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THE WITCH OF WINDY HILL.

CH M'TEk iV.—(Continued') Dennis Ryan had got married in haste, i’eople said it was lest he might again fall under the spell of that young Witch of Windy Hill, when the latter recovered ; for as uncanny, unnatural, unfilial, little less than a witch, so poor young Mary was now shunned. She was even accused of having an evil eye, and many a milk-pan soured that hot summer was put down by careless housewives to her having passed by on the roa !. But for the minister and his protecting kindness some harm, even in these more enlightened times, might have been done her. Dennis Ryan’s wife was the niece of the carpenter’s wife, once before spoken of as having a fancy for Ryan and his farm ; and being rich herself, as the saying goes, she owned the “ grazing of many a goose on the hillside.” That summer passed ; and yet two more. The girl in the cottage on Windy Hill was still living all alone ; but in the farmhouse were children’s voices. About the same time that Dennis Ryan’s bride had been brought to the farm, McConnell, the blacksmith came up to the cottage on Windy Hill, and said lie, “ Mary Daly, now that Dennis Ryan is married on another woman, ye’d belter take up wi’ me, lass ; will ye marry me, and sail for New York next week ? God knows, ye were hardly treated.” But site would not do it.

So John McConnell left the cottage, and soon after went to America ; and poor Mary’s only friend on earth was gone. What passed in the dumb girl’s mind during the terrible lonely years that followed no human soul knew. Alone site lived ; alone she worked. Sometimes the awful loneliness upon the hill so overpowered her, poor Mary thought she should go mad. But this fear and feeling passed away as soon as ever the smallest event —a bird’s song, or the grateful look in a dumb animal’s eyes, came to brighten her eas'd brightened life. It was like the life almost of a girl hermet. At first, for long, it was terrible, even to the girl herself; then easier, blessed ! She seemed to herself at the latter end like one set apart for a special purpose, but what, as yet, her spirit knew not. In the wintry nights, nevertheless, when the wind howled under the door, she shuddered thinking of how her lather’s body had swung upon the gallows ; of how her mother, had died without a soul by her in the cottage ; of how her lover was married and happy beside another woman down there. She remembered how Dennis had said his heart would break if she ever cared for another. Ah !it is not mostly the one who says so whose heart breaks. The man’s was whole, but the woman’s wag hurt past curing. But, however this bitter trial and these thoughts worked in her heart, the dumb girl grew always meeker and kinder, giving help to all the neighbors she could, though often repulsed, often finding ingratitude; offering to nurse the sick, though often scorned ; till once when she had saved the carpenter’s wife from death by her long devotion (so said the doctor), the countryfolk “gave in,” as was their manner of expressing they at last acknowledged that the witch of a dumb girl, Mary Daly, had .begun to mend her ways a good deal. “ •Dear knows ! the change in her for the'' better was want it !”

But never, from the day he swore it, had Ryan broken his oath of not speaking to Mary —never ! And as weeks, months, and years rolled by, she said in her heart every day, “ If only he would meet and tell me to day he knew not it was all untrue, why, 1 think still I could be in a way happy. And 1 would be glad to die then; but till I hear those words it seems hard.”

The children at the farm got, as years went on, to love the dumb woman up on the hill-top above, she was so gentle and loving to them. At first their mother had made them afraid of the witch. Eut their mother was harsh, and Mary was all gentleness, so in time they overcame their Tears, and would toddle up the lane to see her. One, a crippled little creature, fell into a deep flax-hole once, and was near drowning, when Mary Daly jumped in and saved its life; but lost hold of the bank herself in trying to clamber up, and was all but dead when pulled out. Mrs Ryan had hated her former rival till then, but for that she thanked her, weeping. Next day Dennis Ryan made though he would have spoken a word, as he came by the garden patch where Mary was digging out potatoes. The poor creature’s heart beat like a bird’s; her breath left her; but he passed on. Then she said to herself, “ I am failing, and shall die without being righted by him; but he is a strong man, and will outlive me for years.” CHAPTER V. At that time came the cholera in Ireland; it was a terrible year; as if the plague had come again. Around the neighborhood of Windy Hill it raged with unusual violence. The hospital in the neighboring small town was full to overflowing ; the dead-carts could not ply fast enough ; the sick and dying lay in every cottage, and some—awful to think of—deserted in their hour of need by the fears of those around them.

Then Mary Daly seemed to know what her special mission was, the call to which long before had seemed borne in upon her spirit! She arose like an angel of healing, and without fear, with even enthusiasm, went down from her home on the high hill, where no infection ever came, to minister to all alike who needed help. For weeks she went from house to house, denying herself almost rest, ready and glad to waste her own life if only she could save those of others. And so she nursed several till the fame of her powers of healing went abroad, and spread and spread till the miraculous charm once attributed to her as of evil was now turned to seem one of good; and the imagination of many a patient was so cheered when Mary Daly, being sent for in hot haste, crossed the threshold, that they recovered courage to overcome the disease.

And still Maty herself never took the cholera. Almost at the end of the epidemic, when fears were abating and the worst was over, but few occasional cases breaking out here and there, it happened that one of Dennis Ryan’s children at the farm sickened. Mary Daly had come home, and was terribly grieved at the news. And she hardly dared go down to the farm, and face Ryan, against his will, to nurse the child. Mrs Ryan, however, solved the difficulty by appearing herself up at the cottage an hour later. She cam& to beseech Mary to save the rest of the children by taking them into the cottage with herself till danger was over; hut when the dumb woman inquired by signs after the sick little one, the mother’s jealousy awoke, and she de- ’ dared she could nurse it well herself, and would rather none other touched it. So Mary Daly received Dennis Ryan’s children to her poor home and hearth. But that very night her favorite, the little crippled girl, was taken with cramps, and the first signs of the terrible cholera, while sleeping in Mary’s arms in her own bed. For two days the dumb woman nursed the child, till it seemed as if she had forcibly kept back its parting soul; then she went down the hill to tell the mother of its safety. Mrs Ryan met her with a white hard face. “ You saved the child I gave you, but the one I kept with myself is dead ; and its father too ! ” said she. Mary threw up her aims and staggered against the wall. Dead ! The last chance was gone— - now !

Dead—dead —dead ! and never had said the word she had waited for. In she went and saw the dead man lying. A shiver came over her as she saw the corpse, but still she took the clammy hand in her’s a moment 5 then went away out and crawled up the hill again. She had said in her heart to him then: “Ye know the truth now, Dennis; but O, that ye had known it" living ! and had said one word of kind; ness ! Ochone ! I could have died so easy.” , ; :

The children came about her knees," but Mary sat unheeding them,, and never stirred; and they thought she looked very strange. By evening a figure darkened the threshold. It was Mrs Ryan, come up. to see her fatherless children —all that was left to keep her heart warm in this world, as she cried. She was a mother, and took them in her lap and wept over them, but she had other woman’s feelings too; and suddenly putting them away, she went up and took the dumb woman’s hands. “ Lass ! lass ! ye’re dein’! —my dead man has smit ye with the cholera!” and the other looked back a “ Yes ” out of her filming eyes. “And,. O woman ! it upon my mind since morning I should have telt ye the message Dennis left ye when his breath was leavin’ him. * Mary Daly ! Mary Daly!” says he, ‘if I could only see her, say I’ve known two years back it was all lies what they told about her; but I was too proud to break my word.’ ”

A sound came that startled Mrs Ryan with a horror as of something supernatural. The dumb girl had raised herself with a great gasp. The joy on her face drove back the cold dew of death, and brought the red again in a sweet faint flush to her cheek. Her eyes lit up with an ecstacy of gladness. Her tongue was unloosed after its long bondage, and with the sudden shock of that happiness she cried out, as plainly as she had spoken in her childish days, “At last !—at last! God be thanked ! ” What all the sorrows heaped on sorrows could not effect joy had done. The good doctor's prophecy, so long pondered on by poor Mary \vith deep yearnings for its fulfilment had come true, and the dumb spake. She had before wondered that all her pain had never forced a cry of utterance from her powers of speech, which she well knew had but lain sealed, as it were, like river waters under the power of icing cold. But pain comes naturf ally to men and women, and there is joy beyond; perfect joy overfills the soul. The dumb woman never spoke again : as if in that one soul-utterance she had said all she needed, but lay smiling in a weak daze, with her eyes seeming to be seeing happiness, only happiness in some sweet future before their dim gaze. And thus smiling, she grew weaker and weaker; and so, while she lay smiling, that night her soul passed away from her body that lay in the poor little cottage on the top of Windy Hill. Many and many a one came to see the last of the witch, as they had called her; and now, when too late, the tide of public feeling turned and ran strong in her favor. The neighbors recounted poor Mary’s good deeds, and bewailed her. It was not “ the ignorant folk that had so mis-called her,” they all said to each other, forgetting that none 'among them but had, by repetition of an idle nickname and foolish tattling, caused her to be so cruelly shunned for so long. Yet, while looking with awe on that white face, so blessed in its expression, who could doubt but that poor Mary had forgiven them all, and found peace and perfect bliss at last. So they hurried her on the self-same day as Dennis Ryan, and in a grave beside his, although that was merely by chance. His widow might have said a word against it, but they showed her there was room on his other side for herself, and she was silent. It is a good many years since then, and poor Mary’s grave has long been green, and speckled with white daisies m summer time. But still, often enough, when by the evening firesides, under straw roofs, gossips speak of the terrible year of the cholera, some among them is sure to tell any chance stranger cf the wonderful devotion and courage showed to the sick by a dumb woman; one who in her youth had always fyeen known as the Witch of Windy Hill. ( Concluded).

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Permanent link to this item

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AG18810316.2.16

Bibliographic details

THE WITCH OF WINDY HILL., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 294, 16 March 1881

Word Count
2,157

THE WITCH OF WINDY HILL. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 294, 16 March 1881

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