Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter
"Sure there's some wonder in this handkerchief."—Othello.
In My early days, when my faculties should have been more profitably employed, I spent a considerable portion of my time in poring over the fascinating pages of old volumes containing tales of love and murder, haunted castles, ruined towers, &c.—all of which are so attractive to the youthful explorer of the paths of literature. This course of reading had its usual effect on my then rather fanciful brain. I do not mean to say that I ever imagined myself a hero. No, I did not go quite so far as that: the worst crime I can plead guilty to on that score, is having acquired a kind of antiquarian turn, which led me to examine in the most minute manner the remnants of old castles, and objects of a similar nature, which lay in the neighbourhood of my home. Although I became less enthusiastic in such matters when the days of adolescence were passed, still I felt a certain kind of respect, such as youth pays to age, in gazing on the memorials of days gone by.page 300
It was a fine sunny day in June that I set off on a pedestrian excursion, fishing rod in hand, for the purpose of enjoying a few hours' sport on the Mov, one of the finest rivers in the west of Ireland. For some time I met with tolerable success, and had half-filled my basket, when the wind, which had hitherto been southerly, suddenly shifted to the north-east, and clouds rising from the sea, began to obscure the horizon. As their shadows at length fell on the water, the trout ceased to pay their wonted attention to my fly, however temptingly I cast it before them, and, by their many gambols on the surface, seemed to testify their gratification at the prospect of an approaching shower.
I knew from experience that, under the circumstances, it would be useless for me to continue my occupation, and with the most exemplary resignation, proceeded to unscrew my rod, determined to make amends for my want of luck on some more propitious day.
As the hour was still early, and I had no great inclination to return home before evening, I made up ray mind to carry into execution an intention which one thing or another had hitherto frustrated—namely, a visit to one of those quaint Round Towers, so frequent in, and peculiar to the Emerald Isle.
I was aware that a structure of this description stood in a small market town, some four miles distant from the spot on which I then stood; and not much fearing the effects of the threatened rain on a constitution pretty well inured to such accident, without more ado, set off in that direction.
It took me about an hour to reach the little town of Killala. It was market day, and the main street was lined with carts of all shapes and description, laden with the various produce of the page 301surrounding country. Astounding specimens of the vegetable kingdom appeared in the shape of potatoes, carrots, turnips, &c., while live stock was chiefly represented by innumerable members of the porcine family of every size, age, and degree of obesity, from the diminutive bonnif to the overgrown bacon pig—whose united squeaking, as they tugged at the suggauns by which their hind legs were secured, was enough to deafen one.
I found it no easy matter to make my way through their crowded thoroughfare, blocked up as it was with the grey frieze-coated buyers and sellers, who, by their vociferation, appeared to be endeavouring to outvie in clamour the useful quadrupeds just mentioned, and felt considerable relief in emerging from the opposite end of the street, which, with the exception of a few narrow lanes branching off to the right and left, constituted the town.
I now found myself within a short distance of the sea-shore, and close to the object of my curiosity—the Round Tower. It stood upon a small unenclosed green, in close proximity to the ruins of a little chapel, which to all appearance might boast of an antiquity equal to that of its more pretending neighbour. Far up into the misty atmosphere, the tapering column reared its venerable head as if disdaining to hold communion with the humble dwellings which at a respectful distance surrounded its base.
The architecture was rude, but of immense strength, and had borne with scarcely any perceptible decay the rains and storms of centuries. Its sides were nearly hidden with a rich garniture of ivy, which seemed to cling for protection to its giant supporter, and formed a graceful curtain, half concealing the entrance to the building, which consisted of a low-arched page 302doorway, at an elevation of some six feet from the ground, access to which was afforded by a few dilapidated steps.
While I stood gazing at the picturesque object before me, and recalling to mind the many extraordinary theories of learned antiquaries touching the use to which such buildings were applied by our ancestors, and marvelling at the strange taste displayed by their reputed architect, the Goban Saer, in their design—I was aroused from my reverie by the voice of man close by me.
"Arrah! Maybe yer honour would like to be afther gettin' a look at the inside of the ould tower; and if it's to yer likin', sure there isn't a boy from this to Crossmalina that can shew ye the way better nor myself."
When I looked at the speaker, the boy, as he had denominated himself, I was surprised to find that he was nearer his second than his first childhood; but matrimony is the only thing that seems to impart maturity to an Irish peasant. Should he live in single blessedness until he had reached the age of Methuselah, he would be still called a boy.
My companion was about sixty years of age, and bore evident marks of having once seen better days than his present tattered garments would at first lead the spectator to imagine. His dress consisted of a superannuated felt hat, commonly known as a caubeen. His coat was principally composed of grey frieze cloth, although from its numerous and varied patches, some doubt might arise as to what uniform colour or material it might have originally laid claim. A ragged but clean shirt, corduroy breeches, worsted stockings, and greased brogues, come ted his outward man.page 303
Accepting the services of my voluntary guide, I quickly found myself in the interior of the tower.
"Now, before we go further, my friend," said I, "I want to ask you one question. What is your private opinion of this same tower? Did you ever hear when it was built, or what use it was intended for?"
"Faith, as to when it was builded, sir, that's a thing nobody seems to be sure about; but people says it was long before the time of St. Patrick or St. Kevin—in the days of the blackguard Danes (savin' your presence); an' as for the use of it—I only know of one use it was ever put to, and that same was bad enough, more betoken."
"Indeed! and what may it have been?"
"Oh! yer honour," answered my companion; "it was a bad business, an' if yer not in a hurry, I don't mind tellin' you the story; but hadn't you better follow me to the top of the tower where you can have a good look round you?"
This, with some difficulty, I effected by means of a winding stone staircase. I was well repaid for my trouble by the magnificent view commanded from my elevated position. On one side stretched the bay of Killala, indented with its many headlands, and dotted here and there with the curraghs of the fishermen, while inland, as far as the eye could reach, was presented a diversified picture of mountain and plain; the distant hills of Sligo faintly drawn out on the horizon, on the one side; and the lofty Nephin, with the glittering waters of Lough Conn, at its base on the other, closing the prospect.
When I had sufficiently feasted my eyes on this fine panorama, I divested myself of my basket, and taking a seat which page 304projected from the side of the building, demanded the promised story of my guide. Leaning against the opposite wall, with his arms folded across his breast, he commenced the following tale, which, clothed in a garb more adapted to the general reader, I shall now retail for his benefit:—
"Kathleen Doran was allowed by all who had seen her to be the prettiest and most bewitching little creature that had ever budded into womanhood within the confines of the town we have just described, She had already reached her eighteenth summer, and no doubt, like most of her sex at that age, thought it was high time to look about for something in the shape of a husband; and, if such were her designs, there was no lack of sturdy young bachelors in the neighbourhood, each of whom would have gladly been a candidate for her favour. But the greater the variety the more difficult it is to make a choice, which, perhaps, was the reason that Kathleen had not as yet made any one of her lovers more happy than the rest.
"Old Bill Doran, or as he is commonly called "Miser Doran," by no means proposed an equal share of popularity with his fair daughter. He was a sub-agent to an absentee landlord—a fact sufficient in itself to make him an object of dislike; a feeling that had increased to hatred against him, owing to the harshness he displayed in the execution of his duties towards the tenants on the estate of his employer. Woe to the unfortunate individual who, from whatever cause, was behind hand with his rent, whether the defection arose from neglect or misfortune, from sickness or a bad crop; it was all the same, or rather nothing, to him.
The "masther" had just sent him a letter from London to say how heavy his expenses were there, and how much he page 305required money and that, if they did not pay up, every mother's son of them should be turned out, even if he had to make a grazing farm of the property. The sequel of which too often was the demolition of what had once been happy homes, and the casting forth on the world of their destitute inmates.
"Doran, as a mere agent, may not have been altogether to blame in these matters, and, no doubt, many cases of the kind occurred in which he had no option left; but with him it seemed to be a labour of love, and if at times he showed an inclination to be a little more lenient, the change was attributed to the meditation of his daughter, who was able to exert a considerable influence over him. He had been many years a widower, and his child Kathleen appeared to be the sole object which, with his money (for he was reputed wealthy), held a share in his heart. If the neighbours ever cast aspersion on the stinginess of his character, he would endeavour to ward off the blow by saying that the little money he had laid by had been accumulated for the future use of his daughter, to whom it should revert at his death; but this justification did not exonerate him from the suspicion of finding a much greater pleasure in gloating over his treasures than in the contemplation that they should eventually pass into the hands of another—even of Kathleen. If report spoke truly, he had figured in the Rebellion of '98 as an informer in the pay of Government, and, not being over-scrupulous as to the means, had let no opportunity pass of enriching himself during that period. The wealth which he had thus amassed in his earlier years, instead of procuring for him, by its circulation, the ease and comfort his old age required, was hoarded up with all the care and secrecy the old miser was master of. It was believed that he had buried his golden store in some unfrequented spot in the neighbourhood; especially as his habitation had been page 306twice broken into by robbers, who, after a strict search, were disappointed by finding only a few shillings.
Among the admirers of the rural belle, there was one young fellow of the name of Owen O'Sullivan, who was perhaps better qualified than the others to make an impression on her unsuspicious heart. He was a strong and athletic man, of about three and twenty years of age. His features, of the true Milesian cast, were well formed, and his general bearing had an air of well-bred ease about it, rather uncommon among persons of his class.
"Thanks to his late uncle, the parish priest, he had received a much better education than usually falls to the lot of an Irish peasant; and, shortly before his death, Father Maurice had settled his nephew on a small farm in the vicinity of the town, which he had procured at a very low rent, by the payment of a fine.
"It was whispered, however, that O'Sullivan had not made the best possible use of the advantages thus afforded him; in fact, he was too much of the gentleman to be a hard-working man, and was more apt to pay attention to the cut of his waistcoat than to the manner in which his ground was tilled.
"It is much easier to find companions in idleness than industry, and it is not to be wondered at that he was surrounded by acquaintances whose precepts and example were far from being productive of any good effect on the character of the young farmer. But, after all, his faults were of a negative tendency, and it might be truly said, 'He was nobody's enemy but his own.'
"O'Sullivan's first encounter with Kathleen was brought about in the following manner:—"While attending chapel one page 307morning he found he could not for the life of him keep his ideas fixed on the subject which the good priest was at the time expounding; on the contrary, his thoughts and eyes were continually wandering towards the attractive figure of the miser's daughter, who, as chance would have it, was placed right between him and the altar. Although the fame of her beauty had reached him long since, yet he had never laid eyes on her before, and determined that it should not be long until he enjoyed that gratification again.
"This admiration of Kathleen's person did not, however, prevent him from pondering on all he had heard concerning the riches of the old man. His own prospects were, he knew, none of the most pleasing; he had been unable lately to pay his rent regularly; some of his cattle had died, and from some cause which he could not explain—although everybody else professed to be able to do so—his crops were yearly decreasing in value. In fact, he foresaw that without great energy—which he felt he did not possess—he had nothing less to look forward to than utter ruin; but here was a bright beam of hope that seemed ready to pierce through the dark clouds that lowered over his fortunes. If he could only succeed in interesting the young maiden in his favour, and prevail on her father to give his consent to their union, all might turn out well yet; but at the same time he could not overlook the many obstacles that were to be surmounted ere this happy consummation of his wishes could be effected. In the first place, how was he to become acquainted with the object of his thoughts?
"I'll leave it all to chance," muttered he, as he rose to follow the congregation out of the chapel, which was nearly deserted before he found that the service was at an end.