The Heir of Kilfinnan, by W.H.G. Kingston.
The book opens with our hero, Dermot O'Neil, out fishing in a small boat that he usually went with his widowed mother in. The catch being good he went up to the nearby castle, the abode of the Earl Kilfinnan, where he easily sells his fish, and is asked to come back with more the next day. Being a good-looking and well-mannered 12-year-old, he wins the admiration of the Earl's daughter and her cousin, who offer to teach him to read. When they go back to London they get the local Protestant minister to take him on, much to the annoyance of Father O'Rourke, who does not like his Catholic parishioners to be able to read.
Eventually the boy goes to sea. At some point in his career he decides to give up his Irish name, and takes an English one, Denham. Several incidents in which he distinguishes himself occur, and he is given the chance of becoming a midshipman, from which rank he duly rises by examination to Lieutenant. Meanwhile the Earl has obtained a position in the West Indies of Lieutenant-Governor of one of the islands, since he had been finding it hard to make ends meet from the revenues of his estates in Ireland. There are occasions on which Denham has to call on the Earl and his family, but is not recognised.
Time goes on. The Earl's son and heir dies of an illness and is much lamented: he had been at sea pretty much as an equal in promotion with Denham. The Earl's time in the West Indies is up, and he and his family return to Ireland. Denham's ship visits Kilfinnan Bay, and he walks on shore, where it is possible he may have been recognised by O'Rourke and by a demented woman, who is not as mad as she seems.
After several more exciting events, which we will not spoil for you, the Earl dies, and to everyone's surprise Denham is not only revealed as our original young acquaintance, Dermot, but the lawyer states that Dermot's father was in the line of succession to the Earldom. This makes Dermot the new Earl. Cheers all round, but who wants to be saddled with a derilict castle and a bankrupt estate?
A beautifully written book, one of Kingston's best. It is very hard to see why it is so little known.
THE HEIR OF KILFINNAN, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
The following tale contains materials for a full-sized novel, but my readers probably will not object to have them condensed into a single modest volume.
The scene of a considerable portion of the story is laid on the coast of Ireland, where the peasantry mostly speak the native Irish, and I have therefore translated what my characters say into ordinary English rather than into the generally received brogue, which would be, coming from their lips, as inappropriate as Spanish or Dutch.
When English is spoken, it sounds somewhat high-flown, but is certainly purer than the language of the same class in England. Thus, my hero talks more like a well-educated young gentleman than a humble fisher lad. If that is considered a defect, I hope that it may be redeemed by the stirring incidents with which the tale abounds, and that old and young may alike find as much amusement as they expect in its perusal.
The west coast of Ireland presents scenery of the most beautiful and romantic character. Here grey peaks rise up amidst verdure of emerald green; trees of varied hue come feathering down close to the water; yellow sands line the shores of many lonely bays; dark rocks of fantastic shape extend out into the ocean, while deep blue lochs mirror on their bosoms the varied forms of the surrounding heights. On the south-west part of the coast a wide bay is to be found. At the extreme southern end, up a deep loch, a castle, the seat of an ancient family, reared its towers high above the waters. The bay came sweeping round at some places with a hard sandy beach; then, again, the ground rose, leaving but a narrow ledge between the foot of the cliffs and the waters. Thus the shore extended on for some distance, forming a lofty headland, when it again sank to its former level. A reef of rocks ran out a considerable distance into the ocean, forming a natural breakwater to the bay. Here and there to the north were several deep indentations, in which fishing-boats and several coasting craft might find shelter. In some of these little bays fishermen had formed their habitations, mostly out of the wrecks of stout ships which had been cast on their rocky shores. In some of the coves or bays several huts had been congregated together, but a short distance north of the promontory which has been spoken of stood a single hut. It was strongly built of ships' timbers and roofed with stout planks, kept down by heavy stones, so that, though the furious blasts which swept across the Atlantic blew against it, it had hitherto withstood the rough shocks to which it had been exposed.
The day was lovely; not a cloud dimmed the blue heavens, while the sun setting over the distant ocean shed a glow of light across the waters, rippled by a gentle westerly breeze. Several boats were approaching the shore. In one of them sat a lad. No other person was to be seen on board. The dark nets were piled up in the centre of the boat, at the bottom of which a number of fish, still giving signs of life, showed that he had been successful in his calling. Every now and then he looked up at the tanned sail to see that it drew properly, and then would cast his eye towards the shore to watch the point to which he was steering. He could scarcely have numbered twelve summers, though his figure was tall and slight. His trousers were rolled up above the knees, showing his well-turned legs and feet. His shirtsleeves were treated in the same manner, while the collar, thrown back, exhibited his broad and well-formed chest. His eyes were large and dark, and the hue of his skin gave indication that Spanish blood was flowing in his veins; while his dark locks escaping from beneath his fisherman's red cap, gave a still more southern look to his well-chiselled features. His practical knowledge and activity seemed to have made up for his want of strength, for few boys of his age would have ventured forth to sea in a fishing-boat of that size by themselves. Another and a larger boat had been for some time steering a course to approach him.
"Ah! Dermot, me darlin'; and all alone too?" said a man from the boat which now overtook him.
"Yes! my mother was ill and unable to go off, so I went by myself; an' see, Uncle Shane, I have had a good haul for my pains."
"I see, boy, an' sure I'm glad of it," said the first speaker; "but you are scarcely strong enough to go off alone, for should a gale spring up you would be unable to manage that boat by yourself."
"Och! an' haven't I managed her before now in heavy weather?" replied Dermot. "But suppose, Uncle Shane, I was lost, would you take care of my mother? She's not so strong as she used to be; toil has worn her down, working hard for me when I ought to have been toiling for her."
"I will," answered Shane.
"Will you swear it, uncle, by the Holy Virgin and the blessed saints?"
"I will, Dermot, as I hope for mercy in the day of trouble. But why do you ask that question?"
"Because, uncle, as I was pulling up my nets I slipped and almost fell overboard. I thought that had my feet been entangled, as they might have been, I should have gone down an' been unable to regain the boat. We none of us know what may happen: but could I feel that my mother would be protected from want, it would nerve my arm, and make me feel more ready for whatever lot may be in store for me."
"Boy," observed the elder fisherman, looking at his nephew, "you are thoughtful above your years; but the saints will protect you, and I will not forget to make an offering to Saint Nicholas, that he may watch over you."
Thus conversing the old man and the lad steered their boats towards the shore side by side, the former hauling in his mainsail somewhat to lessen the speed of his boat. They parted to the northward of the promontory described, Dermot steering for the little cove in which stood the solitary hut already spoken of, while his uncle continued along the shore a little further to the north.
Dermot ran his boat between two rocks, at the end of which was a small sandy beach, where a capstan being placed he was enabled to haul her up out of the water. As he approached, a woman was seen descending from the hut. The same dark eyes and raven hair, though somewhat streaked with white in her case, which characterised the boy, was observable in the woman. Her figure was thin and wiry, giving indication of the severe toil to which she was exposed. She was dressed in a rough frieze petticoat, with a dark handkerchief drawn across her bosom, and the usual red cloak and hood worn at that time by most of the peasantry of the west of Ireland was thrown over her shoulders.
"Mother!" exclaimed the boy, "see, I have done well; I have had a better haul than we have got for many a day."
"And may be, Dermot, we will have a better market too," observed the woman. "It is said the Earl has come to the castle with many fine people, and they will be wanting fish to a certainty. It would be too late now to go, they would not see you; but to-morrow morning, as soon as the sun is up, you shall set forth, and to be sure they'll be glad to buy fish of my Dermot." The woman drew herself up as she spoke, and looked towards the boy with a glance of pride, as if she would not exchange him for any of the highest born in the land.
"How are you, mother?" asked Dermot; "have all those aches of which you were complaining gone away? Do you feel strong again?"
"Yes; the saints were merciful; I did not forget to pray to them, and they have heard me," answered the woman.
With her, as with most of her countrywomen, superstition, if it had not altogether taken the place of religion, had been strangely mixed up with it; yet she spoke in a tone of simple and touching faith, at which no one with any feeling would have ventured to sneer.
Next morning, Dermot, laden with the finest of his fish in a basket at his back, set off along the shores of the bay towards Kilfinnan Castle. The approach to it was wild and picturesque. A narrow estuary, having to be crossed by a bridge, almost isolated the castle from the mainland, for the ground on which the old fortress stood was merely joined to it by a rugged and nearly impassable ledge of rocks. The castle itself was of considerable size and strongly built, so that it could well withstand the gales which, from time to time, circled round it. Dermot had but little natural timidity or shyness; yet he felt somewhat awed when, having missed the back approach used by the servants of the establishment, he found himself at the entrance-hall, in which a number of well-dressed persons were assembled on their way to the breakfast-room. Some passed him carelessly.
"Oh, here, papa, is a fisher-boy with such fine fish," said a young and fair girl as she ran up to a tall and dignified man, who at that moment appeared.
"Why, boy, what brought you here?" asked the gentleman.
"To sell some fish; I caught them myself," was Dermot's answer. "They are fine and fresh. I will not bargain for the price, as I feel sure you will give me what they are worth."
The gentleman seemed amused at the boy's composure, and stepping forward looked into the basket which Dermot opened to exhibit his fish.
"You are right, boy. Send Anderson here," he said, turning to a footman. "We will purchase your fish, and you may come whenever you can bring others as fine."
Several ladies of the party seeing the Earl, for the gentleman who spoke was the owner of the castle, addressing the boy, came forward, and now, for the first time, remarked his handsome features and picturesque, though rough, costume.
The little girl begged that the fish might be taken out of the basket to be shown to her, and seemed delighted with the brightness of their scales and their elegant forms.
"Look after the boy, Anderson, and give him some breakfast," said the Earl, as the head cook appeared, and Dermot, finding himself more noticed than he was ever before in his life, was conducted down below to the servants' quarters. Although they were town servants, and would certainly have disdained to speak to a mere beggar-boy, or to a young country clown, there was something in Dermot's unaffected manner and appearance which won their regard, and they treated him with far more kindness and attention than would otherwise have been the case.
Highly delighted with this his first visit to the castle, Dermot returned to his mother's hut to give her an account of what had occurred. That evening she was sufficiently recovered to accompany him on their usual fishing expedition. Again they were successful, and the next morning Dermot once more made his appearance at the castle. He was received much in the same manner as on the previous occasion. His fish were exhibited before being taken below, and greatly to his astonishment a lady of the party begged that he would stand where he was, with his basket in his hand, while she produced her sketch-book and made a portrait of him. Dermot scarcely understood the process that was going forward, and was somewhat relieved when the breakfast bell sounding, the lady was compelled to abandon her undertaking.
"But I must have you notwithstanding, young fisher-boy," said the lady. "You must come back after breakfast and hold one of those fish in your hand; I have only made the outline, and the drawing will not be perfect until it is well coloured."
"He does not understand the honour that has been done him," observed an elderly dame to the fair artist; "still he looks intelligent, and perhaps when he sees himself on paper he will be better pleased than he appears to be at present."
Dermot scarcely understood all that was said, for though he spoke English very fairly, he could not comprehend the language when spoken rapidly.
Breakfast being concluded, he was again summoned to the hall, and to his utter astonishment he was made to stand with the fish in his hand, while the young lady continued her sketch. As a reward she exhibited it to him when it was finished. He blushed when he saw himself, for she was no mean artist, and she had done him ample justice. Indeed he looked far more like the Earl's son, dressed in a fisher-boy's costume, than what he really was.
"Could my mother see that picture?" he asked at length, "I am sure she would like it, she knows more about those things than I do, for I have never seen anything of that sort before."
"What! Have you never seen a picture before?" exclaimed the young lady in surprise, "nor a print, nor a painting?"
Dermot shook his head—"No, nothing of the sort. I did not think that anything so like life could be put on paper."
"Cannot you read?" asked the lady.
"No," said Dermot, "I have no book. The priest can read, but there are few people else in this part of the country who can do so."
"Oh! you must be taught to read, then," exclaimed the young lady. "It is a pity that you should be so ignorant. Would you not like to learn?"
"Yes!" said the boy, looking up, "and to draw such figures as that. I should like to learn to place you on paper. You would make a far more beautiful picture than that is."
The young lady smiled at the boy's unsophisticated compliment. "Well, if you will come to the castle, I will try to teach you to read at all events," she answered. "I should like such a pupil, for I am sure you would learn rapidly."
"And I must help you, Lady Sophy," said the little girl, who had been the first to draw attention to Dermot. "I am sure I should teach him to read very quickly, should I not, little fisher-boy? You would like to learn of me, would you not?"
"Indeed I would," answered Dermot, looking at her with an expression of gratitude. "You are very gentle and kind, but I would not learn of those who try to force me."
"When will you begin?" asked Lady Sophy.
"To-morrow. I long to gain the art you speak of," answered the boy eagerly. "The priest tells me many things I have not known. Perhaps I shall be able to tell him some things he does not know."
"So you wish to show this portrait to your mother?" observed Lady Sophy, in a kind tone. "I cannot trust you with it, but if you will tell me her name and where she lives, we will ride over some day and pay her a visit."
"My mother is Ellen O'Neil, the Widow O'Neil, she is generally called, for my father is dead. She is a kind mother to me, and there are not many like her," answered the boy with a proud tone, showing how highly he prized his remaining parent. "But our hut is not fit for such noble ladies as you are to enter," he added, now gazing round the hall and for the first time comparing it with his own humble abode. "It is but a fisherman's hut, and my mother and I live there alone. You could scarcely indeed ride down to it without the risk of your horses falling. If you will let me have the picture I will promise you faithfully that I will bring it back."
"No, no!" answered the young lady, laughing; "perhaps your mother might keep it, and I want to have an excuse for paying her a visit. So we will come, tell her, and we shall not mind how small the hut may be."
Dermot was at length compelled to explain where his mother's hut was to be found, though he again warned the ladies that the approach to it was dangerous, and entreated them to keep well to the right away from the sea as they crossed the downs.
They promised to follow his injunction, and at length allowed him to take his departure. This he was anxious to do, as he knew that it was time to put off, to haul the nets which had been laid down in the morning.
Day after day, while the fine weather lasted and fish were to be procured, Dermot paid a visit to the castle, and each morning after breakfast was over, the young ladies insisted on giving him his reading lesson. He made rapid progress, and after a few days, they gave him a book that he might take home and study by himself.
Hitherto Lady Sophy and her friends at the castle, had not paid their promised visit to the fisherman's cottage. At length, however, one evening just as Dermot and his mother had landed, they heard voices on the downs above their hut, and looking up Dermot espied the party from the castle. They were standing irresolute what path to take. He instantly climbed up the cliff by a pathway which speedily placed him by their side. He begged them to dismount, and undertook to conduct Lady Sophy and the little girl, whom he heard addressed as Lady Nora, down to the hut.
"I have brought the drawing as I promised," said Lady Sophy, taking a portfolio from the groom who held their horses. "I will show it to your mother, and perhaps she will let me take hers also."
There were other ladies and several gentlemen, and they expressed an intention of coming also down to the hut. Lady Sophy guessed that this would not be pleasant to the boy's mother, and begged them to continue their ride along the downs, promising in a short time to rejoin them. Dermot was greatly relieved, for he knew his mother would be much annoyed at having so many visitors; at the same time he felt equally sure she would be pleased at seeing the two young ladies.
Widow O'Neil had just reached her hut with a basket of fish on her shoulders. As the young ladies entered, conducted by Dermot, she placed two three-legged stools and begged them to be seated, for there was no chair in the hut.
"You have come to honour an old fishwife with a visit, ladies," she said; "you are welcome. If I lived in a palace you would be more welcome still. My boy has told me of your kindness to him. A mother's heart is grateful. I can give nothing in return, but again I say, you are welcome."
"We came to show you a drawing I made of him," said Lady Sophy. "Here, see, do you think it like him?"
"Oh! like him!" exclaimed the widow, lifting up her hands; "indeed, like him, and far more like him who has gone—his father—whose grave lies off there in the cold dark sea. I would that I could possess that drawing, I should prize it more than pearls!"
"I will make you a copy," said Lady Sophy, "on one condition, that you allow me to make a drawing of yourself."
"Of me! of the old fishwife?" exclaimed the astonished widow. "There is little that would repay you for doing that, lady!"
The young lady smiled as she gazed at the picturesque costume and the still handsome features of the woman, although the signs of age had already come upon them. Her eyes were unusually bright, but her cheek and mouth had fallen in, and her figure having lost all the roundness of youth, was thin and wiry.
"Oh yes, you would make a beautiful picture," exclaimed the young lady, looking at her with the enthusiasm of an artist. "Do sit still on that cask for a time with a basket of fish at your feet. You must let me draw you thus. Remember, if you will not, I cannot promise to make a copy of your son's likeness for you."
"As you will, ladies," answered the fishwife. "The bribe you offer is great. As for me, it matters little what you make of me. You are likely to give me qualities I do not possess."
Although she used appropriate terms, she spoke the English with some difficulty. It was unusual for any of the peasantry of that part of the coast in those days to speak English, and how she had acquired a knowledge of the language, and had been able to impart it to her son, it was difficult to say. Perhaps her husband might have spoken it, or her younger days might have been passed in some distant part of the country, and yet she had the characteristic features of the people in the south-west of Ireland, many of whom are descended from Spanish settlers, who had crossed over in ancient days from the coast of Spain.
Dermot stood by Lady Nora's side, watching with looks of astonishment the progress made by Lady Sophy's pencil. He hastened to bring her a cup of water that she asked for, to moisten her colours; still greater was his surprise when he saw the tints thrown in and gradually a very perfect portrait produced of his mother.
He clapped his hands with delight. "It's her, it's her," he exclaimed; "I wish that thus she could always be. Oh, lady, if you give my mother a likeness of me, I must ask you to give me a copy of that portrait. It's beautiful; it's like her in every respect. If I were away from her, I should think it could speak to me."
"Away from her," said the woman, looking up and speaking to herself. "Oh, that so dark a day should ever arrive, and yet am I to keep him always by me, perhaps to share the fate of his father."
The words scarcely reached the ears of those in the hut.
At length Dermot obtained a promise from Lady Sophy that she would give him a copy of the portrait she had just taken. He now accompanied her and her young companion to the spot where they had left the horses.
"You must promise to come to-morrow, Dermot," said the Lady Sophy; "we wish to push you on with your lessons, for we shall not be here much longer, and we probably shall not return until next year."
Dermot promised Lady Sophy to read all the books she had given him. When they left his mother's hut he begged leave to accompany her and Lady Nora, in order that he might see them across the downs. He had discovered during his visits to the castle that the young Lady Nora was the Earl of Kilfinnan's only daughter. He had a son also; a noble little boy he had heard. He was away at school in England; his father being fully conscious that an Irish castle in those days was not a place favourable to education. The Earl had a great affection for his boy, the heir to his title and estates. The former, indeed, should the young Lord Fitz Barry die without male descendants, would pass away, though the Lady Nora would inherit the chief part of his estate.
Lady Sophy was a relation of his late wife's, for he was a widower, and she remained with him as a companion to his young daughter, though considerably older than she was. The rest of the persons seen at the castle were guests, with the exception of a lady of middle age, a Mrs Rollings, who acted as governess and chaperone to the young ladies.
Dermot continued his visits to the castle. Sometimes the Earl saw him, and seemed amused at the interest taken in him by his young niece and daughter. He observed also, that the boy was somewhat out of the common way, and he suggested that after they had left the west of Ireland, he should be sent to obtain instruction from a neighbouring clergyman, a friend of his, and the only person capable of imparting it.
At that time schools and missions were not known in the west of Ireland. The priests, almost as ignorant as their flocks, had unbounded sway among the population. Often the Protestant clergyman was the only person for miles round who possessed any education whatever. The peasantry were consequently ignorant and superstitious, and easily imposed upon by any one who chose to go among them with that object.
Lady Sophy was delighted with the suggestion made by the Earl, and insisted on at once carrying out the arrangement.
"Yes, indeed it is a pity that so intelligent a boy should be left in ignorance," remarked the Earl. "Here is a five-pound note; do you take it from me to Mr Jamieson, and beg that he will do his best to instil some knowledge into the mind of the fisher-boy."
There was a dash of romance, it must be owned, in the Earl's composition, and he was besides a kind-hearted and liberal man. Dermot O'Neil might well have considered himself fortunate in having fallen among such friends.
Lady Sophy and Lady Nora instantly set off to call upon Mr Jamieson, whose vicarage was about three miles distant from the castle, though somewhat nearer to Dermot's abode. The clergyman was rather amused at first with the account given him by the young ladies. He promised, however, to follow out the Earl's wishes, and begged that Dermot might come to him directly they left the country; "And I shall be ready to undertake his education at once, Lady Sophy," he said.
"No, no!" was the answer; "we cannot give him up yet; it is quite a pleasure teaching him. He already reads English with tolerable fluency, though we have not attempted yet to teach him to write. We must leave that to you."
Dermot, with a grief he had not expected to feel, saw the party take their departure from the castle. The young ladies kindly nodded to him as their carriage rolled past the spot where he stood.
"There's a bright light gone from amongst us," he said to himself. "Did I ever before dream that such creatures existed on earth."
He returned to his home in a mood totally strange to him. His mother, however, had reason to congratulate herself on the Earl's visit, for it enabled her, from the payment she received for her fish, to provide in a way she had never before done for the coming winter. This made her the more willingly consent that Dermot should go over every day to obtain instruction from Mr Jamieson, the good clergyman, who was so pleased with the fisher-boy, that he took particular pains in instructing him, and not only was Dermot in a short time able to read any book that was put into his hands, but he also learned to write with considerable ease. His mind naturally expanded with the books given him to study, and as he obtained information, he became greedy for more.
Although Mr Jamieson had at first only intended teaching him the simple rudiments of reading and writing, he became so interested in the progress made by his pupil, that he felt desirous of imparting all the knowledge Dermot was capable of acquiring.
Thus the winter passed away. Dermot, in spite of wind and rain, or sleet or cold, persevered in his visits to the vicarage. He gained also an acquaintance with religious truth, of which before he had been profoundly ignorant. It was not very perfect, perhaps, but Mr Jamieson put the Bible into his hands, and he thus obtained a knowledge of its contents possessed by few of those around. Had the neighbouring parish priest, Father O'Rourke, discovered whither he was going, and the change that was constantly taking place in him, he would probably have endeavoured to interfere, and prevent him from paying his visits to the Protestant clergyman. Although he might not have hindered Dermot from doing as he chose, he probably would have alarmed his mother, who, though tolerably intelligent, was too completely under the influence of superstition to have understood clearly the cause of the priest's interference. In a certain sense, to Dermot's mind, the advantage he possessed was not so great as at first sight might appear. As he advanced in knowledge he became less and less contented with his lot in life, or rather the wish increased that he might be able to raise himself above it. By what means, however, was this to be accomplished? He had no claim upon the Earl, who, although wishing that he might be taught reading and writing, had not the slightest intention of raising him above his present occupation. Mr Jamieson gave him no encouragement; although perhaps, the idea had occurred to the worthy minister, that the boy was fitted for something above the mere life of an ordinary fisherman. Still the matter had not as yet troubled Dermot's mind. It probably only occasionally passed through his thoughts, that there was an existence, even in this world, something above that to which it appeared he was doomed. Mr Jamieson had now resided for a considerable number of years at the vicarage. He came there with high anticipations of the amount of good he was likely to effect in that neighbourhood. By degrees, however, he found that his efforts to raise the people out of the state of ignorance in which they had been brought up were likely to prove abortive. The parish priest did not indeed offer him any open opposition, but he set an under current to work, which silently, though effectually nullified all the vicar's efforts. Not one proselyte had he made, and at length he abandoned his previous intentions in despair of success, and consoled himself with the thought that at least he would perform thoroughly all the duties of his station. To such a conclusion many persons in his position have arrived, whether rightly or wrongly it need not here be said. Mr Jamieson had an only niece, who had of late years come to reside with him. She was no longer very young, but was a gentle, quiet woman, whose great desire was to do any good to her fellow-creatures which lay in her power.
Miss O'Reilly had been for some time aware that a severe affliction was about to overtake her. When she first arrived at the vicarage, she used to go among the neighbouring peasantry, carrying a basket to relieve the sick or starving, or to administer such comfort as she was able. She enjoyed the beautiful scenery by which she was surrounded. Now, however, she found that when she took a book the letters were dim and indistinct, while all distant scenes were shut out from her view, as if a thick mist hung over them. Blindness she felt was coming on. A journey to Dublin was in those days a long and tedious, if not somewhat dangerous undertaking. Still, at her uncle's desire, accompanied by him, she performed it. But no hope was given by the oculist whom she consulted, and she returned home with the knowledge that in a short time she would require some one to lead her by the hand whenever she might wish to move from the immediate neighbourhood of the house.
Dermot had made frequent visits to the vicarage before Miss O'Reilly was aware who he was. One day he met her while she was trying to find her way a short distance from the house. He had seen her and knew who she was. Seeing her in doubt as to the path she was to take, he, with the native gallantry of the Irish, sprang forward and begged that he might be allowed to lead her.
"And who are you, boy?" she asked. "What brings you to the vicarage?"
Dermot told her his short history.
"You are then a pupil of my uncle's?"
"Yes, his reverence has been teaching me, and I love to learn from him," answered Dermot.
This led to further conversation, and Dermot told her of his mother, who lived down in the little cottage in Blackwater cove.
"And have you any brothers, sisters, or relations?" she asked.
"Except Uncle Shane, none that I know of," said Dermot.
"Your mother, then, lives all alone."
"Yes, since my father's death, twelve years ago, she has lived by herself, with me alone to take care of, in her little hut."
"And you never wish to leave your home, and go and see the great world?" asked Miss O'Reilly. Why she put the question it was difficult to say. It might not have been a very judicious one, as far as the boy was concerned, and yet it was but natural to suppose that a boy of Dermot's character would wish to go forth into the great world, that he might inspect its wonders.
"It may be, lady; I may have wished to go and see the world, though not to leave my mother; for who would care for her if I was gone? Uncle Shane would, but he is old and couldn't protect her for long. Besides you know that not a year passes but that some of the men on our coast lose their lives."
"And does your mother know the truth? Can she read the Bible, boy?" asked Miss O'Reilly.
"No, she cannot read the Bible, but the priest takes care that she should know what he believes to be the truth, I am sure."
"Your mother loves you?"
"Oh! indeed she does," answered Dermot; "she would spill her heart's blood for my sake, though she often sits melancholy and sad when alone, yet the moment I return, her eye brightens, and she opens her arms to receive me. Yes, lady, my mother does love me, that I know."
"I should like to come and talk to your mother," said the blind lady. "Will you lead me to her some day? I should not be afraid to descend the cliff with so strong an arm as yours to rest on."
A few days after this, Dermot having finished his lesson with the vicar, met Miss O'Reilly close to the house, and expressed his readiness to take her to his mother's cottage, the sea at the time happening to be far too rough to allow their boat to go forth to fish.
"I am ready to go with you," said the blind lady; "but remember you must lead me all the way back, Dermot."
"That will just double the honour, lady," was the young Irishman's reply. Dermot talked much of his mother to the blind lady, as he led her down to the cottage.
The widow's voice pleased Miss O'Reilly, and all she said increased the interest she was inclined to take in her. Perhaps more than all, was that deep love which she felt for her only boy, and which had become, as it were, part of her being.
Dermot carefully conducted Miss O'Reilly back to the vicarage, and this was the first of many visits which she afterwards paid to the fishwife's hut.
Dermot was never idle. He had no associates; indeed from his earliest days he had kept aloof from boys of his own age. It was not that he was morose, or proud or ill-tempered, but he appeared to have no sympathy with them, and thus, though possessed of many qualities which would have won him friends, he had not a single friend of his own rank or age in the neighbourhood. Whenever he was not out fishing, he was engaged with his book, either at the vicarage or at home.
He was thus employed one afternoon in his mother's hut, when Father O'Rourke, the parish priest, made his appearance at the door.
"Come in, your reverence," said the widow, placing a stool for him near the hearth; "it is a long day since your reverence has been seen down the cove."
"May be you haven't seen me often enough," said Father O'Rourke, a stout broad-faced man, with a countenance of the ordinary low Irish type. "How is it that Dermot there has so many books? Ah! I have heard about his doings; he often goes up, I am told, to the Protestant minister's. What good can he get by going there?"
"Much good, your reverence," observed Dermot; "I have been learning to read and write, and gain other knowledge such as I had no other means of obtaining."
"Such knowledge may be bad for one like you," said Father O'Rourke; "there is no good can come from the place where you go to get it."
"Pardon me, Father O'Rourke," said Dermot, with spirit; "the knowledge I get there is good, and the gentleman who gives it is kind and good too. I will not hear him spoken against."
"What, lad! do you dare to speak to me in that way?" exclaimed the priest. "You will be going over to the Protestants, and then the curse of Saint Patrick and all the holy saints will rest upon you,—you too, who are born to be a priest of the holy faith. Look; you were marked before you came into the world with the emblem of our faith, and if your mother had followed the wishes of her true friends, you would even now be training for the priesthood, instead of being a poor fisher-boy, as you now must be for ever, and nothing more." The priest as he spoke seized Dermot's hand, and bared his arm to the shoulder. There, curiously enough, above the elbow, was a red mark which might easily have been defined as a cross.
The boy drew away his hand indignantly: "I tell you, Father O'Rourke, I am as true a son of the Holy Church as ever I was. Mr Jamieson is no bigot; he gives me instruction, but does not ask me to turn to his faith, and yet, Father O'Rourke, I tell you, to my mind it is a pure and holy faith, whatever you may say to the contrary."
The boy spoke boldly and proudly, as he again drew down the sleeve of his shirt.
Many years before, when the red mark on Dermot's arm had first been seen by the neighbours, it was suggested that it was evidently placed there as a sign from heaven that he should become a priest, and that in all probability he would rise to be a bishop, if not a cardinal. When, however, Dermot grew a little older, and the idea was suggested to him, he indignantly refused to accept the offers made him. In the first place, nothing would induce him to leave his mother, and in the second, he had no ambition to become like Father O'Rourke, for whom it must be confessed, that at a very early age the boy had entertained a considerable antipathy. Even with the widow, though she was ignorant and superstitious, Father O'Rourke had never been a favourite; still when she could get so far as the chapel, she went to hear mass, and attended confession, as did her neighbours. The feeling which governed her was fear, rather than love for the parish priest. Father O'Rourke was excessively indignant at being thus addressed by the young fisher-boy. He turned from him, however, to his mother, and began to pour out his abuse on her head. He had not proceeded far, however, when Dermot again sprang to his feet.
"Father O'Rourke!" he exclaimed; "you may say what you like to me; you may curse me, and if you like you may threaten me with excommunication even, but do not lift up your tongue against my poor old mother. There are things a man can bear and some he ought not to bear, and I tell you, boy as I am, I will not have her spoken against. Your words may frighten her, and she may fancy that your curses may fall upon her head, but I tell you when uttered against a poor helpless widow, they will fall back on him who dares to speak them. There, Father O'Rourke, I have had my say, and I defy you."
The priest had never before been spoken to in this manner by one of his flock, and he found no words to reply. At first he felt inclined to anathematise both the widow and her son, but doubts as to the effects it might produce upon Dermot restrained him, or perhaps a better feeling came into his heart.
"Very well, boy, remember I have warned you," he exclaimed, "I have told you that by going to that Protestant minister, you may be led to turn heretic, and forsake our holy faith, and if you should, do not forget the heavy curses that will follow you. I do not wish you ill, nor do I wish your mother ill, but I cannot stand by and see one of my flock carried the downward way to destruction."
Having thus delivered himself, Father O'Rourke left the hut and took the path up the steep glen, which led inland from the sea.
Often Dermot's mind reverted to the days when the castle was inhabited, and he thought of the beautiful and kind ladies he had seen there, and of the fair little girl who had smiled so sweetly when she spoke to him. He felt the immeasurable distance between them and him, and yet he longed for their return, that he might gaze on them at a distance, and again hear their voices. He was generally too much occupied to go to the castle to inquire when the Earl was likely to return, because when not engaged in fishing, he was constantly at the house of Mr Jamieson. More than once he had ventured to ask him whether he thought the Earl was likely to come back again, but the minister replied that he was ignorant of the Earl's movements, and had not heard that any orders had been received at the castle to make preparations for the reception of the family. The time was approaching when they had come on the previous year, and Dermot, though he scarcely acknowledged his feelings to himself, became more and more anxious for their arrival. After leaving Mr Jamieson, though the round was a long one, and he had to prepare his nets for the day's fishing, he could not resist the temptation of going to the castle before he returned home. From his frequent visits during the previous summer, he was not a stranger there, and the housekeeper, pleased with his good looks and his unaffected manner, was not sorry to see him.
"Wait a bit, boy, wait a bit, and I think I can tell you when the ladies will come back and make another likeness of you," she said, putting her hand on his head. "Ah! they will spoil you if we don't take care, but do not be led away by them, boy. They look upon you, likely enough, as they do upon a pet dog, or any other animal, and when they are away, it is little they trouble their heads about you."
These remarks were made in kindness by good Mrs Rafferty. She had heard all about the boy, and knew very well that if it became the custom to have him up at the castle, and to make much of him, as she thought was likely to be the case, he would inevitably be spoiled.
"When you come we will buy your fish, no fear of that, and take my advice, get a supply of the finest you can by to-morrow or the day after, and may be when you come there will be mouths enough at the castle to eat them."
"What! are the family coming so soon then?" exclaimed Dermot, and a thrill of pleasure ran through his frame; "and the beautiful lady who draws so well, and all the others! I will go and catch the fish, never fear, Mrs Rafferty, and it will not be my fault if I don't bring a basket of as fine as ever were caught up to the castle to-morrow."
"I did not say 'to-morrow,' boy; I said the day after, and that will be time enough."
Mrs Rafferty, to prove her kind feelings, took the boy into her own room, and placed before him several articles of food and delicacies, such as had never before passed his lips. She watched him while he ate.
"It is strange if there's not gentle blood in that boy," she remarked to herself, "I have heard what the young ladies think about it, and by the way he sits at table and eats, I would never believe that he is a mere fisher-boy."
Dermot did not hear her remarks. Having finished his repast, he rose and wishing her good-bye, hastened home with the good news to his mother.
The widow and her son devoted the next day to an active supervision of their nets. In the evening a gentle westerly breeze, which had brought in their boat safely to shore, was still blowing, and Dermot having prepared the fish for the next day's market, ascended to the downs above the cottage. As he gazed over the ocean, he saw under all sail, standing in for the shore, a beautiful ship. She had royals set, and studding-sails below and aloft on either side. It was evident she wished to come to an anchor before dark, and he concluded from the course she was steering, that she proposed bringing up in the bay, a reef extending out, on the north side of it, affording her sufficient shelter from the wind then blowing. Dermot watched the ship with intense interest. The masts seemed so tall, the canvas so white, and the yards extending so far on either side. On she came like a graceful swan, gliding over the azure bosom of the deep, surrounded as it were with the golden rays of the setting sun playing over the water in which she floated. Dermot had not believed that any vessel so beautiful was to be found on the ocean. She seemed so graceful, so fairy-like. As she drew nearer her sides appeared highly polished, and all about her wore an air of perfect order. A distant strain of music reached his ear from the deck. On a sudden men were seen swarming up her rigging. Every yard was covered. Now the studding-sails came in as if by magic. The royals and the topgallant sails were handed, the topsails were furled, the courses brailed up, and in a few seconds she was under bare poles, when her anchor was let go with a loud rattling sound in the securest part of the bay, showing that those on board were well acquainted with the coast.
As he looked down on the gallant frigate, for such she was, Dermot's admiration increased more and more. He could not help wishing to be on board so fine a craft, and he determined to take the first opportunity of visiting her.
On his return to the hut, he told his mother of the arrival of the frigate.
"She comes as a friend, I hope," remarked the widow; "it is not many years ago that I have seen vessels in this bay, which came with very different intentions."
No one was seen, however, to land from the strange frigate, but the widow, on further consideration, resolved to pay a visit on board, in the hopes of disposing of the fish they had just caught, calculating that a further supply might be obtained for the castle the following day.
Dermot was glad of an excuse for going on board: as it was now too late to visit her, it was arranged that they should go off the first thing on the following morning. Although he and his mother could manage the boat by themselves, he did not know how she might be received on board; he therefore invited his Uncle Shane to accompany them, advising him to carry a supply of his own fish for sale.
Early the next morning the boat was alongside the frigate. The vendors of fish are generally welcomed by men-of-war's-men, and they very quickly disposed of all they possessed; the only complaint of the sailors being, that they had not brought off enough vegetables and other fresh productions.
Dermot was invited on board, and as he showed his curiosity in all he saw, he was allowed to go over the whole of the ship. Great was his wonder as he examined her polished guns, the decks, white as snow, one below the other, the ropes on the upper deck so beautifully flemished down. The men were at breakfast, between decks. The tin mess utensils were spread out before them. Dermot was shown how the hammocks were hung up at night, and where they were stowed in the hammock-nettings in the day time. He gazed aloft at the symmetrical yards and ropes, and wondered at the perfect order which reigned around; so different to what he had been accustomed to in the small fishing-vessels and coasters, the only craft with which he was acquainted.
"Would you like to come to sea, lad?" said a rough sailor, putting his hand on Dermot's shoulder; "you would make an active young topman in a few years. There's something in you, I see. What do you say? Will you ship aboard us? I can answer for it you would get a berth, for our captain likes such as you."
Dermot was pleased with the compliment paid him, though uttered in a rough way.
"Ah! if I had my heart's wish, I would do as you say," he answered; "but there's one I cannot leave, and I do not think you would if you were in my place."
"Who's that?" asked the sailor.
"My mother, I am her only child," answered Dermot.
"I ran away from my mother, and yet I was her only son," replied the sailor, as he dashed a tear from his eye. "No, boy, I am not one to advise you to do as I did. I know not whether she is alive or dead, for never from that day to this, have I had the chance of returning home."
The widow was highly pleased with the transactions on board, for whatever spice of romance there was in her, she never forgot the importance of making a good bargain for her fish. Shane was delighted, and undertook to return on board the next day.
Another successful expedition enabled Dermot to carry a supply of fish to Mrs Rafferty at the castle. His modesty induced him to enter by the back way, and on asking for her, after waiting some time, he was told he might go and see her in her room. The good lady told him that she expected the family every instant, and would take all the fish he had brought. Dermot hurried away, fearful that they might arrive while he was in the castle, and that he might lose the opportunity of seeing them. He sat himself down by the side of the road which the carriages must pass, in the hopes of gaining a glimpse of the lady who had taken his portrait, as well as of the fair little girl her companion. He thought very little of the rest of the party. At length, after waiting some time, his patience was rewarded by seeing the carriages approach. Not only were the ladies there, but they both saw him, and Lady Nora gave a half-nod of recognition, and then turned to her companion, as if to speak about him. Dermot would gladly have found any excuse for returning to the castle, but as this was impossible, he hurried home, hoping to be able to visit it the next day with a further supply of fish. On his way he saw a boat pulling rapidly from the frigate towards the landing-place under the castle walls. In her stern-sheets sat an officer, who by the gold epaulets on his shoulders and his cocked hat, he naturally concluded was the captain. Poor Dermot had very little chance after this of attracting the attention of Lady Sophy. The boat reached the shore, when the captain sprang out, and hurried up to the castle. He was received with great courtesy and respect by the Earl and his guests.
"You are indeed welcome, Falkner!" exclaimed the Earl, cordially shaking him by the hand, "we little expected having the pleasure of seeing you. What fortunate chance brings you into our bay?"
"We received information that there was some idea of a rising in this part of the country, and I was ordered to cruise off the coast," answered the captain of the frigate. "Hearing also that you were about to return to Kilfinnan Castle, as it was in the way of duty, I took the opportunity of coming into the bay to visit you, and at the same time to make inquiries as to the truth of the report."
"You are very welcome, Captain Falkner, and we are very happy to see you," said the Earl, casting a significant glance towards Lady Sophy; "as to the rising, I rather think the Government has been misled; however, it is as well to be prepared, and the appearance of the frigate on the coast may prevent the people from committing any act of folly."
"I hope so, indeed," said Captain Falkner; "for the blood of too many of the misguided people has been shed already. They may bring much misery and suffering on themselves, and they may do a great deal of mischief in the country, but while England's fleet and England's army remain faithful, their wild schemes have not the remotest prospect of success."
"No, indeed!" answered the Earl, in a somewhat scornful tone, "unless men of character and true bravery were to lead them, they will always be defeated as they have hitherto been. For my own part I have not the slightest fear on the subject. However, I repeat that I am not sorry that any excuse should have brought you into our bay."
Captain Falkner after this received the welcome of the rest of the guests, with most of whom he was acquainted.
Lady Sophy blushed as she held out her hand, and the gallant captain took it with a look which showed there was a perfect understanding between them. He had already obtained a name which gave him rank among the bravest of England's naval heroes. They before long found an excuse for walking out together on a beautiful terrace, which extended under the cliffs, beyond the castle to the south. The conversation need not be repeated, it was very evident, however, that Captain Falkner was an accepted suitor of Lady Sophy's, although there were some impediments to their immediate union.
He told her that he expected to be on the coast for some time, for he still believed, in spite of the Earl's assertions, that there was a considerable number of persons disaffected in that part of the country, who would be induced to rise, should a leader make his appearance among them.
"Although I may sail away for a few days at a time, I shall constantly be on the watch, and the thought that you may be placed in danger, will certainly not make me the less vigilant," he observed, pressing Lady Sophy's hand.
"But suppose you were to hear there would be a rising in this place, and another at some distance, to which would you then go?" asked Lady Sophy. "Would it not place you in a difficulty?"
"I tell you frankly, I would endeavour to forget in which place you were, and should steer for the one in which I believed my services were most imperatively demanded."
"Yes, I am sure you would act thus," she answered, casting on him a look of admiration and affection. "I do not value your love the less on that account, believe me."
Captain Falkner had to return on board in the evening, but promised to visit the castle next day.
He arrived just as Dermot made his appearance with a basket of fish.
"Oh! that is the boy whose portrait you were admiring so much, Captain Falkner," said Lady Sophy, pointing to Dermot as he was passing the hall-door.
"Come in, boy," said another lady; "we wish to see if your portrait has done you justice."
Dermot entered in his usual fearless manner, carrying his basket of fish. The portrait was produced, and another lady insisted that he should remain until she had taken a sketch of him for herself.
"By-the-bye," said the Earl, "have you got any good by going to the minister, boy?"
"Yes, indeed I have, sir," said Dermot warmly, "there is many a book I have learned to read, and though I found writing more hard, I am able to copy whatever Mr Jamieson gives me, and while he reads I can write after him. And there is history and geography and many more things he has taught me."
"Ah, I must go over and thank him," said the Earl. "And do you wish, boy, to continue under his instruction?"
"Indeed I do, sir," answered Dermot.
"Oh, but we were teaching you," exclaimed Lady Nora, who had just then come into the hall. "You must come and let Lady Sophy and me give you lessons as we did before."
"Indeed I am honoured, ladies," answered Dermot, with an air which none but an Irish boy, even of much higher rank, could have assumed. "Although I am grateful to the minister for all he has taught me, I should be thankful to receive further lessons from you."
The Earl was somewhat amused at the thoughts of his little daughter giving instruction to the young fisher-boy. At the same time, good-natured and thoughtless, he made not the slightest objection. Indeed he never thwarted Nora in anything she had taken it into her head to wish for, and certainly he was not likely to do so in a matter so trifling as this.
Dermot appeared, as he had been invited, to receive his lessons, but was somewhat surprised to find that Lady Nora was scarcely as advanced in some branches of knowledge as himself.
"Indeed you have made great progress," said Lady Sophy, who had undertaken to be the chief instructress. "If you persevere you will soon become as well educated as most young gentlemen of the day. I am acquainted with several, indeed, who don't know as much as you do."
These remarks encouraged Dermot to persevere, even with more determination than before. Every moment he could spare from his duties, he was now engaged in reading.
His poor mother looked on with astonishment that her boy should thus become so learned, and more than once it entered into her mind that it was a pity she had not allowed him to follow Father O'Rourke's suggestion, and become a priest. "He would have been a bishop to a certainty," she exclaimed to herself—"and only think to be a holy bishop, certain of heaven. What a great man he would have been made, a cardinal, and that he would have been, if His Holiness the Pope had ever become acquainted with him. I wonder now if it's too late, but I'm afraid after what he said to Father O'Rourke that his Reverence will never give him a helping hand."
Such and similar thoughts frequently passed through the mind of the poor widow. More than once she ventured to broach the subject to her son, but he shook his head with a look of disgust.
"If I am ever to be otherwise than what I am, I hope never to become like Father O'Rourke. No, no, mother I have other thoughts, and do not, I pray you, ever ask me again to become a priest."
The next visit Dermot paid to the castle, he was detained longer than usual by another lady insisting on taking his portrait. His feelings rather rebelled against this. He had been flattered when Lady Sophy had first taken it, but he did not much like the idea of being made a figure for the exercise of other fair artists' pencils, still his natural feelings of politeness prevented him from showing the annoyance he felt.
While the lady was proceeding with her work, he gathered from the conversation around him that some one of importance was expected at the castle, and he at length made out that the young heir—Lord Fitz Barry— was looked for during the afternoon.
Dermot had never seen him, for during the previous summer, he had not returned home, having remained with his tutor in England. He found that the carriage had been sent for the young Lord to the neighbouring town.
As soon as the ladies dismissed him, Dermot took his way along the road by which he would reach the castle.
He had not long to wait before he saw an open carriage with the Earl in it, and by his side a young boy bearing a strong resemblance to Lady Nora.
There were the same blue eyes and the fair complexion and rich auburn air possessed by his sister, at the same time there was a manly look and expression in his countenance—boy as he was—which at once won Dermot's respect.
"Ah, he has the old blood of his family in his veins," thought Dermot, "and when he comes to man's estate, he'll prove, I hope, the same kind-hearted, honest man that his father is."
Well pleased with his morning visit to the castle, Dermot returned to his humble cottage. Did he ever draw a contrast between the two abodes? Yes, but he was not discontented with his lot. He loved his mother, and he knew that his mother loved him above all earthly things, and that she would not exchange him, even to dwell in that lordly castle. Still, as Dermot advanced in knowledge and in age, he could not help discovering that his mother was ignorant and prone to superstition. Indeed with pain he sometimes suspected that her mind was not altogether perfectly right. She would sit occasionally talking to herself, and now and then speak of strange events which had passed in her youth, of which she would give no explanation. He, however, quickly banished this latter idea, as too painful to be entertained. She loved him, what more could he desire? When he was anxious about her, he reflected that she had secured more than one friend in the neighbourhood. That his uncle Shane was devoted to her, and that the kind Miss O'Reilly had promised always to watch over her.
Many wild thoughts and schemes passed frequently through Dermot's mind. He dared not at first give utterance to them, not even to himself, and he would have found it impossible to mention them to any human being.
Mr Jamieson, more than once, had spoken to him of the future, and hinted that if the way was open to him, he would scarcely fail, with the talents and application he possessed, of rising in life. It was very natural in Mr Jamieson to think this, for he knew that a fisher-boy's existence on the west coast of Ireland was one of ill-requited toil, and of great danger. Holding this opinion, he felt that the boy would not change for the worse, and would certainly improve his position in whatever calling he might engage.
One afternoon, when it was blowing too hard to allow Dermot to put to sea in his boat, he had gone to the vicarage to obtain his usual instruction, carrying with him some fish he had caught, as a present to the vicar's niece. After he had received his instruction and was about to take his departure, Miss O'Reilly called him back to thank him for the fish which he had brought her.
"By-the-bye!" observed Mr Jamieson, "Dermot can take the pony which I wish to send for young Lord Fitz Barry, and the cloak which he left here the other day."
Dermot had not often ridden; but where is the Irish boy who would not undertake to mount the most fiery steed, if he was asked to do so?
He gladly promised to take the pony and cloak to the castle. It was already late in the day, but he observed that "that did not matter," as it must be a dark night in which he could not find his way home. The pony was, however, in the field, and some more time elapsed before he was caught. Miss O'Reilly then bethought her, that Dermot had been a long time without food, and insisted on his taking some before he set off in that blustering evening. It was thus almost dark before he left the vicarage for the castle. He looked down on the bay: the frigate still lay at anchor there, the wind being still from the north.
"If the wind shifts a little more to the west, she will have to put to sea," thought Dermot. "It will not do for her to remain in the bay with the wind blowing in from the west, and with such often rolls in here, enough to cast the stoutest ship high upon the beach, or to dash her to fragments should she touch the rocks."
Dermot rode on, not, however, very fast, as the little animal was unwilling to leave his own home, not guessing the comfortable quarters to which he was bound. The wind brought up a heavy shower of rain and hail; Dermot was doubtful whether he ought to shelter himself under the young lord's cloak. "Still," he thought, "it will not be the worse for being on my shoulders, and I shall be wet through and well-nigh frozen before I reach the castle, if I am to sit on this animal's back exposed to the storm."
He wisely therefore, having overcome his scruples, put on the cloak, and continued his course as fast as the pony would condescend to go towards the castle.
Just as the frigate was hid from his view by some intervening downs, he thought he saw the men going aloft to loose the topsails, an indication of the ship being about to get under weigh.
"It is the wisest thing that can be done," he thought to himself. "She can easily stand off until the summer gale is over, and run no risk of being driven on shore."
He was already at no great distance from the castle, when suddenly from behind some rocks and bushes which lay near the road, a number of men sprang up and seized the bridle of his pony. He was too much astonished to cry out, or to ask what was their purpose in thus attacking him.
By the expressions that they uttered, however, he soon discovered that they were under the impression that they had got possession of the young lord.
"Now," he thought to himself, with admirable presence of mind, "the best thing I can do is to hold my tongue, and just see what they intended to do with him. I would a great deal rather that they caught hold of me, to whom it matters not what harm they do, than the young lord. I would willingly save him for his sweet sister's sake, and for his too, for he is a kind boy, with a gentle heart. I am sure of that. There is no pride or haughtiness about him. If there were, I should not feel disposed to serve him. No, I could not do that. Well, I will see what these men want to do with him. They will be rather surprised and enraged may be when they find whom they have got, instead of the young lord."
These thoughts passed rapidly through Dermot's mind, as he saw that he was surrounded by an armed band of men. They did not attempt to pull him from his pony, but turning round the animal's head, they led him across the country inland at a rapid rate, a man holding the rein on either side with a firm grasp, to prevent the little animal from falling over the rough ground they were traversing.
Dermot firmly kept to his resolution of saying nothing. The night was so dark, that had it not been for his knowledge of the direction from which the wind blew, he would have been unable to guess where he was going. In a short time, however, he found the wind blew directly in his teeth. He knew that they must be travelling north, and also, from the character of the ground, that they had already passed beyond the vicarage, and that they could be at no great distance from his own home. Now they turned once more to the west, and he felt sure they were approaching the sea. The ground became more and more wild and rugged, and he guessed by feeling that they continued to ascend for some distance, that they had reached a range of wild hills which lay in that direction.
All this time he had kept his senses wide awake, nor did he allow himself to feel the slightest fear of what was likely to happen.
"No great harm can come to me," at length he thought to himself; "and if it does, what matters it? There are those who will look after my mother, and I shall have saved the young lord from some plot which these ruffians have formed against him."
All this time the people round him were speaking the native Irish, little supposing that their prisoner understood every word they said. He was at length able to gather from their conversation that they intended to hold the young lord as a hostage, threatening, if the demands they proposed making were not granted, that they would kill him in revenge.
At length, he was ordered to dismount, and he found himself led forward through a narrow passage, with rocks on either side, which conducted them into the interior of a cave. It was of considerable size, the roof and sides covered apparently with smoke, probably the result of the illicit distillery which existed, or had existed there. It was dimly lighted by a lamp fixed on a projecting point of the rock. This enabled Dermot to see that a number of arms were piled up along one side, muskets, pikes, and swords. There were two small field-pieces, and what he supposed to be cases of ammunition. Had the light been greater he would probably have been at once discovered. As it was, however, he was led forthwith to the farther part of the cave, where he was told to take his seat on a rough bed-place.
"We'll be after bringing your food directly," said a man, the first person who had spoken to him since his capture. "You will be quiet now, and not attempt to run away; for we should shoot you if you did without the slightest ceremony. You understand that? Or stay, if we were to bind one of your feet to the leg of this bunk, we should have you more secure, I'm thinking."
Dermot, adhering to his resolution, said nothing in return, but allowed himself to be secured as the man proposed. He laughed, however, to himself at the thought of the ease with which he could immediately liberate himself should he wish to do so, and wrapping himself closely in the cloak, the better to conceal his figure and dress, should by chance a gleam of light fall upon him, he lay down on the bunk.
Other persons now continued to arrive, until the cave was full of men, the greater part of whom were peasants or small farmers; at least their comrades treated them with but little ceremony.
As Dermot, however, was watching what took place, he heard the men whispering to each other, "It's him! It's him; he's come to lead us, no fear now."
Just then a man appeared at the entrance of the cave. As he advanced with a confident, indeed somewhat swaggering step, towards the table in the centre, all the men rose from their seats and greeted him in various tones of welcome.
He told them that he had been narrowly watched, that he had had no little difficulty in escaping his enemies and their enemies, that he was thankful to find himself among them, and prepared to undertake any enterprise, however hazardous, which might tend to forward their great and glorious cause—the overthrow of their Saxon tyrants and the establishment of the Irish race as the lords and rulers of their country.
He said a great deal more to the same effect, which was eagerly listened to by the assembled rebels.
"Long life to the O'Higgins, he's the boy for us," resounded through the cavern, or at least words to that effect in the native Irish, the only language spoken by those present.
The O'Higgins spoke it, but Dermot remarked that he did so with some difficulty.
The conspirators seemed highly delighted at having made so valuable a prize, and began, in no subdued voices, to discuss their future plans and proceedings.
Dermot listened eagerly, anxious to catch every word that was uttered. He found that they were a band of United Irishmen, as the rebels were generally called at that time, and that in spite of the ill-success of their undertaking in the north, they proposed carrying out a rising in that part of the country. Their first object was to attack the Castle of Kilfinnan, where they hoped to find a supply of arms and a large amount of booty. They expected also to extract a considerable sum for the ransom of the prisoners they might capture in the castle, and, if not, they proposed putting them all to death, in revenge for the execution of their fellow-rebels, which had taken place in other parts of the country.
The chief impediment to their plan was the continuance of the frigate on the coast. They were anxious to devise some plan by which she might be drawn off to another part of Ireland, or induced, at all events, to put to sea. Some of the boldest of the party proposed collecting a flotilla of boats, and taking possession of her, in the belief that they could land her guns and other arms, and thus obtain the means of better competing with the royal troops.
These and many other schemes were freely discussed by the rebels. After some time another person entered the cavern. Dermot looked up and saw by the light of the lamp, which fell on his countenance, that the new comer was no other than Father O'Rourke. He and the O'Higgins greeted each other warmly. It was evident that they were looked upon as the leaders of the undertaking. The one active in a spiritual capacity, urging on the infatuated men the justice of their cause and promising them his own prayers and the protection of heaven, and telling them to go on and conquer; the other inviting them to follow him, and promising them the victory. Father O'Rourke particularly advocated the most energetic measures. He even advised that they should at once march towards the castle, and, exposing the young lord to view, threaten to hang him if the gates were not opened to admit them.
This plan was, however, overruled by others, who declared that the frigate still lay in the bay, and that whatever the Earl might do, their appearance on the shore would certainly bring the shot of her guns about their ears.
"And what are you afraid of, comrades?" exclaimed Father O'Rourke. "If they do, cannot I give each of you the blessed picture of Saint Patrick, and won't that, worn about your neck, guard you from the shot of the enemy? Ah, if you knew the value of those blessed amulets, you would all of you be anxious to purchase them. No soldier should ever think of going into battle without such a safeguard. Have I not been offering up prayers day and night for the last month for your success, and are you such heretics as to believe that they have all been uttered in vain? No, trust me, let us go and attack the castle this night or to-morrow at farthest, and depend upon it, we shall gain such a victory as will make all the people in the country around rise up and join us. They only want to see a little success, and Ireland shall have her own again. What, boys! are we to be kept down by the red-coats, and the vile heretics who call George the Third king? No, I say again. Ireland for the Irish. May Saint Patrick and all the blessed Saints fight for us, and we will have true liberty once more in the green Isle of old Erin!"
While listening to the address of the priest, very similar to many others uttered then, and even at the present day, by the so-called pastors of the Romish Church in Ireland, Dermot was thinking over what he should attempt to do. He knew perfectly well from the way his feet had been tied to the bed, that he could liberate himself immediately; but how to steal out of the cavern without being observed was the difficulty; even should the chief body of the rebels go to sleep, it was not likely that they would leave the cavern without a guard. If he could escape, however, he thought his best plan would be to hasten off to the castle, to which he felt sure he could find his way, and give notice of the plans of the conspirators.
"The Earl probably does not dream of an attack being made on his residence, and will not certainly be prepared," thought Dermot to himself. "Perhaps the rebels will steal towards the chief door and break it open before any one within can stop them. The frigate, too, if she has not sailed already, will very likely go away, or be misled by the treacherous information those people will send on board. Now, if I could steal away without their finding out who I am, they will not suspect that their plans are discovered as they know that the young lord would not understand what had been said." Dermot's great desire therefore was to escape from the cavern. He found that not only was it expected that the country around would rise and attack all the Protestant dwelling-houses in the neighbourhood, but that a French squadron with troops would come off the coast and support their cause.
This, altogether, was terrible news, and Dermot felt that it was most important it should be conveyed without delay to Kilfinnan Castle, the principal seat in that neighbourhood.
Dermot had never liked Father O'Rourke, and he had now still less cause to admire him. He guessed, too, from the character of the man, that although he would encourage the people round to rebel, he was not likely to run himself into danger. He was not surprised, therefore, after hearing him inflame the passions and ardour of his misguided countrymen, to see him quietly take his departure after uttering his blessing and promising them success if they would follow his injunctions.
We must now return to the vicarage. Scarcely had Dermot left the house on the pony, than Miss O'Reilly began to regret that she had allowed him to go. She went to the door and felt the blast blowing keenly from the north, and knowing the lateness of the hour, she feared that he would be benighted long before he could reach the castle. She would willingly have despatched some one to him, but she had no person to send.
While standing at the door, she heard a voice, singing one of the wild and plaintive airs of the country, down in the valley beneath the vicarage. She knew by the sounds that the singer was drawing nearer and nearer the house.
"It is poor mad Kathleen," she said to herself, "though she has but a small amount of brains, yet she is fleet of foot, and would soon overtake the lad, and bring him back to the house. It would be better to do that, than let him go on with the pony he ill knows how to bestride."
The song continued, and in a short time the singer stood in front of the vicarage.
"Well, Kathleen, what brings you here?" asked Miss O'Reilly, addressing her in a kind tone.
"What brings me here takes me wherever I list to go, my own free will," answered the mad girl, who was still young, and possessed of an amount of beauty which made those who saw her feel even more sympathy and compassion than they might have done, had her appearance been less attractive.
"You are good and kind, Kathleen," said Miss O'Reilly; "you would do me a kindness, I know, if I were to ask you."
"That I would, lady!" answered the girl, in the broken Saxon which was spoken by not many of the peasantry in that part of Ireland; "I would do anything to serve you, just say what it is."
Miss O'Reilly, in a few words, explained to Kathleen what she wished to have done.
"You know him, you know young Dermot O'Neil?"
"Oh yes, I know him well; he is a gentle lad and a good one, and I would gladly serve him, as I would you, lady."
Miss O'Reilly again endeavoured to impress upon the wandering mind of the poor girl what she was to do, and then begged her to hasten off to overtake Dermot. However, neither she nor Miss O'Reilly were aware of the distance Dermot would have got before Kathleen could overtake him.
The mad girl went singing on as was her wont for some time, till suddenly she became unusually silent. She had not gone far when she heard the loud talking of a body of men approaching her.
"Those voices at this time of the evening bode no good," she said to herself. "They are some of the rebels who they say are about the country. I never loved such. I will hide and watch to see what they are about."
She accordingly concealed herself among the rocks and uneven ground with which the road was bounded. The tramp of feet approached, coming from the direction of the castle, and she saw some men leading a pony on which a lad was mounted, hurriedly proceeding towards the north.
From what she had heard from Miss O'Reilly, she at once concluded that the person she had seen in the hands of the insurgents must be Dermot himself.
"Now the next thing I have to do," she thought, "is to follow and try to find out where they are taking him to. Surely they will not do him an injury, but still they have no right to carry him off; of that I am certain."
Gathering her cloak around her, she quickly followed the footsteps of the party she had seen pass. She had to keep at a cautious distance, lest in crossing any open space, she might have been discovered, but where a person in their right mind might have hesitated, she went on fearlessly. The road was rough and up and down hill, but she continued her pursuit till the party suddenly came to a halt.
"Oh!" she said to herself; "I know the spot where they have gone to; shall I go on, or shall I go back to Miss O'Reilly and tell her how I have been defeated in fulfilling her directions?"
In spite of the distance she determined to follow the latter course.
The astonishment of Miss O'Reilly was very great when, at a late hour in the evening, Kathleen appeared and told her what had befallen young Dermot.
Miss O'Reilly instantly consulted her uncle, who fortunately was at home.
"There is something wrong going forward, at all events," he observed. "But why the rebels should have made Dermot prisoner is more than I can say. However, perhaps you can persuade Kathleen to go back to the cave and endeavour to release him. I don't know what else we can do. In the morning I will ride over to the castle and consult with the Earl. He should be informed that a rising of some sort is on foot through the country, though I do not suppose it is of much consequence."
Kathleen was perfectly ready to undertake the release of Dermot if she could accomplish it, and she promised at all events to enter the cavern and to communicate with him.
"He is a wise lad, and it will be a wise thing to do as he bids me," she observed.
"But you must be weary, Kathleen," said Miss O'Reilly; "you will want some refreshment before you set out again to-night."
"No, no, when the mind's at work the body requires no food," said the mad girl, and she burst forth in a wild song which showed the excitement under which she was labouring.
Without waiting for further directions, away went the mad girl over moorland and glen at a speed which, considering the darkness, scarcely a wild deer could have rivalled, and before long she stood at the entrance of the cavern. She waited for some time, in the hopes that the inmates would go to sleep, and that she could more easily find an entrance. Listening, she heard voices within, and that of Father O'Rourke above all the rest.
"Where the priest is, there there's mischief," she said to herself. "If he's going to stay there's little I shall be able to do."
She had not waited long, however, concealed behind a rock, when she saw Father O'Rourke issue forth and take his way down the hill. She waited some time longer, then quietly entered the cavern, gliding past the table and up to its further end. The men, who were still awake, gazed at her with astonishment, wondering what had brought her there, but none ventured to speak to her. She was held in a sort of superstitious reverence by the ignorant peasantry; and seeing her fearlessly enter, they fancied that she had authority for coming among them. No one suspected, indeed, that she would not prove faithful to their cause, had she discovered their intention. Silently she passed up the cavern and sat herself down on a chest at the further end, where, concealed by the darkness, she yet could look forth on the objects lighted by the lamp, and make her observations.
She had not been there long before she discovered Dermot resting on his elbow on the bunk where he had been placed. She watched till those around her appeared to be asleep, and she then noiselessly glided up to where he lay.
"I have come to look for you, Dermot," she whispered. "Have you any message to send to friends, or would you have me set you free? The message I might take, but if I were to try and set you free, I might be made prisoner myself."
"I will send a message; that will be the safest plan," said Dermot. "But how did you find me out?"
She told him briefly.
"Stay, I can take a leaf from one of my books," he observed. "I will write it, it will be safer, and you will remember to deliver it, Kathleen, if you wish to do me and others real service."
"Oh yes, Dermot, write, you may trust me; it is better than putting it into my poor mind, though I can remember if it is not overcharged," she answered with a sigh. "But be quick, or some of these people will be suspecting us."
Dermot sat up. He had fortunately a pencil in his pocket, and taking a leaf from one of his books, he wrote a few lines, addressed to the Earl, telling him of the intention of the rebels to attack his castle, and also of their purpose of getting the frigate out of the way.
The note may not have been well written or very well expressed, but it was clear and to the purpose. After signing his name he added, "Oh, trust me, my lord, I would come myself but I am a prisoner, and I pray heaven that this may reach you in time to be of service."
Kathleen placed the note in her bosom, hoping that she had not been observed.
"Now hasten away, Kathleen," whispered Dermot. "You can do as much good as I could have done had I been free, and providing those in the castle are preserved I care not what happens."
Kathleen returned to her former seat and began chanting one of the airs she was generally heard singing, and then, once more gliding down the centre of the cave, she took her departure unquestioned by any of the rebels. Again in the open air she quickly descended the mountain, dark as it was, and in spite of the roughness of the way, she hastened forward at a rapid speed towards Kilfinnan Castle. All was silent as she approached the gates. In vain she walked round and round, she could find no means of making herself heard. The inmates, unsuspicious of danger, were all at rest. She looked down into the bay. The frigate was not there. "All my labours will be of no avail," she thought to herself, "if I cannot let the good lord know what is threatened."
She had walked some way under the castle walls, when, looking up, she saw a light in a window. Instantly she gave forth one of her wild songs. Some of those within who had heard of the famed Banshee were fully persuaded that it was a phantom visitor singing outside the gates, indicative of the speedy death of some one of consequence within. At length the window opened.
"Who's there?" asked a feminine voice. "Surely it is some mortal, and not a spirit from another world."
"I'm sure it is," said another voice.
"It's the poor girl Miss O'Reilly was telling us about. What is it you want, Kathleen?" asked the speaker in a tender tone.
"Is it you who calls me, my lady?" answered Kathleen from below.
"Yes, it is I; what brings you here at this hour of the night?"
"A message—a paper for the Earl, my lady," said the mad girl. "It is from one who would serve him, and it is of great importance he told me. I cannot say more now; but if you will let me into the castle I will place it in your hands, and tell you all I know."
"Come round to the front door," said a voice, which was that of Lady Sophy. "We will come down with a light, and admit you."
Some time was occupied by the young ladies in putting on their dresses, and then arousing the Earl with the information that a message of importance was brought for him, they hastened down stairs.
At first, from the incoherent way in which poor Kathleen spoke, Lady Sophy and Nora could not understand what had occurred. At length the truth dawned upon them, and by the time the Earl appeared, they were able to explain to him what they had learned.
He at once clearly understood that Dermot had been seized by those who intended to carry off his own son, and he felt not a little grateful to the young fisher-boy for the way he had behaved in the matter. He saw likewise that no time was to be lost, and that it would be necessary both to send off messengers to procure troops from the nearest place where they were quartered, and also immediately to put the castle into a state of defence. He regretted the absence of the frigate, and could only hope that she might return sooner than it had been Captain Falkner's intention of doing.
In vain Lady Sophy pressed poor Kathleen, after her exertions, to remain and rest at the castle.
"No, no," she answered; "I will be back again at my home. If I am absent, they will suspect that I have taken a part in this matter; and though they can do me no harm, they may injure those I love."
The poor girl could scarcely be persuaded to take any refreshment; and at length, having eaten a little which Lady Nora brought her, she hastened away towards the vicarage, singing in her usual strain as she went.
The Earl quickly aroused the inmates of the castle. Messengers were sent off as he proposed, and all the people in the neighbourhood who could be trusted were summoned to come within the walls to aid in its defence. There were a few guns planted on the battlements, but they were more for show than use, that part of the country having hitherto been tranquil, and no idea being entertained that they would be required. There were, however, muskets and pistols in the armoury, and pikes, and numerous old weapons of warfare which were stored there, more as an exhibition on account of their antiquity than for use. Still, the gates were strong, and it would require no small amount of force to break them open.
The preparations for the defence occupied a considerable time; the lower windows had to be barricaded, and the doors strengthened by stout bars. A few holes were left for musketry in different parts, and a supply of large stones was brought up from the beach below to serve as missiles, should the rebels approach near enough to make them useful.
The first streaks of daylight were appearing in the sky before all these preparations were made. Soon after, while the little garrison were resting from the toil they had undergone, the tramp of feet was heard approaching the castle.