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“ It may be so," returned my father. “On with more wood. We'll order a light supper, and borrow an hour from the night.”
The Doctor threw some billets on the fire, while my father filled his glass, and transferred the wine duly to the churchman.
“ Did you remark the opposition which Hackett made when I gave orders to admit the soldiers ?” “I watched him attentively," replied the Doctor. “His lips grew
” pale, his brows lowered, and with great difficulty he suppressed a burst of angry feelings which seemed almost too strong to be controlled. Be assured, my dear Colonel, that man is dangerous. If he be not traitor, I wrong him sorely."
“ Hush !” said my father, “ the dog is growling. What! more late visitors ? This is indeed a busy night ; and again honest Cæsar proves himself a worthy sentinel. Wherever treachery may lurk, there's none within his kennel, Doctor.”
The Colonel reconnoitred from his embrasure, but there was nothing to excite alarm. The moon had risen, and the sky, spangled with froststars, was bright and clear. Cæsar, advanced to the full length of his chain, was patted upon the head by a person closely wrapped up, who spoke to him with the admitted familiarity of an old acquaintance. To the Colonel's demand of name and business, a female voice replied, “I beg your honour's pardon, it's me, Mary Halligan. My mother-in-law won't put over the night. She wants to see his reverence in private, and sent me with some lines* to the priest. None of the boys would venture to the Castle after dark, for fear of Cæsar and your honour.” “Well, Mary, late as it is, we'll allow you in. Will you, Hamilton,
, unlock the door, and let us have the lady here—for entre nous, she belongs to a faithless family."
The peasant now in waiting at the hall-door was decidedly the handsomest woman in the parish. For time immemorial her fathers had been servants in Knockloftie, and she an occasional inmate of the house. Her brother, educated by my grandfather, had discharged the double duty of schoolmaster and driver—the latter, in plain English, meaning the factotum of an Irish gentleman of small estate. In this department, Halligan had been found dishonest, was disgracefully turned off, joined lawless men, obtained among them a bad pre-eminence, and now, under the double ban of murder and sedition, was skulking in the hills with a reward of fifty pounds offered for his apprehension. After her brother's disgrace, Mary had seldom visited the mansion of her former master-and, as report said, she was affianced to one of the most troublesome and disaffected scoundrels in the barony.
Mary Halligan, and much against her own inclination, was inducted by the churchman into my father's presence.
“ It was too much trouble to his honour,” she muttered; “ Mr. Hackett the butler would do all she wanted, and give the lines to Father Dominic.”
Mary,” said my father, as he handed her a glass of wine, “you tremble. Has anything alarmed you
?” “ It is very, very cold, your honour, out of doors."
* The term “ lines” is generally used by the Irish peasantry instead of “letter
“ Cold it is, certainly, and Father Dominic will have a dreary ride. Where is the letter for him ?”
Mary Halligan's colour went and came, for my father's searching eye was tur
upon her, and that added to her confusion. She fumbled in her bosom-pulled out one paper,--a second fell upon the carpetone she caught up—the other she hastily delivered—and the latter, was the wrong one.
My father carelessly looked over it, while Mary Halligan scrutinized his face with deep attention. As he read it-she became pale as death, and seemed hanging in fearful expectation upon the first words that Colonel O'Halloran would utter.
“ Ha !” said my father carelessly, “so the old woman's bad it seems. She wants, I suppose, to make her will— leave you an heiress, Mary,– and Father Dominic will assist her. Well, the priest will be here directly. Come, Mary, ‘for auld lang syne' we'll have a glass. What has become of your brother, the schoolmaster ?”
“ May God forgive the liars ! They slandered him, and turned your honour again him. He would die for a dog belonging to Knockloftie, -and if he didn't, the bigger villain he!”
“ And the young miller, Mary ? people say you are about to marry him. Is he slandered, too ?”
“God sees he is,” was the response.
Any nightly meetings at the chapel, Mary ?” said the Colonel. The girl changed colour again : “None, your honour-not one. Thanks be to God! the bad people have left the parish.”
“ When did you see your brother ? To-night?” said the Colonel sharply.
“ To-night!” returned the girl, in tones which indicated deep confusion.
“I am jesting, Mary. Where is he now ?”
“ There let him remain, Mary. There, he will be safe until things become more quiet. But, Mary, the times are not as they were five years ago, when you and I used to meet by moonlight near the bouillee.* Pshaw ! don't blush;—it was only to gather bilberries, and exchange kisses for new ribbons. Did you come here alone ?--no lover-no comrade-none to bear you company ?”
“I put my trust in God,” said the girl, “and then, Colonel, you know I was safe.”
“Just as we used to do in Glencullen. Ah, Mary, would that all young women had your prudence and religion, and poor Father Dominic would not be broken-hearted as he is, in fulminating vengeance against broken vows and repairing damaged reputations."
Notwithstanding my father's badinage Mary Halligan seemed ill at
“Plase you honour, I would wish to be going,” she said, “and as Father Dominic is not in the way, I would like to say a word or two to Mr. Hackett."
* The mountain bivouac of the peasant girls, where during the summer months they attend to the cattle which are then driven to the hills.
“Ay, certainly; but, Mary, will you not stop, and see your mistress ? Doctor, I must trespass on you to ask my wife to come down.”
The parson left the room, and speedily returned with my mother.
“This, Emily, is an old acquaintance. Not a word, Mary, about bilberries or the bouillee. Bring her to the nursery, my love-and,” he added in a suppressed voice, “ be sure you keep her there.”
When the door closed, my father handed the letter he had received from the peasant-girl to the parson, and as the latter read it he became red and pale alternately.
“Good Heaven !” he exclaimed, “how could you with this murderous missive in your hand talk lightly with its bearer, and jest with that fiend in woman's form, who brought an order that doomed to death or outrage all that your roof-tree covers ?”
“Because," replied my father coolly, “it furnished me with a glorious counterstroke. I threw my eye but hastily over it-read me that precious document !”
The appearance of the paper was remarkable. At the top, a scull and cross-bones were rudely stamped, and though the handwriting was tolerable, the sentences were ungrammatical, and many of the words misspelt.
The letter ran thus : 56 DEAR PAT. “ I made two attempts to send you information, but your d-d master, like bad fortune, was always in the way ; my sister Mary will strive to hand you this. To-night our fate must be decided, for Luke Byrn, Cooney, and your brother are betrayed, and at sunrise to-morrow, if there be a living man in Knockloftie, they're all dead men ; the witnesses are to be removed to Donegal, and if they once reach it, Cooney will split, and you and I are certain of the gallows. At one o'clock I'll be with you ; lave the window open, and I'll show the boys the way in, as I know the house, and the smith has keys that will open the yard gate. Once when four or five of us gets in, we'll open the hall door for the remainder ; you can finish the master easily when he hears the first alarm and rushes from his room ; the rest will be child's play, and then no quarter. The black seal is to this paper; mind, Hackett, you're to watch the Colonel's door, and I'll be first man through the window. No more at present, from your friend and commander,
“ JAMES HALLIGAN." “But here's a postscript,” and the parson turned the paper.
66 When the job's over we'll have a roaring night. As, captain, you know the Colonel's lady—"" He paused. “ Read on !” said
father. “No, no,-mere ribald nonsense,” returned the churchman.
Colonel O'Halloran snatched the letter from his hand, and in one glance his eye passed over the portion of the paper which had been previously overlooked. To the exposé of Halligan's murderous intentions
father had listened with cold and contemptuous indifference ; but when he read the postscript, a terrible change came over his countenance, and succeeded its previous expression of calm defiance. The eye flashed, the brow contracted, and springing from his chair the