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22. CHAPTER XXII.

THE PRIEST AND HIS PEOPLE.

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It was long after working hours, and the men on Mr. Lang's farm seemed to be in their huts, though one or two might be seen chopping wood into logs fit for their fires. Each man cooked his own meat, and baked his own damper. The long evenings were generally so spent. But now it appeared that something beyond the common routine of cooking, mending, and smoking, was going forward. One or two men sauntered towards a certain hut, looking curiously at it meanwhile. From within was heard a buzz of voices; and looking through the tolerably wide chink left in the bark shutter of the unglazed window, one might see a group of eager faces standing in every kind of attitude, each eye, however, bent in one direction. A fire blazed cheerily, and the tin ‘pannikins’ were set, filled with tea beside it. In the shadow, withdrawn as far into a corner as possible, with the rude table before him, sat a man writing, and alternately making some remark, or asking a question. He had on a wide and long dark cape, which quite hid his figure, and wore a cap drawn far over his brow. The voice was peculiar. It was low and flexible, and although he spoke in a monotonous tone for the most part, there was every now and then, as if despite habitual control, a ring, a thrill in it, which spoke of some inner vibration.

‘What may Barney say?’ he uttered, without looking up, or ceasing to write.

‘Plase yer riverence, Barney here is afther saying that when he got the blow which, saving your presence, knocked him clane dead on


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these shores to live a convict ever after, he says, the cratur do—there was a whisper, and a promise—’

‘An oath, Mick. By all the saints I swear 'twas an oath, a Bible oath; and 'twas myself heard it too,’ put in Barney.

‘Well, an oath,’ continued the first speaker, ‘that his prospecks should be attended to, your honour. And so——’

‘Proceed! How does that affect his still contributing his mite to his country's deliverer and best friend?’

‘Why this way, your reverence . . .’

‘Good luck to ye!’ said Barney, pushing himself forward to tell his own story, now that the ice was broken by his friend. ‘The gentlemen in my own blessed country, yer riverence, said they would make it up to me, seeing the life was knocked clane out of me, owing to me fighting that day for O'Connell,note (the blessing of the Virgin on him!) and niver a brass farthing has come into my pockets, your honour, at all at all. So if my pence isn't to the fore, I hope you'll not be hard on me for that same, but just make a 'randum of it, and give the gintlemen at home a hint of the promise, that is the oath, I'm maning.’

‘They will be both more willing, and more able to fulfil that promise, or oath, Barney, if they receive the proper rent from hence—you have wages?’

‘Your riverence, no! I gets nothing, saving my bit and sup, forby the wee duds o' clothes just, and it may be a shilling now and then; but the devil a penny I ever gets of wages.’

‘Well—not even one penny? So Barney's name is to appear with not even one penny after it, when this roll of names—’ and he held up the formidable roll of parchment for all to see. ‘When, I say, all these names shall be read aloud, in the presence of hundreds—ay, thousands of your countrymen—will your name be the only one with a blank, when every boy in the Green Isle would sooner go without his meal, than not contribute to send his champion to fight for his rights, for his liberty, and his church!’

There was a hum and a shuffling of feet at this appeal. Barney's eyes rolled about uneasily, and he fumbled in his pockets.

Other names were called, and a chink of coppers followed. Barney remained irresolute.

‘Well?’ said the priest, looking at him again. ‘Well, Barney, you would let Dan O'Connell be beaten, would you? You who once proved yourself so brave a champion, and so brave a boy. Ah! Barney, you've given up your country, have you? You're not an Irish boy, I see. Perhaps you are a Protestant, eh?—an Orangeman?’note




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A burst of laughter greeted this, and many a joke went the round, while poor Barney shifted from one foot to the other, his face gathering a deeper hue, and the words finding increasing difficulty in coming out.

‘The saints! But ye're wrong there, your riverence. 'Tis a true Irish boy I am; and by my sowl and St. Patrick, here's just the last of the wee savings I was making jist to send a trifle to show the folks at home I was aboveground. But here's for O'Connell the frind of the poor, and Repalenote—Hurrah!’

‘The Repale for ever!’ and ‘O'Connell for ever,’ now resounded, while hats whirled madly overhead.

‘Hush, boys! hush! It does me good to hear you; but we must be prudent—we are in danger of being heard here. Mr. Lang is a Protestant, and it will only upset my work if there is any row. Now, I expect every man present here to-night to return each to his own hut, as if nothing had occurred. Do you hear me, Barney?’

‘Ay, your honour—your riverence I'm maning! A quieter boy doesn't live than myself. I'm as meek as a lamb, as all know, except when my blood's up jist. The saints above know that except that fight at the fair, and the row at the election, and the bit of row the boys were after when——’

‘Well, well; we have not time to go through the list of your combats, friend Barney. Now here's a glass of the old stuff, and drink each man silently to the health of those he likes, adding also that of ‘Ireland's friend.’ No noise, I beg—I desire.’

‘Now, good-night, good-night,’ he said, as, after each had drained his glass with great gusto, they bowed low, and went out of the hut.

‘Andrew Connor, remain; I have a word to say to you.’ And accordingly a worn, unhappy-looking man, gave a furious tug to his forelock, and came back, closing the door, in obedience to a sign from the priest.

‘Come in and take a seat. Another glass will do you no harm;’ and he poured out some more of the Irish whisky which he had provided to reward the punctual payers of O'Connell's rent,note which was for some time collected among Irish emigrants, and even prisoners, and sent home.

‘Andrew—can you tell me anything about a girl called Nelly or Ellen Maclean? The father was a good Catholic, and also the first wife; the present I can make nothing of; and now, on inquiring for this girl, about whom I was much interested at my last visit, I hear very strange rumours. Can you help me to the rights of the case?’




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‘I don't consarn myself much with the talk of the place, your reverence. But I did hear she wont resave Venn's—that's our storekeeper's—advances at all. She jist held her head high for him, the cratur. 'Tis said she likes one Lynch.’

‘Where is she now?’

‘And that's more than I can say, your honour. 'Twas said she was living with one Allen; but I heard afterward she'd heard of a good situation somewhere far from this, and that her father and Lynch are mad jist; but I can't say.’

‘Is there a man here called William Smith, or Gentleman Bill?’

‘Yes, your reverence, there is. That is, he was here till yesterday morning, and then he got his wages paid up, seeing he is ‘ticket-of-leave’ man, and they do say the master added a few oaths over and above, for the ready cash is scarce now. He didn't say where he was after going—the boy.’

‘Was it supposed he had anything to do with the girl—ever liked her?’

‘Not that I know, your honour. Gentleman Bill kept his own counsel, anyway. But I did hear he had been employed by Venn to use his soft tongue—and he keeps the article well oiled—to persuade the girl; and he was chums with Allen's folks.’

‘Well, Andrew, if I can prevent it, that girl shall never marry Venn or Lynch. She is a daughter of the Church, and should not seek to mate with a heretic. If you can either give me certain information as to where she is now, or can bring her to my house, I will give you this'—showing a sovereign.

‘And where may your reverence's house be, your honour, if not down in Sydney?’

‘For the present I have taken that small place in the valley, known by name of Swampoak Gully. There my servant will always be, if I should be absent. He can receive you, the message, or the girl. It is there, in course of time, under God's blessing, we hope to plant a church, and a resident priest will then be sent to this district. We have nearly enough names as it is, to entitle us to Government help. Meanwhile I shall be backwards and forwards to keep the flock together.’

As Andrew went away, a servant brought a horse to the hut door, on which Father Mornay vaulted with practised agility. The horse was remarkable for its beauty and good grooming. Very soon he was riding fast down the rough road, displaying a seat which a Leicestershire huntsman might have envied, and followed by his servant, a man of colour,note on another carefully-selected animal.




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The next morning Father Mornay was again at Langville to pay his respects, as he politely said, after enjoying Mr. Lang's hospitality; and, as it seemed, from the turn his conversation soon took, he wished to introduce the subject of Ellen Maclean's sudden disappearance, now become the general talk on the farm. Dr. Mornay won Isabel's hearty good-will and gratitude by the warm interest he took in the poor girl, and his earnest assertions that he would leave no stone unturned to find her, at least, to know where and with whom she went.

They were in the garden, when, breaking short in the midst of an interesting conversation, Dr. Mornay said—

‘It is strange how little I consider you as—almost—a stranger! I could—do you think the notion very fanciful?—that of having seen, heard, or known a person some time before, though when and how is impossible to discover?—I could believe as, pardon me, I do wish, you were one of my own flock, and my friend——’

‘It is odd,’ she answered, in her ready and bright way. ‘It is odd, too, that I constantly am forgetting that you are a—a Roman Catholic priest, and as such, I suppose, looking upon us all as just so many heretics—albeit, perhaps, softened with a sort of contemptuous pity.’

‘Would you like to hear how—in what way—I think of you?’ There was a short pause, and the priest had turned and fixed his keen but mournful eyes on her. ‘Ah! I could indeed wish—wish . . . . .’ He stopped suddenly, and turned even pale, she thought, while something like a spasm seemed to cross his features. He took a few hasty steps onwards, and then spoke again in his usual modulated, quiet tone, ‘Forgive me!’

‘Were you suffering?’ she asked, with wonder and sympathy, though she hardly knew why she felt it, for she had not really liked him till to-day.

‘Yes—suffering! But, no matter, we must all suffer at one time or other—all—even you, Miss Isabel Lang. You who, it is plain, have never been near enough to sorrow, even to scan her features, or to recognise her, but in a very vague way. Will you judge me cruel in saying that your hour will come?’

He spoke earnestly, and Isabel was touched, though she did her best to subdue the feeling.

‘And how do you know I have never seen sorrow?’ she asked.

‘Because I am accustomed to read and to learn faces and features; and I know well that your first phase of youth is not yet ended. Life has passed unconsciously with you as yet. You are free from self-study. You live—exist. You are, as it were—you know not how or why. Happy


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time—soon, soon to vanish—with some never to be at all! A time will come when all common things around you will take another aspect; you will be troubled, perhaps perplexed, as is natural to one of your frank and straightforward temperament, but——’

‘Trouble, trouble! Every one prophesies trouble and sorrow! I wonder why? I have been happy, certainly; but,—I can fancy being even still happier.’

‘Exactly, with the trouble will come the joy—a new joy.’

‘But when and how?’

‘That is what I cannot answer—dare not try to answer. It is strange, it is passing strange. I am much, much older than you; I have had some experience of life. Yet now, for the first time, I could wish some steps of that life retraced. Were we living in an earlier age,—were I credulous as some few I have known, I might fancy myself under some spell, so completely do I find my appreciation of certain things changed—my cherished habits of thought and aspiration altered. You think I pity you in scorn? No, no; not I! True, I believe, and am bound to believe the holy church the safe fold, the most completely organised and energetic of all church governments: I suppose you think I ought to be seeking converts? Know, young lady—young friend, for so I may surely call you, that I am not one of these. Far from pitying you, I——’ He had turned; they were now standing at the end of the trellised vine-walk, and he took her hand and gazed a moment at her, as if searching to the very depths of her surprised and wondering eyes.

‘Would that you could pity me! But I must go; I leave the district to-morrow. We may not meet again; yet—will you—will you try not to look on me with dislike, or fear, or distrust? World-tossed, weary traveller as you see me, stiffened in iron armour, which yet is not I, and never will be! even I have once had my fresh springtime of youth. I had a home—mother—sister! The sight of you has moved waters which I deemed dried up. Well!—’

As he paused, his look gradually became more touched with sadness—sadness, blended still with something she did not understand, but which made her feel shy, never having seen so much deep fervour of heart appear in a cold and composed exterior. She said, ‘I don't dislike, or distrust you.’

‘Thank you!—thanks!’ he presently said, taking her hand. ‘Now, farewell!—I shall make it my business to search for Ellen Maclean. Good morning.’

The last words were quite in his ordinary manner, and with a bow which would have done credit to any courtly circle, this new and, to


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Isabel, perplexing acquaintance left her.

It was some time before she saw him again; and though his manner, look, and words, left a strong impression at the time, other circumstances soon put it out of sight, for Isabel was one to throw herself heartily into the spirit of the hour, whatever that might be, and not toitowoll

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