Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VIII.: IRISH FATALITY. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3
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Chapter VIII.: IRISH FATALITY. - 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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Dora was long in gaol before she could form an idea what was to become of her. The place was crowded, in consequence of the late disorders in her native district; and her child pined for want of the bracing air to which it had been accustomed from its birth. Night after night when she was kept awake by its wailing, day after day when she marked how its little limbs wasted, did the mother sigh to be one of those whose lot she had till now thought very wretched. Site would fain have been among such as were driven from the glen to seek a subsistence in the towns, begging by day, and nestling wherever they could find a hole by night. When she was brought into the town, she met several of these, whose faces she well knew, changed as they were from the cheerful or thoughtful countenances of dwellers in a home to the listless or bold expression of which characterises vagrants. She now envied them their freedom, however mournful their condition in other respects. They might carry their babes abroad into the free air, and if too much crowded in their noisome abodes, sleep under the open sky. They might meet their proscribed connexions, if such they had, without other restraints than their own prudence imposed: while she must see her infant languish for want of that which nature designed for all; and live on from day to day without hope of beholding husband or father, or of knowing what had become of them.
The first relief she found was in forming a desperate resolution respecting her infant. She had passed a long, wakeful night in such a state of distress as even she had seldom known. The heat was stifling, from many sleepers being collected within a small space. Her child would not lie still on her bosom one moment. Sometimes screaming, sometimes wailing, its signs of suffering wrung its mother's heart. She was first irritated and then terrified by the complaints of all who were disturbed like herself, and who seemed to think it her fault that the child would not rest. Hour after hour was she kept on the stretch, watching for tokens of fatigue from the child, or of mercy from her neighbours; but the heat increased, fresh cries wore her nerves, and new threats of getting rid of the nuisance made her feel as if every pulse in her body would burst. She threw herself down on her pallet, on the side of which she had been sitting, and closed her eyes and ears, muttering—
“God help me! and take me and my child where we may sleep in peace and no waking! My mind is just going as it did one night before; and let it go, if my child was but safe with its father. Little would it matter then what became of me; for Dan and I shall never meet more. O! hush, my child! hush! I could part with you for ever if I could only ease you from wailing, and from this sore strife. There is a curse upon me, and upon you while you live on my bosom. You never caress me, my child; you struggle out of my grasp! Other babes clasp their mothers, but you push me away. Well you may! God gave you free and strong limbs and an easy breath; and 'tis I that have laid a withering curse on your flesh, and a heavy load on your little breast. 'Tis I that have dropped poison in your veins. You shall go, my child. I will bear to be haunted all my days with your screams and your throes; I will bear to lie down without you, and wake, feeling for you in vain; I will bear to fold my empty arms when I see babes laughing in the sunshine, and wonder whether you are playing on the sod or lying beneath it,— if I can free you from my curse, and trust your little life to those who can nourish it better than I. O hush! my child. Bear with me this last night! If I could but see you but once. more quiet, if you would only once lay your little hand on my lips, if you would but look at me!— Again, again, again! your life will be spent, my child; you will die before I can save you!— O, neighbours! do ye think it's my will that my child should suffer this way? Do you think its cries do not pierce my ears more than yours? Is it worse for you to lose a night's sleep than for me to be parting with my child for ever?”
The softened grumblers inquired the meaning of her words, and praised her for intending to send the babe out of the gaol immediately, only complaining that it had not been done long before. All were ready to help her with suggestions how to dispose of it; none of which suggestions, however, satisfied her.
All difficulty on this head was removed the next day by the appearance of Father Glenny, who came, as he had done once or twice before, to administer to the religious wants of several of his flock who had found their way hither. He was shocked at the change in Dora since he last saw her, and thought the child dying. He engaged at once to have it carried out of the prison and conveyed into safe hands. Whose hands these were, he could not disclose, as Sullivan's retreat was made known to him under the seal of confession, and the circumstances must not be revealed even to the old man's only child. Of Dan the priest had heard nothing. No one had seen or heard of him since some days previous to Dora's capture.
The only thing which struck the priest as remarkable in Dora's state of mind was her utter indifference respecting her approaching trial. It seemed never to occur to her; and when she was reminded of it, it appeared to be regarded as a slight and necessary form preliminary to her going away for ever. She never took in the idea of acquittal, or remembered that she had a part to perform, and that she was one of two contending parties, with either of whom success might rest. She made no complaints of being a passive instrument in the hand of power, or of any hardship in the treatment she had experienced or was still to bear. She made no preparation of her thoughts for defence or for endurance. She was utterly unmindful of what was coming, taking for granted that she should never more see her husband, and beyond this, having no thought where she was to spend her days, or how she was to end them. This state appeared so unnatural, that the priest, after enlarging in vain on her accusation and means of defence, ventured to rouse her by mentioning a report he had heard that an attempt was to be made to rescue her and her companions by breaking the gaol before the trials, or by attacking the guard which should conduct some to tile gibbet and others to the coast, when their doom was to be enforced. For a moment a gleam of hope kindled in her eyes; but she immediately observed that if the report was abroad, the magistrates were no doubt on their guard, and the white-boys would ascertain the attempt to be vain before they committed themselves. After this, however, it was observed that she could recollect nothing. She had nothing to confess, nothing to ask for, no messages to leave, no desires to express. With a dull, drowsy expression of countenance, she looked at the priest when he rose to leave her, and seemed to ask why he stood waiting.
“Your child, my daughter,” said he, extending his arms to receive the babe.
With a start and a flushed cheek, she hastened to wrap it in the only garment of her own which she could spare to add to its scanty clothing. After a cold kiss, she placed it in the arms of its new guardian, saying with a stiff smile,
“I wonder whether there are any more such mothers as I am! I forget all about my child's coming to me, and I don't think I care much about its going from me. I'm past caring about any thing at times.”
“And at other times, daughter——”
“Hush, hush, hush! don't speak of them now. Well; there have been widowed wives and childless mothers; and I am only one more; and what is to come is dark to us all, except that there is death for everybody.—No blessing, father, to-day! It has never done me any good, and I cannot bear it. Try it upon that little one, if you like.”
As soon as the priest was gone, muttering amidst his tears the blessing to which she would not listen, Dora threw herself down on her pallet and instantly slept. She scarcely woke again till called up, eight and forty hours after, to prepare for trial.
Sleep had restored her to perfect sanity, and a full and deep consciousness of her misery. A demeanour of more settled sorrow, a countenance more intensely expressive of anguish, were never seen in that or any other court. She was silent from first to last, except when called upon for the few necessary words which her counsel could not say for her. Though deeply attentive to the proceedings, she appeared to sustain no conflict of hope and fear. In her mind it was evident that the whole matter was settled from the beginning.
She had all that law and justice, the justice of a law court, could give her. Her countrymen must still wait for the more enlightened law, the more effectual justice whose office is rather to obviate than to punish crime: but all that pertains to law and justice, after the perpetration of crime, Dora had, both in the way of defence and infliction. She had good counsel, an impartial jury, a patient and compassionate judge. She was accordingly fairly tried and condemned to transportation for life, on the first charge; the second was waived as unnecessary, the issue of the first being a conviction.
As the condemned was leaving the court, she heard (for on this day nothing escaped her) the lamentations of one who had known her from her infancy, over her having had an education. “If she had never been taught to write,” urged her sage neighbour, “this murtherous letter could never have been brought against her.” To which some one replied that she would still have been convicted of perjury.
“Is there no language to threaten in,” asked Dora, speaking rapidly as she passed, “but that which is spelled by letters? Overthrow every school in the country, empty all your ink into the sea, make a great fire of all your paper, and you will still find threats inscribed wherever there is oppression. There will be pictures traced in the sands of the sea-shore; there will be pikes stuck up on each side the doors; there will be mock gibbets for signals, and a multitude of scowling brows for warnings. Let those who are above us look within themselves, and as sure as they find these traces of tyrannical desires, will they see round about them marks of revengeful plots, though the people under them may be as brutish in their ignorance as slaves in their bondage. When do prosperous men plot, or contented men threaten, or those who are secure perjure them-selves, or the well-governed think of treachery? Who believes that conspiracy was born in our schools instead of on our cold hearths, or that violence is natural to any hands but those from which their occupation and their subsistence are wrenched together? The school in which my husband and I learned rebellion was the bleak rock, where famine came to be our teacher. A grim set of scholars she had——”
“What is the prisoner talking about?” cried a potential voice from behind. “Remove her, officer!”