|Newspaper Title||Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||A Widow's Ban|
ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS TALE. " THE -WIDOW'S BAN."
BY WAIF WANDER.
MARY Kearney was upright as a young poplar, and far more graceful; from the stout sole of the well-polished shoe and the black-ribbed stocking of worsted, knit by her own deft fingers, up to the gloss of her soft black hair, she was every inch a girl worthy of the country and the faith to which she belonged. If you had searched the Barony of Clonmaher you would not have found a brighter eye or a sweeter lip, and our new world itself might be challenged to produce a warmer heart. Of all days in the year it was Christmas eve, and Mary was taking up a can of spring water to rinse the dairy things, just as the sun was dipping his round face behind the hill of Cahirbeg. As she poised the wooden can upon her stately head, her light step fell upon the closing daisies so softly that they loved the pressure, and as the sun's rays gleamed into her face and upon the bright hoops of her can, she was obliged to lift one plump hand to shade her eyes, so that she might see whose shadow it was that was creeping up to her feet. It was the shadow of a young man, tall and robust, but with rather a slouch' ing gait, and a most evil countenance, in spite of the insinuating smile he was meeting the fair girl with. If there was one man in the Barony that Mary Kearney disliked and feared it was Dan Scanlan, but she was a brave as well as a good girl, and when she saw the impossibility of avoiding Dan, she walked on proudly toward him.
She would have passed the young fellow with a cool "Good-day, Dan," but he stopped directly in her path. " Sure, an' it's not that way you'd be afther tratiu' me, Miss Kearney, an' meself coming two long miles for a sight ov yerpurtyface." " If you did the likes, Dan, you're a bigger fool than I thought you," she returned; " but I must thruble you to let me pass, as I have the milkin' to look afther." "I know 'fcisn't evenin' me wid the cows you'd be, Mary." "You're right, so far, Dan; indeed, it isn't evenin' you wid 'em I'd be. I'm very fond of the cows," she retorted. " Let ma pass, if you plaze." A fierce flash shot from young Scanlan's eyes, as a hot flush rose up to his brow. "I know who you're fonder of than the cows, anyway, Miss Kearney," he said, angrily. " If Mr. Dennis O'Halloran was to the fore the cows might wait. If your father knew as much as I know, you wouldn't go so often of an evening to the well."
The handsome face of Mary Kearney flushed up to the roots of her hair, and her fine spirit kindled warmly in her bright eyes. "Go an' tell him all you know, Dan Scanlan, an' it isn't before his face, let alone yours, that I'd deny Denuis I wouldn't give his little finger to save youtsnealrin' soul! Stan' out of me way, I safe an' let me pass!"
one minnit, miss," he returned, with liftbitter sneer ; " wait till I tell me lady Miry the news. Mr. Wallins turned Denaaj^O'Halloran [off his ground this very back f wid the name of a thief on his md it's not the first of the O'Hallorani ,t was called that. Go ail' ax your gather now if he'll let you- marry DennjV O'Halloran, me beauty Miss Man!
turnei passe mahe helpli rose! an insulting leer the as' the wotds shot home, ! and "ito a grove by* the toad to Clon leaving the stuilned girl standing ly on the'path. Evefy shade of TfadWl from her cheeks, and her as they trembled like the pale •a djyiiig fib wei in' th& breeze, i'an' instant' this, -however, and l as'the sbft low of an impatient i dbwn from her father's stack- ' Kearney was tier 'own brave . self <%gtun,'and 1 turned back '•footed favouritea of the dairy. hour later 1 thfllightstep sh girt once more pressed the 16 toward' the'well, me carried ban resting on her'rounded' ' "akimbo"' tad keeping it •'A hri£M-c?>laured 'handker-- bfedover her dark' hair and' rel&Bly'titidet'hki^Ittmpehlni 1 tl&t crossed' Tier, bosom : iufrwigea 1 with fcoqMltM ml li !»."!.•!'-)?;••.! :,-t!Ji .r the CappobSlih'ffiilii," llit'W^giiiot'Mai^ tli' hemntiMfflfef ¥oaa» •tea' whse IHtide. ' Close to
that led to the well the girl paused, and looked toward the copse in which Dan Scanlan had disappeared, and scarcely had she done so when a male figure bounded from the grove and hastened to join her. The warm greeting of the youthful couple could have left no doubt of their being lovers, and in truth it was none other than Dennis O'Halloran whose arm pressed Mary to his side, and into Mary's ears he began to pour the story of his troubles with Mr. Wallins of the Castle, when the first greetings were over. He was a widow's only son was Dennis O' Halloran, and the pride of the Barony for good looks and faithfulness of heart. He had an honest, open expression of face, and a free, hearty way with him that won simple hearts, and until this day not a shade of dishonesty or evil had been coupled with his mother's name or his
" I can hardly believe it yet, Dennis. What a bad man the master must be; I don't envy him his conscience this night to accuse a dacent boy of stealin', and disgrace him before the whole Barony. I hate him, Dennis." " Hush, darlin', don't say that. I own it's hard, but he'll find the truth out now I'm gone. I know as well as I stand here that it's Dan Scanlan that's robbin' the potato pits, but as I can't prove it what's the use of openin' me mouth? What I think worse of, Mary, dear, is your father—he's wild agin me already, an' now, wid the name of thief on me—God help me." The voice broke into a sob that told of the keenest anguish a man's heart is capable of enduring, and then it was that Mary's soft words whispered thestrongest assurances of faithfulness and affection. " I'll never forsake you, Dennis—I don't care what they say. I'm no slip ov agirl widout sense or rason. I'm twentytwo years ould, Dennis, and I'll hould to you if they tould fifty lies every day in the year about you."
" God bless you, Mary, asthore! Sure, as long as you don't b'lieve bad agin me I can wait. But see here, darlin', you must go now, or the father'll maybe miss you. Hear ! there's the Castle dinner-bell." It rang out sharp and clear on the evening air, and from where the lovers stood they could even see the lighted windows of the castled home of Dennis O'Halloran's late employer, which stood on a wooded eminence about a mile from the Clonmaher road. Dennis had taken Mary's can from the grass, and, as he was stooping to fill it at the well, the girl heard the sound of rapid wheels coming toward them on the road. Scarcely had she time to draw Dennis's attention to the fact, when there was the loud report of a single gun in the very copse against the edge of which they stood, and a sudden cessation of the wheels, which however dashed on again instantly—the vehicle passing below them in an irregular, maddened gallop that told too plainly of a terrified and unchecked animal.
" In the name of God, what's that, Dennis ?" whispered Mary, hurriedly. " I don't know, darlin'. I'm afeard somethin' is wrong. Mr. Wallins started for Cappoquin to-day, an' was expected back this evenin'. I hope to God it's not—Mary, dear, go home quick, asthore. I must go down to the road; maybe the master might be lyin' there bleeding to death for want ov help." " Dennis—" " Don't stop me, Mary, darlin'; I must go. God bless you this night and for ever," and with a warm, though hurried embrace, the young man darted down toward the road, and disappeared in the shadow of the copse.
Widow..O'Halloran lived in a little cabin far up near the foot of the hills, and at a considerable distance from any neighbour. But that fact was no trouble to the quiet, hard-working woman, whose whole soul was bound up in her only son, Dennis. Their little holding was small—scarcely'three acres—but it was their own, ana steady regular industry, with the addition of Dennis's wages, made it sufficient for all their simple wants: As a companion in her House, and help in her'labour; Mrs. O'Hallorah had one daughter younger than Dennis, "who, though no particular beanty, was a 1 good,pretty', and'honest girl.. • ' . On the night bf tie same evening I have'alre'ady statedlKjlje Christiiias' eve, flfe' mother and daughter sat up itiiig after'their nsual Dennis did not come hbnie.and somefiow hiB : mbther Mt i s^raB»geIyunSa&y/ ;She tried She prayers <if ffie' r Church''for thai hbt? eve, afa& 'Ellen '. joftied 5ier, :: Ijiffi ' W^r TOin&ft • tiiba^t^ she Kte&.libB "mmrms^m^ -fe - 1 Wfr notrthfe' fira'ai^t
he's stopped at the master's, but of a Christmas eve I know nothing but what he couldn't help would keep him from us. May the Lord in heaven above bless my boy this night! We'll know all in the mornin', plaze God." And truly she knew all in the morning. With the first sun ray, Mrs. O'Halloran and her daughter • were up and busied about the work of the house and her preparations for the great festival of the year; they were simple ones, it was true, but they were made for her boy, and the mother's whole heart was in them. As she was iling fresh turf on the fire, the door was arkened by a shadow, and Dan Scanlan assed the threshold, stooping his tall ead under the low lintel as he did so.
" God save all here." It was the usual salutation of the pious peasantry, but there was a hard sound in the words, and Widow O'Halloran did not respond to them. With a sod of turf suspended in her hand, she stood as she had turned at the sound of a voice, aud stared silently into the visitor's dark face. "It' s Christmas lnorniu', thanks be to God; but sure if I was to wish it merry to you, Mrs. O'Halloran, the words 'ud choke me." "An' for why wouldn't you, Dan Scanlan ? The bad drop is in you to me an' mine, but why would a hypocrite's ? words choke you more now nor any other time ?" " You're hard on me, ma'am, but God knows I don't mind what the mother's breakin' heart'll say." "The mother's breakin' heart! What does the b'y mane?" Something she saw of pretended pity in the villain's face was like a revelation to her, and her poor face became paler than the broad borders of her muslin cap. Dropping the turl from her trembling hand, she darted to Dan's side, seized him with a terrible grip, and shook him violently. " Murderer ! " she shrieked ; " what have you done with my boy ? "
Dan's haggard countenance grew paler than ashes as he staggered under her sudden attack, but he recovered himself quickly and shook the woman off roughly. "You're mad, Mary O'Halloran! Stand off, I say ! Keep your bad names for your own breed! Murderer, indeed; it's your darlin' Dennis that's that, an' in Cahirbeg gaol for it this blessed Chrisimas mornin'." " What! What's that you say ? " The Jfidow O'Halloran had stood still whfcn; he'^pushed her back, and now, with extended hands that shook like leaves, and staring, horrified eyes, looked her son'(9 bitter enemy in the face. " I say that Mr. Wallins was murthered ast night on the road below, an' that our son was taken wid his blood on his ands. It's well known that the master ev him the Sack yesterday, an' that here was bad blood in it. I kem this ornin' to break it to ye, Mary O'Haloran, and here's me thanks."
She listened to the end, slowly but surely comprehending that her son had been accused of murder, and then she opened her mouth and tried to gasp out some words, vainly ; the power was, however, denied her, and she fell to the floor as one struck for death. "Lookafther your mother, Ellen," he said to the daughter, who had just returned from milking the cow; "its very hard on her, I know, but she shouldn't accuse no man wrongfully for all that." He went to the fire, and stooped to light his pipe. There was no one to watch, or they might have seen how the hand that held it shook as he pressed the bowl into a living sod to secure a light ; but when he had put the pipe into his mouth,- and drawn it once or twice, he went out with-
out one look at the woman lying on'the floor with her grey, dishonoured head in her daughter's lap. Never in the whole townland of Cahirbeg had a feeling of sympathy been more universal than in this crushing affliction which had befallen Widow 0'Halloran. Out pi the wide circle thatkiiew and valued the frank, generous nature of the accused youth, there was soarcely one who doubted his lnnooence of the crime. If 1 the vociferations of driiriage'd friends on Hs behaliy and persistence of his innocenbe' as a certainty that' it was folly to dispute, cbuld' have helped' pbbr Dennis O'Halloran in' any way, he : shonld never have appeared before an^ ijar to ataswer for so toul a crime. 'But. fce ; did appear, and verf ifcca&y aftefc' mital. Itfo hijpten^d tnait 'tire GiWbeg assizes w^ onrwiflift. iiefurday^f && murder, and bnth^^ay^tenDymBTvas brought;#eft>fe ^e .jfi^' ^ ^i^gd with theMendlyd-dwdbs Dennis, wtt pla^eS mo&ii&fB
agonized countenance, ana then the fine features worked convulsively and the firm lips trembled like a girl's. " I'm innocent, mother; as the Xord above sees me, I'm innocent of this," lie said. '' Don't I know it, ma bouchal macree," she cried ; " and'may the heavy curse ov God rest on all liars this day." As she uttered the words her blazing eyes sought out the craven Scanlan. He stood behind a small party of relations, ready to give the false evidence that was to consign his rival to death; but if ever sin dwelt in a dark face it spoke in the face of Dan Scanlan that bitter day. Like one in a fearful divara, the wretched mother of the prisoner listened to the damning evidence against her son. With one bony hand grasping the rail inside where her boy stood in charge, and with the other clutching the heavy folds of her long cloth cloak to her broken heart, she watched every word as it fell from Dan Scanlan's lips. As link by link he forged the chain of lying evidence, her gaunt face hardened and whitened, until, when his words ceased, she stood more like a rigid pillar of stone than the semblance of a living woman. She never once looked at her boy. Oh ! God, she dared not! The face she had cradled on her bosom; tho lips her mother lipB had kissed ; the eyes whose light waB her life, that the perjured words of the liar before her had quenched for ever! There was not a sound in the court; every eye was fixed on the mother's awful gaze, that seemed to transfix the liar where he stood, for his haggard face grew whiter with every passing moment, and his eye wild with fear.
"May the curse of the livin' Lord of truth rest on your head from this'time forth an' forever more, Daniel Scanlan," the widow said, as she lifted both lean hands and stretched them solemnly toward him, the heavy cloak falling from her arms like the folds of a prophet's mantle. " May a broken-hearted widow's ban dry the marrofr in your bones, an' wither the heart within ye, if ye have a heart!" she added with a heartrending shriek-—"if a villain that lies before God to spill innocent blood can have a heart to wither. The blood of my darlin' boy is on your head this day, and the cursa of God will make it heavier than a mountain ! See ! it's workin'! The Lord be praised this day of vengeance!" As she spoke, the face of the perjured man grew whiter than dead ashes, and the horror of a mighty fear'gathered in his staring eyes; his outstretched hands grasped spasmodically at the empty air, aud with a smothered groan he fell to the floor, face downward, and with a heavy sound that had the horror of death in it.
This terrible episode had interrupted the business of the court, but as they carried the real murderer of Mr. Wallins out stone dead, the judge was about to charge the jury, when a fair girl, with a white face and dishevelled hair, rushed into the court and bounded to the side of the prisoner's dock. For one instant she gazed around her bewildered, and with quick, panting gasps tried to regain her breath, until her eyes fell upon the face of her lover, when she grasped the rail of the dock and shook it with the despera. tion of a half-maddened mind. "Oh! Dennis, Dennis! is it here they have ye, an' I never to know! Stan' back, father if they kill him, onther your roof Til never put fut again ! You tould me the bitter lie, to shut me mouth an' lave the blood of a widow's son on me head! How could he shoot the ma^ther ?" she asked, as she turned suddenly aud faced the judge on the bench. " How could he do it, I say, when he stud by me at Slie ve-barjsa'well when 'twas done;?' *
"Do you- mean to say that you can swear the prisoner was not near the spot when the shot was fired ?" the judge asked, gently. "I mane to' aware that the castle dinner-bell rang'just-before the shot was firedy and that' when it was fired, your honour,, my head was lyin' in his- breast an'-his arms-were around me'! What for would I be ashamed ?" she cried, as the red 'blood mounted up to the roots of heir dark hair. " Isn't Dennis's mother the same as me own?" 'A cheer- from lusty throats' and warm JDrish hearta seemed as though -it would rand' t!he roof off Wb 'old' Cahirbeg coarthousp ''as ; Mary turnied'aWd L liid'fier face otf Widow O'HaUbrati's breaat. ; "My gra «gir]|T» ; she whibpered solemnly, as Dennis -t6ok possession of one trembling ' hand. Tola have sated the widows ^n 1 ,^ thwbiee^ ofGod'tt he on yojir ; ;daflih , 'head fbr ! evBi'm6re. Aaren!" li^Thift'B.^ro^ geanbfr!" excl Orowii ^bsecn. theiSih-tj'fftnid'tiiefij Winn Ten: 5 J iiSr',-5 tiiU',: igissjrwr want's
passed a group gathered around the body of & d6ad man ; it waft the corpse of D«m Sftanlan. The doctor's finding w£s disease Of the h*tft,but well the primitive hefcrtB of Oappoquin and Cahirbeg knew that the hand of God fell from the " Widows Ban."