The Macdermots of Ballycloran, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 33.

The End.

On Saturday morning the little town of Carrick-on-Shannon again became quiet and, comparatively speaking, empty. The judges left it very early; most of the lawyers had taken wing and flown towards Sligo, seeking fresh quarries, on the previous evening. The jury were released, and had returned weary to their homes; the crowds of litigants and witnesses who had filled the Record Court had also left on the Thursday evening; and now those who had been wanted in the criminal court were gone, and peace and quiet were restored. At eleven o’clock neither of the hotels were open; the waiters and servants who, during the last week had literally not known what a bed was, and who, during that week, had snatched their only disturbed naps before the kitchen fires, or under the kitchen dressers, were taking their sleep out for the past week. It was still raining hard, and the long, narrow, untidy street was still as dirty and disagreeable as ever; otherwise there was no resemblance in it to the street of the last few days. There was no crowd around the court house, nor policemen with cross chains on their caps, nor sheriffs’ servants with dirty, tawdry liveries. The assizes were over; and till next July — when the judges, barristers, jury, &c., would all return, Carrick was doomed to fall back to its usual insignificance as a most uninteresting county town.

As Father John left the town on the previous evening, he sent word up to the governor of the gaol that he would see young Macdermot early on the following morning. He did not go home to the Cottage, but again passed the night at Mr. McKeon’s, at Drumsna; and a most sad and melancholy night it was. After witnessing Feemy’s death, and seeing that the body had been decently and properly disposed, Mrs. McKeon had returned home, and her husband had found her quite ill from the effects of the scene she had gone through.

Soon after the two men had made their apology for a dinner, Mr. Webb, who had had the verdict brought to his own house, called, and the three sat for some time talking over what possible means there might be still left for saving the young man’s life. It was at last agreed that Webb should go up to Dublin on the morrow, and make what interest he could to see the Lord–Lieutenant himself, as well as the Under Secretary; and endeavour, by every means in his power, to obtain a pardon.

After what had been said by the judge whilst pronouncing the sentence, they all felt that there could be no reasonable ground for hope; but still they would leave no chance untried, and it was therefore settled that the counsellor should start by the morning coach.

Early the next morning the priest left Drumsna for Carrick, to see Thady for the first time since his condemnation. McKeon offered to go with him; but he declined the offer, saying, that this morning he would sooner be left alone with his doomed friend. He refused, too, the loan of McKeon’s car. He wanted to collect his thoughts and his energy by the walk, for he felt that he had much to do to school his own feelings before he could make his visit a comfort instead of a cause of additional distress to Macdermot.

About ten o’clock he passed through the town, and rang the governor’s bell at the gaol door. He was a well-known visitor there now, and when the door was opened he expected at once, as usual, to be shown the prisoner’s cell; but instead of that he was taken into the governor’s house.

This officer had always been extremely civil to Father John; and had shown all the kindness in his power, and that was no little, to the prisoner. He expressed himself to the priest greatly distressed at the verdict, and the consequent fate of Macdermot.

“It’s four years, Father John,” said he, “since I had a prisoner in my charge condemned to die. It’s four years since there was an execution here, and then the victim was a criminal of the blackest dye — a man who had undoubtedly committed a cold-blooded, long-premeditated murder. And then his death weighed heavy on me; but I cannot but believe that this young man is innocent — at any rate so much more innocent than he was — my heart has failed me since he was brought back last night condemned.”

“More innocent than he was!” said Father John. “Ah, indeed he is! If we were all as innocent of guilt as this poor fellow is, it would be well for most of us. I promised to see him early this morning. Will you let me go up to him now? though God knows I know not what to say to him!”

“Yes, of course. You shall go up now immediately; and God grant you may be able to comfort him! But you know you cannot see him as you have done always. That is, you may see him as often as you please, but you cannot see him alone.”

“Not alone!” said Father John.

“Not now,” said the governor. “When brought back capitally condemned, he was of necessity put into the condemned cell; and when once there, no visitor may be left alone with him.”

“How is he to receive — how am I to perform the sacred duties of my profession?”

“When the prisoner is about to confess, the turnkey will step outside the door, which you can close. You know, Father John,” continued the governor, “it is not from my own heart I give these orders; you know I would give him every indulgence I could; but you also know that I must obey the rules of my office, and they imperatively forbid that any visitor shall be left alone with a condemned prisoner.”

“I know it isn’t your fault; and if it must be so, it must. But will you desire the man to be sent for, for Macdermot will be expecting me?”

In a minute or two the gaoler arrived with his huge keys, and, with a palpitating heart, Father John followed him to the condemned cell.

The priest, during his walk from Drumsna, had made up his mind exactly as to what he would say on seeing Thady; how he would mix pity with condolence; how he would use such words as might strengthen him in his determination to bear his sufferings with resignation; how he would teach him to forget the present in the thoughts of his future prospects. But when the iron door was opened, and he saw Macdermot seated on the one small stone seat in the wall beneath the high, iron-barred window; when his eye rested on the young man’s pale and worn face, he forgot all his studied phrases and premeditated conduct, his acute grief overcame his ideas of duty, and falling on the prisoner’s bosom, he sobbed out, “My boy — my boy — my poor murdered boy!”

It would be useless to attempt to describe at length the scene between them. Father John remained with him nearly the whole of that day — the patient, silent turnkey leaning up against the corner of the cell during the whole time. For a long time Thady was the most tranquil of the two; but at length the priest regained his composure, and was able to listen to the various requests of his friend, and to say all that could be said to comfort and strengthen him.

Thady’s first request was that he might see his father. This, Father John felt, would be impracticable, and if accomplished would only be in the highest degree painful. Larry was now so perfectly a lunatic, and at the same time so resolute in his determination not to put himself in the way of being arrested by Keegan, that it would be impossible either to make him understand the fate which awaited his son, or to induce him, by any means short of force, to leave his own room. Besides, were a meeting to be effected, the idiotical father would probably not cease to abuse his son, and would certainly not comprehend his tenderness and affection. It was difficult to tell the son that his father had so utterly lost his intellects as to be unable to be brought to see him; but even this was better than allowing him to think that he was to see him, and then deceive him.

Thady bore this blow even worse than Father John had expected that he would do; it made him feel so desolate — so alone in the world! Stupid and cross as his father had been for years past — cruel and unjust as he had been on the last time they met — still, the long time which had passed since that meeting, and the manner in which the interview had been passed by Thady, made him forget his father’s treatment, and only remember that he was his last surviving relative. He submitted, however, to Father John’s advice, and consented not to urge his request.

He then talked of his sister, and began to speak more feelingly of Ussher, and to allude to the deed which had brought him to his dreadful doom, with more freedom than he had ever done before. The facts of his last month’s residence at Ballycloran seemed to be made less obscure than they had been, to his mind’s eye, by the distance through which he looked at them. He appeared to comprehend more clearly both Feemy’s conduct and that of her lover, and he spoke with the greatest affection of the former, and with justice to the latter.

“Oh! Father John,” he continued, after they had been talking together for hours, and when they had become so habituated to the presence of the turnkey as almost to forget it, “no one but yourself can ever know how far murder was from my thoughts that day! — nor all that I had suffered for having listened for one moment to the plots which them boys were making for his death. But who can wonder that I hated him! God knows I have forgiven him for all that he has brought on us — both me and Feemy; but who can wonder that I didn’t love him then? I knew in my heart he never meant to marry her. And oh! Father John, av I hadn’t seen her that night, what would she have been now? I did hate him then; — and hadn’t I cause? And for that one night at the wedding, when I was mad with the name they had called my sisther; I did think I’d be glad av the boys that hated him so should murther him at last. But when I woke in the morning and remembered that the sounds of murther had been in my ears, I felt as though I could never more be quiet or at ase in this world. And I never was; every man’s hand was against me since then, Father John, except yours. I felt, as I walked through the fields that morning, that it was here I should spend my last days, and here I am. And I was warned of it too; I was warned of what would come of it, av I meddled with them boys that night at Mrs. Mehan’s. He himself called me out that night when I first got there, and tould me what it was Brady was afther. And I believed him, and yet I went; for my heart was full of hatred for the man who warned me. Oh! why, Father John, could he not let us alone. We were poor, but we were no worse; but there’s an end of us now altogether, and perhaps it’s for the betther as it is!”

He then earnestly begged Father John to attend to his sister’s burial, and to take some little heed of his father during his few remaining years; and all this the priest promised. He spoke of the property, and of the chance there might be of saving something out of it for the old man’s support. Father John, however, told him that for his, Thady’s sake, and for the love he bore him, his father should never want till he wanted himself; and though this promise, for many long months, entailed a heavy burden on the priest, he most religiously kept his word.

Thady then spoke of his own coming death; and though he had made up his mind to die, and could think, without regret, of leaving the world where he had known so many sorrows and so few joys, still he shuddered when he remembered the gaping crowd which would be assembled to see his expiring convulsions, and the horror which he could not but feel, when the executioner’s hands should touch his neck, and the dreadful cap should be drawn over his eyes. Oh! that that horrid moment might be over — when he would still be alive — still sensible to the thoughts of life — but when the light of the sun would have been for ever excluded, and his last thoughts would be wandering between doubtful hopes of Heaven’s mercy, and awful fears of his coming agony.

The cold sweat stood upon his brow as he endeavoured to explain his feelings to the priest. And assiduously, patiently, warmly, and kindly, did that friend endeavour to allay his sufferings, and make him feel as confident of God’s pardon for his sins as he was of the executioner’s doom. He told him also that, if possible, no crowd should be assembled to gaze at his death; and he promised himself to stand by him, and hold his hand to the last moment of his life.

At six the priest left him promising to see him again on the Sunday, and on every day till it was all over. He then returned to McKeon’s, where he dined.

At about ten they were sitting together with Mrs. McKeon by the fire talking over the affairs of Ballycloran, and consulting as to what had better be done with Larry after the execution, when the girl entered and said a man was waiting outside wishing to speak to Mr. McKeon. Tony accordingly went out; and standing at the back-door, for he would not enter the kitchen, with his hat slouched over his face, he found Pat Brady. He was very much astonished at seeing this man; more especially so, as since the trial Brady’s name had been mentioned with execration by almost every one, and particularly by those, who like McKeon, had taken every opportunity of showing themselves Macdermot’s friends; and it would have been thought therefore that McKeon’s house was one of the last places to which he would be likely to come.

Pat was the first to speak.

“There’s a word or two I want to spake to you, Mr. McKeon.”

“To speak to me,” said Mr. McKeon; “well, what is it?”

“I couldn’t just be telling you here; av you wouldn’t mind stepping out, a minute or so — it’s not five minutes I’d be keeping you.”

McKeon accordingly went out into the dark yard, about thirty paces from the house, and Brady continued —

“It’s about the young masther, yer honor.”

“You’ve said enough about him; you’ve hanged him; now, what more have you?”

“May I niver see the Blessed Virgin in glory av I towld a word of a lie agin the masther. Av I iver towld the truth it was that day; an’ worse luck — av I’d lied then maybe it’d been betther for Mr. Thady.”

“It wasn’t to tell me that, you came here; — if you’ve anything to say, let me hear what it is.”

“Why then, yer honor, is Mr. Larry, the owld man, a going to see the young masther?”

“And what if he is?”

“Why jist this thin; av he do, Keegan’s boys is to saze him as he comes out on the road from Ballycloran.”

“Gracious God! would he arrest the man coming to see his own son for the last time!”

“Faix, he will, Mr. McKeon; so don’t let him do it; I heard him telling the bailiff.”

McKeon seemed lost in astonishment, at this fresh instance of the attorney’s relentless barbarity, and Brady turned round to go away. But after having walked a few yards, he came back, and said, in a hesitating whisper —

“You’ll be seeing Mr. Thady afore it’s all over, Mr. McKeon?”

“Well; I shall see him.”

“Would you mind axing him to pardon a poor boy, Mr. McKeon?”

“May God pardon you, Brady. Your master that was, has been taught before this to forgive all his enemies; but I wouldn’t dirty my mouth with your name the last time I see him.”

“Sorrow a word of a lie thin I towld, Mr. McKeon.”

“Never mind; truth or lies it’s much the same.” And McKeon returned to the house, and told Father John what he had heard from Brady; and the priest and he agreed together that it would be by far the best course to make Thady understand that his father could not leave his home to see him, for fear of falling into the hands of the attorney.

On the next day, Sunday, Father John performed mass and preached as usual in the parish chapel. When the service was over, he addressed his congregation from the altar on the subject of Thady’s approaching execution, and he begged them all, as they valued his good opinion, not only not to be present at it themselves, but also to do all in their power to prevent others from being so. The same thing was done in Carrick, where the priest moreover begged his parishioners not to open their shops on that morning until the execution should be over.

The ensuing week passed slowly away. Father John was with the doomed man constantly, and McKeon saw him two or three times. On the Wednesday Mr. Webb returned from Dublin, but his journey had been a fruitless one; he had seen the Lord–Lieutenant, and had been kindly received by him; but at the same time he was informed that he could not exercise his privilege of mercy in this case, as he had been strongly advised not to do so, both by those in office under him and by the judge.

Macdermot kept up his heart wonderfully through the whole week. He never repined, nor once even alluded to Keegan. Father John spent the whole of Sunday with him. It was to be his last in this world; the last time he was to watch the light growing out of the darkness — and the darkness following the light. As the minutes flew by, his face became gradually paler, and his hand occasionally trembled. The brave soldier goes to meet Death, and meets him without a shudder when he comes. The suffering woman patiently awaits him on her bed of sickness, and conscious of her malady dies slowly without a struggle. A not uncommon fortitude enables men and women to leave their mortal coil, and take the dread leap in the dark with apparent readiness and ease. But to wait in full health and strength for the arrival of the fixed hour of certain death — to feel the moments sink from under you which are fast bringing you to the executioner’s hand; — to know that in twelve — ten — eight — six hours by the clock, which hurries through the rapid minutes, you are to become — not by God’s accomplished visitation — not in any gallant struggle of your own — but through the stern will of certain powerful men — a hideous, foul, and dislocated corse; — to know that at one certain ordained moment you are to be made extinct — to be violently put an end to; — to be fully aware that this is your fixed fate, and that though strong as a lion, you must at that moment die like a dog; — to await the doom without fear — without feeling the blood grow cold round the heart — without a quickened pulse and shaking muscles, exceeds the bounds of mortal courage, and requires either the ignorant unimaginative indifference of a brute, or the superhuman endurance of an enthusiastic martyr.

Thady was neither the one nor the other; and the blood did grow cold round his heart — his pulse quickened, and his nerves shook within him; but these were involuntary signs of his human nature. He spent the day in the performance of his religious duties, and made continual efforts to fix his mind on those subjects to which it was directed by the priest; and at last he received from him final absolution for his sins, with a full assurance in its efficacy. And if true and deep repentance can make absolution available, the priest’s assurance was not ill grounded.

Father Cullen, at Drumsna, and different priests in the neighbouring parishes again desired their congregations to absent themselves from the execution, and on the Sunday evening before the fatal day it was thoroughly understood through the country, that it was the wish of the priest that no one should be present.

The Monday morning came. Though Father John had not been allowed to remain all night in the prisoner’s cell, he did not leave it till eleven, and was with him again at six. When the gaoler turned the key in the door, Father John found the prisoner still sleeping on his pallet. Even the loud noise of the key in the lock, and the dropping back of the heavy bolt had failed to awaken him. Before he left him on the previous evening he had insisted on his partially undressing, and he now found him exactly in the position in which he had left him.

Eight was the hour fixed for the execution, and though it seemed cruel to rob him of his last human comfort, still as so few minutes of life remained, the priest thought it better to rouse him. He laid his hand on his shoulder, and calling out his Christian name, gently shook him. It was wonderful how soundly the poor fellow slept; and at last he jumped up with a smile on his wan face, uttering those confused words of acknowledgment which so readily come to the lips of any one conscious of being caught sleeping too late, to the neglect of his worldly duties. He had been dreaming — and in his dreams he was again at Ballycloran — again sitting over the warm turf fire, talking with his father, after his hard day’s work, of their lands, and their rents, and their difficulties. Father John’s presence — the cold close white wall and his own memory soon made him again conscious of the truth; and as he pressed his hands to his forehead, remembering that he should never again feel the luxury of sleep, the expression of his face was dreadful to be seen.

There is nothing further to relate respecting him. As the clock struck eight he was standing on the iron grate over the front entrance into Carrick gaol. He had supported himself firmly — though evidently with difficulty. The cap was over his face — his hands were tied behind his back — and the rope was round his neck. The last sound that met his ear was the final prayer which Father John sobbed forth that God would receive him into his mercy; the bolt was drawn — and Thady Macdermot was soon no more.

Not one human form appeared before the gaol that morning. Not even a passenger crossed over the bridge from half-past seven till after eight, as from thence one might just catch a glimpse of the front of the prison. At the end of the bridge stood three or four men guarding the street, and cautioning those who came, that they could not pass by; and as their behests were quietly obeyed the police did not interfere with them. Among them were Joe Reynolds and Corney Dolan, and they did not leave their post till they were aware that the body of him to whom they showed this last respect had been removed. The shops were closed during the whole day; but it was many days before the sad melancholy which attended the execution of Thady Macdermot wore away from the little town of Carrick-on-Shannon.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01