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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter III

page 316

Chapter III.

O'Sullivan, having been admitted by the landlord, who received his guest with a friendly nod, he, with an evident knowledge of the ways of the house, proceeded at once to a room on the upper storey, the door of which having been opened, emitted a cloud of smoke, the density of which proclaimed that the "fascinating weed" was in tolerable requisition within.

But, before we pursue our tale further it may be as well to give a sketch of how matters went on after the marriage of Owen and Kathleen.

The young couple had left no act untried to induce Miser Doran to give his countenance to their rash procedure. The more powerful the appeals made to his pity, the stronger did the fancies seem to grow that resisted them.

"Ah, ha!" he was wont to exclaim, with a derisive laugh. "You thought to cozen me out of my money, if you could. Would you not? But I tell you, you may both starve, as you will yet, before one sixpence of it crosses the hand of either of you. It's a pleasant thing, Mr. O'Sullivan, to have plenty, and more pleasant still to know how to keep it. I shall be happy page 317my dear son-in-law, to give you a lesson to that effect, when you require it;" and at the end of his speech the wretch would rub his skinny hands with glee, and chuckle over his own wit, as he thought it.

O'Sullivan, who had been so long employed in building castles in the air, finding that they were laid prostrate in a moment, felt himself less inclined than ever to place his shoulder to the wheel, and endeavour by extra exertion to make amends for the past.

Some natures have the power of exerting a strength almost superhuman under the pressure of misfortune, which seems but to increase as the burden becomes heavier, and in the end generally rise victorious from the task, but Owen's energies were not sufficiently elastic to encounter the difficulties that encompassed him, and he sank beneath their influence. He became poorer and poorer every day—misfortune followed misfortune, —and to crown all he had been evicted from his farm, and compelled to take up his abode in the miserable dwelling which we have seen occupied by him and his wife.

The room which O'Sullivan now entered contained some ten or twelve persons, principally men of his own age, almost all of whom bore in their features the marks of a life of continued dissipation. Several of them were engaged in a noisy game over a thumbed and greasy pack of cards, while the remainder passed their time in smoking and betting, or dozing over their glasses of whiskey punch. The arrival of the new comer was welcomed by a general offer of "something to keep the cold out," and an invitation to join in the play, both of which he accepted.

We are no card-players ourselves, and the study of "Hoyle" was entirely neglected in our education, so that we unfortunately page 318are unable to describe the particulars of the game that followed, or even to record its name. Sufficient for our purpose to say that O'Sullivan won, and largely. Game after game had been played, and there was still no diminuition to his success. With exalted hope and a sparkling eye, he contemplated his increasing store, and in the exuberance of his confidence resolved to stake it all, to gain one vast and final sweep. He did so, and rose from the table a beggar.

Not feeling disposed in his present mood to avail himself further of the society of his boon companions, in order to avoid meeting with any of them again that night, he took advantage of a less frequented, but more circuitous route than had been his custom, in order to reach the home which, miserable as it was, he feared he could not call his much longer.

The night was still dark and tempestuous, but vivid flashes of lightning now broke through the gloom at intervals, according well with the conflicting passions which struggled for mastery in the breast of the young man.

"Is there no way left," he inquired of himself, "to procure food, even for a few days? I have still some strength left, although it is fast failing me." Alas! he quickly remembered that this last resource was also denied to him, for who, knowing the worthless course of life he had been pursuing, would think of employing him in any capacity whatever.

Such were his meditations as he approached the dwelling of Doran, which he was obliged to pass on his way. Yes, there was the same white-washed walls and the little front garden, where he and Kathleen had first conversed! It was there he had received from her the first gift of love, which in all his vicissitudes he had preserved with a kind of chivalrous feeling, page 319and usually wore about his person. How many changes had taken place—how much of happiness and misery had he known —since that time! but now, although he considered that he had reached the very apex of despair, he could not help acknowledging to his own heart that, were the drama of his existence to be acted over again, he would endure, almost without a murmur, a a repetition of the ills he had suffered rather than sacrifice even one of the bright smiles with which his wife had been wont to cheer him when the cloud was on his brow.

O'Sullivan was not a little surprised by observing, at an hour so late as the present, a light burning in the house of his father-in-law. It was evident that the old man had not yet retired to rest; and the idea suddenly occurred to Owen that he would endeavour to have an interview with him, and for the last time make use of every argument in his power to wring from his frigid heart some spark of pity. Fearing, however, that, should he knock at the door, he would be denied admittance, he resolved to climb over a low garden fence at the rear of the premises, and enter the house by a back door which he rightly conjectured was still unfastened. His object was quickly attained, and in another moment he stood before Bill Doran. The miser was seated at a table engaged in making some entries in an account-book which lay before him, while by his side stood a well-filled money-bag and several piles of gold.

As soon as he perceived the presence of the intruder, he hastily drew the treasure closer to him for protection, while, in accents of the greatest alarm, he screamed out: "What brings you here? Have you come to rob me?"

"Hush!" said O'Sullivan, raising his outstretched hand towards him. "Do not fear for your gold: I am no robber, although I have had enough distress to make me one."

page 320

"What brings you here, then?"

"Starvation!" was the reply.

"I do not sell meat nor bread, my dear son-in-law. If you are starving, you had better buy some from the butcher and baker," observed Doran, recovering his self-possession.

"I came here to beg the means from you to do so," said O'Sullivan. Listen to me Mr. Doran: I would lie down and die rather than ask this for myself; but my wife—your daughter —for her sake I ask it. She expects to become a mother in a few days, and I'm sure, if you only saw the state of distress she is in, you would relieve her out of your plenty. You cannot forget she is your own flesh and blood."

"Hark'ee, O'Sullivan!" interrupted Doran; "no one knows but myself how I loved that child, or how I toiled to make her happy—to make her rich. I looked forward to the time when I would be able to marry her to some one far above her in station, who could make a lady of her; but you have thwarted all my schemes, like a beggarly thief, as you are. You stole her from me, and you may both die on a dunghill for all I care; but I would rather she would live just long enough to see you hanged—and I hope that day is not far off!"

"Perhaps you may have your wish, but you shall never see it accomplished," exclaimed O'Sullivan, as, maddened by the insults thus heaped upon him, and no longer able to control the fierce passion that raged within him, he seized the Miser by the throat with the grasp of a Hercules. The old man struggled long and violently, and succeeded several times in uttering cries, loud enough to be heard should a person be passing at the moment; but Owen quickly stifled them by tearing a handkerchief from his own neck and forcing it tightly into the mouth of page 321his victim, whose ineffectual struggles to release himself the watched with a savage intenseness. The face of the old man grew blacker and blacker. His eyes started from their sockets, and O'Snllivan dashed to the ground the lifeless body of his wife's father.

The murderer stood for some moments gazing on the inanimate form 'ying at his feet, scarcely able to realise the horror of the deed he had perpetrated. A sudden reaction had taken place within him, and his excitement had given place to a dull sense of inability of thought or action. He only remembered instinctively the necessity of providing against detection, and with a vague impulse to take refuge in flight—to escape from the presence of the ghastly work of his own creating, which forced itself upon him. He abruptly left the room, and, opening the front door of the cottage, was about to hurry forth, when he found his egress opposed by a figure of a man standing on the steps. A brilliant flash of lightning, accompanied by a loud peal of thunder, enabled Owen to recognise in the unwelcome intruder a man of the name of Byrne—an acquaintance of his.

This person was well known as one of the greatest reprobates in that part of the country, having been in trouble more than once in affairs of sheep-stealing and poaching, and although we did not think it necessary to introduce him before, was one the company assembled at the public house the same night.