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John Banim - Boyne Water (1826)

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



The scenes of this tragic tale are laid in the time of the bitter civil war in Ireland between the partizans of King James II and his son-in-law, William of Orange.

ON the next day after James the Second was proclaimed King of Great Britain, a young Protestant gentleman and his sister, Robert and Esther Evelyn, were traveling along a rough road in the north of Ireland. While descending a hill, Esther's horse became unmanageable, and the young lady would have perished had it not been for a young Irishman and his sister, Edmund and Eva MacDonell, who came to their rescue and took the fatigued and frightened party of travelers to their own home in a glen near by.

On their way there, a strange, uncanny woman, Onagh by name, who lived in a cave and was deemed a witch, intercepted them and foretold to Eva MacDonell that she would love Robert Evelyn and might safely do so, though the blessing would come late; but said that in Esther Evelyn she saw the face which Edmund MacDonell must shun, on peril of dire sorrow.

At the MacDonells' home, the Evelyn party were entertained with generous hospitality, and soon after this Edmund and Eva MacDonell went to visit Evelyn and his sister at their cottage on the coast; and as the four young folks were all fresh of heart, enthusiastic and imaginative, and as peace, even the rare peace of sectarian toleration, was in the land, they naturally fell in love. Even their contrasts of character drew them together and helped to unite the fiery-spirited Eva with the matter-of-fact Robert Evelyn; and to make the weak and tender Esther love the bold and manly Edmund MacDonell.

Many delightful months were passed by the four lovers in the enjoyment of repeating the usual sweet vows, protestations, and caresses. But Evelyn was not yet twenty-one, and, more-over, was obliged from business reasons to make a lengthy voyage across the Atlantic. On returning home, Evelyn landed in Dublin and was met by MacDonell with the warmest greetings. But so heated was the political atmosphere by that time that a toast to King James could not be drunk in the tavern where they dined without raising a brawl.

On the first night that the united friends slept under the same roof, each was approached by clerical plotters, who sought to enlist the young men on their respective sides and who urged their causes so hotly that each was prevailed upon to make a conditional engagement to fight with the party to which by inheritance he belonged.

The young men journeyed together to MacDonell's home with a reserve and embarrassment between them never before known; but the long-awaited meeting was happy with the mutual embraces of brothers and sisters, and lovers.

The preparations for the double wedding went merrily on. On several occasions, however, the young lovers were each seriously disturbed by various incidents, rumors of Popish plots, despatches announcing the speedy landing of William of Orange in England, the secret drilling of Catholic peasants, conducted by Edmund, and tragic warnings to Esther from the witch, Onagh, that a shroud, not a bridal robe, awaited her. Nevertheless, the lovers, closing ears and eyes to all these omens, were determined to be married at the time appointed.

When the day and hour came, the guests, bridesmaids, and priest were ready. The Protestant clergyman, however, had not arrived. A disagreeable pause ensued. The company waited, hour after hour. At length, when darkness came, it was decided to proceed without the clergyman, In the midst of a heavy storm, Robert Evelyn and Eva MacDonell were married by the Catholic ceremonial.

At last the Protestant minister, Mr, Walker, arrived with the tidings that William, Prince of Orange, had landed in England. This news convulsed the whole bridal party with discordant passions. Edmund was urged by the Catholics not to dishonor his name and blood by taking to his bosom a heretic. Evelyn and the Protestant clergyman denounced this as a breach of faith, and Evelyn was bidden by his friends to lead his sister away from that idolatrous roof. Eva and Edmund MacDonell felt themselves insulted by such language, and retorted by accusing Evelyn of being a secret plotter against King James and against the very friends who would take him to their bosoms.

"Scandalous men!" cried out the old priest from the altar to both parties; "interrupt not the conferring of a sacrament; tear not asunder those whom God is about to make one. Peace! and let the marriage be finished."

The words "traitor" and "betrayer" were fiercely bandied to and fro. Edmund sprang to the altar and seized his sister's cold hand.

"I forbid this marriage!" he said. "And I," said Eva, "renounce the former one; your own priest there has told you it is invalid. Think it so, and farewell, Robert—forever. Brother, your hand."

"Be that as it may," Evelyn retorted, "this lady shall never be his bride," and he led his sister Esther down the altar-steps.

Just then a screaming, discordant voice at the side window, accompanied by frantic hand-clapping, cried "Never!" A glare of red light broke through all the apertures in the chapel; and from window after window was heard the shrill voice of the witch Onagh, "Never! Never!" rising above the chapel-roof like a tongue of the tempest.

This wretched ending of what had been expected would be the happiest of events filled all four lovers with the bitterest feelings. Edmund and his sister took public and active part in organizing and encouraging the militia troops to uphold King James. Evelyn at first made several earnest efforts to reach and talk with his bride. But while she saved his life from attacks of her own partizans, she told him that hence-forth they were strangers. "Farewell, sir! Poor renegade from the altar and the throne; perjured in love and loyalty to man, to Heaven, and to me, farewell!"

It was rumored that the Catholics had conspired to murder the Protestants on the ninth of the month, and Evelyn removed his sister Esther to what he was told was the safest place for Protestants in this crisis, the city of Derry.

A regiment of King James's army was just on the point of entering this town, when the populace shut the city gates in the face of the soldiers. The dreaded 9th of December, 1688, passed in quiet. Nevertheless, the Protestant revolt spread. But Evelyn still hesitated to take up arms for the Prince of Orange and so further estrange his wife from him. While deliberating what course to adopt, he made a journey to his family estate. Unfortunately, approaching his home in the night, he found it occupied and plundered by a roving company of Catholic guerrillas, called the Rapparees." In a fray between them and the Protestants, Evelyn's house was burned, he nearly lost his life, and was saved only by the wit and courage of an Irish peasant girl, Moya Laherty. Indignant at the conduct of these miscreants, and at a king and government in whose name such lawless outrages were perpetrated, Evelyn was moved openly and actively to join the Protestant troops, and became the captain of a company. Journeying to Derry to join his sister, he fell in with a company of soldiers commanded by Edmund MacDonell and would have been made a prisoner if MacDonell in his generosity had not refused to accept his surrender. In a night journey together, the two young men ignored all differences for the time, and helped each other through terrible dangers both from inhospitable Nature and human foes. Near Red Bay, Eva, with a number of the MacDonell retainers, met them, protected them from a band of their pursuers, and conducted them first to the house of Father MacDonell and next to the great cliff by the sea, called "The Fair-head."

On the way Evelyn tried many times to lead Eva into some acknowledgment of her forgiveness of the past, but for a long time in vain. At length they toilsomely climbed to the summit of the Fair-head and looked off over the ocean far and wide, even to the Isles of Scotland. After gazing for some time spellbound at the grand view, Evelyn and Eva climbed down a narrow fissure between huge basaltic columns, which made a tremendous staircase a thousand feet high from the shore to the top of the bluff. Here, overcome with emotion, Evelyn begged Eva to forgive the past and assured her of his unchanging love. Eva assured him that, however much she had felt alienated, she recognized the bond of her marriage vow and her heart could not be indifferent to his dangers and his affection.

But when they considered their future course, both felt that the political and religious causes to which they had respectively committed themselves could not with honor be abandoned. Each urged the other to withdraw from the contest and remain neutral. But neither was willing to do so.

Bitter as the trial was, it was at length agreed that neither had a right to force the inclinations of the other, and that, while the political conflict lasted, they should live as strangers to each other, except in heart, until they could meet in undivided love. Resolute as each was against yielding up the cause that seemed so imperative, yet both felt the pity and the unreasonableness of their strife.

"Oh, Robert!" cried Eva, "did God ever ordain that His children should be cruelly tortured merely by a difference of forms in loving Him? Why are hearts thus separated?"

"Because," replied Evelyn, "from the beginning of the world, ambitious princes and churchmen, captains and politicians, have deliberately made God's name a watchword for monopoly."

"And when," asked Eva; "shall religion bring peace and good-will to men?"

"When men of every sect," answered her husband, "become sufficiently awake to their own happiness to separate religion from politics, and churchmen from politicians; to bow down reverently and sincerely before the minister of religion as such, but to confine him to his ministry."

Soon after this, a party of Protestant horsemen surprised them and arrested Edmund MacDonell. All the explanations and pleadings of Evelyn for his friend were in vain, and all the mitigation of the arrest that he could obtain was that MacDonell should remain as Evelyn's prisoner, only giving his parole not to escape. Evelyn went to Derry to join his sister Esther, Edmund attending him as a prisoner.

Here Evelyn gave MacDonell permission to visit his betrothed as often as he pleased, and the two lovers enjoyed uninterrupted dreams of a happy future. One day when commissioners from the besieged city went forth to King James's camp to treat with him and his generals concerning a surrender, Evelyn and MacDonell were permitted to accompany the commissioners. A Scottish sergeant pointed MacDonell out to the Catholic commander. In spite of the explanation offered, the two brothers-in-law were arrested as traitors, tied back to back, and a dozen musketeers were ordered out to execute them. Their eyes were bandaged and the friends had grasped hands, as the click of the locks was heard, only to have their bandages pulled off and MacDonell offered his life if he would shoot his friend Evelyn. In a mad rage, MacDonell turned the musket on the tormenting general and singed his hair with his shot. The soldiers leaped upon the two friends, who in their turn grappled with their foes. In the midst of the melee King James rode up, and MacDonell appealed to him for protection. After much discussion it was decided that neither man was a traitor and that, under the safe-conduct promised by King James, the two should go back to Derry.

The siege dragged slowly along amidst terrible sufferings. There were thirty thousand people in the city and only ten days' provision for them. To protect Esther, it was decided that she ought to marry MacDonell as soon as possible. The young men agreed that they could not ask a Protestant clergy-man to perform the ceremony, and to get a priest was difficult. So it was determined to summon Eva and Father MacDonell, and a message was sent to them. Weeks elapsed, however, and no answer came. Edmund was reduced to one coarse meal a day, and Esther's pallid cheek and sunken eyes curdled her lover's blood with gloomy apprehensions. At last a note was brought back from Eva, advising them that she was now in the Irish camp, attended by the old clergyman, and that four nights from the date of her writing she would meet them.

The three in disguise contrived to pass the lines and get out to Columb-Kill's well, where Eva and the old priest met them.

The priest had already begun the marriage ceremony when a body of Protestant horsemen came down upon them and arrested them all. The soldiers took the three who had come out from Derry back to the besieged city, Esther screaming wildly because of the treachery of Onagh, the witch, by whose information the marriage had again been frustrated. The supply of food in the besieged city fell so low that considerable sums were offered for cats, rats, mice, horse-blood, rawhides, and such like offal. More than ten thousand of these people had died. Edmund was laid low with a fever, and when he was well enough to totter to his Esther's house, he found her wasted to a shadow and in the last stages of consumption. After a moment of frenzied agitation, he burst out of the room into the street and ran about like a maniac, demanding food. Some rude men, pitying him, gave him food and wine, with which he sought Esther. Finding her in church, he bore her frantically to the walls whence they could look out on the river, where an English fleet, with store-ships, under the command of General Kirke, were attempting to ascend the stream to relieve the besieged people. Ship after ship essayed in vain to break the ponderous boom with which the besiegers had obstructed the river. At length, amidst a hoarse cry of joy, one strong ship struck the huge barricade and broke it in pieces, and the fleet sailed in with its succor for the starving city. Edmund exultantiy called on Esther to eat, and to hear the shouts that hailed their rescue. But the shock of joy, added to the strain of famine and despair, and the voice of the dreaded witch Onagh, which at this moment sounded in her ears, was too much for her. Edmund caught her up, but when he saw she was dead he swooned with her in his arms.

Both of the young men now fell victims to the fever, and Eva came to nurse them. Edmund had been dismissed from his regiment with a degrading sentence, and the injustice of this, as well as the bitter grief from Esther's loss, rankled in his heart. After they had one evening secretly visited Esther's grave, they departed together for the MacDonell homestead. When they reached it they found their old home half burned and the bodies of their followers, who had dared to remain by it, hanging from trees near it. The blind harper, Carolan, was sitting on his accustomed stone, smilingly singing a merry tune; but on the blood-clotted hearthstone lay the corpse of Father MacDonell, his head covered with red gashes that told what a brave fight he had fought against his foes. Over the mangled corpse, the half-crazed brother and sister clasped hands and swore a terrible oath of revenge. Eva's screams called down upon them General Kirke and his English soldiers. Edmund seized his father's sword from his dead hand and cut down the first invaders. Evelyn and the Protestant clergyman in vain sought to save their friends by exhibiting their protection papers. Then the Rapparees came to their rescue and almost strangled General Kirke. More English soldiers came up. Edmund denounced Evelyn (as he kept him back from a useless attack on the overwhelming force of the enemy) as one who held him to betray him to the foe; the Rapparee captain struck Evelyn with the butt of his pistol, and he dropped insensible. When he regained his senses, all were gone except the peasant girl, Moya Laherty, who held his head on her lap. She had band-aged his wounded head, and told him that MacDonell had been called away and that his sister had been carried off by the dissolute and cruel General Kirke. The girl further urged him, as all his friends had abandoned him and as so many enemies were seeking his life, to go away with her to her cabin in a distant valley and give her the peace and love she had longed for, while she served and comforted him. Evelyn refused and thus incurred the unscrupulous enmity of the jealous girl.

Soon after this he found himself arrested by General Kirke as one who had aided rebels; but after investigation and a duel with Kirke, in which he nearly perished, he was appointed an aide-de-camp to General Schomberg, in command of King William's troops. After several months' service in Ireland, he was sent to London to carry despatches to King William. On the eve of his departure he found among his belongings a sealed note from Eva, returning her marriage ring and declaring that his course had made their separation indispensable; and besides that, she added, ruin and degradation had come between them. This brought to a horrid certainty his worst apprehensions on Eva's account in connection with General Kirke.

In London, Evelyn, with his deputation, was summoned to King William's palace at Kensington, and there he caught sight of a youth whose dress, face, and figure were strangely like those of Eva disguised in man's attire. In a secluded spot, the youth drew a dagger from his bosom, half bared it, and kissed it fervently. But when Evelyn advanced a step, the unknown one darted into the thick shrubbery and disappeared. This sight awakened the most dreadful thoughts in Evelyn's brain, suggesting that Eva had given herself over to wild and ruinous revenge on King William.

On returning to Ireland, after many months, Evelyn anxiously sought to reach and speak with his wife. By the kindness of General Sarsfield (to whom he frankly told his story and his object), he .was invited to accompany him to a reception at Dublin Castle. There he saw and spoke with King James and caught a glimpse of his wife. He pushed toward her to speak to her, but the bustling group of courtiers and ladies-in-waiting obstructed his passage until she had disappeared.

Rejoining the Protestant army, of which King William had personally taken command, Evelyn took a prominent part as an aide-de-camp in the famous battle of "Boyne Water." His fidelity and intrepidity exposed him to the greatest dangers. At length he was cut off from his comrades and madly struck at the band of horsemen that surrounded him. "To the traitor's heart!" cried a furious assailant; and, as he fell, stunned by a sword-cut, the features of Eva MacDonell swam before his eyes, and Evelyn believed that her sword had been raised to shed his blood.

When he regained his senses, he found himself the prisoner of General Sarsfield, of King James's army. With him Evelyn went to Dublin, and the next morning at the royal castle he overheard his Eva reproaching King James for having so pre-maturely deserted the field at the battle of the Boyne. Amidst the confusion attending the departure of the King and his retinue for France, Evelyn found opportunity to address a few hurried words to his wife, assuring her of his continued love and begging her to accept his protection and make him happy again. But with a strangely mingled expression of coldness, loftiness, and deepest sorrow, she silently walked away.

With General Sarsfield, Evelyn was taken to Limerick. At a Rapparee camp, Evelyn discovered Edmund MacDonell, acting as their secret commander. But when Evelyn anxiously inquired for Eva, Edmund angrily denounced him as a knave and liar who had basely deserted his wife.

On returning to Limerick, Evelyn was detained there many trying months while the siege of the city dragged along. At length King William departed, leaving General Ginkle in command of the English forces, but empowered to make any terms of peace with the enemy that seemed at all fair. General Sarsfield and the Catholics had lost their patience, waiting for the promised fleet and reenforcements from France. Even the Papist clergy strongly urged a treaty, and at length, on a memorable day, the two commanders-in-chief of the opposing armies, with their lawyers and advisers, met in General Ginkle's camp to discuss and sign a treaty. On this very morning, as Evelyn stood on the walls of Limerick, he encountered James MacDonell. After a long and excited colloquy, in which Carolan, Onagh, and Moya Laherty soon joined, it came out that the stories that had so alienated Edmund and Eva MacDonell from Evelyn, and filled him with suspicion and indignation against them, were chiefly lies and treacheries, for which the revengeful Moya Laherty was responsible. In shame and remorse, the peasant girl confessed that the story that Evelyn had abandoned his wife at the MacDonell homestead and sent back word that he was weary of her love was only an invention of her own. It was Moya also who put the false letter from Eva among Evelyn's effects, and in disguise stole his wedding-ring and other precious tokens and sent them back to his wife, as if he had cast her off. The face that Evelyn had seen in his camp, and again in the garden of King William at Kensington, and on the battlefield of the Boyne Water, seeking his life's blood, was not Eva's, as he had supposed, but that of her younger brother James, whose features strikingly resembled his sister's. James, unknown to Evelyn, had returned from Spain to help the Catholic party by assassinating King William. Evelyn's strongest wish now was to return to Eva's hand their former bond of union, the marriage ring. Soon, conducted by Carolan, Eva appeared. Onagh, Carolan and James MacDonell disclosed to her the recently discovered tricks, falsehoods, and misunderstandings that had caused so much trouble, and how the blind harper, Carolan, by long journeys in France and Ireland, had brought the truth to light. The dreadful wrongs that Onagh had suffered at the hands of the MacDonells' dead brother, Donald, were also rehearsed. Eva held out her arms to Evelyn and in a moment was clasped to his heart. But in the very midst of the happiness of reconciliation, a Rapparee messenger came in, seeking General Sarsfield, with the news that Edmund had fallen into the hands of General Ginkle and was about to be shot. Eva, seeking General Sarsfield's aid, learned that he was in the English commander's camp, arranging a treaty of surrender; and inasmuch as she knew that a French fleet was sailing for Limerick to reenforce the Catholic army, she then dashed off to General Ginkle's camp to save her brother and prevent General Sarsfield from signing the treaty of surrender. But the moment before that in which she gained audience with the Irish-Catholic commander he had signed the treaty, and although notified of the near approach of the French fleet, General Sarsfield would not go back on his word of honor. The signing of the treaty barely saved Edmund's life; but it led in a few days to the embarkation upon the French fleet of most of General Sarsfield's officers and men. The MacDonell brothers determined to sail with them to France, to continue fighting for King James's cause.

Eva was at first resolved, in loyalty to the faith and the King for whom she had so struggled and suffered, to go with her brothers. But Evelyn's pleadings had shaken her determination. Her brothers had already stepped into the boat, and Eva, her eyes blinded with tears, was about to follow them, when Evelyn cried: "And do you indeed leave me with but this mocking symbol of an eternal fate, once solemnly sworn at the altar?" and, as Evelyn caught her arm, he showed her their marriage ring and replaced it on her finger. Her brothers, not displeased, saw which way God and woman's nature at last swayed her. They embraced their sister, while she clung sobbing to them. Then Evelyn clasped her in his arms and the boat put off, leaving husband and wife united at last.



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