CHAPTER 4 ------- CHAPTER 6
If through Killinchy's woods and vales
NUMEROUS Irish historians describe Betsy Gray as a native of Killinchy, and as the joy and pride of a widowed mother.
Both statements are erroneous. She was born, as I have already said, at Granshaw, quite close to the Six-Road-Ends. Her mother died before the troubles of '98, but her father was alive. He was a farmer, in very comfortable circumstances, widely known and respected throughout North Down. He fairly doated upon his daughter Betsy. She was his only daughter, and he lavished upon her the wealth of his great heart's love. Unwilling that she should take any part in farm or household drudgery, Mr. Gray sent his daughter to a ladies' school where she received a high-class education. She had now reached her twentieth year, and was possessed of wondrous beauty, a beauty enriched and enhanced by a warm heart, an ardent temperament and lady-like accomplishments. Her beauty and her goodness formed a theme for every tongue wherever she went, and many a wealthy suitor sought her hand in marriage.
Such was the visitor who now stepped into Mat McClenaghan's cottage, leaning upon the arm of her brother George.
"What was it ye, Miss Betsy?" cried Mat, stepping up to meet her, and maintaining his equilibrium as well as he could. "Thanks, Mat, I am very well," and then having said a few words to the company, she advanced to the nurse and took the little baby boy in her arms.
"The dear little man," she murmured, kissing the infant's velvet cheek, "the dear little man! Your own image, Mat, I assure you." "Thank ye, Miss," exclaimed Mat, proud of the compliment, "but a hope he'll be a wiser and a better man."
"He is in God's hands," said Betsy seriously. "He it was who sent him here for some wise purpose, and He alone knows what the future has in store for him."
"True, Miss Betsy, very true," said Mat's wife, "but pit the waen doon an' tak a cup o' tay."
Betsy restored the old nurse her charge, and sat down to the humble feast. There was nothing in her presence or manner to awe her humbler neighbours, and to make them feel uncomfortable; on the contrary, her presence, like sunlight, seemed to gladden every heart and brighten up the humble cot.
By and by the tea cups were removed, and a kind of fireside concert was commenced. Mat was the chief contributor, but his songs were always welcome. The following one met with a very hearty reception:
Once on a morning of sweet recreation,
"I will go, a stranger to peril and danger,
"The birds of the forest are all met together,
"What do you mean by the blackbird, Mat? asked Betsy, smiling demurely.
"Agh, Miss Betsy, ye ken right weel athoot axin'," said Mat.
`I suppose you hope to find it some day," pursued Betsy.
"Heth a dae," replied Mat, "an afore twa springs is over, a hope."
"I hope so, too," said the lady, with much fervour.
As the night wore on the older people slipped away to their homes. Not so with the younger folk, who were determined to make a night of it. Tables, chairs, and stools were piled against the walls, and some of them carried into the smiddy. The kitchen floor thus cleared, Mat took down his fiddle from the wall and struck up a lively reel. There was a scramble for partners as though the eager dancers feared that a single stroke of Mat's bow would be lost, and at it they went. The fiddling was not so classic and finished as that of a Paganini or a Cohen nor the dancing so graceful as that of modern schools, but they all did their best. Mat rasped away, and every now and then uttered a "hoogh!" which could be heard above the noise of the stamping feet upon the earthen floor.
Gayest among the gay was our lovely heroine. Fitted by nature and education to grace the most brilliant assemblages, she was far happier amongst those honest but warm-hearted people, for they had grown up together and a bond of affection united them.
Such dancing was tiresome work, and after a while it gave place to household games, many of which are still practised. It was during the progress of these that Willie Boal of the Cottown and James Dillon of Drumawhey entered - two men who are to take very prominent positions in the remarkable events which are to be recorded in this story.
Dillon sat down beside Mat to drink the health of the youngster; Willie Boal stole up to Betsy and sat down by her side, pressing her hand warmly as he did so.
"You are late, Willie," said Betsy.
"Yes, Betsy, I am; I meant to be here earlier." Then he lapsed into silence.
Betsy regarded him for some moments, and then enquired: as anything troubled you, Willie? You seem dull."
"Yes," replied Boal; something has reached my knowledge which causes me anxiety. When did you see our friend, Mr. Warwick?"
"Not for some time," responded Betsy; "but he is expected to be at my father's house on Wednesday night. Why do you ask?"
"He has offended Dillon in some way. Tell him to be cautious. But hush!
Here comes Dillon this way."
'The sodgers it comin'! rin fast! rin fast!
THE door of Mat McClenaghan's cottage was thrown violently open, and Tommy Burns, the lad who worked with Mat at the forge in the smiddy, dashed in, pale, excited and breathless. "What's wrang?" cried several.
"The sodgers!" he gasped; "they're comin'!"
In a moment all was confusion, and the utmost consternation prevailed. Some prepared to fly, but wiser counsels prevailed and it was suggested by George Gray, whose coolness and self-possession never forsook him for an instant, that a dance should be begun, as the soldiers, finding them thus engaged, would in all probability depart in peace. Besides, as he said, the visit might not be intended for them.
But Mat, the fiddler, had disappeared. Repeated doses of Cruiskeen whiskey had completely upset him. He was stretched on the bed which stood in the adjoining room, and his snoring was distinctly audible in the kitchen.
"Give me the fiddle, quick," cried Willie Boal; "come, lads, choose your partners."
It was the work of a moment. Gaily rasped the fiddle and quickly flew the feet of the dancers, but their hearts throbbed painfully, and many a cheek was deadly white.
The suspense was terrible, but it was of short duration.
The door, which Tommy had closed and barred behind him, was burst open, and a military officer, followed by half a dozen soldiers, filed into the kitchen.
The dancers stood suddenly still.
"What's going on here?" demanded the leader, in an insolent tone.
"A krisenin," someone replied.
"A what?" queried the officer.
Here poor Bel McClenaghan pressed forward, wringing her hands.
"A krisenin indeed, sir," she sobbed; "my ain waen, sir, an' there it is in its wee cradle."
The man looked puzzled.
"Stop your damned gibberish!" he exclaimed, "and tell me what you mean."
As he spoke he darted a rapid glance round the assemblage, and his eye instantly singled out Betsy Gray.
"Oh ho!" he chuckled. "A winsome jade upon my soul! Do you clatter in this infernal jargon, madam, or can you tell me why these people are here?"
"I can, sir," said Betsy.
"Then be pleased to do so," said the soldier in a voice less harsh, and bowing stiffly to the beautiful girl.
With a flush upon her cheek, but in a voice that never quivered, Betsy spoke -
"The occupants of this house are Mat McClenaghan, his wife, and family. This afternoon the youngest child has been baptised. We (waving her hand round the assembled guests) are their neighbours, and have been celebrating the event by a dance. Such is the custom of the country."
"Well spoken my pretty lass," said the officer, in a wheedling tone; "sorry I haven't time to try a step with you; but, by my faith, I have time to kiss so sweet a mouth at any rate!"
As he spoke he attempted to throw his arm round Betsy's waist. Quick as lightning Betsy drew back, and at the same instant her brother and Willie Boal stepped between her and the amorous officer.
"Pardon me, sir!" said George Gray. "Your errand here surely cannot be to offer insult to a lady."
"Who the devil are you, sir?" cried the officer, laying his hand on his sword and eyeing George angrily.
"I am this lady's brother," replied George, "and shall resent any insult offered to her. Keep your sword in its scabbard!" George stood in the glare of the candles and of the blazing fire, drawn up to his full height. There was a dangerous gleam in his eyes, and the heaving of his broad chest showed how deeply he was moved.
The officer eyed him fixedly for a few moments, then suddenly asked -
"Your name, fellow?"
"George Gray," was the answer.
The officer took a memorandum book from his pocket and noted down the name.
"Where do you live?"
"Quite close to this - in Granshaw".
"Your name?" demanded the intruder, turning to George's friend.
William Boal", was the steady answer, "and I live at Cottown."
"Now, where's McClenaghan," shouted the soldier, turning round fiercely.
"In bed, sir", said Mat's wife, now sobbing piteously.
"Stop your blubbering, damn you!" was the rude rejoinder. "Show me the bed."
"A wull, sir; cum doon this wae," said Bei, making ineffectual efforts to supress her sobs.
She took up a candle and led the way to the bedroom, followed by the officer and two soldiers. The other four guarded the door of the apartment.
At a sign from the leader one of the soldiers took the candle from Bel's hand and held it close to Mat's face.
He was sound asleep, lying upon his back. "What ails him?" demanded the officer.
"Agh, sir, he's jist been takin' a drap ower muckle on accoont o' the krisenin," sobbed the affrighted woman; "but shair yer hon-ner's no wantin' ocht wi' my Mat?"
"I want to ask him a few questions, and I don't believe he's a bit drunk," was the reply.
Then, seizing Mat by the collar, he shook him violently, and shouted:
"Get up, will you!"
"A'll no change my liquor," muttered the sleeping man; "anither half yin just tae keep the tithers company."
One of the soldiers laughed. He appeared to understand the dialect, and also to fully comprehend Mat's condition. 'The officer looked at him.
"Dead drunk, sir!" said the soldier saluting his superior. "Shake him up!" said the leader, savagely.
The man put down his musket and laid hold of Mat. He shook him vigorously, but as well might he have shaken the bed on which Mat lay. Wake him he could not.
The officer turned to his men - "Jones!" he said.
"You and Berkley keep guard; let the others search the house." "Yes, sir!"
"Search the hoose, sir!" cried Bel, falling upon her knees and wringing her hands wildly. "What dae ye want tae search my hoose for?"
"For arms - for pikes," was the answer.
Poor Bel was borrow stricken. Springing to her feet, she flung her arms round Mat's neck, and cried wildly -
"Oh, Mat, Mat! Wauken up, dear! Wauken up, for the sojers ir here lukin' fur pikes."
But Mat snored louder than ever.
Then from the kitchen a shrill voice was heard shouting - "Let me go! There's nae pikes here a tell ye!"
"What's all this?" demanded the officer, striding into the kitchen.
He found one of his men holding Tommy Burns by the arms. The boy was struggling to free himself and he kicked and hit the soldier wickedly.
"Be quiet, boy, or I'll slice your head off!" cried the officer. drawing his sword and flashing it across Tommy's eyes.
The sight of the glittering blade had the desired effect. Tommy stood silent and motionless.
Who is this boy?" asked the officer.
"Then the chances are he can save us the trouble of a search. and I don't wish to be kept here all night," said the officer. Taking the lad by the collar, he demanded -
"Where does your master keep the pikes?"
"The devil!" muttered his questioner; then in a loud tone - "Your master makes pikes?"
"Diz he?" asked Tommy, with a vacant stare.
"You know he does - tell the truth," said the officer, growing angry.
"A ken he maks harrow pins," said the lad; "that's a' that a ken."
"We'll find means to make you tell", said the officer, sheathing his sword. "Here, lads, bring him out."
George Gray stepped forward.
"How does that concern you?" he demanded.
"He is a mere child," urged George, "you can have no authority to molest
"Mind your own business, young man," was the curt reply; "I have authority to do just what I like in these matters, and mark me, sir, if you further attempt to obstruct me in the discharge of my duty, I shall place you under arrest."
George's eyes flashed, and a hot reply rose to his lips. It was checked by his sister Betsy, who placed her hand upon his arm and whispered -
Suddenly a thought seemed to strike the soldier who had been addressed as Jones. Saluting his officer, he pointed to the cradle and said -
"The pikes may be there, sir!"
"Look," said the officer, with a nod of approval.
The soldier instantly obeyed; with one hand he rudely thrust aside old Biddy, who was moaning loudly and rocking the cradle; with the other he plucked the coverlet from off the child.
"Oh my waen! dinnae touch my waen!" shrieked the infant's mother, as she pushed the soldier aside and flung herself across the cradle to shield her babe from harm.
So sudden was the push she gave the soldier, and so vigorous, that he staggered against the fire-place and all but fell upon the blazing pile of turf.
He recovered himself in a moment.
"Damn you for a hag!" he shouted, seizing her by the hair, which had fallen down her shoulders, and giving her a violent pull, he flung her upon the floor. She struck the ground with a dull, heavy thud. The next instant she was in the arms of Betsy Gray and several other friends.
The officer laughed, and stood looking on, biting his moustache and evidently enjoying the scene.
The soldier was a brute, and his brutish nature was aroused. Seizing the unconscious babe by its feet, he lifted it from the cradle, and swung it round his head.
A shriek of horror burst from the by-standers.
"The rebel brat!" shouted the enraged soldier, "will I dash its brains out, sir?"
Betsy Gray sprang forward and caught the child.
"Monster!" she gasped, "would you harm a helpless infant?" The soldier glanced at her like a wild beast thirsting for blood. "Hold, Jones!" said the officer, stepping forward. "I am in the humour to gratify this young woman. Give her the brat."
The soldier relinquished his hold of the now screaming child, and lifting the cradle, tossed the contents of it upon the floor. There were no pike heads there!
The man looked at his leader with an air of disappointment. "Never mind, Jones," said that worthy, "we shan't march from Newton and back without some fun. Here, bring this stubborn lad outside."
Jones and one of his comrades laid violent hands upon poor Tommy, but the boy never quailed for an instant.
George Gray and Willie Boal would have interfered, but Betsy's pleading looks restrained them, and they still hoped that the soldiers would not proceed to violence.
"I'll give you one more chance," said the officer facing the blacksmith's lad and looking fiercely into his eyes. "Where are the pikes?"
"A dinnae ken!" was the boy's stolid answer. "Out with him!" said the officer.
The two soldiers dragged the unresisting lad out of doors. Every inmate of the house followed, men and women, pressing closely upon the soldiers. Other forms were seen moving about in the neighbourhood of the building, and the clank of arms told the affrighted people that the house was surrounded by soldiery. "Stand back!" shouted the officer, drawing his sword and waving it round his head. "I warn you," he continued, "that if you offer the slightest interference I shall order my men to fire on you. Their muskets are loaded with ball!"
The people drew back. The women sobbed. The men uttered bitter curses - not loud but deep.
"Get lights!" shouted the leader.
But the men had anticipated his orders. From Mat's yard they had brought a quantity of turf and bog fir. These they had piled up just at the centre of Six-Road-Ends and applied a light.
Merrily blazed the pile! Little did honest Mat's neighbours think when they drew him home his winter's firing that it was to be applied to so fiendish a purpose.
But another chapter is required for a description of one of those savage deeds of wanton cruelty which roused the indignation of the world, and incited the Patriots of Ireland to rush to arms, that upon the field of battle they might avenge the wrongs of years.
A CRUEL DEED
"Ay, ye may do your worst!" he cried;
MERRILY blazed the pile! If the lads and lasses who loiter by the Six-Road-Ends at close of day, sitting upon the low stone wall which bounds Mat McClenaghan's field, or lounging against the fragrant hedgerows, could but look back to the scene enacted there that dark October night in 1797, what a thrill of horror would pass through every heart.
Merrily blazed the pile! A cloud of smoke, a sheet of flame shot upwards, while in the near distance the darkness seemed like a huge circular wall piled up around the soldiery and the people. Just at the roadside was a gate, leading to Mat's house. It hung on two stout posts of bog oak, rugged and undressed. As the leader of the soldiers surveyed the scene his eye fell upon the gate posts.
"This will do!" he shouted. "Here, Jones, you and Jenkins strip the fellow and tie him to one of those gate posts."
"Yes, sir," was the ready response, and the next moment Tommy was in the rude hands of the ruffians, who quickly divested him of his jacket, vest and shirt, leaving the lad exposed to the biting winter wind, stripped of all but his ragged trousers.
The fellows knew their work and they did it quickly. In less than five minutes from the order had been given, Tommy Burns was tied by a stout cord to the gate post. The blaze of the fire revealed the face of the lad as plainly as the light of day. It was ghastly pale, and there was a pleading look in his eyes as they were turned now on his tormentors and anon upon his friends, who were powerless to help him.
"Oh, George!" sobbed Betsy, "what do they mean to do? This is horrible."
"Come with me, Betsy," whispered George, taking his sister by the arm.
The girl yielded unresistingly. George led her back to Mat's house, and placing her in a chair took her by the hand. She repeated the question -
"George, dear, what do they mean to do?" But ere her brother could answer there arose from without a shriek so shrill, so full of mortal agony, that the blood curdled in the listeners' veins.
"Curse them!" groaned George, "they are flogging the lad." He covered his face with his hands, and Betsy, dropping her head upon his shoulder, burst into a fit of weeping.
Ay, they were flogging him!
In those days the soldiers carried with them their instruments of torture and woe betide the unfortunate creatures who provoked their wrath.
The soldier who had been bitten by Tommy begged to be permitted to wield the lash, and permission was most readily given. With clenched teeth and features convulsed with rage, he whirled the instrument of torture round his head and brought it down with all his strength upon the quivering flesh of the lad. Then it was that that heart-rending cry arose through the stillness of the night, scaring the curlews in their seaward flight. The cry was re-echoed by a shout of rage from the people, and by a roar of laughter from the soldiery.
"Let him have it!" cried the officer.
The admonition was unnecessary. Blow after blow fell upon the naked neck, shoulders and body of the defenceless lad, lacerating the flesh, from which the blood trickled in copious streams! And the people - what of them? The women clung to each other, sobbing and moaning. The men clenched their hands and ground their teeth in fury. Big strong men, their hearts bursting, their souls thirsting for vengeance upon the brutal cowards. But they were powerless. Interference meant death to the lad and death to his friends!
Poor Tommy! After that one wild shriek he bore his agony in silence. His rough labour-stained hands were clenched until the nails of his fingers cut into his flesh; he bit his nether lip until it bled. At length his head fell upon his breast; there was a convulsive writhing of the body, the boy's limbs swayed beneath him, and he became perfectly motionless.
"You have killed him!" cried one of the soldiers, whose face gave evidence of a kindlier heart than any of his comrades possessed. As the man spoke, he caught the arm of the executioner and pushed him aside violently.
"The damned young rebel!" cried the fellow, struggling to free his arm and renew the punishment. The officer stepped forward and looked into Tommy's face.
"Dead as a herring!" he said, laughing. Turning to the soldier who had whipped the boy, he continued - "Morris, you can hit hard. Put up your whip; the boy is dead!"
With a growl of rage the fellow wound the lash of his whip round its handle and stuck it into his belt, then turning to one of his comrades he cried out - "Jemmy, lend me your cropping tools. I'll have his ears!"
"Ay, ay, my lad," said the soldier addressed, handing the other a large pair of scissors.
They were rusty and blood stained. Then a rough voice cried -
"We're nae men tae stan' that!" A big, burly fellow sprang forward, and planting his fist right in the soldier's face, laid him sprawling upon the road.
The man was surrounded in an instant. Clubbing their muskets, the soldiers felled him like an ox, and then, kicking him into a deep ditch that skirted the road. left him bleeding and senseless.
Whether the officer in charge of the soldiers feared further violence or not, it would be difficult to say, but he drew his men hurriedly together, gave the order to march, and the next minute their measured tramp was heard as they started for Newtownards, where they had their headquarters.
A crowd of anxious sympathisers gathers around Tommy Burns. Rough but gentle hands cut the cords which bound him, and carried him into the house. A bed was thrown down upon the kitchen floor, and on this the lad was stretched. In their desire to render him assistance the one for a time impeded the other. But at his juncture the noble spirit which afterwards characterised the beautiful Betsy Gray shone forth. Kneeling by the prostrate lad, she begged the people to stand aside, and then she placed her hand over the region of the boy's heart.
There was a moment or two of breathless silence, of anxious suspense.
"He lives!" said Betsy. "Thank God!" cried several. "George help me," cried Betsy.
In an instant her brother and lover were kneeling beside her. She gave her directions quietly, calmly, and apparently without emotion. Such stimulants as were at hand were applied, and ere long the boy opened his eyes. The next moment, with a deep groan he fainted. Tenderly, unceasingly did that brave girl attend to the sufferer, dressing his swollen and bleeding body, and striving to retain the flickering flame of life. Her efforts were rewarded; Consciousness returned; the boy recognised her.
"Are you in pain, Tommy?" asked Betsy.
"Ay," murmured the lad; "a feel as if a wuz in a fire." "Poor boy," she murmured.
Pieces of linen, dipped in cold water, were laid upon the wounds, and afforded temporary relief. Betsy insisted upon having the lad removed to her father's house so that she might nurse him, and he was accordingly carried thither, and placed in a comfortable bed. A doctor was sent for, and everything that skill and careful nursing could accomplish was done for the poor boy who had suffered such brutal torture.
The sturdy young farmer who had rushed to Tommy's rescue was but little
the worse of the treatment he received, and was able to attend his work a
couple of days afterwards.