How the Danger to the Secret of Hardress was Averted by the Ingenuity of Irish Witnesses
"I have already sent off a messenger," continued Mr. Warner, "to my own little place, to see if they have yet arrived, in order that they may be brought hither and examined on the spot. The inconvenience to Mrs. Chute, I hope she will excuse, and my principal reason for wishing to see you, Mrs. Cregan, was, that you might bear our explanations to that lady. On an occasion of this kind, all good subjects are liable to be trespassed on, perhaps more than courtesy might warrant."
"I will answer for my sister," said Mrs. Cregan coldly, "she will not, of course, withhold any accommodation in her power. But this man,—has he been questioned, sir?"
"Might I be allowed to see the examination?"
"By all means, Mrs. Cregan. Mr. Houlahan, will you hand that book to the lady."
Mr. Houlahan, after sticking his pen behind his ear, rose and delivered the volume accordingly, with a smirk and bow, which he meant for a wonder of politeness. The lady, whose thoughts were busy with other matters than with Mr. Houlahan's gallantry, received it nevertheless with a calm dignity, and opening her reading glass, stooped to the page which that gentleman had pointed out. She glanced with some assumed indifference over the details of the Examination of Daniel Mann, while she devoured its meaning with an agonizing closeness of scrutiny. The passage which concerned her most was the following:
" ——Questioned, If he were known to the deceased Eily O'Connor, answereth, He hath met such a one in Garryowen, but knoweth nothing farther. Questioned, If he heard of her death, answereth, Nay. Questioned, If he knoweth a certain Lowry Looby, living; answereth, Yes. Questioned, Whether Eily O'Connor did not lodge for a time in the house of Philip Naughten, Killarney; answereth, How should he be aware of his brother-in-law's lodgers. Saith, He knoweth not. Questioned, If he were not present in said Naughten's house, when said Eily, deceased, said Looby being then in Naughten's kitchen, did give a letter to Poll Naughten, sister to prisoner, addressed to Dunat O'Leary, hair-cutter, Garryowen, and containing matter in the hand-writing of said Eily; answereth, How should he (prisoner) see through a stone-wall. Saith, He was in the kitchen. Saith, Looby was a fool, and that his eyes were not fellows. Saith, He knoweth not who was in the said inner-room. Questioned, Why he was discharged out of the employment of his master, Mr. Hardress Cregan; answereth, He knoweth not. Questioned, Where he hath been residing since he left his master's service; answereth, It is a token that examinant doth not know, or he would not ask; and the like impertinent and futile answers, with sundry speeches little to the purpose, hath the prisoner responded to all subsequent enquiries."
With a feeling of relief, Mrs. Cregan returned the book to the clerk, and glancing towards the prisoner, observed that his eye was fixed on her's with a look of shrewd and anxious enquiry. To this glance she returned one equally comprehensive in its meaning. It told him she was fully in the counsels of her son, and prepared him to be guided by her eye.
At the same moment, the sentinel was heard presenting arms at the door, and a corporal entered to say that Mr. Warner's messenger had returned, and that the witnesses might be expected in a few minutes.
"All's right then," said Mr. Warner, who entered on a scrutiny of this kind with the same professional gout which might make Xenophon find excitement amid his difficulties, or Antony in the intricacies of the American retreat. "Remove the prisoner. We shall examine them apart, and see if their stories will bear the jangling. If they are all as much given to the negative as this fellow, I am afraid we shall find it hard to make them jar."
This was a moment of intense anxiety to Mrs. Cregan. She saw no probability of being able to communicate with the prisoners, (for such were all the witnesses at present,) and she comprehended all the importance of preventing, at least, the chance of Hardress's name being mingled up with the account of the unknown visitor at the cottage of the Naughtens.
A little experience however in the proceedings of Irish law courts would have given her more courage and comfort on this subiect. The peasantry of Ireland have, for centuries, been at war with the laws by which they are governed, and watch their operation in every instance with a jealous eye. Even guilt itself, however naturally atrocious, obtains a commiseration in their regard from the mere spirit of opposition to a system of government which they consider as unfriendly. There is scarcely a cottage in the south of Ireland where the very circumstance of legal denunciation would not afford even, to a murderer, a certain passport to concealment and protection. To the same cause may be traced, in all likelihood, the shrewdness of disguise, the closeness, the affected dulness, the assumed simplicity, and all the inimitable subtleties of evasion and of wile which an Irish peasant can display when he is made to undergo a scene of judicial scrutiny, and in which he will frequently display a degree of gladiatorial dexterity that would throw the spirit of Machiaveli into ecstacies.
While Mrs. Cregan remained endeavouring to control the workings of her apprehension, a bustle was heard outside the door, in which the sound of a female voice, raised high in anger and remonstrance, overtopped the rest in loudness like a soprano voice in a chorus.
"Let me in!" she exclaimed in a fierce tone, "do you want to thrust your scarlet jacket between the tree and the rind? Let me in, you tall ramrod, or I'll pull the soap an' powder out of your wig. If I had you on the mountains, I'd cut the pig's tail from your pole, an' make a show o' you. Do, do—draw your bagnet on me, you cowardly object! It's like the white blood o' the whole of ye!—I know fifty lads of your size that would think as little of tripping you up on a fair green, and making a high-road of your powdered carcass, as I do of snapping my fingers in your face! That, for your rusty bagnet, you woman's match!"
Here she burst into the room, and confronted the magistrate, while the centinel muttered as he recovered his guard. 'Well, you're a rum one, you are, as ever I see."
"Danny, a' ragal! Oh vo, ohone, achree, asthora! is that the way with you? What did you do to 'em? what's the matther?"
"Dat de hands may stick to me, Poll, if I know," returned the prisoner, while she moaned and wept over him with a sudden passion of grief. "Dey say 'tis to kill some one, I done. Dey say one Eily O'Connor was a lodger of ours westwards, an' dat I tuk her out of a night an' murdered her. Isn't dat purty talk? Sure you know yourself we had no lodgers?"
"Remove that prisoner," said Mr. Warner, "he must not be present at her examination."
"I'll engage I have no longin' for it," returned Danny, "she knows right well that it is all talks, an' tis well I have a friend at last dat 'll see me out o' trouble."
Danny was removed, and the examination of Poll Naughten was commenced by the magistrate. She had got but one hint from her brother to guide her in her answers, and on all other topics she came to the resolution, in secret, of admitting as little as possible.
"Your name is Poll Naughten. Stay, she is not sworn. Hand her the book."
She took the volume with an air of surly assurance, and repeated the form of the oath.
"She did not kiss it," whispered Mr. Houlahan, with a sagacious anxiety, "she only kissed her thumb. I had my eye upon her."
"Had you? Well, gi' me the book, 'till I plase that gentleman. Is that the way you'd like to lip the leather?" she said, after a smack, that went off like a detonating cap. "Is that done to your liking, sir?"
Mr. Houlahan treated this query with silence, and the examination proceeded.
"Poll Naughten is your name, is it not?"
"Polly Mann, they christened me, for want of a betther, an' for want of a worse, I took up with Naughten."
"You live in the gap of Dunlough?"
"Iss, when at home."
"Did you know the deceased Eily O'Connor?"
"I never knew a girl o' that name."
"Take care of your answers. We have strong evidence."
"If you have it as sthrong as a cable, you may make the most of it. You have my answer."
"Do you know a person of the name of Looby?"
"I do, to be sure, for my sins, I believe."
"Do you remember his being in your house in the end of the last autumn?"
"I do well, an' I'd give him his tay the same night, if it wasn't for raisons."
"Did you give him a letter on that evening?"
"He made more free than welcome, a dale. I can tell him that."
"Answer my question. Did you give him a letter?"
"Oyeh, many's the thing I gave him, an' I'm only sorry I didn't give him a thing more along with 'em, an' that was a good flaking."
"Well, I don't deny you credit for your good wishes, in that respect, but still I wait to have my question answered. Did you give Looby a letter on that evening?"
"Listen to me, now, plase your honour. That the head may go to the grave with me——"
"Those asseverations, my good woman, are quite superfluous. You should remember you are on your oath."
"Well, I am, sure I know I am upon my oath, an' as I am upon it, an' by the vartue o' that oath, I swear I never swopped a word with Lowry Looby from that day to this."
"Whew!" said the magistrate, "there's an answer. Hear me, my good woman. If you won't speak out, we shall find a way to make you speak."
"No use in wasting blows upon a willing horse. I can do no more than speak to the best of my ability."
"Very well. I ask you again, therefore, whether Looby received a letter from you on that evening?"
"Does Lowry say I gev him a letter?"
"You will not answer then?"
"To be sure I will, What am I here for?"
"To drive me mad, I believe."
"Faiks, I cant help you," said Poll, "when you won't listen to me."
"Well, well, speak on."
"I will, then, without a word of a lie. I'll tell you that whole business, an' let Lowry himself conthradict me if he daar do it. 'Tis as good as six years ago, now, since I met that boy at one o' the Hewsan's wakes."
"Well, what has that to do with an answer to a plain question?"
"Easy a minute, can't you, an' I'll tell you. He behaved very polished that night, an' I seen no more of him until the day you spake of, when he come into the cottage from Killarney."
"Woman," said the magistrate, "remember that you have sworn to tell the whole truth, not only the truth, but the whole truth."
"Ah, then, gentlemen an' lady, d'ye hear this? Did any body ever hear the peer o' that? Sure its just the whole truth I'm tellin' him, an' he won't listen to the half of it."
"Go on," said Mr. Warner, in a tone of resignation.
"Sure that's what I want to do, if I'd be let. I say this, an' I'll stand to it, Lowry gave me impidence that I wouldn't stand from his masther, an' I did, (let him make the most of it,) I admit it, I did give him a sthroke or two. I did. I admit it."
"And after the sthrokes, as you call 'em, you gave him a letter?"
"I see; you are very copious of your admissions. Are you Philip Naughten's wife?"
"Aye, now we're upon smooth ground. You can give an answer when it suits you. I'm afraid you are too many for me. What shall we do with this communicative person?" he said, turning to the other gentlemen.
"Remand her," said Captain Gibson, whose face was purple from suppressed laughter, "and let us have the husband."
"With all my heart," returned Mr. Warner, "Take that woman into another room, and bring up Philip Naughten. Take care, moreover, that they do not speak upon the way."
Poll was removed, a measure which she resented by shrill and passionate remonstrances, affecting to believe herself very ill-treated. Her husband was next admitted, and from his humble, timid, and deprecating manner, at once afforded the magistrate some cause of gratulation; and Mrs. Cregan of deep and increasing anxiety.
He approached the table with a fawning smile upon his coarse features, and a helpless, conciliating glance at every individual around him.
"Now, we shall have something," said Mr. Warner, "this fellow has a more tractable eye. Your name is Philip Naughten, is it not?"
The man returned an answer in Irish, which the magistrate cut short in the middle.
"Answer me in English, friend. We speak no Irish here. Is your name Philip Naughten?"
"Tha wisha, vourneen—— " "
Come—come—English—Swear him to know whether he does not understand English. Can you speak English, fellow?"
"Not a word, plase your honour."
A roar of laughter succeeded this escapade, to which the prisoner listened with a wondering and stupid look. Addressing himself in Irish to Mr. Cregan, he appeared to make an explanatory speech which was accompanied by a slight expression of indignation.
"What does the fellow say?" asked Mr. Warner.
"Why," said Cregan, with a smile, "he says he will admit that he couldn't be hung in English before his face*—but he does not know enough of the language to enable him to tell his story in English."
"Well, then, I suppose we must have it in Irish. Mr. Houlahan, will you act as interpreter?" The clerk who thought it genteel not to know Irish, bowed and declared himself unqualified.
"Wisha, then," said a gruff voice at a little distance, in a dark corner of the room, "it isn't but what you had opportunities enough of learning it. If you went in foreign parts, what would they say to you, do you think, when you'd tell 'em you didn't know the language o' the counthry where you born? You ought to be ashamed o' yourself, so you ought."
This speech, which proceeded from the unceremonious Dan Dawley, produced some smiling at the expense of the euphuistic secretary, after which the steward himself was sworn to discharge the duties of the office in question.
The preliminary queries having been put, and answered, the interpreter proceeded to ask, at the magistrate's suggestion, whether the witness was acquainted with the deceased, Eily O'Connor?
But if it had been the policy of Mrs. Naughten to admit as little as possible, it seemed to be the policy of her husband to admit nothing at all. The subterfuge of the former in denying a knowledge of Eily, under her maiden name, (which, she imagined, saved her from the guilt of perjury,) was an idea too brilliant for her husband. He gaped upon the interpreter in silence from some moments, and then looked on the magistrate as if to gather the meaning of the question.
"Repeat it for him," said the latter.
Dawley did so.
"'Tis the answer he makes me, plase your honour," he said,
"that he's a poor man that lives by industhering."
"That's no answer. Repeat the question once more, and tell him I shall commit him for trial if he will not answer it?"
Again the question was put, and listened to with the same plodding, meditative look, and answered with a countenance of honest grief, and an apparent anxiety to be understood, which would have baffled the penetration of any but a practised observer. So earnest was his manner that Mr. Warner really believed he was returning a satisfactory answer. But he was disappointed.
"He says," continued the interpreter, "that when he was a young man, he rented a small farm from Mr. O'Connor, of Crag-beg, near Tralee. He has as much thricks in him, plase your honour, as a rabbit. I'd as lieve be brakin' stones to a paviour as putting questions to a rogue of his kind."
Threats, promises of favour, lulling queries, and moral expedients of every kind, were used to draw him out into the communicative frankness which was desired. But he remained as unimpressible as adamant. He could or would admit nothing more than that he was a poor man, who lived by his industry, and that he had rented a small farm from Mr. O'Connor, of Crag-leg.
The prisoners, therefore, after a short consultation, were all remanded, in order that time might be afforded for confronting them with the friends of the unhappy Eily. Mrs. Cregan, with the feeling of one who has stood all day before a burning furnace, hurried to the room of Hardress to indulge the tumult which was gathering in her bosom; and the gentlemen, by a special invitation, (which could no more be declined without offence, in the Ireland of those days, than in a Persian cottage,) adjourned to the consolations of Mrs. Chute's dining parlour. Separate places of confinement were allotted to the three prisoners; a sentinel was placed over each, and the remainder of the party, notwithstanding the remonstrances of Captain Gibson, were all entertained like princes in the servant's hall.
* A common phrase, meaning that the individual understood enough of the language to refute any calumny spoken in his prescence, which if uncontradicted, might leave him in danger of the halter. The acute reader may detect in this pithy idiom a meaning characteristic of the country in which it is used.