42

How Mr. Warner Was Fortunate Enough to Find a Man That Could and Would Speak English

ABOUT SUNSET on the evening of the following day, while Castle Chute and its vicinity were merry as wedding times could make them, Mr. Warner, the magistrate, was quietly enjoying a bowl of punch with a friend at his own table. That table was spread at the distance of about eight miles from the castle, and that friend was Captain Gibson. Another individual, Houlahan was seated at a distant corner of the table, imbibing his portion of fluid in humble silence, but as he was very seldom spoken to, and never ventured to mingle in the conversation himself, he could scarcely be considered as one of the company.

    "Come, Captain," said Mr. Warner, filling his glass, and passing the bowl to the gallant officer, "I will give you the bride."

    "I shall drink it with all my heart," returned the Captain.—"The bride!" he added raising the glass to his lips, and honouring the toast with a draught of proportionable profundity.

    "And, talking of the bride," continued Mr. Warner, "though I rejoice at it on my own account, as it gives me the pleasure of your society; yet it puzzles me to know, Captain, why you are not at the wedding to-night?"

    "For the best of all reasons," returned Mr. Gibson, "because I wasn't asked."

    "You may be certain, then, that there was some mistake in that, for the Chutes have always kept an open house."

    "I am sure of it. Well, what do you say if I give you the bridegroom, in return for your bride?"

    "1 don't know. I had rather drink the lady."

    "Oh, so should I, for that matter, but we have drunk her."

    "There's something mystical in that haughty young man, that I cannot like. His conduct on many occasions, lately, has given me any thing but a favourable indication of his character. I have even sometimes been tempted to think——but no—no—" he added, suddenly interrupting himself. "I have no right to indulge in those surmises, which, after all, may be the suggestion of prejudice and rash judgment. Come, sir, I will drink the bridegroom; and allow me to add a sentiment. The bridegroom, and may he show himself worthy of his fortune!"

    "As he said these words, the parlour door was opened, and a servant appeared, to say that a stranger wished to speak with Mr. Warner on judicial business.

    "Pooh," said the magistrate, "some broken head, or sixpenny summons. Let him come to me to-morrow morning."

    "He says his business is very pressing, sir, an' 't will be more your own loss than his if you let him go."

    "What? is that the ground he goes on? Then I suppose we must hear him. Captain, I know all these examinations are amusing to you—Shall I have him in here?"

    "You could not do me a greater pleasure," said the officer, "these people are the only actors on earth."

    The stranger was accordingly shown up. His story seemed to be almost told by his appearance, for one of his eyes was blackened and puffed out so as nearly to disguise the entire countenance. There was in his tread, and action, an appearance of gloomy determination, which had something in it impressive and even chilling. The magistrate perceived at a glance, that the affair was of a more serious nature than he had at first suspected.

    "Well, my good man," he said, in a gentle tone, "what is your business with me?"

    "I'm not a good man," said the stranger, "as my business with you will show. Arn't you the crowner dat sot upon Eily O'Connor?"

    "I am."

    "Did you find the murtherers yet?"

    "They are not in custody, but we have strong information."

    "Well, if you have, may be you don't want any more?" said the man contemptuously, and seeming about to depart.

    "No, no, the more we obtain, the stronger our case will be, of course."

    "Then listen to me," said the stranger, "and I'll make it strong enough for you."

    "This instant," returned Mr. Warner. "Mr. Houlahan, will you prepare your writing materials, and take down this examination in the regular form?"

    "Do!" said the stranger," Give me the book, and swear me, put every sentence in your book, for every word I have to say is goold to you, and to de counsellors. An' write down first dat Eily was surely murdered, an' dat I, Danny Mann, was de one dat done de deed."

    "Mann!" exclaimed the magistrate, "what, our fugitive prisoner?"

    "I was your prisoner, 'till I was set at liberty by one dat had a raison for doing it. I'm now come to deliver myself up, an to tell de whole truth, for I'm tired o' my life."

    The magistrate paused for a moment, in strong amazement.

    "I think it my duty," said he, "to warn you on one point. If you have been a principal in the murder, your confession will not entitle you to mercy as an approver, while it will be used as evidence against yourself,—voluntarily tendered as it is, and without hope of favour held out to you."

    "I don't want mercy," returned the stranger, "if I did, it isn't in courts I'd look for it. If I valued my life, it was in my own hands already, an' 'tisn't here you'd find me now. It was not the fear of death, nor the hope of pardon, that brought me hether, but because I was decaved and disappointed in one that I thought worse of than my own life, a hundherd times. Do you see that mark?" he added, stepping out into the light, and raising one shoulder so as to bring the defect in his spine more strikingly into view. "All my days that was my curse. Didn't they give me a nickname for it, an' usen't some laugh, and more start and shiver, when I'd come in sight of 'em? In place of being, as I ought to be, fighting at the fair, drinking at the wake, an' dancing at the jig-house, there's the figure I cut all my days! If any body vexed me, an' I'd even sthrike him, he would't return the blow, for who'd take notice o' the little Lord? If I sat down by a girl, you'd think by her looks dat she wasn't sure of her life until she got away. An' who have I to thank for dat? Mr. Hardress Cregan. 'Twas he done that to me, an' I a little boy. But if he did, he showed such feeling after, he cried so bitter, an' he cared so much for me, that my heart warmed to him for my very loss itself. I never gave him as much as a cross word or look for what he done, nor never spoke of it until dis minute. I loved him from dat very time, twice more than ever, but what's de use o' talking? He's not the same man now. He met me yesterday upon de road, an' what did he do? He struck me first, but dat I'd bear aisy, he called me out o' my name, an' dat I didn't mind, but I'll tell you what druv me wild. He caught me by the throat, an' he flung me back again' de wall, just de same way as when he ga' me my hurt, and made me a cripple for life. From that moment a change come in me towards him. He doesn't feel for me, an' I wont feel for him. He had his revenge, an I'll have mine. Write down," he added, wiping the damp from his brow, and trembling with passion, "Write down, Danny Mann, for de murderer of Eily, an' write down, Hardress Cregan, for his adviser."

    Both the gentlemen started, and gazed on one another.

    "Ye start!" cried the deformed, with a sneer, "an' ye look at one another as if ye tought it a wonder a gentleman should do the like,—but there's the difference. A gentleman will have a bloody longing, an' he'll hide it for fear of shame. Shame is de portion of de poor man, and he'll ease his longing when he can, for he has notten' to lose. A gentleman will buy the blood of his innemy for goold, but he'll keep his own clane gloves and slender fingers out of it. A poor man does his own work, with his own hands, an' is satisfied to damn his own soul only. All the difference I see is this—that a gentleman besides his being a murderer—is a daçaver, an' a coward."

    " If you really mean," said the magistrate," to impeach Mr. Hardress Cregan with this crime, you do not strengthen your testimony by evincing so much vindictive feeling. His character stands high, and we know that the highest have often had their steps beset by serpents, who have no other motive for the sting they give, than private malice or revenge, such as you avow."

    The wily taunt succeeded. The stranger turned on the magistrate a scowl of indescribable contempt.

    "If I could not afford to avow it," he said, "I had wit enough to hide it. I knew your laws, of old. It isn't for nothing that we see the fathers of families, the pride and the strength of our villages, the young an' the old, the guilty, and the innocent, snatched away from their own cabins, and shared off for transportation, an' the gallows. It isn't for nothing, our brothers, our cousins, an' our friends are hanged before our doores from year to year. They teach us something of the law, we thank 'em. If I was trusting to my own confession I knew enough to say little of what brought me here. A counsellor would tell you, mister magistrate, that I'll be believed the sooner in a coort, for daling as I done. But I have other witnesses. Eily O'Connor was Hardress Cregan's wife. You start at that too. There's the certificate of her marriage. I took it out of her bosom, after I——"

    He suddenly paused, placed both hands upon his eyes, and shuddered with so much violence, that the floor trembled beneath him. The listeners maintained their attitude of deep and motionless attention.

    "Yes," he at length continued, letting his hands descend, and showing a horrid smile upon his lip, "the poor crature kep her hand in her bosom, and upon dat paper, to the last gasp, as if she thought it was to rob her of that I wanted. Little she mattered her life in the comparison. De priest dat married 'em died the moment after, a black sign for Eily, an' a blacker sign, perhaps, for de wedding dey're going to have to-morrow morning. Dat's a good witness. Write down dat in your book; an' den write down, Phil Naughten, an' his wife for having Eily in their house, an'—but let 'em tell their own story. When you have dem wrote, put down Lowry Looby after, an' den Myles Murphy, an' after, Mihil O'Connor, de father; and last of all, if you want a real witness, I'll tell you how you'll make it certain. Be de first yourself to lay a hand on Hardress, tell him you heerd of his doings, an look into his face while you are speaking, an' if dat doesn't tell de whole story, come back an' call me liar."

    "It is clear!" said Mr. 'Warner starting from his seat. "Captain, I need make no excuse to you for stirring. Mr. Houlahan, remain and see this man confined. What, Horan! Bring the horses to the door this instant. Captain, you will, perhaps, accompany me, as the service may possibly be dangerous or difficult on such an occasion. We will first ride for a guard to your quarters, (though that will cost some time) and then proceed to arrest this gentle bridegroom. Horan, quick with the horses. I thought there was something in him not so orthodox. I am sorry for it, 'tis a shocking business, a mournful transaction."

    "And will require, I think," said the Captain, "that we should proceed with great delicacy. So amiable a family, and such a shock——"

    "With great delicacy, certainly," returned the Magistrate, "but likewise with a firmness becoming our trust. Mr. Houlahan, look closely to the prisoner. He left our vigilance at fault on another occasion. Come, Captain, here are the horses."

    They rode rapidly away, and Mr. Houlahan slipping out of the room, locked the door on the outside and went to prepare some suitable dungeon for the prisoner upon the premises. The unfortunate man remained for several minutes standing on the floor, his hands clasped and elevated before him, his ear inclined, as if in the act of listening, his jaw dropt, and his eye set in stolid, dreamy wonder. The window opened on a craggy field, and was fortified by several bars of iron. He did not however even cast a glance at this formidable impediment. Every faculty of his spirit seemed for the moment to be either absorbed by one engrossing image, or to be suspended altogether by a kind of mental syncope. While he remained thus motionless, and while the house was quiet and still around him, he suddenly heard a rough but not unmelodious voice singing the following verses outside the window:—


    "But for that false and wicked knave,
        Who swore my life away,
    I leave him to the judge of Heaven,
    And to the judgment day.

    "For gold he made away my life,
        ('What more could Herod do?)
    Nor to his country, nor his God,
    Nor to his friend, proved true."

    The verses seemed to be sung by one in the act of passing the window, and, with the last line, the singer had proceeded beyond hearing. The verses, though containing a common ballad sentiment, characteristic of the peculiar notions of honour and faith held among the secret societies of the peasantry, seemed as if directed immediately against the informer himself. At least his conscience so received it.

    He might become one day the subject of such a ballad. He, too, had his sense of shame and of honour (as all men have), regulated by the feelings of the class in which he moved. It would tell nothing against him there that he had died by the hangman's hands. Every petty village had its Tell and its Riego, and they had made that death no more disgraceful in the peasant's eye. Their names were cherished amongst the noblest recollections of his heart, they were sung to his ancient melodies, and made familiar sounds in the ears of his children. But to be branded as an informer!—that character, which, combining as it does, the vices of bad faith, venality, and meanness, is despised and detested by the Irish peasantry, beyond all social sins; that was a prospect which he could not bear so well. And then he turned to Hardress, and thought of his feelings, of his old kindness and affection. He made excuses for his sudden passion, and he thought how those kindnesses would be dwelt upon in the ballad which was to immortalize the guilt and penitence of Hardress and his own treachery.

    He started from his reverie, and gazed around him like a forest lion in a trap. He rushed to the door and gnashed his teeth to find it locked. He drew back to the other side of the room, and dashed himself against it with all his force. But it was a magistrate's door, and it resisted his efforts. He turned to the window, dashed out the frame, and shivered the glass with his foot, and seizing the iron railing with both hands, swung himself from it, and exerted his utmost strength, in endeavouring to wrench it from its fastening, in the solid masonry. But he might as well have set his shoulder to displace the centre of gravity itself. Baffled, exhausted, and weeping with vexation and remorse, he hung back out of the railing, his face covered with a thick damp, and his limbs torn, and bleeding from the fragments of the broken glass.

    We shall leave him to suffer under all the agonies of suspense, augmented by the double remorse under which he now began to labour, and turn our eyes in the direction of the Castle.