or Annual of Literature and the Arts
compiled by William Fraser
London: William Pickering,
pp. pp. 205-239
"IT grieves me," said an eminent poet once to me, "it grieves and humbles me to reflect how much our moral nature is in the power of circumstances. Our best faculties would remain unknown even to ourselves did not the influences of external excitement call them forth like animalculæ, which lie torpid till wakened into life by the transient sunbeam."
This is generally true. How many walk through the beaten paths of every day life, who but for the novelist's page would never weep or wonder; and who would know nothing of the passions but as they are represented in some tragedy or stage piece? not that they are incapable of high resolve and energy; but because the finer qualities have never been called forth by imperious circumstances; for while the wheels of existence roll smoothly along, the soul will continue to slumber in her vehicle like a lazy traveller. [Page 206]But for the French revolution, how many hundreds — thousandsthousands — whose courage, fortitude and devotedness have sanctified their names, would have frittered away a frivolous, useless, or vicious life in the saloons of Paris! We have heard of death in its most revolting forms braved by delicate females, who would have screamed at the sight of the most insignificant reptile or insect; and men cheerfully toiling at mechanic trades for bread who had lounged away the best years of their lives at the toilettes of their mistresses. We know not of what we are capable till the trial comes; — till it comes, perhaps, in a form which makes the strong man quail, and turns the gentler woman into a heroine.
The power of outward circumstances suddenly to awaken dormant faculties — the extraordinary influence which the mere instinct of self-preservation can exert over the mind, and the triumph of mind thus excited over physical weakness, were never more truly exemplified than in the story of HALLORAN THE PEDLAR.
The real circumstances of this singular case, differing essentially from the garbled and incorrect account which appeared in the newspapers some years ago, came to my knowledge in the following simple manner. My cousin George C * * *, an Irish barrister of some standing, lately succeeded to his family estates by the death of a near relative; and no sooner[Page 207]did he find himself in possession of independence than, abjuring the bar, where, after twenty years of hard struggling, he was just beginning to make a figure, he set off on a tour through Italy and Greece, to forget the wrangling of courts, the contumely of attornies, and the impatience of clients. He left in my hands a mass of papers, to burn or not, as I might feel inclined: and truly the contents of his desk were no bad illustration of the character and pursuits of its owner. Here I found abstracts of cases, and on their backs copies of verses, sketches of scenery, and numerous caricatures of judges, jurymen, witnesses, and his brethren of the bar — a bundle of old briefs, and the beginnings of two tragedies; with a long list of Lord N — — 's best jokes to serve his purposes as occasion might best offer. Among these heterogeneous and confused articles were a number of scraps carefully pinned together, containing notes on a certain trial, the first in which he had been retained as counsel for the crown. The intense interest with which I perused these documents, suggested the plan of throwing the whole into a connected form, and here it is for the reader's benefit..
In the south part of the country of Kilkenny lived a poor peasant named Michael, or, as it was elegantly pronounced Mickle Reilly. He was a labourer renting a cabin and a little potatoe-ground; and [Page 208]on the strength of these possessions, a robust frame which feared no fatigue, and a sanguine mind which dreaded no reverse, Reilly paid his addresses to Cathleen Bray, a young girl of his own parish, and they were married. Reilly was able, skilful, and industrious; Cathleen was the best spinner in the county, and had constant sale for her work at Kilkenny: they wanted nothing; and for the first year, as Cathleen said, "There wasn't upon the blessed earth two happier souls than themselves, for Mick was the best boy in the world, and hadn't a fault to spake of — barring he took the drop now and then; an' why wouldn't he?" But as it happened, poor Reilly's love of "the drop" was the beginning of all their misfortunes. In an evil hour he went to the Fair of Kilkenny to sell a dozen hanks of yarn of his wife's spinning, and a fat pig, the produce of which was to pay half a year's rent, and add to their little comforts. Here he met with a jovial companion, who took him into a booth, and treated him to sundry potations of whiskey; and while in his company, his pocket was picked of the money he had just received, and something more; in short, of all he possessed in the world. At that luckless moment, while maddened by his loss and heated with liquor, he fell into the company of a recruiting serjeant [sic]. The many-colored and gaily fluttering cockade in the soldier's cap shone like a rainbow of hope and promise before the [Page 209]drunken eyes of Mickle Reilly, and ere morning he was enlisted into a regiment under orders for embarkation, and instantly sent off to Cork.
Distracted by the ruin he had brought upon himself, and his wife (whom he loved a thousand times better than himself) poor Reilly sent a friend to inform Cathleen of his mischance, and to assure her that on a certain day, in a week from that time, a letter would await her at the Kilkenny post-office: the same friend was commissioned to deliver her his silver watch, and a guinea out of his bounty-money. Poor Cathleen turned from the gold with horror, as the price of her husband's blood, and vowed that nothing on earth should induce her to touch it. She was not a good calculator of time and distance, and therefore rather surprised that so long a time must elapse before his letter arrived. On the appointed day she was too impatient to wait the arrival of the carrier, but set off to Kilkenny herself, a distance of ten miles: there, at the post-office, she duly found the promised letter; but it was not till she had it in her possession that she remembered she could not read: she had therefore to hasten back to consult her friend Nancy, the schoolmaster's daughter, and the best scholar in the village. Reilly's letter, on being deciphered with some difficulty even by the learned Nancy, was found to contain much of sorrow, much of repentance, and yet more [Page 210]of affection: he assured her that he was far better off than he had expected or deserved; that the embarkation of the regiment to which he belonged was delayed for three weeks, and entreated her, if she could forgive him, to follow him to Cork without delay, that they might "part in love and kindness, and then come what might, he would demane himself like a man, and die asy," which he assured her he could not do without embracing her once more.
Cathleen listened to her husband's letter with clasped hands and drawn breath, but quiet in her nature, she gave no other signs of emotion than a few large tears which trickled slowly down her cheeks. "And will I see him again?" she exclaimed, "poor fellow! poor boy! I knew the heart of him was sore for me! and who knows Nance dear, but they'll let me go out with him to the foreign parts! Oh! sure they wouldn't be so hard-hearted as to part man and wife that way!"
After a hurried consultation with her neighbours, who sympathised with her as only the poor sympathise with the poor, a letter was indited [sic] by Nancy and sent by the Kilkenny carrier that night, to inform her husband that she purposed setting off for Cork the next blessed morning, being Tuesday, and as the distance was about forty-eight miles English, she reckoned on reaching that city by Wednesday afternoon; for as she had walked to Kil-[Page 211]kenny and back (about twenty miles) that same day, without feeling fatigued at all, "to signify," Cathleen thought there would be no doubt that she could walk to Cork in less than two days. In this sanguine calculation she was however over-ruled by her more experienced neighbours, and by their advice appointed Thursday as the day on which her husband was to expect her, "God willing."
Cathleen spent the rest of the day in making preparations for her journey: she set her cabin in order, and made a small bundle of a few articles of clothing belonging to herself and her husband. The watch and the guinea she wrapped up together and crammed into the toe of an old shoe which she deposited in the said bundle, and the next morning, at "sparrow chirp," she arose, locked her cabin door, carefully hid the key in the thatch, and with a light expecting heart commenced her long journey.
It is worthy of remark that this poor woman who was called upon to play the heroine in such a strange tragedy and under such appalling circumstances, had nothing heroic in her exterior: nothing that in the slightest degree indicated strength of nerve or superiority of intellect. Cathleen was twenty-three years of age, of a low stature, and in her form rather delicate than robust: she was of ordinary appearance; her eyes mild and dove-[Page 212]like, and her whole countenance, though not absolutely deficient in intelligence, was more particularly expressive of simplicity, good temper and kindness of heart.
It was summer, about the end of June: the days were long, the weather fine, and some gentle showers rendered travelling easy and pleasant. Cathleen walked on stoutly towards Cork, and by the evening she had accomplished with occasional pauses of rest, nearly twenty-one miles. She lodged at a little inn by the road side, and the following day set forward again, but soon felt stiff with the travel of two previous days: the sun became hotter, the ways dustier; and she could not with all her endeavours get farther than Kathery, eighteen miles from Cork. The next day unfortunately for poor Cathleen, proved hotter and more fatiguing than the preceding. The cross road lay over a wild country, consisting of low bogs and bare hills. About noon she turned aside to a rivulet bordered by a few trees, and sitting down in the shade, she bathed her swollen feet in the stream and overcome by heat, weakness, and excessive weariness she put her little bundle under her head for a pillow and sunk into a deep sleep.
On waking she perceived with dismay that the sun was declining: and on looking about, her fears were increased by the discovery that her bundle was gone. Her first thought was that the good people, (i.e. [Page 213]the fairies) had been there and stolen it away; but on examining farther she plainly perceived large foot-prints in the soft bank and was convinced it was the work of no unearthly marauder. Bitterly reproaching herself for her carelessness, she again set forward; and still hoping to reach Cork that night, she toiled on and on with increasing difficulty and distress, till as the evening closed her spirits failed, she became faint, foot-sore and hungry, not having tasted any thing since the morning but a cold potatoe and a draught of buttermilk. She then looked round her in hopes of discovering some habitation, but there was none in sight except a lofty castle on a distant hill, which raising its proud turrets from amidst the plantation which surrounded it, glimmered faintly through the gathering gloom, and held out no temptation for the poor wanderer to turn in there and rest. In her despair she sat down on a bank by the road side, and wept as she thought of her husband.
Several horsemen rode by, and one carriage and four attended by servants, who took no farther notice of her than by a passing look; while they went on their way like the priest and the Levite in the parable, poor Cathleen dropped her head despairingly on her bosom. A faintness and torpor seemed to be stealing like a dark cloud over her senses, when the fast approaching sound of footsteps roused her attention, and turning, she saw at her side a man [Page 214]whose figure though singular, she recognised immediately: it was Halloran the Pedlar.
Halloran had been known for thirty years past in all the towns and villages between Waterford and Kerry. He was very old, he himself did not know his own age; he only remembered that he was a "tall slip of a boy" when he was one of the — — regiment of foot, and fought in America in 1778. His dress was strange, it consisted of a woollen cap, beneath which strayed a few white hairs, this was surmounted by an old military cocked hat, adorned with a few fragments of tarnished gold lace: a frieze great coat with the sleeves dangling behind, was fastened at his throat, and served to protect his box of wares which was slung at his back; and he always carried a thick oak stick or kippeen in his hand. There was nothing of the infirmity of age in his appearance: his cheek though wrinkled and weather-beaten was still ruddy: his step still firm, his eyes still bright; his jovial disposition made him a welcome guest in every cottage, and his jokes, though not equal to my Lord Norbury's, were repeated and applauded through the whole country. Halloran was lreturning [sic] from the fair of Kilkenny, where apparently his commercial speculations had been attended with success, as his pack was considerably diminished in size. Though he did not appear to recollect Cathleen, he addressed her in Irish, and asked her what [Page 215]she did there: she related in a few words her miserable situation.
"In troth, then, my heart is sorry for ye, poor woman," he replied, compassionately; "and what will ye do?"
"An' what can I do?" replied Cathleen, disconsolately; "and how will I even find the ford of Ahnamoe and get across to Cork, when I don't know where I am this blessed moment?"
"Musha, then, its little ye'll get there this night," said the pedlar, shaking his head.
"Then I'll lie down here and die," said Cathleen, bursting into fresh tears.
"Die! ye wouldn't!" he exclaimed, approaching nearer; "is it to me, Peter Halloran, ye spake that word; and am I the man that would lave a faymale at this dark hour by the way side, let alone one that has the face of a friend, though I cannot remember me of your name either, for the soul of me. But what matter for that?"
"Sure, I'm Katty Reilly, of Castle Conn."
"Katty Reilly, sure enough! and so no more talk of dying; cheer up, and see, a mile farther on, isn't there Biddy Hogan's? Was, I mane, if the house and all isn't gone: and its there we'll get a bite and a sup, and a bed, too, please God. So lean upon my arm, ma vourneen, its strong enough yet."[Page 216]
So saying, the old man with an air of gallantry, half rustic, half military, assisted her in rising; and upporting [sic] her on one arm, with the other he flourished his kippeen over his head, and they trudged on together, he singing Cruiskeen lawn at the top of his voice, "just," as he said, "to put the heart into her."
After about half an hour's walking, they came to two crossways, diverging from the high road: down one of these the Pedlar turned, and in a few minutes they came in sight of a lonely house, situated at a little distance from the way-side. Above the door was a long stick projecting from the wall, at the end of which dangled a truss of straw, signifying that within there was entertainment (good or bad) for man and beast. By this time it was nearly dark, and the pedlar going up to the door, lifted the latch, expecting it to yield to his hand; but it was fastened within: he then knocked and called, but there was no answer. The building which was many times larger than an ordinary cabin had once been a manufactory, and afterwards a farm-house. One end of it was deserted, and nearly in ruins; the other end bore signs of having been at least recently inhabited. But such a dull hollow echo rung through the edifice at every knock, that it seemed the whole place was now deserted.
Cathleen began to be alarmed, and crossed her-[Page 217]self, ejaculating, "O God preserve us!" But the Pedlar, who appeared well acquainted with the premises, led her round to the back part of the house, where there were some ruined out-buildings, and another low entrance. Here, raising his stout stick, he let fall such a heavy thump on the door that it cracked again; and a shrill voice from the other side demanded who was there? After a satisfactory answer, the door was slowly and cautiously opened, and the figure of a wrinkled, half famished and half naked beldam appeared, shading a rush candle with one hand. Halloran, who was of a fiery and hasty temper, began angrily: "Why, then, in the name of the great devil himself, didn't you open to us?" But he stopped suddenly, as if struck with surprise at the miserable object before him.
"Is it Biddy Hogan herself, I see!" he exclaimed, snatching the candle from her hand, and throwing the light full on her face. A moment's scrutiny seemed enough, and too much; for, giving it back hastily, he supported Cathleen into the kitchen, the old woman leading the way, and placed her on an old settle, the first seat which presented itself. When she was sufficiently recovered to look about her, Cathleen could not help feeling some alarm at finding herself in so gloomy and dreary a place. It had once been a large kitchen, or hall: at one [Page 218]end was an ample chimney, such as are yet to be seen in some old country houses. The rafters were black with smoke or rottenness: the walls had been wainscoted with oak, but the greatest part had been torn down for firing. A table with three legs, a large stool, a bench in the chimney propped up with turf sods, and the seat Cathleen occupied, formed the only furniture. Every thing spoke of utter misery, filth, and famine — the very "abomination of desolation."
"And what have ye in the house, Biddy, honey?" was the Pedlar's first question, as the old woman set down the light.
"Little enough, I'm thinking."
"Little! Its nothing then."
"No, not so much as a midge would eat have I in the house this blessed night, and nobody to send down to Balgowna."
"No need of that, as our good luck would have it," said Halloran, and pulling a wallet from under his loose coat, he drew from it a bone of cold meat, a piece of bacon, a lump of bread, and some cold potatoes. The old woman, roused by the sight of so much good cheer, began to blow up the dying embers on the hearth; put down among them the few potatoes to warm, and busied herself in making some little preparations to entertain her guests. Meantime the old Pedlar, casting from time to time an anxious [Page 219]glance towards Cathleen, and now and then an encouraging word, sat down on the low stool, resting his arms on his knees.
"Times are sadly changed with ye, Biddy Hogan," said he at length, after a long silence.
"Troth, ye may say so;" she replied with a sort of groan. "Bitter bad luck have we had in this world, any how."
"And where's the man of the house? And where's the lad, Barny?"
"Where are they, is it? Where should they be? may be gone down to Ahnamoe."
"But what's come of Barny? The boy was a stout workman, and a good son, though a devil-may-care fellow, too. I remember teaching him the soldier's exercise with this very blessed stick now in my hand; and by the same token, him doubling his fist at me when he wasn't bigger than the turf-kish yonder; aye, and as long as Barney Hogan could turn a sod of turf on my lord's land, I thought his father and mother would never have wanted the bit and sup while the life was in him."
At the mention of her son, the old woman looked up a moment, but immediately hung her head again.
"Barny doesn't work for my lord now," said she.
"And what for, then?"
The old woman seemed reluctant to answer — she hesitated.[Page 220]
"Ye didn't hear, then, how he got into trouble with my lord; and how — myself doesn't know the rights of it — but Barny had always a bit of wild blood about him; and since that day he's taken to bad ways, and the ould [sic] man's ruled by him quite entirely; and the one's glum and fierce like — and t'other's bothered; and, oh! bitter's the time I have twixt 'em both!"
While the old woman was uttering these broken complaints, she placed the eatables on the table; and Cathleen, who was yet more faint from hunger than subdued by fatigue, was first helped by the good-natured Pedlar to the best of what was there: but, just as she was about to taste the food set before her, she chanced to see the eyes of the old woman fixed upon the morsel in her hand with such an envious and famished look, that from a sudden impulse of benevolent feeling, she instantly held it out to her. The woman started, drew back her extended hand, and gazed at her wildly.
"What is it then ails ye?" said Cathleen, looking at her with wonder; then to herself, "hunger's turned the wits of her, poor soul! Take it — take it, mother," added she aloud: "eat, good mother; sure there's plenty for us all, and to spare," and she pressed it upon her with all the kindness of her nature. The old woman eagerly seized it.
While they were eating, the two Hogans, father and son, came in. They had been setting snares for rabbits and game on the neighbouring hills; and evidently were both startled and displeased to find the house occupied; which, since Barny Hogan's disgrace with "my lord," had been entirely shunned by the people round about. The old man gave the pedlar a sulky welcome. The son, with a muttered curse, went and took his seat in the chimney, where, turning his back, he set himself to chop a billet of wood. The father was a lean stooping figure, "bony, and gaunt, and grim:" he was either deaf, or affected deafness. The son was a short, brawny, thickset man, with features not naturally ugly, but rendered worse than ugly by an expression of louring ferocity disgustingly blended with a sort of stupid drunken leer, the effect of habitual intoxication.
Halloran stared at them awhile with visible astonishment and indignation, but pity and sorrow for a change so lamentable, smothered the old man's wrath; and as the eatables were by this time demolished, he took from his side pocket a tin flask of whiskey, calling to the old woman to boil some water "screeching hot," that he might make what he termed "a jug of stiff punch — enough to make a cat spake." He offered to share it with his hosts, who did not decline drinking; [Page 222]and the noggin went round to all but Cathleen, who, feverish with travelling, and, besides, disliking spirits, would not taste it. The old Pedlar, reconciled to his old acquaintances by this shew of good fellowship, began to grow merry under the influence of his whiskey-punch: he boasted of his late success in trade, shewed with exultation his almost empty pack, and taking out the only two handkerchiefs left in it, threw one to Cathleen, and the other to the old woman of the house; then slapping his pocket in which a quantity of loose money was heard to jingle, he swore he would treat Cathleen to a good breakfast next morning; and threw a shilling on the table, desiring the old woman would provide "stirabout for a dozen," and have it ready by the first light.
Cathleen listened to this rhodomontade in some alarm; she fancied to detect certain suspicious glances between the father and son, and began to feel an indescribable dread of her company. She arose from the table, urging the Pedlar good-humouredly to retire to rest, as they intended to be up and away so early next morning: then concealing her apprehensions under an affectation of extreme fatigue and drowsiness, she desired to be shewn where she would sleep. The old woman lighted a lanthorn, and led the way up some broken steps into a sort of loft, where she shewed her two beds standing close together; one of these [Page 223]she intimated was for the Pedlar, and the other for herself. Now Cathleen had been born and bred in an Irish cabin, where the inmates are usually lodged after a very promiscuous fashion; our readers, therefore, will not wonder at the arrangement. Cathleen, however, required that, if possible some kind of skreen [sic] should be placed between the beds. The old hag at first replied to this request with the most disgusting impudence; but Cathleen insisting, the beds were moved asunder, leaving a space of about two feet between them; and after a long search a piece of old frieze was dragged out from among some rubbish, and hung up to the low rafters, so as to form a curtain or partition half way across the room. Having completed this arrangement, and wished her "a sweet sleep and a sound, and lucky dreams," the old woman put the lanthorn on the floor, for there was neither chair nor table, and left her guest to repose.
Catheleen said her prayers, only partly undressed herself, and lifting up the worn out coverlet, lay down upon the bed. In a quarter of an hour afterwards the Pedlar staggered into the room, and as he passed the foot of her bed, bid God bless her, in a low voice. He then threw himself down on his bed, and in a few minutes, as she judged by his hard and equal breathing, the old man was in a deep sleep.
All was now still in the house, but Cathleen [Page 224]could not sleep. She was feverish and restless: her limbs ached, her head throbbed and burned, undefinable fears beset her fancy; and whenever she tried to compose herself to slumber the faces of the two men she had left below flitted and glared before her eyes. A sense of heat and suffocation, accompanied by a parching thirst, came over her, caused, perhaps, by the unusual closeness of the room. This feeling of oppression increased till the very walls and rafters seemed to approach nearer and close upon her all around. Unable any longer to endure this intolerable smothering sensation, she was just about to rise and open the door or window, when she heard the whispering of voices. She lay still and listened. The latch was raised cautiously, — the door opened, and the two Hogans entered: they trod so softly that, though she saw them move before her, she heard no foot-fall. They approached the bed of Halloran, and presently she heard a dull heavy blow, and then sounds — appalling sickening sounds — as of subdued struggles and smothered agony, which convinced her that they were murdering the unfortunate Pedlar.
Cathleen listened, almost congealed with horror, but she did not swoon: her turn, she thought, must come next, though in the same instant she felt instinctively that her only chance of preservation was to counterfeit profound sleep. The murderers, [Page 225]having done their work on the poor Pedlar, approached her bed, and threw the gleam of their lanthorn full on her face; she lay quite still, breathing calmly and regularly. They brought the light to her eye-lids, but they did not wink or move; — there was a pause, a terrible pause, and then a whispering; — and presently Cathleen thought she could distinguish a third voice, as of expostulation, but all in so very low a tone that though the voices were close to her she could not hear a word that was uttered. After some moments, which appeared an age of agonising suspense, the wretches withdrew, and Cathleen was left alone, and in darkness. Then, indeed, she felt as one ready to die: to use her own affecting language, "the heart within me," said she, "melted away like water, but I was resolute not to swoon, and I did not. I knew that if I would preserve my life, I must keep the sense in me, and I did."
Now and then she fancied she heard the murdered man move, and creep about in his bed, and this horrible conceit almost maddened her with terror: but she set herself to listen fixedly, and convinced her reason that all was still — that all was over.
She then turned her thoughts to the possibility of escape. The window first suggested itself: the faint moon-light was just struggling through the dirty and cob-webbed panes: it was very small, and Cathleen reflected, that besides the difficulty, and, [Page 226]perhaps, impossibility of getting through, it must be some height from the ground: neither could she tell on which side of the house it was situated, nor in what direction to turn, supposing she reached the ground; and, above all, she was aware that the slightest noise, must cause her instant destruction. She thus resolved upon remaining quiet.
It was most fortunate that Cathleen came to this determination, for without the slightest previous sound the door again opened, and in the faint light, to which her eyes were now accustomed, she saw the head of the old woman bent forward in a listening attitude: in a few minutes the door closed, and then followed a whispering outside. She could not at first distinguish a word until the woman's sharper tones broke out, though in a suppressed vehemence, with "If ye touch her life, Barny, a mother's curse go with ye! enough's done."
"She'll live, then, to hang us all," said the miscreant son.
"Sooner than that, I'd draw this knife across her throat with my own hands; and I'd do it again and again, sooner than they should touch your life, Barny, jewel: but no fear, the creature's asleep or dead already, with the fright of it."
The son then said something which Cathleen could not hear; the old woman replied,
"Hisht! I tell ye, no, — no; the ship's now in the [Page 227]Cove of Cork that's to carry her over the salt seas far enough out of the way: and haven't we all she has in the world? and more, didn't she take the bit out of her own mouth to put into mine?"
The son again spoke inaudibly; and then the voices ceased, leaving Cathleen uncertain as to her fate.
Shortly after the door opened, and the father and son again entered, and carried out the body of the wretched Pedlar. They seemed to have the art of treading without noise, for though Cathleen saw them move, she could not hear a sound of a footstep. The old woman was all this time standing by her bed, and every now and then casting the light full upon her eyes; but as she remained quiet still, and apparently in a deep calm sleep, they left her undisturbed, and she neither saw nor heard any more of them that night.
It ended at length — that long, long night of horror. Cathleen lay quiet till she thought the morning sufficiently advanced. She then rose, and went down into the kitchen: the old woman was lifting a pot off the fire, and nearly let it fall as Cathleen suddenly addressed her, and with an appearance of surprise and concern, asked for her friend the Pedlar, saying she had just looked into his bed, supposing he was still asleep, and to her great amazement had found it empty. The old woman replied, that he had set out at [Page 228]early day-light for Mallow, having only just remembered that his business called him that way before he went to Cork. Cathleen affected great wonder and perplexity, and reminded the woman that he had promised to pay for her breakfast.
"An' so he did, sure enough," she replied, "and paid for it too; and by the same token didn't I go down to Balgowna myself for the milk and the male before the sun was over the tree tops; and here it is for ye, ma colleen [sic]:" so saying, she placed a bowl of stirabout and some milk before Cathleen, and then sat down on the stool opposite her, watching her intently.
Poor Cathleen! she had but little inclination to eat, and felt as if every bit would choke her: yet she continued to force down her breakfast, and apparently with the utmost ease and appetite, even to the last morsel set before her. While eating, she enquired about the husband and son, and the old woman replied, that they had started at the first burst of light to cut turn in a bog, about five miles distant.
When Cathleen had finished her breakfast, she returned the old woman many thanks for her kind treatment, and then desired to know the nearest way to Cork. The woman Hogan informed her that the distance was about seven miles, and though the usual road was by the high way from which they had [Page 229]turned the preceding evening, there was a much shorter way across some fields which she pointed out: Cathleen listened attentively to her directions, and then bidding farewell with many demonstrations of gratitude, she proceeded on her fearful journey. The cool morning air, the cheerful song of the early birds, the dewy freshness of the turf, were all unnoticed and unfelt: the sense of danger was paramount, while her faculties were all alive and awake to meet it, for a feverish and unnatural strength seemed to animate her limbs. She stepped on, shortly debating with herself whether to follow the directions given by the old woman. The high road appeared the safest; on the other hand, she was aware that the slightest betrayal of mistrust would perhaps be followed by her destruction; and thus rendered brave even by the excess of her fears, she determined to take the cross path. Just as she had come to this resolution, she reached the gate which she had been directed to pass through; and without the slightest apparent hesitation, she turned in, and pursued the lonely way through the fields. Often did she fancy she heard footsteps stealthily following her, and never approached a hedge without expecting to see the murderers start up from behind it; yet she never once turned her head, nor quickened nor slackened her pace;[Page 230]
|Like one that on a lonesome road|
|Doth walk in fear and dread,|
|Because he knows a frightful fiend|
|Doth close behind him tread.|
She had proceeded in this manner about three quarters of a mile, and approached a thick and dark grove of underwood, when she beheld seated upon the opposite stile an old woman in a red cloak. The sight of a human being made her heart throb more quickly for a moment; but on approaching nearer, with all her faculties sharpened by the sense of danger, she perceived that it was no old woman, but the younger Hogan, the murderer of Halloran, who was thus disguised. His face was partly concealed by a blue handkerchief tied round his head and under his chin, but she knew him by the peculiar and hideous expression of his eyes: yet with amazing and almost incredible self-possession, she continued to advance without manifesting the least alarm, or sign of recognition; and walking up to the pretended old woman, said in a clear voice, "The blessing of the morning on ye, good mother! a fine day for travelers like you and me!"
"A fine day," he replied, coughing and mumbling in a feigned voice, "but ye see, hugh, ugh! ye see I've walked this mornin' from the Cove of Cork, jewel, and troth I'm almost spent, and I've a bad [Page 231]cowld, and a cough on me, as you may her," and he coughed vehemently. Cathleen made a motion to pass the stile, but the disguised old woman stretching out a great bony hand, seized her gown. Still Cathleen did not quail. "Musha, then, have ye nothing to give a poor old woman," said the monster, in a whining, snuffling tone. "Nothing have I in this wide world," said Cathleen, quietly disengaging her gown, but without moving. "Sure its only yesterday I was robbed of all I had but the little clothes on my back, and if I hadn't met with charity from others I'd have starved by the way side by this time."
"Och! and is there no place hereby where they would give a potatoe and a cup of cowld water to a poor old woman ready to drop on her road?"
Cathleen instantly pointed forward to the house she had just left, and recommended her to apply there. "Sure they're good, honest people, though poor enough, God help them," she continued, "and I wish ye mother, no worse luck than myself had, and that's a good friend to treat ye to a supper, aye, and a breakfast too; there it is, ye may just see the light smoke rising like a thread over the hill, just fornent ye; and so God speed ye!"
Cathleen turned to descend the stile as she spoke expecting to be again seized with a strong and murderous grasp; but her enemy, secure in his disguise, [Page 232]and never doubting her perfect unconsciousness, suffered her to pass unmolested.
Another half mile brought her to the top of a rising ground, within sight of the high road; she could see crowds of people on horseback and on foot, with cars and carriages passing along in one direction; for it was, though Cathleen did not then know it, the first day of the Cork Assizes. As she gazed, she wished for the wings of a bird that she might in a moment flee over the space which intervened between her and safety; for though she could clearly see the high road from the hill on which she stood, a valley of broken ground at its foot, and two wide fields still separated her from it; but with the same unfailing spirit, and at the same steady pace, she proceeded onwards: and now she had reached the middle of the last field, and a thrill of new born hope was beginning to flutter at her heart, when suddenly two men burst through the fence at the farther side of the field, and advanced towards her. One of these she thought at the first glance resembled her husband, but that it was her husband himself was an idea which never entered her mind. Her imagination was possessed with the one supreme idea of danger and death by murderous hands; she doubted not that these were the two Hogans in some new disguise, and silently recommending herself to God, [Page 233]she steeled her heart to meet this fresh trial of her fortitude; aware, that however it might end, it must be the last. At this moment one of the men throwing up his arms, ran forward, shouting her name, in a voice — a dear and well known voice, in which she could not be deceived: — it was her husband!
The poor woman, who had hitherto supported her spirits and her self-possession, stood as if rooted to the ground, weak, motionless, and gasping for breath. A cold dew burst from every pore; her ears tingled, her heart fluttered as though it would burst from her bosom. When she attempted to call out, and raise her hand in token of recognition, the sounds died away, rattling in her throat; her arm dropped powerless at her side; and when her husband came up, and she made a last effort to spring towards him, she sank down at his feet in strong convulsions.
Reilly, much shocked at what he supposed the effect of sudden surprise, knelt down and chafed his wife's temples; his comrade ran to a neighbouring spring for water, which they sprinkled plentifully over her: when, however, she returned to life, her intellects appeared to have fled for ever, and she uttered such wild shrieks and exclamations, and talked so incoherently, that the men became exceedingly terrified, and poor Reilly himself, almost as distracted as his wife. After vainly attempting to soothe and recover her, they at length forcibly carried her [Page 234]down to the inn at Balgowna, a hamlet about a mile farther on, where she remained for several hours in a state of delirium, one fit succeeding another with little intermission.
Towards evening she became more composed, and was able to give some account of the horrible events of the preceding night. It happened, opportunely, that a gentleman of fortune in the neighbourhood, and a magistrate, was riding by late that evening on his return from the Assizes at Cork, and stopped at the inn to refresh his horse. Hearing that something unusual and frightful had occurred, he alighted, and examined the woman himself, in the presence of one or two persons. Her tale appeared to him so strange and wild from the manner in which she told it, and her account of her own courage and sufferings so exceedingly incredible, that he was at first inclined to disbelieve the whole, and suspected the poor woman either of imposture or insanity. He did not, however, think proper totally to neglect her testimony, but immediately sent off information of the murder to Cork. Constables with a warrant were despatched [sic] the same night to the house of the Hogans, which they found empty, and the inmates already fled: but after a long search, the body of the wretched Halloran, and part of his property, were found concealed in a stack of old chimneys among the ruins; and this proof of [Page 235] guilt was decisive. The country was instantly up; the most active search after the murderers was made by the police, assisted by all the neighbouring peasantry; and before twelve o'clock the following night, the three Hogans, father, mother, and son, had been apprehended in different places of concealment, and placed in safe custody. Meantime the Coroner's inquest having sat on the body, brought in a verdict of willful murder.
As the Judges were then at Cork, the trial came on immediately; and from its extraordinary circumstances, excited the most intense and general interest. Among the property of poor Halloran discovered in the house, were a pair of shoes and a cap which Cathleen at once identified as belonging to herself, and Reilly's silver watch was found on the younger Hogan. When questioned how they came into his possession, he sullenly refused to answer. His mother eagerly, and as if to shield her son confessed that she was the person who had robbed Cathleen in the former part of the day, that she had gone out on the Carrick road to beg, having been left by her husband and son for two days without the means of support; and finding Cathleen asleep, she had taken away the bundle, supposing it to contain food; and did not recognise her as the same person she had robbed, till Cathleen offered her part of her supper.[Page 236]
The surgeon, who had been called to examine the body of Halloran, deposed to the cause of his death; — that the old man had been first stunned by a heavy blow on the temple, and then strangled. Other witnesses deposed to the finding of the body: the previous character of the Hogans, and the circumstances attending their apprehension; but the principal witness was Cathleen. She appeared, leaning on her husband, her face was ashy pale, and her limbs too weak for support; yet she however, was perfectly collected, and gave her testimony with that precision, simplicity, and modesty, peculiar to her character. When she had occasion to allude to her own feelings, it was with such natural and heart-felt eloquence that the whole court was affected; and, when she described her recontre at the stile there was a general pressure and a breathless suspense; and then a loud murmur of astonishment and admiration fully participated by even the bench of magistrates. The evidence was clear and conclusive; and the jury, without retiring, gave their verdict, guilty — Death.
When the miserable wretches were asked, in the usual forms, if they had any thing to say why the awful sentence should not be passed upon them, the old man replied by a look of idiotic vacancy, and was mute — the younger Hogan answered sullenly, "nothing:" the old woman staring wildly on her [Page 237]son, tried to speak; her lips moved, but without a sound — and she fell forward on the bar in strong fits.
At this moment Cathleen rushed from the arms of her husband, and throwing herself on her knees, with clasped hands, and cheeks streaming with tears, begged for mercy for the old woman. "Mercy, my lord judge!" she exclaimed. "Gentlemen, your honours, have mercy on her. She had mercy on me! She only did their bidding. As for the bundle and all in it, I give it to her with all my soul, so it's no robbery. The grip of hunger's hard to bear; and if she hadn't taken it then, where would I have been now? Sure they would have killed me for the sake of the watch, and I would have been a corpse before your honours this moment. O mercy! mercy for her! or never will I sleep asy on this side of the grave!"
The judge, though much affected, was obliged to have her forcibly carried from the court, and justice took its awful course. Sentence of death was pronounced on all the prisoners; but the woman was reprieved, and afterwards transported. The two men were executed within forty-eight hours after their conviction, on the Gallows Green. They made no public confession of their guilt, and met their fate with sullen indifference. The awful ceremony was for a moment interrupted by an incident with after-[Page 238]wards furnished ample matter for wonder and speculation among the superstitious populace. It was well known that the younger Hogan had been long employed on the estate of a nobleman in the neighbourhood; but having been concerned in the abduction of a young female, under circumstances of peculiar atrocity, which for the want of legal evidence could not be brought home to him, he was dismissed; and, finding himself an object of general execration, he had since been skulking about the country, associating with housebreakers and other lawless and abandoned characters. At the moment the hangman was adjusting the rope round his neck, a shrill voice screamed from the midst of the crowd, "Barny Hogan! do ye mind Grace Power, and the last words ever she spoke to ye?" there was a general movement and confusion; no one could or would tell whence the voice proceeded. The wretched man was seen to change countenance for the first time, and raising himself on tiptoe, gazed wildly round upon the multitude: but he said nothing; and in a few minutes he was no more.
The reader may wish to know what has become of Cathleen, our heroine, in the true sense of the word. Her story, her sufferings, her extraordinary fortitude, and pure simplicity of character made her an object of general curiosity and interest: a subscription was raised for her, which soon amounted to a liberal sum; they were enabled to procure Reilly's discharge from [Page 239]the army, and with a part of the money, Cathleen, who, among her other perfections, was exceedingly pious after the fashion of her creed and country, founded yearly masses for the soul of the poor Pedlar; and vowed herself to make a pilgrimage of thanksgiving to St. Gobnate's well. Mr. L. the magistrate who had first examined her in the little inn at Balgowna, made her a munificent present; and anxious, perhaps, to offer yet farther amends for his former doubts of her veracity, he invited Reilly on very advantageous terms, to settle on his estate, where he rented a neat cabin, and a handsome plot of potatoe ground. There Reilly and his Cathleen were living ten years ago, with an increasing family, and in the enjoyment of much humble happiness; and there, for aught I know to the contrary, they may be living at this day.