by Samuel Lover
Faintly glitters the last red ray,
Tinting the flickering leaves that play
On the swaying boughs of the old gray trees,
That groan as they rock in the fitful breeze.
Deep in their shadow a watcher lies,
The beam of the lynx in his eager eyes;
But twilight darkens-the eye can't mark-
And the ear grows keen to the mental "hark,"
And the rustling leaf is unwelcome o'erhead,
Lest it baffle the sound of the coming tread.
There's a stir in the thicket-a footstep outside,
And the coming one stops in his rapid stride,
As, rising before him, like spectre from tomb,
'Tis a man-not a woman-appears through the gloom,
And he holds hard his breath, and he clinches the hand,
As he halts to the low-muttered summons of "Stand!"
"Who dares to impede me?"
"Who dares to invade
With guilty purpose the quiet glade?
'Tis the brother you meet of the girl you pursue:-
Now give over that chase, or the deed you shall rue!"
"Back, ruffian! nor venture on me a command!"
And a horsewhip was raised-but the vigorous hand
Of young Phaidrig the blacksmith a blow struck so sure
That it fell'd to the earth the Squireen of Knocklure.
Remember, I pray you, the difference that lies
Between Squire and Squireen. To the former applies
High birth and high feeling; the latter would ape,
Like the frog in the fable, a loftier shape,
But as little succeeds:-thus are lords aped by flunkies,
And lions by jackals, and mankind by monkies.
Our Squireen was that thing as a "middleman" known,
An agent-the tyrant of lands not his own.
The unscrupulous servant of all who could serve him,
The means of advancement could never unnerve him,
To get up in the world, nothing balked his temerity,
No matter how he might go down to posterity;
High pay and low pleasures he loved-nothing pure
But pure whiskey could please the Squireen of Knocklure.
The Blacksmith's fair sister had caught his foul eye:
The watchful young brother did quickly descry
The sly-baited lures that were laid to ensnare
Her heart in a hope that might end in despair-
Such hope as too often the maiden enthralls,
Through a villain's false vows, till she trusts and she falls-
So to save from pollution the simple and pure,
Stern warning was giv'n to the knave of Knocklure,
Till Phaidrig, at last, in his passion's fierce glow,
The threat of the horsewhip chastised with a blow.
A vengeance demoniac the Squireen now planned,
In fetters to palsy the brave brother's hand;
In the dead of the night loaded arms he conceal'd
In the ridge of potatoes in Phaidrig's own field;
Then the Smith he denounced as a Whiteboy. A search
For the fire-arms conceal'd, tore up many a perch
Of the poor Blacksmith's garden. What he had intended
Life's prop, was not only uprooted, but blended
With seed of destruction!-The proof-seeking spade
Found the engines of death with the staff of life laid!
'T was enough.-Undeniable proof 'twas declared
That Phaidrig in Whiteboy conspiracy shared,
The Blacksmith was seized, fetter'd, sworn 'gainst, and thrown
In a dungeon that echoed his innocent groan.
Those were days when the name of a Whiteboy brought fear
To the passion or judgment-the heart or the ear
Of the bravest and calmest-when Mercy aloof
Stood silent, and babbling suspicion seemed proof.
Then Justice looked more to her sword than her scale,
Then ready unfurled was the transport-ship's sail
To hurry the doom'd beyond respite or hope:-
If their destiny's thread did not end in a rope!
Phaidrig soon was on trial.-When called on to plead
In defence to this charge of a dark lawless deed,
This hiding of arms-he replied, "The Squireen
Showed the place of concealment; no witness has been
To prove he was told of the arms being there;
Now how did he know it? That question is fair-
But unanswer'd. The old proverb says-'They who hide
Can find.'-'T was the villain himself, who has lied
On the Gospels he kiss'd, that conceal'd the arms there;
My name thro' the country is blameless and fair;
My character's spotless;-Can any one say
I was found among Whiteboys by night or by day?
'T was the Squireen himself who contrived it: my curse
Be upon him this day-for I know there is worse
In his heart, yet to do. There's an innocent girl
He's hunting to ruin-my heart's dearest pearl
Is that same-and he seeks for my banishment now,
To brand with a darker disgrace her young brow;
If I'm sent o'er the sea, she'll be thrown on the world,
Lone, helpless, and starving;-the sail once unfurl'd
That bears me from her and from home far away,
Will leave that poor girl to the villain a prey!
That's the truth, my Lord Judge-before Heaven and men
I am innocent!"-Lowly the murmurs ran then
Round the court; indignation and pity, perchance,
Glowed deep in some bosoms, or gleamed in some glance,
But the Arms left the timorous jury no choice;
They found Guilty"-and then rose the Judge's mild voice,
"Transportation" the sentence-but softly 't was said-
(Like summer wind waving the grass o'er the dead)
And Phaidrig, though stout, felt his heart's current freeze
When he heard himself banished beyond "the far seas."
"Oh, hang me at once," he exclaimed; "I do n't care
For life, now that life leaves me only despair;
In felon chains, far from the land of my birth,
I will envy the dead that sleep cold in the earth!"
He was hurried away, while on many a pale lip
Hung prophecies dark of "that unlucky ship"
That should carry him. "Did n't he ask for his death?
And sure Heav'n hears the pray'r of the innocent breath.
Since the poor boy's not plazed with the sentence they found,
Maybe God will be good to him-and he'll be dhrown'd!"
Now the villain Squireen had it "all his own way,
Like the bull in the china-shop." Every day
Saw him richer and richer, and prouder and prouder;
He began to dress finer, began to talk louder;
Got places of profit and places of trust;
And went it so fast, that the proverb, "needs must,"
Was whisper'd; but he, proverbs wise proudly spurning,
Thought his was the road that should ne'er have a turning.
But, "Pride has its fall," is another old saying;
Retribution will come, though her visit delaying;
Though various the ways of her devious approach,
She'll come-though her visit be paid in a coach;
And however disguised be the domino rare,
The mask falls at last-Retribution is there!
The Squireen lived high, drank champagne ev'ry day,
"Tally ho!" in the morning; at night, "hip, hurrah!"
In reckless profusion the low rascal revell'd;
The true "beggar on horseback"-you know where he travell'd.
But riot is costly-with gold it is fed,
And the Squireen's affairs got involved, it is said;
And time made things worse. Then, in wild speculation
He plunged, and got deeper. Next came pec-ulation-
There is but one letter in difference-what then?
If one letter's no matter, what matter for ten?
One letter's as good as another-one man
Can write the same name that another man can;
And the Squireen, forgetting his own name, one day
Wrote another man's name,-with a "promise to pay;"-
All was up with the Squireen-the "Hue and Cry" spread,
With "Five Hundred Reward" on the miscreant's head;
His last desp'rate chance was a precipitate flight,
In the darkness-his own kindred darkness-of night.
But what of the Blacksmith?-The exil'd one-cast
From the peace of his home to the wild ocean blast?
Was he drown'd?-as the pitying prophecy ran;
Did he die?-as was wished by the heart-broken man.
No! Heaven bade him live, and to witness a sign
Of that warning so terrible-"Vengeance is mine!"
He return'd to his home-to that well-beloved spot
Where first he drew breath-his own wild mountain cot.
To that spot had his spirit oft flown o'er the deep
When the soul of the captive found freedom in sleep;
Oh! pleasure too bitterly purchased with pain,
When from fancy-wrought freedom he woke in his chain
To labour in penal restraint all the day,
And pine for his sea-girdled home far away!-
But now 'tis no dream-the last hill is o'erpast,
He sees the thatch'd roof of his cottage, at last,
And the smoke from the old wattled chimney declares
The hearth is unquenched that had burn'd bright for years.
With varied emotion his bosom is swayed,
As his faltering step o'er the threshold's delayed:-
Shall the face of a stranger now meet him, where once
His presence was hail'd with a mother's fond glance,
With the welcoming kiss of a sister ador'd?-
A sister!-ah! misery's linked with that word,
For that sister he found-but fast dying.-A boy
Was beside her.-A tremulous flicker of joy
In the deep-sunken eye of the dying one burn'd;-
Recognition it flash'd on the exile return d,
But with mingled expression was struggling the flame-
'T was partly affection, and partly 't was shame,
As she falter'd, "Thank God, that I see you once more,
Though there's more than my death you arrive to deplore:
Yet kiss me, my brother!-Oh, kiss and forgive-
Then welcome be death!-I had rather not live
Now you have return'd;-for 'tis better to die
Than linger a living reproach in your eye:
And you'll guard the poor orphan-yes, Phaidrig ma chree,
Save from ruin my child, though you could not save me.
Do n't think hard of my mem'ry-forgive me the shame
I brought-through a villain's deceit-on our name:-
When the flow'rs o'er my grave the soft summer shall bring,
Then in your heart the pale flow'r of pity may spring."
No word she spoke more-and no words utter'd he-
They were choked by his grief; but he sank on his knee,
And down his pale face the big silent tears roll-
That tribute which misery wrings from the soul,
And he press'd her cold hand, and the last look she gave
Was the sunset of love o'er the gloom of the grave.
The old forge still existed, where, days long ago,
The anvil rang loud to the Smith's lusty blow,
But the blows are less rapid, less vigorous now,
And a gray-haired man wipes labour's damp from his brow.
But he cares for the boy; who, with love, gives him aid
With his young 'prentice hand in the smithy's small trade,
Whose stock was but scanty;-and iron, one day,
Being lack'd by the Blacksmith-the boy went his way,
Saying, "Wait for a minute, there's something I found
Th' other day, that will do for the work, I'll be bound;"
And he brought back a gun-barrel.-Dark was the look
Of the Blacksmith, as slowly the weapon he took:-
"Where got you this, boy?" "Just behind the house here;
It must have been buried for many a year,
For the stock was all rotten, the barrel was rusty-"
"Say no more," said the Smith. Bitter Memory, trusty
As watch-dog that barks at the sight of a foe,
Sprang up at this cursèd memento of woe,
And the hard-sinewed Smith drew his hand o'er his eyes,
And the boy asks him why-but he never replies.
Hark! hark!-take heed!
What rapidly rings down the road?
'Tis the clattering hoof of a foaming steed,
And the rider pale is sore in need,
As he 'lights at the Smith's abode;
For the horse has cast a shoe,
And the rider has far to go-
From the gallows he flies,
If o'ertaken, he dies,
And hard behind is the foe
Tracking him fast, and tracking him sure!
'T is the forger-the scoundrel Squireen of Knocklure!
Flying from justice, he flies to the spot
Where, did justice not strike him, then justice were not:-
As the straw to the whirlpool-the moth to the flame-
Fate beckons her victim to death and to shame!
Wild was the look which the Blacksmith cast,
As his deadliest foe o'er his threshold past,
And hastily ordered a shoe for his horse;
But Phaidrig stood motionless-pale as a corse,
While the boy, unconscious of cause to hate
(The chosen minister, called by Fate),
Placed the gun in the fire, and the flame he blew
From the rusty barrel to mould a shoe.
Fierce, as the glow of the forge's fire,
Flashed Phaidrig's glances of speechless ire,
As the Squireen, who counted the moments that flew,
Cried, "Quick, fellow, quick, for my horse a shoe!"
But Phaidrig's glances the fiercer grew,
While the fugitive knew not the wreck of that frame,
So handsome once in its youthful fame,
That frame he had crush'd with a convict's chain,
That fame he had tarnish'd with felon stain.
"And so you forget me?" the Blacksmith cried.
The voice rolled backward the chilling tide
Of the curdling blood on the villain's heart,
And he heard the sound with a fearful start;
But, with the strong nerve of the bad and the bold,
He rallied-and pull'd out a purse of gold,
And said, "Of the past it is vain to tell,
Shoe me my horse, and I'll pay you well."
"Work for you?-no, never!-unless belike
To rivet your fetters this hand might strike,
Or to drive a nail in your gallows-tree-
That's the only work you shall have from me-
When you swing, I'll be loud in the crowd shall hoot you."
"Silence, you dog-or, by Heaven, I'll shoot you!"
And a pistol he drew-but the startled child
Rushed in between, with an outcry wild,
"Do n't shoot-do n't shoot! oh, master sweet!
The iron is now in the fire to heat,
'T will soon be ready, the horse shall be shod."
The Squireen returned but a curse and a nod,
Nor knew that the base-born child before him
Was his own that a ruined woman bore him;
And the gun-barrel, too, in that glowing fire,
Was his own-one of those he had hid to conspire
'Gainst the Blacksmith's life; but Heaven decreed
His own should result from the darksome deed,
For the barrel grows red-the charge ignites-
Explodes!-and the guilty Squireen bites
The dust where he falls. Oh, judgment dread!
His own traitor weapon the death-shot sped,
By his own child it was found, and laid
In the wrong'd one's fire-the gathering shade
Of his doom was completed-Fate's shadows had spread
Like a thunder-cloud o'er his guilty head,
And the thunder burst, and the lightning fell,
Where his dark deeds were done, in the mountain dell.
The pursuit was fast on the hunted Squireen;
The reeking horse at the forge is seen,
There's a shout on the hill, there's a rush down the glen,
And the forge is crowded with armèd men;
With dying breath, the victim allowed
The truth of the startling tale
The Blacksmith told to the greedy crowd,
Who for gold had track'd the trail.
Vain golden hope-vain speed was there;
The game lay low in his crimson lair!-
To the vengeance of earth no victim was giv'n,
'T was claim'd by the higher tribunal of Heaven!
Last updated August 18, 2022