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Banim, John / Stories by English Authors: Ireland
"I never heard of the old hunt
materializing in any such way as this."

They rushed to the front door--Jack, Mr. Connolly, all of them.
Harold reached it first. Wrenching it open, he stood on the step,
while the others crowded about him and peered out into the night.
Only darkness, rendered mirker by the lights in the hall; and from
the distance, fainter now, came the measured beat of the galloping
hoofs.

No other sound? Yes, a long-drawn, quivering, piteous sigh; and as
their eyes grew more accustomed to the night, out of the darkness
something white shaped itself--something prone and helpless,
lying on the gravel beneath the lowest step. They did not stop to
speculate as to what it might be. With a single impulse, Jack and
Harold sprang down, and between them they carried back into the
hall the inanimate body of Polly Connolly.

Her eyes were closed and her face was as white as the muslin dress
she wore. Clutched in her right hand was a hunting-horn belonging
to Dick. It was evident that the girl had stolen out unobserved to
reproduce--perhaps for the visitor's benefit--the legendary notes
of the phantom huntsman. This was a favorite joke among the young
Connollys, and scarcely a New-Year's night passed that it was not
practised by one or other of the large family; but what had occurred
to-night? Whence came those galloping hoofs, and what was the
explanation of Polly's condition?

The swoon quickly yielded to the usual remedies, but even when she
revived it was some time before the girl could speak intelligibly.
Her voice was broken by hysterical sobs; she trembled in every
limb. It was evident that her nerves had received a severe shock.

While the others were occupied with Polly, Dick had stepped out on
the gravel sweep, where he was endeavouring, by close examination,
to discover some clue to the puzzle. Suddenly he ran back into the
house.

"Something's on fire!" he cried. "I believe it's the yard."

They all pressed to the open door--all except Mrs. Connolly, who
still busied herself with her daughter, and Harold, whose sole
interest was centred in the girl he loved.

Above a fringe of shrubbery which masked the farm-yard, a red glow
lit up the sky. It was evident the buildings were on fire. And
even while they looked a man, half dressed, panting, smoke-stained,
dashed up the steps. It was Tom Neil, one of the Emergency men.

These men slept in the yard, in the quarters vacated by the deserting
coachman. In a few breathless words the big, raw-boned Ulsterman
told the story of the last half-hour.

He and his comrade Fergus had been awakened by suspicious sounds
in the yard. Descending, they had found the cattle-shed in flames.
Neil had forced his way in and had liberated and driven out the
terrified bullocks. The poor animals, wild with terror, had burst
from the yard and galloped off in the direction of the house. This
accounted for the trampling hoofs that had swept across the lawn,
but scarcely for Polly's terrified condition. A country-bred girl
like Miss Connolly would not lose her wits over the spectacle
of a dozen fat oxen broken loose from their stalls. Had the barn
purposely burned, and had the girl fallen in with the retreating
incendiaries?

It seemed likely. No one there doubted the origin of the fire, and
Mr. Connolly expressed the general feeling as he shook his head
and murmered:

"I mistrusted that they wouldn't let us get them cattle out o' the
country without some trouble."

"But where is Fergus?" demanded Jack, suddenly.

"Isn't he here?" asked the Ulsterman. "When we seen the fire he
started up to the big house to give the alarm, while I turned to
to save the bullocks."

"No, he never came to the house," answered Jack, and there was an
added gravity in his manner as he turned to his brother.

"Get a lantern, Dick. This thing must be looked into at once."

While the boy went in search of a light, Mr. Connolly attempted to
obtain from his daughter a connected statement of what had happened
and how much she had seen; but she was in no condition to answer
questions. The poor girl could only sob and moan and cover her face
with her hands, while convulsive tremblings shook her slight figure.

"Oh, don't ask me, papa; don't speak to me about it. It was
dreadful--dreadful. I saw it all."

This was all they could gain from her.

"Don't thrubble the poor young lady," interposed old Peter,
compassionately. "Sure, the heart's put acrass in her wid the
fright. Lave her be till mornin'."

There seemed nothing else to be done, so Polly was left in charge
of her mother and sister, while the men, headed by Dick, who carried
a lantern, set out to examine the grounds.

There was no trace of Fergus between the house and the farm-yard.
The lawn was much cut up by the cattle, for the frost had turned to
rain early in the evening, and a rapid thaw was in progress. The
ground was quite soft on the surface, and it was carefully scrutinised
for traces of footsteps, but nothing could be distinguished among
the hoof-prints of the bullocks.

In the yard all was quiet. The fire had died down; the roof of the
cattle-shed had fallen in and smothered the last embers. The barn
was a ruin, but no other damage had been done, and there were no
signs of the missing man.

They turned back, this time making a wider circle. Almost under the
kitchen window grew a dense thicket of laurel and other evergreen
shrubs. Dick stooped and let the light of the lantern penetrate
beneath the overhanging branches.

There, within three steps of the house, lay Fergus, pale and
blood-stained, with a sickening dent in his temple--a murdered man.

Old Peter Dwyer was the first to break the silence: "The Lord be
good to him! They've done for him this time, an' no mistake."

The lifeless body was lifted gently and borne toward the house.
Harold hastened in advance to make sure that none of the ladies
were astir to be shocked by the grisly sight. The hall was deserted.
Doubtless Polly's condition demanded all their attention.

"The girl saw him murdered," muttered Mr. Connolly. "I thought it
must have been something out of the common to upset her so."

"D' ye think did she, sir?" asked old Peter, eagerly.

"I havnen't a doubt of it," replied the old gentlemen shortly. "Thank
goodness, her evidence will hang the villain, whoever he may be."
"Ah, the poor thing, the poor thing!" murmured the servant, and
then the sad procession entered the house.

The body was laid on a table. It would have been useless to send
for a surgeon. There was not one to be found within several miles,
and it was but too evident that life was extinct. The top of the
man's head was beaten to a pulp. He had been clubbed to death.

"If it costs me every shilling I have in the world, and my life
to the boot of it," said Mr. Connolly, "I'll see the ruffians that
did the deed swing for their night's work."

"Amin," assented Peter, solemnly; and Jack's handsome face darkened
as he mentally recorded an oath of vengeance.

"There'll be little sleep for this house to-night," resumed the
old gentleman after a pause. "I'm goin' to look round and see if
the doors are locked, an' then take a look at Polly. An', Peter."

"Sir!"

"The first light in the mornin'--it's only a few hours off," he
added, with a glance at his watch --"you run over to the police
station, and give notice of what's happened."

"I will, yer honour."

"Come upstairs with me, boys. I want to talk with you. Good-night,
Mr. Hayes. This has been a blackguard business, but there's no
reason you should lose your rest for it."

Mr. Connolly left the room, resting his arms on the shoulders of his
two sons. Harold glanced at the motionless figure of the murdered
man, and followed. He did not seek his bedroom, however; he knew
it would be idle to think of sleep. He entered the smoking-room,
lit a cigar, and threw himself into a chair to wait for morning.

All his ideas as to the Irish question had been changing insensibly
during his visit to Lisnahoe. This night's work had revolutionised
them. He saw the agrarian feud--not as he had been wont to read
of it, glozed over by the New York papers. He saw it as it was--in
all its naked, brutal horror.

He had observed that there had been no attempt on the Connollys to
appeal to neighbours for sympathy in this time of trouble, and he
had asked Jack the reason. Jack's answer had been brief and pregnant.

"Where's the good? We're boycotted."

And that dead man lying on the table outside was only an example
of boycotting carried to its logical conclusion.

The sound of a door closing softly aroused Harold from his reverie.
A little postern leading from the servants' quarters opened close
to the smoking-room window. Harold looked out, and, as the night
had grown clearer, he distinctly saw old Pete Dwyer making his way
with elaborate caution down the shrubery path.

"Going to the police station, I suppose," mused Hayes. "Well, he
has started betimes."

Then he resumed his seat and thought of Polly.

What a shock for her, poor girl, to leave a happy home with her
heart full of innocent mirth, only to encounter murder lurking
red-handed at the very threshold!

"I wish I had spoken to her to-day," he muttered. "Goodness alone
knows when I shall find a chance now. I wonder how she is?"

He realised that he could see nothing of her till breakfast time
at any rate--if, indeed, she would be strong enough to appear at
that meal. He had been sitting in the dark; he now threw aside his
cigar, and, drawing his chair closer to the window, set himself
resolutely to watch for the dawn and solace his vigil with dreams
of Polly.

A raw, chill air blew into the room. He noticed that a pane of
glass was broken. One of the children had thrown a ball through it
a few days before, and in the present situation of the Connolly
household a glazier was an unattainable luxury.

Harold rose with the intention of moving his chair out of the
draught, but as he did so the sound of whispered words, seemingly
at his very ear, made him pause. The voices came from the shrubbery
below the window, and in one of them he recognised the unmistakable
brogue of old Peter Dwyer.

Had the man been to the police station and returned with the constables
so quickly? This was Harold's first thought, but he dismissed it
as soon as formed. Peter had been barely half an hour absent, and
the station was several miles off. Where had he been, then, and
with whom was he conversing? Harold bent his head close to the
broken pane and listened.

"Are ye sure sartin that the young woman seen us?" inquired a rough
voice--not Peter's--"because this is goin' to be an ugly job, an'
there's no call for us to tackle it widout needcessity?"

"Sartin as stalks," whispered the old servant. "She was all of a
thrimble, as if she'd met a sperrit an' all the words she had was
'I seen it--I seen it all,' an' she yowlin' like a banshee."

"It's quare we didn't take notice to her, for she must ha' been
powerful close to see us such a night. I thought I heerd the horn,
too, an' I lavin' the yard."

She wint out to blow it," whispered Peter. "Most like it was stuck
in the shrubbery she was."

"Come on thin," growled the other; "it's got to be done, an' the
byes is all here. Ye left the little dure beyant on the latch?"

"I did that," responded old Peter; and then a low, soft whistle
sounded in the darkness. It was a signal.

Rapidly but cautiously Harold Hayes left the window and stole
across the room. He understood it all. Polly had seen the murder
and had recognised the assassins. Old Dwyer was a traitor. He
had slipped out and warned the ruffians of the peril in which they
stood, and now they were here to seal their own safety by another
crime --by the sacrifice of a life far dearer to Harold than his
own.

Swiftly, silently, he sped down the gloomy passage. The lives
of all beneath that roof were hanging on his speed. Breathless he
reached the little door, and flung himself against it with all his
weight while his trembling fingers groped in the darkness for bolt
or bar.

A heavy hand was laid on the latch, and the door was tried from
without.

"How's this, Peter?" inquired the rough voice. "I thought ye said
it wasn't locked."

"No more it is; it's only stiff it is, bad cess to it. Push hard,
yer sowl ye."

But at this moment Harold's hand encountered the bolt. With a sigh
of relief he shot it into the socket, and then, searching farther,
he supplemented the defences with a massive bar, which, he knew,
ought always to be in place at night.

Then he sped back along the passage, while muttered curses reached
his ears from without, and the door was shaken furiously.

"Jack, Jack," he panted, as he flung open the door of the room in
which the young men slept--"Jack, come down and--"

He stopped abruptly. Mr. Connolly was kneeling at the bedside,
and his two sons knelt to the right and left of him.

There were no family prayers at Lisnahoe; only the ladies were
regular church-goers; but that it was a religious household no one
could have doubted who knew the events of the night and saw the
old man on his knees between his boys.

They rose at the noise of Harold's entrance, and the American, who
felt that there were no moments to be wasted on apologies, announced
his errand.

"Old Peter Dwyer is a traitor! He has gone out and brought the
murderers to finish the work they have commenced."

And then, in eager, breathless words, he told them how he had heard
the conversation in the shrubbery, and how the men, apprehensive
that Miss Connolly could identify them, had returned to stifle her
testimony.

"They were right there," said the old man. "She saw the first
blow, and it was struck by Red Mike Driscoll."

"Then she is better?" asked Harold, eagerly.

The boys were at the other end of the room, slipping cartridges
loaded with small shot into the fowling-pieces they had snatched
from the walls.

"Oh yes," replied Mr. Connolly; "she is all right now."

A sound of heavy blows echoed through the house. The men below
had convinced themselves that the door was firmly fastened, and,
desperate from the conviction that they were identified, and relying
on the loneliness of the place, they were attacking the barrier
with a pickaxe.

"I'll soon put a stop to that," cried Jack; and cocking his gun,
he left the room.

Dick was about to follow, but his father stopped him.

There's no one in front of the house yet," said the old gentleman.
"Slip out quietly, my boy, and make a dash for it to the police
station. You've taken the cup for the two-mile race at Trinity.
Let's see how quick you can be when you are running for all our
lives."

"I'll go down and fasten the door after him," volunteered Hayes,
and the old man nodded. Outside, on the landing, they could hear
the blows of the pickaxe more distinctly. Suddenly, above the clangour,
rang out close and sharp the two reports of Jack's double-barrel.
He had selected a window commanding the attack, and had fired
point-blank down into the group of men.

Shrieks and groans and curses testified to the accuracy of the
young man's aim, and the sound of blows ceased. Harold and Dick
ran rapidly downstairs. The latter unbarred the front door.

"Don't you run a fearful risk if you are seen?" inquired the
American.

"Of course I do," returned the brave lad, without a tremor in his
voice; "but somebody's got to take the chance; we can't defend the
house forever; and I wouldn't miss this opportunity of nabbing the
whole gang for a thousand pounds."

He opened the door and sped out into the night. He was out of
sight in a moment, and, as far as Harold could judge, he had not
been observed. Again the blows of the pickaxe rang out from the
rear of the house.

Hayes closed the door and replaced the heavy bar. Then he turned
to remount the stairs, and met Polly, who was standing near the
top with a candle in her hand.

She was quite composed now, but very pale. He tried to ask if she
had recovered, but she cut him short impatiently.

"There is nothing the matter with me. What is the meaning of all
this uproar and--and the firing?"

For at this moment the twin reports of Jack's breech-loader again
echoed through the house, this time it was answered by a fusilade
from below.

There was nothing to be gained by concealment, and Harold told her
the whole story in a few words.

"How prompt and clever of you!" she said; "You have saved all our
lives."

Her praise was very sweet to him, but there was no time to enjoy
it now.

"Where are you going?" she asked, as he turned again to spring up
the stairs.

I am going to my room for my revolver," he answered. "I may have
use for it before this is over."

"Do," she replied. "I will wait for you here." Haves hurried on.

Jack was in the guest's room. The young Irishman had selected that
window, as it commanded the little door against which the brunt of
the attack had hitherto been directed. Every pane was shattered,
and walls and ceiling showed the effect of the volley that had
been directed against him, but the young fellow stood his ground
uninjured. "Don't mind me," he said, in answer to Harold's inquiry.
"I'm all right, and can hold this fort til morning if they don't
get ladders. I fancy I've sickened them of trying that door below."

Harold hastily grasped his revolver and went His idea was to stand
in the passage near the smoking-room, and defend the place should
the door give way; for he did not believe that timber had ever been
grown to withstand such blows.

Mrs. Connolly put her head out of the nursery door as he passed.
Her husband had told her of the position of affairs.

"Is that you, Mr. Hayes?" she whispered. "Is Jack hurt?"

"Jack is quite safe," answered the young American. "Are the children
very much frightened?"

"Not as long as I am with them," the old lady answered. "And
Dick--what of him?"

"Dick is all right too," replied Harold. He could not tell the
poor woman that her boy was out in the open country without a wall
between him and the ruffians.

Mrs. Connolly drew back into the nursery to take the post assigned
her--assuredly not the easiest on that terrible night--to listen
to the doubtful sounds from without, and to support, by her own
constancy, the courage of her children.

Harold found Miss Connolly in the hall where he had left her.

"What do you intend to do?" she asked.

"I was going to stand inside the door they have been hammering at,"
he answered, "in case they should break it in."

"Papa is there," said the girl; "perhaps you had better wait here.
They will try the front door next"

"Very good," he assented; and then added, with a sudden apprehension,
"but the windows. There are so many of them. How can we watch them
all?"

"There are bars to all the lower windows," she replied, "and I do
not think they know where to find ladders. No; their next attempt
will be at the hall door, and it will be harder to repel than
anywhere else, for the portico will protect them from shots from
the windows."

"And now, Miss Connolly," urged Harold, "you can do no good here.
Had not you better go upstairs out of the way?"

"No, no; I would rather wait here," she answered. "Don't be afraid.
I sha'n't give way again as I did to-night. I don't know what came
over me, but it was all so horrible--so unexpected--" She broke
off with a little shuddering sigh.

"You saw them attack him?" asked Harold.

She nodded. "I was under that big cedar outside the parlor window.
I had hidden there to blow the horn. Suddenly I saw Fergus with a
lantern in his hand coming full speed toward the house. Just as
he got within a few paces of me, half a dozen men burst out from
the laurels. Oh, how savagely they struck at him! He was down in
a moment. It was all so close to me: I recognised Red Mike by the
light of poor Fergus's lantern."

"And then?" asked Hayes.

"I don't think I remember any more. I must have staggered on to
the house, for they tell me I was found at the foot of the steps,
but I don't know how I got there. I was terribly frightened, but
I sha'n't do it again--not if they blow the roof off," she said,
trying to smile.

"I should think they would be afraid to persevere now that they
are discovered," observed Harold. "This firing must alarm the
neighbourhood."

"In a lonely place like this!" said the girl. "No, no, Mr. Hayes;
there are not many to hear these shots, and none that would not sooner
fight against us than on our side. We must depend on ourselves.
But oh," she wailed, her woman's heart betraying itself through the
mechanical calm she had maintained so long, "oh, I am sorry that
your friendship for us should have brought you into such peril--to
think that your visit here may cost you your life," and she broke
off and covered her streaming eyes with her hands.

"Indeed, indeed," said Harold, earnestly, "I think any danger I
may run a small price to pay for the privilege of knowing you, and,
and--of loving you."

It was out at last; the words that had been so difficult to say
came trippingly from his tongue now, and she did not repulse nor
attempt to licence him.

There, in the dimly lighted, lofty hall, he poured out all that
had been in his heart since he had known her, and won from her
in return a whisper that emboldened him to draw the yielding form
toward him and press his lips to hers.

With a pealing crash the pickaxe bit into the stout oaken door, and
the young lovers sprang apart, terrified at this rude interruption
of dreams. Blow followed blow, and the massive woodwork shivered
and splintered and swayed under the savage impulse from without.

The assailants had abandoned their attempt on the postern; they had
ignored the kitchen door, within which stout Tom Neil with Dick's
double-barrel stood on guard; they had turned their attention to
the main entrance, where a projecting portico partially sheltered
them from the galling discharges of Jack's favourite "Rigby."

They were only partially sheltered, however. The heir of Lisnahoe
had quickly shifted his ground when the attack on the postern
was abandoned, and he now stood in another room, ready, with the
quickness of a practised snipe-shot, to fire on any arm or hand
or foot which showed even for an instant outside the shadow of the
portico.

Crash, crash, crash! Again and again the steel fangs of the pick
ate their way through the solid timber. The lock yielded quickly,
but, heavily barred at top and bottom, the good door resisted
staunchly. Polly had glided away from Harold's side. He fancied
that she had sought a place of safety, and rejoiced thereat; but
in a moment she reappeared. She carried a shot-gun in her hands,
and when she reached his side she rested the butt on the ground
and leaned on the weapon.

"I have often fired at things," she said, simply. "Why shouldn't
I now?"

Mr. Connolly and Jack joined them in the hall, and Neil had come up
from the kitchen door. The main entrance was evidently the weak
point, and the whole garrison must be on hand to defend it. The
assailants had waxed cautious of late, and for some time had allowed
the sharp-shooter no chance. He thought that he would be of more
service below; but, as it proved, when he abandoned his post he
committed a fatal error.

Apparently the enemy had discovered that the galling fire from
above had ceased. Perhaps some of their number had ventured out and
returned scatheless. They speedily took advantage of this immunity.
While the attacks with the pickaxe were not relaxed for a moment,
a score of men had brought the trunk of a young larch from the
saw-pit at the back of the house. Poised by forty strong arms,
this improvised battering-ram was hurled against the front door,
carrying it clear off its hinges. In the naked entry a crowd of
rough men jostled one another, as they sprang forward with hoarse
imprecations on their prey. The garrison was vanquished at last.

Not yet. Four shots rang out as one, instantly repeated as the
defenders discharged their second barrels into the very teeth of
the advancing mob. Then Mr. Connolly, Neil, and Jack clubbed the
guns they had no time to reload, and prepared to sell their lives
dearly in a hand-to-hand struggle. Polly, as soon as she had fired,
dropped her weapon, and in an instant Harold had swept her behind
him, and stood, revolver in hand, his breast her bulwark, confronting
the mob.

But the mob, withered by the volley, hesitated a moment. The vestibule
was streaming with blood, and shrieking, writhing victims strove
in vain to rise. It was a sickening sight, but there was the
electricity of anger in the air and no one faltered long. On they
came again with undiminished fury.

But again the rush was checked. Sharp and vengeful rang out the
close reports of the American revolver, and at each echo a man fell.
Less noisy, less terrific, but far more deadly, the six-shooter
took up the work where the breech-loaders had left it; and Harold,
covering with his body the girl he loved, fired as steadily as if
practising in a pistol gallery, and made every shot tell.

He had not used his weapon in the first rush; somewhere or other,
young Hayes had heard of the advantages of platoon firing.

The lights had been extinguished and day was just breaking. Firing
from the obscurity into the growing light, the garrison had the
best of the position; but there were firearms among the assailants
too, and the balls whistled through the long hall and buried
themselves in the panelling.

But this could not last. Much as they had suffered in the assault,
the assailants were too numerous to be longer held at bay. With a
feeling of despair, Harold recognised the futile click that followed
his pressure on the trigger and told him that he had fired his last
cartridge.

With a wild yell the assailants rushed forward. Not a shot met
them; nothing stood between them and their vengeance but four pale,
determined men, weaponless but unflinching.

A quick trampling as of a body of horse was heard on the gravel
without. A sharp, stern order reached the ears even of those in
the house.

"Unsling carbines! Make ready! Present!"

Clubs and blunderbusses dropped from nerveless hands as the
advancing mob paused, faltered, and then surged backward through
the doorway. The lust of vengeance gave way to the instinct of
self-preservation, and the rioters scattered in flight.

Dick's gallant race against time had not been fruitless. A squadron
of constabulary had reached the ground at the critical moment, and
Lisnahoe was saved.

Few of the assailants escaped--every avenue was guarded by mounted
policemen; and the gang which had long terrorised the neighbourhood--whose
teachings and example had done so much to convert the sullen
discontent of the peasantry into overt violence--was effectually
broken up. From that night the boycott on the Connolly household
was raised.

Red Mike Driscoll expiated on the gallows the murder of the Emergency
man Fergus, and nearly a score of others were sentenced to various
terms of imprisonment for assault and housebreaking.

The attacking party had lost three men killed, besides many wounded,
more or less severely, by the shot-guns. The judicial inquiry into
the casualties brought out details of the defence which struck
terror to the hearts of the country people. It was not likely that
Lisnahoe would be molested again.

Harold Hayes and Polly Connolly were married shortly after Easter.
They are living in New York now, in a pleasant flat overlooking
Central Park. They entertain a good deal, and Irish affairs are
sometimes discussed at Mr. Hayes's table; but so far he has failed
to convince any of his American friends that there may be more than
one side to the agrarian question in Ireland.

"Nonsense," remarked one gentleman, who professed to be deeply
read in the subject; "they are an oppressed and suffering people.
Let them have their land."

"And what is to become of the landlords?" inquired Polly, with a
wistful remembrance of her girlhood's beautiful home.

But to this question there has been no reply, and none has been
offered yet.






A LOST RECRUIT

BY JANE BARLOW





When Mick Doherty heard that there was to be route-marching next
day in the neighbourhood of Kilmacrone, he determined upon going
off for a long "stravade" coastward over the bog, where there were
no roads worth mentioning, and no risks of an encounter with the
military. In this he acted differently from all his neighbours,
most of whom, upon learning the news, began to speculate and plan
how they might see and hear as much as possible of their unwonted
visitors. Opinions were chiefly divided as to whether the Murghadeen
cross-roads would be the best station to take up, or the fork of
the lane at Berrisbawn House. People who, for one reason or another,
could not go so far afield, consoled themselves by reflecting that
the band, at any rate, would be likely to come through the village,
and would no doubt strike up a tune while passing, as it had done
a couple of years ago, the last time the redcoats had appeared
in Kilmacrone. And, och, but that was the grand playin' intirely!
It done your heart good just to be hearin' the sound of it,
bedad it did so. Old Mrs. Geoghegan said it was liker the sort of
thunder-storms they might be apt to have in heaven above than aught
else she could think of, might goodness forgive her for sayin' such
a thing; and Molly Joyce said she'd as lief as not have sat down
and cried when't was passed beyond her listenin', it went that
delightful thumpety-thump, wid the tune flyin' up over it.

The military authorities at Fortbrack were not ignorant of this
popular sentiment, and had considered it in the order of that
day. For experience had shown that a progress of troops through the
surrounding country districts generally conduced to the appearance
before the recruiting officer of sundry long-limbed, loose-jointed
Pats, Micks, and Joes; and a recent scarcity of this raw material
made it seem expedient to bring such an influence to bear upon the
new ground of remote Kilmacrone. Certain brigades and squadrons
were accordingly directed to move thitherward, under the general
idea that an invading force from the southeast had occupied Ballybeg
Allan, while in pursuance of another general idea, really more
to the purpose, though not officially announced, the accompanying
band received instructions to be liberal and lively in its
performances by the way.

All along their route through the wide brown land the soldiers might
be sure of drawing as much sympathetic attention as that lonesome
west country could concentrate on any given line. Probably there
would be no one disposed, like Mick Doherty, to get out of the
way, unless some very small child roared and ran, if of a size to
have acquired the latter accomplishment, at the sound of the booming
drums. To the great majority of these onlookers the spectacle
would be a rare and gorgeous pageant, a memory resplendent across
twilight-hued time-tracts as a vision of scarlet and golden gleams,
and proudly pacing horses, and music that made you feel you had
never known how much life there was in you all the while. Some
toll, it is true, had to be paid for this enjoyment. When it had
passed by things suddenly grew very flat and colourless, and there
was a tendency to feel more or less vaguely aggrieved because
you could not go a-soldiering yourself. In cases, however, where
circumstances rendered that obviously impossible, as when people
were too old or infirm, or were women or girls, this thrill of
discontent, seldom very acute, soon subsided, by virtue of the
self-preserving instinct which forbids us to persist in knocking
our heads hard against our stone walls. But it was different where
the beholder was so situated that he could imagine himself riding
or striding after the rapturous march-music to fields of peril
and valour and glory, without diminishing the vividness of the
picture by simultaneously supposing himself some quite other person.
The gleam in young Felix M'Guinness's eyes, as he watched the red
files dwindle and twinkle out of sight, was to the brightening up
beneath his grandfather's shaggy brows as the forked flash is to
the shimmering sheet-lightnings, that are but a harmless reflection
from far-off storms. And there, indeed, pleasure paid a ruinous
duty. If those who were liable to it did not imitate Mick Doherty's
prudence and hold aloof, the reason may have been that they had
not fortitude enough to turn away from excitement offered on any
terms, or that their position was less desperately tantalising than
his; and the latter explanation is the more probable one, since few
lads in and about Kilmacrone can have had their martial aspirations
baulked by an impediment so flimsy and yet so effectual.

There was nothing in the world to hinder Mick from enlisting
except just the unreasonableness of his mother, and that was an
unreasonableness so unreasonable as to verge upon hat her neighbours
would hare called "quare ould conthrariness." For, though a widow
woman, and therefore entitled to occupy a pathetic position, its
privileges were defined by the opinion that "she was not so badly
off intirely as she might ha' been." Mick's departure need not
have left her desolate, since she had another son and daughter at
home, besides Essie married in the village, and Brian settled down
at Murghadeen, here he was doing well, and times and again asking
her to come and live with him. Then Mick would have been able to
help her out of his pay much more efficaciously than he could do
by his earnings at Kilmacrone, where work was slack and its wage
low, so that the result of a lad's daily labour sometimes seemed
mainly the putting of a fine edge on a superfluous appetite. All these
points were most clearly seen by Mick in the light of a fiercely
burning desire; but that availed him nothing unless he could set
them as plainly before some one else who was not thus illuminated.
And not far from two years back he had resolved that he would
attempt to do so no more.

The soldiers had been about in the district on the day before,
scattered like poppy beds over the bog, and signalling and firing
till the misty October air tingled with excitement. When you have
lived your life among wide-bounded solitudes, where the silence is
oftenest broken by the plover's pipe or the croak of some heavily
flapping bird, you will know the meaning of a bugle-call. Mick
and his contemporaries had acted as camp-followers from early till
late with ever intensifying ardour; one outcome whereof was that he
heard his especial crony, Paddy Joyce, definitely decide to go and
enlist at Fortbrack next Monday, which gave a turn more to the
pinching screw of his own banned wish. It was with a concerted
scheme for ascertaining whether there were any chance of bringing
his mother round to a rational view of the matter that he and his
friend dropped into her cabin next morning on the way to carry up
a load of turf. Mrs. Doherty was washing her couple of blue-checked
aprons in an old brown butter-crock, and Mick thought he had
introduced the subject rather happily when he told her "she had a
right to be takin' her hands out of the suds, and dippin' the finest
curtsey she could conthrive, and she wid the Commander-in-Gineral
of the Army Forces steppin' in to pay her a visit." Of course this
statement required, as it was intended to require, elucidation,
so Mick proceeded to announce: "It's himself's off to Fortbrack
a-Monday, 'listin' he'll be in the Edenderry Light Infantry; so the
next time we set eyes on him it's blazin' along the street we'll
see him, like the boys we had here yisterday."

"Ah! sure now, that'll be grand," said Mrs. Doherty, unwarily
complaisant; "we'll all be proud to behold him that way. 'T is a
fine thing far any young man who's got a fancy to take up wid it."

"Och, then, bedad it is so!" said Mick, with emphasis, promptly
making for the opening given to him.

"Bedad it is," said Paddy.

"There's nothin' like it," said Mick.

"Ah, nothin' at all," said Paddy.

Mrs. Doherty made no remark as she twisted a dripping apron into
a sausage-shaped roll to wring the water out.

"How much was it you were sayin' you'd have in the week, Paddy,
just to put in your pocket for your divarsion like?" inquired Mick,
with a convenient lapse of memory.

"Och, seven or eight shillin's anyway," said Paddy, in the tone of
one to whom shillings had already become trivial coins; "and that,
mind you, after you've ped for the best of aitin' and dhrinkin',
and your kit free, and no call to be spendin' another penny unless
you plase. Sure, Long Murphy was tellin' me he was up in the town
awhile ago, on a day when they were just after gettin' their pay,
and he said the Post-Office was that thick wid the soldier lads
sendin' home the money to their friends, he couldn't get speech of
a clerk to buy his stamp be no manner of manes, not if he'd wrecked
the place. 'T was the Sidmouth Fusileers was in at that time;
they're off to Limerick now."

"But that's a grand regulation they have," said Mick, "wid the
short service nowadays. Where's the hardship in it when a man can
quit at the ind of three year, if he's so plased? Three year's no
time to speak of."

"Sure, not at all; you'd scarce notice it passin' by. Like Barney
Bralligan's song that finished before it begun--isn't that the way
of it, ma'am?"

"It's a goodish len'th of a while," said Mrs. Doherty.

"But thin there's the lave; don't be forgettin' the lave, Paddy
man. Supposin' we--"

"Tub be sure, there's the lave. Why, it's skytin' home on lave they
do be most continial. And the Edenderrys is movin' no farther than
just to Athlone; that's as handy a place as you could get."

"You'd not thravel from this to Athlone in the inside of a week,
if it was iver so handy," said Mrs. Doherty.

"Is it a week? Och! blathershins, Mrs. Doherty, ma'am, you're
mistook intirely. Sure, onst you've stepped into the town yonder,
the train'll take you there in a flash. And the trains do be oncommon
convenient."

"Free passes!" prompted Mick.

"Ay, bedad, and free passes they'll give to any souldier takin'
his furlough; so sorra the expense 't would be supposin' Mick here
had a notion to slip home of an odd day and see you."

"MICK!" said Mrs. Doherty.

"Och well, I was just supposin'. But I'm tould" --the many remarkable
facts which Paddy had been tould lost nothing in repetition--"that
they'll sometimes have out a special train for a man in the army,
if he wants to go anywhere partic'lar in a hurry; there's iligance
for you. And as for promotion, it's that plinty you'll scarce git
time to remimber your rank from one day to the next, whether it's
a full private you are, or a lance-corporal, or maybe somethin'
greater. Troth, there's nothin' a man mayn't rise to. And then,
Mrs. Doherty, it's the proud woman you'd be--ANYBODY'D be--that they
hadn't stood in the way of it. And pensions--he might be pensioned
off wid as much as a couple of shillin's a day."

"Not this long while yet, plase the pigs," broke out Mick, squaring
his shoulders, as if Time were a visible antagonist, and momentarily
forgetting the matter immediately in hand. "But there's chances in
it--splendid--och, it's somethin' you may call livin'."

"And," said his friend, "the rations, I'm tould, is surprisin' these
times. The top of everythin' that's to be got, uncooked, widout
bone."

Paddy and Mick discoursed for a good while in this strain about the
dignities and amenities of a military life, and Mrs. Doherty had
not much to say on the subject. During the conversation, however,
she continued to rinse one of her aprons, and wring it dry very
carefully, and drop it back into the water, like a machine slightly
out of gear, which goes on repeating some process ineffectually. The
two friends read in her silence an omen of acquiescent conviction,
and congratulated each other upon it with furtive nods and winks.
Mick went off to the bog in high feather, believing that the
interview had been a great success, and that his mother was, as
Paddy put it, "comin' round to the notion gradual, like an ould
goat grazin' round its tetherin' stump." His hopes, indeed, were
so completely in the ascendant that he summed up his most serious
uneasiness when he said to himself: "She'll do right enough,
no fear, or I'd niver think of it, if Thady was just somethin'
steadier.



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