six feet in height — " six feet two in my
stocking soles," he often stated — of spare habit, long-limbed,
loosely made, with no depth in his shoulders and no width
across his chest ; a man who looked as if he had been thrown
together instead of built ; a person no human being could have
called handsome.

On that wet July morning he stood beside one of the
windows in the old wainscoted dining-room, splicing the handle
of a gig whip and looking out at the weather. It was indeed,
as has been said, a day to try the faith of any farmer. Ordi-
narily, Mr. Muir — as became a rnan who hated the Pope, and
loved " Protestant Boys," Orange Lilies, and the rousing cry of
" No Surrender !" — had sufficient faith in the wisdom and
justice of his Maker; but as he watched the rain coming down
faster and faster, the avenue getting wetter and wetter, the
heavens growing darker and darker, he felt there must be
something utterly wrong somewhere. Could it possibly have
happened (trying circumstances will give rise to doubt even in
minds not ordinarily prone to scepticism) that Providence,
finding the whole scheme of creation too vast for individual
attention, had given Ireland, as regarded its weather, over to a
sort of Viceregent, who was making as great a mess of physical
matters as Lord Lieutenants usually do of political ?


This was a view of the question which in the then state of
the hay crop seemed to Mr. Muir so extremely probable, he
felt he should have liked to " threep " it out with " some
sensible person ;" but as there chanced to be no human being
in the room except his eldest daughter " Bell," the farmer,
though big with thought, decided he had best hold his tongue,
" women folk being as a rule fools to talk to."

Miss Bell Muir was a lady who might have been guessed at
any age, according to the fancy of the spectator. Really but
six-and-twenty, she had that hard and battered appearance it is
competent for even quite young women to assume who have
always cultivated the utile to the exclusion of the duke. There
was not much dnlce about Miss Muir. She never could be con-
sidered happy except when half-killing herself, and harassing
everybody about her, with a perfect plague of labour. Like her
father, she loved to see other persons hard at work ; unlike
her father, nothing pleased her better than to work harder than
them all. About the house she was a " besom of destruction."
She thought it the height of bliss to spend hours in a hurricane
of sweeping, scouring, bustling, grumbling, scolding. On those
evil occasions the cats were harried from the hearth ; the dogs,
if they put their noses inside the kitchen door, were received
with the contents of a pail of water ; chanticleer, leading his
wives across the threshold with great cur-a-rooing and much
uplifting of his feet like a high-stepping horse, had to retrace
his way at a different pace and in a different fashion ; while
Mr. Muir himself was constantly asked "if he couldn't come
into the house some different road nor across the wet flags."

Not a labourer on the farm but knew and detested
Saturday — till the evening, that is to say — when Bell, refreshed
and satisfied with the results of her campaign against the
powers of dirt, either took to baking griddle-bread, which
scented the whole neighbourhood with a sweet wholesome
smell; or else, when one of her sisters offered tomake"fadge,''
or wheaten or oaten cake, sat down to knit coarse stockings in
a leisure so thoroughly earned.


On that particular wet morning in July, Miss Muir, occa-
sionally looking at her father askance, the while a certain bright
and brisk number seven needle glanced in and out of some
fine white " shirting," was adorned in the fullest war-paint she
had ever assumed when merely arming herself for domestic

It consisted of a clean and stiffly-starched print dress —
colour, lilac; tone, dark; pattern, hideous; a calico apron,
white as soft water and grass-bleeching could make and keep
it; a small woollen shawl, checked black and red, pinned
securely across her bosom ; and a linen cap, with two goffered
borders made of the same uncompromising material, tied under
her chin by a pair of linen strings about two inches wide, drawn
into a cravat bow, framing her face till she looked like some
sunburnt old baby.

This was Bell — the eldest female hope of Mr. Muir's three
matrimonial essays — this was Bell, secretly dreaded even by
her stern papa, who had not " much opinion of any of the sex "
— meaning the softer portion of creation — this was Bell, so
famous through all the country-side for her powers of work and
management, that many a man had cast sheep's eyes upon her,
and would have proposed long enough before, but for the
knowledge that Miss Muir had a high opinion of her value in
the matrimonial market, and for a doubt as to the amount with
which Mr. Muir meant to endow her.

" Carry's first steed in his stable," said many a canny father
and mother, when discussing matters over with sons anxious to
better their position ; "Carry and Robert '11 have the pick off
Ardilaw. For all she's been to him, for all she's done for
him, the old man hasn't the heart for Bell Muir he ought,
considering there's not such a hand for butter in the county as

It was the butter question Miss Muir was considering,
while she sat *' working on " a new shirt of her father's.
Nevertheless, magnanimously ignoring her own anxieties, she
essayed to converse with her parent as he stood beside the


window commanding a comprehensive view of the village, the
lawn, the trees, the drive, and the rain.

" Have you had any furt"her word from Sam Dopp about
the cottage ?" she asked, her voice sounding much older and
harsher than the voice of so young a woman had any right to

" Ay — his brother came over yesterday between the lights,
and said Sam would agree to rising the pound there was
between us if I would put him up a pigstye ; but I told him I
would do no such thing ; that if Sam wanted to keep pigs he
must do it some place else than at my cottage."

" Why, what ails you at the pigs, poor things ? What
would the Dopps do with all the leavings from so big a family
without a pig to eat them up ?"

"I don't know, and I don't care," answered Mr. Muir
defiantly. " I'll neither have pigs rooting up the garden nor
children destroying the clean papers and the fresh paint in the
house. Mr. Orr made a sort of small paradise of the place,
and if I can't get somebody that will keep it as it ought to be
kept, why, it shall stay empty, that's all."

Miss Muir put in a few energetic stitches before she

" You set great store by the cottage."

" And what would hinder me to set great store by it ?
Where could you find its like — a picture inside and out ? I
just stood and looked at it the other day, and thought the man
did right well to call it Clear Stream. The birds were singing,
and the flowers were all abloom, and the air was scented with
them, and the bit of grass was green as a fairy ring, and smooth
and soft like the velvet in Miss Garnsey's mantilla, and the
stream was running away under the plank bridge as hard as it
could go, laughing back at the sun and making merry as it
went ; and the myrtle-tree was a sheet of blossom — it looked
for all the world as if there had been a heavy snowstorm ; and
tufts of it were hanging so thick as to hide the polished green
leaves — the very ground below the tree was white. I made


up my mind at that minute Dopp and his swarm of children
should never spoil what Mr. Orr spent such a lot of time and
thought over."

" What are you going to do, then ? Let it stop idle till the
wet is running down the walls, and the garden is a wilderness,
and you might stand up to your middle in the grass ?"'

Mr. Muir winced a little ; he knew such things had
happened before, and he saw no great cause to doubt such
things might happen again ; but still he replied with dogged

" I have not wholly decided ; only Dopp's not going to be
any tenant of mine, and I told John as much."

"Sam will be finely pleased when he hears the notion you
have taken."

" I don't care whether he's pleased or displeased ; and
there's no reason that I'm aware of why I shouldn't have my
way as well as another."

" You're right there ; there is no reason at all."

" Still, there is no call why the house should stand empty,
if that can be helped ; so I've put an advertisement in the
Naus Letter that Clear Stream Cottage, Dundonald, is to be
rented by the year."

" The whole of Belfast will be running after it," commented
Miss Muir, with a fine sneer.

" It may, but I hope it won't be on a day like this ;" and,
having got a confession off his mind which had been weighing
upon it, Mr. Muir resumed his occupation ; while Miss Muir,
proceeding with her sewing, considered how she could " pay
her father off for not letting the cottage to that decent man
Sam Dopp."

"It's 'teeming' still," she began, seizing the opportunity
threading her needle afforded for changing her attitude and
"looking fair" at the author of her being.

" An' the Lord alone knows when it intends to leave off,"
said Mr, Muir, so entirely suspending the business of splicing
that the released length of string immediately uncoiled itself.


" But what the deuce can ye expect when it rains on Sant
Svvethen's Day — Devil take him, whoever he was! He
couldn't have been much of a Sant, in my opinion, or he'd
have given a thought to honest folk trying to make an honest

living between and the north-east wind, as somebody


" You don't believe in all that old story, I'm very sure,
father," observed Miss Muir, who, like her surviving parent,
had her own special form of scepticism.

" What would hinder me believing it? My father and my
grandfather, and, I'm very sure, my great-grandfather before
that, believed in St. Svvethen's Day ; and I never was one to
fly in the face of my elders. Why wouldn't I — "

*' It's just a legend got up by the Romans for their own
ends," persisted the lady.

*' Have your way in the matter, as I'm very sure you will,"
said Mr. Muir j " but ye can't deny it mostly does rain on the
fifteenth of July, Old Style—"

"Ay, and it rains many an odd time besides," retorted

"Well, it's an ill wind blows nobody good. If it hadn't
been for the wet, you and Carline and Sail would have had to
do the churning among ye this morning."

" Me and Sail you mean ; it's little help, but disturbance,
we'd have got from Carline."

" What's the young officer doing with himself now he can't
limp out to the lawn or down to the river ?" asked Mr. Muir,
discreetly changing the subject.

*' He's just painting the beech-tree from the passage win-
dow ; Carline carried him out a table, and set his things ready
after breakfast ; and as for limping, he can put his foot to the
ground as well as either of us when he likes. I saw him
yesterday going up the stairs three at a time, but he didn't
know I was near. If he had, it's holding on by the baluster
he'd have been, and groaning with the pain."

Having completed which vivid outline, a vast deal more


true to nature than any Ensign Ludhani ever sketched, Miss
Muir proceeded with her work, and left her father to fill in
such details as pleased, or did not please, him at his leisure.

" It's just awful to look at yon rain," observed the farmer,
when he had quite finished splicing the whip, and stood, idly
t^visting the lash round the hand!-?, looking out at the steady
downpour which bade fair ere long to swell the rivers, and
bring a second curse of water over the land.

*' It is that," agreed Miss Muir. "What a pity you would
mow that grass in the long meadow ! it'll every bit rot on the
ground ; I doubt if it'll even come in for litter."

" Ye've a pleasant way of putting things, my woman."

" Well, what I say's true. You wouldn't have me tell you
a lie, would you ?"

" I'm not just so sure it's always agreeable to hear the

" We're not of the same way of thinking, then," observed
^liss Muir, in a spirit of the sternest virtue.

" I don't know that, either. Bell. For instance, if one said
you were a very ordinary sort of woman to look at, it wouldn't
be a lie ; but I doubt if you'd be best pleased, after all."

" I never did set up to be anything beyond the common,"
returned Miss Muir, with a sublime composure, though her
father's remark cut her to the quick.

" !Maybe it was just as well," retorted her father.

On hearing which remark. Miss Muir — Christian name
Isabella — rose with great dignity, and, observing, " As you are
in the mind to pay me such fine compliments, I think I'll go
and print the butter ; my hands are cool now," left the room.

" Your hands may be cool," soliloquised Mr. Muir, " but
your temper isn't." An idea apparently so comforting that
though, looking at the sodden earth, he again anathematised
the good St. Swithin, it was not with half the fervour which
distinguished his previous utterances.


A DELUGE of summer rain was sweeping the Belfast streets
clean. Dawn had appeared, clad in delicate gray wrappings

Online LibraryJ. H. RiddellBerna Boyle. A Love Story of the County Down → online text (page 1 of 34)