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V THE STOLEN SHEEP.
AN IRISH SKETCH.
The faults of the lower orders of the Irish are sufficiently well known: perhaps their virtues have not been proportionately observed, or recorded for observation. At all events, it is but justice to them, and it cannot conflict with any established policy, or do any one harm to exhibit them in a favourable light to their British fellow-subjects, as often as strict truth will permit. In this view the following story is written—the following facts, indeed; for we have a newspaper report before us, which shall be very slightly departed from, while we make our copy of it.
The Irish plague, called typhus fever, raged in its terrors. In almost every third cabin there was a corpse daily. In every one, without an exception, there was what had made the corpse—hunger. It need not be added that there was poverty, too. The poor could not bury their dead. From mixed motives of self-protection, terror, and benevolence, those in easier circumstances exerted themselves to administer relief, in different ways. Money was subscribed—(then came England's munificent donation—God prosper her for it!)— wholesome food, or food as wholesome as a badseason permitted, was provided; and men of respectability, bracing their minds to avert the danger that threatened themselves, by boldy facing it, entered the infected house, where death reigned almost alone, and took measures to cleanse and purify the close-cribbed air, and the rough, bare walls. Before proceeding to our story, let us be permitted to mention some general marks of Irish virtue, which, under those circumstances, we personally noticed. In poverty, in abject misery, and at a short and fearful notice, the poor man died like a Christian. He gave vent to none of the poor man's complaints or invectives against the rich man who had neglected him, or who, he might have supposed, had done so, till it was too late. Except for a glance, .—and, doubtless, a little inward pang while he glanced—at the starving, and perhaps infected wife, or child, or old parent as helpless as the child,—he blessed God, and died. The appearance of a comforter at his wretched bed-side, even when he knew comfort to be useless, made his heart grateful, and his spasmed lips eloquent in thanks. In cases of indescribable misery—some members of his family lying lifeless before his eyes, or else some dying,—stretched upon damp and unclean straw, on an earthen floor, without cordial for his lips, or potatoes to point out to a crying infant,—often we have heard him whisper to himself, (and to another who heard him!) "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord." Such men need not always make bad neighbours.
In the early progress of the fever, before the more affluent roused themselves to avert its career, let us cross the threshold of an individual peasant. His young wife lies dead ; his second child is dying It her side; he has just sunk into a corner himself, under the firs stun of disease, long resisted. The only persons of his fiimily who have escaped contagion, and arelikelyto escape it, are his old father, who sits weeping feebly upon the hob, and his first born, a boy ol three or four years, who, standing between the old man's knees, cries also for food.
We visit the young peasant's abode some time after. He has not sunk under "the sickness." He is fast regaining hisstrength, even without proper nourishment; he can creep out of doors, and sit in the sun. But, in the expression of his sallow and emaciated face, there is no joy for his escape from the grave, as he sits there alone, silent and brooding. His father, and his surviving child, are still hungry—more hungry, indeed, and more helpless than ever; for the neighbours who had relieved the family with a potato and a mug of sour milk, are now stricken down themselves, and want assistance to a much greater extent than they can give it.
"I wish Mr Evans was in the place," cogitated Michaul Carroll; "a body could spake forn'ent him, and not spake for nothin', for all that he's an Englishman; and I dont like the thoughts o' goin' up to the house to the steward's face—it wouldn't turn kind to a body. May be he'd soon come home to us, the masther himself."
Another fortnight elapsed. Michaul's hope proved vain. Mr Evans was still in London; though a regular resident on his small Irish estate, since it had come into his possession, business unfortunately—and he would have said so himself—now kept him an unusually long time absent. Thus disappointed, Michaul overcame his repugnance to appear before the " hard" steward. He only asked for work, however. There was none to be had. He turned his slow and still feeble feet into the adjacent town. It was market-day, and he took up his place among a crowd of other claimants for agricultural employment, shouldering a spade, as did each of his companions. Many farmers came to the well-known "stannin," and hired men at his right and at his left, but no one addressed Michaul. Once or twice, indeed, touched perhaps by his sidelong looks of beseeching misery, a farmer stopt a moment before him, and glanced over his figure; but his worn and almost shaking limbs giving little promise of present vigour in the working field, worldly prudence soon conquered the humane feeling which started up towards him in the man's heart, and, with a choking in his throat, poor Michaul saw the arbiter of his fate pass on.
He walked homeward, without having broken his fast that day. "Bud, musha, what's the harm o' that," he said to himself; "only here's the ould father, an' her pet boy, the weenock, without a pyatee either. Well, aslhore, if they can't have the pyatees, they must have betther food—that's all;—ay—" he muttered, clenching his hands at his sides, and imprecating fearfully in Irish—" an' so they must."
He left his house again, and walked a good way to beg a few potatoes. He did not come back quite empty-handed. His father and his child had a meal. He ate but a few himself; and when he was about to lie down in his corner for the night, he said to the old man, across the room—" Don't be a-crying to-night, father, you and the child, there; bud sleep well, and ye'll have the good break'ast afore ye in the mornin'." "The good break'ast, ma-bauchalT* a-then, an'where 'ill id come from?" "A body promised it to me, father. "Avich .' Michaul, an' sure its fun your making of us, now, at any rate. Bud, the good night, a chorraj an' myblessin' on your head, Michaul; an' if we keep trust in the good God, an' ax his blessin', too, mornin' an' evenin', gettin' up an' lyin' down, He'll be a friend to us at last: that was always an' ever my word to you, poor boy, since you was at the years o' your own weenock, now fast asleep at my side; an' its my word to you now, ma-bauchal; an' you won't forget id; and there's one sayin' the same to you, out o' heaven, this night— herself, an' her little angel-in-glory by the hand,Michaul a-vourneen.'' Having thus spoken in the fervent and rather exaggerated, though every-day, words of pious allusion of the Irish poor man, old Carroll soon dropt asleep, with his arms round his little grandson, both overcome by an unusually abundant meal. In the middle of the night he was awakened by a stealthy noise. Without moving, he cast his eyes round the cabin. A small window, through which the moon broke brilliantly, was open. He called to his son, but received no answer. He called again and again: all remained silent. He arose, and crept to the corner where Michaul had lain down. It was empty. He looked out through the window into the moonlight. The figure of a man appeared at a distance, just about to enter a pasture-field belonging to Mr Evans.
The old man leaned his back against the wall of the cabin, trembling with sudden and terrible misgivings. Withhim, thelanguage of virtue, which we have heard him utter, was not cant. In early
* My boy. f Terra of endearment.