Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 11/A Tipperary shot - Part 1

Part 2


A TIPPERARY SHOT.

By the Author of “Myself and my Relatives,” “Little Flaggs,” &c.


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CHAPTER I. GOING TO TIPPERARY.

My dear Richard, are you really to go to Ireland?” asked my mother, with some concern, as I flung down the letter I had just received from Colonel Fulham.

“Yes, and my destination is——” I hesitated to finish the sentence.

“Is what? Some frightfully savage spot, I suppose.”

“One of the Irish cities, formerly a royal seat.”

“That does not sound so bad; but what is the name of the place?”

“Cashel,” I replied, courageously.

“Cashel!” repeated my mother, musingly, “what part of the country is it in?”

“The south—the province of Munster.”

“And the county?”

It was some minutes before I ventured to answer that last question, but at length I said “Tipperary,” with as much sang froid as possible.

“Tipperary!” exclaimed my mother, opening her eyes. “My dear boy, this is dreadful!”

“Not in the least, mother. I shall quite enjoy being among strange people in a strange land.”

“But such a monstrous county—so barbarous!” said my anxious parent. “Had you been ordered to any other place in the world I would not have murmured at the command, but Tipperary is too bad.”

As well as I could I endeavoured to console my mother under the heavy blow she received in learning that my regiment had been sent to the most lawless part of the fair land of Erin. I had never been in Ireland yet. Familiar as I was with many a foreign country, in all my early love of wandering I had never thought of visiting England’s sister isle, and I knew as little about this then new region as I did of Japan. I was just twenty-three, and had been in the army five years—quartered during that period at Malta, Gibraltar, and Canada. Before obtaining my commission I had travelled for a year abroad under the guidance of a tutor, and had visited many a classic land. Latterly I had spent more than two months of leave on the Continent, and on my return to England for a short visit home I received the announcement that my regiment had been sent to Tipperary—head-quarters Templemore, detachment at Cashel, where my company was now stationed. I had only a few days to loiter over my preparations for departure to Ireland, and it was with no small degree of curiosity that I contemplated a sojourn in the heart of a proverbially dangerous locale. I got out the map of Ireland, learned the geography of the province of Munster, discovered Cashel almost in the centre of Tipperary, and trusted to the future to enlighten me further. In those days, reader, travelling was not so expeditious and comfortable as now-a-days. Railroads had not penetrated far through Ireland, and many of the principal towns were as unapproachable as they had been fifty years before. Cashel was in this respect better off than many of its compeers, and after reaching Dublin, I had the good fortune to be conveyed as far as Maryborough by railway, where I exchanged my comfortable seat in the train for a fusty, dingy, ricketty coach, that was to penetrate to the remote region of Cork, dropping me on the way at Cashel.

“Will you have room for my luggage on that conveyance?” I demanded, in a tone of authority and doubt, as I looked at the already heavily-laden vehicle that stood awaiting the arrival of passengers from the train.

“What weight of luggage have you?” asked the guard, screwing up his eyes as he glanced at a somewhat inordinate quantity of boxes and packages near me.

“All this,” I answered, with military promptness and fierceness, pointing to my possessions.

“No room for the half of it,” coolly observed the fellow, without looking at me.

“And what is to be done?—have you got no other mode of carrying luggage than that small coach?”

While I was speaking I observed that a travelling chaise had emerged from the tram and was now being attached to four well-conditioned horses; while the owner, a good-looking man, about six or seven and twenty, of gentlemanly appearance, watched the process of harnessing composedly, supporting on his arm a very pretty girl, who I fancied was looking now and then at myself while I stormed about my luggage. One or two glances from her soft blue eyes disarmed my wrath almost instantly: I felt ashamed of having betrayed such violence.

“Sir Denis has engaged nearly all the spare room for his luggage, sir,” said the coachman; “we’d accommodate you with pleasure, but you can’t expect impossibilities; see, there’s the lady’s-maid putting up two more bandboxes! Perhaps Sir Denis might consent to let some of his trunks wait till Friday if you’re in an out-and-out hurry with yours. I’ll just step over and ask him.” And before I had time to reply he advanced to the gentleman standing beside the chaise, speaking a few words to him which I did not hear as he occasionally pointed in my direction.

“Oh! I should regret putting you to inconvenience,” said the gentleman, now coming towards me, while he dropped the arm of his fair companion, who stood in the background; “I will take some of our luggage on the carriage if you have no room for yours on the coach.”

I bowed, coloured probably, and said a few civil things—thanks and all that.

“You are going to Cork, I presume?” said Sir Denis.

“No; Cashel is my destination.”

“Indeed! you belong to the 32nd then?” observed the gentleman, pleasantly.

“Yes, that is my regiment.”

“Is Colonel Fulham at Cashel?”

“No; our head-quarters are at Templemore; my company is detached at Cashel.”

“Take down the large portmanteau,” said Sir Denis, now giving orders for the removal of a part of his ponderous supply of luggage from the coach roof.

“And the largest bandbox, Denis, if you like,” I heard a sweet voice say in a low tone; “we can manage with it inside the carriage very well.”

A sharp-faced abigail who had all along eyed me with ferocity here interposed about the young lady’s part of the luggage, declaring that there would be no room on or in the chaise for more packages than were already stowed in it; but the lady, who I concluded was Sir Denis’s wife, held out to support me, and I had the felicity of seeing the most necessary portion of my traps hoisted at length to the roof of the lumbering coach. Somehow I had by this time got into such good humour that I would scarcely have grumbled had I been obliged to mount the coach minus even my dressing-case; and though still under the necessity of leaving behind a considerable portion of my effects, I did not give way to any further outburst of impatience. Sir Denis, whose surname was still a mystery to me, chatted a little while before his carriage was in readiness, and then left me, murmuring something about hoping to have the pleasure of calling on me at Cashel, which lay within eight miles of his residence.

As soon as I was fairly mounted beside the coachman and had beheld the private travelling chaise of my new friend winding along before the more heavily laden and less aristocratic conveyance on which I was seated, I began of course to question those around me as to who Sir Denis was, where he lived, and what the amount of his property was.

“He’s Sir Denis Barnett, of Knockgriffin House,” replied the coachman.

“Is he married?”

“No, sir.”

“And who is the lady with him now?” I asked, after a pause.

“His sister, sir. They live together at Knockgriffin.”

“Alone?”

“There’s only themselves—two in family—now. Old Sir Denis was shot five years ago, and Lady Barnett died shortly after that.”

“Was he shot by accident or in a duel?”

“Oh! no. It isn’t known who shot him; it was one day he was riding towards Golden, and he was killed on the road.”

“That wasn’t Sir Denis—that was Mr. Scully, of Ardfinn,” corrected a passenger sitting near. “Sir Denis was fired at coming home from a ball at Clonmel.”

“Ay, so he was; I confounded the two.”

“Wasn’t it just before that old Jemmy Armstrong was shot in the arm, and had the wonderful escape of his life?”

“I don’t recollect; maybe it was; he’ll be popped some day outright.”

“Oh, no doubt; he can’t expect a second escape.”

I wondered considerably while listening to this kind of conversation, which was carried on in a sleepy, indifferent manner, as though the speakers were discussing some sport that they had no inclination to take part in, though slightly interested in it.

“Tom Brennan got a notice yesterday, I hear, threatening him with certain death if he’d attempt to ask for the arrears that’s due these three years on the Moyglish lands,” was the next observation I heard.

“Ay, I always knew the Ryans was plucky,” answered somebody, taking a pipe out of his mouth. “It was they put the last agent out o’ the way undoubtedly.”

“Brennan had better leave them alone, that’s all.”

“You don’t seem to think much of human life here,” I remarked at length.

“Why, sir?” asked the coachman.

“You don’t appear to mind how many people are shot by assassins. I have heard you mention half a dozen murders almost in a breath.”

“They weren’t what you call murders, captain,” said the speaker who seemed to know so much about the particulars of the different threats and assassinations that had come off lately. “They were lives destroyed for revenge—nothing more. We have very few downright regular murders about here.”

“And you don’t call it murder to shoot a man from behind a hedge while he is passing over a lonely road unsuspectingly.”

“There isn’t many a one goes unsuspecting over the roads in Tipperary,” said the fellow, with a chuckle. “Every landlord that acts contrary to justice generally knows beforehand what he’s to expect; but we don’t meddle with the soldier officers, except when they come down for ejectments or the like, and then we fight them openly. We’re fond of the regular built military; it’s only the peelers we can’t bear.”

This was consolatory as far as I was concerned myself, but already I had learned enough to believe fully that the blood-stained reputation of Tipperary was but too well earned. As the day passed I listened to many a thrilling story of assassination and hanging narrated without apology or comment of any sort, and by the time the coach penetrated the boundary of Tipperary felt that report had not belied its character in the least. We drove by Templemore with its grim barracks, and advanced in the dusk of evening towards Thurles. It was lovely weather in the middle of May, and the face of the country, fresh and verdant, was pleasant to the eye. The meadows struck me as being of a peculiarly rich green colour; the roads were narrow and winding, flanked on either side by thick hedges, seldom neatly trimmed. At Thurles the coach on halting was surrounded immediately by idlers, who made comments freely on the passengers, betraying a certain degree of independence and lawlessness that could not fail to strike a stranger with surprise. The night air growing sharp at this time, I buttoned my coat to the chin, and with folded arms awaited the continuance of my journey. Somehow as the moon came forth shining mildly in the clear sky I found myself ever and anon thinking of the fair face of Sir Denis Barnett’s sister, and she was strangely mixed up in my mind with other feelings as I beheld my first sight of the beautiful ruin of Holycross Abbey, which the coach passed closely, its ivy-covered walls and Gothic windows glancing weirdly in the bright moonlight.

“We haven’t far to go now, sir,” said the coachman, when the abbey was left behind, and we plunged into more narrow roads with abrupt turnings. “There, you can see already the Rock of Cashel standing right opposite you.”

I gazed eagerly in the direction pointed out, and beheld distinctly the outline of the steep eminence crowned by the finest of Ireland’s ecclesiastical ruins standing clear and sharp against the moonlit sky. A fine sight it was, that perpendicular rock, with its pile of ancient relics, its dilapidated palace, cathedral and chapel, and well-preserved round tower standing so mutely above the surrounding country, telling of kings and priests long gone. Brave old rock! To this day I can recall my first glimpse of you, dear as you have since become to me from memories associated with yourself and your surroundings! No matter what direction we took now, the “rock” always was visible, and I kept my eyes upon it with a sort of fascination that it was impossible to withstand.

Late in the evening we arrived at Cashel, and I took my leave of the Cork Mail, the coachman telling me complacently that he expected to reach his final destination next morning at six o’clock.

CHAPTER II. CASHEL. KNOCKGRIFFIN HOUSE.

Imagine the most wretched of tumble-down barracks, reader, situated in the most wretched part of a wretched country town, and you will form some idea of my quarters in the City of the Kings at this time in company with two or three other victims of military chance and change. The “city,” consisting then of about eight or nine hundred houses, three fourths of which were thatched, had an aspect of age and misery that was inexpressibly dreary to my English eye. There was one good street, wide and well built, but the lanes and alleys branching from it were terrible to contemplate. The few gentry living in the town had chiefly betaken themselves to the watering-places of Kilkee or Tramore. For some months we had few visitors at the barracks. We heard wonderful stories of former gay times in the neighbourhood of our present pilgrimage, but nothing came to give us an idea of Irish hospitality. The pleasantest inhabitant of the city, with whom we chatted frequently, was good old Mrs. Conan, who supplied the requisites for our mess, and who charged a most exorbitant price for the very worst wine that anybody ever drank. She re tailed all the gossip of the county for our benefit as we lounged in dishabille over her counter or round her shop door, told us the names of the people who came into town on market days, and obtained pardon for her depredations on our pockets in consideration of her useful and amusing information. Indeed, I do not know what we should have done only for Mrs. Conan’s shop and her pleasant chat. She was a fat, elderly woman, with a red face and a roguish eye, full of fun and drollery, yet in spite of her general good-nature and cheerfulness we were all a little afraid of her. She had a keen wit and much observation, and her ideas of what a gentleman owed to himself and the world were somewhat exacting, especially with reference to his expenditure. I fear she had a great contempt for poor or economical members of the army. She spoke in terms of strong disapprobation against the miserly propensities of certain regiments, and in glowing language of those corps who had dashed away their money in a becoming manner.

For the first fortnight of my stay at Cashel I found enough to amuse me to prevent my getting into despair. I had discovered all the eligible walks round the neighbourhood, and. explored different strange regions; I had made myself familiar with the famous rock and its ruined castle, insomuch that I would have made a much better guide for the visitors coming to see it than the individual who filled the office in those days. Many an evening stroll I have had round this relic of the past, treading upon the soft green grass that grew over innumerable graves, reading the inscriptions on quaint tombstones, or wandering through the ruins of the venerable cathedral, with its nave, transepts, and choir, admiring the beautiful decorations of Cormac’s Chapel; or watching the strange effect of the outward light falling through the apertures at the top of the lofty round tower as I looked upwards through the mysterious pile. Being a pretty good draughtsman, I drew sketches of the rock from all points, and, as I said before, passed a fortnight of tolerable patience; then I became restless, began to flirt with the niece of the old woman who kept the only cake shop in the city, and was thinking of quarrelling with Mrs. Conan about the poisonous wine she supplied our miserable mess with, when I was restored to reason and good humour by learning that Sir Denis Barnett had left his card for myself and my companions at the barracks. Our detachment at Cashel consisted merely of three officers, your humble servant being chief over a couple of subalterns—Lieutenant Travers and Ensign Fletcher, one of whom was engaged to a girl in England, and considerably occupied in writing and reading love-letters; the other a shy, unfledged boy of seventeen, devoted to study and sober pursuits, with a considerable dread of ladies’ society, which was fortunate for him as far as our Cashel sojourn was concerned, for there was at that time scarcely a young lady residing in the ancient city.

About a week after Sir Denis Barnett had called upon us I considered it to be my duty to return his visit, and asked Travers and Fletcher to accompany me in a ride to Knockgriffin, but both declined doing so, begging me to leave their cards for the baronet with all due respect. To tell the truth, I was not sorry to take that ride alone; my frame of mind was rather sentimental, and I preferred musing to talking. It was one of the loveliest June days that ever man mounted a horse on, and perhaps the country I passed over was the richest I had ever seen, though from the want of trees losing much of a picturesque effect. Many a time as I rode along I paused on an eminence to look around me, taking note of the wide range of mountains within view, or wondering at the deserted state of the roads I travelled over. Perhaps, reader, I did nob regret that I was not a wealthy landowner of the county Tipperary as I slowly rode onwards, free of all anxiety, and by no means in expectation of a shot from behind any hedge however thick or high. Once or twice I stopped at a cabin by the wayside to ask the direction of Knockgriffin, and was always answered with civility and without exciting curiosity. All along the route I found myself dwelling upon the beauty of the fair girl I had seen with Sir Denis on leaving the train at Maryborough, and by the time I reached the fine old gateway of the place I was bound for I was excited to a pitch of admiration, and enthusiasm impossible to describe. My heart beat quick, then slow, as I rode up the broad, well-gravelled avenue, bounded on either side by wide sweeps of smoothly-shaven lawn, dotted here and there by handsome trees, and flanked in the distance by dark woods, through which the eye could catch glimpses of a silvery river, part of the Suir, as I afterwards learned, winding in and out. “Surely,” thought I, “England could not boast a prettier spot than this, or a better kept country seat.” There appeared nothing of carelessness or want of neatness in the appointments I saw around me. The park and pleasure-grounds of Knockgriffin were all kept in perfect order. Approaching the house I beheld a massive, antique mansion, with castellated towers of imposing aspect. I sighed as I gazed at its extent and beauty: my own fortune, reader, was very moderate. For years I had been considered the heir of a bachelor uncle with twelve thousand a-year—a baronet, who took it into his head to marry in his old age, and at sixty-nine became the husband of a lady thirty years his junior, who presented him with a son and heir, thus cutting off my long-established expectations of inheriting the baronetcy and family estate. At present I had only four hundred a-year besides my pay as captain in the army, and as I dismounted to ring the hall door bell at Knockgriffin I was fully conscious that Sir Denis Barnett’s sister would think very little of such an income as mine.

“Heigh ho!” thought I; “perhaps it would be better for me to ride back again to Cashel without asking to gain admittance here. This may turn out the most disastrous visit of my life!” While I cogitated thus the door opened, and I learned that Sir Denis was at home. I thereupon followed the servant, who admitted me through a lofty square hall, furnished handsomely, and passed on to one of the drawing-rooms, where I was ushered in as Captain Stapleton, my name being fortunately pronounced all correctly for a wonder. For some moments I did not know that the large drawing-room contained any occupant but myself, but in a short time I was aware that a female form was approaching from one of the windows at the farthest end of the apartment. It was that of Miss Barnett—more graceful, more lovely in figure and face than even I had before believed her to be. Slightly above the middle height, and exquisitely proportioned, with a head and face that might have served as a model for a sculptor, she was truly a beautiful creature; fair, with very little colour, and hair of a pale brown hue, braided tastefully and falling low on her neck behind. Though Irish thoroughly, without a tinge of other blood in her veins, this young girl struck me as being very unlike the idea I had previously formed of the women of her country. She was neither boisterous nor particularly animated; she did not talk loudly about hunting or horse-racing, nor put one to the blush by cutting jokes and merciless quizzing. She was precisely like a well-bred lady of any civilised society; her accent not quite English, but only tinged sufficiently with that of her own country to give a peculiar charm to her tones. She advanced towards me with a winning smile, gave me her hand in an easy, graceful manner, and entered at once into a conversation which served to dispel the embarrassment that I felt overcoming me as I entered the house. We talked for some time before Sir Denis made his appearance, and from him I received a cordial welcome to Knockgriffin. He was a fine specimen of a Tipperary man—frank, good-looking, and of agreeable manners. Both sister and brother had travelled a good deal abroad, and were acquainted with many friends of my own. They were intimate with London and Parisian society, as well as with members of the higher circles of their own metropolis. I had never passed a pleasanter half hour than that of this morning call; and when on my departure Sir Denis expressed an indefinite sort of wish that I would join a party of visitors, whom he expected to remain for a few days at Knockgriffin, my delight was extreme. To be for a week perhaps domiciled under the same roof as that which sheltered the enchanting form of the most charming girl I had ever seen! It was a happiness almost too great to believe in.

I rode home in a dreamy frame of mind, more intensely sentimental than before, and decidedly very deeply in love. I had passed out of the demesne and was going over one of the narrow tortuous roads bounded by the thick green hedges I have mentioned as peculiar to Tipperary when a somewhat remarkable occurrence took place. I was buried in profound thought, grasping the reins somewhat loosely, and allowing my horse to go on as he pleased, when he gave a sudden start that roused me, and I beheld a man’s head peering curiously through the hedge, the eyes fixed intently on myself.

“Good day, Sir Denis,” said the fellow, after we had exchanged a scrutinising stare.

“Good day,” replied I, “but you have mistaken me. I am not Sir Denis Barnett, only a visitor coming from his place.”

“All right then,” observed the man, pulling his head back, and retreating without saying anything further. I watched him, however, as he cut swiftly across the fields on the left of the road, and observed that he carried a musket, which posed me a good deal. Should I put spurs to my horse and follow the fellow to demand what he wanted with Sir Denis or where he was going with firearms? was the question that rose to my mind while I observed him hurrying off in the distance. My first impulse was to do so, my next to let the matter pass unheeded. I never could expect to discover the truth from him, and nothing could be gained by a mere suspicion. Somehow the incident made a curious impression on me, after all I had read and heard of Tipperary morality, and I did not cease to ponder upon it when I reached my quarters at Cashel.