Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter IV: IRISH CRIME. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3
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Chapter IV: IRISH CRIME. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 3.
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The Sullivans and Mahonys were not immediately pursued. Dora watched by day and listened by night, in vain, for tokens of the approach of enemies, till she began to believe, as she was told, that the place of their retreat was not known; or, if known, was supposed to be so surrounded by a disaffected and desperate peasantry, as to render any attack too perilous to be attempted. That this last supposition was true she had some reason to believe, though she knew little more than Mr. Flanagan himself what was passing around her. Her father disappeared the day after their arrival on the coast; but he had since looked in on them, twice at night and once early in the morning which seemed to prove that his abode was not very distant from theirs. He brought with him each time a supply of whiskey for his sick wife, who was failing fast, and able to enjoy little besides a drop of spirits to warm her. These gifts, coupled with what Sullivan had let fall about what went on in the bog, led Dora to think that he had connected himself with an illicit distillery in the neighbourhood; but no confession could she get from him but eloquent gestures and significant snatches of song. Dan was yet more mysterious. His tenderness to his wife in great measure returned after the night of the flitting, but there was no confidence with it. He went and came at all hours, never saying where he had been, or how long he should be absent; but always desiring her not to be uneasy, and showing that he thought of home during his excursions by bringing little comforts for her mother and herself, which she wondered how he could procure. Once he threw over her shoulders a cloak which was much less rent and tattered than her own; another time he produced a packet of tea for his mother-in-law; and with it a handsome teapot and cups nicely secured in straw: lastly appeared a piece of fine linen for the use of the expected baby. Dan expected very warm thanks for this, as he knew that Dora's great anxiety was on account of nothing being provided for her little one, who would too probably scarcely outlive its birth in circumstances of destitution: but Dora looked at her husband with anguish in her countenance, saying,
“O, husband, you would not doom your child before it is born! You will not wrap it about with crime as soon as it sees the light! This is not earned, Dan. It cannot be yours; and my child shall not be touched with that which is stolen.”
Dan, far from being angry, coolly observed that when there was an end of justice, there was an end of law. If he was cut off from earning what he wanted, he must take it where he could get it; and to take it thus was a less crime than to let his family die of hunger, and his child of cold, while food and clothing were within reach. In answer to his wife's timid questions what this would avail him when the law was urged against him, and soldiers were dogging his heels, he laughed, and said that if the gentry brought the matter to that pass, he and others must fight for it. They had driven him out, and must not wonder if he did not come in again at their beck and call. If the orderlies chose to try their strength against the desperates, there should be a fair battle. He was ready to fight bravely or to swing merrily, according as the powers decreed the one party or the other to prevail.
Dan could not succeed in any degree in imparting his spirit of recklessness to his wife. She became more thoughtful as he grew less so: a deeper and deeper melancholy shaded her countenance. Her form wasted, her spirits were hurried, and she seemed unable to control her temper by other means than perfect silence. Instead of soothing her mother's complaints, and patiently answering her incessant questions, as formerly, she heard the former in silence, and escaped as often as possible from the latter. Her practice was to set within the old woman's reach whatever she was likely to want, and then wander out, sometimes sitting on a perilous projection of the cliff to watch the swell of the sea, and sometimes hiding herself in a cave immediately below the cabin; whence she would come forth occasionally, climb the cliff laboriously, peep in at the door stealthily, to see if she was wanted within, and creep down again to her place of idleness and solitude. Yet it would seem as if, even in this place, she heard her husband's step from a distance, so invariably did she appear as he approached. At other times she came forth when it was not Dan moving over the bog, but some less welcome visitor; and then she turned back quickly and tried to evade observation. One woman, and another and another, came to visit her, she knew not whence nor why; but they were of a more companionable nature than herself, and gave broad hints that as their husbands or fathers or sons were united in enterprise, the women should be so in confidence; and would have told many a horrible tale of what was nightly done and daily suffered by the band they professed to belong to. Dora always stopped such communications at the outset; professing that Dan and she belonged to nobody and nobody to them, and that all she wished for was, to live alone and be left quiet. She did not so much as know where her visitors came from, she said. They pointed, some to the bog, some to the rocks, and others to little mounds of turf, from which a thin blue smoke was seen at times to curl up. Some hinted at an intention of building cabins on the cliff, near hers; to which she gave no encouragement. This kind of reception did not tempt them to repeat their visits very often, and after a short time, Dora flattered herself she had got rid of all intruders. She was not deceived. In a little while she was solitary enough.
It was a December night, wrapt in that kind of gloom which is as a stifling pall descending to shroud the world, when a vessel came ashore almost directly below Dan's dwelling. How the accident happened, those on board were wholly ignorant. They had believed themselves acquainted with the coast, and felt themselves secure while the beacon glimmered south-east of them. It did, indeed, only glimmer; but the fog lay so thick, that the wonder was how the beacon could be seen at all. What wind there was blew directly on shore; so that it was too late, when the vessel was once among the breakers, to preserve her. She struck; and with the first cry uttered by her crew, the supposed beacon vanished. The shouts of the mariners rose at intervals amidst the hoarse music of the waves, which renewed their dirge with every human life that they swept away. All might have been saved if there had been a ray of light to guide their efforts; but, murky as it was, they struggled in vain, while wave upon wave, without a moment's pause, found them full of desperate effort, and left them less able to encounter its successor. The first man that gained a footing on the beach found himself unable to yield the slightest assistance to his companions, and looked about for signs of human habitation. The only token was a feeble gleam from Dan's cabin, towards which he directed his steps, not perfectly satisfied at first whether it was light from a dwelling on an eminence, or a star seen through an opening in the gloom. Tripping, stumbling, now climbing, now falling, but still shouting all the time, he pursued his way in a direct line to the light, fearing every moment that it would vanish, like the supposed beacon, and leave him no choice but to sit down and wait on the spot for day. When he had drawn near enough to feel pretty secure of his object, his shout was suddenly answered by many voices, in immediate succession and from different distances; and moving lights at once appeared along the whole face of the cliff. A man started out from the darkness on either hand of the astonished sailor, and told him he was going the wrong way for assistance, there being none but women above. The sailor, on whom, being a foreigner, this information was lost, swore his deepest oaths at them for their delay, and for the artifice by which he suspected the vessel had been purposely brought on shore. His wrath, vented in unintelligible threats, was only laughed at.
“Be easy, now,” said one. “Sure it takes a man a long time to wake with such a lullaby going on all the while.”
“Sure a darker curtain was never about a sleeping man's head than this fog,” observed another.
“The beacon!” exclaimed a third; “it's just the drop made you see double, that's all. The beacon is far away south, and yon cabin's the only light.”
Their explanations were as much wasted as the foreigner's wrath; and after a prodigious expense of eloquence on both sides, recourse was had to action, the purport of which was presently intelligible enough. A shrill whistle set all the wandering lights converging towards the beach: the sailor's two guides, whose outer garment was a shirt, bound round the waist with a hayband, in which pistols and knives were stuck, slung their lanterns to their belts, seized each an arm of the stranger, and led him rapidly down the cliff. Instead of permitting him to proceed towards the wreck, they ordered him into the cave whither Dora often resorted, and set a guard of two men over him. One after another, five of his companions were brought to join him, the guard being strengthened in proportion. When no more live men could be found about the wreck, a small supply of food and spirits, and materials for making a fire, were sent into the cave, as an intimation that all the business was over in which the crew was to have any share. The poor wretches, soaked, battered, exhausted in body, and harassed in mind with grief and panic, were not interfered with by their guards, except when their lamentations became dangerously audible.
The work of violence on the beach meanwhile went on rapidly: all that the vessel contained was seized, and put out of sight, and great part of the wreck broken up and carried away before morning. The aim of some of the people employed was the very amusing joke of persuading the foreigners, on bringing them out into the daylight, that their vessel had been conjured away bodily to a distant point, whither they were to be sent to seek it. These people were scarcely aware how some of their noisy operations were heard by the crew, and how well they understood the knocking, heaving, and crashing, and especially the shouts which followed every grand achievement in the process of destruction.
Dan was among the plunderers. He was not at liberty to decline any enterprise proposed by the captain of the gang with which he had associated himself; and on his return from a distant expedition, which had detained him from his home for some days, he found himself called upon, in fulfilment of his oath, to take part in a scene of plunder, of a kind which he abhorred, in sight of his own dwelling. While he was ordered to rob middlemen, terrify agents, and half-murder tithe-proctors, he discharged his mission with hearty goodwill, under the notion of avenging his own wrongs: but it was quite a different thing to delude foreigners, put them in peril of their lives, and strip them of everything: and he said so. In reply, he was reminded of his oath (an oath too solemn to be slighted), and immediately commanded, as a test of obedience, to take up a bale of goods from the wreck, and carry it up to find houseroom in his cabin. He did so with a heavy heart, dreading thus to meet Dora, after a separation of some days. She had never yet seen him equipped as a whiteboy, or been expressly told what occupation he followed.
He paused outside, leaning against the doorless entrance to watch what was passing within. All was so strange and fearful, that a deadly horror came over him, lest the one whom he saw moving about should not be the real Dora, but some spirit in her likeness. She was employed about her mother's corpse, which lay on the bare ground. Her motions were so rapid as to appear almost convulsive. Now she kneeled beside the body, straightening the limbs, and striving in vain to cover it completely with a piece of linen which was too small for the purpose; now she fixed her one rush-light in a lump of clay, and placed it at the head; now she muttered from beneath the hair which fell over her face as she stooped; and then, leaning back, uttered the shrill funeral cry with a vehemence which brought some colour back to her ashy pale countenance.
“Whisht, whisht!” muttered she impatiently to herself. “I have given the cry, and nobody comes. Father Glenny forgot me long ago, and my own father has forgot us, and Dan——I don't know what has been done to Dan, and he tells nobody. He won't forget me long, however.”
“Forget you, Dora!” said Dan, gently, as he laid hold of her cloak. “Did I keep my oath so long when you lived in your father's cabin in the glen, and shall I forget you now?”
She folded her arms in her cloak with a look of indifference, as she glanced at the bale he carried.
“O, you have brought a sheet, as I was wanting,” said she; “but where are the candles? I have but this one; and nothing in the way of a shutter or a door, you see; and there's no company come yet; so you will have time. Make haste, Dan.”
“Shall I bid the neighbours to the wake?' inquired Dan, who thought the best way of gaining her attention was to help her to fulfil first the duties to the dead, which rank so high among social obligations in Ireland.
At a sign from her he threw down his load and hastened to the beach, whence he brought a plank, on which to lay the body, candles wherewith to illuminate the bier, and spirits with which to exercise hospitality. He gave notice. at the same time, to his captain and comrade's, that when a blaze should be seen on the cliff, and the funeral lament heard, all would be ready for their reception at the wake:—the burning of the bed of the deceased before the door, and the utterance of the death cry, being the customary mode of invitation to the wakes of the Irish poor.
Dan was yet more struck with the deathlike paleness of his wife's face when he again joined her. He inquired whether any neighbours had helped her to nurse her mother, and whether her rest had been much broken: but she scarcely attended to his questions. She clapped her hands, as if in glee, at sight of what he brought, and seemed altogether so much more like a wilful child, than like his thoughtful and devoted Dora, that the fancy again crossed him that some mocking fiend had taken possession of her form. He asked her, with much internal trembling, whether she had duly prayed this night? She started, and said she had strangely forgotten herself; and forthwith went through her customary devotions in a way which, though hurried, was very unlike any which a fiend would dare to attempt; and Dan was so far satisfied.
“Bring out the bed,” said she, pointing to the straw on which her mother had been wont to lie. “While it is burning, I will raise the cry once more, and see if any one will come.”
Dan moved a bundle which lay on the straw, but let it go again in a pang of horror when the feeble cry of an infant proceeded from it. In an instant he understood all. He took up the child, and placed it on Dora's bosom without saying a word.
“O, my child: aye, I forgot it when I forgot my prayers; but it cannot have been hungry long, I'm thinking. Hold him while I strip off my cloak that keeps me as hot as if I had a fire burning, within me.” And she carelessly slipped the babe into her husband's arms.
“O Dora!” cried he in a choking voice, “is this the way you give a child of ours into my arms for the first time!”
She looked at him with perplexity in her countenance, said she knew nothing at all about it, and before he could prevent her, set fire to the straw, and gave the other appointed signal. Up came the company of whiteboys, crowding round the cabin, rushing to the bier, and exciting Dora more and more every moment by their looks and their proceedings. She now, for the first time, perceived the peculiarity of her husband's dress. She went from one to another, observing upon the arms they carried, and stopped at last before Dan, who was in earnest conversation with his captain.
“So you have enrolled yourself, Dan! So you have plighted and pledged yourself to your band since you swore you would wed me only. Much may they do for you that I could not do! but O, may they never do you the evil that I would not do! They may give you clothes these winter nights, when I have nothing warmer at home for you than my own heart. They may find you whiskey and lights for the wake, and other things as you want them; but they will make you pay more than you ever paid to me, Dan. They will take you among snares in the night: they will set you on other men's beasts to go over bogs where you will sink, and under rocks that will crush you: they will set you where bullets are flying round you; they will put a knife in your hand and make you dip your soul in blood. If you refuse, they will burn you and me together within four walls; and if you agree, they will lead you on to something worse than bogs or rocks, or a soldier's shot: they will send you to be set before the judge, and refused mercy, and then. . . .”
“For Christ's sake stop her!” exclaimed Dan. He seized her hands to prevent her stripping his white-boy uniform from his shoulders, as soon as he had given his baby in charge to a compassion-ate by-stander.
“Move the corpse,” ordered the captain. “' Keep the wake down below, and bring the first woman you can meet with, to tend this poor creature. Clear the cabin instantly.”
“Give the word, captain,” cried one, “and we'll catch a doctor,—the same that we brought blindfold when O'Leary was murthered almost. We'll whip up horses, and have him here and home by noon.”
“No, no; not till we see what the women say. Hilloo, boys! bring out the bier, fair and easy, and decent.”
Dora's struggles to follow were fierce, and her cries at being kept from this duty heart-rending. No one could effectually quiet her till she had been some hours committed to the care of a matron, who was brought from some invisible place to nurse her.
Slowly and sadly she recovered. Some said she was never again the same Dora; but others saw no further change than the melancholy which was likely to become fixed in her by such an experience as her's. She could never recall any circumstances connected with the death of her mother and the birth of her child. She could only suppose, as her husband did, that the old woman's exertions had sufficed for her daughter, and been fatal to herself.
Sullivan made his appearance ere long from underground, where he had been engaged in breaking the laws after his own method. He was duly grieved at having been absent from the burial of his wife; but hoped to atone for the involuntary neglect, by devoting his gains at the still to the purchase of masses for her soul.