Unknown.

The library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) online

. (page 56 of 75)
Online LibraryUnknownThe library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) → online text (page 56 of 75)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


bell. I recollect the cloudy, mist}' morning;
the wet that lay upon the scaffold the huge
dark mass of building, the prison itself, that
rose beside, and seemed to cast a shadow over
us the cold, fresh breeze, that, as I emerged
from it, broke upon my face. I see it all now
the whole horrible landscape is before me.
The scaffold the rain the faces of the multi-
tude the people clinging to the house-tops



the smoke that beat heavily downwards from
the chimneys the waggons filled with women
staring in the inn-yards opposite the hoarse
low roar that ran through the gathered crowd
as we appeared. I never saw so many objects
at once, so plainly and distinctly, in all my
life, as at that one glance; but it lasted only
for an instant.

From that look, and from that instant, all
that followed is a blank. Of the prayers of
the chaplain; of the fastening the fatal noose;
of the putting on of the cap which I had so
much disliked; of my actual execution and
death, 1 have not the slightest atom of recollec-
tion. But that I know such occurrences must
have taken place, I should not have the small-
est consciousness that they ever did so. I read
in the daily newspapers an account of my be-
haviour at the scaffold that I conducted my-
self decently but with firmness ; of my death
that I seemed to die almost without a
struggle. Of any of these events I have not
been able by any exertion to recall the most
distant remembrance. With the first view
of the scaffold, all my recollection ceases.
The next circumstance which, to my percep-
tion, seems to follow, is the having awoke, as
if from sleep, and found myself in a bed, in a
handsome chamber; with a gentleman as I
first opened my eyes looking attentively at
me. I had my senses perfectly, though I did
not speak at once. I thought directly that I
had been reprieved at the scaffold, and had
fainted. After I knew the truth, I thought
that I had an imperfect recollection of having
found or fancied myself as in a dream in
some strange place lying naked, and with a
mass of figures floating about before me; but
this idea certainly never presented itself to me
until I was informed of the fact that it had
occurred.

The accident to which I owe my existence
will have been divined! My condition is a
strange one ! I am a living man; and I possess
certificates both of my death and burial. I
know that a coffin filled with stones, and with
my name upon the plate, lies buried in the
Churchyard of St. Andrews, Holborn: I saw
from a window, the undressed hearse arrive
that carried it: I was a witness to my own
funeral: these are strange things to see. My
dangers, however, and I trust, my crimes, are
over for ever. Thanks to the bounty of the
excellent individual whose benevolence has
recognized the service which he did me for
a claim upon him, I am married to the woman
whose happiness and safety proved my last
thought so long as reason remained with me



2S8



ROBERT BURNS.



in dying. And I am about to sail upon a
far voyage, which is only a sorrowful one that
it parts me for ever from my benefactor. The
fancy that this poor narrative, from the singu-
larity of the facts it relates, may be interesting
to some people, has induced me to write it;
perhaps at too much length, but it is not easy
for those who write without skill to write
briefly. Should it meet the eye of the few
relatives I have, it will tell one cf them that
to his jealousy of being known in connection
with me, even after death, I owe my life.
Should my old master read it, perhaps by this
time he may have thought 1 suffered severely
for yielding to a first temptation; at least while
I bear him no ill will I will not believe that
he will learn my deliverance with regret. For
the words are soon spoken, and the act is soon
done, which dooms a wretched creature to an
untimely death; but bitter are the pangs and
the sufferings of the body are among the least
of them that he must go through before he
arrives at it ! Blackwood's Mag.



POORTITH CAULD.

BY ROBERT BURNS.

O poortith cauld and restless love,
Ye wreck my peace between ye ;
Yet poortith a' I could forgive,
An 'twere na for my Jeanie.
O why should fate sic pleasure have,

Life's dearest bands untwining?
Or why sae sweet a flower as love
Depend on Fortune's shining?

This warld's wealth when I think on,
Its pride, and a' the lave o't ;

Fie, fie on silly coward man,
That he should be the slave o't !

Her een sae bonnie blue betray

How she repays my passion ;
But prudence is her o'erword aye,

She talks of rank and fashion.

O wha can prudence think upon,

And sic a lassie by him?
O wha can prudence think upon,

And sae in love as I am?

How blest the humble cotter's fate !

He woos his simple dearie ;
The silly bogles, wealth and state,
Can never make them eerie.

O why should fate sic pleasure have,

Life's dearest bands untwining?
Or why sae sweet a flower as love
Depend on Fortune's shining?



ROBERT BURNS.

BY JAMES MONTGOMERY.

What bird in beauty, flight, or song,
Can with the bard compare,
Who sang as sweet and soar'd as strong
As ever child of air?

His plume, his note, his form, could Burns
For whim or pleasure change :
He was not one, but all by turns,
With transmigration strange.

The blackbird, oracle of spring,
When flower'd his moral lay;
The swallow, wheeling on the wing,
Capriciously at play:

Th humming-bird, from bloom to bloom
Inhaling heavenly balm;
The raven, in the tempest's gloom;
The halcyon, in the calm:

In "auld Kirk Alloway," the owl,
At witching time of night;
By "bormie Doon," the enrliest fowl
That caroll'd to the light.

He was the wren amidst the grove,
When in his homely vein;
At Bannockburn the bird of Jove,
With thunder in his train;

The woodlark, in his mournful hours;
The goldfinch, in his mirth;
The thrush, a spendthrift of his power,
Enrapturing heaven and earth;

The swan, in majesty and grace,
Contemplative and still;
But roused, no falcon in the chase
Could like his satire kill.

The linnet in simplicity,

In tenderness the dove;

But more than all besides was he,

The nightingale in love.

Oh ! had he never stoop'd to shame,
Nor lent a charm to vice,
How had devotion loved to name
That bird of paradise !

Peace to the dead! In Scotia's choir
Of minstrels great and small,
He sprang from his spontaneous fire,
The phoenix of them all.



THE RIBBONMAN.



289



THE RIBBONMAN.

[William Carleton, born at Clogher, Tyrone, 1798;
died 30th January, 1869. Novelist and poet. He began
his career as a tutor. In 1830 he published in Dublin
the first series of his Traits end Stories of the Irish
Peasantry, which wasreceived with so much favour that
a second series soon followed. His principal works are :
Fardorougha the M iser ; The Fawn of Sin-ing Vale; The
Clarionet, and other Tales; Valentine M'Ctutchy; Willy
Reilly; The Tithe Proctor; Rudy the Rover, &c. Christopher
North said in reply to the Shepherd's inquiry about
Carleton's stories of the Irish peasantry : " Admirable,
truly ! Intensely Irish. Never were that wild im-
aginative people better described; and amongst all the
fun, frolic, and folly, there is no want of poetry, pathos,
and passion." Mr. Carleton obtained a pension of
200 a year from government. The following sketch is
aid to be "only too true."]

I had read the anonymous summons, but,
from its general import, I believed it to be one
of those special meetings convened for some
purpose affecting the general objects and pro-
ceedings of the body. At least the terms in
which it was conveyed to me had nothing ex-
traordinary or mysterious in them, beyond
the simple fact that it was not to be a general,
but a select meeting ; this mark of confidence
flattered me, and I determined to attend
punctually. I was, it is true, desired to keep
the circumstance entirely to myself, but there
was nothing startling in this, for I had often
received summonses of a similar import. I
therefore resolved to attend, according to the
letter of my instructions, "on the next night,
at the solemn hour of midnight, to deliberate
and act upon such matters as should, then and
there, be submitted to my consideration."
The morning after I received this message, I
arose and resumed my usual occupations; but
from whatever cause it may have proceeded, I
felt a sense of approaching evil hang heavily
upon me ; the beats of my pulse were languid,
and an undefinable feeling of anxiety pervaded
my whole spirit ; even my face was pale, and
my eye so heavy that my father and brothers
thought I was ill ; an opinion which I fancied
at the time to be correct, for I felt exactly
that kind of depression which precedes a severe
fever. I could not understand what I experi-
enced, nor can I yet, except by supposing that
there is in human nature some mysterious
faculty by which, in coming calamities, the
approach throws forward the shadow of some
fearful evil, and that it is possible to catch a
dark anticipation of the sensations which they
subsequently produce. For my part I can
neither analyze nor define it ; but on that day

VOL. IV.



I knew it by painful experience, and so
have a thousand others in similar circum-
stances.

It was about the middle of winter. The day
was gloomy and tempestuous almost beyond
any other 1 remember ; dark clouds rolled over
the hills about me, and a close sleet-like rain
fell in slanting drifts that chased each other
rapidly to the earth on the course of the blast.
The out-lying cattle sought the closest and
calmest corners of the fields for shelter; the
trees and young groves were tossed about, for
the wind was so unusually high that it swept
its hollow gusts through them, with that hoarse
murmur which deepens so powerfully on the
mind the sense of dreariness and desolation.

As the shades of night fell, the storm if
possible increased. The moon was half gone,
and only a few stars were visible by glimpses,
as a rush of wind left a temporary opening in
the sky. I had determined, if the storm should,
not abate, to incur any penalty rather than at-
tend the meeting, but the appointed hour was
distant, and I resolved to be decided by the
future state of the night.

Ten o'clock came, but still there was no-
change; eleven passed, and on opening the
door to observe if there were any likelihood of
it clearing up, a blast of wind mingled with,
rain, nearly blew me off my feet ; at length it'
was approaching to the hour of midnight, and
on examining a third time, I found it had
calmed a little, and no longer rained.

I instantly got my oak stick, muffled myself
in my great-coat, strapped my hat about my
ears, and as the place of meeting was only
a quarter of a mile distant, I presently set'
out.

The appearance of the heavens was lowering
and angry, particularly in that point where
the light of the moon fell against the clouds
from a seeming chasm in them, through which
alone she was visible. The edges of this were
faintly bronzed, but the dense body of the
masses that hung piled on each side of her
was black and impenetrable to sight. In no
other point of the heavens was there any part
of the sky visible, for a deep veil of clouds
overhung the horizon; yet was the light suffi-
cient to give occasional glimpses of the rapid
shifting which took place in this dark canopy,
and of the tempestuous agitation with which
the midnight storm swept to and fro beneath.

At length I arrived at a long slated house,
situated in a solitary part of the neighbour-
hood; a little below it ran a small stream,
which was now swollen above its banks, and
rushing with mimic roar over the flat meadows
92



29C



THE RIBBOJSMAN.



beside it. The appearance of the bare slated
building in such a night was particularly
sombre, and to those like me who knew the
purpose to which it was then usually devoted,
it was, or ought to have been, peculiarly so.
There it stood, silent and gloomy, without any
appearance of human life or enjoyment about
or within it: as I approached, the moon once
more had broken out of the clouds, and shone
dimly upon the glittering of the wet slates and
window, with a death-like lustre, that gradually
faded away as I left the point of observation,
and entered the folding-door. It wastheparish
chapel.

The scene which presented itself here was
in keeping not only with the external appear-
ance of the house, but with the darkness, the
.storm, and the hour, which was now a little
.after midnight. About eighty persons were
sitting in dead silence upon the circular steps
of the altar ; they did not seem to move, and as
I entered and advanced, the echo of my foot-
. steps rang through the building with a lonely
distinctness, which added to the solemnity and
mystery of the circumstances about me. The
-windows were secured with shutters on the in-
.side, and on the altar a candle which burned
dimly amid the surrounding darkness, and
lengthened the shadow of the altar itself, and
of six or seven persons who stood on its upper
.steps, until they mingled in the obscurity which
.shrouded the lower end of the chapel. The
faces of those who sat on the altar-steps were
not distinctly visible, yet the prominent and
more characteristic features were in sufficient
relief, and I observed that some of the most
malignant and reckless spirits in the parish
were assembled. In the eyes of those who stood
at the altar, and whom I knew to be invested
with authority over the others, I could perceive
^gleams of some latent and ferocious purpose,
kindled, as I soon observed, into a fiercer ex-
pression of vengeance, by the additional ex-
citement of ardent spirits, with which they had
stimulated themselves to a point of determi-
nation that mocked at the apprehension of
all future consequences, either in this world or
the next.

The welcome which I received on joining
them was far different from the boisterous
good humour which used to mark our greetings
on other occasions ; just a nod of the head from
this or that person, on the part of those
who sat, with a (/hud dhemur tha thu, 1 in a
.suppressed voice; but, from the standing group,
who were evidently the projectors of the enter-
prise, I received a convulsive grasp of the hand,
1 How are you.



accompanied by a fierce and desperate look,
that seemed to search my eye and countenance,
to try if I was a person not likely to shrink
from whatever they had resolved to execute.
It is surprising to think of the powerful ex-
pression which a moment of intense interest or
great danger is capable of giving to the eye,
the features, and slightest actions, especially
in those whose station in society does not re-
quire them to constrain nature, by the force
of social courtesies, to conceal its emotions.
None of the standing group spoke, but as
each of them wrung my hand in silence, his
eye was fixed on mine with an expression of
drunken confidenceand secrecy, and an insolent
determination not to be gainsayed without
peril. If looks could be translated with
certainty, they seemed to say "we are bound
upon a project of vengeance, and if you do not
join us, remember that we caw revenge."
Along with this grasp, the}' did not forget to
remind me of the common bond by which we
were united, for each man gave me the secret
grip of Ribbonism in a manner that made the
joints of my fingers ache for some minutes
after.

There was one present, however the highest
in authority whose actions and demeanour
were calm and unexcited; he seemed to labour
under no unusual influence whatever, but
evinced a serenity so placid and philosophical,
that I attributed the silence of the sitting
group, and the restraint which curbed the out-
breaking passions of those who stood, entirely
to his presence. He was a schoolmaster, who
taught his daily school in that chapel, and acted
also on Sunday in capacity of clerk to the
priest an excellent and amiable old man,
who knew little of his illegal associations and
atrocious conduct.

When the ceremonies of brotherly recognition
and friendship were past, the Captain, by
which title I will designate the last-mentioned
person, stooped, and raising a jar of whiskey
on the corner of the altar, held a wine-glass to
its neck, which he filled, and with a calm nod
handed it to me to drink. I shrunk back,
with an instinctive horror, at the profanencss
of such an act, in the house and on the altar
of God, and peremptorily refused to taste the
proffered draught. He smiled mildly at what
he considered my superstition, and added
quietly, and in a low voice,

"You'll be wantin' it, I'm thinkin', afther
the wettin' you got."

"Wet or dry," said I

" Stop, man," he replied in the same tone
"spake lower; but why wouldn't you take the



THE 'RIBBONMAN.



251



whiskey ? Sure there's as holy people to the
fore as you didn't they all take it? an' I
wish we may never do worse than dlirink a
harmless glass of whiskey, to keep the could
out, any way."

"Well," said I, " I'll just trust to God, and
the consequinces, for the could, Paddy, ma
bouchal; but a blessed dhrop ov it won't be
crossin' my lips, avick; so no more gosther
about it dhrink it yerself, if you like ; may-
be you want it as much as I do wherein I've
the patthern of a good big-coat upon me, so
thick, yer sowl, that if it was rainin' bullocks,
a dhrop wouldn't get under the nap ov it."

He gave me a calm but keen glance as I
spoke.

" Well, Jim," said he, "it's a good comrade
you've got for the weather that's in it; but in
the mane time, to set you a dacent patthern,
I'll just take this myself," saying which,
with the jar still upon its side, and the fore-
finger of his left hand in its neck, he swallow-
ed the spirits. "It's the first I dhrank to-
night," he added, " nor would I dhrink it now,
only to show you that I've heart and sperrit to
do a thing that we're all bound and sworn to,
when the proper time comes " saying which,
he laid down the glass, and turned up the jar,
with much coolness, upon the altar.

During this conversation, those who had
been summoned to this mysterious meeting
were pouring in fast ; and as each person ap-
proached the altar, he received from one to
two or three large glasses of whiskey, according
as he chose to limit himself; and, to do them
justice, there were not a few of those present
who, in despite of their own desire, and the
captain's express invitation, refused to taste it
in the house of God's worship. Such, however,
as were scrupulous he afterwards recommended
to take it on the outside of the chapel door,
which they did, as by that means the -sacri-
lege of the act was supposed to be evaded.

About one o'clock they were all assembled
except six at least so the captain, on looking
at a written paper, asserted.

"Now, boys," said he, in the same low
voice, " we are all present, except the thraitors,
whose names I am goin' to read to you ; not
that we are to count thim as thraitors till we
know whether or not it was in their power to
come; anyhow, the night is terrible: but, boys,
you're to know that neither fire nor wather is
to prevint yees, when duly summonsed to at-
tind a meeting ; particularly whin the sum-
mons is widout a name, as you have been tould
that there is always something of consequence
to be done thin. "



He then read out the names of those who
were absent, in order that the real cause of
their absence might be ascertained, declaring
that they would be dealt with accordingly.
After this he went and with his usual caution
shut and bolted the door, and having put the
key in his pocket, he ascended the steps of the
altar, and for some time traversed the little
platform from which the priest usually ad-
dresses the congregation.

Until this night I never contemplated the
man's countenance with any particular interest,
but as he walked the platform I had an oppor-
tunity of observing him more closely. He was
a little man, apparently not thirty; and on a
first view seemed to have nothing remarkable
either in his dress or features. I, however, was
not the only person whose eye was rivetted
upon him at that moment; in fact, every one
present observed him with equal interest, for
hitherto he had kept the object of the meeting
perfectly secret, and of course we all felt
anxious to know it. It was while he traversed
this platform that I scrutinized his features,
with a hope, if possible, to glean from them
some indication of what was passing within;
I could, however, mark but little, and that
little was at first rather from the intelligence
which seemed to subsist between him and those
whom I have already mentioned as standing
against the altar, than from any indications of
his own; their gleaming eyes were fixed upon
him with an intensity of savage and demon-
like hope, which blazed out in flashes of malig-
nant triumph, as upon turning he threw a cool
but rapid glance at them, to intimate the pro-
gress he was making in the subject to which
he devoted the undivided energies of his mind.
But in the course of this meditation I could
observe on one or two occasions a dark shade
come over his countenance that contracted his
brow into a deep furrow, and it was then, for
the first time, that I saw the satanic expression
of which his face, by a very slight motion of
its muscles, was capable; his hands, during
this silence, closed and opened convulsively;
his eyes shot out two or three baleful glances,
first to his confederates, and afterwards va-
cantly into the deep gloom of the lower part
of the chapel; his teeth ground against each
other like those of a man whose revenge burns
to reach a distant enemy, and finally, after
having wound himself up to a certain deter-
mination, his features relaxed into their ori-
ginal calm and undisturbed expression.

At this moment a loud laugh, having some-
thing supernatural in it, rang out wildly from
the darkness of the ehapel; he stopped, and



292



THE RIBBONMAN.



putting his open hand over his brows, peered
down into the gloom, and said calmly in Irish,
" Bee dhu hmt ne wulh enan ink " Hold your
tongue, it is not yet the time. Every eye
was now directed to the same spot, but, in con-
sequence of its distance from the dim light on
the altar, none could perceive the object from
which the laugh proceeded. It was by this
time nearly two o'clock in the morning.

He now stood for a few moments on the
platform, and his chest heaved with a depth of
anxiety equal to the difficulty of the design he
wished to accomplish. " Brothers," said he,
"for we are all brothers sworn upon all that's
sacred an' holy to obey whatever them that's
over us, maning among ourselves, wishes us
to do are you now ready, in the name of God,
upon whose althar I stand, to fulfil yer oath?"

The words were scarcely uttered when those
who had stood beside the altar during the
night sprung from their places, and descending
its steps rapidly, turned round, and, raising
their arms, exclaimed, "By aJl that's sacred
an' holy we're willin'."

In the meantime, those who sat upon the
steps of the altar instantly rose, and following
the example of those who had just spoken,
exclaimed after them, "To be sure by all
that's sacred an' holy we're willin'."

"Now, boys," said the captain, "arn't yees
big fools for your pains? an' one of yees doesn't
know what I mane."

" You're our captain," said one of those who
had stood at the altar, "an 1 has yer orclhers
from higher quarthers; of coorse whatever ye
command upon us we're bound to obey you in."

"Well," said he, smiling, "I only wanted
to thry yees, an' by the oath yees tuck, there's
not a captain in the county has as good a right
to be proud of his min as I have. Well, yees
won't rue it, may be, when the right time
comes; and for that same raison every one of
yees must have a glass from the jar; thim that
won't dhrink it in the chapel can dhrink it
widout; an' here goes to open the door for
them." He then distributed another large
glass to every man who would accept it, and
brought the jar afterwards to the chapel door,
to satisfy the scruples of those who would not
drink within. When this was performed, and
all duly excited, he proceeded

"Now, brothers, you are solemnly sworn to
obey me, an' I'm sure there's no thraitor here
that 'id parjure himself for a trifle anyhow;
but I'm sworn to obey them that's above me
manin' still among ourselves an' to show you
that I don't scruple to do it, here goes" he
then turned round, and taking the Missal



between his hands, placed it upon the ho^y
altar. Hitherto every word was uttered in a



Online LibraryUnknownThe library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) → online text (page 56 of 75)