Chapter XVII. The Siege of Drogheda.
 

Under the influence of the warm, close air of the hut, and the spirits he had taken, Harry soon felt drowsiness stealing over him, and the leader, perceiving this, pointed to a heap of dried fern lying in the corner of the hut. Harry at once threw himself on it, and in a very few minutes was sound asleep. When he awoke daylight was streaming in through the door of the hut. Its inmates were for the most part sitting as when he had last seen them, and Harry supposed that they had talked all night. The atmosphere of the hut was close and stifling, and Harry was glad to go to the door and breathe the fresh air outside.

The weather had changed, and the sun, which had just risen, was shining brightly. The hut stood at the foot of a long range of stony hills, while in front stretched, as far as the eye could see, an expanse of brown bog. A bridle path ran along at the foot of the hills. An hour later two figures were seen approaching along this. The one was a mounted horseman, the other running in front of him, at a long, easy trot, was Harry's guide of the preceding evening.

On reaching the cottage the gentleman on horseback alighted, and, advancing to Harry, said:

"Captain Furness, I am heartily sorry to hear that you have had what must have been a disagreeable adventure. The lad here who brought your letter told me that you were regarded as a prisoner, and considered to be a Protestant emissary. I am Tom Blake, and I live nearly twenty miles from here. That is the reason why I was not here sooner. I was keeping it up with some friends last night, and had just gone to bed when the messenger arrived, and my foolish servants pretended I was too drunk to be woke. However, when they did rouse me, I started at once."

"And has that boy gone forty miles on foot since last night?" Harry asked, in surprise.

"Oh, that's nothing," Mr. Blake said. "Give him half an hour's rest, and he'd keep up with us back to Killicuddery. But where is your horse, and how did you get into this mess? The boy tells me he found you in the bog."

Harry related his adventures.

"You have had a lucky escape indeed," Mr. Blake said. "There are places in that bog thirty feet deep. I would not try to cross it for a thousand pounds on a bright day, and how you managed to do so through the mist yesterday is more than I can imagine. Now, the first thing is to get your horse. I must apologize for not having brought one, but the fact is, my head was not exactly clear when I started, and I had not taken in the fact that you'd arrived on foot. My servant was more thoughtful. He had heard from the boy that an English gentleman was here, and judging that the larder was not likely to be stocked, he put a couple of bottles of claret, a cold chicken, and some bread into my wallet, so we can have breakfast while they are looking for your horse. The ride has sharpened my appetite."

Mr. Blake now addressed a few words in Irish to the men clustered round the door of the hut. One of them climbed to the top of the hill, and presently shouted down some instructions, and another at once started across the bog.

"They see your horse," Mr. Blake said, "but we shall have to wait for two or three hours. It is some four miles off, and they will have to make a long detour to bring it back."

Mr. Blake now distributed some silver among the men, and these, with the exception of the master of the house, soon afterward left. Harry heartily enjoyed his breakfast, and in cheery chat with his host the time passed pleasantly until the peasant returned with the horse and saddle. The horse was rubbed down with dry fern, and a lump of black bread given him to eat.

"What can I do for the boy?" Harry asked. "I owe him my life, for I was so thoroughly drenched and cold that I question whether I should have lived till morning out in that bog."

"The boy thinks nothing of it," Mr. Blake said. "A few hundred yards across the bog night or day is nothing to him."

Harry gave the lad a gold piece, which he looked at in wonder.

"He has never seen such a thing before," Mr. Blake laughed. "There, Mickey," he said in Irish, "that's enough to buy you a cow, and you've only got to build a cabin and take a wife to start life as a man."

The boy said something in Irish.

"I thought so," Mr. Blake laughed. "You haven't got rid of him yet. He wants to go as your servant."

Harry laughed too. The appearance of the lad in his tattered garments was in contrast indeed to the usual aspect of a gentleman's retainer.

"You'll find him useful," Mr. Blake said. "He will run errands for you and look after your horse. These lads can be faithful to death. You cannot do better than take him."

Mickey's joy when he was told that he might accompany the English gentleman was extreme. He handed the money he had received to his father, said a few words of adieu to him, and then started on ahead of the horses.

"He had better wait and come on later," Harry said. "He must be utterly tired now."

Mr. Blake shouted after the boy, who turned round, laughed, and shook his head, and again proceeded on his way.

"He can keep up with us," Mr. Blake said. "That horse of yours is more fagged than he is."

Harry soon found that this was the case, and it took them nearly four hours' riding before they reached Killicuddery. Here a dozen barefooted men and boys ran out at their approach, and took the horses. It was a large, straggling house, as good as that inhabited by the majority of English gentlemen, but Harry missed the well-kept lawn, the trim shrubberies, and the general air of neatness and order to which he was accustomed.

"Welcome to Killicuddery," Mr. Blake said, as he alighted. "Believe me, Captain Furness, you won't find the wild Irish, now you are fairly among them, such dreadful creatures as they have been described to you. Well, Norah," he continued, as a girl some sixteen years of age bounded down the steps to meet him, "how goes it with you this morning?"

"As well as could be expected, father, considering that you kept us awake half the night with your songs and choruses. None of the others are down yet, and it's past twelve o'clock. It's downright shameful."

"Norah, I'm surprised at you," Mr. Blake said, laughing. "What will Captain Furness think of Irish girls when he hears you speaking so disrespectfully to your father. This is my daughter Norah, Captain Furness, who is, I regret to say, a wild and troublesome girl. This, my dear, is Captain Furness, a king's officer, who has fought through all the battles of the war."

"And who has lately been engaged in a struggle with an Irish bog," the girl said, laughing, for Harry's gay dress was discolored and stained from head to foot.

Harry laughed also.

"I certainly got the worst of that encounter, Miss Norah, as indeed has been the case in most of those in which I have been engaged. I never felt much more hopeless, when I thought I should have to pass the night sitting on a tuft of grass with mud and mist all round me, except when I was once nearly baked to death in, company with Prince Rupert."

"It must have been a large oven," the girl laughed; "but come in now. I am sure you will both be ready for breakfast. But papa would keep you chattering here all day if I would let him."

Mr. Blake, Harry soon found, was a widower, and his house was presided over by his eldest daughter, Kathleen, to whom Harry was introduced on entering the house. As it was now some hours since they had eaten the food which Mr. Blake had brought, they were quite ready for another meal, at which they were soon joined by six or eight other gentlemen, who had been sleeping in the house. Breakfast over, Harry retired to his room, put on a fresh suit from his wallet, and rejoined his companions, when a sort of council of war was held. Harry learned that there was no difficulty as to men, as any number of these could be recruited among the peasantry. There was, however, an entire absence of any arms save pikes. Harry knew how good a weapon are these when used by steady and well-disciplined men. The matchlocks of those days were cumbrous arms, and it was at the point of the pike that battles were then always decided.

Mr. Blake begged Harry to make his house his headquarters during his stay in the West, and the invitation was gladly accepted. The letters of which he was the bearer were dispatched to their destinations, and a few days after his arrival the recipients called upon him, and he found himself overwhelmed with invitations and offers of hospitality. The time therefore passed very pleasantly.

A few men were found in Galway who had served in the wars. These were made sergeants of the newly raised regiment, which was five hundred strong. This was not embodied, but five central places were chosen at a distance from each other, and at these the peasants assembled for drill. Several of the sons of the squires received commissions as officers, and the work of drilling went on briskly, Harry superintending that at each center by turns. In the evenings there were generally dinner parties at the houses of one or other of the gentry, and Harry greatly enjoyed the life. So some months passed.

In July the news came that the Earl of Ormonde's force outside Dublin had been routed by the garrison, under General Jones, the governor, and shortly afterward Harry received orders to march with the regiment to join the earl, who, as the king's representative, forwarded him at the same time a commission as its colonel, and the order to command it.

It was on the 13th of August that Harry with his force joined the army of Ormonde, and the next day the news came that Cromwell had landed at Dublin, and had issued a bloodthirsty proclamation against the Irish. Harry was at once ordered to march with his regiment to Tredah, now called Drogheda, a seaport about forty miles north of Dublin. At this town Harry found in garrison twenty-five hundred English troops, under the command of Sir Arthur Ashton, an old Royalist officer, he had lost a leg in the king's service.

During the six months he had passed in the West Harry had found Mike an in valuable servant. He had, of course, furnished him with decent suits of clothes, but although willing to wear shoes in the house, nothing could persuade Mike to keep these on his feet when employed without. As a messenger he was of the greatest service, carrying Harry's missives to the various posts as quickly as they could have been taken by a horseman. During that time he had picked up a great deal of English, and his affection for his master was unbounded. He had, as a matter of course, accompanied Harry on his march east, and was ready to follow him to the end of the world if need be.

The garrison of Drogheda employed themselves busily in strengthening the town to the utmost, in readiness for the siege that Cromwell would, they doubted not, lay to it. In September Cromwell moved against the place. He was prepared to carry out the campaign in a very different spirit to that with which he had warred in England. For years Ireland had been desolated by the hordes of half-savage men, who had for that time been burning, plundering, and murdering on the pretext of fighting for or against the king. Cromwell was determined to strike so terrible a blow as would frighten Ireland into quietude. He knew that mildness would be thrown away upon this people, and he defended his course, which excited a thrill of horror in England, upon the grounds that it was the most merciful in the end. Certainly, nowhere else had Cromwell shown himself a cruel man. In England the executions in cold blood had not amounted to a dozen in all. The common men on both sides were, when taken prisoners, always allowed to depart to their homes, and even the officers were not treated with harshness. It may be assumed that his blood was fired by the tales of massacre and bloodshed which reached him when he landed. The times were stern, and the policy of conciliating rebels and murderers by weak concessions was not even dreamed of. Still, no excuses or pleas of public policy can palliate Cromwell's conduct at Drogheda and Wexford. He was a student and expounder of the Bible, but it was in the old Testament rather than the new that precedents for the massacre at Drogheda must be sought for. No doubt it had the effect at the time which Cromwell looked for, but it left an impression upon the Irish mind which the lapse of over two centuries has not obliterated. The wholesale massacres and murders perpetrated by Irishmen on Irishmen have long since been forgotten, but the terrible vengeance taken by Cromwell and his saints upon the hapless towns of Drogheda and Wexford will never be forgotten by the Irish, among whom the "curse of Cromwell" is still the deadliest malediction one man can hurl at another.

Cromwell's defenders who say that he warred mildly and mercifully in England, according to English ideas, and that he fought the Irish only as they fought each other, must be hard driven when they set up such a defense. The fact that Murrogh O'Brien, at the capture of Cashel, murdered the garrison who had laid down their arms, and three thousand of the defenseless citizens, including twenty priests who had fled to the cathedral for refuge, affords no excuse whatever for the perpetration of equal atrocities by Cromwell, and no impartial historian can deny that these massacres are a foul and hideous blot in the history of a great and, for the most part, a kind and merciful man.

Upon arriving before Drogheda on the 2d of September Cromwell at once began to throw up his batteries, and opened fire on the 10th. His artillery was abundant, and was so well served that early the same afternoon two practical breaches were made, the one in the east, in the of St. Mary's Churchyard, the other to the south, in the wall of the town. Sir Arthur Ashton had placed Harry in command at St. Mary's Churchyard, and seeing that the wall would soon give way under the fire of the enemy's artillery, he set his men to throw up an earthwork behind.

Seven hundred of the Roundheads advanced to the assault, but so heavy was the fire that Harry's troops poured upon them that they were forced to fall back with great slaughter. At the other breach they were also repulsed, but attacking again in great force they made their way in. Near this spot was an ancient tumulus, called the Hill Mount. The sides of this were defended by strong palisades, and here the Royalists, commanded by Sir Arthur Ashton himself, opposed a desperate resistance to the enemy. These, supported by the guns on the walls, which they turned against the Mount, made repeated attacks, but were as often repulsed. The loss, however, of the defenders was great, and seeing that fresh troops were constantly brought against them they at last lost heart and surrendered, on promise of their lives; a promise which was not kept, as all were immediately massacred.

Up to this time Harry had successfully repulsed every attack made upon the other breach, but at length the news of the Roundheads' success at the Mount reached both assailants and defenders.

With exulting shouts the Roundheads poured over the wall. The garrison, headed by Harry and the other officers, strove hard to drive them back, but it was useless. Cromwell and Ireton were in the van of their troops, and these, accustomed to victory, hewed their way through the ranks of the besieged. Many of them lost heart, and, throwing down their arms, cried for quarter. With shouts of "No quarter!" "Hew down the Amalakites!" "Strike, and spare not!" the Roundheads cut down their now defenseless foes. Maddened at the sight, the besieged made another desperate effort at resistance, and for awhile fought so stoutly that the Roundheads could gain no ground of them.

Presently, however, a party of the enemy who had forced their way over the wall at another point took them in rear. Then the garrison fled in all directions pursued by their victorious enemy, who slaughtered every man they overtook. Mike had kept close to Harry through the whole of the struggle. He had picked up a pike from a fallen man, and had more than once, when Harry was nearly surrounded by his foes, dashed forward and rid him of one of the most pressing. Seeing, by the general slaughter which was going on, that the Roundhead soldiers must have received orders from their general to give no quarter, Harry determined to sell his life dearly, and rushed into a church where a score of the English soldiers were taking refuge. The door was closed and barricaded with chairs and benches, and from the windows the men opened fire upon the Roundheads, who were engaged in slaying all--men, women and children, without mercy. Soon, from every house around, a heavy fire was poured into the church, and several of those within fell dead under the fire. Under cover of this, the Roundheads attacked the door with axes. Many were killed by the fire of the defenders, but as the door yielded, Harry called these from their post, and with them ascended the belfry tower. Here they prepared to fight to the last.

Looking from a window, Harry beheld a sight which thrilled him with horror. Gathered round a cross, standing in an open space, were two hundred women on their knees. Even while Harry looked a body of Cromwell's saints fell upon them, hewing and cutting with their swords, and thrusting with their pikes, and did not desist while one remained alive. And these were the men who had the name of God ever on their lips! When the dreadful massacre began Harry turned shuddering from the window, and with white face and set teeth nerved himself to fight to the last. Already the door had been beaten down, and the assailants had streamed into the church. Then a rush of heavy feet was heard on the stairs. Assembled round its top stood Harry and the twelve men remaining. Each knew now that there was no hope of quarter, and fought with the desperation of men who cared only to sell their lives dearly. Fast as the Roundheads poured up the stairs, they fell, pierced by pike, or shot down by musket ball. For half an hour the efforts continued, and then the Roundheads, having lost over fifty men, fell back. Three times during the day the attack was renewed, and each time repulsed with the same terrible slaughter. Between the intervals the defenders could hear the never-ceasing sound of musket and pistol firing, as house after house, defended to the last by desperate men, was stormed; while loud, even above the firing, rose the thrilling shrieks of dying women and children.

In all the history of England, from its earliest times, there is no such black and ghastly page as that of the sack of Drogheda. Even supposing Cromwell's assertion that he wished only to terrify the Irish rebels to be true, no shadow of an excuse can be pleaded for the massacre of the women and children, or for that of the English Royalists who formed five-sixths of the garrison.

All through the night occasional shrieks and pistol shots could be heard, as the wretched people who had hidden themselves in closets and cellars were discovered and murdered. No further assault was made upon the church tower, nor was there any renewal of it next morning. As hour after hour passed on Harry concluded that, deterred by the great loss which his men had already sustained in endeavoring to capture the post, Cromwell had determined to reduce it by starvation.

Already the defenders were, from the effects of exertion and excitement, half-mad with thirst. As the day went on their sufferings became greater, but there was still no thought of surrender. The next day two of them leaped from the top of the tower and were killed by their fall. Then Harry saw that it was better to give in.

"My lads," he said, "it is better to go down and die by a bullet-shot than to suffer these agonies of thirst, with only death as the issue. We must die. Better to die in our senses as men, than mad like wild beasts with thirst. Mike, my lad, I am sorry to have brought you to this pass."

Mike put his parched lips to his master's hand.

"It is not your fault, master. My life is no differ to any."

The men agreed to Harry's proposal. There was a discussion whether they should go down and die fighting, or not; but Harry urged upon them that it was better not to do so. They were already weak with hunger and thirst, and it would be more dignified to meet their fate quiet and unresistingly. They accordingly laid by their arms, and, preceded by Harry, descended the stairs.

The noise of their footsteps warned the soldiers in the church below of their coming, and these formed in a semicircle round the door to receive the expected onslaught. When they saw that the Royalists were unarmed they lowered their weapons, and an officer said: "Take these men out into the street, and shoot them there, according to the general's orders."

Calmly and with dignity Harry marched at the head of his little party into the street. They were ranged with their backs to the church, and a firing party took their places opposite to them.

The officer was about to give the order, when a divine in a high-steepled hat came up. He looked at the prisoners, and then rapidly advanced between the lines and gazed earnestly at Harry.

"Is your name Master Purness?" he asked.

"I am Colonel Furness, an officer of his majesty Charles II.," Harry said coldly. "What then?"

"I am Ebenezer Stubbs," the preacher said. "Do you not remember how seven years ago you saved my life at the risk of your own in the streets of Oxford? I promised you then that if the time should come I would do as good a turn to yourself. Captain Allgood," he said, "I do beseech you to stay this execution until I have seen the general. I am, as you know, his private chaplain, and I am assured that he will not be wroth with you for consenting to my request."

The influence of the preacher with Cromwell was well known, and the officer ordered his men to ground arms, although they muttered and grumbled to themselves at the prospect of mercy being shown to men who had killed so many of their companions. A quarter of a hour later the preacher returned with an order from the general for the prisoners to be placed in durance.

"I have obtained your life," the preacher said, "but even to my prayers the general will grant no more. You and your men are to be sent to the Bermudas."

Although Harry felt that death itself would be almost preferable to a life of slavery in the plantations, he thanked the preacher for his efforts in his behalf. A week later Harry, with the eight men who had taken with him, and twenty-seven others who been discovered in hiding-places, long after the capture of the place, were placed on board a ship bound for the Bermudas, the sole survivors of the garrison--three thousand strong--and of the inhabitants of Drogheda.