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and I sought my pillow. Where Mr. O'Toole bestowed himself, I know not — but it was an eventful night for both. I, about to make
my first start upon the stage of life, and honest Marc Antony flying from a choice of evils—matrimony or penance.
A lovelier morning never broke than that on which I took my departure from Kilcullen. It was late in September. The hoar-frost curled gently upwards, yielding to the earliest sunbeams, as I rode from the stable-yard. Every thing was exciting to the spirits : the blackbird whistled in the copse, the partridge was calling from the stubble, the sheep-bells tinkled merrily, and all seemed happy and rejoicing.
Never did a lighter-bosomed gentleman quit his father's house. Here was I, a holder of the king's commission, master of the best fencer in Roscommon, one hundred pounds in my pocket, a case of pistols at my saddle-bow ; while, with a loose arm and a stout heart, I found myself jogging fairly on, though “ half the world were sleeping."
I rode quickly forward : miles vanished, and at four o'clock I had left my home thirty miles behind. With my future route I was unacquainted ; but it ran through a wild barony, bleak though beautiful enough, interspersed with hills and valleys, and thickly studded with lakes and rivulets. The road was grass-grown and disused; but, being shorter and practicable to horsemen, I followed it rather than ride a few miles round. To dine and feed my horse, I halted at a public-house where four roads met; and, after an hour's rest, commenced my journey anew, to gain the mountain-village, where, as my host apprized me, I was to sojourn for the night.
The lonely inn appeared that day to have no lack of customers. During my brief stay travellers stopped repeatedly, or drank spirits at the door and hurried on. They generally rode in companies of some half-dozen, were mounted upon country horses, and, from having a couple of kegs suspended across the croup, their calling was no mystery. Illicit distillation in this wild district was then extensively carried on,—and men engaged in this demoralizing traffic, like those who stopped at this house of entertainment, were constantly traversing the mountain-road, smuggling the prohibited liquor, or returning for a fresh supply.
One party, consisting of three persons of rather a superior class, remained for dinner. They addressed their conversation occasionally to me, and evinced great curiosity to find out the place of my destination, and the reason that I preferred the mountain-road to that usually taken by ordinary travellers. I felt no disposition to be communicative on these points, and the strangers were far from satisfied with my replies. When my mare was brought to the door, my holsters did not escape their observation; and as I rode away, overheard the tallest of the three exclaim, “By Heaven! I'll bet five pounds that's the
I could not hear the remainder of the remark. The occurrence was not agreeable, however, with ten miles of a desolate ride before me. I had other besides personal cares.
In my life I never had possessed
one-fourth the sum I carried ; and the pocket, rather than the person, alarmed me. I thought the matter over. I saw no fire-arms with the strangers, and of course I was fairly a match for three. My mare was fast; and I determined quietly to surmount long and gradual rise, make play down the falling ground, and then bid pursuit defiance.
Ignorance of the locality rendered my last design abortive. Half way up the hill, a path but little used, if one could judge from its unfrequent hoof-marks, branched from the main road. I hesitated which to take; but of two bad paths, I chose the better, and followed the more beaten route.
I rode a mile, topped the acclivity, and followed a path skirting a highland lake and traversing a long and heathy level. Anxiously I looked back, but not a traveller was visible. My fears vanished_and I smiled to think how very nervous the possession of property makes
The scene before me was wild and picturesque. A long ravine skirted by a mountain-stream, that occasionally crossed the road through half-ruined bridges, descended between two lofty hills which completely shut out the setting sun. At the bottom of this romantic pass, a lake of considerable extent, interspersed with numerous islands, received the rivulets that hurried down the valley. In front, the sun was setting gloriously, and flung across the gorge of the ravine a curtain of burning gold which rested on the waters of the lake below. It was, indeed, a splendid landscape--and tradition added to its interest.
On an eminence that overlooked the road and pass, the ruins of a square building were visible, now so much dilapidated, that it was impossible to determine whether it had been originally designed for the purposes of religion or of defence. In the centre of a green patch, scarcely a pistol-shot from the dismantled tower, the scathed stem of a solitary oak was standing. As it was, it would never have arrested the traveller's eye, had not a huge cairn of stones beneath it intimated that this lonely tree had witnessed some scenes of bloodshed. I pulled up my horse and viewed the cairn and ruin with attention, for my curiosity was excited, and chance enabled me to gratify it. An elderly, wild-looking, half-clad peasant was loitering on the road-side, attending a score or two of sheep. Abandoning his charge, he joined me willingly; and in very excellent Irish replied to my questions, and communicated the traditional story of the place.
“What was that building, friend; and what does yonder cairn commemorate ?”
“ The story's long,” replied the peasant.
“ And so is the mountain-road. Was it death by accident or treachery ?” The peasant Paused a moment, and then drily answered,
6. There was no accident in the business, though three men perished; one was murdered and two were hanged.”
“Do you know the particulars?"
“Ay, and my fathers before. We have been for centuries herdsmen in these mountains. I have never been thirty miles from the spot where we stand; and every rock, and rill, and hillock, are familiar from early childhood, for on them my eyes first opened.”
“What was the building ?” “ A barrack, for soldiers to protect travellers from plunder.” “ And the cairn” “ Proves that their protection was sometimes unavailing." “ Could not an armed force restrain vagabonds from plundering ?”
“Wherefore, it is hard to say,” returned the herdsman. going to B
« Are you
6 I am."
6 You are in haste thither?” “I must be there by noon.” “ The special commission sits there the following day. They say it will go
hard with the men who killed the gauger ?” “ 'Tis said so; and if the circumstances attendant on the murder be such as are generally believed, they will deserve their fate.”
The peasant eyed me sharply, and then, with assumed indifference, observed,
“ The devil is painted always blacker than he is; and something may still come out in the prisoners' favour. I fear, poor fellows, that they will be prosecuted hard.”
“That you may be certain of.”
“Well,” continued my companion, “ no doubt Bradley's death was sudden. But could it be otherwise ? Many an aching heart he caused, and the curse of ruined men and houseless children pursued him.”
As he spoke, we crossed a small hillock, where the mountain-path, which had diverged to the right, once more united itself to the main road. The lake extended itself for more than a mile on one side ; and on the other a swamp, impassable alike to man and horse, stretched for a considerable distance between the rugged causeway and the bases of the contiguous high grounds. A deep stream winding through the centre of the morass and creeping lazily beneath a ruined bridge, lost itself in the blue waters of the lake. It was fortunate that my new acquaintance was beside me, or I should have been puzzled where to cross the stream; but, on inquiry, he told me there was a ford, and offered to point it out.
For half an hour we jogged on sociably together, chatting on a subject which seemed to occupy my companion's every thought,--the approaching trial of the murderers. From time to time I observed, however, that he looked anxiously behind him ; and suddenly a distant sound like that of coming horsemen made me turn my head. It was not fancy-three persons showed themselves above the ridge; they were the strangers I had encountered at the inn, and from the pace at which they rode, I had no doubt but they were in pursuit of me.
Indeed, from the first moment they discovered me, their object was .perfectly apparent. One of them pointed me out; and, considering the rugged path they had to traverse, they increased their pace to a rapidity that appeared surprising.
Nor was I insensible to coming danger. What was to be done, and how were they to be avoided ? Before me, a broken bridge; behind, a pressing enemy; and escape cut off. I could observe, from numerous hoof-marks in the bog, the place where the river was fordable. My mare was fresh, and willingly obeyed a call. I started forward at a rattling pace, and once across the water, had little doubt of effecting an escape.
Whatever were the herdsman's original intentions towards mewhether his designs were “ wicked or charitable"—the appearance of the strangers made him at once a foe. The instant I spurred my mare, he caught up a stone and flung it with such precision, that it knocked my hat off, but, fortunately, only grazed my head. Then applying his finger to his lips, he uttered a wild and piercing whistle, which echoed through the rocks behind, and was repeated among the distant mountains. The signal was answered promptly. A dozen men, who had been resting in a hollow out of sight, suddenly sprang up; some rushed to the ford—others occupied the road—and all seemed ready and determined to bar my farther progress.
I had brief time for consideration. To try the ford, guarded as it was, were idle ; and to take the bridge, was to select as awkward a leap as ever proved the proverbial courage of a Roscommon rider. The latter only afforded any chance of escape ; for I should inevitably be knocked upon the head at the ford, while floundering through the river. Accordingly, I nerved myself for the effort—took my mare in hand ;--she was the sweetest fencer that ever carried an Irish gentleman —the spur was answered by a rush at speed,--the bridge cleared at stroke-and we landed in sporting style, a full length beyond the chasm.
So far “the work went bravely on.” Although vigorously attacked by several assailants, blows from sticks and stones failed in unhorsing me, and I nearly succeeded in running the gauntlet safely. Two of these brigands were still to be passed, and I charged them at a slashing gallop. They retreated to either side, and avoided the threatened collision ; but as I came thundering past, a rope dexterously thrown over the horse's head, caught me across the chest, and threw me from the saddle on the road with stunning violence. Before I could recover, I was seized, tied hand and foot, a sack thrown over me, lifted on a horse, and an intimation given, that on the slightest effort at outcry or escape, I should be consigned to the deep, sans cérémonie. The better portion of valour is discretion-and I determined to keep quiet--for however loose in keeping ordinary pledges these excellent persons might be, when a drowning match was in the case, I felt assured that they would redeem their promise to the letter.