Imagens das páginas

But when they came into the yard, and saw instead of the fragrant manure heap a plot of grass neatly laid out and bordered with huge stones, limewashed and irregular; and when they saw the old thatched barns no more, but well-built stone and slated houses, where seven milch cows were stalled ; and when they saw a high, well-thatched home before them, with large windows instead of the wretched holes that formerly let in, or were supposed to let in, light and air, their astonishment knew no bounds.

All the neighbors had congregated in the yard and stood on the ditches, to see the "coming home” of the victims of landlord greed; and as they entered the yard there was a mighty cheer that rent the heavens, and a chorus of “Cead mille failtes !” and “Welcome home !" that stunned the poor people with its heartiness and sympathy.

Then Hugh Hamberton and his ward came forward, and stood beneath the lintel of the door; and the former putting up his hand to command silence, and drown the tremendous cheer with which his presence was hailed, there was an instant hush -the hush of great expectation and delight.

Hamberton looked around slowly and contemptuously on the multitude that was thickly wedged together; and his silence made theirs the deeper. Then he spoke in the calm, even way that Englishmen affect; and, although he was good-humored and genial, he could not restrain a certain tone of disdain that accompanied his words.

My friends," he said, “a certain English statesman has declared his belief that the Irish are a race of lunatics, and that this country is one huge, but not well-protected, asylum (great laughter); and another English statesman has registered his opinion that the Irish are a race of grown-up children (much laughter, but not so great). To this latter opinion I am disposed to incline. You're a wonderful people for seeing around a corner, or watching what is occurring at the poles; but you can't see straight before you, or what is under your eyes (slight tittering and rising expectation). For example, you have rushed to the conclusion that the reinstatement of the poor family in their farm and home is my work. (Cries of 'So it is, yer anner!'"'Twas you did it !' 'God bless you !') You were never more mistaken in your lives. All that I did was to act as a kind of agent or supervisor for the man that, in a spirit of unbounded generosity, has brought about the happy event. I am pleased to be able to claim that much for myself; but no more. (Cries of 'You'd do it, if you could!' "'Twasn't from want of the will !') That's all right! But now let me explain; and the best way to do so is in the form of a story.”

The great crowd pushed up, as they do at the sermon at Mass on Sunday in the country chapels, and hung upon his words.

“In a certain club in Dublin," Hamberton said, “not many months ago, there were grouped together a number of landlords, who had met to settle how they should deal with their tenantry during the coming winter. They had almost unanimously agreed that the good old system of grinding and crushing the tenantry should be kept up cries of 'Bad luck to them!' * We wouldn't doubt them !' etc.); that there were to be no reductions and no sales. Well, one young gentleman ventured to protest. He had been reading and thinking a good deal about things in general. And he had come to the conclusion, which you will agree with me was utterly absurd, that he had some business to do on this earth besides squeezing the last farthing from tenants, and squandering it on horses and dogs. (Cries of 'Oyeh! Begor, that was the quare landlord !' 'We wish we had more like him!') He also maintained that it was not quite true that the farmers lived better than the landlords; that they had fresh meat three times a day (great laughter); that there was a piano in every cottage ; and that each farmer's wife had a sealskin coat and silver fox furs (redoubled laughter). Well, he was contradicted and refuted; and then—"

Hamberton paused for effect; and the silence became painful from the suppressed excitement of the people.

Then,” he continued, “ this young gentleman was challenged to prove it; he was challenged to go down and live amongst the peasantry for twelve months, as a common farm-hand; to share their labor, their food, their hardships. Strange to say, he consented. He put aside everything that belonged to him as a gentleman; and he went down and became an ordinary farm-hand.”

Here there was a great commotion in the silent crowd, for Mrs. McAuliffe was crying and sobbing, and trying to say something, which her tears wouldn't allow. Debbie had turned quite pale. Hamberton sternly commanded silence. He knew the secret was leaking out; and that would never do. He could not allow his dramatic ending of the story to be anticipated. But he was almost disconcerted by the fierce, anxious look which the girl now fastened on him.

“After tramping around here and there," continued Hamberton, “the farmers naturally refusing to employ such a whitehanded, white-faced laborer, he came to a certain place, where he was at last taken in. He was footsore, hungry, tired, and heartily sick of his job, but he got good food and drink and a welcome there ; and there he remained for some months, not doing much, as you may suppose, because these landlords, whilst they reap the profits, are not much used to the labor. Then he fell sick, and was nursed as carefully as by his mother. At last, owing to one cause or another, the poor family, with whom he was housed, were flung upon the world. His heart was bleeding for them; but it was too soon to show himself; and besides, he wanted to see all that landlordism could do ; and, again, he wanted to be able to build up the fortunes of that poor family so that they could never be disturbed again. The day of the eviction he interfered for that purpose, and, as is usual in Ireland, he was misunderstood. He got more curses than thanks, more kicks than half-pence. It is a little way you have in this country of rewarding your friends."

Here old Mrs. McAuliffe got in a word:

"I never misdoubted him, yer 'anner! I knew he was good; and I said: 'Good-bye ! and God bless him!'"

This interlude excited now the greatest interest in the crowd. They were on the eve of great revelation evidently; and they crushed in and around the speaker, their mouths wide open in expectation.

“ Hold your tongue, ma'am,” said Hamberton sternly, “till I am done. Then you can talk your fill.”

“Well," he continued, "the strangest thing remains to be told. This young gentleman, for amusement sake, was in the habit of going up alone into the hills, and there giving out aloud, or, as they call it, declaiming, certain passages from an obscure and legendary writer, called Shakespeare. Some of those were murderous and bloodthirsty, and some were soft and pleasant. The bloodthirsty ones were overheard by a certain boy and girl, whose names I won't mention, but who acted as spies on his movements; and, in a moment of passion, informations were sworn against this young gentleman on the ground of murder; and he was arrested. I hope that young lady is sorry for her actions now; but it led the way to the revelation. He was obliged now to throw off the mask and show himself; and, besides, the time had come to accomplish the work on which he had set his heart."

Hamberton paused, to emphasize the end of his dramatic story ; and there was the deepest silence now in the vast crowd.

“That work was this. He purchased the farm on which he had lived as farm laborer for so many months, and made over by deed, solemnly executed and witnessed, the fee-simple in that farm forever to the people who had so well treated him; he had spent a sum of eight hundred pounds besides on the place, and made it a worthy residence forever for these poor people. I suppose I need hardly add that the farm is Lisheen; that it was the McAuliffes that sheltered this gentleman in his hour of need; and that that gentleman, who came down in disguise from his position to see and alter the fortunes of the people, is Robert Maxwell, Esq., J.P. and D.L. for this County, late farmhand at Lisheen, and still steward at Brandon Hall."

There was silence during the revelation. Then a faint cheer. Hamberton was disappointed. He expected an earthquake.

You don't understand, I see,” he said.

They looked at one another, uncertain what to think. The truth was, that the story was so strange as to be almost incredible. It seemed to block the avenues of their minds, and they could not take it in. They continued staring at one another and Hamberton irresolutely. Then he took out the deed, and calling Owen and Mrs. McAuliffe over to where he was standing, he read out the deed of transfer slowly and solemnly. And then he led them into their new house, theirs forever and evermore.

At this juncture there was a wild burst of cheering, which was repeated when Hamberton again came forward and took in Pierce and Debbie.

Once again he came forth, and said to some peasants standing near:

“Do you understand me? I say it was Maxwell, my steward and landlord, who has done this sublime and magnificent act towards his friends."

“ We do-0-0," said the men hesitatingly. The fact was they could not, all of a sudden, get over their feeling of hostility towards Maxwell.

“Then, d- you, why don't you give one decent cheer or yell for him?"

“Why don't ye cheer ?” said one peasant.
Yerra, yes; why don't ye cheer ?" said another.

But they couldn't. And Hamberton, turning to his ward, said: “You see Maxwell was right in not coming hither. They'd have stoned him."

But he said, with a gesture of contempt towards the crowd: “ There! There's two or three tierces of black porter in the barn. Perhaps ye'll cheer now!"

They laughed at his eccentricity, and said to one another : “Begor, he's the funny man!”

It was somewhat different in the interior of the cottage, when they re-entered to say good-bye to the occupants.

“You understand, I suppose,” he said, “ that this place, and all things on it, and belonging to it, are yours for evermore; and that no landlord, or agent, or official of any kind can ever interfere with you again ?"

The men looked too stupified to say anything. They couldn't realize it. The change from the direst poverty to affluence, from a prison to such a home, was too stupendous to be im. mediately understood. But the old woman grasped the situation at once.

“We do, your 'anner,” she said. “An' sure the grate God must be looking afther us to sind us such a welcome!”

We—11, yes, I suppose"; said Hamberton, not quite understanding where supernatural influences came in. know, you understand, that it is Mr. Maxwell—the boy that was here, do you understand ?—that has done all this. These stupid people outside can't grasp it. But you do, don't you ? " .

Oyeh, av coorse, we do," said the old woman. God power his blessings down an him every day he lives; and sind him every happiness, here and hereafter."

“Nice return you made him for all his goodness,” said Hamberton, turning suddenly on Debbie. “You wanted to hang the man who was restoring to you and yours all you had lost."

This was the first time that her parents had heard of Debbie's depositions against Maxwell. They looked amazed. Hamberton saw it.

“But you

• And may

« AnteriorContinuar »