“The Light that Lies in Woman’s Eyes”

by Edmund Leamy

(A Story of ’98).

Nora O’Kelly was just nineteen years of age—tall, lissome, with cheeks like an apple blossom, hair as brown as a ripe beechnut glowing in the sunset, lips like rowan-berries in the warm August days, and eyes like twin stars looking at themselves in a woodland pool—a girl to dream about in one’s sleep, to rave about when awake.

This is high praise of a sweet Irish colleen, the critical reader may say, but it was not half high enough for half the boys whose heads she turned when she and they were young. Alas! they—the admired and the admirers—have long since passed away, and are all now in noteless graves, for the little story, if story it can be called, which is set down here, is a story of a hundred years ago, when the war clouds hovered over the land, and from out their dark bosoms flashed the lightnings that rived many a home and made many places desolate.

She was a farmer’s daughter in the county Kildare, who lived not far from Naas. Her life had been uneventful until her mother died when she was little over sixteen. Since then, she, the only child, had been the solace of her father. He, as is the way with fathers, would have kept her always by him; and in the happiness which her loving companionship brought him, he persuaded himself that she was perfectly happy under his roof, and that her thoughts never wandered away from it and him.

But as the wind bloweth where it lists, so love wanders at its own sweet will. Sometimes it will steal in through the guarded gates of palaces; sometimes it will creep in through the crannies of the mud-wall cabins; no place is secure from it; the walled town is as defenceless against its assault as the open plain. It marches down through centuries, the overthrow of kingdoms and of nations cannot hinder its buoyant step, and once in a way it came knocking at the heart of sweet Nora O’Kelly. She did not at once understand the summons—what young girl sweet and innocent as she ever does? But she heard the knocking at her heart all the same, and when she looked through the windows of her eyes she saw, or thought she saw, young Larry O’Connor looking straight at her with such a look as she had never seen in a boy’s eyes before, and she felt as if she were walking on air, and that her heart was one sweet song that could not find a word to interpret its music.

Oh! for the delicious dream that comes to a happy privileged youth or maiden once in a lifetime, and that is, no matter what the sceptics and the scoffers say, sometimes realised, and this was the dream that had invaded Nora’s heart and taken complete possession of it.

But Larry O’Connor was poor; one of half a dozen children who had to live out of a farm not half as large as that of Nora’s father, and she was his only child. Her father also, like many men of property, thought chiefly of it, and was utterly averse to change, and he had nothing but hard words for the emissaries of the French Government as he said and thought, who were going about the country, inculcating subversive ideas in the minds of the young generation.

Conscious of the growing unrest amongst the people, Mr. O’Kelly recognised, but not until after a long struggle with himself that it was desirable he should settle Nora in life. She was young, beautiful and attractive, and he had means greater than his station. He had discovered for himself that young Captain Anthony of the Yeos, the son of his landlord, had been smitten by his daughter’s charms. And though very loath to think of her leaving himself once or twice, perhaps oftener, it crossed his mind that if she were to leave him she could do no better than become Captain Anthony’s wife. He was a gentleman to the manner born, though a little self-willed and occasionally passionate—failings common enough in these days when his class, a minority of the people was in the ascendant, with scarcely anyone to question them, save some fierce peasant seeking ‘the wild justice of revenge.’

Young Anthony was a good-looking youth, with an air of distinction which goes far to capture woman’s hearts. He had first met Nora O’Kelly at a ball given by his father to his tenants, and had danced with her on that occasion twice or thrice. Nora met him with the freedom of a maiden who looked upon him as above her in station, and she regarded his courtesy towards her as a delicate compliment due from his superior position rather than to herself. Her frankness did not deceive him for a moment. There was that in her eyes—that which is in the eyes of every maiden of guiless heart—which told more plainly than words can tell that he was no more to her than a gracious stranger, here to-day and gone to-morrow.

But this only added fuel to the fire kindled in his heart, her beauty, as marvellous, though happily not so fleeting, as that of the white rose which wins the heart of the wayfarer through the hedgerows in the days of June. A good-looking young fellow as he was, enjoying a high social position, many longing eyes had bent upon him, and he had no doubt that he could easily find a lady of his own station who would be willing to share his fortunes as his wife. But he had hitherto kept himself aloof from the snares of love, and now unwittingly he had fallen over head and ears into it. He did not know this for a considerable time. He had, it is true, directed his steps often towards Nora’s house, on one pretence or another to see her father, but really to catch a glimpse of her. But he was seldom successful, as Nora had no desire whatever to come in his way, and hardly ever gave him a moment’s thought. Indeed, her whole mind was constantly filled with the vision of Larry O’Connor, who was just as constantly thinking of her, though neither of them had yet spoken of love.

But Captain Anthony, although conscious of a growing interest in Nora, did not suspect that he was really in love with her, and, as a consequence, had not formed any ‘intentions’ concerning her. If he had it would doubtless never have occurred to him that, in case he ventured to offer his hand to her, he would meet with a refusal. But all at once, in the most unexpected manner, he made the discovery that his heart was in her keeping. Riding by the boreen leading up to her father’s house in the twilight of an April evening he caught a glimpse of two figures moving up the boreen close together. One he knew at a glance, it was Nora; the other he found to be Larry O’Connor. There was nothing very remarkable in this, for the farms of the two families were joined, and as neighbour’s children they might naturally be on friendly terms, but the sight smote the heart of Anthony like a sword thrust, and something like hatred for O’Connor was stirred up in him. He rode on home slowly, gnawed at by jealous pangs. The face of Nora was before his vision in all its radiant beauty. The soft, sweet caressing voice which won all hearts was in his ear, but now it was whispering, he had no doubt, words of love into another’s, and that other one wholly unworthy of her, a mere peasant, for Captain Anthony prided himself on his gentility, although he was only a descendant of a Cromwellian trooper. In another mood he might perhaps have classed Nora’s father in the same category, but now his eyes were suddenly opened to her worth, and the possibility—nay, the likelihood of losing her made her appear still more precious. He made no attempt to shake himself free from his torment. He surrendered himself all that night to it, the next day he came to the rash determination as it proved to go straight to Mr. O’Kelly and ask for Nora’s hand. He had no doubt at all of his consent, and he tried to persuade himself that Nora’s heart was still free, and that she would scarcely refuse him who might choose amongst so many. When he arrived at the house he was disappointed to find that Mr. O’Kelly had gone to Dublin, and would not be back till late, but Nora was at home. He took a sudden resolve, he would see her and propose to her there and then.

Nora at the time was in the garden, and when the message was brought to her that Captain Anthony desired to see her in the absence of her father, she came wondering what the captain could want, and without the faintest suspicion of his purpose. She received him in the parlour, offered him a chair, she herself remaining standing. For a second Captain Anthony stood as if irresolute—then he plunged straight into the heart of the business.

“I came to find your father, Nora. I have found you. I want to know,” here he looked imploringly at her, “can I keep you for ever?”

Nora flushed crimson, and a startled look stole into her eyes. She hardly knew what interpretation to put on such language, but before she could say a word the captain rushed on impetuously—“I mean it, Nora, I love you—yes, love you with all my heart. Will you be my wife?”

A look of great distress came over Nora’s face. Startling as the proposal was, all the more so because of its brevity and plainness, the evident sincerity of it appealed to her more strongly even than the honour of it. She held out her hand while the tears came to her eyes.

“It is impossible, captain; I love another.”

The captain’s face became white. He ignored the proffered hand, and bowing stiffly left the room and the house. When he had ridden about a quarter of a mile he crossed into the fields and put his horse to the gallop until both horse and rider were well nigh exhausted. It was the means almost instinctively adopted by him to try and subdue the tumult of his soul.

From that day forward Anthony was a changed man. To the passion of jealousy was added a feeling of deepest humiliation. To have been refused by the daughter of one of his tenants in favour of a pauper peasant youth was maddening, for though Nora had not mentioned O’Connor’s name, Anthony had no doubt that it was him she meant. But any doubt he might have had was dispelled, for again it chanced he saw the two lovers together, and he was witness, without their knowledge, of a tender parting that still further added to his torments. The feeling, akin to hatred which was stirred up on the first occasion developed into actual hatred. But about this time there were some anxieties that came as a distraction to the mind of the disappointed suitor. Rumours of an intended rising had become persistent, and a few weeks was to prove their truth. On the 23rd day of May Michael Reynolds stopped the mail coaches, and on the following morning he made the attack on Naas. Amongst his followers was Larry O’Connor, wearing for a favour a green rosette, which had been made for him by Nora, who, deeply as she loved him, was proud to see him go forth to battle for his native land. But we are not writing history, and will not detain the reader by a description of the battle of Naas. Information of the intended attack had been given to the authorities, and a strong garrison was posted in the town, and after a gallant effort to dislodge it, Reynolds was forced to order his men to retreat. O’Connor, armed with a pike, had fought desperately by his leader’s side until the last moment. Then he, too, quitted the field and got separated from the rest of his companions. As soon as the insurgents were seen to be in retreat, the Fourth Dragoon Guards, the Ancient Britons, and the Mounted Yeos, were let loose after them. The latter were commanded by Captain Anthony. It was no quarter for anyone they overtook, whether armed or unarmed. O’Connor finding himself alone, crossed the fields as fast as he could, but still keeping his pike. The pounding of a horse close behind him and a bullet whizzing by his ear caused him to turn round. It was a dragoon, who also had become separated from his troop. He had drawn his long sabre and made a cut at O’Connor as he came up. The latter caught the sword on the guard of his pike. After a combat of a few seconds the dragoon was unhorsed with a fatal gash in his throat, and O’Connor, having possessed himself of his sword, and the horse galloped away in the direction of his home. He was within a few yards of the boreen leading up to O’Kelly’s farm house, when he caught sight of Nora. She was down at the road waiting for tidings of the battle. O’Connor reined in his horse. At that moment round a bend of the road appeared Captain Anthony, his horse covered with foam.

“Surrender, you rebel, or I will shoot you.”

He held the pistol out before him. O’Connor crying, “Go back, Nora darling!” urged his horse forward, raising his sword the while. But Anthony fired and the bullet struck O’Connor in the sword arm, which fell helpless. In a second Anthony had gripped O’Connor, and in the struggle the two men rolled off their horses. Anthony was on top, and he drew a second pistol from his belt. Before he could use it his hand was seized.

It was Nora. Her assistance enabled O’Connor to regain his feet.

“By G——, I’ll make him swing on this very spot!” cried Anthony, foaming with passion.

“Thank God! Captain Anthony, I’ve saved you from committing murder!”

For a moment his eyes met Nora’s. Their deep, soft, tender influence, and the soft, low, sweet voice fell like a happy calm on his soul. For a second a fierce, wild longing to clasp her in his arms took possession of him, and all his heart’s love went out to her. Then there was the noise of galloping horses below the bend of the road.

Turning to O’Connor, Captain Anthony said gently, “The Yeos are coming, save yourselves.”

And Larry and Nora went down the boreen together.