Kilgorman A Story of Ireland in 1798
By Talbot Baines Reed This was Reed's last book, written even as he lay dying, presumably from cancer. It is a very well-written book, and is very interesting, even though as in the works of Kingston and Collingwood there are a lot of swimming episodes.
The time of the story is in the 1790s, during the French Revolution, which we see at close quarters during our hero's time in France. We also visit Rotterdam, in Holland. But most of the action, at least that which takes place on dry land, takes place in Donegal, that long wild part of Ireland that lies to its extreme north-west.
There are several lines of the story. One of these is the great love that exists between the hero and his twin brother. Another is the question, Are they brothers? For only one person actually knows, and she is far away: the hint that there is a problem is given in a dying note by the woman that passed as the boys' mother. The third theme is, as always with Ireland, plotting for an uprising against English rule. In this department nothing changes.
Yes, it is a brilliant book, complemented by an "In Memoriam" article about the life of the author. KILGORMAN A STORY OF IRELAND IN 1798
BY TALBOT BAINES REED
Preface, by John Sime
By the death of Talbot B. Reed the boys of the English-speaking world have lost one of their best friends. For fourteen years he has contributed to their pleasure, and in the little library of boys' books which left his pen he has done as much as any writer of our day to raise the standard of boys' literature. His books are alike removed from the old-fashioned and familiar class of boys' stories, which, meaning well, generally baffled their own purpose by attempting to administer morality and doctrine on what Reed called the "powder-in-jam" principle—a process apt to spoil the jam, yet make "the powder" no less nauseous; or, on the other hand, the class of book that dealt in thrilling adventure of the blood-curdling and "penny dreadful" order. With neither of these types have Talbot Reed's boys' books any kinship. His boys are of flesh and blood, such as fill our public schools, such as brighten or "make hay" of the peace of our homes. He had the rare art of hitting off boy-nature, with just that spice of wickedness in it without which a boy is not a boy. His heroes have always the charm of bounding, youthful energy, and youth's invincible hopefulness, and the constant flow of good spirits which have made the boys of all time perennially interesting.
The secret of Reed's success in this direction was that all through life, as every one who had the privilege of knowing him can testify, he possessed in himself the healthy freshness of heart of boyhood. He sympathised with the troubles and joys, he understood the temptations, and fathomed the motives that sway and mould boy-character; he had the power of depicting that side of life with infinite humour and pathos, possible only to one who could place himself sympathetically at the boys' stand-point in life. Hence the wholesomeness of tone and the breezy freshness of his work. His boy-heroes are neither prigs nor milk-sops, but in their strength and weakness they are the stuff which ultimately makes our best citizens and fathers; they are the boys who, later in life, with healthy minds in healthy bodies, have made the British Empire what it is.
A special and pathetic interest attaches to this story of "Kilgorman," the last that left Talbot Reed's pen. It was undertaken while he was yet in the prime of his strength and vigour. The illness which ultimately, alas, ended fatally had already laid hold on him ere he had well begun the book. In intervals of ease during his last illness he worked at it, sometimes in bed, sometimes in his armchair: it is pleasant to think that he so enjoyed the work that its production eased and soothed many a weary hour for him, and certainly never was other than a recreation to him.
The pen dropped from his hand ere he had quite completed the work, yet, as the book stands here, it is much as he meant to leave it. The figures of Barry Gallagher, and Tim, and the charming Kit will take their places in the delightful gallery of his young people, and their adventures by land and by sea will be followed with an increased interest that they are the last that can come from his brilliant pen.
Talbot Reed came of a right good English stock, both on his father's and his mother's side. His grandfather, Dr Andrew Reed, a Nonconformist minister of note in his day, left his mark in some of the soundest philanthropic undertakings of the century. His thoughtfulness and self- sacrificing energy have lightened the sufferings and soothed the old age of many thousands. He was one of the founders of the London, Reedham, and Infant Orphan Asylums, the Earlswood Asylum for Idiots, and the Royal Hospital for Incurables. His son, Sir Charles Reed, and grandsons, have done yeoman service in carrying on to the present day the noble work begun by him.
Talbot was the third son of the late Sir Charles Reed, Member of Parliament for Hackney, and latterly for Saint Ives (Cornwall). His mother, Lady Reed, was the youngest daughter of Mr Edward Baines, Member of Parliament for Leeds. She was a lady of saintly life, of infinite gentleness and sweetness of heart, with extraordinary strength and refinement of mind, reverenced and loved by her sons and daughters, and by none more than by Talbot Reed, who bore a strong resemblance to her alike in disposition and in physical appearance.
The service that Sir Charles Reed did for his generation, both in Parliament and as Chairman of the London School Board, and in connection with many of the religious and philanthropic movements of his time, are too well known to be recapitulated here.
Talbot B. Reed was born on the 3rd of April 1852, at Hackney. His first schoolmaster was Mr Anderton of Priory House School, Upper Clapton, under whose care he remained until he was thirteen years of age. He retained through life a feeling of warm affection to Mr Anderton, who thoroughly prepared him for the more serious work ahead of him. Only a year or two ago, Reed was one of the most active of Mr Anderton's old pupils in organising a dinner in honour of his former master.
In 1865 Talbot was entered at the City of London School, then located in Milk Street, Cheapside, under the headship of Dr Abbot, where he spent four happy and industrious years of his boyhood. He is described by Mr Vardy, a school-comrade, in the course of a recent interesting article by the Editor of the Boy's Own Paper, as being at this period "a handsome boy, strong and well proportioned, with a frank open face, black hair, and lively dark eyes, fresh complexion, full of life and vigour, and with a clear ringing voice ... He was audacious with that charming audacity that suits some boys. On one occasion he had very calmly absented himself from the class-room during a temporary engagement by the French master, who, having returned before he was expected, and while Reed was away, demanded by what leave he had left the class-room. Reed replied with (as he would probably have expressed it) 'awful cheek,' 'If you please, sir, I took "French" leave!'"
Reed was popular at school both with masters and boys. His initials, "T.B.," soon became changed familiarly into "Tib," by which endearing nickname Mr Vardy says he was known to the last by the comrades of his school-days.
It is interesting, in the light of the prominence which in all his school stories he properly gave to out-of-door sports and athletic exercises, to have it, on the authority of his old school-fellow, that he excelled in all manly exercises. He was a first-rate football- player, and a good all-round cricketer; he was an excellent oar, and a fairly good swimmer; and until the last few months of his life no man could enjoy with more zest a game of quoits, or tennis, or a day devoted to the royal game of golf. In the early days of his manhood, with characteristic unselfishness, he risked his own life on one occasion by leaping from a rock into the sea, on the wild north Irish coast, to bring safely ashore his cousin (and life-long friend, Mr Talbot Baines, the distinguished editor of the Leeds Mercury), who has told me that he would, without Reed's prompt and plucky aid, inevitably have been drowned.
The large contribution he made to literature in later days amply serves to prove that the more serious studies of school were never neglected for his devotion to sport. He seldom missed the old boys' annual dinner of the City of London School. In proposing a toast at a recent dinner, he reminded Mr Asquith, M.P. (a school-fellow of Reed's) that at the school debating society they had "led off" on separate sides in a wordy battle on the red-hot controversy of "Queen Elizabeth versus Queen Mary." Every boy who has read "Sir Ludar" will remember that the hero of that charming story and Humphrey Dexter fall to blows on the same dangerous subject.
I cannot find that in his masterly pictures of public school life he drew much from his experiences at the City of London School, except, perhaps, in a few details, such as the rivalry which he describes so vividly as existing between the fifth and sixth forms in his delightful book, "The Fifth Form at Saint Dominic's." In Reed's day there was no such "set" among the juniors at the City of London School as the "guinea-pigs" and "tadpoles," who play so important a part in the story; but in a room devoted to the juniors, known as the "horse-shoe," in the old school buildings in Milk Street, many of the pranks and battles of the "guinea-pigs" and "tadpoles" were played and fought.
In 1869, at the age of seventeen, Reed left school, and joined his father and elder brother Andrew in the great firm of type-founders in Fann Street. He threw himself with strenuous application into the new work, maintaining at the same time with equal keenness his interest in football, wishing nothing better than a fierce game—"three hacks on one leg, and four on the other," as he said, and glorying in his wounds. The same strenuous energy applied to his reading at this period. A friend tells me that in a letter about this time he speaks of devouring "five of Scott's novels in a month, resulting in parental remonstrance; history; and a Greek play, in which he is not so 'rusty' as he feared." In Fann Street his practical business energies found free play, although the bias of his mind undoubtedly lay towards literature rather than commerce; but for nearly a quarter of a century he devoted himself to this work with a degree of success that was to be expected of his talents, the conscientious uprightness of his character, and his unceasing industry. At the death of Sir Charles Reed, and of his brother Andrew, Talbot became the managing director of the Type-foundry, and held that position to the time of his death.
Reed had not long left school when his creative literary instincts began to assert themselves. His apprenticeship in literature may be said to have been served in the editing of an exceedingly clever family magazine, called The Earlsmead Chronicle, which circulated in the family and among friends.
His earliest printed effort appeared in 1875, in a little magazine for young people, called The Morning of Life (published in America by Messrs. Thomas Nelson and Sons. It is, by the way, a noteworthy coincidence that his first and last printed work should have been issued by this house). His contribution to The Morning of Life was an account in two parts of a boating expedition on the Thames, entitled "Camping Out." It has in it the promise of the freshness and vigour that were in such abundant degree characteristic of all his later descriptions of boy life.
It was in the pages of the Boy's Own Paper that Reed found his metier. Its editor writes: "From the very first number of the paper Mr Reed has been so closely and continuously identified with it, that his removal creates a void it will be impossible to fill." Any one looking through the volumes of this most admirably-conducted boys' paper will see that Talbot Reed's work is indeed the backbone of it. In Number One, Volume One, the first article, "My First Football Match," is by him; and during that year (1879) and the following years he wrote vivid descriptions of cricket-matches, boat-races; "A Boating Adventure at Parkhurst;" "The Troubles of a Dawdler;" and a series of papers on "Boys in English History." There was also a series of clever sketches of boy life, called "Boys we have Known," "The Sneak," "The Sulky Boy," "The Boy who is never Wrong," etcetera.
These short flights led the way, and prepared him for the longer and stronger flights that were to follow. In 1880 his first boys' book began to appear in the Boy's Own Paper, entitled "The Adventures of a Three-Guinea Watch." Charlie Newcome, the youthful hero, is a charming creation, tenderly and pathetically painted, and the story abounds in thrilling incident, and in that freshness of humour which appears more or less in all the Public School Stories. In the following year came a story of much greater power, "The Fifth Form at Saint Dominic's," by many boys considered the best of all his stories. It deserves to take its place on the shelf beside "Tom Brown's Schooldays." Indeed, a youthful enthusiast who had been reading "The Fifth Form" and "Tom Brown" about the same time, confided to me that while in the latter book he had learned to know and love one fine type of boy, in the former he learned to know and to love a whole school. The two brothers, Stephen and Oliver Greenfield, and Wraysford, and Pembury, and Loman stand out with strong personality and distinctness; and especially admirable is the art with which is depicted the gradual decadence of character in Loman, step by step, entangled in a maze of lies, and degraded by vice until self-respect is nigh crushed out.
"The Fifth Form at Saint Dominic's" was followed in 1882 by "My Friend Smith;" in 1883 came "The Willoughby Captains" (by many considered his best work); 1885 saw "Reginald Cruden;" and in the same year appeared "Follow My Leader." This story—an excellent example of Reed's peculiar power and originality in depicting school life—he wrote in three months; a feat the full significance of which is best known to those who were aware how full his mind and his hands were at that time of other pressing work. Yet the book shows no marks of undue haste.
In 1886 came "A Dog with a Bad Name," followed in 1887 by "The Master of the Shell." In 1889 Reed made a new and successful departure in "Sir Ludar: A Story of the Days of the Great Queen Bess." Here he broke away from school life, and carried his youthful readers back to the Elizabethans and the glorious incident of the Armada. There is a fine "go" and "swing" in the style of this story which recalls Kingsley to us at his best.
Following hard on "Sir Ludar" came in the same year (1889) "Roger Ingleton, Minor," a story dealing with young men rather than boys, although Tom Oliphant, a delightful boy, and Jill Oliphant, his sister, take their places among the most lovable of his youthful creations.
In "The Cock-house at Fellsgarth" (1891), and in "Dick, Tom, and Harry" (1892), Reed returned to school life for the materials of his plots, and in these fully maintained his reputation. In addition to these stories, most of which have appeared, or are about to appear, in volume form, he contributed many short stories and sketches to the Christmas and Summer numbers of the Boy's Own. These are also, I am glad to learn, being collected for publication in volume form.
In "Kilgorman," the last of the series of boys' books from his gifted hand, as in "Sir Ludar," he displays a fine historic sense—a capacity of living back to other times and picturing the people of another generation. Much of the scene of "Kilgorman" and of "Sir Ludar" is laid in Ireland—in the north and north-western corners of it—of all the localities in the United Kingdom perhaps the dearest to Reed's heart.
To him, in more senses than one, Ireland was a land of romance. The happiest associations of his life were there. There he wooed and won his wife, the daughter of Mr Greer, M.P. for the County of Londonderry; and he and she loved to return with ever new pleasure to inhale the pure air of Castle-rock or Ballycastle, or to enjoy the quiet of a lonely little resting-place in Donegal, on the banks of Lough Swilly, to recuperate after a year's hard work in London. It was something to see the sunshine on Reed's beautiful face when the time approached for his visit to the "Emerald Isle." When he was sore stricken in the last illness, he longed with a great longing to return, and did return, to Ireland, hoping and believing that what English air had failed to do might come to pass there. Three weeks before his death he writes to me from Ballycastle, County Antrim: "I wish you could see this place to-day bathed in sunlight, Rathlin Island in the offing, Fair Head with its stately profile straight across the bay, and beyond, in blue and grey, the lonely coast of Cantire, backed by Goatfell and the lovely hills of Argyle." He loved Ireland.
But for himself and for his family there were in Ireland associations of sadness that made the place sacred to him. His young and beloved brother Kenneth, with a comrade and kinsman, W.J. Anderson, in 1879 started on a canoe trip in Ireland, intending to explore the whole course of the Shannon and the Blackwater, together with the connecting links of lake and sea. In a gale of wind on Lough Allen—known as the "wicked Lough"—the canoes were both upset, and the two young men were drowned.
The shock in the family circle can be imagined. It was the beginning of many sorrows. Two years later, in 1881, Sir Charles Reed died; and in 1883 the family was again plunged into grief by the sad death of Talbot's eldest brother ("my 'father confessor' in all times of trouble," Talbot used to say of him), the Reverend Charles Edward Reed, who was accidentally killed by a fall over a precipice while he was on a walking expedition in Switzerland. Lady Reed, it may be here said, died in June 1891.
While most people will think that Talbot Reed's boys' books are his best bequest to literature, he considered them of less importance in the work of his life than his book entitled "A History of the Old English Letter Foundries; with Notes Historical and Bibliographical on the Rise and Progress of English Typography" (Elliot Stock, 1887), the preparation of which cost him ten years of research and labour. His boys' books were the spontaneous utterance of his joyous nature, and their production he regarded in the light of a recreation amid the more serious affairs of life. He had an ambition, which the results of his labour fully justified, to be regarded as an authority on Typography. I can remember his amusement, and perhaps annoyance, when he had gone down to a Yorkshire town to deliver a lecture on some typographical subject, to find that the walls and hoardings of the town were decorated with posters, announcing the lecture as by "Talbot B. Reed, author of 'A Dog with a Bad Name!'"
But all scholars and book-lovers will regard this work of his on "The History of the Old English Letter Foundries" as being of supreme value. In it, as he himself says, he tells the story of the fifteenth century heroes of the punch and matrix and mould, who made English printing an art ere yet the tyranny of an age of machinery was established. Whatever Talbot Reed's pen touched it adorned, and in the light of his mind what seemed dry and dusty corners of literary history became alive with living human interest.
Besides this great work, he edited the book left unfinished by his friend Mr Blades, entitled "The Pentateuch of Printing," to which he added a biographical memoir of Mr Blades.
All that related to the craft of printing was profoundly interesting to Reed, whether viewed from the practical, or the historic, or the artistic side. His types were to him no mere articles of commerce, they were objects of beauty; to him the craft possessed the fascination of having a great history, and the legitimate pride of having played a great part in the world.
Reed delivered more than one admirable public lecture on subjects related to the art of printing. One he delivered at the Society of Arts, on "Fashions in Printing" (for which he received one of the Society's silver medals), and another on "Baskerville," the interesting type-founder and printer of Birmingham in the last century, to whom a chapter of "The History" is devoted.
Only two years before his death Reed was one of a small band of book- lovers who founded the Bibliographical Society, a body which aims at making easier, by the organising of literature, the labours of literary men, librarians, and students generally. From its start he undertook, in the midst of many pressing personal duties, the arduous task of honorary secretaryship of the young society—an office which he regarded as one of great honour and usefulness, but which entailed upon him, at a time when his health could ill bear the strain, hard organising and clerical work, cheerfully undertaken, and continued until a few weeks before his death. The first two published Parts of the Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, edited by him, are models of what such work ought to be.
Reed was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and for many years was an active member of the Library Association. His own library of books bearing on Typography, Bibliography, and many a kindred subject, the harvest of many years' collecting, is unique. It was a pleasure to see the expression of Reed's face when he came upon a new book really after his mind, or, still better, an old book, "Anything fifteenth century or early sixteenth," he used to say; any relic or scrap from Caxton's or De Worde's Press; any specimen of a "truant type" on the page of an early book; or a Caslon, or a Baskerville in good condition; or one of the beauties from Mr Morris's modern Press. Charles Lamb himself could not have looked more radiant or more happy in the sense of possession.
Reed laboured successfully also in another department of literature—in journalism. For many years he wrote a non-political leading article each week for the Leeds Mercury. His wide culture, his quiet humour, and light, graceful touch, were qualities that gave to his journalistic work far more than an ephemeral value. In politics Reed was a life-long Liberal; he utterly disapproved, however, of Mr Gladstone's latter-day policy in Ireland. Reed was a member of the Reform Club and of the Savile Club.
In these notes I have written rather of Reed's work than of the man himself. This is as he would have had it. There was in him a magnetic charm that attracted all who came near him, and which bound his friends to him as by "hooks of steel." Erect and manly in bearing, he stepped along, never apparently in a hurry, never dawdling. One had only to look in his beautiful face, the bright kind eyes, the high wide brow, and to come under the spell of his winning smile, to obtain a glimpse of the noble soul within.
A calm, strong nature his, facing the world, with all its contingencies, bravely and with constant buoyant cheerfulness. He walked through life with eyes and heart wide open to the joy of the world, brightening and lightening it for others as he went. He was always ready to stretch out a helping hand to the weak and falling ones who came across his path. Never merely an optimist, he yet lived and died in the full, simple faith that—
"God's in his heaven, All's right with the world."
Socially, Reed was the life and soul of any party of friends. There were certain American student-songs which he was wont to sing with a quiet and inimitable drollery, very refreshing to hear, and which those who heard them are not likely readily to forget. His love of music was part of his nature. His reposeful, wooing touch on the piano or organ, either when he was extemporising or when he interpreted one of the masters, expressed the inner working of his own gentle spirit. Whether in his own family, or among friends, or in the midst of his Foundry workmen, he was universally beloved.
A true, loyal, and friendly spirit like his was sure to have "troops of friends." To three friends in Highgate he wrote, during his last sad visit to Ireland, the following beautiful letter. Mrs Reed was at the moment detained in Highgate, nursing their eldest boy, who was ill.
"Westoncrofts, Ballymoney, October 6, 1893.
"Talbot, the exile, unto the faithful assembled at the hour of evening service at H—-; to H—- the beloved banker, and S—- our brother, and H—- our joyous counsellor, and all and sundry, greeting: peace be with you! Know, brethren, that I am with you in the spirit; neither is there any chair in which I would not sit, nor pipe I would not smoke, nor drink I would not drink, so as I might be one with you, and hear your voices. In good sooth, I would travel far to catch the wisdom that droppeth from the lips of H—-, or sit among the philosophers with S—-, or laugh with the great laugh of H—-. I would do all this, and more also, could I make one with you around the familiar hearth.
"Yet know, brethren, that I shall come presently, and strictly demand an account of what is said and done, what mighty problems are solved, what joys are discovered, what tribulations are endured, in my absence.
"Meanwhile, I would have you to know that I am here, not without my teachers, for I read daily in the great missal of Nature, writ by the scribe Autumn in letters of crimson and gold; also in the trim pages of the gathered fields, with borders of wood-cut; also in the ample folios of ocean, with its wide margins of surf and sand. These be my masters, set forth in a print not hard to read, yet not so easy, methinks, as the faces of friends. Perchance when she cometh, in whose light I interpret many things, I shall have rest to learn more therefrom; for now I am as a sail without wind, or a horn without his blower, or a stone without his sling.
"Yet am I not here to no purpose. There is a certain coy nymph, 'Health' by name, who is reported in these parts—her I am charged to seek. Where she hides 'twere hard to say; whether on the hill-side, golden with bracken, or in the spray of the sea, or on the bluff headland, or by the breezy links—in all these I seek her. Sometimes I spy her afar off; but the wanton comes and goes. Yet I am persuaded I shall presently find her, and bring her home rejoicing to them that sent me.
"Finally, brethren, I pray you, have me often in your remembrance, and report to me such things as concern our common welfare, for I desire ardently to hear of you.
"Farewell, from one who loves you and counts himself your brother.
Alas! "the coy nymph, 'Health' by name," was never found. Within a week or two of the despatch of this letter, he became so much worse that he was advised by the Belfast doctors to return at once to London. He suffered from a hopeless internal malady, which he bore with heroic patience.
At Highgate, on 28th November 1893, he passed peacefully away.
It was given to him in his short life—for he condensed into the span of forty-two years the literary labours of a long life—to materially add by his charming boys' books to the happiness of the youth of his generation. It was given to him also by his labour and research to make a solid contribution to the learning of his time. He has enriched many lives by his friendship, and by the example of his unceasing thoughtfulness for the welfare of others. To all who had the inestimable privilege of knowing Talbot Reed, there will be the remembrance of a man "matchless for gentleness, honesty, and courage,"— the very ideal of a chivalrous English gentleman.
Highgate, London, February 1894.
It was the first time Tim and I had fallen out, and to this day I could scarcely tell you how it arose.
We had gone out on to the headland to drive in the sheep; for the wind was blowing up from seaward, and it was plain to tell that the night would be a wild one. Father was away with the trawlers off Sheep Haven, and would be ill pleased should he return to-morrow to find any of the flock amissing. So, though mother lay sick in the cottage, with none to tend her, Tim and I, because of the dread we had of our father's displeasure, left her and went out to seek the sheep before the storm broke.
It was no light task, for the dog was lame, and the wind carried back our shouts into our very teeth. The flock had straggled far and wide in search of the scanty grass, and neither Tim nor I had our hearts in the work.
Presently Tim took a stone to dislodge one stubborn ewe, where it hid beside a rock, and, as luck would have it, struck not her but my cheek, which received a sharp cut.
"Faith, and you'll make a fine soldier when you're grown," said I, in a temper, "if that's the best you can shoot."
Tim often said he would be a soldier when he came to be a man, and was touchy on the point.
"Shoot, is it?" said he, picking up another stone; "you blackguard, stand where ye are and I'll show yez."
And he let fly and struck me again on the self-same place; and I confess I admired his skill more than his brotherly love.
I picked up the stone and flung it back. But the wind took it so that it struck not Tim but the ewe. Whereat Tim laughed loudly and called me a French spalpeen. That was more than I could bear.
"I'll fight you for that," said I, flinging my cap on the ground and stamping a foot on it.
"Come on wid ye," retorted Tim, giving his buckle a hitch.
And there, on the lonely, wind-swept cliff, we two brothers stood up to one another. Con, the dog, limped between us with a whine.
"You might tie the dog to the gate till we're done, Barry," said Tim.
"You're right, Tim," said I; "I will."
It took no long time, but 'twas long enough to cool my blood, and when I returned to Tim I had less stomach for the fight than before.
"Was it 'Frenchman' you said?" asked I, hoping he might say no.
"Troth and I did," said he.
But it seemed to me he too was less fiery than when he spoke last.
So we fought. And I know not how it went. We were a fair match. What I lacked in strength I made up for in quickness, and if Tim hit me hard I hit him often.
But it was a miserable business, and our hearts were sorer than our bodies. For we loved one another as we loved our own lives. And on a day like this, when mother lay dying at home, and father was out with the trawlers in the tempest, we lacked spirit to fight in earnest. Only when Tim called me "Frenchman" it was not in me to stand meekly by.
I know that when it was over, and we parted sulky and bruised each his own way, I flung myself on my face at the edge of the cliff and wished I had never been born.
How long I lay I know not.
When I looked up the day was dark with tempest. The whistle of the wind about my ears mingled with the hoarse thunder of the surf as it broke on the beach, four hundred feet below me, and swept round the point into the lough. The taste of brine was on my lips, and now and again flakes of foam whirled past me far inland. From Dunaff to Malin the coast was one long waste of white water. And already the great Atlantic rollers, which for a day past had brought their solemn warning in from the open, were breaking miles out at sea, and racing in on the shore like things pursued.
As for me, my spirits rose as I looked out and saw it all. For I loved the sea in its angry moods. And this promise of tempest seemed somehow to accord with the storm that was raging in my own breast. It made me forget Tim and the sheep, and even mother.
I tried to get up on my feet, but the wind buffeted me back before I reached my knees, and I was fain to lie prone, with my nose to the storm, blinking through half-closed eyes out to sea.
For a long time I lay thus. Then I seemed to descry at the point of the bay windward a sail. It was a minute or more before I could be certain I saw aright. Yes, it was a sail.
What craft could be mad enough in such weather to trust itself to the mercies of the bay? Even my father, the most daring of helmsmen, would give Fanad Head a wide berth before he put such a wind as this at his back. This stranger must be either disabled or ignorant of the coast, or she would never drive in thus towards a lee-shore like ours. Boy as I was, I knew better seamanship than that.
Yet as I watched her, she seemed to me neither cripple nor fool. She was a cutter-rigged craft, long and low in the water, under close canvas, and to my thinking wonderfully light and handy in the heavy sea. She did not belong to these parts—even I could tell that—and her colours, if she had any, had gone with the wind.
The question was, would she on her present tack weather Fanad Head (on which I lay) and win the lough? And if not, how could she escape the rocks on which every moment she was closing?
At first it seemed that nothing could save her, for she broke off short of the point, and drove in within half-a-mile of the rocks. Then, while I waited to see the end of her, she suddenly wore round, and after staggering a moment while the sea broke over her, hauled up to the wind, and careening over, with her mainsail sweeping the water, started gaily on the contrary tack.
It was so unlike anything any of our clumsy trawler boats were capable of, that I was lost in admiration at the suddenness and daring of the manoeuvre. But Fanad was still to be weathered, and close as she sailed to the wind, it seemed hardly possible to gain sea-room to clear it.
Yet she cleared it, even though the black rocks frowned at her not a cable's length from her lee-quarter, and the wind laid her over so that her mast-head seemed almost to touch them as it passed. Then, once clear, up went her helm as she turned again into the wind, and slipped, with the point on her weather-quarter, into the safe waters of the lough.
I was so delighted watching this adventure from my lonely perch that I did not notice the October afternoon was nearly spent, and that the light was beginning to fade. The storm gathered force every moment, so that when at last I turned to go home I had to crawl a yard or two to shelter before I could stand on my feet.
As for the sheep, unless Tim had driven them in, which was not likely, they would have to shift for themselves for this night. It was too late to see them, and Con, who limped at my heels, had not a yap left in him.
As I staggered home, leaning my back against the wind, I could not help wondering what this strange boat might be, and why she should make for the lough on so perilous a course. She might be a smuggler anxious to avoid the observation of the revenue officers. If so, her cargo must be precious indeed to make up for the risk she ran. Or she might be a foreigner, driven in by one of the king's cruisers, which had not dared to follow her into the bay.
Whatever she was, she was a pretty sailer, and prettily handled. I wondered if ever I, when I grew to be a man, should be able to weather a point as skilfully.
It was night before I reached our cabin, and all there was dark. Neither Tim nor father was home, the fire was out on the hearth, and the poor fevered sufferer lay tossing and breathing hard on the bed.
She was worse, far worse than when we left her in the morning; and I could have died of shame when I came to think that all those hours she had lain alone and untended. I struck a light and put it in the window.
"Is that Barry?" said she faintly.
"Ay, mother, it's Barry," said I, going to the bed and bending over her.
"Bring the light, and let me look at you," she said.
I obeyed. She scrutinised my face eagerly, and then turned her head wearily on the pillow.
"Barry," said she presently.
"Well?" said I, as I took the hot worn hand in mine.
She lay silent a long while, so that I thought she had fallen asleep, then she said,—
"Where is father?"
"Away with the boats."
"I can't say. Tim and I fought the day, and—"
"Fought? Ay, there'll be fighting enough before wrong's made right, Barry. Listen! I'm dying, son, but I must see him before I go."
"Is it Tim?" said I.
"No." Then she lifted herself in her bed, and her face was wild and excited as she clutched my hand. "Barry, it's Gorman I must see— Maurice Gorman. Fetch him to me. Make him come. Tell him I'm a dying woman, and must speak before I go. There's time yet—go, Barry!"
"Mr Gorman!" exclaimed I. What could my mother want with his honour down at Knockowen?
"Ay, and quickly—or it will be too late."
Knockowen was across the lough, five miles up above Dunree. It would be hours on a night like this before he could be here. But my mother continued to moan, "Go, Barry—make haste." So, much against my will, I put on my cap and prepared to leave her alone. At the door she called me back.
"Kiss me, Barry," said she. Then before I could obey her she fell to raving.
"Give me back the lassie," she cried, "dead or alive. She's more to me than all Kilgorman! Trust me, Mr Maurice—I'll breathe never a word if you'll but save Mike. It's false—he never had a hand in it! Some day truth will out—if the lad's mine no harm shall come to him. I'll use him against you, Mr Maurice. The truth's buried, but it's safe. There's more than earth under a hearthstone." And she laughed in a terrible way.
After a minute she opened her eyes again and saw me.
"Not gone, Barry? For pity's sake, fetch him, or I must go myself." And she even tried to get up from her bed.
This settled it, and I rushed from the house, whimpering with misery and terror.
What was it all about? Why did she send me away thus on a fool's errand? For Mr Gorman was not likely to come out on a night like this at the bidding of Mike Gallagher's English wife.
If there had only been some one I could have sent to mind her while I was gone! But our cabin on the bleak headland was miles from a neighbour—Knockowen, whither I was speeding, was indeed the nearest place.
For a lad of twelve it was no easy task on a dark stormy night like this to cross the lough. But I thought nothing of that. Most of my short life I had spent afloat, and I knew every rock and creek along the shores.
The boat lay tugging at her moorings when I got down to her, as if impatient to be away. Luckily her mast was up. It would need but the least taste of canvas to run her across. The business would be coming back in the face of the wind.
Sure enough, when I cast off, she rushed through the water like something mad. And again my spirits rose as I heard the hiss of the foam at her bows, and felt her rear and plunge among the big boisterous waves.
After a time I could catch the light at Knockowen as it flickered in the wind, and put up my helm so as to clear the shoal. This would bring me close under Kilgorman rock, whence I could drive before the wind as far as Knockowen.
To my surprise, as I closed in on the shore I saw strange lights at the water's edge, and casting my eyes up towards Kilgorman (which I never did in those days without a qualm, because of the ghost that haunted it) I seemed to see a moving light there also.
I said a hurried prayer, and put round my helm into the wind before my time. Even the shoal, thought I, was less to fear than the unearthly terrors of that awful deserted house.
By good luck the strong wind carried me in clear of the bank and so into fairly still water, and in half-an-hour more I was in under the light of Knockowen, mooring my boat in his honour's little harbour.
It must have been near midnight, and I was wondering how I should waken the house and deliver my message, when a voice close beside me said,—
"Are the guns all landed and taken up to the house?"
It was his honour's voice. But I could not see him in the dark.
"I beg your pardon, your honour," said I, "it's me, Barry Gallagher."
A quick step came down to where I stood, and a hand was laid on my shoulder.
"You! What do you here?" said his honour sharply, for he had evidently expected some one else.
"If you please, sir, my mother's sick, and she sent me to bid you come before she died."
He made a startled gesture, as I thought, and said, "What does she want me for?"
"It's to tell your honour something. I couldn't rightly say what, for she spoke strangely."
"I'll come in the morning if the weather mends," said he.
"I've the boat here for you, sir," I ventured to say, for I guessed the morning would be too late.
"Leave her there, and go up to the house. You may sleep in the kitchen."
What could I do? For the first time that night I knew for certain I hated his honour. My mother's dying message was nothing to him. And she, poor soul, lay in the cabin alone.
Knockowen was a poor shambling sort of house. Strangers wondered why Maurice Gorman, who owned Kilgorman as well, chose to live in this place instead of the fine mansion near the lough mouth. But to the country people this was no mystery. Kilgorman had an evil name, and for twelve years, since its late master died, had stood desolate and empty— tenanted only, so it was said, by a wandering ghost, and no place for decent Christian folk to dwell in.
As I lay curled up that stormy night in his honour's kitchen, I could not help thinking of the strange lights I had seen as I rowed in by the shore. Where did they come from, and what did they mean? I shuddered, and said one prayer more as I thought of it.
Then my curiosity got the better of me, and I crept to the window and looked out. The wind howled dismally, but the sky was clearing, and the moon raced in and out among the clouds. Away down across the lough I could see the dim outline of Fanad, below which was the little home where, for all I knew, my mother at that moment lay dead. And opposite it loomed out the grey bleak hill below which, even by this half light, I fancied I could detect the black outline of Kilgorman standing grimly in the moonlight.
It may have been fancy, but as I looked I even thought I could see once more moving lights between the water's edge and the house, and I slunk back to my corner by the fire with a shiver.
Presently, his honour came in with a candle. He had evidently been up all night, and looked haggard and anxious.
"Get up," said he, "and make the boat ready."
I rose to obey, when he called me back.
"Come here," said he harshly. And he held the candle to my face and stared hard at me. It was a sinister, sneering face that looked into mine, and as I returned the stare my looks must have betrayed the hatred that was in my mind.
"Which of Gallagher's boys are you?" he demanded.
"Barry, plaze your honour."
"How old are you?"
"I think twelve, sir—the same as Tim." For Tim and I were twins.
He looked hard at me again, and then said, "What was it your mother sent word?"
"She said would your honour plaze to come quick, for she felt like dying, and wished to spake to you before."
"Was that all?"
"Indeed, sir, she talked queerly the night about a dead lassie, and called on your honour to save my father, if you plaze, sir."
He went to a cupboard and poured himself out a glass of raw whisky and drank it. Then he beckoned to me to follow him down to the boat.
A LOAD OF TURNIPS.
Mr Gorman seated himself silently in the stern, while I shoved off, and hauled up the sail.
The storm was blowing still, but more westerly, so that the water was quieter, and we could use the wind fairly to the point of the shoals. After that it would be hard work to make my father's cabin.
I handed the sheet to his honour, and curled myself up in the bows. Maurice Gorman was no great seaman, as I knew. But it was not for me to thrust myself forward when he took the helm. Yet I confess I felt a secret pleasure as I looked at the breakers ahead, and wondered how soon he would call me aft to steer him through them.
To-night, as it seemed to me, he hugged the eastern shore more than usual, thereby laying up for himself all the harder task when the time came to cross in the face of the wind.
"Begging your honour's pardon," said I at last, "luff her, sir."
He paid no heed, but held on as we went till the shoals were long distanced, and the black cliff of Kilgorman rose above us.
The day was now dawning, and the terrors of the place were somewhat diminished. Yet I confess I looked up at the gaunt walls and chimneys with uneasiness.
Now, as we came nearer, the mystery of the moving lights of the night before suddenly cleared itself. For snugly berthed in a narrow creek of the shore lay the strange cutter whose daring entry into the lough I had yesterday witnessed. At the sight of her the curiosity I had felt, but which my poor mother's message had driven from my head, revived.
Who and what was she? and what was she doing in Lough Swilly?
Then I recalled the strange words his honour had spoken last night in my hearing, about the arms being landed and stowed. And I remembered hearing some talk among the fisher folk of foreign weapons being smuggled into Ireland against the king's law, and of foreign soldiers coming, to help the people to tight against his Majesty.
I was too young to understand what it all meant, or why his Majesty was to be fought with; for we were comfortable enough in our little cabin, what with the sheep and my mother's savings, and my father's fish, and the little that Tim and I could earn ferrying passengers over the lough. I was too young, I say, to know what wanted altering, but the sight of this queer-looking craft set me thinking about it.
"Get out your oar," said his honour suddenly, letting the sheet fly, and running the boat into the creek.
My heart sank, for I hoped we were going across to where my poor mother lay.
I got out the oar, and paddled the boat into the creek till we came up to the stern of the cutter. Cigale—that was her name, painted on the stern-board; but there was nothing to show her port or the flag she flew.
At the sound of our bows grating on her side one of her crew ran aft and looked over. He had a strange foreign appearance in his red cap, and curls, and white teeth, and looked like some startled animal about to spring on us. But his honour shouted something in French, and the man scrambled over the side of the cutter with a grin and jumped lightly into our boat, talking rapidly all the while.
I do not think Mr Gorman understood all he said, for he presently ordered the man to hold his peace, and stepped ashore, beckoning me to follow him.
I obeyed after making fast the painter. As we scrambled up the rocks and reached the road which leads down from Kilgorman to the shore, I was surprised to see several carts standing laden with sacks or straw, as though on the way to market. Still more surprised was I when among the knot of men, half-foreign sailors, half countrymen, who stood about, sheltering as best they could from the sleet (for the weather was coming in yet worse from the west), I recognised my father.
If he noticed me at first he made no sign of it, but walked up to Maurice Gorman with a rough nod.
"Is all landed and stowed?" said his honour, repeating the question of last night.
"'Tis," said my father shortly, nodding in the direction of the carts.
"How many are in the house?"
"There's two hundred."
"Father," said I, breaking in at this point, in spite of all the Gormans of Donegal, "you're needed at home. Mother's dying, and sent me for his honour to speak to her."
My father started, and his sunburnt cheeks paled a little as he looked at Mr Gorman and then across the lough. He would fain have flown that moment to the beat, but I could see he was too far under his honour's thumb to do so without leave.
"We cannot spare you, Mike, till the job is finished. We must get the carts to Derry before night."
"I'm thinking," said my father, "Barry here knows the road to Derry as well as me. Who'll be minding a young boy on a cart of turnips?"
His honour mused a moment, and then nodded.
"Can you get the cutter away in this wind?" asked he.
"I could get her away as easy as I got her in," said my father; "but she's well enough as she is for a day or two, by your honour's leave."
"Father," said I, all excitement, "sure it wasn't you ran the cutter into the lough round Fanad yesterday? I knew nobody else could have done it!"
My father grinned at the compliment.
"That's the boy knows one end of a ship from the other," said he.
Mr Gorman looked at me, and a thought seemed to strike him.
"Come here!" said he, beckoning me to him.
Once again he looked hard in my face, and I looked hard back.
"So you are Barry?" he demanded.
"I am," said I.
"And you'd like to be a sailor?"
"No," I retorted. It was a lie, but I would be under no favour to his honour.
His honour grunted, and talked in a low voice to my father, who presently said to me,—
"Take the turnips to Joe Callan's, in Derry, on the Ship Quay. Wait till dark before you go into the city. Tell him there's more where these came from."
"Is it guns you mane?" said I.
"Hold your tongue, you limb of darkness," growled my father. "It's turnips. If any one asks you, mind you know nothing, and never heard of his honour in your life."
By which I understood this was a very secret errand, and like enough to land me in Derry Jail before all was done. Had I not been impatient to see my father and his honour away to Fanad, I think I should have made excuses. But I durst not say another word, and with a heavy heart clambered to the top of the turnips and started on my long journey.
Before I had passed the hill I could see the white sail of our little boat dancing through the broken water of the lough, and knew that my father and Mr Gorman were on their way to set my mother's mind at rest. In the midst of my trouble and ill-humour I smiled to think what a poor figure his honour would have cut trying to make Fanad in that wind. My father could sail in the teeth of anything, and some day folk would be able to say the same of his son Barry.
It was a long, desolate drive over stony hills and roads whose ruts swallowed half my wheels, with now and then a waste of bog to cross, and now and then a stream to ford. For hours I met not a soul nor saw a sign of life except the cattle huddling on the hillside, or the smoke of some far-away cabin.
My mare was a patient, leisurely beast, with no notion of reaching the city before her time, and no willingness to exchange her sedate jog for all the whipping or "shooing" in Ireland.
Presently, as it came to the afternoon, I left the mountain road and came on to the country road from Fahan to Derry. Here I met more company; but no one heeded me much, especially when it was seen that my turnips were a poor sort, and that he who had charge of them was but a slip of a boy, with not a word to say to any one.
"Are you for Derry?" one woman asked as she overtook me on the road.
"So you may say," said I, hoping that would be the end of her.
But she carried a bundle, and was not to be put aside so easily.
"I'll just take a lift with you," said she.
But I jogged on without a word.
"Arrah, will you stop till I get up? Is it deaf ye are?" said she.
"'Deed I am," said I, whipping my beast.
It went to my heart to play the churl to a woman, but I durst not let her up on the turnips, where perhaps a chance kick of her feet might betray the ugly guns beneath.
I was sorry afterwards I did not yield to my better instincts, for the woman was known in these parts, and with her perched beside me no one would have looked twice at me or my cart.
As it was, when I had shaken her off, and left her rating me loudly till I was out of sight, I passed one or two folk who, but that it was growing dusk, might have caused me trouble. One was a clergyman, who hailed me and asked did not I think my beast would be the better of a rest, and that, for turnips, my load seemed a heavy one, and so forth.
To ease him, I was forced to halt at the next village, to give the poor beast a feed and a rest. Here two soldiers came up and demanded where I came from.
"From Fahan," said I, naming the town I had lately passed.
"Whose turnips are these?"
"Mister Gallagher's," said I.
They seemed inclined to be more curious; but as good luck would have it, the clergyman came up just then and spoke to me in a friendly way as he passed, for he was glad to see me merciful to my beast.
And the soldiers, when they saw me acquainted with so reverend a gentleman, took for granted I was on a harmless errand, and went further on to inquire for the miscreant they were in search of.
The fellow of the yard where I fed my horse laughed as he watched me mount up on to my turnips.
"Faith, them's the boys to smell a rat. It's guns they're looking for; as if they'd travel by daylight on the highroad."
"I'm told a great many arms are being smuggled into the country," said the clergyman.
"To be sure," replied the man; "but if they get this length it's by the hill-roads and after dark. Why, I'll go bail they would have looked for guns under this gossoon's turnips if your reverence hadn't known him."
It seemed to me time to drive on, and with a salute to his reverence I touched up my horse smartly, and left these two to finish their talk without me.
By this time it was nearly dark, so that I had less trouble from passers-by. My beast, despite her meal, showed no signs of haste, and I was forced to lie patiently on the top of my load, waiting her pleasure to land me in Derry.
The clock was tolling ten as I came on to the Ship Quay, and tired enough I was with my long day's drive. Yet I was a little proud to have come to my journey's end safely, albeit that story I had told about Fahan stuck in my conscience.
I had been once before with my father to Joe Callan's, who kept a store of all sorts of goods, and was one of the best-known farmers' tradesmen in the city. It was some time before I could arouse him and bring him down to let me in. And while I waited, rousing the echoes, I was very nearly being wrecked in port, for a watchman came up and demanded what I wanted disturbing the peace of the city at that hour.
When I explained that I had brought Mr Callan a load of turnips, he wanted to know where they came from, and why they should arrive so late.
"The roads were bad between this and Fahan," said I.
To my alarm he took up a turnip in his hand and put it to his nose.
"I'm thinking Joe Callan's no judge of a turnip," said he, "if this is what suits him. Maybe that's why you're so anxious to get them in after dark. He'll not wake out of his sleep for the like of these, so you may just shoot them in a heap at his door, and they'll be safe enough till the morning."
My jaw dropped when he proposed this and made ready to lend me a hand.
"Begging your honour's pardon," said I, "I was to spake to Mister Callan about the turnips."
"Sure, I can tell him that. Let the man sleep."
"But the horse has been on the road all day," said I.
The watchman pricked his ears.
"All day, and only came from Fahan?" said he.
Here, to my vast relief, a window opened above me and a head appeared.
"What's the noise about at all, at all?" called Mr Callan.
"'Deed that's just what I'm asking him," said the watchman. "And since you're awake, Mr Callan, you may see to it. To my thinking the noise is not worth the turnips. So good-night to you."
I was never more glad to see a man's back. In due time Mr Callan came down in his night-cap, lantern in hand.
"Turnips," said he, as he looked first at me, then at the cart. "Whose turnips are they?"
"They're from Knockowen, sir," said I. "My father, Mike Gallagher, bade me tell you there's more where they came from."
He pulled the bolt of his yard gate without a word, and signed to me to back in the cart; which I did, dreading every moment lest the watchman should return.
When we were inside, the gate was shut, and Mr Callan turned his lantern towards me.
"You're a young lad to send with a load like this," said he. "Did no one overhaul you on the road?"
I told him about the two soldiers, and what the man at the inn had said.
He said nothing, but bade me unload.
The turnips were soon taken out. Under them was a layer of sacking, and under that some thirty or forty muskets, with a box or two of ammunition.
These Mr Callan and I carefully carried up to a loft and deposited in a hollow space which had been prepared in a pile of hay, which was carefully covered up again, so as to leave no trace of the murderous fodder it hid.
"Tell Mr Gorman—tell your father, I mean, that his turnips are in great demand, and I can sell all he's got."
"I will," said I.
"Now put in the horse and take your rest, for you must start back betimes in the morning."
"Plaze, sir," I ventured to say, "I'd sooner eat than sleep, by your leave."
"You shall do both," said he, for he was in great good-humour.
So I got a bite of pork and a scone, and curled myself up in the warm hay and slept like a top.
Before daybreak Mr Callan roused me.
"Make haste now," said he, "or you'll not be home by night. And see here, I've a message for Mr Gorman."
"Mr Gorman?" said I, remembering what I had been told.
"You are right, sonnie. You do not know Mr Gorman," said the tradesman, slapping me on the back and laughing. "If you did know him, I would have bid you tell him that people talk of him here, and say he lacks zeal in a good cause. If lie is resolved to deal in turnips, he must deal in them largely, and not go behind our backs to them that deal in other trades. Mark that."
I confess it sounded very like a riddle, and I had to say the words over many times to myself before I could be sure of carrying them.
Then, my cart being loaded with straw, I bade Mr Callan good-day, and started on my long journey back to Knockowen.
Had it not been for what I dreaded to find at home, my journey back from Derry would have been light enough; for now I was rid of my turnips I had nothing to fear from inquisitive wayfarers. Nor had I cause to be anxious as to the way, for my mare knew she was homeward bound, and stepped out briskly with no encouragement from me.
Indeed I had so little to do that about noon, when we had got off the highroad on to the hill-track, I curled myself up in the straw and fell asleep. Nor did I wake till the cart suddenly came to a standstill, and I felt myself being lifted out of my nest.
At first I thought I was back already at Knockowen, and wondered at the speed the old jade had made while I slept. But as soon as I had rubbed my eyes I found we were still on the hillside, and that my awakers were a handful of soldiers.
They demanded my name and my master's. When I told them Mr Gorman of Knockowen, they were a thought less rough with me; for his honour was known as a friend of the government. Nevertheless they said they must search my cart, and bade me help them to unload the straw.
I could not help laughing as I saw them so busy.
"What's the limb laughing at?" said one angrily. "Maybe he's not so innocent as he looks."
"'Deed, sir," said I, "I was laughing at the soldiers I met at Fahan, who thought I'd got guns under his honour's turnips. I warrant Mr Gorman won't laugh at that. Maybe it's guns you're looking for too. They're easy hid in a load of straw."
At this they looked rather abashed, although they thought fit to cuff me for an impudent young dog. And when the straw was all out, and nothing found underneath, it was not a little hard on me that they left me to put it in again myself, roundly rating one another for the sorry figure they cut.
I was too glad to be rid of them to raise much clamour about the straw, and loaded it back as best I could, wondering if all his Majesty's servants were as wide-awake as the smuggler-catchers of Donegal.
This was my only adventure till about seven o'clock when I sighted the lights of Knockowen, and knew this tedious journey was at an end.
His honour, I was told, was not at home. He had crossed to Fanad to be present at the wake of my poor mother, who, I heard, had died long before my father and Mr Gorman could reach her yesterday. She was to be buried, they told me, on the next day at Kilgorman; and I could guess why there was all this haste. My father was needed to steer the Cigale out of the lough, and his honour would be keen enough to get the funeral over for that reason.
With a very heavy heart I left the weary horse in the stable and betook myself to his honour's harbour. Only one boat lay there, a little one with a clumsy lug-sail, ill-enough fitted for a treacherous lough like the Swilly. I knew her of old, however, and was soon bounding over the waves, with the dim outline of Fanad standing out ahead in the moonlight.
My heart sank to my boots as I drew nearer and discerned an unusual glow of light from the cabin window, and heard, carried across the water on the breeze, the sounds of singing and the wail of a fiddle. I dreaded to think of the dear body that lay there heedless of all the noise, whose eyes I should never see and whose voice I should never hear more. I could not help calling to mind again the strange words she had last spoken—of her longing to see his honour, of her wandering talk about a dead lassie and the hearthstone, and of some danger that threatened my father. It was all a mystery to me. Yet it was a mystery which, boy as I was, I resolved some day to explain.
The landing-place was full of boats, by which I knew that all the lough- side and many from the opposite shore had come to the wake. His honour's boat was there among them. So was one belonging to the Cigale.
I felt tempted, instead of entering the cabin, to wander up on to the headland and lie there, looking out to the open sea, and so forget my troubles. But the thought of Tim and my father hindered me, and I clambered up to the cabin.
The door stood open, because, as I thought, so many folk were about it that it would not shut. As I made my way among them I was barely heeded—indeed there were many who did not even know me. I pushed my way into the cabin, in which were stifling heat and smoke and the fumes of whisky. There, on the bed in the corner, where I had seen her last, but now lit up with a glare of candles, lay my poor mother, with her eyes closed and her hands folded across her breast. At the foot of the bed sat my father, haggard and wretched, holding a glass of whisky in his hand, which now and again he put to his lips to give him the Dutch courage he needed. At the bedside stood Tim with a scowl on his face as he glared, first, on the noisy mourners, and then looked down on the white face on the pillow. At the fireplace sat his honour, buried in thought, and not heeding the talk of the jovial priest who sat and stirred his cup beside him. There, too, among the crowd of dirge- singing, laughing, whisky-drinking neighbours, I could see the outlandish-looking skipper of the Cigale.
It was a weird, woeful spectacle, and made me long more than ever for the pure, fresh breezes of the lonely headland. But Tim looked round as I entered, and his face, till now so black and sullen, lit up as he saw me, and he beckoned me to him. When last we parted it had been in anger and shame; now, over the body of our dead mother, we met in peace and brotherly love, and felt stronger each of us by the presence of the other.
My father, half-stupid with sorrow and whisky, roused himself and called out my name.
"Arrah, Barry, my son, are you there? Faith, it's a sore day for the motherless lad. Howl, boys!"
And the company set up a loud wail in my honour, and pressed round me, to pat me on the head or back and say some word of consolation.
Presently his honour motioned me to him.
"Well?" said he inquiringly.
"All right, sir," said I.
"That's a man," said he. "Your mother was dead before I reached her yesterday."
"She was English," said the garrulous priest, who stood by, lifting his voice above the general clamour. "She never took root among us. Sure, your honour will remember her when she was my lady's-maid at Kilgorman. Ochone, that was a sad business!"
His honour did not attend to his reverence, but continued to look hard at me in that strange way of his.
"A sad business," continued the priest, turning round for some more attentive listener. "It was at Kilgorman that Barry and Tim were born— mercy on them!—the night that Terence Gorman, his honour's brother, was murdered on the mountain. I mind the night well. Dear, oh! Every light in Kilgorman went out that night. The news of the murder killed the lady and her little babe. I mind the time well, for I was called to christen the babe. Do you mind Larry McQuilkin of Kerry Keel, O'Brady? It was his wife as was nursing-woman to the child—as decent a woman as ever lived. She—"
Here his honour looked up sharply, and his reverence, pleased to have a better audience, chattered on:—
"Sure, your honour will remember Biddy McQuilkin, for she served at Knockowen when the little mistress there was born—"
"Where's Biddy now?" asked some one. "She was never the same woman after her man died."
"Ah, poor Biddy! When your honour parted with her she went to Paris to a situation; but I'm thinking she'd have done better to bide at home. There's many an honest man in these parts would have been glad to meet a decent widow like Biddy. I told her so before she went, but—"
Here the fiddler struck up a jig, which cut short the gossip of the priest and made a diversion for his hearers. Some of the young fellows and girls present fell to footing it, and called on Tim and me to join in. But I was too much out of heart even to look on; and as for Tim, he glared as if he would have turned every one of them out of the cottage.
In the midst of the noise and the shouts of the dancers and the cheers of the onlookers, I crawled into the corner behind his honour's chair, and dropped asleep, to dream—strange to tell—not of my mother, or of his honour's turnips, or of the Cigale, but of Biddy McQuilkin of Kerry Keel, whom till now I had never seen or heard of.
When I awoke the daylight was struggling into the cabin, paling the candles that burned low beside my mother's bed. Tim stood where I had left him, sentinel-wise, glaring with sleepless eyes at his father's guests. Father, with his head on his arm, at the foot of the bed, slept a tipsy, sorrowful sleep. A few of the rest, worn-out with the night's revels, slumbered on the floor. Others made love, or quarrelled, or talked drowsily in couples.
His honour had escaped from the choking atmosphere of the cabin, and was pacing moodily on the grass outside, casting impatient glances eastward, where lay Kilgorman, and the Cigale, and the rising sun.
Presently, when with a salute I came out to join him, he said, "'Tis time we started. Waken your father, boy."
It was no easy task, and when he was wakened it was hard to make him understand what was afoot. It was only when his honour came in and spoke to him that he seemed to come to his senses.
The coffin was closed. The crowd stepped out with a shiver into the cold morning air. The priest took out his book and began to read aloud; and slowly, with Tim and me beside her, and my father in a daze walking in front, we bore her from the cabin down to the boats. There, in our own boat, we laid the coffin, and hoisting sail, shoved off and made for the opposite shore. Father and we two and his honour and the priest sailed together; and after us, in a long straggling procession of boats, came the rest. The light wind was not enough to fill our sail, and we were forced to put out the oars and row. I think the exercise did us good, and warmed our hearts as well as our bodies.
As we came under Kilgorman, I could see the mast of the Cigale peeping over the rocks, and wondered if she would be discovered by all the company. His honour, to my surprise, steered straight for the creek.
The Cigale flew the English flag, and very smart and trim she looked in the morning light, with her white sails bleaching on the deck and the brass nozzles of her guns gleaming at the port-holes. We loitered a little to admire her, and, seaman-like, to discuss her points. Then, when our followers began to crowd after us into the creek, we pulled to the landing and disburdened our boat of her precious freight.
The burying-ground of Kilgorman was a little enclosure on the edge of the cliff surrounding the ruin of the old church, of which only a few weed-covered piles of stone remained. The graves in it were scarcely to be distinguished in the long rank grass. The only one of note was that in which lay Terence Gorman with his wife and child—all dead twelve years since, within a week of one another.
With much labour we bore the coffin up the steep path, and in a shallow grave at the very cliff's edge deposited all that remained of our English mother.
As his reverence had said, she never took root in Donegal. She had been a loyal servant to her master, a loyal wife to her husband, and a loyal mother to us her sons. Yet she always pined for her old Yorkshire village home; a cloud of trouble, ever since we remembered her, had hovered on her brow. She had wept much in secret, and had lived, as it were, in a sort of dread of unseen evil.
Folks said the shock of the tragedy at Kilgorman, at the time when she too lay ill in the house with her twin babies, had unnerved her and touched her brain. But in that they were wrong; for she had taught Tim and me to read and write better than any schoolmaster could have done, and had read books and told stories to us such as few boys of our age between Fanad and Derry had the chance to hear.
Yet, though her brain was sound, it was not to be denied that she had been a woman of sorrow. And the strange words she had spoken when she was near her end added a mystery to her memory which, boy as I was, I took to heart, and resolved, if I could, to master.
That afternoon, when the mourners had gone their several ways, and the short daylight was already beginning to draw in, Tim and I lay at the cliff's edge, near our mother's grave, watching the Cigale as, with all her canvas flying and my father's dexterous hand at the helm, she slipped out of the lough and spread her wings for the open sea. Even in the feeble breeze, which would scarcely have stirred one of our trawlers, she seemed to gather speed; and if we felt any anxiety as to her being chased by one of his Majesty's cutters, we had only to watch the way in which she slid through the water to assure us that she would need a deal of catching.
I told Tim all I knew about her, and of my errand to Derry.
"What are the guns for?" said he. "What's there to be fighting about? Man, dear, I'd like a gun myself."
"There's plenty up at the house there," said I, pointing to Kilgorman—"two hundred."
"Two hundred! and we're only needing two. Come away, Barry; let's see where they're kept."
"You're not going up to Kilgorman House, sure?" said I in amazement.
"'Deed I am. I'm going to get myself a gun, and you too."
"But his honour?"
"Come on!" cried Tim, who seemed greatly excited; "his honour can't mind. I'll hold ye, Barry, we'll use a gun as well as any of the boys."
I would fain have escaped going up to so dreadful a place as Kilgorman on such an errand at such an hour. But I durst not let Tim think I was afraid, so when I saw his mind was made up I went with him, thankful at least that I had his company.
THE KITCHEN AT KILGORMAN.
The daylight failed suddenly as we turned from our perch on the edge of the cliff, and began to grope our way across the old graveyard towards the path which led up to Kilgorman House.
But that Tim was so set on seeing the hidden arms, and seemed so scornful of my ill-concealed terror of the place, I should have turned tail twenty times before I reached our destination. Yet in ordinary I was no coward. I would cross the lough single-handed in any weather; I would crack skulls with any boy in the countryside; I would ride any of his honour's horses barebacked. But I shook in my shoes at the thought of a ghost, and the cold sweat came out on my brow before ever we reached the avenue-gates.
"What's to hurt you?" said Tim, who knew what was on my mind as well as if I had spoken. "They say it's the lady walks through the house. Man, dear, you're not afraid of a woman, are ye?"
"If she is alive, no," said I.
"She'll hurt ye less as she is," said Tim scornfully. "Anyway, if you're afeard, Barry, you needn't come; run home."
This settled me. I laughed recklessly, and said,—
"What's good enough for you is good enough for me. I'm not afraid of a hundred ghosts."
And indeed I should have felt easier in the company of a hundred than of one.
We halted a moment at my mother's grave as we went by.
"She lived up at the house once," said Tim.
"I know," said I.
"Come on," said Tim; "it's getting very dark."
So we went on; and on the way I tried to recall what I knew of the story of Kilgorman, as I had heard it from my mother and the country folk.
Twelve years ago Terence Gorman, brother of his honour, lived there and owned all the lough-side from Dunaff to Dunree, and many a mile of mountain inland. He was not a rich man, but tried, so folk said, to deal fairly with his tenants. But as a magistrate he was very stern to all ill-doers, no matter who they were; and since many of his own tenants aided and abetted the smuggling and whisky-making on the coast, Terence Gorman had plenty of enemies close to his own door. His household, at the time I speak of, consisted only of his young wife and her newly-born babe, and of my father and mother, who served in the house, one as boatman and gamekeeper and the other as lady's-maid. My mother had come over with the young bride from England, and had married my father within a month or two of her coming. And, as it happened, just when my lady gave birth to her infant, and was most in need of her countrywoman's help, my mother presented my father with twins, and lay sadly in need of help herself; so that Biddy McQuilkin, who was fetched from Kerry Keel to wait on both, had a busy time of it.
What happened on the fatal night that left Kilgorman desolate no one was able rightly to tell; for, except Biddy and Maurice Gorman, who chanced that night to have come over to see his brother, the sole occupants of the house had been Mrs Gorman and her child and my mother and her two infants.
Terence Gorman at nightfall had taken the gig, with my father, to drive to Carndonagh, where next day he was to inquire into some poaching affray. That was at seven o'clock. About midnight my father, half crazy with fright, brought the gig back, and in it the dead body of his master. They had reached the gap in Ballinthere Hill, he said, going by the lower road, when a shot was suddenly fired from the roadside, grazing my father's arm and lodging in the neck of Mr Gorman. It was so suddenly done, and the horse bolted so wildly forward at the report, that before my father could even look round the assassin had vanished.
Mr Gorman was already dead. My father did what he could to stanch the wound, but without avail; and, in a daze, he turned the horse's head and drove back as fast as he could to Kilgorman. My lady, whose bedroom was over the hall-door, was the first to hear the sound of the wheels, and she seemed to have guessed at a flash of the mind what had happened. Weak as she was, she succeeded in dragging herself from the bed and looking out of the window; and the first sight that met her eyes, by the gleam of the lanterns, was the lifeless body of her husband being lifted from the gig.
The shock was too much for her. She was found soon after in a dead swoon on the floor, and before morning her spirit had joined that of her husband. And not only hers—the little hope of the house shared the fate of her parents. And when the day of burial came, Terence Gorman and his wife and daughter were all laid in one grave.
My mother, to whom the shock of the news had been more gently broken, and whose husband had at least escaped with his life, recovered; and with her twin boys, Tim and me, was able in due time to remove to the cabin on Fanad across the lough which Maurice Gorman (who by this sad tragedy had unexpectedly become the heir to his brother's estate) gave him for a home.
That was all I knew, except this: ever since that night Kilgorman House had remained empty, and people said that its only tenant was the wandering spirit of the distracted mother crying in the night for her husband and baby.
These sombre recollections were an ill preparation for our nocturnal visit to the haunted house. As the rusty avenue-gate swung back with a hoarse creak I was less inclined than ever for the adventure.
But Tim was not to be hindered, and paced sturdily down the long avenue, summoning me to keep close and hold my tongue, for fear any one might be within earshot.
Kilgorman was a big, irregular mansion of several stories, with some pretensions to architecture, and space enough within its rambling walls to quarter a ship's company. In front a field of long, rank grass stretched up to the very doorway, having long since overgrown the old carriage-drive. In the rear was a swampy bog, out of which the house seemed to rise like a castle out of a moat. On either side gaunt trees crowded, overhanging the chimneys with their creaking boughs. There was no sound but the drip of the water from the roof, and the sobbing of the breeze among the trees, and now and again the hoot of an owl across the swamp which set me shivering.
Tim boldly marched up to the front door and tried it. It was fast and padlocked. The windows on the ground-floor were closely shuttered and equally secure.
We groped our way round to the rear, keeping close to the wall to avoid the water. But here, too, all was fast; nor was there a sign of any one having been near the place for years. My hopes began to rise as Tim's fell.
"Why not come by daylight?" said I.
"Why not get in, now we are here?" said Tim—"unless you're afraid."
"Who's afraid?" said I, shaking the window-frame till it rattled again.
"Come to the yard," said Tim. "There'll be a ladder there, I warrant."
So we felt our way back to the side on which abutted the stable-yard, and there, sure enough, lay a crazy ladder against the wall. It took our united strength to lift it. To my horror, Tim suggested putting it to the window that overlooked the hall-door—that fatal window from which the poor lady had taken her last look in life.
I would fain have moved it elsewhere, but he was obstinate. The top of the porch was flat, and we could stand there better than anywhere else. So—Tim first, I next—we clambered cautiously up, and stepped on to the ledge. The window was fast like the rest, but it was not shuttered, and Tim boldly attacked the pane nearest to the catch with his elbow. What a hideous noise it made as it shivered inwards and fell with a smash on the floor!
"Mind now," said Tim, as he slipped in his hand and pushed back the catch. "Lift away."
It was a hard job to lift it, for the wood had warped and grown stiff in its grooves. But presently it started, and gave us room to squeeze through into the room.
Even Tim was a little overawed when he found himself standing there in the room, scarcely changed, except for the mildew and cobwebs, from what it had been twelve years ago.
"Whisht!" said he in a whisper. "I wish we had a light."
But light there was none, and the fitful gleams of the wandering moon served only to make the darkness darker.
Once, as it floated clear for an instant, I caught sight of the bed, and a chair, and some withered flowers on the floor, left there, no doubt, since the day of the funeral.
Next moment all was dark again.
Tim had used the gleam to find the door, and I heard him call me.
"Come away. Keep your hand on the wall and feel with your feet for the stairs. It's down below the arms will be."
I am sure, had he looked, he would have been able to see the whiteness of my face through the darkness; but he was better employed.
"Here it is," he said. "Now keep your hand on the rail and go gently down."
"How'll we find our way back to the ladder?" said I.
"We've to get our guns first," said he, shortly.
When we reached the bottom of the stairs, we seemed to be in a passage or hall that went right and left.
In the plight in which we were it mattered little which turn we took, so Tim turned to the right, feeling along by the wall, with me close at his heels. Cautiously as we trod, our footsteps seemed to echo along the corridor, till often enough, with my heart in my mouth, I stopped short, certain I heard some one following. Tim too, I thought, was beginning to repent of his venture, and once more said, "We need a light badly."
Just then the moon peeped in for a moment through a loophole in one of the shutters, and showed us a bracket on the wall opposite on which stood a candle, and beside it, to our joy, a tinder-box.
"These have not stood here twelve years," said Tim, as he lifted them from their place. "This is a new candle."
And I remembered then the moving lights I had seen not a week ago.
The dim light of the candle gave us some little comfort. But for safety we kept it closely shaded, lest we should betray ourselves. At the end of the passage a door stood partly open, and beyond we found ourselves in a large kitchen paved with flagstones, and crowded round the walls and down the middle of the floor with muskets, piled in military fashion in threes and sixes.
Tim's soul swelled within him at the sight; but I confess I was more concerned at the gloomy aspect of the great chamber, and the general sense of horror that seemed to hang over the whole place.
"Begorrah, it was worth coming for!" said Tim, as he crouched down examining the lock of one specially bright weapon.
Suddenly he started to his feet and extinguished the candle. "Whisht!" he exclaimed, "there's a step."
We stood like statues, not even daring to breathe. There, sure enough, not on the walk without, but down at the end of the corridor we had just traversed, was a footstep. Tim drew me down to a corner near the hearth, where, hidden behind a stack of arms, we could remain partly hid. The step approached, but whoever came was walking, as we had done, in the dark. To my thinking it was a light step, and one familiar with the path it trod. For a moment it ceased, and I guessed it was at the bracket from which we had taken the candle. Tim's hand closed on my arm as the sound began again; and presently we heard, for we could not see, the door move back.
I never wish again for a moment like that. If I could have shouted I would have done so. All we could do was to crouch, rooted to the spot, and wait with throbbing hearts for what was to happen. As the footsteps halted a moment at the open door my quick ears seemed to detect the rustle of a dress, and next moment what sounded like a sob, or it might have been only a moan of the wind outside, broke the silence.
Then the steps advanced direct for us. Even the moon had deserted us, and by no straining of our eyes could we detect who the stranger was, even when she (for by the rustling sound we were positive it was a woman) reached the hearth and stood motionless within a foot of us.
Reach out we could not; stir we durst not; all we could do was to wait and listen.
It is strange what, when all other senses fail, the ear will do for one. I at least could tell that this strange intruder was a woman, and that the dress she wore was of silk. Further, I could tell that when she reached the hearth she knelt before the empty fireplace, not for warmth, but as if seeking something. I could hear what seemed a faint irresolute tapping with the knuckles; then just as, once more, the wind fell into a moan without, there came a sudden and fearful noise, which roused us out of our stupor and filled the place with our shrieks.
For a moment we could not say what had happened. Then I understood that, in the tension of looking for the ghost I could not see, my foot had stretched against the butt of one of the guns and upset a stack of some six of them on to the stone floor, thereby putting an end to all things, the ghost included; for when we recovered from this last fright, and Tim in desperation struck a light, the place was as silent and empty as it was when we entered it.
If it was all an illusion, it was a strange one—strange indeed for a single witness to hear, stranger still for two. Yet illusion it must have been, begotten of my terrors, and the creak of the stairs, and the sighing of the wind, or the excursions of a vagabond rat. I do not pretend to explain it. Nor, for months after, could I be persuaded that the visitor was aught other than the poor distracted lady of Kilgorman. And it was months after that before I could get out of my mind that she had stood beside us and sought for something in the hearth.
As for us that night, I can promise you we were not many minutes longer in Kilgorman when the spell was once broken. Even Tim forgot the guns. With all the speed we could we ran to the stairs and so to my lady's chamber, against which stood the friendly ladder, down which we slid, and not waiting even to restore it to its place, sped like hunted hares down the avenue and along the steep path, till we came to the harbour in the creek where lay our boat.
Nor was it till we were safely afloat, with sail hoisted and our bows pointing to Fanad, that we drew breath, and dared look back in the dim dawn at the grim walls and chimneys of Kilgorman as they loomed out upon us from among the trees and rocks.
FAREWELL TO FANAD.
After that, life went uneventfully for a time with Tim and me. Now that the cabin was empty father visited us seldom. His voyages took him longer than before, and we had a shrewd guess that they were not all in search of fish; for little enough of that he brought home. Young as we boys were we knew better than to ask him questions. Only when he showed us his pocket full of French coin, or carried up by night a keg of spirits that had never been brewed in a lawful distillery, or piloted some foreign-looking craft after dark into one of the quiet creeks along the coast, or spent an evening in confidential talk with his honour and other less reputable characters, we guessed he was embarked on a business of no little risk, which might land him some fine day, with a file of marines to take care of him, in Derry Jail.
For all that, I would fain have taken to the sea with him; for every day I longed more for the open life of a sailor, and chafed at the shackles of my landsman's fate. What made it worse was that one day, sorely against Tim's will, my father ordered him to get ready for the sea, leaving me, who would have given my eyes for the chance, not only disappointed, but brotherless and alone in the world.
But I must tell you how this great change in our fortunes came to pass.
It was about a year after my mother's death when, one dark night, as father and we two sat round the peat fire in the cabin, father telling us queer stories about the Frenchmen, and icebergs in the Atlantic, and races with the king's cruisers, that the door opened suddenly, and a woman I had never seen before looked in.
"Biddy McQuilkin, as I'm a sinner!" said my father, taking the pipe from his lips, and looking, I thought, not altogether pleased. But he got up, as a gentleman should.
"Arrah, Mike, you may well wonder! I hardly know myself at all, at all. And there's the boys. My! but it's myself's glad to see the pretty darlints." And she gave us each a hug and a kiss.
Somehow or other I did not at first take kindly to Biddy McQuilkin. She was a stout woman of about mother's age, with little twinkling eyes that seemed to look not quite straight, and gave her face, otherwise comely enough, rather a sly expression. And I guessed when she made so much of us that it was perhaps less on our account than on my father's.
As for father, I think he felt pretty much as I did, and had not the cunning to conceal it.
"I thought you were in Paris, Biddy?" said he.
"So I was, and so, maybe, I'll be again," said the widow, taking her shawl from her head, and seating herself on a stool at the fire. "'Twas a chance I got to come and see the folk at home while the master and mistress are in Galway seeing what they can save out of the ruin of their estate there. Ochone, it's bad times, Mike; indeed it is. Lonely enough for you and me and the motherless boys. I've a mind to stay where I am, and settle down in the ould country."
My father looked genuinely alarmed.
"Lonely!" said he with a laugh; "like enough it is for you, poor body, but not for me. I promise you I've plenty to think of without being lonely."
"Like enough," said she with a sigh. "It's when you come home now and again to the empty house you'll be feeling lonely, and wishing you'd some kindly soul to mind you, Mike Gallagher."
But my father was not going to allow that he was lonely even then; for he guessed what it would lead to if he did.
"I'm well enough as I am," said he. "But since you're so lonely, Biddy, why not get yourself a husband?"
She looked up with her little blinking eyes, and was going to speak. But my father, fairly scared, went on,—
"It's not for me, who'll never marry more, not if I live to a hundred, thank God, to advise the likes of you, Biddy. But there's many a likely man would be glad of you, and I'd give him my blessings with you. You need company. I don't; leastways none better than my pipe and my glass."
She turned her face away rather sadly, and sat with her chin on the palm of her hand, blinking into the fire.
"What about the boys?" she said, not looking up.
"They're rightly," said my father shortly.
She gave a short, grating laugh, and was about to speak again, when there fell a footstep outside, and his honour looked in.
He had come to see father, who was to sail again to-morrow, and was fairly taken aback to see what company we had.
Biddy rose and courtesied.
"The top of the morning to your honour," said she. "Faith, I'm proud to see you looking so well."
"What brought you here, Biddy?" said his honour.
"'Deed, I had a longing to see my friends and the ould country, that's why."
His honour looked round the cabin. Tim lay asleep curled up in the corner, and I, wide-awake, sat up and listened to all they said.