THE EVIL EYE;
OR, THE BLACK SPECTOR
By William Carleton
There is very little to be said about this book in the shape of a preface. The superstition of the Evil Eye is, and has been, one of the most general that ever existed among men. It may puzzle philosophers to ask why it prevails wherever mankind exists. There is not a country on the face of the earth where a belief in the influence of the Evil Eye does not prevail. In my own young days it was a settled dogma of belief. I have reason to know, however, that, like other superstitions, it is fast fading out of the public mind. Education and knowledge will soon banish those idle and senseless superstitions: indeed, it is a very difficult thing to account for their existence at all. I think some of them have come down to us from the times of the Druids,—a class of men whom, excepting what is called their human sacrifices, I respect. My own opinion is, that what we term human sacrifices was nothing but their habitual mode of executing criminals. Toland has written on the subject and left us very little the wiser. Who could, after all, give us information upon a subject which to us is only like a dream?
What first suggested the story of the Evil Eye to me was this: A man named Case, who lives within a distance of about three or four hundred yards of my residence, keeps a large dairy; he is the possessor of five or six and twenty of the finest cows I ever saw, and he told me that a man who was an enemy of his killed three of them by his overlooking them,—that is to say, by the influence of the Evil Eye.
The opinion in Ireland of the Evil Eye is this: that a man or woman possessing it may hold it harmless, unless there is some selfish design or some spirit of vengeance to call it into operation. I was aware of this, and I accordingly constructed my story upon that principle. I have nothing further to add: the story itself will detail the rest.
CHAPTER I. Short and Preliminary.
In a certain part of Ireland, inside the borders of the county of Waterford, lived two respectable families, named Lindsay and Goodwin, the former being of Scotch descent. Their respective residences were not more than three miles distant; and the intimacy that subsisted between them was founded, for many years, upon mutual good-will and esteem, with two exceptions only in one of the families, which the reader will understand in the course of our narrative. Each ranked in the class known as that of the middle gentry. These two neighbors—one of whom, Mr. Lindsay, was a magistrate—were contented with their lot in life, which was sufficiently respectable and independent to secure to them that true happiness which is most frequently annexed to the middle station. Lindsay was a man of a kind and liberal heart, easy and passive in his nature, but with a good deal of sarcastic humor, yet neither severe nor prejudiced, and, consequently, a popular magistrate as well as a popular man. Goodwin might be said to possess a similar disposition; but he was of a more quiet and unobtrusive character than his cheerful neighbor. His mood of mind was placid and serene, and his heart as tender and affectionate as ever beat in a human bosom. His principal enjoyment lay in domestic life—in the society, in fact, of his wife and one beautiful daughter, his only child, a girl of nineteen when our tale opens. Lindsay's family consisted of one son and two daughters; but his wife, who was a widow when he married her, had another son by her first husband, who had been abroad almost since his childhood, with a grand-uncle, whose intention was to provide for him, being a man of great wealth and a bachelor.
We have already said that the two families were upon the most intimate and friendly terms; but to this there was one exception in the person of Mrs. Lindsay, whose natural disposition was impetuous, implacable, and overbearing; equally destitute of domestic tenderness and good temper. She was, in fact, a woman whom not even her own children, gifted as they were with the best and most affectionate dispositions, could love as children ought to love a parent. Utterly devoid of charity, she was never known to bestow a kind act upon the poor or distressed, or a kind word upon the absent. Vituperation and calumny were her constant weapons; and one would imagine, by the frequency and bitterness with which she wielded them, that she was in a state of perpetual warfare with society. Such, indeed, was the case; but the evils which resulted from her wanton and indefensible aggressions upon private character almost uniformly recoiled upon her own head; for, as far as her name was known, she was not only unpopular, but odious. Her husband was a man naturally fond of peace and quietness in his own house and family and, rather than occasion anything in the shape of domestic disturbance, he continued to treat her intemperate authority sometimes with indifference, sometimes with some sarcastic observation or other, and occasionally with open and undisguised contempt. In some instances, however, he departed from this apathetic line of conduct, and turned upon her with a degree of asperity and violence that was as impetuous as it was decisive. His reproaches were then general, broad, fearful; but these were seldom resorted to unless when her temper had gone beyond all reasonable limits of endurance, or in defence of the absent or inoffensive. It mattered not, however, what the reason may have been, they never failed to gain their object at the time; for the woman, though mischievous and wicked, ultimately quailed, yet not without resistance, before the exasperated resentment of her husband. Those occasional victories, however, which he gained over her with reluctance, never prevented her from treating him, in the ordinary business of life, with a systematic exhibition of abuse and scorn. Much of this he bore, as we have said; but whenever he chose to retort upon her with her own weapons in their common and minor skirmishes, she found his sarcasm too cool and biting for a temper so violent as hers, and the consequence was, that nothing enraged her more than to see him amuse himself at her expense.
This woman had a brother, who also lived in the same neighborhood, and who, although so closely related to her by blood, was, nevertheless, as different from her in both character and temper as good could be from evil. He was wealthy and generous, free from everything like a worldly spirit, and a warm but unostentatious benefactor to the poor, and to such individuals as upon inquiry he found to be entitled to his beneficence. His wife had, some years before, died of decline, which, it seems, was hereditary in her family. He felt her death as a calamity which depressed his heart to the uttermost depths of affliction, and from which, indeed, he never recovered. All that remained to him after her demise was a beautiful little girl, around whom his affections gathered with a degree of tenderness that was rendered almost painful by the apprehension of her loss. Agnes, from her eighth or ninth year, began to manifest slight symptoms of the same fatal malady which had carried away her mother. These attacks filled his heart with those fearful forebodings, which, whilst they threw him into a state of terror and alarm, at the same time rendered the love he bore her such as may be imagined, but cannot be expressed. It is only when we feel the probability of losing a beloved object that the heart awakens to a more exquisite perception of its affections for it, and wonders, when the painful symptoms of disease appear, why it was heretofore unconscious of the full extent of its love. Such was the nature of Mr. Hamilton's feelings for his daughter, whenever the short cough or hectic cheek happened to make their appearance from time to time, and foreshadow, as it were, the certainty of an early death; and then he should be childless—a lonely man in the world, possessing a heart overflowing with affection, and yet without an object on which he could lavish it, as now, with happiness and delight. He looked, therefore, upon decline as upon an approaching foe, and the father's heart became sentinel for the welfare of his child, and watched every symptom of the dreaded disease that threatened her, with a vigilance that never slept. Under such circumstances we need not again assure our readers that his parental tenderness for this beautiful girl—now his "only one," as he used to call her—was such as is rare even in the most affectionate families; but in this case the slight and doubtful tenure which his apprehensions told him he had of her existence raised his love of her almost to idolatry. Still she improved in person, grace, and intellect; and although an occasional shadow, as transient as that which passes over and makes dim the flowery fields of May or April, darkened her father's heart for a time, yet it passed away, and she danced on in the light of youthful happiness, without a single trace of anxiety or care. Her father's affection for her was not, however, confined to herself; on the contrary, it passed to and embraced every object that was dear to her—her favorite books, her favorite playthings, and her favorite companions. Among the latter, without a single rival, stood her young friend, Alice Goodwin, who was then about her own age. Never was the love of sisters greater or more beautiful than that which knit the innocent hearts of those two girls together. Their affections, in short, were so dependent upon each other that separation and absence became a source of anxiety and uneasiness to each. Neither of them had a sister, and in the fervor of their attachment, they entered into a solemn engagement that each of them should consider herself the sister of the other. This innocent experiment of the heart—for such we must consider it in these two sisterless girls—was at least rewarded by complete success. A new affinity was superadded to friendship, and the force of imagination completed what the heart begun.
Next to Agnes was Alice Goodwin awarded a place in Mr. Hamilton's heart. 'Tis true he had nieces; but in consequence of the bitter and exasperating temper of their mother, who was neither more nor less than an incendiary among her relations, he had not spoken to her for years; and this fast occasioned a comparative estrangement between the families. Sometimes, however, her nieces and she visited, and were always upon good terms; but Agnes's heart had been preoccupied; and even if it had not, the heartless predictions of her aunt, who entertained her with the cheering and consoling information that "she had death in her face," and that "she knew from the high color of her cheek that she would soon follow her mother," would have naturally estranged the families. Now, of this apprehension, above all others, it was the father's wish that Agnes should remain ignorant; and when she repeated to him, with tears in her eyes, the merciless purport of her aunt's observations, he replied, with a degree of calm resentment which was unusual to him, "Agnes, my love, let not anything your aunt may say alarm you in the least; she is no prophetess, my dear child. Your life, as is that of all his creatures, is in the hands of God who gave it. I know her avaricious and acrimonious disposition—her love of wealth, and her anxiety to aggrandize her family. As it is, she will live to regret the day she ever uttered those cruel words to you, my child. You shall visit at your uncle's no more. Whenever the other members of her family may please to come here, we shall receive them with kindness and affection; but I will not suffer you to run the risk of listening to such unfeeling prognostications in future."
In the meantime her health continued in a state sufficiently satisfactory to her father. It is true an occasional alarm was felt from time to time, as a slight cold, accompanied with its hard and unusual cough, happened to supervene; but in general it soon disappeared, and in a brief space she became perfectly recovered, and free from every symptom of the dreadful malady.
In this way the tenor of her pure and innocent life went on, until she reached her sixteenth year. Never did a happier young creature enjoy existence—never lived a being more worthy of happiness. Her inseparable and bosom friend was Alice Goodwin, now her sister according to their artless compact of love. They spent weeks and months alternately with each other; but her father never permitted a day to pass without seeing her, and every visit filled his happy spirit with more hopeful anticipations.
At this period it occurred to him to have their portraits drawn, and on hearing him mention this intention, their young hearts were ecstatic with delight.
"But, papa," said Agnes, "if you do I have a favor to ask of you."
"Granted, Agnes, if it be possible."
"O, quite possible, papa; it is to get both our portraits painted in the same frame, for, do you know, I don't think I could feel happy if Alice's portrait was separated from mine."
"It shall be done, darling—it shall be done."
And it was done, accordingly; for what father could refuse a request founded upon an affection so tender and beautiful as theirs?
Agnes has now entered her seventeenth year—but how is this? Why does her cheek begin to get alternately pale and red? And why does the horizon of the father's heart begin to darken? Alas! it is so—the spoiler is upon her at last. Appetite is gone—her spirits are gone, unless in these occasional ebullitions of vivacity which resemble the lightnings which flash from the cloud that is gathering over her. It would be painful to dwell minutely upon the history of her illness—upon her angelic patience and submission to the will of God, and upon the affection, now consecrated by approaching death into something sacred, which she exhibited to her father and Alice. The latter was never from her during the progress of that mournful decline. The poor dying girl found all the tenderest offices of love and friendship anticipated. Except heaven she had scarcely anything to wish for. But who can even imagine the hopeless agony of her father's soul? She had been the single remaining plank which bore him through a troubled ocean to a calm and delightful harbor; but now she is going down, leaving him to struggle, weak and exhausted for a little, and then the same dark waves will cover them both.
At length the dreadful hour arrived—the last slight spasm of death was over, and her spotless soul passed into heaven from the bereaved arms of her hopeless and distracted father, who was reduced by the depth and wildness of despair to a state of agony which might wring compassion from a demon.
On the morning of her interment, Alice, completely prostrated by excess of grief and watching, was assisted to bed, being unable to accomplish even the short distance to her father's house, and for nearly a fortnight serious doubts were entertained of her recovery. Her constitution, however, though not naturally strong, enabled her to rally, and in three weeks' time she was barely able to go home to her family. On the day following Mr. Hamilton called to see her—a task to which, under the dreadful weight of his sorrow, he was scarcely equal. He said he considered it, however, his duty, and he accordingly went. His visit, too, was very short, nor had he much to say, and it was well he had not; for he could by no exertion have summoned sufficient fortitude for a lengthened conversation on a subject arising from the loss of a child so deeply beloved.
"Alice," said he, "I know the arrangement entered into between you—and—and—"
Here he was overcome, and could not for a few minutes maintain sufficient calmness to proceed, and poor Alice was almost as deeply affected as himself. At last he strove to go on.
"You know," he resumed, "the agreement I allude to. You were to be sisters, and you were sisters. Well, my dear Alice, for her sake, as well as for your own, and as she looked upon you in that affectionate light, the contract between you, as far as it now can be done, shall be maintained. Henceforth you are my daughter. I adopt you. All that she was to have shall be yours, reverting, however, should you die without-issue, to my nephew, Henry Woodward; and should he die childless, to his brother, Charles Lindsay; and should he die without offspring, then to my niece Maria. I have arranged it so, and have to say that, except the hope of meeting my child in death, it is now the only consolation left me. I am, I know, fulfilling her wishes; and, my dear Alice, you will relieve my heart—my broken heart—by accepting it."
"O, would to God," replied Alice, sobbing bitterly, "that I could give a thousand times as much to have our beloved Agnes back again! I have now no sister! Alas! alas! I have now no sister!"
"Ah, my child," he replied, "for now I will call you so, your grief, though deep and poignant, will pass away in time, but mine will abide with me whilst I stay here. That period, however, will not be long; the prop of my existence, the source of my happiness, is gone; and I will never know what happiness is until I rejoin her and her blessed mother. Good-by, my daughter; I will have neither reply nor remonstrance, nor will I be moved by any argument from this my resolution."
He then passed out of the house, entered his carriage with some difficulty, and proceeded home with a heart considerably relieved by what he had done.
It was in vain that Alice and her father did subsequently remonstrate with him upon the subject. He refused to listen to them, and said, his determination was immovable.
"But," he added, "if it be any satisfaction to you to know it, I have not forgotten my relations, to whom I have left the legacies originally intended for them. I would have left it directly to Henry Woodward, were it not that his grasping mother sent him to another relation, from whom she calculated that he might have larger expectations; and I hope he may realize them. At all events, my relatives will find themselves in exactly the same position as if our beloved Agnes had lived."
Mr. Hamilton, then advanced in years—for Agnes might be termed the child of his old age—did not survive her death twelve months. That afflicting event fairly broke him down. Death, however, to him had no terrors, because he had nothing to detain him here. On the contrary, he looked to it only as a release from sorrow; an event that would soon wipe away all tears from his eyes, draw the sting of affliction from his heart, and restore him once more to his beloved Agnes and her dear mother. He looked forward only to close his eyes against the world and sleep with them—and so he did.
When his will was opened, the astonishment and dismay of his relations may be! easily imagined, as well as the bitterness of their disappointment. The bequeathal of the bulk of his property to a stranger, who I could urge no claim of consanguinity upon him, absolutely astonished them; and their resentment at his caprice—or rather what they termed his dotage—was not only deep, but loud. To say the truth, such an unexpected demise of property was strongly calculated to try their temper. After the death of Agnes—an event which filled the unfeeling and worldly heart of her aunt with delight—they made many a domestic calculation, and held many a family council as to the mode in which their uncle's property might be distributed among them, and many anticipations were the result, because there was none in the usual descent of property to inherit it but themselves. Now, in all this, they acted very naturally—just, perhaps, as you or I, gentle reader, would act if placed in similar circumstances, and sustained by the same expectations.
In the meantime matters were not likely to rest in quiet. Murmurs went abroad, hints were given, and broader assertions advanced, that the old man had not been capable of making a will, and that his mind had been so completely disordered and prostrated by excessive grief for the loss of his daughter, that he became the dupe and victim of undue influence in the person of a selfish and artful girl—that artful girl being no other than Alice Goodwin, aided and abetted by her family. Every circumstance, no matter how trivial, that could be raked up and collected, was now brought together, and stamped with a character of significance, in order to establish his dotage and their fraud. It is not necessary to dwell upon this. In due time the matter came to a trial, for the will had been disputed, and, after a patient hearing, its validity was completely established, and all the hopes and expectations of the Lindsays blown into air.
In the meantime, and while the suit was pending, the conduct of Alice was both generous and disinterested. She pressed her parents to allow her, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, to renounce the bequest, inasmuch as she thought that Mr. Hamilton's relatives had a stronger and prior claim. This, however, they peremptorily refused to do.
"I care not for money," said her father, "nor have I much to spare; but you must consider, my dear Alice, that the act upon the part of Mr. Hamilton was a spontaneous demise of his own property, as a reward to you on behalf of his daughter, for the affection which you bore her, and which subsisted between you. You were her nurse, her friend, her sister; you tended her night and day during her long illness, even to the injury of your health, and almost at the risk of your very life. Suppose, for instance, that Mr. Hamilton had had male heirs; in that case, the Lindsays would have been just as they are, perhaps not so well; for he might not have left them even a legacy. Then, they unjustly tax us with fraud, circumvention, and the practice of undue influence; and, indeed, have endeavored to stamp an indelible stain upon your character and honor. Every man, my dear, as the proverb has it, is at liberty to do what he pleases with his own, according to his free will, and a reasonable disposition. Let me hear no more of this, then, but enjoy with gratitude that which God and your kind friend have bestowed upon you."
We need not assure our readers that the Lindsays henceforth were influenced by an unfriendly feeling toward the Goodwins, and that all intercourse between the families terminated. On the part of Mrs. Lindsay, this degenerated into a spirit of the most intense hatred and malignity. To this enmity, however, there were exceptions in the family, and strong ones, too, as the reader will perceive in the course of the story.
Old Lindsay himself, although he mentioned the Goodwins with moderation, could not help feeling strongly and bitterly the loss of property which his children had sustained, owing to this unexpected disposition of it by their uncle. Here, then, were two families who had lived in mutual good-will and intimacy, now placed fronting each other in a spirit of hostility. The Goodwins felt indignant that their motives should be misinterpreted by what they considered deliberate falsehood and misrepresentation; and the Lindsays could not look in silence upon the property which they thought ought to be theirs, transferred to the possession of strangers, who had wheedled a dotard to make a will in their favor. Such, however, in thousands of instances, are the consequences of the
"Opes irritamenta malorum."
The above facts, in connection with these two families, and the future incidents of our narrative, we have deemed it necessary, for I the better understanding of what follows, to place in a preliminary sketch before our readers.
CHAPTER II. A Murderer's Wake and the Arrival of a Stranger
It is the month of June, and the sun has gone down amidst a mass of those red and angry clouds which prognosticate a night of storm and tempest. The air is felt to be oppressive and sultry, and the whole sky is overshadowed with gloom. On such a night the spirit sinks, cheerfulness abandons the heart, and an indefinable anxiety depresses it. This impression is not peculiar to man, who, on such occasions, is only subject to the same instinctive apprehension which is known to influence the irrational animals. The clouds are gathering in black masses; but there is, nevertheless, no opening between them through which the sky is visible. The gloom is unbroken, and so is the silence; and a person might imagine that the great operations of Nature had been suspended and stood still. The outlying cattle betake them to shelter, and the very dogs, with a subdued and timid bark, seek the hearth, and, with ears and tail hanging in terror, lay themselves down upon it as if to ask protection from man. On such a night as this we will request the reader to follow us toward a district that trenches upon the foot of a dark mountain, from whose precipitous sides masses of gray rock, apparently embedded in heath and fern, protrude themselves in uncouth and gigantic shapes. 'Tis true they were not then visible; but we wish the reader to understand the character of the whole scenery through which we pass. We diverge from the highway into a mountain road, which resembles the body of a serpent when in motion, going literally up one elevation, and down another. To the right, deep glens, gullies, and ravines; but the darkness with which they are now filled is thick and impervious to the eye, and nothing breaks the silence about us but the rush of the mountain torrent over some jutting precipice below us. To the left all is gloom, as it would be even were there light to guide the sight, because on that side spreads a black, interminable moor. As it is we can see nothing; yet as we get along we find that we are not alone. Voices reach our ears; but they are not, as usual, the voices of mirth and laughter. These which we hear—and they are not far from us—are grave and serious; the utterance thick and low, as if those from whom they proceed were expressing a sense of sympathy or horror. We have now advanced up this rugged path about half a mile from the highway we have mentioned, and discovered a light which will guide us to our destination. As we approach the house the people are increasing in point of numbers; but still their conversation is marked by the same strange and peculiar character. Perhaps the solemn depth of their voices gains something by the ominous aspect of the sky; but, be this as it may, the feeling which it occasions fills one with a different and distinct sense of discomfort.
We ourselves feel it, and it is not surprising; for, along this wild and rugged path of darkness, we are conducting the reader to the wake of a murderer. We have now arrived within fifty yards of the house, which, however, we cannot see, for nothing but a solitary light is visible. But, lo! a flash of lightning! and there for a moment is the whole rugged and savage scenery revealed. The huge, pointed mountains, the dreary wastes, the wild, still glens, the naked hills of granite, and the tremendous piles of rocks, ready, one would think, to crash down from the positions where they seem to hang, if only assailed by a strong gale of wind—these objects, we say, were fearful and startling in themselves; but the sensations which they produced were nothing in comparison with the sight of an unpainted deal coffin which stood near the door, against the side wall of the house. The appearance of a coffin, but especially at night, is one that casts a deep shadow over the spirits, because it is associated with death, of which it is the melancholy and depressing exponent; but to look upon it by such an awful though transient light as that which proceeds from the angry fires of heaven, and to reflect upon the terrible associations of blood and crime which mingle themselves with that of a murderer, is a dreadful but wholesome homily to the heart. We now enter the house of death, where the reader must suppose himself to be present, and shall go on to describe the scene which presents itself.
On entering, we found the house nearly crowded; but we could observe that there were very few of the young and light-hearted present, and scarcely any females, unless those who were related to the family of the deceased, or to himself. The house was low and long, and the kitchen in which they had laid him out was spacious, but badly furnished. Altogether its destitution was calculated to deepen the sense of awe which impressed those who had come to spend the night with the miserable widow and wailing orphans of the murderer.
The unfortunate man had been executed that morning after having acknowledged his crime, and, as the laws of that period with respect to the interment of the convicted dead were not so strict as they are at present, the body was restored to his friends, in order that they might bury it when and where they wished. The crime of the unhappy man was deep, and so was that which occasioned it. His daughter, a young and beautiful girl, had been seduced by a gentleman in the neighborhood who was unmarried; and that act of guilt and weakness on her part was the first act that ever brought shame upon the family. All the terrible passions of the father's heart leaped into action at the rain of his child, and the disgrace which it entailed upon his name. The fury of domestic affection stimulated his heart, and blazed in his brain even to madness. His daughter was obliged to fly with her infant and conceal herself from his vengeance, though the unhappy girl, until the occurrence of that woful calamity, had been the solace and the sunshine of his life. The guilty seducer, however, was not doomed to escape the penalty of his crime. Morrissey—for that was the poor man's name—cared not for law; whether it was to recompense him for the degradation of his daughter, or to punish him for inflicting the vengeance of outraged nature upon the author of her ruin. What compensation could satisfy his heart for the infamy entailed upon her and him? what paltry damages from a jury could efface her shame or restore her innocence? Then, the man was poor, and to the poor, under such circumstances, there exists no law, and, consequently, no redress. He strove to picture to himself his beautiful and innocent child; but he could not bear to bring the image of her early and guiltless life near him. The injury was irreparable, and could only be atoned for by the blood of the destroyer. He could have seen her borne shameless and unpolluted to the grave, with the deep, but natural, sorrow of a father; he could have lived with her in destitution and misery; he could have begged with her through a hard and harsh world; he could have seen her pine in want; moan upon the bed of sickness; nay, more, he could have seen her spirit pass, as it were, to the God who gave it, so long as that spirit was guiltless, and her humble name without spot or stain; yes, he could have witnessed and borne all this, and the blessed memory of her virtues would have consoled him in his bereavement and his sorrow. But to reflect that she was trampled down into guilt and infamy by the foot of the licentious libertine, was an event that cried for blood; and blood he had, for he murdered the seducer, and that with an insatiable rapacity of revenge that was terrible. He literally battered the head of his victim out of all shape, and left him a dead and worthless mass of inanimate matter. The crime, though desperate, was openly committed, and there were sufficient witnesses at his trial to make it a short one. On that morning, neither arrest, nor friar, nor chaplain, nor jailer, nor sheriff could wring from him one single expression of regret or repentance for what he had done. The only reply he made them was this—"Don't trouble me; I knew what my fate was to be, and will die with satisfaction."
After cutting him down, his body, as we have said, was delivered to his friends, who, having wrapped it in a quilt, conveyed it on a common car to his own house, where he received the usual ablutions and offices of death, and was composed upon his own bed into that attitude of the grave which will never change.
The house was nearly filled with grave and aged people, whose conversation was low, and impressed with solemnity, that originated from the painful and melancholy spirit of the event that had that morning taken place. A deal table was set lengthwise on the floor; on this were candles, pipes, and plates of cut tobacco. In the usual cases of death among the poor, the bed on which the corpse is stretched is festooned with white sheets, borrowed for the occasion from the wealthier neighbors. Here, however, there was nothing of the kind. The associations connected with murder were too appalling and terrible to place the rites required, either for the wake or funeral of the murderer, within the ordinary claims of humanity for these offices of civility to which we have alluded. In this instance none of the neighbors would lend sheets for what they considered an unholy purpose; the bed, therefore, on which the body lay had nothing to ornament it. A plain drugget quilt was his only covering, but he did not feel the want of a better.
It was not the first time I had ever seen a corpse, but it was the first time I had ever seen that of a murderer. I looked upon it with an impression which it is difficult, if not impossible, to describe. I felt my nerves tingle, and my heart palpitate. To a young man, fresh, and filled with the light-hearted humanity of youth, approximation to such an object as then lay before me is a singular trial of feeling, and a painful test of moral courage. The sight, however, and the reflections connected with it, rendered a long contemplation of it impossible, and, besides, I had other objects to engage my attention. I now began to observe the friends and immediate connections of the deceased. In all, there were only seven or eight women, including his wife. There were four boys and no daughters; for, alas! I forgot to inform the reader that his fallen daughter was his only one; a fact which, notwithstanding his guilt, must surely stir up the elements of our humanity in mitigation of his madness.
This house of mourning was, indeed, a strange, a solemn, and a peculiar one. The women sat near the bed upon stools, and such other seats as they had prepared. The wife and his two sisters were rocking themselves to and fro, as is the custom when manifesting profound sorrow in Irish wake-houses; the other women talked to each other in a low tone, amounting almost to a whisper. Their conduct was marked, in fact, by a grave and mysterious monotony; but after a little reflection, it soon became painfully intelligible. Here was shame, as well as guilt and sorrow—here was shame endeavoring to restrain sorrow; and hence the silence, and the struggle between them which it occasioned. The wife from time to time turned her heavy eyes upon the countenance of the corpse; and after the first sensations of awe had departed from me, I ventured to look upon it with a purpose of discovering in its features the lineaments of guilt. Owing to the nature of his death, that collapse which causes the flesh to shrink almost immediately after the spirit has departed was not visible here. The face was rather full and livid, but the expression was not such as penitence or a conviction of crime could be supposed to have left behind it. On the contrary, the whole countenance had somewhat of a placid look, and the general contour was unquestionably that of affection and benevolence.
It was easy, however, to perceive that this agonizing restraint upon the feelings of that loving wife could not last long, and that the task which the poor woman was endeavoring to perform in deference to the conventional opinions of society was beyond her strength. Hers, indeed, was not a common nor an undivided sorrow; for, alas, she had not only the loss of her kind husband and his ignominious death to distract her, but the shame and degradation of their only daughter which occasioned it; and what a trial was that for a single heart! From time to time a deep back-drawing sob would proceed from her lips, and the eye was again fixed upon the still and unconscious features of her husband. At length the chord was touched, and the heart of the wife and mother could restrain itself no longer. The children had been for some time whispering together, evidently endeavoring to keep the youngest of them still; but they found it impossible—he must go to awaken his daddy. This was too much for them, and the poor things burst out into an uncontrollable wail of sorrow. The conversation among the spectators was immediately hushed; but the mother started to her feet, and turning to the bed, bent over it, and raised a cry of agony such as I never heard nor hope ever to hear again. She clapped her hands, and rocking herself up and down over him, gave vent to her accumulated grief, which now rushed like a torrent that had been dammed up and overcome its barriers, from her heart.
"O Harry," said she in Irish—but we translate it—"O Harry, the husband of the kind heart, the loving father, and the good man! O Harry, Harry, and is it come to this with you and me and our childre! They may say what they will, but you're not a murderer. It was your love for our unfortunate Nannie that made you do what you did. O, what was the world to you without her! Wasn't she the light of your eyes, and the sweet pulse of your loving heart! And did ever a girl love a father as she loved you, till the destroyer came across her—ay, the destroyer that left us as we now are, sunk in sorrow and misery that will never end in this world more! And now, what is she, and what has the destroyer made her? O, when I think of how you sought after her you loved as you did, to take her life, and when I think of how she that loved you as she did was forced to fly from the hand that would pluck out your own heart sooner than injure a hair of her head—so long as she was innocent—O, when I think of all this, and look upon you lying there now, and all for the love you bore her, how can my heart bear it, and how can I live. O, the destroyer, the villain! the devil! what has he wrought upon us! But, thank God, he is punished—the father's love punished him. They are liars! you are no murderer. The mother's heart within me tells me that you did what was right—you acted like a man, my husband. God bless you, and make your soul happy for its love to Nannie. I'll kiss you, Harry—I'll kiss you, my heart's treasure, for your noble deed—but O Harry, you don't know the lips of sorrow that kiss! you now. Sure they are the lips of your own Rose, that gave her young heart to you, and was happy for it. Don't feel ashamed, Harry; it's a good man's case to die the death you did, and be at rest, as I hope you are, for you are not a murderer; and if you are, it is only in the eye of the law, and it was your love for Nannie that did it."
This woeful dirge of the mother's heart, and the wife's sorrow, had almost every eye in tears; and, indeed, it was impossible that the sympathy for her should not be deep and general. They all knew the excellence and mildness of her husband's character, and that every word she uttered concerning him was truth.
In Irish wakehouses, it is to be observed, the door is never closed. The heat of the house, and the crowding of the neighbors to it, render it necessary that it should be open; but independently of this, we believe it a general custom, as it is also to keep it so during meals. This last arises from the spirit of hospitality peculiar to the Irish people.
When his wife had uttered the words "you are no murderer," a young and beautiful girl entered the house in sufficient time to have heard them distinctly. She was tall, her shape was of the finest symmetry, her features, in spite of the distraction which, at first glance, was legible in them, were absolutely fascinating. They all knew her well; but the moment she made her appearance, the conversation, and those expressions of sympathy which were passing from one to another, were instantly checked; and nothing now was felt but compassion for the terrible ordeal that they knew was before her mother. She rushed up to where her mother had sat down, her eyes flashing, and her long brown hair floating about her white shoulders, which were but scantily covered.
"You talk of a murderer, mother," she exclaimed. "You talk of a murderer, do you? But if murder has been committed, as it has, I am the murderer. Keep back now, let me look upon my innocent father—upon that father that I have murdered."
She approached the bed on which he lay, her eyes still flashing, and her bosom panting, and there she stood gazing upon his features for about two minutes.
The silence of the corpse before them was not deeper than that which her unexpected presence occasioned. There she stood gazing on the dead body of her father, evidently torn by the pangs of agony and remorse, her hands clenching and opening by turns, her wild and unwinking eyes riveted upon those moveless features, which his love for her had so often lit up with happiness and pride. Her mother, who was alarmed, shocked, stunned, gazed upon her, but could not speak. At length she herself broke the silence.
"Mother," said she, "I came to see my father, for I know he won't strike me now, and he never did. O, no, because I ran away from him and from all of you, but not till after I had deserved it; before that I was safe. Mother, didn't my father love me once better than his own life? I think he did. O, yes, and I returned it by murdering him—by sending him—that father there that loved me so well—by—by sending him to the hangman—to a death of disgrace and shame. That's what his own Nannie, as he used to call me, did for him. But no shame—-no guilt to you, father; the shame and the guilt are your own Nannie's, and that's the only comfort I have; for you're happy, what I will never be, either in this world or the next. You are now in heaven; but you will never see your own Nannie there."
The recollections caused by her appearance, and the heart-rending language she used, touched her mother's heart, now softened by her sufferings into pity for her affliction, if not into a portion of the former affection which she bore her.
"O Nannie, Nannie!" said she, now weeping bitterly upon a fresh sorrow, "don't talk that way—don't, don't; you have repentance to turn to; and for what you've done, God will yet forgive you, and so will your mother. It was a great crime in you; but God can forgive the greatest, if his own creatures will turn to him with sorrow for what they've done."
She never once turned her eyes upon her mother, nor raised them for a moment from her father's face. In fact, she did not seem to have heard a single syllable she said, and this was evident from the wild but affecting abstractedness of her manner.
"Mother!" she exclaimed, "that man they say is a murderer, and yet I am not worthy to touch him. Ah! I'm alone now—altogether alone, and he—he that loved me, too, was taken away from me by a cruel death—ay, a cruel death; for it was barbarous to kill him as if he was a wild beast—ay, and without one moment's notice, with all his sins upon his head. He is gone—he is gone; and there lies the man that murdered him—there he lies, the sinner; curse upon his hand of blood that took him I loved from me! O, my heart's breakin' and my brain is boilin'! What will I do? Where will I go? Am I mad? Father, my curse upon you for your deed of blood! I never thought I'd live to curse you; but you don't hear me, nor know what I suffer. Shame! disgrace—ay, and I'd bear it all for his sake that you plunged, like a murderer, as you were, into eternity. How does any of you know what it is to love as I did? or what it is to lose the man you love by a death so cruel? And this hair that he praised so much, who will praise it or admire it now, when he is gone? Let it go, too, then. I'll not keep it on me—I'll tear it off—off!"
Her paroxysm had now risen to a degree of fury that fell little, if anything, short of insanity—temporary insanity it certainly was. She tore her beautiful hair from her head in handfuls, and would have proceeded to still greater lengths, when she was seized by some of those present, in order to restrain her violence. On finding that she was held fast, she looked at them with blazing eyes, and struggled to set herself free; but on finding her efforts vain, she panted deeply three or four times, threw back her head, and fell into a fit that, from its violence, resembled epilepsy. After a lapse of ten minutes or so, the spasmodic action, having probably wasted her physical strength, ceased, and she lay in a quiet trance; so quiet, indeed, that it might have passed for death, were it not for the deep expression of pain and suffering which lay upon her face, and betrayed the fury of the moral tempest which swept through her heart and brain. All the mother's grief now was hushed—all the faculties of her soul were now concentrated on her daughter, and absorbed by the intense anxiety she felt for her recovery. She sat behind the poor girl, and drew her body back so that her head rested on her bosom, to which she pressed her, kissing her passive lips with streaming eyes.
"O, darling Nannie!" she exclaimed, "strive and rouse yourself; it is your loving mother that asks you. Waken up, poor misled and heart-broken girl, waken up; I forgive you all your errors. O, avillish machree (sweetness of my heart), don't you hear that it is your mother's voice that's spakin' to you!"
She was still, however, insensible; and her little brothers were all in tears about her.
"O mother!" said the oldest, sobbing, "is Nannie dead too? When she went away from us you bid us not to cry, that she would soon come back; and now she has only come back to die. Nannie, I'm your own little Frank; won't you hear me I Nannie, will you never wash my face of a Sunday morning more? will you never comb down my hair, put the pin in my shirt collar, and kiss me, as you used to do before we went to Mass together?"
The poor mother was so much overcome by this artless allusion to her innocent life, involving, as it did, such a manifestation of affection, that she wept until fairly exhausted, after which she turned her eyes up to heaven and exclaimed, whilst her daughter's inanimate body still lay in her arms,
"O Lord of mercy, will you not look down with pity and compassion on me this night!"
In the course of about ten minutes after this her daughter's eyes began to fill with those involuntary tears which betoken in females recovery from a fit; they streamed quietly, but in torrents, down her cheek. She gave a deep sigh, opened her eyes, looked around her, first with astonishment, and then toward the bed with a start of horror.
"Where am I?" said she.
"You are with me, darlin'," replied the mother, kissing her lips, and whispering, "Nannie, I forgive you—I forgive you; and whisper, your father did before he went to death."
She smiled faintly and sorrowfully in her mother's face, and said, "Mother, I didn't know that." After which she got up, and proceeding to the bed, she fell upon his body, kissed his lips, and indulged in a wild and heart-breaking wail of grief. This evidently afforded her relief, for she now became more calm and collected.
"Mother," said she, "I must go."
"Why, sure you won't leave us, Nannie?" replied the other with affectionate alarm.
"O, I must go," she repeated; "bring me the children till I see them once—Frank first."
The mother accordingly brought them to her, one by one, when she stooped down and kissed them in turn, not without bitter tears, whilst they, poor things, were all in an uproar of sorrow. She then approached her mother, threw herself in her arms, and again wept wildly for a time, as did that afflicted mother along with her.
"Mother, farewell," said she at length—"farewell; think of me when I am far away—think of your unfortunate Nannie, and let every one that hears of my misfortune think of all the misery and all the crime that may come from one false and unguarded step."
"O, Nannie darling," replied her mother, "don't desert us now; sure you wouldn't desert your mother now, Nannie?"
"If my life could make you easy or happy, mother, I could give it for your sake, worthless now and unhappy as it is; but I am going to a far country, where my shame and the misfortunes I have caused will never be known. I must go, for if I lived here, my disgrace would always be before you and myself; then I would soon die, and I am not yet fit for death."
With these words the unhappy girl passed out of the house, and was never after that night seen or heard of, but once, in that part of the country.
In the meantime that most pitiable mother, whose afflicted heart could only alternate from one piercing sorrow to another, sat down once more, and poured forth a torrent of grief for her unhappy daughter, whom she feared, she would never see again.
Those who were present, now that the distressing scene which we have attempted to describe was over, began to chat together with more freedom.
"Tom Kennedy," said one of them, accosting a good-natured young fellow, with a clear, pleasant eye, "how are all your family at Beech Grove? Ould Goodwin and his pretty daughter ought to feel themselves in good spirits after gaining the lawsuit in the case of Mr. Hamilton's will. They bate the Lindsays all to sticks."
"And why not," replied Kennedy; "who had a betther right to dispose of his property than the man that owned it? and, indeed, if any one livin' desarved it from another, Miss Alice did from him. She nearly brought herself to death's door, in attending upon and nursing her sister, as she called poor Miss Agnes; and, as for her grief at her death, I never saw anything like it, except "—he added, looking at the unfortunate widow—"where there was blood relationship."
"Well, upon my sowl," observed another, "I can't blame the Lindsays for feeling so bittherly about it as they do. May I never see yestherday, if a brother of mine had property, and left it to a stranger instead of to his own—that is to say, my childre—I'd take it for granted that he was fizzen down stairs for the same. It was a shame for the ould sinner to scorn his own relations for a stranger."
"Well," said another, "one thing is clear—that since he did blink them about the property, it couldn't get into betther hands. Your master, Tom, is the crame of a good landlord, as far as his property goes, and much good may it do him and his! I'll go bail that, as far as Miss Alice herself is consarned, many a hungry mouth, will be filled many a naked back covered, and many a heavy heart made light through the manes of it."
"Faith," said a third spokesman, "and that wouldn't be the case if that skinflint barge of Lindsay's had got it in her clutches. At any rate, it's a shame for her and them to abuse the Goodwins as they do. If ould Hamilton left it to them surely it wasn't their fault."
"Never mind," said another, "I'll lay a wager that Mrs. Lindsay's son—I mane the step-son that's now abroad with the uncle—-will be sent for, and a marriage will follow between him and Miss Goodwin."
"It maybe so," replied Tom, "but it's not very probable. I know the man that's likely to walk into the property, and well worthy he is of it."
"Come, Tom, let us hear who is the lucky youth?"
"Family saicrets," replied Tom, "is not to be rovaled. All I can say is, that he is a true gentleman. Give me another blast o' the pipe, for I must go home."
Tom, who was servant to Mr. Goodwin, having now taken his "blast," wished them good-night; but before he went he took the sorrowing widow's cold and passive hand in his, and said, whilst the tears stood in his eyes,
"May God in heaven pity you and support your heart, for you are the sorely tried woman this miserable night!"
He then bent his steps to Beech Grove, his master's residence, the hour being between twelve and one o'clock.
The night, as we have already said, had been calm, but gloomy and oppressive. Now, however, the wind had sprung up, and, by the time Kennedy commenced his journey home, it was not only tempestuous but increasing in strength and fury every moment. This, however, was not all;—the rain came down in torrents, and was battered against his person with such force that in a few moments he was drenched to the skin. So far, it was wind and rain—dreadful and tempestuous as they were. The storm, however, was only half opened. Distant flashes of lightning and sullen growls of thunder proceeded from the cloud masses to the right, but it was obvious that the thunderings above them were only commencing their deep and terrible pealings. In a short time they increased in violence and fury, and resembled, in fact, a West Indian hurricane more than those storms which are peculiar to our milder climates. The tempest-voice of the wind was now in dreadful accordance! with its power. Poor Kennedy, who fortunately knew every step of the rugged road along which he struggled and staggered, was frequently obliged to crouch himself and hold by the projecting crags about him, lest the strength of the blast might hurl him over the rocky precipices by the edges of which the road went. With great difficulty, however, and not less danger, he succeeded in getting into the open highway below, and into a thickly inhabited country. Here a new scene of terror and confusion awaited him. The whole neighborhood around him were up and in alarm. The shoutings of men, the screams of women and children, all in a state of the utmost dread and consternation, pierced his ears, even through the united rage and roaring of the wind and thunder. The people had left their houses, as they usually do in such cases, from an apprehension that if they remained in them they might be buried in their ruins. Some had got ladders, and attempted, at the risk of their lives, to secure the thatch upon the roofs by placing flat stones, sods, and such other materials, as by their weight, might keep it from being borne off like dust upon the wings of the tempest. Their voices, and! screams, and lamentations, in accordance, as they were, with the uproar of the elements, added a new feature of terror to this dreadful tumult. The lightnings now became more vivid and frequent, and the pealing of the thunder so loud and near, that he felt his very ears stunned by it. Every cloud, as the lightnings flashed from it, seemed to open, and to disclose, as it were, a furnace of blazing fire within its black and awful shroud. The whole country around, with all its terrified population running about in confusion and dismay, were for the moment made as clear and distinct to the eye as if it were noonday, with this difference, that the scene borrowed from the red and sheeted flashes a wild and spectral character which the light of day never gives. In fact, the human figures, as they ran hurriedly to and fro, resembled those images which present themselves to the imagination in some frightful dream. Nay, the very cattle in the fields could be seen, in those flashing glimpses, huddled up together in some sheltered corner, and cowering with terror at this awful uproar of the elements. It is a very strange, but still a well-known fact, that neither man nor beast wishes to be alone during a thunder-storm. Contiguity to one's fellow creatures seems, by some unaccountable instinct, to lessen the apprehension of danger to one individual when it is likely to be shared by many, a feeling which makes the coward in the field of battle fight as courageously as the man who is naturally brave.
The tempest had not yet diminished any of its power; so far from that, it seemed as if a night-battle of artillery was going on, and raging still with more violence in the clouds. Thatch, doors of houses, glass, and almost everything light that the winds could seize upon, were flying in different directions through the air; and as Kennedy now staggered along the main road, he had to pass through a grove of oaks, beeches, and immense ash trees that stretched on each side for a considerable distance. The noises here were new to him, and on that account the more frightful. The groanings of the huge trees, and the shrieking of their huge branches as they were crushed against each other, sounded in his ears like the supernatural voices of demons, exulting at their participation in the terrors of the storm. His impression now was that some guilty sorcerer had raised the author of evil, and being unable to lay him, the latter was careering in vengeance over the earth until he should be appeased by the life of some devoted victim—for such, when a storm more than usually destructive and powerful arises, is the general superstition of the people—at least it was so among the ignorant in our early youth.
In all thunder-storms there appears to be a regular gradation—a beginning, a middle, and an end. They commence first with a noise resembling the crackling of a file of musketry where the fire runs along the line, man after man; then they increase, and go on deepening their terrors until one stunning and tremendous burst takes place, which is the acme of the tempest. After this its power gradually diminishes in the same way as it increased—the peals become less loud and less frequent, the lightning feebler and less brilliant, until at length it seems to take another course, and after a few exhausted volleys it dies away with a hoarse grumble in the distance.
Still it thundered and thundered terribly; nor had the sweep of the wind-tempest yet lost any of its fury. At this moment Kennedy discovered, by a succession of those flashes that were lighting the country around him, a tall young female without cloak or bonnet, her long hair sometimes streaming in the wind, and sometimes blown up in confusion over her head. She was proceeding at a tottering but eager pace, evidently under the influence of wildness and distraction, or rather as if she felt there was something either mortal or spectral in pursuit of her. He hailed her by her name as she passed him, for he knew her, but received no reply. To Tom, who had, as the reader knows, been a witness of the scene we have described, this fearful glimpse of Nannie Morrissey's desolation and misery, under the pelting of the pitiless storm and the angry roar of the I elements, was distressing in the highest degree, and filled his honest heart with compassion for her sufferings.
He was now making his way home at his utmost speed, when he heard the trampling of a horse's feet coming on at a rapid pace behind him, and on looking back he saw a horseman making his way in the same direction with himself. As he advanced, the repeated flashes made them distinctly visible to each other.
"I say," shouted the horseman at the top of his lungs, "can you direct me to any kind of a habitation, where I may take shelter?"
"Speak louder," shouted Tom; "I can't hear you for the wind."
The other, in a voice still more elevated, repeated the question, "I want to get under the roof of some human habitation, if there be one left standing. I feel that I have gone astray, and this is no night to be out in."
"Faith, sir," again shouted Tom, "it's pure gospel you're spakin', at any rate. A habitation! Why, upon my credibility, they'd not deserve a habitation that 'ud refuse to open the door for a dog on such a night as this, much less to a human creature with a sowl to be saved. A habitation! Well, I think I can, and one where you'll be well treated. I suppose, sir, you're a gentleman?"
"Speak out," shouted the traveller in his turn; "I can't hear you."
Tom shaded his mouth with his hand, and shouted again, "I suppose, sir, you're a gentleman?"
"Why, I suppose I am," replied the stranger, rather haughtily.
"Becaise," shouted Tom, "devil a traneen it 'ud signify to them I'm bringing you to whether you are or not. The poorest man in the parish would be sheltered as well as you, or maybe a betther man."
"Are we near the house?" said the other.
"It's just at hand, sir," replied Tom, "and thanks be to God for it; for if ever the devil was abroad on mischief, he is this night, and may the Lord save us! It's a night for a man to tell his grandchildre about, and he may call it the 'night o' the big storm.'"
A lull had now taken place, and Tom heard a laugh from the stranger which he did not much relish; it was contemptuous and sarcastic, and gave him no very good opinion of his companion. They had now arrived at the entrance-gate, which had been blown open by the violence of the tempest. On proceeding toward the house, they found that their way was seriously obstructed by the fall of several trees that had been blown down across it. With some difficulty, however, they succeeded in reaching the house, where, although the hour was late, they found the whole family up, and greatly alarmed by the violence of the hurricane. Tom went in and found Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin in the parlor, to both of whom he stated that a gentleman on horseback, who had lost his way, requested shelter for the night.
"Certainly, Kennedy, certainly; why did you not bring the gentleman in? Go and desire Tom Stinton to take his horse to the stable, and let him be rubbed down and fed. In the meantime, bring the gentleman in."
"Sir," said Tom, going to the bottom of the hall door-steps, "will you have the goodness to walk in; the masther and misthress are in the parlor; for who could sleep on such a night as this?"
On entering he was received with the warmest and most cordial hospitality.
"Sir," said Mr. Goodwin, "I speak in the name of myself and my wife when I bid you heartily welcome to whatever my roof can afford you, especially on such an awful night as this. Take a seat, sir; you must want refreshments before you put off those wet clothes and betake yourself to bed, after the dreadful severity of such a tempest."
"I have to apologize, sir, for this trouble," replied the stranger, "and to thank you most sincerely for the kindness of the reception you and your lady have given to an utter stranger."
"Do not mention it, sir," said Mr. Goodwin; "come, put on a dry coat and waistcoat, and, in the meantime, refreshments will be on the table in a few minutes. The servants are all up and will attend at once."
The stranger refused, however, to change his clothes, but in a few minutes an abundant cold supper, with wine and spirits, were placed upon the table, to all of which he did such ample justice that it would seem as if he had not dined that day. The table having been cleared, Mr. Goodwin joined him in a glass of hot brandy and water, and succeeded in pressing him to take a couple more, whilst his wife, he said, was getting a bed and room prepared for him. Their! chat for the next half hour consisted in a discussion of the storm, which, although much abated, was not yet over. At length, after an intimation that his room was ready for him, he withdrew, accompanied by a servant, got into an admirable bed, and in a few minutes was fast asleep.
CHAPTER III. Breakfast next morning.
—Woodward, on his way Home, meets a Stranger.—Their Conversation.
The next morning he joined the family in the breakfast parlor, where he was received with much kindness and attention. The stranger was a young man, probably about twenty-seven, well made, and with features that must be pronounced good; but, from whatever cause it proceeded, they were felt to be by no means agreeable. It was impossible to quarrel with, or find fault with them; their symmetry was perfect; the lip well defined, but hard and evidently unfeeling; his brows, which joined each other, were black, and, what was very peculiar, were heaviest where they met—a circumstance which, notwithstanding the regularity of his other features, gave him, unless when he smiled, a frowning if not a sinister aspect. That, however, which was most remarkable in his features was the extraordinary fact that his eyes were each of a different color, one being black and piercing in its gleam, and the other gray; from which circumstance he was known from his childhood by the name of Harry na Suil Gloir—Suil Gloir being an epithet always bestowed by the Irish upon persons who possessed eyes of that unnatural character. This circumstance, however, was not observed on that occasion by any of the family. His general manners, though courteous, were cold, and by no means such as were calculated either to bestow or inspire confidence. His language, too, was easy enough when he spoke, but a cold habit of reserve seemed to permeate his whole being, and to throw a chill upon the feelings of those to whom he addressed himself. So much was this the case that when ever he assumed an air of familiarity a dark, strange, and undefinable spirit, which was strongly felt, seemed not only to contradict his apparent urbanity, but to impress his auditors with a sense of uneasiness sometimes amounting to pain—an impression, however, for which they could not at all account.
"Sir," said Mr. Goodwin, "I hope you slept well after what you suffered under the tempest of last night?"
"I assure you, sir, I never enjoyed a rounder night's sleep in my life," replied their guest; "and were it not for the seasonable shelter of your hospitable roof I know not what would have become of me. I am unacquainted with the country, and having lost my way, I knew not where to seek shelter, for the night was so dreadfully dark that unless by the flashes of the lightning nothing could be seen."
"It was certainly an awful—a terrible night," observed his host; "but come, its severity is now past; let me see you do justice to your fare;—a little more ham?"
"Thank you, sir," replied the other; "if you please. Indeed, I cannot complain of my appetite, which is at all times excellent"—and he certainly corroborated the truth of his statement by a sharp and vigorous attack upon the good things before him.
"Sir," said Mrs. Goodwin, "we feel happy to have had the satisfaction of opening our doors to you last night; and there is only one other circumstance which could complete our gratification."
"The gratification, madam," he replied, "as well as the gratitude, ought to be all on my side, although I have no doubt, and can have none, that the consciousness of your kindness and hospitality are equally gratifying on yours. But may I ask to what you allude, madam?"
"You are evidently a gentleman, sir, and a stranger, and we would feel obliged by knowing—"
"O, I beg your pardon, madam," he replied, interrupting her; "I presume that you are good enough to flatter me by a wish to know the name of the individual whom your kindness and hospitality have placed under such agreeable obligations. For my part I have reason to bless the tempest I which, I may say, brought me under your roof. 'It is an ill wind,' says the proverb, 'that blows nobody good;' and it is a clear case, my very kind hostess, that at this moment we are mutually ignorant of each other. I assure you, then, madam, that I am not a knight-errant travelling in disguise and in quest of adventure, but a plain gentleman, by name Woodward, step-son to a neighbor of yours, Mr. Lindsay, of Rathfillan House. I need scarcely say that I am Mrs. Lindsay's son by her first husband. And now, madam, may I beg to know the name of the family to whom I am indebted for so much kindness."
Mrs. Goodwin and her husband exchanged glances, and something like a slight cloud appeared to overshadow for a moment the expression of their countenances. At length Mr. Goodwin spoke.
"My name, sir," he proceeded, "is Goodwin; and until a recent melancholy event, your family and mine were upon the best and most cordial terms; but, unfortunately, I must say that we are not so now—a circumstance which I and mine deeply regret. You must not imagine, however, that the knowledge of your name and connections could make the slightest difference in our conduct toward you on that account. Your family, Mr. Woodward, threw off our friendship and disclaimed all intimacy with us; but I presume you are not ignorant of the cause of it."
"I should be uncandid if I were to say so, sir. I am entirely aware of the cause of it; but I cannot see that there is any blame whatsoever to be attached to either you or yours for the act of my poor uncle. I assure you, sir, I am sorry that my family failed to consider it in its proper light; and you will permit me to request that you we not identify my conduct with theirs. So far as I am least am concerned, my uncle's disposition of his property shall make no breach nor occasion any coolness between us. On the contrary, I shall feel honored by being permitted to pay my respects to you all, and to make myself worthy of your good opinions."
"That is generously spoken, Mr. Woodward," replied the old man; "and it will afford us sincere pleasure to reciprocate the sentiments you have just expressed."
"You make me quite happy, sir," replied Woodward, bowing very courteously. "This, I presume, is the young lady to whom my cousin Agnes was so much attached?"
"She is, sir," replied her father.
"Might I hope for the honor of being presented to her, Mr. Goodwin?"
"With pleasure, sir. Alice, my dear, although you already know who this gentleman is, yet allow me, nevertheless, to present him to you."
The formal introduction accordingly took place, after which Woodward, turning to Mrs. Goodwin, said,
"I am not surprised, madam, at the predilection which my cousin entertained for Miss Goodwin, even from what I see; but I feel that I am restrained by her presence from expressing myself at further length. I have only to say that I wish her every happiness, long life, and health to enjoy that of which she seems, and I am certain is, so worthy."
He accompanied those words with a low bow and a very gracious smile, after which, his horse having been brought to the door, he took his leave with a great deal of politeness, and rode, according to the directions received from Mr. Goodwin, toward his father's house.
After his departure the family began to discuss his character somewhat to the following effect:
"That is a fine young man," said Mr. Goodwin, "liberal-minded and generous, or I am much mistaken. What do you think, Martha," he added, addressing his wife.
"Upon my word," replied that lady, "I am much of your opinion—yet I don't know either; although polite and courteous, there is something rather disagreeable about him."
"Why," inquired her husband, "what is there disagreeable about him? I could perceive nothing of the sort; and when we consider that his uncle, who left this property to Alice, was his mother's brother, and that he was nephew by blood as well as by law, and that it was the old man's original intention that the property should go directly to him, or in default of issue, to his brother—I think when we consider this, Martha, that we cannot but entertain a favorable impression of him, considering what he has lost by the unexpected turn given to his prospects in consequence of his uncle's will. Alice, my dear, what is your opinion of him?"
"Indeed, papa," she replied, "I have had—as we all have had—but a very slight opportunity to form any opinion of him. As for me, I can judge only by the impressions which his conversation and person have left upon me."
"Well, anything favorable or otherwise?"
"Anything at all but favorable, papa—I experienced something like pain during breakfast, and felt a strong sense of relief the moment he left the room."
"Poor child, impressions are nothing. I have met men of whom first impressions were uniformly unfavorable, who, notwithstanding their rough outsides, were persons of sterling worth and character."
"Yes, papa, and men of great plausibility and ease of manner, who, on the contrary, were deep, hypocritical and selfish when discovered and their hearts laid open. As regards Mr. Woodward, however, heaven forbid that I should place the impressions of an ignorant girl like myself against the knowledge and experience of a man who has had such opportunities of knowing the world as you. All I can say is, that whilst he seemed to breathe a very generous spirit, my impressions were completely at variance with every sentiment he uttered. Perhaps, however, I do him injustice—and I should regret that very much. I will then, in deference to your opinion, papa, endeavor to control those impressions and think as well of him as I can."
"You are right, Alice, and I thank you. We should never, if possible, suffer ourselves to be prematurely ungenerous in our estimate of strangers, especially when we know that this world is filled with the most absurd and ridiculous prejudices. How do you know, my dear child, that yours is not one of them?"
"Alice, love," said her mother, "I think, upon reflection, your father is right, as he always is; let us not be less generous than this young man, and you know it would be ungenerous to prejudge him; and this comes the more strange from you, my love, inasmuch as I never yet heard you express a prejudice almost against any person."
"Because I don't remember, mamma, that I ever felt such an impression—prejudice—call it what you will—against any individual as I do against this man. I absolutely fear him without knowing why."
"Precisely so, my dear Alice," replied her father, "precisely so; and, as you say, with-out knowing why. In that one phrase, my child, you have defined prejudice to the letter. Fie, Alice; have more sense, my dear; have more sense. Dismiss this foolish prejudice against a young man, who, from what he said at breakfast, is entitled to better feelings at your hands."
"As I said, papa, I shall certainly strive to do so."
Alice Goodwin's person and character must, at this stage of our narrative, be made known to our readers. As to her person, it is only sufficient to say that she was a tall, beautiful girl, of exceeding grace and wonderful proportions. There was, however, a softness about her appearance of constitutional delicacy that seemed to be incompatible with a strong mind, or perhaps we should rather say that was identical with an excess of feeling. This was exhibited in the tenderness of her attachment to Agnes Hamilton, and in the agonizing grief which she experienced at her death—a grief which had well-nigh become fatal to a girl of her fragile organization. The predominant trait, however, in her character was timidity and a terror of a hundred trifles, which, in the generality of her sex, would occasion only indifference or laughter. On that very morning, for instance, she had not recovered from her painful apprehensions of the thunder-storm which had occurred on the preceding night. Of thunder, but especially of lightning, she was afraid even to pusillanimity; indeed so much so, that on such occurrences she would bind her eyes, fly down stairs, and take refuge in the cellar until the I hurly-burly in the clouds was over. This, however, was not so much to be wondered at by those who live in our present and more enlightened days; as our readers will admit when they are told that the period of our narrative is in the reign of that truly religious monarch, Charles the Second, who, conscious of his inward and invisible grace, was known to exhaust himself so liberally of his virtue, when touching for the Evil, that there was very little of it left to regulate that of his own private life. In those days Ireland was a mass of social superstitions, and a vast number of cures in a variety of diseases were said to be performed by witches, wizards, fairy-men, fairy-women, and a thousand other impostors, who, supported by the gross ignorance of the people, carried that which was first commenced in fraud and cunning into a self-delusion, which, in process of time, led them to become dupes to their own impostures. It is not to be wondered at, then, that Alice Goodwin, a young creature of a warm imagination and extraordinary constitutional timidity, should feel the full force of the superstitions which swarmed around her, and impregnated her fancy so strongly that it teemed with an unhealthy creation, which frequently rendered her existence painful by a morbid apprehension of wicked and supernatural influences. In other respects she was artlessness itself, could never understand what falsehood meant, and, as to truth, her unspotted mind was transparent as a sunbeam. Our readers are not to understand, however, that though apparently flexible and ductile, she possessed no power of moral resistance. So very far from that, her disposition, wherever she thought herself right, was not only firm and unbending, but sometimes rose almost to obstinacy. This, however, never appeared, unless she considered herself as standing upon the basis of truth. In cases where her judgment was at fault, or when she could not see her way, she was a perfect child, and, like a child, should be taken by the hand and supported. It was, however, when mingling in society that her timidity and bashfulness were most observable; these, however, were accompanied with so much natural grace, and unaffected innocence of manner, that the general charm of her whole character was fascinating and irresistible; nay, her very weaknesses created an atmosphere of love and sympathy around her that nobody could breathe without feeling her influence. Her fear of ghosts and fairies, her dread of wizards and witches, of wise women and strolling conjurers, with the superstitious accounts of whom the country then abounded, were, in the eyes of her more strong-minded friends, only a source of that caressing and indulgent affection which made its artless and innocent object more dear to them. Every one knows with what natural affection and tenderness we love the object which clings to us for support under the apprehension of danger, even when we ourselves are satisfied that the apprehension is groundless. So was it with Alice Goodwin, whose harmless foibles and weaknesses, associated as they were with so much truth and purity, rendered her the darling of all who knew her.
Woodward had not proceeded far on his way when he was overtaken by an equestrian, who came up to him at a smart pace, which, however, he checked on getting beside him.
"A fine morning, sir, after an awful night," observed the stranger.
"It is, sir," replied Woodward, "and a most awful night it assuredly was. Have you heard whether there has been destruction to life or property to any extent?"
"Not so much to life," replied his companion, "but seriously, I understand, to property. If you had ridden far you must have observed the number of dwelling-houses and out-offices that have been unroofed, and some of them altogether blown down."
"I have not ridden far," said Woodward; "I was obliged to take shelter in the house of a country gentleman named Goodwin, who lives over in the trees."
"You were fortunate in finding shelter anywhere," replied the stranger, "during such a tempest. I remember nothing like it."
As they proceeded along, indulging in similar chat, they observed that five or six countrymen, who had been walking at a smart pace, about a couple of hundred yards before them, came suddenly to a stand-still, and, after appearing to consult together, they darted off the road and laid themselves down, as if with a view of concealment, behind the grassy ditch which ran along it.
"What can these persons mean?" asked Woodward; "they seem to be concealing themselves."
"Unquestionably they do," replied the stranger; "and yet there appears to be no pursuit after them. I certainly can give no guess as to their object."
While attempting, as they went along, to account for the conduct of the peasants, they were met by a female with a head of hair that was nearly blood-red, and whose features were hideously ugly, or rather, we should say, absolutely revolting. Her brows, which were of the same color as the hair, were knit into a scowl, such as is occasioned by an intense expression of hatred and malignity, yet which was rendered almost frightful by a squint that would have disfigured the features of a demon. Her coarse hair lay matted together in stiff, wiry waves! on each side of her head, from whence it streamed down her shoulders, which it covered like a cape of scarlet. As they approached each other, she glanced at them with a look from which they could only infer that she seemed to meditate the murder of each, and yet there was mingled with its malignity a bitter but derisive expression that was perfectly diabolical.
"What a frightful hag!" exclaimed Woodward, addressing his companion; "I never had a perfect conception of the face of an ogress until now! Did you observe her walrus tusks, as they projected over her misshapen nether lip? The hag appears to be an impersonation of all that is evil."
"She may be a very harmless creature for all that," replied the other; "we are not to judge by appearances. I know a man who had murder depicted in his countenance, if ever a man had, and yet there lived! not a kinder, more humane, or benevolent creature on earth. He was as simple, too, as a child, and the most affectionate father! and husband that ever breathed. These, however, may be exceptions; for most certainly I am of opinion that the countenance may be considered, in general, a very certain index to the character and disposition. But what is this?—here are the men returning from their journey, let us question them."
"Pray," said Woodward, addressing them, "if it be not impertinent, may I inquire why you ran in such a hurry off the road just now, and hid yourselves behind the ditch?"
"Certainly, sir, you may," replied one of them; "we wor on our way to the fair of, Knockmore, and we didn't wish to meet Pugshy Roe." (Red Peggy).
"But why should you not wish to meet her?"
"Bekaise, sir, she's unlucky—unlucky in the three ways—unlucky to man, unlucky to baste, and unlucky to business. She overlooks, sir; she has the Evil Eye—the Lord be about us!"
"The Evil Eye," repeated Woodward, dryly; "and pray, what harm could her evil eye do you?"
"Why, nothing in the World," replied the man, naively, "barrin' to wither us off o' the earth—that's all."
"Has she been long in this neighborhood?" asked the stranger.
"Too long, your honor. Sure she overlooked Biddy Nelligan's child, and it never did good afterwards."
"And I," said another, "am indebted to the thief o' hell for the loss of as good a cow as ever filled a piggin."
"Well, sure," observed a third, "Father Mullen is goin' to read her out next Sunday from the althar. She has been banished from every parish in the counthry. Indeed, I believe he's goin' to drown the candles against her, so that, plaise the Lord, she'll have to tramp."
"How does she live and maintain herself?" asked the stranger again.
"Why, sir," replied the man, "she tuck possession of a waste cabin and a bit o' garden belongin' to it; and Larry Sullivan, that owns it, was goin' to put her out, when, Lord save us, he and his whole family were saized with sickness, and then he sent word to her that if she'd take it off o' them and put it on some one else he'd let her stay."