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low precautionary tone; but on grasping the
book he again turned round, and looking upon
his confederates with the same satanic expres-
sion which marked his countenance before, he
exclaimed in a voice of deep determina-
tion

"By this sacred an' holy book, I will per-
form the action which we have met this night
to accomplish, be that what it may, an' this I
swear upon His book an' His altar!"

At this moment the candle which burned
before him went suddenly out, and the chapel
was wrapped in pitchy darkness; the sound as
if of rushing wings fell upon our ears, and
fifty voices dwelt upon the last words of his
oath, with wild and supernatural tones that
seemed to echo and to mock what he had sworn.
There was a pause, and an exclamation of hor-
ror from all present, but the captain was too
cool and steady to be disconcerted; he imme-
diately groped about until he got the candle,
and proceeding calmly to a remote corner of
the chapel, took up a half-burned turf which
lay there, and, after some trouble, succeeded
in lighting it again. He then explained what
had taken place; which indeed was easily done,
as the candle happened to be extinguished by
a pigeon which sat exactly above it. The chapel,
I should have observed, was at this time, like
many country chapels, unfinished inside, and
the pigeons of a neighbouring dove-cot had
built nests among the rafters of the unceiled
roof, which circumstance also explained the
rushing of the wings, for the birds had been
affrighted by the sudden loudness of the noise.
The mocking voices were nothing but the
echoes, rendered naturally more awful by the
scene, the mysterious object of the meeting,
and the solemn hour of the night.

When the candle was again lighted, and these
startling circumstances accounted for, the per-
sons whose vengeance had been deepening more
and more during the night, rushed to the altar
in a body, where each in a voice trembling
with passionate eagerness, repeated the oath,
and as every word was pronounced, the same
echoes heightened the wildness of the horrible
ceremony by their long and unearthly tones.
The countenances of these human tigers were
livid with suppressed rage their knit brows,
compressed lips, and kindled eyes fell under
the dim light of the taper with an expression
calculated to sicken any heart not absolutely
diabolical.

As soon as this dreadful rite was completed
we were again startled by several loud burst*



THE RIBBONMAN.



293



of laughter, which proceeded from the lower
darkness of the chapel, and the captain on
hearing them turned to the place, and reflect-
ing for a moment, said in Irish, "gutsho nish,
avohelkee" Come hither now, boys. A rush
immediately took place from the corner in
which they had secreted themselves all the
night, and seven men appeared, whom we in-
stantly recognized as brothers and cousins of
certain persons who had been convicted some
time before for breaking into the house of an
honest poor man in the neighbourhood, from
whom, after having treated him with barbarous
violence, they took away such firearms as he
kept for his own protection.

It was evidently not the captain's intention
to have produced these persons until the oath
should have been generally taken, but the
exulting mirth with which they enjoyed the
success of his scheme betrayed them, and put
him to the necessity of bringing them forward
somewhat before the concerted moment.

The scene which now took place was beyond
all power of description; peals of wild fiend-
like yells rang through the chapel as the party
which stood on the altar and that which had
crouched in the darkness met; wringing of
hands, leaping in triumph, striking of sticks
and firearms against the ground and the altar
itself, dancing and cracking of fingers, marked
the triumph of some fiendish purpose. Even
the captain for a time was unable to restrain
their fury; but at length he mounted the plat-
form before the altar once more, and with a
stamp of his foot recalled their attention to
himself and the matter in hand.

"Boys,"^aid he, "enough of this, and too
much; an' well for us it is that the chapel is in
a lonely place, or our foolish noise might do
us no good. Let thim that swore so manfully
jist now stand a one side till the rest kiss the
book one by one."

The proceedings, however, had by this time
taken too alarming a shape for even the captain
to compel them to a blindfold oath; the first
man he called flatly refused to swear until he
should first hear the nature of the service that
was required. This was echoed by the remain-
der, who, taking courage from the firmness of
this person, declared generally that until they
first knew the business they were to execute
none of them should take the oath. The cap-
tain's lip quivered slightly, and his brow once
more knit with the same evil expression, which
I have remarked gave him so much the ap-
pearance of an embodied fiend; but this speed-
ily passed away, and was succeeded by a ma-
lignant sneer, in which lurked, if there ever



did in a sneer, "a laughing devil," calmly,
determinedly atrocious.

"It wasn't worth yer whiles to refuse the
oath," said he mildly, "for the thruth is, I
had next to nothing for yees to do; not a hand
maybe would have to rise, only jist to look on
an" if any resistance should be made to show
yerselves; yer numbers would soon make them
see that resistance would be no use whatever in
the present case. At all evints the oath of
secrecy must be taken, or woe be to him who
will refuse that; he won't know the day, the
hour, nor the minute when he'll be made a
spatch-cock ov. " He then turned round, and
placing his right hand on the Missal, swore
" that whatever might take place that night he
would keep secret from man or mortal, except
it was the holy priest on his dying day, and
that neither bribery, nor imprisonment, nor
death would wring it from his heart;" having
done this, he struck the book violently, as if
to confirm the energy with which he swore,
and then calmly descending the steps, stood
with a serene countenance, like a man con-
scious of having performed a good action. As
this oath did not pledge those who refused to
take the other to the perpetration of any spe-
cific crime, it was readily taken by all present.
Preparations were then made to execute what
was intended; the half-burned turf was placed
in a little pot ; another glass of whisky was
distributed, and the door being locked by the
captain, who kept the key as parish master and
clerk, the crowd departed silently from the
chapel.

The moment that those who lay in the
darkness during the night made their appear-
ance at the altar, we knew at once the persons
we were to visit; for, as I said before, these
were related to the miscreants whom one of
these persons had convicted, in consequence of
their midnight attack upon himself and his
family. The captain's object in keeping them
unseen was that those present, not being aware
of the duty about to be imposed on them,
might have less hesitation in swearing to its
fulfilment. Our conjectures were correct, for
on leaving the chapel we directed our steps to
the house in which this man, the only Protes-
tant in the parish, resided.

The night was still stormy, but without rain;
it was rather dark too, though not so as to
prevent us from seeing the clouds careering
swiftly through the air. The dense curtain
which had overhung and obscured the horizon
was now broken, and large sections of the sky
were clear, and thinly studded with stars that
looked dim and watery, as did indeed the whole



294



THE KIBBONMAN.



firmament, for in some places large clouds
were still visible, threatening a continuance of
severe tempestuous weather. The road appeared
washed and gravelly, every dike was full of
yellow water, and each little rivulef. and larger
stream dashed its hoarse music in our ears;
the blast, too, was cold, fierce, and wintry,
sometimes driving us back to a stand-still, and
again, when a turn in the road would bring it
in our backs, whirling us along for a few steps
with involuntary rapidity. At length the fated
dwelling became visible, and a short consulta-
tion was held in a sheltered place between the
captain and the two parties who seemed so
eager for its destruction. Their firearms were
now charged, and their bayonets and short
pikes, the latter shod and pointed with iron,
were also got ready: the live coal which was
brought in the small pot had become extin-
guished; but to remedy this two or three per-
sons from the remote parts of the parish entered
a cabin on the waj'side, and, under pretence of
lighting their own and their comrades' pipes,
procured a coal of fire, for so they called a
lighted turf. From the time we left the chapel
until this momenta most profound silence had
been maintained, a circumstance which, when
I considered the number of persons present,
and the mysterious and dreaded object of their
journey, had a most appalling effect upon my
spirits.

At length we arrived within fifty perches of
the house, walking in a compact body, and with
as little noise as possible ; but it seemed as if
the very elements had conspired to frustrate
our design, for on advancing within the shade
of the farm-hedge, two or three persons found
themselves up to the middle in water, and on
stooping to ascertain more accurately the state
of the place, we could see nothing but one
immense sheet of it spread like a lake over the
meadows which surrounded the spot we wished
to reach.

Fatal night! the very recollection of it, when
associated with the fearful tempest of the ele-
ments, grows, if that were possible, yet more
wild and revolting. Had we been engaged in
any innocent or benevolent enterprise, there
was something in our situation just now that
had a touch of interest in it to a mind imbued
with a relish for the savage beauties of nature.
There we stood, about a hundred and thirty in
number, our dark forms bent forwards peering
into the dusky expanse of water, with its dim
gleams of reflected light, broken by the welter-
ing of the mimic waves into ten thousand frag-
ments, whilst the few stars that overhung it in
the firmament appeared to shoot through it



in broken lines, and to be multiplied fifty-fold
in the many-faced mirror on which we gazed.

Over this was a stormy sky, and around us
a darkness through which we could only dis-
tinguish in outline the nearest objects, whilst
the wild wind swept strongly and dismally
upon us. \Vhen it was discovered that the
common pathway to the house was inundated,
we were about to abandon our object, and
return home; the captain, however, stooped
down low for a moment, and almost closing
his eyes, looked along the surface of the waters,
and then raising himself very calmly, said, in
his usual quiet tone, "Yees needn't go back,
boys, I've found a path; jist follow me." He
immediately took a more circuitous direction,
by which we reached a causeway that had been
raised for the purpose of giving a free passage
to and from the house during such inundations
as the present. Along this we had advanced
more than half way, when we discovered a
break in it, which, as afterwards appeared, had
that night been made by the strength of the
flood. This, by means of our sticks and pikes
we found to be about three feet deep, and eight
yards broad. Again we were at a loss how to
proceed, when the fertile brain of the captain
devised a method of crossing it:

"Boys," said he, "of course you've all
played at leap-frog very well, strip and go in
a dozen of j'ou; lean one upon the shoulders
of another from th is to the opposite bank, where
one must stand facing the outside man, both
their shoulders agin one another, that the out-
side man may be supported then we can creep
over you, an' a decent bridge you'll be, any
way." This was the work of only a few min-
utes, and in less than ten we were all safely
over.

Merciful heaven! how I sicken at the recol-
lection of what is to follow: on reaching the
dry bank, we proceeded instantly, and in pro-
found silence, to the house; the captain divided
us into companies, and then assigned to each
division its proper station. The two parties
who had been so vindictive all the night, he
kept about himself, for of those who were pre-
sent they only were in his confidence, and knew
his nefarious purpose; their number was about
fifteen. Having made these dispositions, he,
at the head of about five of them, approached
the house on the windy side, for the fiend pos-
sessed a coolness which enabled him to seize
upon every possible advantage; that he had
combustibles about him was evident, for in
less than fifteen minutes nearly one half of the
house was enveloped in flames. On seeing this,
the others rushed over to the spot where he



THE KIBBONMAN.



295



and his gang were standing, and remonstrated
earnestly, but in vain : the flames now burst
forth with renewed violence, and as they flung
their strong light upon the faces of the fore-
most group, it is impossible to imagine any-
thing more satanic than their countenances,
now worked up into a paroxysm of infernal
triumph at their own revenge. The captain's
leek had lost all its calmness, every feature
started out into distinct malignity, the curve
in his brow was deep, and ran up to the root
of the hair, dividing his face into two sections,
that did not seem to have been designed for each
other. His lips were half open, and the cor-
ners of his mouth a little brought back on each
side, like those of a man expressing intense
hatred and triumph over an enemy who is in
the death-struggle under his grasp. His eyes
blazed from beneath his knit eyebrows with a
fire that seemed to have been lighted up in the
infernal pit itself. It is unnecessary and only
painful to describe the rest of his gang; demons
might have been proud of such horrible visages
as they exhibited; for they worked under all
the power of hatred, revenge, and joy; and
these passions blended into one terrific scowl,
enough almost to blast any human eye that
would venture to look upon it.

When the others attempted to intercede for
the lives of the inmates, there were at least
fifteen loaded guns and pistols levelled at them.
"Another word," said the captain, "an 1 you're
a corpse where you stand, or the first man who
will dare to speak for them: no, no, it wasn't
to spare them we came here 'No mercy" is
the password for the night, an' by the sacred
oath I swore beyant in the chapel, any one
among yees that will attimpt to show it, will
find none at my hand. Surround the house,
boys, I tell ye; I hear them stirring No mercy
no quarther is the ordher of the night."

Such was his command over these misguided
creatures, that in an instant there was a ring
round the house to prevent the escape of the
unhappy inmates, should the raging element
give them time to attempt it; for none present
dared withdraw from the scene, not only from
an apprehension of the captain's present ven-
geance, or that Of his gang, but because they
knew that even had they then escaped, an early
and certain death awaited them from a quarter
against which they had no means of defence.
The hour now was about half-past two o'clock.
Scarcely had the last words escaped from the
captain's lips, when one of the windows of the
house was broken, and a human head, having
the hair in a bla/e was descried, apparently a
woman's, if one might judge by the profusion



of burning tresses, and the softness of the
tones, notwithstanding that it called, or rather
shrieked aloud for help and mercy. The only
reply to this was the whoop from the captain
and his gang, of no mercy "No mercy," and
that instant the former and one of the latter
rushed to the spot, and ere the action could be
perceived, the head was transfixed with a bay-
onet and a pike, both having entered it to-
gether. The word mercy was divided in her
mouth; a short silence ensued, the head hung
down on the window, but was instantly tossed
back into the flames.

This action occasioned a cry of horror from
all present except the gang and their leader,
which startled and enraged the latter so much,
that he ran towards one of them and had his
bayonet, now reeking with the blood of his in-
nocent victim, raised to plunge it in his body,
when dropping the point, he said in a piercing
whisper that hissed in the ears of all: "It's no
use now, you know; if one's to hang, all will
hang: so our safest way, you persave, is to lave
none of them to tell the story: ye may go now
if you wish ; but it won't save a hair of your
heads. You cowardly set ! I knew if I had
tould yees the sport, that none of ye except my
own boys would come, so I jist played a thrick
upon you; but remember what you are sworn
to, and stand to the oath ye tuck."

Unhappily, notwithstanding the wetness of
the preceding weather, the materials of the
house were extremely combustible ; the whole
dwelling was now one body of glowing flame,
yet the shouts and shrieks within rose awfully
above its crackling and the voice of the storm,
for the wind once more blew in gusts, and
with great violence. The doors and windows
were all torn open, and such of those within
as had escaped the flames rushed towards them,
for the purpose of further escape, and of claim-
ing mercy at the hands of their destroyers;
but whenever they appeared, the unearthly cry
of no mercy rung upon their ears for a moment,
and for a moment only, for they were flung
back at the points of the weapons which the
demons had brought with them to make the
work of vengeance more certain.

As yet there were many persons in the house,
whose cry for life was strong as despair, and
who clung to it with all the awakened powers
of reason and instinct: the ear of man could
hear nothing so strongly calculated to stifle
the demon of cruelty and revenge within him,
as the long and wailing shrieks which rose be-
yond the element, in tones that were carried oflf
rapidly upon the blast, until they died away
in the darkness that lay behind the surround-



296



THE RIBBONMAN.



ing hills. Had not the house been in a soli-
tary situation, and the hour the dead of night,
any person sleeping within a moderate distance
must have heard them, for such a cry of sorrow,
deepening into a yell of despair, was almost
sufficient to awaken the dead. It was lost
however upon the hearts and ears that heard
it; to them, though, in justice be it said, to
only comparatively a few of them, it was as
delightful as the tones of soft and entrancing
music.

The claims of the poor sufferers were now
modified ; they supplicated merely to suffer
death at the hands of their enemies; they were
willing to bear that, provided they should be
allowed to escape from the flames; but no, the
horrors of the conflagration were calmly and
malignantly gloried in by their merciless as-
sassins, who deliberately flung them back into
all their tortures. In the course of a few
minutes a man appeared upon the side-wall of
the house, nearly naked; his figure, as he stood
against the sky in horrible relief, was so finished
a picture of woe-begone agony and supplication,
that it is yet as distinct in my memory as if
I were again present at the scene. Every
muscle, now in motion by the powerful agita-
tion of his sufferings, stood out upon his limbs
and neck, giving him an appearance of desper-
ate strength, to which by this time he must
have been wrought; the perspiration poured
from his frame, and the veins and arteries of
his neck were inflated to a surprising thickness.
Every moment he looked down into the thick
flames which were rising to where he stood;
and as he looked, the indescribable horror which
flitted over his features might have worked
upon Satan himself to relent.

His words were few; "My child," said he,
"is still safe; she is an infant, a young creature
that never harmed you nor anyone she is still
safe. Your mothers, your wives have young
innocent children like it oh, spare her; think
for a moment that it's one of your own; spare
it, as you hope to meet a just God, or if you
don't, in mercy shoot me first, put an end to
me before I see her burned."

The captain approached him coolly and de-
liberately. "You will prosecute no one now,
you bloody informer," said he; "you will
convict no more boys for taking an ould rusty
gun an' pistol from you, or for givin' you a
neighbourly knock or two into the bargain."
Just then from a window opposite him pro-
ceeded the shrieks of a woman, who appeared
at it with the infant in her arms. She herself
was almost scorched to death; but with the
presence of mind and humanity of her sex, she



was about to thrust the little babe out of the
window. The captain noticed this, and with
characteristic atrocity, thrust, with a sharp
bayonet, the little innocent, along with the
person who endeavoured to rescue it, into the
red flames, where they both perished. This
was the work of an instant. Again he ap-
proached the man; " Your child is a coal now,"
said he with deliberate mockery. " I pitched
it in myself on the point of this," showing the
weapon, "and now is your turn," saying
which he clambered up by the assistance of his
gang, who stood with a front of pikes and
bayonets bristling to receive the wretched man,
should he attempt in his despair to throw him-
self from the wall. Thj captain got up, and
placing the point of his bayonet against his
shoulder, flung him into the fiery element
that raged behind him. He uttered one wild
and piercing cry, as he fell back, and no more;
after this nothing was heard but the crackling
of the fire, and the rushing of the blast; all
that had possessed life within were consumed,
amounting either to eleven or fifteen persons.

When this was accomplished, those who took
an active part in the murder stood for some
time about the conflagration; and as it threw
its red light upon their fierce faces and rough
persons, soiled as they now were with smoke
and black streaks of ashes, the scene was in-
expressibly horrible. The faces of those who
kept aloof from the slaughter were blanched
to the whiteness of death; some of them faint-
ed, and others were in such agitation that
they were compelled to leave their comrades.
They became actually stiff and powerless
with horror ; yet to such a scene were they
brought by the pernicious influence of llib-
bonism.

It was only when the last victim went
down that the conflagration shot up into the
air with most unbounded fury. The house
was large, deeply thatched, and well furnished;
and the broad red pyramid rose up with fear-
ful magnificence towards the sky. Abstract-
edly it had sublimity, but now it was asso-
ciated with nothing in my mind but blood and
terror. It was not, however, without a purpose
that the captain and his guard stood to
contemplate its effect. " Boys," said he, " we
had better be sartin' that all's safe; who knows
but there might be some of the sarpents
crouchin' under a hape of rubbish, to come
out and gibbet us to-morrow or next day; we
had betther wait a while, any how, if it was
only to see the blaze."

Just then the flames rose majestically to a
surprising height; our eyes followed their



THE DUCHESS OF MALFY.



237



direction, and we perceived for the first time
that the dark clouds above, together with the
intermediate air, appeared to reflect back, or
rather to have caught the red hue of the fire;
the hilU and country about us appeared with
an alarming distinctness; but the most pic-
turesque part of it, was the effect or reflection
of the blaze on the floods that spread over the
surrounding plains. These, in fact, appeared
to be one broad mass of liquid copper; for the
motion of the breaking waters caught from
th3 blaze of the high waving column, as re-
flected in them, a glaring light, which eddied
and rose, and fluctuated, as if the flood itself
had been a lake of molten fire.

Fire, however, destroys rapidly; in a short
time the flames sank became weak and
flickering by and by, they only shot out in
fits the crackling of the timbers died away
the surrounding darkness deepened; and ere
long, the faint light was overpowered by the
thick volumes of smoke that rose from the ruins
of the house and its murdered inhabitants.

" Now, boys," said the captain, "all is safe,
we may go. Remember every man of you,
that you've sworn this night on the Book and
altar notaheretic Bible. If you perjureyour-
selves, you may hang us; but let me tell you



Online LibraryUnknownThe library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) → online text (page 57 of 75)