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“O my poor fellows, and what in the world is the matter?-and what has happened to you?” cried Connor.
At first they could hardly speak, but after a few minutes' pause told their tale of distress. They informed Connor that the pathway they took led them into a small thick wood, and that they were attacked by six desperate men with heavy sticks in their hands, and their faces blackened with bog-dirt ; and that, besides having been robbed of both their packs, stripped of most of their clothes, and all their money, they had been cruelly abused and beaten. They added also, that they were quite sure, by their voices, that two at least of the number among these villians had been their companions at the inn where they had passed the previous night. Connor heard their tale with pity, and felt great regret that he had not given the pedlars an equal share of the farmer's first piece of advice. But then, again, he reflected that they would probably have only laughed at it, and mentally added,—who knows but I'd have gone with them, after all, if I had not kissed the book ? Such consolation as it was in his power to bestow was freely administered by poor Connor; and, low as his own stock of silver was, he not only gave them a shilling a-piece from his little pittance, but promised he would send them speedy assistance from the town. Nor did he fail to do so, or cease to thank God that he had followed the counsel of one who seemed much better aware than himself of what might happen to him ; though, while congratulating himself in this way, his conscience smote him as he called to mind his secret thoughts when receiving Fitzpatrick's advice, and that he had gone so far as to whisper to himself upon that occasion that he was listening only to a piece of nonsense. Indeed, he was in two minds whether he should not return and ask the farmer's pardon on his knees, and also admit that he was already his debtor, seeing that if he had not been previously instructed by a much wiser head, he would at this very moment have found himself stripped of everything he possessed, and beaten, wounded, or perhaps killed, into the bargain!
Having sent people from the town to the assistance of the unhappy pedlars, he hastened through it, and walking briskly forward, came at length to a clear spring by the road-side, where he sat down, and with a keen appetite attacked the good mistress's loaf, concluding with a draught of pure water. He then washed his face, hands, and feet, and praying for his late master, and thanking God for so great an escape, he pursued his journey rapidly till the close of day.
Connor had by this time crossed the county of Tipperary, and had just reached the borders of the county of Limerick, when the night became so dark that he could hardly find his way. He had hoped to have reached a cabin a little beyond O'Brien's bridge, in the county of Clare, the owner of which he knew; but he was tired enough with his march, and therefore the better pleased to discern a light in the window of a large farm-house, which he approached, and knocking first at the door, and then entering with the usual sa. lutation of "God save all here!” was kindly received by a young girl, who told him he would be welcome.
Connor, having walked forward into the large kitchen, was much cheered by the sight of a blazing fire. He sat down upon a stool, and, "reddening his pipe," began, as usual, to smoke and chat with
those about him. To this succeeded some hot potatoes, with a can of milk, brought by the servant girl ; and when he had satisfied his appetite, he began to look about him, and soon saw that he was indeed in a most comfortable house, where everything denoted an abundance of wealth. Many hams and flitches of bacon were hanging up in goodly rows over his head; the dressers were loaded with bright pewter dishes of all sorts and sizes ; there were two closets with glass doors, through which he saw a great deal of china and silver; and the lowing of cattle, bleating of sheep, and grunting of pigs (sounds so familiar to his ears), denoted as well-stocked a farm as Fitzpatrick's.
His eyes were next directed to the inmates of the house,—and the first person that attracted his attention was a fine handsome young woman, very gaily dressed. She was bustling about here and there, but he remarked that she would sometimes stop before the clock, as if wishing the time to move on a little faster. He then observed two very decent men, who appeared like middling farmers on their way to a fair; and, on addressing them, he found his conjectures right,—that they were bound to the fair of O'Brien's Bridge, and had stopped at the house a short time before he came. But to his farther questions, as to whom the house belonged, they were nearly as ignorant as himself, knowing only that the proprietor's name was Kennedy; for they had come from a greater distance than the spalpeen himself.
Connor had frequently noticed the figure of a remarkably fine old man, with white hair, who was seated in a comfortable arm-chair near the fire, and had more than once spoken words of kindness to them all. He appeared, however, much fatigued, and his boots, which were drying near him, showed that he had been lately on horseback. He had evidently had his dinner, and could hardly keep himself awake, but would every now and then give a yawn, rub his hands, and look towards the clock, as if impatient for bed-time, when the young handsome woman wonld come to him, and pat him on the cheek, and caress him.
The travellers could not tell Connor who this old gentleman was, but said they supposed it must be the young woman's father, and that they had no doubt she would be a rich prize for a bachelor. His curiosity, however, was not yet satisfied. He had still an unaccountable desire to know more about the place and its inmates; and, watching his opportunity when the servant girl was occupied near him, he asked her, and was immediately told that the old man was her master, and the young lady her mistress, and that they had been married a few months before, and were consequently man and wife.
No sooner had Connor heard this, but the second piece of advice given by Fitzpatrick came much more vividly to his remembrance than the first. “ Whenever you
have occasion to stop at any sheebeen or farm-house you do not know, particularly at night, look well about you ; and if you should happen to see that the owner of the house is an old man, and the mistress young and handsome, away with you as soon as you can! But do not lie down, or sleep a wink in that house.”
The words, “ away with you—do not lie down or sleep a wink in that house," seemed actually to ring in his ears.
He had Fitzpatrick's image before him, and the words, “ Have you got this by heart ? ” were repeated, as by an echo, in his breast. He therefore watched his opportunity, and when the old gentleman's time for going to bed had arrived, and the mistress and servant were attending him up stairs, and the travellers, drawing closer to the fire, had turned their backs towards him, he rose, and quietly raising the latch of the yard-door, slipped out of the house without making any noise.
It was a cold stormy night; and, creeping forward with the greatest caution, he soon found that he was in the haggard, where there appeared to him to be a great number of stacks of corn and hay. Wishing for a little rest, and with the intention of regaining the highway very early in the morning, he settled himself as snugly as he could on one side of a haystack least exposed to the wind, and drawing as much hay about him as he could do without making a noise, he expected soon to be asleep. In this, however, he found himself mistaken; for what with thoughts of his wife and children, and Fitzpatrick's family, and the pieces of advice, and the pedlars and the robbers, and all that he had seen upon the road, to say nothing of the old man and his young handsome wife, not a good wink of sleep could he get. Now and then he would perhaps doze a little; but the slightest grunt of a pig, or movement of a cow, or horse in a stable, would cause a start, accompanied by an indescribable dread, so that he now lost all drowsiness. It did not escape his notice that there was not a single man, or boy, or dog, about the premises. This used not to be the way at Fitzpatrick's, he thought to himself. By and by he heard the kitchen clock strike eleven, when immediately after a curtain was drawn against a small window, where a light had been burning, the candle was put out, and everything seemed hushed and tranquil in sleep.
“ And now,” said Connor to himself, “ don't you think but you're a great fool, to have thrust yourself out of a warm kitchen, and gone to bed to a great stack of hay, when you might have had a shakedown by a good kitchen fire ? — and not to be able to sleep a wink, after all, barring a nod or two, and a doze now and again, and thinking of thieves, and robbers, and cut-throats, and — but what's that?
Intently did Connor listen, for-he surely heard the approach of a horse. The kitchen clock had long struck twelve-it might be now nearly one in the morning ; but he could be no longer mistaken. The horse approached nearer and nearer, he heard some one dismounting, - then the gate was opened, and a person advanced leading the horse. Connor held his breath, and lay quite still, while he could distinctly trace the outline of a figure, which seemed to be approaching the very spot where he was concealed ; and, in fact, had the man advanced two steps farther, he must have stumbled over the poor spalpeen.
Fortunate indeed was it for Connor that he had neither been perceived by the stranger, nor had been missed from the kitchen, where, most probably, it had been supposed that he had coiled himself up in some corner, and gone to sleep. The man, who appeared tall and powerful, pulled off his great coat, and laid it over the saddle of his horse. Connor was then horrified by hearing the ominous “click” of a pistol. A cold perspiration settled on his
forehead; but he breathed more freely as the figure went stealthily to the little window, at which he gave a gentle tap, stood for a minute, and then came back to the horse. Happily this time he stood nearer to the house, and farther from Connor,—that is, he left his horse between Connor and himself; and this most probably saved the life of the poor spalpeen, who had yet as good a view as a cloudy night would permit, from nearly under the belly of the horse.
Two minutes more had scarcely elapsed, when Connor could discern the form of a female issuing from the door, and approaching the stack. In another moment she and the man were embracing each other, and in a short time the following dialogue ensued.
“ Then you've kept your word at last.” “ How could I refuse you anything ?”
Denis, do you now mean to say you will do it?" “ I do. I have made up my mind,-for I cannot live without you any longer. But may I depend upon your promise afterwards ?" “ You may. I will marry you in three months, and
property in your hands.”
“What property, Mary? What will it be, do you think?”
“ Oh, more than we shall ever want. The old man has five thousand in the bank, and a lease for ever of the farm, and has five hundred in his bureau. I saw him count the money out when he came from Limerick.”
“ But the will !-has he signed it?”
“He has—it was signed last week, and everything left to me. He has it in the bureau, under the bag of money." “ Then
think there would be no use waiting. A few months might finish him in a natural way.”
“ And is it again you're hanging back? Oh, very well—just as you please. You'd better go home, then, the way you came.
“ Me go home, Mary !-me leave you, that I love to distraction !”
“ I was only trying you, Denis. But remember his son may be back from the Indies sooner than we expect, and take everything. No one knows he's alive but you and me.” “ Enough, jewel,—I'm ready. Have you sent the men and dogs
They all went last night with some cattle. Have you the pistols ?
“ Yes—loaded heavily."
“ Follow me now gently. We must do it without noise, if possible—and the travellers in the kitchen must bear all. I have got the marks of their shoes made all round the bed.”
More of this dreadful dialogue Connor could not hear; but he saw the guilty couple walk to the door, and, entering the house, shut it after them, and all was still.
A thousand ideas had crowded on the poor spalpeen's mind as he lay in a protracted agony of fear and suspense. Once or twice he had felt himself on the point of starting up and giving the alarm ; but there were none to help him, and his life would surely be sacrificed, -and then, thought he, what would Nelly and the children do? So he sat, or rather continued to lie still, (as well, perhaps, he might) till the door shut, and then warily and gently stole from his
ambush; not, however, till he had returned thanks to God for his escape, and again in his heart gratefully thought of the honest farmer and his counsels. True, his conscience smote him, as it often did afterwards, that he could hit upon no stratagem nor think of any means to avert so foul a murder ; but he used to say, “ that fellow Denis was such a fierce giant of a fellow, that I durst not face him with his cocked pistols!" Yet in this strange terror and confusion of ideas one thought did occur to him, which many a bolder or cleverer man might not have hit upon. With great presence of mind, he resolved, before he left the yard, to make some distinct marks by which, if necessary, the villain might be identified; for, though fully satisfied as to the woman, he felt that he could not swear to a feature of the man's face, neither to his voice, as everything he had heard passed in a whisper.
Quickly acting upon this idea, and feeling for the penknife which he had purchased from the unhappy pedlars for his boy Jemmy, he laid hole of the great-coat which had been thrown across the saddle of the horse ; and turning up the collar, he cut from the inside of it a small round piece of cloth, which he carefully put into his pocket. “ By this, perhaps,” exclaimed Connor to himself, “ this villanous business may be discovered. And yet this token may be lost or stolen. What more can I do?” And with that he pierced with the sharp point of the knife three little holes in the middle of the horse's rein, so small that they could never be noticed by any one else. “ These," added Connor, “ may help likewise." And having thus performed all that he could do, or at least think of, in the business, the spalpeen stole as quietly as he could out of the yard, and with some difficulty regained the high road.
As the day broke, Connor found himself once more, after an absence of three years, in the county of Clare. He had now a march of not more than twenty-eight miles to his village ; and, as he passed cabin after cabin, he began to feel himself almost at home. The very air of his native hills invigorated his footsteps, and in idea he seemed almost upon the threshold of his own cabin.
There was an acquaintance of his who lived at Broadford, a picturesque and neat little village lying at the extremity of a wild mountain range, which extends from Killaloe to that neighbourhood; and here he stopped, as other travellers generally do, and was satisfied with an excellent breakfast. After all his fatigue and loss of rest, it is no wonder that he should yield to the solicitation of his friend, “ just to take a stretch upon his bed.” He did so, nor did he awake till the afternoon. Thus it was nearly nine at night ere he passed through the town of Corrofin, and past ten before he reached his own cabin.
Connor paused a while before the door, and then looked eagerly in through the little window. However humble, the place had a tidy look, such as his faithful Nelly had always preserved about it. He could see his bed by the light of a fire, which seemed to have been recently made up, and was burning brightly, as if to welcome and cheer his heart. He was also able to distinguish his homely chairs and dresser just as he had left them, but, as he fancied, in still better order.
Those who have been so long separated from objects most dear and tender to the soul of man may well imagine the feelings of his,