Volume Two


11


EARLY upon the morning after Anty's sudden departure from home, David Shearman, having returned to his father's sooner than he expected, walked over to visit Peggy. He found Cauth Flannigan in a state of the greatest terror and consternation. Her story was that the house had been broken into during the night, and robbed of all the money in it, and of her "young misthress, Miss Anty," too; for, unaware of the previous presence of the guest whom Anty had secreted, the poor girl could suppose nothing else, when, getting up at her usual hour, she found the desk open, and Anty gone. To his repeated questions, David Shearman then, for the first time, learned that Peggy was also from home, and Daniel Nowlan before her; and the young man stood stupified with horror and alarm, not knowing what to do, when Mr. Long's confidential steward entered the house, and stunned him by telling another strange story.

     Some days before, the man said, his master had received, from a person who formed one of the gang, private information that Long Hall was to be plundered on a particular night, and its proprietor deprived of life. The informer wrote his letter first in the hopes of reward, next with a clause for self-preservation. He stipulated that, if Mr. Long would pledge his honour to give him a thousand pounds and a promise of pardon, he would enable him to save property and life, and to detect the plotters. Mr. Long acceded by letter to his terms, and the man, no longer disguising his name, which was Studs, wrote back another line, appointing a meeting with Mr. Long, in Dublin, from the neighbourhood of which city, he said, the gang were to go down to the country.

     Mr. Long accordingly went to Dublin in great privacy, arranging to write back to his steward the necessary advices; and that confidential servant soon got from him a notice of the night when the house was to be attacked, with other particulars. The gang were to consist of four; one a woman of the name of Maggy Nowlan, whom Mr. Long and the steward knew; two men from Dublin, whom Studs also named; and a fourth man, a soldier, whom he would not further describe, but, he added, whom Mr. Long would recognize when they met face to face. After the receipt of this letter, the steward set about taking the measures previously agreed on between him and the writer, and which it again enforced. With the utmost secrecy, a party of military were obtained from Nenagh, and concealed in the house; and a man who, before Mr. Long left the country, had, the steward believed, intimated some further knowledge of the plot, and particularly of the identity of the soldier whom Studs declined to name, went off to join Mr. Long in Dublin. This person young Mr. Shearman well knew; Peery Conolly. And now came the end of the story. The appointed night arrived. Some of the soldiers were stationed in the house; some out of sight, around it. The lights were extinguished; and when every thing gave signs of repose, the robbers were punctually heard making way through a lower window. Having been allowed to gain the inside of the house, and to commence their plundering, little exertion was necessary in apprehending them. But the woman and the two Dublin thieves alone appeared. The mysterious soldier had not at all come in view. When closely questioned about him, the prisoners would give no answer, except that he had spent part of the night in Daniel Nowlan's house; and it was this hint that sent over the steward the night before, when he met Anty on the road, and that also caused the present meeting between him and David Shearman.

     When applied to on the subject, then and now, poor Cauth warmly resisted, of course, such a base insinuation; and the sole new information she could supply only served farther to perplex the zealous steward. What was best to be done none of them could conjecture; what steps the steward was to take for securing this unknown person, or David to discover his Peggy and her sister, or Cauth to get every body back, and to keep the life in "her poor ould misthress of all," who lay at death's door, stunned and terrified by what she heard, and only able to scream aloud or scold her attendant.

     At length, guided by Cauth's mentioning the Brazen Head, in Dublin, as the place to which, no doubt, Peggy had gone after her father, David formed his resolution. He ran home for his best horse. As he got into the saddle, his father's information, previously supplied to Peggy, but which he had not before received, made him sure that all would be right; and hastily shaking hands with his amazed parent, he galloped off along the Dublin road, determined to take fresh horses whenever he could find them, and not stop, night or day, until he should reach the metropolis. And accordingly, some hours before the sisters entered Dublin, David had gained it. He knew the old Brazen Head in Bridge-street very well; it was a great resort for honest country-folk, from every part of Ireland: and he had once or twice before experienced its quiet, old-fashioned accommodation. In a short time, therefore, he was thundering at its massive door; nor had he to thunder long. "Boots" was up, as in duty bound, to welcome such travellers as might arrive by the six o'clock coaches from country' parts, and who, at such an hour, in the depths of winter, could scarce expect the homage of a more sprightly attendant of the other sex.

     "Was there a Mr. Nowlan in the house?" David asked, as soon as the half-alive, pallid creature appeared, with an inch of candle in his hand. "Yes, there was." "An old gentleman?" "Yes." "From the country'?" "Yes, indeed. Had he been ill?" "He had, but was better, and walking about now." "Was there a young lady with him—his daughter?" "No. " "No?" "No, in troth; not a living soul belonging to him, man, woman, or child." David wrung his hands and stamped about. Peggy ought to have been in Dublin since that hour the previous morning. What had become of her? He asked the number of Daniel Nowlan's room; rushed up stairs; awoke the old man; and, with little precaution, told him of Peggy's departure to seek him, two nights before, and of the sudden and unaccountable disappearance of Anty on the night following.

     Daniel Nowlan, weak and exhausted as he was, fainted at the tidings. When restored to his senses, his grief was so childish, that it reminded David of the necessity to master his own passion, and summon up his strength of mind. He feared the old man's relapse into the sickness from which he had just recovered; and to send for medical assistance was his first proceeding. But when the physician arrived, his fears became removed; and after Daniel Nowlan took some quieting medicine, his young friend prevailed on him to have hope, and bend his thoughts to consider what was best to be attempted.

     Before they proceeded to the urgent matter in hand, however, David ascertained that all attempts to find out the sailor who had called himself John Nowlan, had hitherto proved abortive. Then they partook of a hasty and scarce needful breakfast; and when it was broad daylight, got into a hackney coach, and drove to the office of the Limerick mail, in Dawson-street.

     Immediate, though still torturing information here awaited them. They learned that the coach in which Peggy had come up, had broken down near Dublin; that she had been overlooked in the confusion, and not since heard of; and the guard of the other coach, which had conveyed Anty from the country, further supplied an account of the meeting between the sisters, near Richmond Barracks, and of their having been left, seemingly under the protection of a soldier, before the gate. To Richmond Barracks David and Daniel next repaired. The sentinel who had been on duty at the time in question, confirmed the account of the guard, adding that they had walked on into town with the soldier spoken of, and whose name was Tims.

     Upon this, David proposed that he and the old man should part, and go separately into every public house on their way towards town, and afterwards meet at a police office, of which he inquired the situation and address, and gave both to Daniel. His advice seemed good; it was acceded to by the father, and they parted.

     With a flushed cheek, parched lips, streaming eyes, and his white hair flying neglected from under his broad-brimmed, country-farmer hat, Daniel Nowlan went into many public houses, asking vague and abrupt questions about his children, which some answered with concern, some with indifference, some with ridicule, and all without satisfaction to him. Wherever he met a soldier in the street, to him he particularly and most earnestly directed his enquiries; still uselessly, however: until, after walking a good way down Thomas-street, two others, whom, as they stood talking on the flag-way, he suddenly addressed, seemed peculiarly moved by his questions.

     But as we now turn upon the pivot of our history, it will be needful, with the reader's indulgence, to preface the interview between Daniel Nowlan and these two soldiers, with some conversation that passed between themselves before he came up.

     They had accidentally met, in mutual agitation, though of different kinds. One, who was unarmed, almost ran along the street, his face inflamed by half-suppressed rage, and his eyes often cast behind, as if to note whether or no he was pursued. The other also moved, in an opposite direction, at a very quick pace, and his features were also disturbed, but it would seem rather with anxiety and terror than with anger. So much were both absorbed, and so rapid their motion, that they had nearly jostled against each other ere a recognition took place. Then they stared for some seconds in silence, like old friends met to enter upon a business that must break their friendship for ever.

     "I was looking for you, Frank," began the soldier whose feelings appeared to be those of great anxiety.

     "Hush!" he was answered in a whisper, "how often have you promised to sink that name?"

     "Tell me in one word," continued his comrade, gasping—"what have you done with the young woman given into your care at the Barrack-gate this morning? That you are the man I have been informed, by the sentinel in whose charge I left her."

     "Brought her where she wanted to go, to be sure; you'll find her at the Brazen Head: good-b'ye. I have some business in hand."

     "Stop, Sir; I don't believe your story."

     "Indeed? and why so?" recovering his habitual self-possession.

     "Did you know who she was?" demanded the other slowly, as he fixed a look on Frank.

     "No; how the devil could I?—'twas pitch-dark, and her head so muffled up; and I in no humour for a frolic; I know nothing at all about her."

     "I don't believe you again, Sir."

     "You don't, don't you? let me pass, I say."

     "A word first, listen well to me. When, after nearly two years of suffering and sorrow, I met you in the Indies, the very day you took the king's bounty and entered the same regiment with me, you told me this of home. You said your uncle had turned you out for marrying Peggy Nowlan; that your father would not receive you; that Peggy herself was unkind and ungrateful to you; that you had no means of earning a shilling for her or yourself; that, in fact, you were starving; that, forced to the last resource, you embarked for the chances of the patriotic struggle in South America; and failing in that, worked your way to where I met you, and were then glad to enlist as a private soldier."

     "Ay; well?"

     "Listen, I say. After leaving the young woman at the Barrack-gate this morning, only a few hours ago, do you know where I went, and on what kind of duty?"

     "No; I had but just walked up to the gate, returning from furlough,—was not in the barracks when you were first called out, and, until I went into town with the girl, heard nothing of the matter."

     "Well; so far I trust you. Did you see your uncle on furlough, Frank, and throw yourself on your knees to him, as you said you would? But, no matter for your answer. Hear me on. Hear on what duty I went out of Dublin, with the sergeant's guard, this morning. We went, led by a peace- officer, and that very uncle, Frank."

     "Damnation!" interrupted the hearer, thrown off his guard, and starting back.

     "By that very uncle, to take into custody two old friends of yours, in the lone house, about fifteen miles from town."

     "Whom do you mean? Did you take them?"

     "They are now in Kilmainham jail, charged as accomplices before the fact in a robbery at Long Hall, the night before the last; so that, while Maggy lies in Nenagh prison, along with her two companions, on the spot, we have here secured her wretched mother and brother—"

     "I thought as much, by—! I knew when that scoundrel turned back, almost at the first stage, it was to peach!—it"s all out now! no use of bamming you any longer—help me to cut off, that's all; I'm in your hands. Tell me—has Studs blabbed of me to my uncle?"

     "No. He declined at first to mention your name, and this morning it was out of his power to do so. Carey and her son had murdered him."

     "Say you so? the best of their good deeds, by—! They found out the villain's treachery of course. Where did it happen?"

     "We found the body in a coal-hole in their house."

     "Well, good-b'ye, there's but a run for it: will my uncle prosecute me?"

     "Stop, I charge you again, but not on that account. In the horror and revulsion of my heart I leave you to your God for that: and fear nothing from your uncle, he does not yet know who the soldier is that Studs refused to name. I alone, Frank, exclusive of your infernal accomplices, guess you to be the man, because I know you went on furlough to the country. And that brings me to my own point—"

     "How did you hear all about the swag at Long Hall?"

     "From your uncle himself. When I went back to my party, a few hours ago, I knew him the moment I looked upon him; and, having taken an opportunity to say who I was, he told me all the facts I have told you. He told me more, Frank. He told me the real causes of your sudden flight from Ireland, and about the deceptive and shocking letter too, yet unexplained to him, which you wrote from London."

     "There was no deception in that letter. I wrote it a few days before the appointed day when, according to the black-cap, I was to swing; and, without my expecting it,—indeed, without my caring,—a change of the sentence into transportation for life, which they called a merciful pardon, came to hand."

     "And—heavenly Judge of hearts!" exclaimed his companion, much agitated, "from that eventual sentence, which was indeed merciful, you escaped, I suppose, to the place where I met you abroad?"

     "The good preacher is shocked," sneered Frank; "why, Sir, having a wit to do it, would you have me remain the wretch I was?"

     "Horrible!" clasping his hands, as he stepped back, "all this is more dreadful even than I had heard or thought. I had hoped that letter was only a falsehood. I had hoped the husband of Peggy Nowlan—"

     "Pshaw, Sir, let me pass on, I say, or keep me here if you like or dare; for her sake, keep me here: you see I have not a moment to lose; between Maggy, her mother, and brother, and the two other bunglers, my name and identity cannot remain unknown from my uncle and the world, and, considering this, act as you please."

     "Even supposing your accomplices to be silent, there is one man, who, the moment he sees your uncle, from whom he is now separated by chance, will make the discovery: he saw you lurking about Long Hall for some days before the attempted robbery."

     "I guess the man; his name is Conolly."

     "It is. But I wish not, for all we have talked about, to be the person to ensure your fate to you. I bid you stay only to satisfy me on the first question I asked, and out of which our talk has grown. When I told you I did not believe your assertion of the young woman you had in charge being unknown to you, I was bound to show you why, by showing you that your uncle's account of your flight from Ireland was different from your own, and that, by your deliberate falsehoods you had forfeited all claims to my belief: additional reasons now appear why I should doubt you. Yes, Frank; you knew who she was, although I sat by her side in the post- chaise for a hour without guessing the fact. You are not the man, supposing the very halter round your neck, to walk side by side with an innocent country girl, and not gloat your vicious curiosity by a view of her features, at the least. I believe, that while nature or habit has cursed you with a heart fit for any act of crime, your loose love of women is, perhaps, your master-passion. You knew her, I say; what have you done with her? Recollecting all the past, and my newly acquired knowledge of the things you can do, there is room, Frank, for dreadful suspicions of the way in which you may have disposed of her. Come with me to the place where you say you left her."

     "That I cannot do."

     "You had better. The only, or the strongest reason why I do not hold you here till the civil officers come up, is on her account; but on her account also,—and, oh God! perhaps in a more serious sense! I must detain you until—Eternal Providence!"—the speaker interrupted himself, and catching Frank's arm, stared up the street, as if a spectre approached him.

     "What's the matter now? why do you turn white and shake so? Let go of my arm."

     "Look look, Frank Adams—my father!"

     Daniel Nowlan, indeed, at that moment came up.

     "Let us pass him, or turn off—come—I was not prepared for this, so soon—I cannot face the old man now; turn back with me."

     But the afflicted father did not allow them time to walk away.

     "I ask pardon, gentlemen," he said, in a hoarse, exhausted voice, "a thousand pardons," getting before them and confronting them, "but I am looking for my child."

     "Sir?" interrupted John Nowlan, meaning to affect a tone of indifference, while his pale features, and particularly his mouth, worked with a choking emotion.

     "I meant no offence, gentlemen, and I'm sorry——," pulling off, in the weakness of his mind and body, his broad-brimmed hat.

     "Put it on, Sir! put it on! it is not to us, or such as us, your grey hairs should be exposed," again interrupted John.

     "Thanks, Sir," bowing repeatedly, "many, many thanks: I see you pity me, and, God knows, I want it; for the ould heart in my body within is a'most broke, at last;—oh, gentlemen, you're sodgers, and you ought to have a mind to help the wake an' the disthresssed: an' indeed, indeed, I'm wake an' disthressed."

     "How's that, Sir? Is it poverty? you do not seem a poor man."

     "Of this world's wealth I have enough; of its joys, too, God blessed me with an arly store; but as arly—welcome be the will o' the Lord—began to take from it. I had a son, Sir, an only son—but no matther, that's not it; an' I'm botherin' you, as I see by your looks. My present business in Dublin is this:—I came here to look afther that son, now not seen this many a long day: I tuck the sickness; it a'most brought me to death's dour: my family knew nothing of it till a few days agone; then, Sir, my daughther Peggy left home to see afther me, but is now in Dublin, an' never came next or near me, an' we can't make her off. It's said she was last seen wid a sodger, Sir, an' that's why I make bould to come fornent you; an' more, agin—"

     "Has she not yet called at the place you stopped, Sir?" interrupted John.

     "Avoch, Sir, no; never a call."

     "You see, Frank," speaking aside to him, "here is proof of my suspicion; so now, at least, account to me for my sister."

     "Don't, gentlemen, don't lave me yet," resumed the old man, following them; "I was a-goin' to tell you more o' my thrials;—an' here they are. The night after Peggy left the poor cabin, sure it was robbed an' spoiled of all the money in it; an"—och, sad is my heart to say it!—robbed of my other poor child, at the same time—"

     "God of heaven!—what's that you say, Sir?"

     "Kind gentleman," continued Daniel Nowlan, while he clasped his hands, cried like a child, and shook all over—"it's the thruth I'm tellin' you—the man that took my gould took my darlin' Anty, too: an' some that are as had as he, an' that went down to the poor counthry wid him on another robbery, it seems,—why, them people say that he was dhressed like one o ye, gentlemen, a sodger like—but I mane no offence again—an' I ax pardon again for it's sure I am he was no sodger, nor no thrue man neither to do what he done."

     After a moment's pause, during which he made a great effort to keep in his rising passion, John Nowlan again took Frank aside. "I always hoped, Frank," he began, in a conciliating tone, "and I try to hope still, that you were and are a fair fellow on some points: I think, at least, that you will not continue the misery you see before you, and of which you have been the cause:—where are my sisters? where, in particular, is poor little Anty?"

     "By Heaven, I know nothing of either."

     "Don't outface me, Frank. This is a desperate case. Don't make me as desperate."

     "Gentlemen," resumed Daniel Nowlan, a second time breaking in on their private discourse, "may be, it's talkin' about it to thry an' help me ye are; an' so I ought to tell ye a word more. Afther Anty left home, she was seen along wid Peggy, however they came together, near the gate of Richmond Barracks, an' they say the two girls went off, arm in arm, wid the sodger I first spoke to ye about."

     "Well," resumed John, in a whisper, "I do not pretend to understand all your ways, or all that has happened, Frank; but, by this last account, both my sisters are traced into your hands: what have you done with them? Come, man, I do not believe you are so bad as to turn the deaf ear to my question: we have been comrades, Frank, in toil and danger—we have been friends, brothers—" wringing his hand hard, while his voice failed and the tears flowed—"where are they?"

     "I will answer you truly, on my life and soul. When I brought them into a house."

     "A house!"—but go on.

     "A ruffianly country fellow forced them from me, and I have not heard of them since."

     "Take care, Frank, I say again. In this matter you see, if shame or ruin in any shame has come upon them, I am a party to it. So come, where are they?"

     "I have already answered."

     "Monster! where are they?" collaring him, and speaking in the loudest tone, while old Daniel Nowlan now began to look on John in some misgiving: "where is your first victim, poor Peggy? and where is the other innocent girl? where are my sisters? tell me now, man! the truth in one word!"

     "Who calls them his sisters?" asked Daniel, as he stood trembling with clasped hands, and gazing, through tears, into John's face; "the Lord be praised for all his wondhers and blessins! praise be to God! Is it their brother and my poor lost boy, John Nowlan?"

     "Father, it is!" turning to him, as he still held Frank—"the wretched outcast, John Nowlan, who is at last punished in a ten-fold curse for all his doings! I dare not kneel down to you yet, father,—though I will,—I dare not yet ask you to forgive me; something is to go before that—"

     The old man, rendered almost insensible by his weakness and many sudden emotions, took off his hat, dropped, half stupified, on his knees in the street, and with extended arms and pallid lips, continued to mutter, "Praise be to God! the Lord be praised for all things!" A crowd began to stop and gather round.

     "Deceitful, treacherous, and lying villain!" pursued John to Frank, "keep me no longer in this doubt! give me up this old man's daughters! Do they yet live for his grey hairs, or live worthy of them? Answer me! Dare not repeat a word of your lying story! this moment lead me to them! this moment! or if you do not, or if they are not forthcoming, or if there has fallen upon that innocent child one spot, one stain, though no more than the touch of one vile finger, by Him that is to judge between us, I will wrench you limb from limb, joint from joint!"

     "Let me go! I say, I have answered you."

     "Liar and ruffian!" drawing his bayonet.

     "John! John Nowlan, a-vich!" here cried his father, moving on his knees, and encircling those of his son with his arms: "John, ma-bouchal, never mind him a-while, but turn to the poor father; give me your two hands, and let me kiss your lips, John Nowlan, my son, my own an' only boy!"

     He clasped John's knees close. The sinner uttered a heart-rending cry, and only pausing to dart his bayonet into its sheath, and to say to the by-standers "Secure him! he is a robber! a murderer! all that is bad!" disengaged his father's arms, lifted him up, received his embrace, and then flung himself lowly and in great agony at his feet.

     In turn, the old man instantly strove to raise him; some of the spectators assisted him, for he was badly able himself; and again they were locked in each other's arms.

     "Don't cry, a-cuishla, don't, don't, it'll all pass by, an' we'll live to see it; we'll buy you out from among the sodgers, an' the Father in heaven 'ill forgive you as I do, for my sake an' my prayers, an' for all our sakes; an' when Peggy an' Anty is found, an' brought home again—"

     John's attention was here diverted by Frank's voice, and his struggles to escape. He darted upon him like a tiger.

     "Keep him fast!" he cried.

     "You needn't tell us to do that," said a man in a strong English accent; "he is now my prisoner; I have been looking him up some time, and have just arrested him on a warrant from a London office, for getting tired of Van's Land before his time; but, whatever is your concern with the youth, you can attend him to the next of your own police-offices at hand."

     "Yes, that is the only way left; and now the loss of a second's time is a sin against Heaven. Come, man, no resisting! one struggle, one word, and I'll stab you to the heart! come and show me that, through you, I have not shamed, hideously shamed, or murdered my own sisters, the children of my own mother! and that the curse of father, mother, and sisters—of man and nature—is not, along with every thing else, fallen upon my head!— Come, Sir," turning to his father, while he held Frank hard; and Daniel Nowlan, and a commiserating or wondering crowd, accordingly followed him, Frank, and the London officer.