The Macdermots of Ballycloran, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 23.

Aughacashel.

At what hour he woke Thady did not know, but it was broad day, and the sun was high in the heavens; he would have slept again if he could, that he might again forget the dreadful deed which had made the last night so horrible, but he could not; he was obliged therefore to get up, and when he did so he felt himself weak for want of food. Meg it appears had gone out. The old man could not speak a word of English; but Thady could talk Irish, and he had no difficulty in getting plenty of potatoes from him, and as he was eating them the old man pulled out the jar of whiskey. Thady took part of another cup full, and then felt less sad than he had done before. After his breakfast he sat for a long time over the fire, smoked his pipe till he had no tobacco left in it, got up and sat down again, walked to the door and then again returned to his seat. At last he became dreadfully fatigued; he felt all the misery which a man, usually active, always feels when condemned for a time to idleness; he sat watching the turf, as though he could employ his mind, or interest himself in observing the different forms which the sods took, or how soon they would reduce themselves to ashes; then he counted the smutty rafters on which the crazy roof was supported, and then the different scraughs of which it was composed; he next endeavoured to think how the old man got through the tedium of his miserable existence. There he sat on the bed, quite imperturbable; he had not spoken ten words since Thady had got up, and seemed quite satisfied in sitting there enjoying the warmth of the fire, and having nothing to do. How Thady envied his quiescence! Then he began to reflect what had been this man’s life; had he always been content to sit thus tranquil, and find his comfort in idleness? At last he got almost alarmed at this old man; why did not he speak to him? why did he sit there so quiet, doing nothing — saying nothing — looking at nothing — and apparently thinking of nothing? it was as sitting with a dead body or a ghost — that sitting there with that lifeless but yet breathing creature. Every now and again, as he endeavoured to fill his mind with some idea that was not distressing to him, the thoughts of the horrors of his own position would come across him — the almost certainty of detection — the ignominy of his future punishment — the disgrace to his father and his sister; and even if not detected, if left in his present concealment, the horrors of such a life as he was now leading, a few hours of which had already nearly made him frantic, nearly overwhelmed him.

He got up, and leaving his companion to himself, he went to the lime-kiln and laid himself on the top of it, looking down the mountain towards Loch Allen and Drumshambo, that he might see if any of the police were coming in search of him. The open air was for a time pleasanter than the close heat of the burning turf, and solitude by far preferable to the company of that silent old man — but it was only for a short time that he felt the relief. The horrid inactivity of the day, joined to the weight that was on his mind, nearly drove him mad; as long as he had work to do — while he had to dispose of the dead man’s body — while he had his father and his sister near him — as long as he was hurrying through the country with Reynolds — the energy of whose character had for a time relieved him — as long as the sweat was pouring down his face, and his legs had been weary under him — he had borne much better the misery, which he felt now he was always doomed to bear; for he had then thought less of the past and the future; but now he could occupy his mind with nothing but the remembrance of the death he had inflicted, and the anticipation of the death he was to suffer. He tried to sleep, but it was in vain; he tried to imitate that old man, and let his mind sleep, but no, he could only think — he could not but think. Oh! he said to himself, that it were all over — if it were only done — if he could only swallow up the next six months and be dead and forgotten! If he had got past that dreadful trial — that cold unfeeling prison, with the harsh noise of the large key and the fetters, the stern judge, and the twelve stern men sworn to hang him if he deserved it! If he could escape the eyes of the whole country which would then be on him; the harsh, cold, solemn words which would then be addressed to him — the sorrow of his father — the shame of his sister — and, last and worst, the horrid touch of that dread man with the fatal rope! It was not death he feared — it was the disgrace of death, and the misery of the ignominious preparations. He knew in his heart that heaven could not call it murder that he had done; but he felt equally sure that man would do so.

He lay there on the lime-kiln till the sun had already set, and then he was again driven into the cabin by the cold.

There sat that silent, still old man. He had not moved from his former position, his bare feet thrust into old ragged shoes, which in some former generation had been made for some strong man double his size, and hanging down so that his toes just reached the floor — his hands resting on the quilt on each side of him, and his head dropping on his chest. Oh, what an easy, quiet mind, thought Thady, must that man have — how devoid of care and fear must he be, to be able to sit there motionless all the live-long day, and not feel it dreary, long, endless, insupportable, as he did.

The girl was still absent, and Thady again sat himself down by the fire, the blazing turf on which gave the only signs that the old man had moved. Again he counted the rafters, counted the miserable scraps of furniture, counted the sods of turf, speculated where the turf was cut — who cut it? who was the landlord of the cabin? what rent was paid? who collected it? But a minute — half a minute sufficed for the full consideration of all these things, and again he began to reflect how long it would be before the police would find him, and drag him forth from that dreary place; how long it would be before he should feel the handcuffs on his wrist; and before the first day of his concealment had passed over, he had become almost impatient for that time; and looked forward to the excitement of his capture, which he knew must sooner or later take place, with something like a wish that it might soon occur, to relieve him from the weight of his present condition.

At last he determined to speak to his companion, and after considering for some time what he should say to him, he asked him what his name was; but Thady had spoken in his usual language, and the old man, looking up, answered that he had no English.

“What’s your name?” asked Thady, in Irish.

“Andy McEvoy.”

“And is this cabin your own?”

“Yes.”

“And who’s your landlord?”

“The mountain belongs mostly to Sir Michael.”

“But don’t you pay any rent?”

“No.”

“And what is it you do all day long?”

“Why then mostly nothing; I’m very old.”

“And what does your daughter be doing?”

“Why then I don’t rightly know; she’s mostly out for Dan Kennedy.”

“And where do you be getting the pratees?”

“‘Deed I b’lieve Meg gets them mostly from Dan’s garden.”

“Who does Dan pay his rent to?”

“Why then I can’t be saying.”

It was useless carrying on a conversation any longer with such a man. He neither interested himself about his house, his food, his landlord, or his family, and Thady again held his tongue.

Soon after dusk Meg returned; she had in the folds of her gown a loaf of bread and a very small piece of bacon, and it was evident to Thady that whatever had become of Joe and the other, they had not forgotten him or their promise to provide him with some better food than the lumpers which sufficed for Andy McEvoy and his daughter.

When the old man saw the provisions his eyes glistened a little, and he clutched the dirty quilt somewhat faster, and by the eagerness he evinced for the food it was a relief to see that he had some human feeling left. Meg boiled the bacon and some potatoes together, and when they were ready, put them on the dirty deal table before Thady; she did not seem much more communicative than her father, but she asked him civilly if he would eat, and evidently knew he was of a higher rank than those with whom she was accustomed to associate, for she went through the ceremony of wiping the top of the table with the tail of her gown. Thady eat a portion of what was given him; and as he did so he saw the old man’s greedy eyes glare on him, as he still sat in his accustomed seat; it was quite horrible to see how greedy and ravenous he appeared. Thady, however, left much more than he consumed, and the girl carefully putting the bit of bread away, for his breakfast in the morning, divided the remnant of the bacon with her father.

Then the man’s apathy and tranquillity vanished, and the voracity with which he devoured the unaccustomed dainty showed that though he might have no demon thoughts to rack his brain, the vulture in his stomach tortured him as violently.

Joe Reynolds and Corney returned about an hour after dark, and requested Thady to come out with them, which he did. They then told him that it was necessary that he should now take the oath, which they before warned him that he would have to take if he accompanied them to their haunts at Aughacashel. He at first felt inclined to declare that he had again changed his mind, and that instead of taking this oath and joining himself in any league with them, he was prepared to return home to Ballycloran, and give himself up to the police; but his courage failed him now that he was, as it were, in their own country, and particularly after the kindness and attention that Reynolds had showed him. He therefore followed them, and they entered together the other cabin belonging to Dan Kennedy. Dan and his wife, and another man, his brother, were there. Dan was a sullen, surly, brutal looking ruffian, about fifty years old, and his wife was a fitting mate for such a man; she was dirty, squalid, and meagre; but there was a determined look of passion and self-will about her, which plainly declared that whoever Dan bullied, he did not, and could not, bully his wife.

His brother Abraham was a cripple, having no use in either of his legs; but he had an appearance of intelligence and wit in his face, which his brother in no degree shared, and he was very powerful with his arms. It was he who chiefly made the spirits, while Dan and the others procured the barley — brought it up to Aughacashel, malted it, and afterwards disposed of the whiskey.

“Well, my hearty,” said Dan, as Thady followed his guides into the cabin, where his family party were engaged drinking raw spirits round the fire, “so you’ve done for that bloody thief of the world, have you? Joe tells me you riz agin him quick enough when you found him at his tricks with yer sisther. Divil a toe though you stirred to come to mother Mulready’s when we axed you, in spite of the oath you took on the holy cross; but you’re quick enough coming among us now you’re in the wrong box yourself.”

“Asy, Dan,” said Joe; “what’s the use of all that bother now; an’t he here? and hasn’t he rid us of him that would have got clane off from us, but for Mr. Thady here, that struck the blow we ought to have struck?”

“Thrue for you, Joe,” said Abraham; “so hould yer jaw, Dan, and give me hoult of the blessed book till I give him the oath.”

“All’s right,” said Dan; “and I’m glad to see you here, my lad of wax, seeing what sent you; but business first and play after. I s’pose if you’re maning to stay here wid us — an’ by G——d you’re wilcome — you’ll not be saying anything agin giving me or Corney there, a bit of a line to some of your frinds at Ballycloran, to be sending you up a thrifle of money or so, or a few odd bits of duds, or may be a lump of mate or bacon, or a pound or two of sugar to swaiten the punch.”

Thady looked very blank at this, for he by no means wished to be writing to his friends at Ballycloran, nor were the articles mentioned in Dan’s catalogue at all too plentiful in that place; however, before he could answer, Joe indignantly scoffed at his friend’s shabbiness.

“D——n it, Dan, I didn’t think you war that main, to be charging a boy for the morsel he’d be ating, an’ the sup he’d be taking, an’ him undher a cloud, an’ he afther doing us sich a sarvice.”

“Av he wor one of ourselves,” replied Dan; “but a gintleman the likes of him, may be, would be plased not to be beholden to the likes of us.”

“Nonsense, Dan,” said Joe; “don’t think of giving such a line at all, Mr. Thady. I’m not so bad off, but I’ll not see you wanting; you’re as wilcome to everything here as daylight.”

“Spake for yerself; you’re mighty ready, I’m thinking, to spake for others,” said Dan’s helpmate; “av the gintleman’s willing to help a poor man like Dan for putting a house over his head in his throubles, who’s to hinder him?”

Thady, however, made them understand that he would give them no such letter to his father or his sister as they proposed, and Abraham then proceeded to administer the oath to him. By this he bound himself, first of all, never to divulge to any one, particularly not to any magistrate or policeman, or in any court of law, anything that should be done or said in that place where he now was, that might be prejudicial to any of the party. Secondly, to give all aid and assistance in his power to all those now present, and to any which might be in possession of a certain pass-word, and who might be able to answer certain questions with the fit and appointed answers, and to help in the escape or concealment of any such, when they might be either in confinement, or in dread of being arrested. And thirdly, that he would aid and assist in all schemes of vengeance and punishment which would be entered into by those with whom he was now bound, against any who attempted to molest them, but especially against all Revenue officers and their men.

To all these conditions Thady bound himself, and as he finished repeating each article after Abraham, he kissed the dirty prayer-book which that man presented to him; and having done this, he made one of the party round the fire, whilst Corney, Dan, and Joe took it by turns to go out and watch that no unexpected visitor was at hand.

When the night was tolerably advanced the three left the family of the Kennedys to themselves, and returned to Andy’s cabin; and Thady having refused to allow that Meg should be again disturbed for his accommodation, they all stretched themselves upon the earthen floor before the fire, and were soon asleep.

The next morning Joe and Corney again went away early, and Thady found himself doomed to pass just such another day as the preceding one.

After giving him his breakfast Meg again also went out, and left Thady alone with her father.

By way of propitiating the old man he gave him half the bit of bread which he was eating. Andy devoured it as he had done the bacon, and then resumed the same apathy and look of idle contentment which had so harassed Thady on the previous day. This second day was more grievous, more intolerable even than the first. He walked from the cabin to the lime-kiln, and from the lime-kiln to the cabin twenty times. He went to Kennedy’s cabin, to try if he could kill time by subjecting himself to the brutality of the man or his wife; but the door was locked or bolted, and there was apparently no one in it; he clambered up the hill and then down again — and again threw himself upon the walls of the lime-kiln, and looked upon the silver lake that lay beneath him. But the day would not pass — it was not even yet noon — he could see that the sun had yet a heavy space to cover before it would reach the middle of the skies. Oh heavens! what should he do? Should he sit there from day to day, when every hour seemed like an age of misery, waiting till he should be dragged out like a badger from its hole. He looked towards the village, and to different bits of road which his eye could reach, thinking that he should see the dark uniform of a policeman; but no, nothing ever was stirring — it seemed as if nothing ever stirred — as if nothing had life by day, in that lifeless, desolate spot. At length he thought to himself that he would bear it no longer; that he would not remain for a short time indebted for his food to such a man as Dan Kennedy, and then at length be taken away to the fate which he knew awaited him, and be dragged along the roads by a policeman, with handcuffs on his wrists — a show, to be gaped at by the country! No; he would return at once, and give himself up; he would boldly go to the magistrates at Carrick — declare that he had done the deed, and under what provocation he had done it, and then let them do the worst they chose with him.

After much considering, and many changes in his resolutions, he at length determined that he would do this — that as soon as it began to be dusk, he would leave the horrid mountain where he had passed the saddest hours that he had yet known, and go at once from thence to Father John, and implicitly follow the advice which he might give him.

When once he had definitely resolved on this line of conduct he was much easier in his mind; he had at any rate once more something to do — some occupation. He had freed himself from the prospect of long, weary, unending days, to be passed with that horrid man; and he was comparatively comfortable.

He determined to wait till it was nearly or quite dusk, which would be about five or half-past five o’clock, and then to leave the cabin, and making what haste he could to Drumshambo, go from thence by the road to Cashcarrigan and Ballycloran; and he calculated that he would be able to reach Father John’s cottage between ten and eleven, before the priest had gone to bed; and having finally settled this in his mind, he returned to the cabin for the last time, determined manfully to sit out the remainder of the afternoon in the same apathetic tranquillity, which his enemy Andy displayed.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43