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Colonel paced the room, muttering something between his clenched teeth which was but partially overheard. The outbreak of his passion was however as momentary as it had been strong, -and in a minute he resumed his seat, and calmly addressed the Doctor.
“We have,” said my father as he looked at the clock on the mantel, “ an hour and twenty minutes to put our house in order, and a tenth portion of the time would be sufficient. You shall be aide-de-camp, Hamilton,-and to Father Dominic we'll entrust the management of the women, and make his reverence keep matters quiet and administer ghostly consolation until the squall blows over. Mr. Hackett must be secured, but Heaven forbid the honest hangman should be anticipated ! Cut down that bell-rope—now pull the other one—and then sit down and fill, Doctor,-ay, fill high, Confusion to all traitors! and here comes a most superlative scoundrel.”
The butler had promptly answered the summons of the bell. “Bring slippers,” said the Colonel, and the order was obeyed. Kneeling he removed his master's boots, placed the slippers on his feet, and was about to rise, when to his astonishment my father's powerful arm prevented it, and in a minute more he was bound hand and foot, and fung upon the floor in perfect helplessness, with an intimation “deep not loud” that the first movement he attempted of limb or tongue would prove a certain passport to eternity. Without hurry or alarm the effective strength of my
father's garrison was speedily assembled in the great parlour, and sixteen men were found fit for duty in Knockloftie—a number more than sufficient for its defence. To all, arms and cartridges were delivered, -and every musket was carefully loaded to ensure a certain and effective fire when the moment of action should arrive. My father's orders were brief, clear, and easily comprehended-and as every spot of vantage had been occupied, every window that looked upon the front or back approaches had one or more marksmen assigned for its defence according to its local importance. The lights were blinded, the strictest silence was enjoined, and not a trigger was to be drawn until my father
the signal. Never was a small garrison better prepared or more determined; the soldiers, under a belief that they had been specially betrayed, and that they would have been assailed if their route had been continued, were burning to be revenged upon their intended murderers ; while those who had found shelter from their enemies in Knockloftie, already doomed men, knew also that they were the chief objects of attack, and that no alternative remained to them but to defeat it or to perish. Thus circumstanced, Knockloftie had little to fear from open force. True, treachery or surprise might possibly have succeeded. Against the former, if there were faith in a stout bell-rope and a parson's knot, the old house for the present was secure ; and from the latter, the mal adresse of Miss Halligan had effectually preserved the garrison.
When all his preparations were completed, my father ascended to the upper story of the tower to satisfy himself that his wife and infant were in safety. On opening the door the chamber presented a sad and striking scene. On one bed, the corpse of the soldier's widow was “ laid out,” attired in the simple habiliments of the grave used by the
Irish peasantry ; and in another, two children were sleeping side by side, unconscious that murder and rapine were abroad, and that guilty steps were moving to this their abode of peace. My mother, bending over both, was murmuring a prayer for their deliverance, while, by the feeble light of a waxen taper, the priest, in a low and monotonous voice, was reading an office for the dead. One other person was therea worthless woman. Mary Halligan sat before the fire ; she neither spoke nor moved, but with her eyes fixed upon the dying embers, in full conviction that her treachery was suspected or discovered, she quailed before my father's glance, and, while he remained in the apartment, never ventured to look up.
The Colonel's visit was short : he whispered in his wife's ear assurances of safety, and affectionately kissed her and the infant ; then turning a withering glance upon his former mistress, he left the chamber and joined the men below.
The clock chimed three-quarters—no sound was heard that possibly could cause alarm, nor was there a growl from the kennel of the dog—and yet the murderers were at hand unchallenged. No wonderHector was in the agonies of death_Curses light upon the traitress ! Mary Halligan, while she patted his honest head, had poisoned him!
THE NIGHT ATTACK.
“ All heaven and earth are still—though not in sleep—”.
Forget they ever lov'd at all.”—BYRON.
As the chimes died away, my father took a pistol from the table, placed another in his breast, and beckoned the soldier whom he had previously selected to attend him.
“ Honest Philip,” said he, addressing the non-commissioned officer, “ keep the lads cool, and wait till you hear my signal. You may expect a rush in front—don't let that alarm you, the door will defy every effort to break it down. Aim steadily-one well-directed shot is worth a dozen random ones. I shall have the honour of receiving Mr. Hackett's friends at the pantry-window, and leave them, I trust, no reason to complain that their reception was not warm enough. Should that scoundrel move," and he pointed to the prostrate menial
* It will be his last movement in this world,” returned Sergeant Brady. “ I'll pin him with a bayonet to the floor.”
“Has the pantry-window been secured ?” inquired the divine.
“If it has,” replied my father, “bolt and bar shall be withdrawn, and the aperture stand invitingly open.”
“What !” said Doctor Hamilton, “ to give entrance to a band of murderers ?”
“No!” returned my father with stern composure, " to stop it with the carcase of their leader. And now, my lads, be steady--a golden guinea for every white-shirt on the lawn at sun-rise!”
So saying, the Colonel quitted the apartment, and, accompanied by the attendant, proceeded to the post of danger.
Leaving the soldier in the passage as a support, my father entered the pantry, unclosed the shutters, and placed himself beside the open casement. For a determined man, the post was excellently adapted. Himself concealed in darkness, all without was visible--for the moon had risen, and although the lotty tower flung its deep shadow across the lower buildings over which it domineered, there was still a narrow alley of light spanning the court-yard, on which each passing object could not fail to be revealed clearly to him who watched within. The time, the circumstances, all, to “coming events” gave an imposing effect. Violence was abroad-and all within prepared for desperate resistance.
Five minutes-long, long, minutes-passed. Another interval, — and another followed; not a light twinkled in the castle--not a sound fell upon the ear. Suddenly, a key grated in the lock-a door opened in the court-yard ; a man appeared-he stopped-listened-advanced -hesitated-retired again-and then spoke in soft whispers to some others. There was a pause. Once more the stranger issued from the doorway, crossed the moonlit vista, and stopped before the pantrywindow. He passed his arm through the aperture--drew back again, and muttered with evident satisfaction,-.“ All is right! the window's
Four-six-eight-ten-twelve !-all issued into moonlight, and grouped themselves around the casement. The leader spoke in smothered tones :
“ Hackett! Pat! - hush! no reply. All's right ; he's at the Colonel's door. Hackett !”—another pause—“ 'Tis safe, and Mary has succeeded. I told you I would show you in ; and now for vengeance !”
Ay! and vengeance that was to be so easily obtained ; for Knockloftie appeared buried in the deep repose which ever attends a false security. The leader turned, “No quarter, boys,” jumped into the open casement, and added, Mercy to none !”
The words and action were simultaneous. Halligan had passed his head already through the aperture; when a voice, like an echo, responded in deeper tones “Mercy to none !”—A pistol exploded and the robber chief dropped heavily from the window, a dead man !
To all, the assailants and the assailed, that fatal shot proved the signal. The expected assault was made upon the front, the more daring of the party rushing on with sledge-hammers to try and force an entrance -but not a stroke fell upon the door. From every aperture a withering cross-fire was opened. It was returned by a random volley, which splintered the windows, but inflicted no loss upon those within, who were already carefully protected. In the rear of the building, a still bloodier repulse attended the night attack :—while their leader reconnoitred, the ruffian group behind had been covered by a dozen muskets, and within a few moments after the robber's fail, half his companions formed a lifeless heap upon the pavement.