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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter IV

page 322

Chapter IV.

"Why then, Owen O'Sullivan," said Byrne, "I'm glad it's yourself I see here. I was afraid there was something wrong, and that someone was murdering Old Doran. Is there anything ails him?"

"No, nothing," moodily answered Owen.

"Troth he seems quite enough now, poor man," returned the other, "but he was makin' plenty of noise a minnit or two ago, and I'm certain I heard him cry out for help. Anyhow, as I'm his neighbour, I'll just step inside and see if all's right"—saving which he passed by O'Sullivan, who did not even attempt to oppose him, but mechanically followed him into the room where the late tragedy had been enacted.

"Ha!" exclaimed Byrne, "It's just as I suspected; you have settled the old man's business—I fear this will turn out a bad night's work for you, my lad; but I own that was a weighty temptation," continued he, pointing to the bag of money which still remained on the table. "I don't know if I could have withstood it myself."

"You mistake," said Owen; "I am a murderer, but not a robber."

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"That will however, be but a poor defence to make in a court of justice."

"In which you doubtlessly intend to appear as a witness against me," added O'Sullivan, casting a fierce glance on his companion.

"That depends on circumstances," was the reply. "If you come down with the blunt like, a gentleman, why I have no objection to keep my tongue quiet. You know that a person who keeps close in such a case as this should have something handsome to recompense him for the stings of conscience he must suffer. I think, however, as we are old friends, that may be settled between us, in consideration of that little bag of gold, which it seems you don't care for yourself, and is not of use to him any longer.

Owen hestitated for a moment, and then said 'It shall be yours, but I must make one addition to the agreement, which is, that you will instantly remove the body from this house, and conceal it in some place where it will not be likely to be discovered. I do not want it to be found here, and I dare not touch it again."

"Well, I don't much like this part of the business, but as you didn't haggle about the terms, I suppose I must throw this job into the bargain, and he'll be a smart one who will ever think of looking for it where I'll stow it away—so here goes," said Byrne, as he lifted the body and placed it in an empty sack which he found in the room. With Owens's assistance he fixed it on his back, and having first cautiously ascertained that the way was clear, sailed forth with his horrible burthen, and disappeared in the gloom.

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When the guilty man was left alone, in order to baffle suspicion as much as posssble, he carefully replaced everything that had been disturbed during the fatal struggle, in doing which he found four or five pieces of gold on the floor that had escaped the cupidity of Byrne, and which, being now so deeply plunged in crime, he did not hesitate to transfer to his pocket. He next secured the entrance by which he had gained admission, and left the cottage by the front door, which he locked after him, throwing the key into a drain by the roadside.

Who would attempt to describe the emotions that filled the breast of the wretched man as he turned his steps to his home once more? How could he dare to meet the gaze of his wife—the daughter of the man in whose blood his hands were imbued? The reverberations of the thunder which still disturbed the silence of night appeared to his conscience-stricken ear to clamour denunciations on his guilty head, and he shrank with fear and trembling at the sound.

It was nearly daylight when he leached his dwelling, where a scene awaited him calculated to fill to overflowing the cup of his despair. During his absence his wife had been taken suddenly ill, and had given birth to a dead child. He found her in a most dangerous condition, and perhaps happily for herself, unconscious of all around. In this state she continued until the next evening, when the prophecy of the medical man who attended her through motives of charity was fulfilled, and the gentle spirit of Kathleen O'Sullivan took its flight for a better world.

That dark and tempestuous night was indeed an eventful one, for, besides the disasters we have related, the dead body of Byrne was found next morning lying on the road near his home, page 325frightfully disfigured by lightning, while close by him were discovered a spade and a bag containing a large sum of money in gold, also several coins of the same metal on his person,

The non appearance of old Doran was ere long noticed by his neighbours. His house was broken into, but no clue could then be found as to the cause of his mysterious disappearance. A search was then instituted through the adjacent country, but with no better success. All this time, however, it appeared evident that Byrne, who was now beyond the reach of human law, had murdered the missing man for the purpose of possessing himself of his missing money, especially as a slip of parchment attached to the money-bag found as before-mentioned, and denoting the amount it contained, was identified as being in the handwriting of the miser, which many were familiar with to their cost. Most likely Byrne had encountered Doran in one of his midnight rambles—which it was well known were customary with the old man, and supposed to be for the purpose of visiting the secret depository of his wealth—and that, tempted by the hope of plunder, he had deprived his victim of life by means of the spade, with which it would seem he was armed. Concerning the exact spot where the murder had been committed, or in what manner the body had been disposed of, conjecture was at fault. As for the real culprit, he escaped without the slightest shadow of suspicion being cast upon him, and in a few weeks, this, like all other occurrences of the kind, if not forgotten, was at least no longer a subject of conversation.

The grief of O'Sullivan for the loss of her whom he had so tenderly loved, was in some manner counteracted, if not subdued, by another feeling, the constant dread of which hung over him that by some means or other the truth would yet be brought to light concerning the foul crime of which he had been guilty; page 326but, as months and years elapsed over his head without eliciting any circumstances detrimental to his safety, he at length gained sufficient courage to deride his former fears, although his disturbed conscience would still often present to his mind's eye an appalling picture of the distorted features of the Old Miser, as he writhed in the agonies of death.

There was still no change for the better in Owen's pecuniary prospects. The world went as hard with him as ever, a mere existence being eked out by him from occasional jobs he obtained as a labourer. When pushed to extremity by the want of employment, he would sometimes ask himself if by increased perseverance he might not have the good fortune to discover some of his late father-in-law's hidden treasure? This idea once formed soon took entire possession of his mind, and he resolved to act upon it.

At an hour when all others were wrapt in sleep, he would shoulder his pick-axe and shovel, and night after night spent hours together in turning up the ground in secluded nooks and corners whenever his morbid fancy led him to believe he might meet with success. But alas! his efforts were fruitless, and at last, enraged and disgusted by repeated failure, he one night flung down his delving instruments, and vowed to abandon the unsatisfactory pursuit for ever. He adhered to his resolution the following night and retired to bed instead of perambulating the country. For many hours he tumbled about vainly striving to obtain rest, and when sleep did close his eyes, the dreams which came in its train promised to do away with any beneficial effect "nature's sweet restorer" might otherwise have brought. Among the rest of his sleeping fancies, he imagined that he was once more setting out on one of his gold-seeking expeditions, although with little hopes of a favourable result, when a sweet page 327silvery voice, proceeding from some unknown source, addressed him in the following words:—

"When the moon's at her full—at the midnight hour—
Go seek 'neath the walls of the old Round Tower,
For there in the darksome clay doth rest
What hath long disturbed thy troubled breast."

The sun was shining brightly through the unglazed window when Owen awoke. As he rose, the peculiar dream of the preceding night recurred to his recollection, especially the verse which his nocturnal visitor had favoured him with, and which had been so indelibly impressed on his memory that he found he could now repeat it word for word. This was, he thought, a direct guide to the attainment of his unfulfilled wishes, and he at once remembered that all the great gold-seekers he had heard or read of, were informed of the spot where the longed-for treasure lay, in a similarly mysterious manner. He also knew that such information, to be reliable, should be tendered at three different times, which would be a clear proof that the Devil had nothing to do with it—three being a lucky number—and accordingly making up his mind to follow in every respect the example of his worthy predecessors, Owen determined not to act on the fair words he had heard until they had been uttered in triplicate. On the two following nights, however, the same voice and the same words sounded again in his ear:—

"When the moon's at her full—at the midnight hour—
Go seek neath the walls of the Old Round Tower, &c."