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- Peg O' My Heart - 3/72 -


safeguard against sin. And what ARE such marriages? Hunger marryin' thirst! Poverty united to misery! Men and women ignorant and stunted in mind and body, bound together by a sacrament, givin' them the right to bring others, equally distorted, into the wurrld. And when they're born you baptise them, and you have more souls entered on the great register for the Holy Church. Bodies livin' in perpetual torment, with a heaven wavin' at them all through their lives as a reward for their suffering here. I tell ye ye're wrong! Ye're wrong! Ye're wrong! The misery of such marriages will reach through all the generations to come. I'd rather see vice--vice that burns out and leaves scar-white the lives it scorches. There is more sin in the HEARTS and MINDS of these poor, wretched, ill-mated people than in the sinks of Europe. There is some hope for the vicious. Intelligence and common-sense will wean them from it. But there is no hope for the people whose lives from the cradle to the grave are drab and empty and sordid and wretched."

As O'Connell uttered this terrible arraignment of the old order of protecting society by early and indiscriminate marriages, it seemed as if the mantle of some modern prophet had fallen on him. He had struck at the real keynote of Ireland's misery to-day. The spirit of oppression followed them into the privacy of their lives. Even their wives were chosen for them by their teachers. Small wonder the English government could enforce brutal and unjust laws when the very freedom of choosing their mates and of having any voice in the control of their own homes was denied them.

To Father Cahill such words were blasphemy. He looked at O'Connell in horror.

"Have ye done?" he asked.

"What else I may have to say will be said on St. Kernan's Hill this afternoon."

"There will be no meetin' there to-day," cried the priest.

"Come and listen to it," replied the agitator.

"I've forbidden my people to go."

"They'll come if I have to drag them from their homes."

"I've warned the resident-magistrate. The police will be there if ye thry to hold a meetin'."

"We'll outnumber them ten to one."

"There'll be riotin' and death." "Better to die in a good cause than to live in a bad one," cried O'Connell. "It's the great dead who lead the world by their majesty. It's the bad livin' who keep it back by their infamy."

"Don't do this, Frank O'Connell. I ask you in the name of the Church in which ye were baptised--by me."

"I'll do it in the name of the suffering people I was born among."

"I command you! Don't do this!"

"I can hear only the voice of my dead father saying: 'Go on!'"

"I entreat you--don't!"

"My father's voice is louder than yours, Father Cahill."

"Have an old man's tears no power to move ye?"

O'Connell looked at the priest. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. He made no effort to staunch them. O'Connell hesitated, then he said firmly

"My father wept in the ditch when he was dyin', dying in sight of his home. Mine was the only hand that wiped away his tears. I can see only HIS to-day, Father."

"I'll make my last appeal. What good can this meetin' do? Ye say the people are ignorant and wretched. Why have them batthered and shot down by the soldiers?"

"It has always been the martyrs who have made a cause. I am willin' to be one. I'd be a thraitor if I passed my life without lifting my voice and my hands against my people's oppressors."

"Ye're throwin' yer life away, Frank O'Connell."

"I wouldn't be the first and I won't be the last"

"Nothing will move ye?" cried the priest.

"One thing only," replied the agitator.

"And what is that?"

"Death!" and O'Connell strode abruptly away.

CHAPTER II

THE PANORAMA OF A LOST YOUTH

As O'Connell hurried through the streets of the little village thoughts surged madly through his brain. It was in this barren spot he was born and passed his youth. Youth! A period of poverty and struggle: of empty dreams and futile hopes. It passed before him now as a panorama. There was the doctor's house where his father hurried the night he was born. How often had his mother told him of that night of storm when she gave her last gleam of strength in giving him life! In storm he was born: in strife he would live. The mark was on him.

Now he came to the little schoolhouse where he first learned to read. Facing it Father Cahill's tiny church, where he had learned to pray. Beyond lay the green on which he had his first fight. It was about his father. Bruised and bleeding, he crept home that day-- beaten. His mother cried over him and washed his cuts and bathed his bruises. A flush of shame crept across his face as he thought of that beating. The result of our first battle stays with us through life. He watched his conqueror, he remembered for years. He had but one ambition in those days--to gain sufficient strength to wipe out that disgrace. He trained his muscles, He ran on the roads at early morning until his breathing was good. He made friends with an English soldier stationed in the town, by doing him some slight service. The man had learned boxing in London and could beat any one in his regiment. O'Connell asked the man to teach him boxing. The soldier agreed. He found the boy an apt pupil. O'Connell mastered the art of self-defence. He learned the vulnerable points of attack. Then he waited his opportunity. One half-holiday, when the schoolboys were playing on the green, he walked up deliberately to his conqueror and challenged him to a return engagement. The boys crowded around them. "Is it another batin' ye'd be afther havin', ye beggar-man's son?" said the enemy.

O'Connell's reply was a well-timed punch on that youth's jaw, and the second battle was on.

As O'Connell fought he remembered every blow of the first fight when, weak and unskilful, he was an easy prey for his victor.

"That's for the one ye gave me two years ago, Martin Quinlan," cried O'Connell, as he closed that youth's right eye, and stepped nimbly back from a furious counter.

"And it's a bloody nose ye'll have, too," as he drove his left with deadly precision on Quinlan's olfactory organ, staggering that amazed youth, who, nothing daunted, ran into a series of jabs and swings that completely dazed him and forced him to clinch to save further damage. But the fighting blood of O'Connell was up. He beat Quinlan out of the clinch with a well-timed upper-cut that put the youth upon his back on the green,

"Now take back that 'beggar-man's' son!" shouted O'Connell.

"I'll not," from the grass.

"Then get up and be beaten," screamed O'Connell. The boys danced around them. It was too good to be true. Quinlan had thrashed them all, and here was the apparently weakest of them--white-faced O'Connell--thrashing him. Why, if O'Connell could best him, they all could. The reign of tyranny was over.

"Fight! Fight!" they shouted, as they crowded around the combatants.

Quinlan rose to his feet only to be put back again on the ground by a straight right in the mouth. He felt the warm blood against his lips and tasted the salt on his tongue. It maddened him. He staggered up and rushed with all his force against O'Connell, who stepped aside and caught Quinlan, as he stumbled past, full behind the ear. He pitched forward on his face and did not move. The battle was over.

"And I'll serve just the same any that sez a word against me father!"

Not a boy said a word.

"Fighting O'Connell" he was nicknamed that day, and "Fighting O'Connell" he was known years afterwards to Dublin Castle.

When he showed his mother his bruised knuckles that night and told her how he came by them, she cried again as she did two years before. Only this time they were tears of pride.

From door to door he went.

"St. Kernan's Hill at three," was all he said. Some nodded, some said nothing, others agreed volubly. On all their faces he read that they would be there.

On through the village he went until he reached the outskirts. He paused and looked around. There was the spot on which the little cabin he was born in and in which his mother died, had stood. It had long since been pulled down for improvements. Not a sign to mark the tomb of his youth. It was here they placed his father that bleak November day--here by the ditch. It was here his father gave up the struggle. The feeble pulse ebbed. The flame died out.


Peg O' My Heart - 3/72

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