Ellen Duncan by William Carleton
There are some griefs so deep and overwhelming, that even the best
exertions of friendship and sympathy are unequal to the task of soothing
or dispelling them. Such was the grief of Ellen Duncan, who was silently
weeping in her lone cottage on the borders of Clare—a county at that
time in a frightful state of anarchy and confusion. Owen Duncan, her
husband, at the period about which our tale commences, resided in the
cabin where he was born and reared, and to which, as well as a few acres
of land adjoining, he had succeeded on the death of his father. They had
not been long married, and never were husband and wife more attached.
About this time outrages began to be perpetrated; and soon increased
fearfully in number. Still Owen and Ellen lived happily, and without fear,
as they were too poor for the marauders to dream of getting much booty by
robbing; and their religion being known to be "the ould religion ov all ov
all," in a warfare that was exclusively one of party, they were more
protected than otherwise. Owen never was particularly thrifty; and as his
means were small, was generally embarrassed, or rather somewhat pinched in
circumstances. Notwithstanding this, however, he was as happy as a king;
and according to his unlettered neighbors' artless praise, "there wasn't a
readier hand, nor an opener heart in the wide world—that's iv he had
id—but he hadn't an' more was the pity." His entire possessions
consisted of the ground we have mentioned, most part of which was so rocky
as to be entirely useless—a cow, a couple of pigs, and the "the uld
cabin," which consisted of four mud walls, covered with thatch, in which
was an opening, "to let in the day-light, an' to let out the smoke." In
the interior there was no division, or separate apartment, as the one room
contained the cooking materials, and all other necessaries, beside their
bed, which was placed close to the fire, and, of course, nearly under the
opening in the roof. If any one spqke to Owen about the chances of rain
coming down to where they slept, his universal answer was, "Shure we're
naither shugar nor salt, anyhow; an' a dhrop ov or a thrifle ov wind, was
niver known to do any body harm—barrin' it brought the typhus; but
God's good, an' ordhers all for the best." Owen had been brought up in
this way, and so he could live by his labor, he never thought of needless
luxuries; and Ellen, seeing him contented, was so herself.
For some months previous to the time of which we write, Owen's affairs had
been gradually getting worse and worse; and it was with no pleasing
anticipations that he looked forward to his approaching rent day. His
uneasiness he studiously kept a secret from his wife, and worked away
seemingly with as much cheerfulness as ever, hoping for better days, and
trusting in Providence! However, when within a week of the time
that he expected a call from the agent, he found that with all his
industry he had been only able to muster five and twenty shillings, and
his rent was above five pounds. So, after a good deal of painful
deliberation, he thought of selling his single cow, thinking that by
redoubled exertion he might after a while be enabled to repurchase her;
forgetting, that before the cow was sold was really the time to make the
exertion. A circumstance that greatly damped his ardor in this design was
the idea of his wife's not acquiescing in it; and one evening, as they sat
together by the light of the wood and turf fire, he thus opened his mind—
"Ellen, asthore, its myself that's sorry I haven't a fine large cabin, and
a power o' money, to make you happier an' comfortabler than you are."
"Owen," she interrupted, "don't you know I'm very happy? an' didn't I
often tell you, that it was the will of Providence that we shud be poor'?
So it's sinful to be wishin' for riches."
"Bud, Ellen acushla, it's growi'n' worse wid us every day; an' I'm afeard
the trouble is goin' to come on us. You know how hard the master's new
agint is—how he sould Paddy Murphy's cow, an' turned him out, bekase
he couldn't pay his rint; an' I'm afeard I'll have to sell Black Bess,'
to prevint his doin' the same wid us."
"Well, Owen agra, we mustn't murmur for our disthresses; so do whatever
you think right—times won't be always as they are now."
"Bud, Ellen," said he, "you're forgettin' how you'll miss the dhrop ov
milk, an' the bit of fresh butter, fur whin we part wid the poor baste,
you won't have even thim to comfort you."
"Indeed, an' iv I do miss them, Owen," she answered, "shure it's no
matther, considherin' the bein' turned out ov one's home into the world.
Remember the ould sayin' ov, 'out ov two evils always chuse the laste;'
an' so, darlint, jist do whatever you think is fur the best."
After this conversation, it was agreed on by both that Owen should set out
the next day but one for the town, to try and dispose of the "cow, the
crathur;" and although poverty had begun to grind them a little, still
they had enough to eat, and slept tranquilly. However, it so happened,
that the very morning on which he had appointed to set out, Black Bess
was seized for a long arrear of a tax that had not been either asked or
paid there for some time, and driven off, with many others belonging to
his neighbors, to be sold. Now you must know, good reader, that there is a
feeling interwoven, as it were, in the Irish nature, that will doggedly
resist anything that it conceives in the slightest or most remote degree
oppressive or unjust; and that feeling then completely usurped all others
in Owen's mind. He went amongst his friends, and they condoled with one
another about their grievances; there was many a promise exchanged, that
they would stand by each other in their future resistance to what they
considered an unlawful impost. When the rent-day came, by disposing of his
two pigs, and by borrowing a little, he was enabled to pay the full
amount, and thus protract for some time the fear "ov bein' turned out on
Some days after the whole country was in a tumult—Daly, "the
procthor," was found murdered in the centre of the high road; and there
was no clue perceptible, by which the perpetrators of the crime could be
discovered. The very day before, Owen had borrowed the game-keeper's gun,
to go, as he said, to a wild, mountainous part of the country to shoot
hares; and from this circumstance, and his not having returned the day
after, a strong feeling of suspicion against him was in the minds of most.
In fact, on the very evening that we have represented Ellen sitting in
tears, the police had come to the cabin in search of him; and their report
to the magistrate was, that he had absconded. His wife was in a miserable
state of mind, and her whole soul was tortured with conflicting emotions.
Owen's long absence, as well as his borrowing the gun, seemed to bespeak
his guilt; and yet, when she recollected the gentleness of his manner, and
his hitherto blameless life, she could not deem him so, no matter how
circumstances seemed against him. But then, the harrowing idea that it
might be, came in to blast these newly formed hopes, and her state of
suspense was one of deep and acute misery.
She was sitting, as we have said, alone; the fire, that had consisted of
two or three sods of turf heaped upon the floor, had almost entirely gone
out; the stools and bosses were tossed negligently here and there; and the
appearance of the entire apartment was quite different from its usual neat
and tidy trim. Her head was bent a little, and her hands were clasped
tightly around her knees, while her body was swaying to and fro, as if the
agitation of her mind would not allow of its repose. Her eyes were dry,
but red from former weeping; and she was occasionally muttering, "No, he
can't be guilty"—"Owen commit a murdher!—It must be an
untruth!" and such like expressions. Gradually, as she thus thought aloud,
her motions became more rapid, and her cheeks were no longer dry, while
the light that entered through the open door becoming suddenly shaded, she
turned round, and raised her tearful eyes to question the intruder. She
sprang eagerly forward, and hung on his neck, (for it was Owen himself,)
while she! joyfully exclaimed—
"Oh, heaven be praised, yer come back at last, to give the lie to all
their reports, an' to prove yer innocence."
"Ellen, my darlint," he answered, "I knew you'd be glad to get me back,"
and he kissed! again and again her burning lips; "but what do you mane,
acushla?—What reports! do you spake ov, an' ov what am I accused?"
"Oh, thin, Owen, I'm glad you didn't even hear ov id; an' the poliss here
searchin' the house to make you pres'ner. Shure, avick, Bill Daly, the
procthor, that sazed poor Black Bess, was murdhered the very mornin' you
wint to shoot the hares; an' on account ov yer borryin' the gun, an'
threatenin' him the day ov the sale, they said it was you that done id;
but I gev thim all the lie, fur I knew you wor innocent. Now, Owen,
ahagur, you look tired, sit down, an' I'll get you somethin' to ate. Och,
bud I'm 'glad that yer returned safe!"
The overjoyed wife soon heaped fresh turf on the fire, and partly blowing,
partly fanning it into a flame, hung a large iron pot I over it, from a
hook firmly fixed in the wall. While these preparations were going
forward, Owen laid aside his rough outside coat, and going to the door,
looked out, as if in irresolution.
"Ellen," at length said he, turning suddenly round, "I'm thinkin' that I'd
betther go to the poliss barrack an' surrindher—or rather, see what
they have to say agin me; as I'm an innocent man, I've no dhread; an' if I
wait till they come an' take me, it'll look as iv I was afeard."
"Thrue for you, agra," she answered; "bud it's time enough yit a bit—no
one knows ov yer bein' here. You look slaved, an' had betther rest
yerself, an' ate a pratee or two. I have no milk ov my own to offer you
now, but I'll go an' thry an' get a dhrop from a neighbor."
When Ellen returned with a little wooden noggin full, her husband was
sitting warming his hands over the fire; and it was then she recollected
that he had not brought back the gun with him; besides, when she cast a
glance at his clothes, they were all soiled with mud and clay, and torn in
many places. But these circumstances did not for a moment operate in her
mind against him, for she knew from the very manner of his first question,
and the innocence of his exclamation, that the accusations and suspicions
were all false. Even though he had not attempted to explain the cause of
his protracted absence, she felt conscious that it was not guilt, and
forbore to ask any question about it. It was he first opened the subject,
as they sat together over their frugal meal.
"Ellen," said he, "sence I saw you last, I wint through a dale ov
hardship; an' I little thought, on my return, that I'd be accused ov so
black a crime."
"Och, shure enough, Owen darlint; but I hope it 'ill be all for the best.
I little thought I'd see the day that you'd be suspected ov murdher."
"Well, Ellen aroon, all's in it is, it can't be helped. Bud as I was
sayin'—whin I left this, I cut acrass by Sheemus Doyle's, an' so up
into the mountain, where I knew the hares were coorsin' about in plenty. I
shot two or three ov thim; an' as night began to fall, I was thinkin' ov
comin' home, whin I heerd the barkin' ov a dog a little farther up, in the
wild part, where I never ventured afore. I dunna what prompted me to folly
id bud, any how, I did, an' wint on farther an' farther. Well, Ellen agra,
I at last come to a deep valley, full up a'most of furze an' brambles, an'
I seen a black thing runnin' down the edge ov id. It was so far off, I
thought it was a hare, an' so I lets fly, an' it rowled over an' over.
Whin I dhrew near, what was it bud a purty black spaniel; an' you may be
shure I was sorry for shootin' it, an' makin' such a mistake. I lays down
the gun, an' takes id in my arms, an' the poor crathur licked the hand
that shot id. Thin suddenly there comes up three sthrange min, an' sazin'
me as if I wor a child, they carrid me down wid them, cursin' an' abusin'
me all the way. As they made me take a solemn oath not to revale what I
saw there, I can't tell you any more: but they thrated me badly, an' it
was only yestherday I escaped."
"Well, Owen, ahagur, we ought to be thankful that you're back here safe;
bud do you think the magisthrate will be satisfied with this story—they
are always anxious to do justice, but they must be satisfied."
"In throth, they are, machree: but shure I'll sware to id; an', besides,
you know, the raal murdherer may be discovered—for God never lets
it, ov all other crimes, go athout punishment. An' now I'll just go to the
barracks at onst, an' be out ov suspinse."
Ere Duncan had concluded his sentence, the tramp of feet was heard
outside, and in a few seconds the cabin was full of armed men, who came to
take him prisoner. He had been seen entering his cabin; and they
immediately, as soon as they could muster a party, set out to make him
captive. As he was known to most of them, and did not make the slightest
attempt at resistance, they treated him gently, but bound his hands firmly
behind his back, and took every necessary precaution. Though Ellen, while
it seemed at a distance, had conversed calmly about his surrender, she was
violently agitated at the appearance of the armed force. She clung to her
husband's knees, and refused to part with him, wildly screaming, "He's
innocent! My husband's innocent!" and when all was prepared, she walked by
his side to the magistrate's house, (a distance of three miles,) her
choking sobs and burning tears attesting the violence of her uncontrolled
feelings. A short examination was gone through there; and the
circumstantial evidence that was adduced made the case look very serious.
One man positively swore, that he had seen Duncan pass by in the morning,
in the direction where the body was found, and that he was armed with a
gun. Another, that in about an hour afterwards he had heard a shot, but
supposed it was some person coursing, and that the report was just where
the body was found, and where Owen had been seen proceeding to. His only
cow having been seized by Daly, a threat that he was heard uttering, and
his absence from home, was duly commented on; and finally, he was
committed to prison to abide his trial at the Ennis Assizes. While all
this was going forward, Ellen's emotions were most agonizing. She stared
wildly at the magistrate and the two witnesses; and as the evidence was
proceeded with, she sometimes hastily put back her hair, as if she thought
she was under the influence of a dream. But when his final committal was
made out, and her mind glanced rapidly at the concurrent testimony, and
the danger of Owen, she rushed forward, and flinging her arms round him,
"They shan't part us—they shan't tear us asunder! No, no, Owen, I
will go wid you to preson! Oh, is id come to this wid us?—You to be
dhragged from home, accused of murdher—and I—I—Father of
marcies, keep me in my sinses—I'm goin' mad—wild, wild mad!"
"Ellen!" said Owen, gently unwinding her arms, and kissing her forehead,
while a scalding tear fell from his eye on her cheek—"Ellen, asthore
machree! don't be overcome. There's a good girl, dhry yer eyes. That God
that knows I'm guiltless, 'ill bring me safe through all. May his blessin'
be on you, my poor colleen, till we meet agin! You know you can come an'
see me. Heaven purtect you, Ellen, alanna!—Heaven purtect you!"
When he was finally removed, she seemed to lose all power, and but for the
arm of a bystander would have fallen to the ground. It was not without
assistance that she was at length enabled to reach her cabin.
It is strange how man's feelings and powers are swayed by outward
circumstances, and how his pride and strength may be entirely overcome by
disheartening appearances! So it was with Owen: although constantly
visited in prison by his faithful wife—although conscious of his own
innocence—and although daily receiving assurances of hope from a
numerous circle of friends—yet still his spirit drooped; the gloom
of imprisonment, the idea of danger, the ignominy of public execution and
all the horrors of innocent conviction, gradually wore away his mental
strength; and when the assize time approached, he was but a thin shadow of
the former bluff, healthy Owen Duncan. In so short a time as this, can
care and harrowing thought exercise its influence on the human frame!
Never was there a finer or more heavenly morning than that which ushered
in the day of trial. The court-house was crowded to suffocation, the mob
outside fearfully numerous, and never before, perhaps, was Ennis in such a
state of feverish excitement. Daly's murder was as nought in the minds of
all, in comparison with Duncan's accusation. Alas! the former was an
occurrence of too frequent repetition, to be very much thought of; but the
latter—namely, Owen's being suspected—was a subject of the
extremest wonder. His former high character—his sobriety—his
quietness, and his being a native of the town, in some measure accounted
for this latter feeling; and there was an inward conviction in most men's
minds, that he was guiltless of the crime for which he was accused.
Although the court-house was crowded, yet when the prisoner was called to
the bar, a pin could be heard to drop in any part of the place. There was
a single female figure leaning on the arm of an aged and silver-haired,
though hale and healthy countryman, within a few feet of the dock; and as
the prisoner advanced, and laying his hand on the iron railing, confronted
the judges and the court, she slowly raised the hood of the cloak, in
which she was completely muffled, and gazed long and earnestly on his
face. There was in that wistful look, a fear—a hope—an undying
tenderness; and when his eye met hers, there was a proud, yet soft and
warm expression in its glance, that reassured her sinking heart. As she
looked round on the court, and the many strange faces, and all the
striking paraphernalia of justice, a slight shudder crept silently over
her frame, and she clung closer to her companion, as if to ask for all the
protection he could afford. It was Ellen and her father who came, the
former summoned as a witness, and the latter to accompany and support the
daughter of his aged heart.
Duncan was arraigned: and on being asked the usual question of "guilty, or
not guilty?" he answered in a clear, calm voice, "Not guilty, my Lord!"
and the trial proceeded. The same evidence that was given at the
magistrate's house was a second time repeated; and, evidently, its train
of circumstances made a deep impression on the court. While the first part
of the examination was going forward, Ellen remained as motionless as a
statue, scarcely daring to move or breathe; but when the depositions went
more and more against Owen, her respirations became quick, short, and
gaspish; and when the crier desired her to get up on the table, it was
with difficulty that she obeyed him. When seated, she gazed timidly round
on the crowd of counsellors and the judges, as though to bespeak their
sympathy; but then, not meeting a single glance from which to glean even
the shadow of hope, she covered her face with her hands. A moment or two
elapsed, and she grew more assured, and the counsel for the Crown
proceeded with the examination.
"Ellen Duncan, is not that your name?" was the first question.
"It is, Sir," she shrinkingly answered, without raising her eyes.
"Do you know the prisoner at the bar?"
"Do I know the pres'ner at the bar?" she reiterated; "do I know Owen
Duncan? Shure, isn't he my husband?"
"Do you recollect the night of the twenty-first of September?"
"I do, Sir."
"Can you swear to whether your husband was at home on that night or not?"
Her voice faltered a little as she answered in the negative; and on the
presiding judge repeating the question, with the addition of, "Did he
return at all next day?" it seemed as if she first thought that her
answers might criminate him still farther, and clasping her I hands
convulsively together, and raising her face to the bench, while the
scalding tears chased each other down her sunken cheek, she passionately
"Oh, for the love of heaven, don't ask me any thing that 'ill be worse for
him! Don't, counsellor jewel, don't! don't ask me to swear any thing that
'ill do him harm; for I can't know what I'm sayin' now, as the heart
within me is growin' wake."
After a few cheering expressions from the bench, who evidently were much
moved by her simply energetic language and action, she was asked whether
she could tell the Court where her husband spent that and the following
nights; and with all the eagerness that an instantaneously formed idea of
serving him could give, she answered—
"Oh, yis! yis! my Lord, I can. He was in the mountains shootin' wid Phil
Doran's gun, an' he was sazed by some men, that made him stop wid thim,
an' take an oath not to revale who they wor, an' they thrated him badly;
so afther three days he made his escape, and come home to the cabin, whin
he was taken by the poliss."
"One word more, an' you may go down—What was done with that gun?"
The judge's hard and unmoved tone of voice seemed to bring misgiving to
her mind, and she trembled from head to foot as she falteringly answered—
"The wild boys of the mountain kep' it, my Lord, an' so he couldn't bring
id home wid him. But, indeed, my Lord, indeed he's innocent—I'll
swear he never done it! Fur, oh! iv you knew the tindherness ov his heart—he
that niver hurt a fly! Don't be hard on him for the love ov mercy, an'
I'll pray for you night an' day."
This was the last question she was asked, and having left the table, and
regained her former position by her father's side, she listened with
moveless, motionless intensity to the judge's "charge." He recapitulated
the evidence—dwelt on the strong circumstances that seemed to
bespeak his guilt—spoke of the mournful increase of crime—of
laws, and life, and property being at stake—and finally closed his
address with a sentence expressive of the extreme improbability of the
prisoner's defence; for he, on being asked if he had any thing further to
say, replied in the negative, only asserting, in the most solemn manner,
his innocence of the charge.
The jury retired, and Ellen's hard, short breathings, alone told that she
existed. Her head was thrown back, her lips apart, and slightly quivering,
and her eyes fixedly gazing on the empty box, with an anxious and wild
stare of hope and suspense. Owen's face was very pale, and his lips livid—there
was the slightest perceptible emotion about the muscles of his mouth, but
his eye quailed not, and his broad brow had the impress of an unquenched
spirit as firmly fixed as ever on its marble front. A quarter of an hour
elapsed, and still the same agonizing suspense—another, and the jury
returned not—five minutes, and they reentered. Ellen's heart, beat
as if it would burst her bosom; and Owen's pale cheek became a little more
flushed, and his eye full of anxiety. The foreman in a measured,
feelingless tone pronounced the word "Guilty!" and a thrill of horror
passed through the entire court, while that sickness which agonizes the
very depths of the soul convulsed Owen's face with a momentary spasm, and
he faltered "God's will be done." The judge slowly drew on the black cap,
and still Ellen moved not—it seemed as if the very blood within her
veins was frozen, and that her life's pulses no more could execute their
functions. No man, however brave or hardened, can view the near approach
of certain death, and be unmoved; and as that old man, in tremulous tones,
uttered the dread fiat of his fate, Owen's eyes seemed actually to sink
within his head—the veins of his brow swelled and grew black, and
his hands grasped the iron rail that surrounded the dock, as though he
would force his fingers through it. When all was over, and the fearful cap
drawn off, Ellen seemed only then to awake to consciousness. Her eyes
slowly opened to their fullest extent—their expression of despair
was absolutely frightful—a low, gurgling, half-choking sob forced
itself from between her lips, and ere a hand could be outstretched to save
her, she fell, as if quickly dashed to the ground by no mortal power—her
piercing shriek of agony ringing through the court-house, with a fearful,
Evening approached, and the busy crowd of idlers had passed away, some to
brood over what they had seen, and others to forget, in the bustle of
life, that there were woes and miseries in the hearts of their
fellow-beings. Owen was remanded to prison, as his execution was not to
take place till the commission was over, thus giving him more than a week
to prepare for that final doom. The light that struggled through the bars
of his cell rested fully on the stooping figure of his wife, as she bent
over the rude bed on which he lay; and her hot tears fell fast down her
cheeks, as she thought how soon they were doomed to part for ever. Hope
was not, however, entirely dead within her, for the jury had strongly
recommended him to mercy; and ignorant as she was of forms and ceremonies—helpless
as a lone woman in misfortune always is—she had determined on going
to Dublin, to kneel at the feet of the Lord Lieutenant—then the
proud and whimsical Duke of ———, and there to solicit
his pardon. Having hesitated for some time as to the manner in which she
should break it to him, and ask his advice, she thus began—
"Owen, dear Owen! do you know what I've been thinkin' ov, an' where I've
been thinkin' ov goin'?"
There was no answer returned for some time, and on looking at him more
earnestly, she was astonished to find that he had sank into a profound
slumber. "Guilt," thought she, "is not there!" and her resolution was
taken instantly—she would not wake him—she would not let him
know her purpose—and if she succeeded, her eyes flashed through her
tears at the anticipation of his rapturous surprise. Stooping lower, she
gently pressed her lips to his; and kneeling beside his bed, poured forth
a short but fervent prayer to Him in whom alone we can put our trust—"In
whose hand is the soul of every living-thing, and the breath of all
mankind"—"Who preserveth not the life of the wicked, but giveth
right to the poor." There was something exceedingly and touchingly
beautiful in the attitude of that young wife—her hands clasped, her
lips moving with her prayer, like rose-leaves with the evening breeze, and
her upturned face, with its holy and deep religious expression. Having
concluded her fervent petition, she noiselessly arose, and giving her
sleeping husband one long and lingering look of affection, that death
could not estrange, she silently glided from the cell.
On the third night from the events which we have narrated, a poor woman
was observed wending her toilsome way through the streets of the
metropolis. Her appearance bespoke fatigue and long travel; and as she
neared the Upper Castle gate, she had to lean against the railing for
support. The lamps were lighted, carriages rolling to and fro, and all the
buzz of life was ringing in her ears; but, oh! from the expression of pain
and suffering in her face, and the shrinking with which she surveyed the
sentinels pacing up and down, it was evident that her mind but little
accorded with the scenes by which she was surrounded. She slowly and
fearfully entered the wide court-yard—a flood of light was streaming
from the windows of the vice-regal dwelling, and a crowd of idlers stood
around about, viewing the entrance of the visitors, for it appeared as if
there were a revel of some kind going on. Ellen's heart sank within her,
as she heard the carriages rolling and dashing across the pavement, for
she felt that amid the bustle of company and splendor her poor appeal
might be entirely unnoticed. As she waited, she saw several of the persons
assembled thrust; rudely back by the soldiers that were on guard, and when
she advanced a step or two for the purpose of entering, a brute in human
shaped pushed her with a blow of the end of his musket back against the
pillar. He was about to repeat his violence, when the poor creature fell
on her knees before him and screamed—
"Sojer darlin', don't stop me! I'm only goin' in to plade fur my husband's
life, an shure you wont prevent me? I've traveled many a wairy mile to get
here in time; an' oh! fur marcy's sake let me pass."
At this moment the carriage of the eccentric and beautiful Lady ———,
one of the wildest, strangest, and best-hearted females of the Irish
Court, set down its lovely burden. She had seen the whole transaction of
the sentinel, and heard Ellen's pathetic appeal, and her heart was
instantly moved in her favor, for the example of fashion had not yet
frozen up its finer feelings. Partly through the workings of a softened
heart, and partly to make what was then all the rage, a scene or
sensation, she resolved instantly to get her admitted to the presence of
the Duke—nay, to present her herself. She was well known to be a
favorite, and whatever whim of hers took place, no matter how extravagant,
was sure to meet his hearty concurrence. She desired Ellen to rise and
follow her; and the poor creature's eyes streamed with tears as she
invoked a fervent blessing on the head of her lovely protectress. While
passing up the grand staircase, amid the wondering gaze and suppressed
titter of many a pampered menial, she instructed her how to proceed; and
having received a hasty account of all, and desired her not to be
faint-hearted, she turned to the simpering master of ceremonies to tell
him of her "dear delightful freak;" there was a glad smile on her lip, and
a glowing crimson on her cheek, but still there was a glistening moisture
in her fine eyes, that told of soft and womanish feeling.
The Duke was sitting on a chair of crimson velvet; a cushion of the same
costly material supported his feet; and he was looking with an appearance
of apathy and ennui on the splendid group around him. The glitter of the
lights, the lustre of the jewels, and the graceful waving of the
many-colored plumes, gave every thing a courtly, sumptuous appearance, and
the air was heavy with odors, the fragrant offering of many a costly
exotic. Suddenly every eye was turned on the door with, wonder and
astonishment, and every voice was hushed as Lady ———
entered, her cheeks blushing from excitement, and her eye bright with
anticipated triumph. She led the poor and humbly clad Ellen by the hand,
who dared not look up, but with her gaze riveted on the splendid carpet,
was brought like an automaton to the feet of the Duke, where she
mechanically knelt down.
"Will yer Excillincy be plazed," began Lady ———,
playfully mimicking the brogue, "to hear this poor crathur's complaint.
Her husband has been condimned to die for a murdher he didn't commit by no
manner ov manes, as the sayin' is; an' as there was a sthrong
recommindation to marcy, if you'll grant him a reprieve, you'll have all
our prayers, and (in an under tone) your Excillincy knows you want thim?"
The Duke seemed a little bewildered, as if he could not make out what it
meant, and the glittering crowd now surrounded the group; when Ellen, who
had ventured to look timidly up, conceived that the Duke hesitated about
the pardon, (poor creature! she little knew that he had not even heard of
Owen's trial,) eagerly grasped the drapery of his chair, and while the big
tears rolled from beneath her eyelids, exclaimed—
"Oh! may the great and just Providence, that sees the workin' ov all our
hearts, pour a blessin' on yer Lordship's head—may His holy grace be
wid you for iver an' iver, an' do listen to my prayers! My husband is
innocent—an' oh! as you hope for marcy at thee last day, be merciful
"Lady ———," said the Duke, "what is the meaning of all
this—will you explain?"
"Your Excellency," answered she, in the natural sweet pathos of her tones,
"it is a poor man who has been condemned to die on circumstantial
evidence. He has been strongly recommended to mercy, and this, weeping
female is his wife, I found her outside praying for admission, and have
brought her hither. She has traveled mostly on foot upwards of ninety
miles to I ask a pardon; and I trust you will not refuse a reprieve, till
your Grace has time to; inquire into the circumstance. 'This is the head
and front of my offending.'"
"May heaven bless yer Ladyship," burst from the depths of Ellen's grateful
heart, "fur befriendin' thim that had no support but his gracious marcy."
Lady ———'s suit was eagerly seconded by many a fair
creature, who thronged around; and the Duke smiled, as he answered,
"Well, well! one could not refuse so many fair beseechers, so we will
order him to be reprieved. And there, now, let the poor woman be removed."
Ellen's heart was light, and her eye was glad, and her very inmost soul
was thankful to the Omnipotent, as she that night rested for a. few hours,
ere she set out on her return; and Lady ———, as she
pressed her costly pillow, felt a fuller sense of happiness in being
useful to her fellow-creature than ever she experienced before. Oh! that
all the wealthy and in power were incited by similar feelings. The
remainder of our simple tale is soon told. The reprieve arrived—the
sentence was changed to banishment—and the very day appointed for
Owen's death was that of his wife's successful return. One week previous
to the embarkation of those sentenced to transportation, a man was to be
executed for sheep-stealing. On the drop he confessed his guilt, and that
he, and not Duncan, was the murderer of Daly. Owen was immediately
released, and a subscription raised for him, with which, as well as with a
weighty purse presented to Ellen by Lady ———, he took a
comfortable farm, and rebought "Black Bess."