"You are a villain!" spoke the hot-tempered Irish maiden, with a glow in her eyes before which the evil-looking man before her quailed, although the scowl upon his face was an ugly thing to see. "You are a thief and a villain, and I will see the Governor myself and tell him what you have been doing. Oh, it is infamous!—infamous! My poor father!"
The girl put her hands before her eyes for a moment to hide the tears that rose to them. Mona had the tall, graceful figure, regular noble features, and great grey eyes of the typical Irish maiden. She was standing beneath the walls, and within the precincts of, Lifford gaol. Before her was a man of evil aspect, who wore the dress of a gaoler, and who swung a great bundle of keys in his hand. He had come forward confidently enough to meet the girl, smiling and almost cringing; but when she suddenly blazed forth at him in this impetuous fashion, he shrank and cowered before her as though he knew himself guilty of some dire offence.
"You have been taking our money all these years—money so hardly earned—so sorely spared; you have sworn that you spent it in providing better food and lodging for my dear father; and all the while you lied!—you lied! Black-hearted villain that you are! He has never been the better for it by one loaf of bread—by one flask of wine. You have stolen every coin. You have defrauded him and lied to us!"
The girl was shaken by the storm of her anger. The man stood before her tongue-tied and cowed.
He was not ashamed of his villainy; he was too hardened a wretch for that; but he was afraid lest the thing should become known to the Governor, who was a just and humane man, and who from time to time had been known to admit the prisoner's daughter to his presence at her earnest request.
"I am going to see the Governor about it," concluded the girl, with a scathing look. "He is a just man and merciful. He will at least know what to advise us for the future."
Fury and terror filled the man's face; he recoiled a little, and fingered his heavy keys as though he meditated a savage assault upon the girl, standing before him in this great solitary courtyard. What if he silenced her voice for ever? Who would be the wiser? He shot a quick glance round him, as if to assure himself that there were no eyes upon him, and Mona at the same moment gave a half-scared, half-defiant gaze around herself. Some instinct warned her of his fell purpose, and she knew she was no match for him; but to quail or cower would but bring down the meditated blow upon her head. She stood with her clear gaze full upon his eyes, holding them, as men in the wilderness can sometimes hold a wild beast in thrall by the fixed stare of unwavering will.
She was not many paces from the little door by which she had entered. If she could gain that, she might be able to turn and fly. She made one backward step towards it; but even as she moved, she felt rather than saw that he was in the act of springing; and at that she darted backwards, tore open the door, and was through it before he could reach her. But she could not close it behind her to draw the bolt. He was too quick for that. She almost felt his hands at her throat, when suddenly she heard him utter a yell of terror; and turning saw him struggling in the grip of a tall and powerful young man, who must have been coming towards the door close under the wall, for she had not seen him as she darted out, and yet he had been there to catch her pursuer as he followed.
The terror of the man surprised Mona, as did also the fact that he made no resistance when once he saw into whose hands he had fallen. His arms dropped to his sides, and his jaw fell; he stood staring at the young athlete who had him in his grip as though bereft of sense.
"My father shall hear of this, sirrah!" spoke the youth with a final shake, as he let the wretch go; then he turned to Mona, and doffed his hat with a courtly air.
"He has not hurt you, fair maid, I trust!"
"Oh no, dear sir, I am not hurt. I thank you from my heart for this timely aid."
"And what do you in this gloomy place, if I may ask the question? What errand has brought so fair a flower within the portals of a prison?"
At that question Mona's eyes filled with sudden tears, and she turned away her head to hide them.
"Alas, dear sir! mine is a sorrowful errand, and I have not been able to accomplish it; for we have been basely tricked and cozened these many years by yonder miscreant, who is slinking now away like a whipped hound. I would fain see the good Governor, and tell my tale of woe to him. He was kind before, it may be he will find a way to help me now."
"I am his son," answered the young man eagerly. "I will take you to him speedily; and as we go you shall tell me your sad tale. Believe me, I will befriend you if I can. Have you some relative immured within the walls of this grim place?"
"Alas, sir, my father!" she answered with brimming eyes; "and he has been here so many long, weary years. I was but little more than a child when they took him away and brought him hither, and now I am within a year of twenty summers. My poor father!—my poor innocent father!"
"Of what crime does he stand accused?" asked the young man, with ready interest.
"Of no crime save that of holding the Presbyterian faith," she answered; "that is all the wrong he has done—believing it and teaching it; for he is a minister of the Word, and our church at Raphoe was his charge, and we were happy and he was beloved of all. But you must know how when the King was restored to his kingdom over the water after the death of the iron Cromwell, he or his ministers issued edicts in this land, as well as in England and Scotland, for the re-establishment of the Prelacy; and those who desire to worship after their own fashion, and not according to episcopal forms, are sorely beset and persecuted."
"I know, I know," answered her companion quickly and with sympathy. "And so your father was one of those who suffered for his faith?"
"Yes, there were four of them," answered Mona, her tongue unloosed by the friendliness of this stranger, "and Bishop Leslie had them all cast into prison at the same time. They lie in this grim jail; and God alone knows when they will be suffered to come forth. But we heard that the prisoners here were harshly treated, and had scarcely the necessaries of life supplied them. It was after hearing this that I went one day and craved speech of the Governor. I did first beg him to let me see my dear father; but that he might not permit. He said, however, that I might speak with the jailer who had charge of him, and obtain through him such things as we could make shift to purchase for him to lessen his privations and sufferings. The man promised faithfully, and every penny we can spare has been scraped and hoarded and given over to him; and we believed that father had such comforts as they could get for him; we believed that till a few days ago; and then—and then——" The girl's voice grew husky, the bright tears rolled down her cheeks. Her companion took the words out of her mouth.
"You heard in some roundabout fashion that your money had gone into the pockets of that wretch, and that your father had in no wise profited thereby."
"Yes, yes; that was it. One of our friends has obtained his liberty; they say there is hope that others will follow. We saw him. He came to us. He has now and then had a brief moment of speech with my dear father. Nothing has ever reached him from without. He has suffered all the rigours of his harsh captivity."
"And you did have the bravery to go to yon miscreant who has had the charge of your father, here in this prison, and who has appropriated the money, and tell him of his ill-deeds; and this it was that wakened his evil passions and ferocity? This it was that made him chase you forth, and seek to do you hurt!"
"I told him I would tell the Governor," panted Mona, with hot, indignant eyes; "and then I saw that he would fly at me; and so I sought to reach the door ere he had time. But he would have done me a mischief had it not been for your good help."
"Then come now to my father and tell him all the tale," cried the young man, whose name was Derrick Adair, "and we will see if some way cannot be found for mending matters for your good father. At least that rogue of a jailer shall receive his due reward—or punishment!"
Colonel Adair, the Governor, who had been kind to Mona before, listened very readily now to her tale, and was exceedingly displeased at what he heard as to the action of the warder. Of course he knew well the abuses that prevailed in all prisons at this epoch, and long afterwards; but though enable to institute any drastic measures of reform, he was able to punish individual transgressors when peculation had been proved against them; and he told Mona that he would see in future that her alms were rightly bestowed for the relief of the prisoner, adding that he hoped soon to see him set at liberty.
"I am perplexed to know why the Bishop speaks of releasing the other three ministers he sent hither—indeed, one was set free a short while since, as you know. But there is no mention of that grace being extended to your father; and yet his case was in no way different from that of others. Can you explain wherefore he is differently treated?"
A hot flush dyed Mona's cheek, and then the flash of anger awoke in her eyes. She spoke almost as if to herself.
"Oh, infamous, infamous! The coward! Did he indeed speak truth when he threatened? I did not believe he had such power."
"Of what do you speak, my child?" asked the Governor kindly. "Trust me and tell me all. You shall not regret your confidence."
"Oh, sir," cried Mona, struggling against her excitement and anger, "it is the doing of that wicked son of the Bishop. He professes to love me. He waylays me sometimes in my walks, and talks as he has no right to do. He is a great man's son. I am a poor minister's daughter. He declares he wishes to wed me; but I will not listen. He is a bad man. I fear him and I hate him. And it was but a little while back that he threatened me. He said that till I would give him the promise he asks, my father should never be released! I did not think as he spoke that he had power to contrive such a cruel thing. But here are others going forth, and my poor father kept still in ward. Oh, why are such cruel things suffered to be?"
"And what answer did you make him, my child?" asked the Colonel.
"The same that I have ever done, sir; that I have no love for him! Nay, I hate him and I fear him. I will never trust him; I will never be his wife. He knows his father would oppose such a marriage; it is always of elopement that he talks! But I will not hear! He is wicked, cruel! But my poor father; must he suffer too?"
"Nay; that he shall not. I myself will obtain justice!" cried Derrick, with sudden energy; and as Mona lifted her beautiful face, and gazed at him through her tears, he went on gently:
"It may indeed be that I can help thee, sweet maid; for when my visit here is ended, I return to Dublin, where I am finishing my course of study at Trinity College, and also acting in the capacity of private tutor to a great nobleman's son. This nobleman has much influence with the Government, and through interesting my pupil in your father's story, I doubt not I can bring this tale to the ears of those in power, and so effect his release. Therefore, weep no more, fair Mistress Mona; wait in patience for a few more weeks, and trust me not to forget your case, and to do all that one man may to right a wrong."
So Mona went home lightened of a sore burden; her heart full of thanksgiving. And when next the Bishop's son waylaid her, and promised to obtain her father's freedom if she would but consent to the proposed elopement with him, she answered him with steady scorn, looking so beautiful in her simple maidenly dignity and indignation, that the baffled man stood watching her with a look of mingled longing and anger.
"You obtain his liberty! It is you who are the present cause of his continued bondage! Why is he not released with the others? Oh, lie not to me! I know; I know. Wicked men do these things daily, and God does not smite at once; but the day will come, the day of vengeance, when the wicked will be overthrown, and the righteous will shine forth like stars in the firmament of heaven!"
He continued to gaze at her with an expression that would have terrified many girls; but Mona was not afraid. She felt that she had another champion now; and she feared no longer the machinations of this bad man.
She had seen Derrick Adair several times during the interval that had elapsed between her visit to the prison and the present interview with the Bishop's son. He had come to see her mother, and assure her that the prisoner had been taken to a more comfortable lodging, and had received better food and bedding than had been his heretofore. All the money sent by the careful family was now suffered to reach the prisoner himself, and his condition was greatly ameliorated thereby.
The dishonest jailer had been sent away, Derrick told them on his second visit; and he added he would like to make a clean sweep of many others; but even his father had not power for that.
Mona's heart was now relieved of the heaviest part of its burden. She was no longer afraid of the Bishop or his son; she was no longer torn in twain by the feeling that she might be standing between her father and his liberty, and that perhaps filial duty demanded the sacrifice from her of wedding a man she feared and hated. But she so distrusted the Bishop's son that she could never think of his proposal without a shudder; and now what joy it was to feel that their cause had been taken up by a stalwart champion, and that justice might be looked for without such a terrible sacrifice on her part!
Mona was a fearless girl, who had always led a free and hardy life. She had a very kind heart, and a skilful pair of hands, and wherever there was sickness in any of the cabins or cottages around, it was the custom to send for her, and she never failed to answer the summons. Often she was thus away from her home for a whole day, or for a night or two, and no anxiety would be aroused by her non-return from a sick-bed. When possible, she would send a message to this effect if she were detained; but no real trouble would be caused by her absence at night, should she have gone forth in response to a summons, and not returned.
One afternoon she received a message to ask her to come to a sick woman at some distance; and as she kissed her mother she told her not to be anxious if she did not come home till morning, as if she were detained late, it would be better to stay the night.
When, however, she arrived at the house, to her great surprise it was all shut up and empty. Could it be possible that the woman had died suddenly? she asked herself, and shook the door of the cabin. It yielded to her hand, and she went in; but there was no sick person on the bed; the place was neatly swept up and set in order, just as though the inmate had gone away for a visit.
A sudden odd sense of uneasiness came over Mona—a feeling of having been tricked. But who could have plotted to deceive her? The little boy who brought the message certainly delivered it in all good faith, and she had never questioned him as to who had bidden him bring it. But now there was but one thing to do; to get home as fast as possible, before it grew quite dark.
She turned to leave the cottage, when a shadow fell upon her from the open doorway, and with a shudder of horror she saw standing there the broad, squat figure of the wicked jailer, whose dismissal from the prison had been brought about through her instrumentality.
He gazed at her whitening face with an evil leer, and then made a wild-beast spring at her.
"My turn now, you hussy! My turn now! So you thought to ruin an honest man, and set at defiance a powerful one! But we will tame you between us, you little tiger cat! We will have our revenge!"
Even as he spoke the man with practised hands secured the girls slim wrists and clasped a pair of manacles upon them. He then bound them behind her back, and, after thrusting a gag into her mouth, he led her out of the house to a short distance, where in a ruined shed a horse was tied up. Lifting her upon its broad back, and springing up behind her himself, he set the creature at a steady gallop, and Mona felt herself being carried farther and farther away from home and friends, in the cruel grip of this evil man, who was plainly acting as the tool of the Bishops son.
It was a terrible thought, but Mona knew her only chance lay in keeping her courage and self-control. Whether anything could save her from her fate she did not know. But she closed her eyes in prayer, and entrusted her case to the God of all the earth, and having partially quieted herself by this, she opened her eyes and scanned the country through which they were passing with the keenest and most eager glances.
There was little to encourage her; all was bare and bleak and deserted. The man was evidently taking an unfrequented route. He desired no doubt to avoid encounters upon the road, although in the darkness no one was likely to note that he carried a prisoner before him, and Mona could give no sign and speak no word.
The light faded, the moon rose, and still they travelled on and on. Mona began to lose knowledge of the country through which she was passing. She fancied that they were on the main road for Dublin; but she could not be absolutely sure. It was like enough that she would be taken to a great city, where all trace of her would easily be lost. Sometimes as the long strange hours wore by, her heart almost fainted within her; but then again she told herself that to lose courage and hope would be to lose all. If she could but put her captor off his guard, perhaps things might yet go well. Some chance of escape might offer itself.
They could not travel all night without a halt. Man and beast must be fed. But as Mona saw in the distance a few twinkling lights, she pretended to be more heavily asleep than before (and for some time she had feigned drowsiness and broken slumber), and let herself rest heavily against the rider behind, who evidently had no great relish for the burden he did not dare to drop.
At last they reached the inn, and the man wrapped the girl up from head to foot in his great riding-cloak, taking care that her face should not be seen. Mona heard him mutter to himself:
"She is in a swoon; so much the better for me. I can take my ease after this weary ride; and if she comes to herself, she can neither speak nor use her hands. She must needs lie as I have placed her. I will just tie her feet to make all safe."
Then, lifting her in his arms, he cried to the host:
"I have got a sick daughter here I am taking to be cared for by my good mother. I will not bring her inside lest the distemper be catching. I will lay her comfortably on the straw in this barn, and let her rest there for an hour. She is in a sleep all the while. She will want nothing till I come out again."
So Mona was laid down on the straw in the empty barn, and the hint the man had dropped was quite enough to keep all other persons away from her. Under pretext of wrapping her up warmly her captor tied her feet together securely, and there she lay gagged and bound and helpless in the silence and the darkness. Yet she was hardly alone before she had struggled up into a sitting posture, and had flung off the heavy folds of the cloak.
Then very cautiously and carefully, and with some pain, she made the experiment she had been longing to do all the while—to try and twist her slim hand out of the manacle that encircled her wrist.
Mona, though a tall girl, was possessed of very delicate feet and hands, and her bones were small and flexible.
Had less been at stake she would have given up the task in despair; for the pain was severe, and she was altogether uncertain of success in the end, and feared that her hand was becoming swollen in the effort. But in spite of the pain, she persevered, and at last she drew forth her right hand free, and would have cried aloud but for the gag in her mouth.
To release the other hand when its fellow was free was an easier matter, and then she quickly unfastened the gag and drew a breath of deep relief as she flung it from her. It was hard still to be delayed by the knots that bound her feet; but they gave way at last to her strenuous efforts, and Mona stood up free and fetterless in the darkness of the barn.
"Thank God—thank God!" she cried in her heart; yet she knew her perils were not over yet. She must creep away from the inn and hide herself; but her persecutor would soon discover her flight and would pursue her. She dared not take the horse, as she feared to be seen if she approached the stable. All she ventured to do was to slip out of the barn through a broken portion of the wall, and looking well about her, and taking her direction from the friendly moon, she sped like a shadow along the road she had recently so painfully traversed.
She did not dare to leave it unless forced to do so. The treacherous bog-land lay about her, and she knew nothing of the safe tracks across, that were familiar in her own locality. The moon that gave her light would serve also to illumine her own figure for her pursuer when he should discover her escape. Swiftly as the girl raced onwards in the moonlight, she felt ever as though that strong horse and his wicked rider must soon be at her heels.
"Then will I plunge into the bog and hide me or perish there!" cried Mona, clenching her teeth; "but never, never, never shall he lay his hands upon me again. I fear not death—at least but little. I fear only to fall into the hands of wicked men!"
Suddenly upon the far horizon of her vision there loomed up a little black speck, and Mona's heart gave a throb of joy. It was surely some traveller approaching from the opposite direction! Upon his mercy she would cast herself, whoever he might be! No son of Erin would refuse to champion her in such an hour as this, and no traveller along these lonely roads ever went unarmed.
Yet even as her quick eyes beheld this traveller approaching in the one direction, her quick ears caught the sound of horse's hoofs galloping furiously behind her from the other.
Gathering all her energies together for a last effort, the girl sped forward like an arrow from a bow, her light figure clearly standing out in the bright moonlight. It seemed to her as though the traveller saw something of the pursuit; for instantly his horse sprang forward at a grand gallop. The fugitive fled onwards gasping, exhausted; and then in a moment she found herself upheld by a strong arm; she leaned almost helplessly against her preserver, and a familiar, agitated voice exclaimed in her ear:
"Mona!—Mona!—Sweetheart, what ails thee?"
"The jailer—the Bishop's son—they tricked me—they caught me!" panted the girl; "he carried me off; but I have escaped. He is coming after me now. Ah, do not let him have me! Kill me first; but never let me fall alive into his hands!"
"You give yourself to me, sweet Mona? Then I will hold thee against all the world!"
Derrick held her with his left arm, and levelled his pistol with his right.
"Dare to come one step nearer, and I fire."
"Dare to come one step nearer, and I fire. You know, fellow, whether or not I shall miss my mark!"
The two men stood looking at each other in deep silence for a few seconds, deadly rage and baffled hate on one face, on the other stern wrath and dauntless determination. At last the hireling with an oath turned his horse, and galloped back the way he had come. Revenge was sweet, and so was gold; but he cared not to purchase either at the price of life or limb.
"Thou art safe, sweetheart!" said Derrick, bending his head and touching her cheek with his lips. "Heaven be thanked that I was so hindered in my start for Dublin this day, that I had perforce to wait for moon-rise to sally forth. And now I will take thee home, dear love; and we will tell thy tale to my father, who will see thee safe guarded in the future."
Derrick Adair quickly procured the release of Mona's father, and married the daughter in the following year. Later on, after the rather tragic death of Bishop Leslie (caused doubtless by the conduct of his son, who was forced to fly the country after some notorious ill deed), the vacant office was bestowed upon Derrick, now a rising light in the Church, and he became Bishop of Raphoe, and his wife ruled in the old castle which was the home of its prelates.
Once a wretched-looking beggarman crawled to the gate as she was passing forth, and fell exhausted at her feet, asking alms.
She gazed at his face awhile, and he into hers; they knew each other, and the wretched man cowered against the stones, while the lady hastened indoors, to set servants or dogs upon him as the wretched man believed; for he was none other than the ex-jailer who had sought to do her so much ill. But quickly she returned with food and wine, and a handful of silver. She set the basket before him, and poured the money into his hands—stretched forth in supplication; and she gently made answer to his faltering words of prayer:
"Have no fear, my poor fellow. May God forgive you as I do. Eat and drink, and refresh yourself ere you go upon your way."
"And you will not punish me? You will not take your revenge!"
She looked gravely and sorrowfully at him as she answered:
"I think that God has punished you; that is His office, not ours; and for the rest—that is my revenge."