Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > William Carleton > Midnight Mass > This page

The Midnight Mass, a fiction by William Carleton

Part 3

< Previous
Table of content
Next >
_ Frank M'Kenna and his wife reached home about two o'clock; the dance was comparatively thin, though still kept up with considerable spirit. Having solemnized himself by the grace of so sacred a rite, Frank thought proper to close the amusement, and recommend those whom he found in the barn to return to their respective dwellings.

"You have had a merry night, childher," said he; "but too much o' one thing's good for nothin'; so don't make a toil of a pleasure, but go all home dacently an' soberly, in the name o' God."

This advice was accordingly followed. The youngsters separated, and M'Kenna joined his family, "to have a sup along wid them and Barny, in honor of what they had hard." It was upon this occasion he missed his son Frank, whose absence from the dance he had not noticed since his return until then.

"Musha, where's Frank," he inquired: "I'll warrant him, away wid his blackguards upon no good. God look down upon him! Many a black heart has that boy left us! If it's not the will o' heaven, I fear he'll come to no good. Barny, is he long gone from the dance?"

"Troth, Frank, wid the noise an' dancin', an' me bem' dark," replied Barny, shrewdly, "I can't take on me to say. For all you spake agin him, the sorra one of him but's a clane, dacent, spirited boy, as there is widin a great ways of him. Here's all your, healths! Faix, 'girls, you'll all sleep sound."

"Well," said Mrs. M'Kenna, "the knowledge of that Darby More is unknowable! Here's a Carol I bought from him, an' if you wor but to hear the explanations he put to it! Why Father Hoolaghan could hardly outdo him!"

"Divil a-man in the five parishes can dance 'Jig Polthogue' wid him, for all that," said Barny. "Many a time Granua an' I played it for him, an' you'd know the tune upon his feet. He undherstands a power o' ranns and prayers, an' has charms an' holy herbs for all kinds of ailments, no doubt."

"These men, you see," observed Mrs. M'Kenna, in the true spirit of credulity and superstition, "may do many things that the likes of us oughtn't to do, by raison of their great fastin' an' prayin'."

"Thrue for you, Alley," replied her husband: "but come, let us have a sup more in comfort: the sleep's gone a shraugran an us this night, any way, so, Barny, give us a song, an' afther that we'll have a taste o' prayers, to close the night."

"But you don't think of the long journey I've before me," replied Barny: "how-and-iver, if you promise to send some one home wid me, we'll have the song. I wouldn't care, but the night bein' dark, you see, I'll want somebody to guide me."

"Faith, an' it's but rasonable, Barny, an' you must get Rody home wid you. I suppose he's asleep in his bed by this, but we'll rouse him!"

Barny replied by a loud triumphant laugh, for this was one of his standing jests.

"Well, Frank," said he, "I never thought you war so soft, and me can pick my steps me same at night as in daylight! Sure that's the way I done them to-night, when one o' Granua's strings broke. 'Sweets o' psin,' says I; 'a candle--bring me a candle immediately.' An' down came Rody in all haste wid a candle. 'Six eggs to you, Rody,' says myself, 'an' half-a-dozen o' them rotten! but you're a bright boy, to bring a candle to a blind man!' and then he stood a bouloare to the whole house--ha, ha, ha!"

Barny, who was not the man to rise first from the whiskey, commenced the relation of his choicest anecdotes; old Frank and the family, being now in a truly genial mood, entered into the spirit of his jests, so that between chat, songs, and whiskey, the hour had now advanced to four o'clock. The fiddler was commencing another song, when the door opened, and Frank presented himself, nearly, but not altogether in a state of intoxication; his face was besmeared with blood; and his whole appearance that of a man under the influence of strong passion, such as would seem to be produced by disappointment and defeat.

"What!" said the father, "is it snowin', Frank? Your clothes are covered wid snow!"

"Lord, guard us!" exclaimed the mother, "is that blood upon your face, Frank?"

"It is snowin', and it is blood that's upon my face," answered Frank, moodily--"do you want to know more news?"

"Why, ay indeed," replied his mother, "we want to hear how you came to be cut?"

"You won't hear it, thin," he replied.

The mother was silent, for she knew the terrible fits of passion to which he was subject.

The father groaned deeply, and exclaimed--"Frank, Frank, God help you, an' show you the sins you're committin', an' the heart-scaldin' you're givin' both your mother and me! What fresh skrimmage had you that you're in that state?"

"Spare yourself the throuble of inquirin'," he replied: "all I can say," he continued, starting up into sudden fury--"all I can say, an' I say it--I swear it--where's the prayer-book?" and he ran frantically to a shelf beside the dresser on which the prayer-book lay,--"ay! by him that made me I'll sware it--by this sacred book, while I live, Mike Keillaghan, the husband of Peggy Gartland you'll never be, if I should swing for it! Now you all seen I kissed the book!" as he spoke, he tossed it back upon the shelf.

The mirth that had prevailed in the family was immediately hushed, and a dead silence ensued; Frank sat down, but instantly rose again, and flung the chair from him with such violence that it was crashed to pieces; he muttered oaths and curses, ground his teeth, and betrayed all the symptoms of jealousy, hatred, and disappointment.

"Frank, a bouchal," said Barny, commencing to address him in a conciliatory tone--"Frank, man alive----"

"Hould your tongue, I say, you blind vagabone, or by the night above us, I'll break your fiddle over your skull, if you dar to say another word. What I swore I'll do, an' let no one crass me."

He was a powerful young man, and such was his temper, and so well was it understood, that not one of the family durst venture a word of remonstrance.

The father arose, went to the door, and returned. "Barny," said he, "you must content yourself where you are for this night. It's snowin' heavily, so you had betther sleep wid Rody; I see a light in the barn, I suppose he's after bringing in his bed an' makin' it."

"I'll do any thing," replied the poor fiddler, now apprehensive of violence from the outrageous temper of young Frank.

"Well, thin," added the good man, "let us all go to bed, in the name of God. Micaul, bring Barny to the barn, and see that he's comfortable."

This was complied with, and the family quietly and timidly retired to rest, leaving the violent young man storming and digesting his passion, behind them.

Mass on Christmas morning was then, as now, performed at day-break, and again the Roman Catholic inhabitants of the parish were up betimes to attend it. Frank M'Kenna's family were assembled, notwithstanding their short sleep, at an early breakfast; but their meal, in consequence of the unpleasant sensation produced by the outrage of their son, was less cheerful than it would I otherwise have been. Perhaps, too, the gloom which hung over them, was increased by the snow that had fallen the night before, and by the wintry character of the day, which was such as to mar much of their expected enjoyment. There was no allusion made to their son's violence over-night; neither did he himself appear to be in any degree affected by it. When breakfast was over, they prepared to attend mass, and, what was unusual, young Frank was the first to set out for the chapel.

"Maybe," said the father, after he was gone--"maybe that fool of a boy is sarry for his behavior. It's many a day since I knew him to go to mass of his own accord. It's a good sign, any way."

"Musha," inquired his mother, "what could happen atween him an' that civil boy, Mike Reillaghan?"

"The sorra one o' me knows," replied his father: "an' now that I think of it, sure enough there was none o' them at the dance last night, although I sent himself down for them. Micaul," he added, addressing the other son, "will you put an your big coat, slip down to Reillaghan's, an' bring me word what came atween them at all; an' tell Owen himself the thruth that this boy's brakin' our hearts by his coorses."

Micaul, who, although he knew the cause of the enmity between these rivals, was ignorant of that which occasioned his brother's rash oath, also felt anxious to ascertain the circumstances of the last quarrel. For this purpose, as well as in obedience to his father's wishes, he proceeded to Reillaghan's and arrived just as Darby More and young Mike had set out for mass.

"What," said the mendicant, "can be bringing Micaul down, I wondher? somethin' about that slip o' grace, his brother."

"I suppose, so," said Mike; "an' I wish the same slip was as dacent an' inoffensive as he is. I don't know a boy livin' I'd go farther for nor the same Micaul.--He's a credit to the family as much as the other's a stain upon them."

"Well, any how, you war Frank's match, an' more, last night. How bitther he was bint on bringin' Peggy aff', when he an' his set waited till they seen the country clear, an' thought the family asleep? Had you man for man, Mike?"

"Ay, about that; an' we sat so snug in Peggy's that you'd hear a pin fallin'. A hard tug, too, there was in the beginnin'; but whin they found that we had a strong back, they made away, an' we gave them purshute from about the house."

"You may thank me, any how, for havin' her to the good; but I knew by my dhrame, wid the help o' God, that there was somethin' to happen; by the same a token, that your mother's an' her high horse about that dhrame. I'm to tell it to her, wid the sinse of it, in the evenin', when the day's past, an' all of us in comfort."

"What was it, Darby? sure you may let me hear it."

"Maybe I will in the evenin'. It was about you an' Peggy, the darlin'. But how will you manage in regard of brakin' the oath, an' sthrikin' a brother?"

"Why, that I couldn't get over it, when he sthruck me first: sure he's worse off. I'll lave it to the Dilegates, an' whatever judgment they give out, I'll take wid it."

"Well," observed Darby, sarcastically, "it made him do one good turn, any way."

"What was that, Darby? for good turns are but scarce wid him."

"Why, it made him hear mass to-day," replied the mendicant; "an' that's what he hadn't the grace to do this many a year. It's away in the mountains wid his gun he'd be, thracin', an' a fine day it is for it--only this business prevints him. Now, Mike," observed. Darby, "as we're comin' out upon the boreen, I'll fall back, an' do you go an; I have part of my padareem to say, before I get to the chapel, wid a blessin'; an' we had as good not be seen together."

The mendicant, as he spoke, pulled out a long pair of beads, on which he commenced his prayers, occasionally accosting an aquaintance with the Gho mhany Deah ghud, (* God save you) and sometimes taking a part in the conversation for a minute or two, after which he resumed the prayers as before.

The day was now brightening up, although the earlier part of the morning had threatened severe weather. Multitudes were flocking to the chapel; the men well secured in frieze great-coats, in addition to which, many of them had their legs bound with straw ropes, and others with leggings made of old hats, cut up for the purpose. The women were secured with cloaks, the hoods of which were tied with kerchiefs of some showy color over their bonnets or their caps, which, together with their elbows projecting behind, for the purpose of preventing their dress from being dabbled in the snow, gave them a marked and most picturesque appearance.

Reillaghan and M'Kenna both reached the chapel a considerable time before the arrival of the priest; and as a kind of Whiteboy committee was to sit for the purpose of investigating their conduct in holding out so dangerous an example as they did, by striking each other, contrary to their oaths as brothers under the same system, they accordingly were occupied each in collecting his friends, and conciliating those whom they supposed to be hostile to them on the opposite party. It had been previously arranged that this committee should hold a court of inquiry, and that, provided they could not agree, the matter was to be referred to two hedge-schoolmasters, who should act as umpires; but if it happened that the latter could not decide it, there was no other tribunal appointed to which a final appeal could be made.

According to these regulations, a court was opened in a shebeen-house, that stood somewhat distant from the road. Twelve young fellows seated themselves on each side of a deal table, with one of the umpires at each end of it, and a bottle of whiskey in the middle. In a higher sphere of life it is usual to refer such questionable conduct as occurs in duelling, to the arbitration of those who are known to be qualified by experience in the duello. On this occasion the practice was not much departed from, those who had been thus selected as the committee being the notoriously pugnacious "boys" in the whole parish.

"Now, boys," said one of the schoolmasters, "let us proceed to operations wid proper spirit," and he filled a glass of whiskey as he spoke. "Here's all your healths, and next, pace and unanimity to us! Call in the culprits."

Both were accordingly admitted, and the first speaker resumed--"Now, in the second place, I'll read yez that part of the oath which binds us all under the obligation of not strikin' one another--hem! hem! 'No brother is to strike another, knowing him to be such; he's to strike him--hem!--neither in fair nor market, at home nor abroad, neither in public nor in private, neither on Sunday nor week-day, present or absent, nor--'"

"I condimn that," observed the other master--"I condimn it, as bein' too latitudinarian in principle, an' containing a para-dogma; besides it's bad grammar."

"You're rather airly in the market wid your bad grammar," replied the other: "I'll grant you the paradogma, but I'll stand up for the grammar of it, while I'm able to stand up for anything."

"Faith, an' if you rise to stand up for that," replied his friend, "and doesn't choose to sit down till you prove it to be good grammar, you'll be a standin' joke all your life."

"I bleeve it's purty conspicuous in the parish, that I have often, in our disputations about grammar, left you widout a leg to stand upon at all," replied the other.

This sally was well received, but his opponent was determined to push home the argument at once.

"I would be glad to know," he inquired, "by what beautiful invintion a man could contrive to strike another in his absence? Have you good grammar for that?"

"And did you never hear of detraction?" replied his opponent; "that is, a man who's in the habit of spaking falsehoods of his friends whin their backs are turned--that is to say, whin they are absent. Now, sure, if a man's absent whin his back's turned, mayn't any man whose back's turned be said to be absent--ergo, to strike a man behind his back is to strike him whin he's absent. Does that confound you? where's your logic and grammar to meet proper ratiocination like what I'm displaying?"

"Faith," replied the other, "you may have had logic and grammar, but I'll take my oath it was in your younger years, for both have been absent ever since I knew you: they turned their backs upon you, man alive; for they didn't like, you see, to be keepin' bad company--ha, ha, ha!"

"Why, you poor crathur," said his antagonist, "if I'd choose to let myself out, I could make a hare of you in no time entirely."

"And an ass of yourself," retorted the other: "but you may save yourself the throuble in regard of the last, for your frinds know you to be an ass ever since they remimber you. You have them here, man alive, the auricles," and he pointed to his ears.

"Hut! get out wid you, you poor Jamaica-headed castigator, you; sure you never had more nor a thimbleful o' sinse on any subject."

"Faith, an' the thimble that measured yours was a tailor's, one widout a bottom in it, an' good measure you got, you miserable flagellator! what are you but a nux vomica? A fit of the ague's a thrifle compared to your asinity."

The "boys" were delighted at this encounter, and utterly forgetful of the pacific occasion on which they had assembled, began to pit them against each other with great glee.

"That's a hard hit, Misther Costigan; but you won't let it pass, any how."

"The ague an' you are ould acquaintances," retorted Costigan; "whenever a skrimmage takes place, you're sure to resave a visit from it."

"Why, I'm not such a hare as yourself," replied his rival, "nor such a great hand at batin' the absent--ha, ha, ha!"

"Bravo, Misther Connell--that's a leveller; come, Misther Costigan, bedad, if you don't answer that you're bate."

"By this and by that, man alive, if you don't mend your manners, maybe I'd make it betther for you to be absent also. You'll only put me to the throuble of men din' them for you."

"Mend my manners!" exclaimed his opponent, with a bitter sneer,--"you to mend them! out wid your budget and your hammer, then; you're the very tinker of good manners--bekase for one dacency you'd mend, you'd spoil twenty."

"I'm able to hammer you at all events, or, for that matther, any one of your illiterate gineration. Sure it's well known that you can't tach Voshther (Voster) widout the Kay."

"Hould there, if you plase," exclaimed one of his opponent's relations; "don't lug in his family; that's known to be somewhat afore your own, I bleeve. There's no Informers among them, Misther Costigan: keep at home, masther, if you plase."

"At home! That's more than some o' your own cleavings (* distant relations) have been able to do," rejoined Costigan, alluding to one of the young fellow's acquaintances who had been transported.

"Do you mane to put an affront upon me?" said the other.

"Since the barrhad (* cap) fits you, wear it," replied Costigan.

"Very right, masther, make him a present of it," exclaimed one of Costigan's distant relations; "he desarves that, an' more if he'd get it."

"Do I?" said the other; "an' what have you to say on the head of it, Bartle?"

"Why, not much," answered Bartle, "only that you ought to've left it betune them; an' that I'll back Misther Costigan agin any rascal that 'ud say there was ever a dhrop of his blood in an Informer's veins."

"I say it for one," replied the other.

"And I, for another," said Connell; "an' what's worse, I'll hould a wager, that if he was searched this minute, you'd find a Kay to Gough in his pocket, although he throws Vosther in my teeth: the dunce never goes widout one. Sure he's not able to set a dacent copy, or headline, or to make a dacent hook, nor a hanger, nor a down stroke, and was a poor scholar, too!"

"I'll give you a down stroke in the mane time, you ignoramus," said the pedagogue, throwing' himself to the end of the table at I which his enemy sat, and laying him along the floor by a single blow.

He was instantly attacked by the friend of the prostrate academician, who was in his turn attacked by the friend of Costigan. The adherents of the respective teachers I were immediately rushing to a general engagement, when the door opened, and Darby More made his appearance.

"Asy!--stop wid yees!--hould back, ye I disgraceful villains!" exclaimed the mendicant, in a thundering voice. "Be asy, I say. Saints in glory! is this the way you're settlin' the dispute between the two dacent young men, that's sorry, both o' them, I'll go bail, for what they done. Sit down, every one o' yez, or, by the blessed ordhers I wear about me, I'll report yez to Father Hoolaghan, an' have yez read out from the althar, or sint to Lough Derg! Sit down, I say!"

As he spoke, he extended his huge cant between the hostile parties, and thrust them one by one to their seats with such muscular energy, that he had them sitting before another blow could be given.

"Saints in glory!" he exclaimed again, "isn't this blessed doins an the sacred day that's in it! that a poor helpless ould man like me can't come to get somethin' to take away this misfortunit touch o' configuration that I'm afflicted wid in cowld weather--that I can't take a little sup of the only thing that I cures me--widout your ructions and battles! You came here to make pace between two dacent men's childher, an' you're as bad, if not worse, yourselves!--Oh, wurrah dheelish, what's this! I'm in downright agony! Oh, murdher sheery! Has none o' yez a hand to thry if there's e'er a dhrop of relief in that bottle? or am I to die all out, in the face o' the world, for want of a sup o' somethin' to warm me?"

"Darby, thry the horn," said M'Kenna.

"Here, Darby," said one of them, "dhrink this off, an' my life for yours, it'll warm you to the marrow!"

"Och, musha, but I wanted it badly," replied Darby, swallowing it at once; "it's the only thing that does me good when I'm this way. Deah Graslhias! Oxis Doxis Glorioxis. Amin!"

"I think," said M'Kenna, "that what's in the horn's far afore it."

"Oh, thin, you thoughtless crathur, if you knew somethin' I hard about you a while ago, you'd think otherwise. But, indeed, it's thrue for you; I'm sure I'd be sarry to compare what's in it to anything o' the kind I tuck. Deah Grasthias! Throth, I'm asier now a great dale nor I was."

"Will you take another sup, Darby?" inquired the young fellow in whose hands the bottle was now nearly empty; there's jist about another glass."

"Indeed, an' I 'will, avillish; an' sure you'll have my blessin' for it, an' barrin' the priest's own, you couldn't have a more luckier one--blessed be God for it--sure that's well known. In throth, they never came to ill that had it, an' never did good that got my curse! Hoop! do you hear how that rises the wind off o' my stomach! Houp!--Deah Grasthias for that!"

"How did you larn all the prayers an' charms you have, Darby?" inquired the bottle-holder.

"It would take me too long to tell you that, avillish! But, childher, now that you're all together, make it up wid one another. Aren't you all frinds an' brothers, sworn brothers, an' why would you be fightin' among other? Misther Costigan, give me your hand; sure I heard a thrifle o' what you were sayin' while I was suckin' my dudeen at the fire widout. Come here, Misther Connell. Now, before the saints in glory, I lay my bitter curse an him that refuses to shake hands wid his inimy. There now--I'm proud to see it. Mike, avourneen, come here--Frank M'Kenna, gustho (* come hither), walk over here; my bitther heart's curse upon of yez, if you don't make up all quarrels this minit! Are you willin, Mike lieillaghan?"

"I have no objection in life," replied Mike, "if he'll say that Peggy Gartland won't be put to any more throuble through his manes."

"There's my hand, Mike," said Frank, "that I forget an' forgive all that's past; and in regard to Peggy Gartland, why, as she's so dark agin me, I lave her to you for good."*

"Well! see what it is to have the good intintions!--to be makin' pace an' friendship atween inimies! That's all I think about, an' nothin' gives me greater pleas--Saints o' glory!--what's this!--Oh wurrah!--that thief of a--wurrah dheelish!--that touch o' configuration's comin' back agin!--O, thin, but it's hard to get it undher!--Oh!"--

"I'm sarry for it, Darby," replied he who held the now empty bottle; "for the whiskey's out."

"Throth, an' I'm sarry myself, for nothin' else does me good; an' Father Hoolaghan says nothin' can keep it down, barrin' the sup o' whiskey. It's best burnt, wid a little bit o' butther an it; but I can't get that always, it overtakes me so suddenly, glory be to God!"

"Well," said M'Kenna, "as Mike an' myself was the manes of bringin' us together, why, if he joins me, we'll have another bottle."

"Throth, an' its fair an' dacent, an' he must do it; by the same a token, that I'll not lave the house till it's dhrunk, for there's no thrustin' yez together, you're so hot-headed an' ready to rise the hand," said Darby.

M'Kenna and Mike, having been reconciled, appeared in a short time warmer friends than ever. While the last bottle went round, those who had before been on the point of engaging in personal conflict, now laughed at their own foibles, and expressed the kindness and good-will which they felt for each other at heart.

"Now," said the mendicant, "go all of you to mass, an' as soon as you can, to confission, for it's not good to have the broken oath an' the sin of it over one. Confiss it, an' have your conscience light: sure it's a happiness that you can have the guilt taken off o' yez, childher."

"Thrue for you, Darby," they replied; "an' we'll be thinkin' of your advice."

"Ay, do, childher; an' there's Father Hoolaghan comin' down the road, so, in the name o' Goodness, we haven't a minnit to lose."

They all left the shebeen-house as he spoke except Frank and himself, who remained until they had gone out of hearing.

"Darby," said he, "I want you to come up to our house in the mornin', an' bring along wid you the things that you Stamp the crass upon the skin wid: I'm goin' to get the crucifix put upon me. But on the paril o' your life, don't brathe a word of it to mortual."

"God enable you, avick! it's a good intintion. I will indeed be up wid you--airly too, wid a blessin'. It is that, indeed--a good intintion, sure enough."

The parish chapel was about one hundred perches from the shebeen-house in which the "boys" had assembled; the latter were proceeding there in a body when Frank overtook them.

"Mike," said he aside to Reillaghan, "we'll have time enough--walk back a bit; I'll tell you what I'm thinkin'; you never seen in your life a finer day for thracin; what 'ud you say if we give the boys the slip, never heed mass, an' set off to the mountains?"

"Won't we have time enough afther mass?" said Reillaghan.

"Why, man, sure you did hear mass once to-day. Weren't you at it last night? No, indeed, we won't be time enough afther it; for this bein' Chris'mas day, we must be home at dinner-time; you know it's not lucky to be from the family upon set days. Hang-an-ounty, come: we'll have fine sport! I have cocksticks * enough. The best part of the day 'll be gone if we wait for mass. Come, an' let us start."

* A cockstick was so called from being used on Cock- Monday, to throw at a cook tied to a stake, which was a game common among the people It was about the length of a common stick, but much heavier and thicker at one end.

"Well, well," replied Reillaghan, "the sorra hair I care; so let us go. I'd like myself to have a rap at the hares in the Black Hills, sure enough; but as it 'ud be remarkable for us to be seen lavin' mass, why let us crass the field here, an' get out upon the road above the bridge."

To this his companion assented, and they both proceeded at a brisk pace, each apparently anxious for the sport, and resolved to exhibit such a frank cordiality of manner as might convince the other that all their past enmity was forgotten and forgiven.

The direct path to the mountains lay by M'Kenna's house, where it was necessary they should call, in order to furnish themselves with cocksticks, and to bring dogs which young Frank kept for the purpose. The inmates of the family were at mass, with the exception of Frank's mother, and Rody, the servant-man, whom they found sitting on his own bed in the barn, engaged at cards, the right hand against the left.

"Well, Rody," said Frank, "who's winnin'?"

"The left entirely," replied his companion: "the divil a game at all the right's gettin', whatever's the rason of it, an' I'm always turnin' up black. I hope none of my friends or acquaintances will die soon."

"Throw them aside--quit of them," said Prank, "give them to me, I'll put them past; an' do you bring us out the gun. I've the powdher an' shot here; we may as well bring her, an' have a slap at them. One o' the officers in the barracks of ---- keeps me in powdher an' shot, besides givin' me an odd crown, an' I keep him in game."

"Why, thin, boys," observed Rody, "what's the manin' o' this?--two o' the biggest inimies in Europe last night an' this mornin' an' now as great as two thieves! How does that come?"

"Very asy, Rody," replied Reillaghan; "we made up the quarrel, shuck hands, an's good frinds as ever."

"Bedad, that bates cock-fightin'," said Body, as he went to bring in the gun.

In the mean time, Prank, with the cards in his hand, went to the eave of the barn, I thrust them up under the thatch, and took out of the same nook a flask of whiskey.

"We'll want this," said he, putting it to his lips, and gulping down a portion. "Come Mike, be tastin'; and aftherwards i put this in your pocket."

Mike followed his example, and was corking the flask when Rody returned with the gun.

"She's charged," said Frank; "but we'd betther put in fresh primin' for 'fraid of her hangin' fire."

He then primed the gun, and handed it to Reillaghan. "Do you keep the gun, Mike," he added, "an' I'll keep the cocksticks. Rody, I'll bet you a shillin' I kill more wid! the cockstick, nor he will wid the gun, will you take me up?"

"I know a safer thrick," replied Rody; "you're a dead aim wid the cockstick, sure enough, an' a deader with the gun, too; catch me at it."

"You show some sinse, for a wondher," observed Frank, as he and his companion left the barn, and turned towards the mountains, which rose frowning behind the house. Rody stood looking after them until they wound up slowly out of sight among the hills; he then shook his head two or three times, and exclaimed, "By dad, there's somethin' in this, if one could make out: what it is. I know Frank."

Christmas-day passed among the peasantry, as it usually passes in Ireland. Friends met before dinner in their own, in their neighbors', in shebeen or in public houses, where they drank, sang, or fought, according to their natural dispositions, or the quantity of liquor they had taken. The festivity of the day might be known by the unusual reek of smoke that danced from each chimney, by the number of persons who crowded the roads, by their bran-new dresses,--for if a young man or country girl can afford a dress at all, they provide it for Christmas,--and by the striking appearance of those who, having drunk a little too much, were staggering home in the purest happiness, singing, stopping their friends, shaking hands with them, or kissing them, without any regard to sex. Many a time might be seen two Irishmen,' who had got drunk together, leaving a fair or market, their arms about each other's necks, from whence they only removed them to kiss and hug one another more lovingly. Notwithstanding this, there is nothing more probable than that these identical two will enjoy the luxury of a mutual battle, by way of episode, and again proceed on their way, kissing and hugging as if nothing had happened to interrupt their friendship. All the usual effects of jollity and violence, fun and fighting, love and liquor, were, of course, to be seen, felt, heard, and understood on this day, in a manner much more remarkable than on common occasions; for it maybe observed, that the national festivals of the Irish bring-out their strongest points of character with peculiar distinctness.

The family of Frank M'Kenna were sitting down to their Christmas dinner; the good man had besought a blessing upon the comfortable and abundant fare of which they were about to partake, and nothing was amiss, save the absence of their younger son.

"Musha, where on earth can this boy be stayin'?" said the father: "I'm sure this, above all days in the year, is one he oughtn't to be from home an."

The mother was about to inform him of the son's having gone to the mountains, when the latter returned, breathless, pale, and horror-struck.

Rody eyed him keenly, and laid down the bit he was conveying to his mouth.

"Heavens above us!" exclaimed his mother, "what ails you?"

He only replied by dashing his hat upon the ground, and exclaiming, "Up wid yez!--up wid yez!--quit your dinners! Oh, Rody! what'll be done? Go down to Owen Reillaghan's--go 'way--go down--an' tell thim--Oh, vick-na-hoie! but this was the unfortunate day to us all? Mike reillaghan is shot with my gun; she went off in his hand goin' over a snow wreath, an' he's lyin' dead in the mountains?"

The screams and the wailing which immediately rose in the family were dreadful. Mrs. M'Kenna almost fainted; and the father, after many struggles to maintain his firmness, burst into the bitter tears of disconsolation and affliction. Rody was calmer, but turned his eyes from one to another with a look of deep compassion, and again eyed Frank keenly and suspiciously.

Frank's eye caught his, and the glance which had surveyed him with such a scrutiny did not escape his observation. "Rody," said he, "do you go an' brake it to the, Reillaghans: you're the best to do it; for, when we were settin' out, you saw that he-carried the gun, an' not me."

"Thrue for you," said Rody; "I saw that, Frank, and can swear to it; but that's all I did see. I know nothing of what happened in the mountains."

"Damnho sheery orth! (* Eternal perdition on you!) What do you mane, you villain?" exclaimed Prank, seizing the tongs, and attempting to strike him: "do you dar to suspect that I had any hand in it."

"Wurrah dheelish, Frank," screamed the sisters, "are you goin' to murdher Rody?"

"Murdher," he shouted, in a paroxysm of fury, "Why the curse o' God upon you all, what puts murdher into your heads? Is it my own family that's the first to charge me wid it?"

"Why, there's no one chargin' you wid it," replied Rody; "not one, whatever makes you take it to yourself."

"An' what did you look at me for, thin, the way you did? What did you look at me for, I say?"

"Is it any wondher," replied the servant coolly, "when you had sich a dreadful story to tell?"

"Go off," replied Frank, now hoarse with passion--"go off! an' tell the Reillaghans what happened; but, by all the books that ever was opened or shut, if you breathe a word about murdher--about--if you do, you villain, I'll be the death o' you!"

When Rody was gone on this melancholy errand, old M'Kenna first put the tongs, and everything he feared might be used as a weapon by his frantic son, out of his reach; he then took down the book on which he had the night before sworn so rash and mysterious an oath, and desired his son to look upon it.

"Frank," said he, solemnly, "you swore on that blessed book last night, that Mike Reillaghan never would be the husband of Peggy Gartland--he's a corpse to-day! Yes," he continued, "the good, the honest, the industhrious boy is"--his sobs became so loud and thick that he appeared almost suffocated. "Oh," said he, "may God pity us! As I hope to meet my blessed Savior, who was born on this day, I would rather you wor the corpse, an' not Mike Reillaghan!"

"I don't doubt that," said the son, fiercely; "you never showed me much grah, (* affection) sure enough."

"Did you ever desarve it?" replied the father. "Heaven above me knows it was too much kindness was showed you. When you ought to have been well corrected, you got your will an' your way, an' now see the upshot."

"Well," said the son, "it's the last day ever I'll stay in the family; thrate me as bad as you plase. I'll take the king's bounty, an' list, if I live to see to-morrow."

"Oh, thin, in the name o' Goodness, do so," said the father; "an' so far from previntin' you, we'll bless you when you're gone, for goin'."

"Arrah, Frank, aroon," said Mrs. M'Kenna, who was now recovered, "maybe, afther all, it was only an accident: sure we often hard of sich things. Don't you remimber Squire Elliott's son, that shot himself by accident, out fowlin'? Frank, can you clear yourself before us?"

"Ah, Alley! Alley!" exclaimed the father, wiping away his tears, "don't you remimber his oath, last night?"

"What oath?" inquired the son, with an air of surprise--"What oath, last night? I know I was drunk last night, but I remimber nothing about an oath."

"Do you deny it, you hardened boy?"

"I do deny it; an' I'm not a hardened boy. What do you all mane? do you want to dhrive me mad? I know nothin' about any oath last night;" replied the son in a loud voice. The grief of the mother and daughters was loud during the pauses of the conversation. Micaul, the eldest son, sat beside his father in tears.

"Frank," said he, "many an advice I gave you between ourselves, and you know how you tuck them. When you'd stale the oats, an' the meal, and the phaties, an' hay, at night, to have money for your cards an' dhrinkin', I kept it back, an' said nothin' about it. I wish I hadn't done so, for it wasn't for your good: but it was my desire to have, as much pace and quietness as possible."

"Frank," said the father, eyeing him solemnly, "it's possible that you do forget the oath you made last night, for you war in liquor: I would give the wide world that it was thrue. Can you now, in the presence of God, clear yourself of havin' act or part in the death of Mike Reillaghan?"

"What 'ud ail me," said the son, "if I liked?"

"Will you do it now for our satisfaction, an' take a load of misery off of our hearts? It's the laste you may do, if you can do it. In the presence of the great God, will you clear yourself now?"

"I suppose," said the son, "I'll have to clear myself to-morrow, an' there's no use in my doin' it more that wanst. When the time comes, I'll do it."

The father put his hands on his eyes, and groaned aloud: so deep was his affliction, that the tears trickled through his fingers during this fresh burst of sorrow. The son's refusal to satisfy them renewed the grief of all, as well as of the father: it rose again, louder than before, whilst young Frank sat opposite the door, silent and sullen. _

Read next: Part 4

Read previous: Part 2

Table of content of Midnight Mass


Post your review
Your review will be placed after the table of content of this book