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The Heir of Kilfinnan: A Tale of the Shore and Ocean

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Heir of Kilfinnan, by W.H.G. Kingston.

  ________________________________________________________________________The book opens with our hero, Dermot O'Neil, out fishing in a small boatthat he usually went with his widowed mother in. The catch being goodhe went up to the nearby castle, the abode of the Earl Kilfinnan, wherehe easily sells his fish, and is asked to come back with more the nextday. Being a good-looking and well-mannered 12-year-old, he wins theadmiration of the Earl's daughter and her cousin, who offer to teach himto read. When they go back to London they get the local Protestantminister to take him on, much to the annoyance of Father O'Rourke, whodoes not like his Catholic parishioners to be able to read.

  Eventually the boy goes to sea. At some point in his career he decidesto give up his Irish name, and takes an English one, Denham. Severalincidents in which he distinguishes himself occur, and he is given thechance of becoming a midshipman, from which rank he duly rises byexamination to Lieutenant. Meanwhile the Earl has obtained a positionin the West Indies of Lieutenant-Governor of one of the islands, sincehe had been finding it hard to make ends meet from the revenues of hisestates in Ireland. There are occasions on which Denham has to call onthe Earl and his family, but is not recognised.

  Time goes on. The Earl's son and heir dies of an illness and is muchlamented: he had been at sea pretty much as an equal in promotion withDenham. The Earl's time in the West Indies is up, and he and his familyreturn to Ireland. Denham's ship visits Kilfinnan Bay, and he walks onshore, where it is possible he may have been recognised by O'Rourke andby a demented woman, who is not as mad as she seems.

  After several more exciting events, which we will not spoil for you, theEarl dies, and to everyone's surprise Denham is not only revealed as ouroriginal young acquaintance, Dermot, but the lawyer states that Dermot'sfather was in the line of succession to the Earldom. This makes Dermotthe new Earl. Cheers all round, but who wants to be saddled with aderilict castle and a bankrupt estate?

  A beautifully written book, one of Kingston's best. It is very hard tosee why it is so little known.

  ________________________________________________________________________THE HEIR OF KILFINNAN, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.


  The following tale contains materials for a full-sized novel, but myreaders probably will not object to have them condensed into a singlemodest volume.

  The scene of a considerable portion of the story is laid on the coast ofIreland, where the peasantry mostly speak the native Irish, and I havetherefore translated what my characters say into ordinary English ratherthan into the generally received brogue, which would be, coming fromtheir lips, as inappropriate as Spanish or Dutch.

  When English is spoken, it sounds somewhat high-flown, but is certainlypurer than the language of the same class in England. Thus, my herotalks more like a well-educated young gentleman than a humble fisherlad. If that is considered a defect, I hope that it may be redeemed bythe stirring incidents with which the tale abounds, and that old andyoung may alike find as much amusement as they expect in its perusal.



  The west coast of Ireland presents scenery of the most beautiful andromantic character. Here grey peaks rise up amidst verdure of emeraldgreen; trees of varied hue come feathering down close to the water;yellow sands line the shores of many lonely bays; dark rocks offantastic shape extend out into the ocean, while deep blue lochs mirroron their bosoms the varied forms of the surrounding heights. On thesouth-west part of the coast a wide bay is to be found. At the extremesouthern end, up a deep loch, a castle, the seat of an ancient family,reared its towers high above the waters. The bay came sweeping round atsome places with a hard sandy beach; then, again, the ground rose,leaving but a narrow ledge between the foot of the cliffs and thewaters. Thus the shore extended on for some distance, forming a loftyheadland, when it again sank to its former level. A reef of rocks ranout a considerable distance into the ocean, forming a natural breakwaterto the bay. Here and there to the north were several deep indentations,in which fishing-boats and several coasting craft might find shelter.In some of these little bays fishermen had formed their habitations,mostly out of the wrecks of stout ships which had been cast on theirrocky shores. In some of the coves or bays several huts had beencongregated together, but a short distance north of the promontory whichhas been spoken of stood a single hut. It was strongly built of ships'timbers and roofed with stout planks, kept down by heavy stones, sothat, though the furious blasts which swept across the Atlantic blewagainst it, it had hitherto withstood the rough shocks to which it hadbeen exposed.

  The day was lovely; not a cloud dimmed the blue heavens, while the sunsetting over the distant ocean shed a glow of light across the waters,rippled by a gentle westerly breeze. Several boats were approaching theshore. In one of them sat a lad. No other person was to be seen onboard. The dark nets were piled up in the centre of the boat, at thebottom of which a number of fish, still giving signs of life, showedthat he had been successful in his calling. Every now and then helooked up at the tanned sail to see that it drew properly, and thenwould cast his eye towards the shore to watch the point to which he wassteering. He could scarcely have numbered twelve summers, though hisfigure was tall and slight. His trousers were rolled up above theknees, showing his well-turned legs and feet. His shirtsleeves weretreated in the same manner, while the collar, thrown back, exhibited hisbroad and well-formed chest. His eyes were large and dark, and the hueof his skin gave indication that Spanish blood was flowing in his veins;while his dark locks escaping from beneath his fisherman's red cap, gavea still more southern look to his well-chiselled features. Hispractical knowledge and activity seemed to have made up for his want ofstrength, for few boys of his age would have ventured forth to sea in afishing-boat of that size by themselves. Another and a larger boat hadbeen for some time steering a course to approach him.

  "Ah! Dermot, me darlin'; and all alone too?" said a man from the boatwhich now overtook him.

  "Yes! my mother was ill and unable to go off, so I went by myself; an'see, Uncle Shane, I have had a good haul for my pains."

  "I see, boy, an' sure I'm glad of it," said the first speaker; "but youare scarcely strong enough to go off alone, for should a gale spring upyou would be unable to manage that boat by yourself."

  "Och! an' haven't I managed her before now in heavy weather?" repliedDermot. "But suppose, Uncle Shane, I was lost, would you take care ofmy mother? She's not so strong as she used to be; toil has worn herdown, working hard for me when I ought to have been toiling for her."

  "I will," answered Shane.

  "Will you swear it, uncle, by the Holy Virgin and the blessed saints?"

  "I will, Dermot, as I hope for mercy in the day of trouble. But why doyou ask that question?"

  "Because, uncle, as I was pulling up my nets I slipped and almost felloverboard. I thought that had my feet been entangled, as they mighthave been, I should have gone down an' been unable to regain the boat.We none of us know what may happen: but could I feel that my motherwould be protected from want, it would nerve my arm, and make me feelmore ready for whatever lot may be in store for me."

  "Boy," observed the elder fisherman, looking at his nephew, "you arethoughtful above your years; but the saints will protect you, and I willnot forget to make an offering to Saint Nicholas, that he may watch overyou."

  Thus conversing the old man and the lad steered their boats towards theshore side by side, the former hauling in his mainsail somewhat tolessen the speed of his b
oat. They parted to the northward of thepromontory described, Dermot steering for the little cove in which stoodthe solitary hut already spoken of, while his uncle continued along theshore a little further to the north.

  Dermot ran his boat between two rocks, at the end of which was a smallsandy beach, where a capstan being placed he was enabled to haul her upout of the water. As he approached, a woman was seen descending fromthe hut. The same dark eyes and raven hair, though somewhat streakedwith white in her case, which characterised the boy, was observable inthe woman. Her figure was thin and wiry, giving indication of thesevere toil to which she was exposed. She was dressed in a rough friezepetticoat, with a dark handkerchief drawn across her bosom, and theusual red cloak and hood worn at that time by most of the peasantry ofthe west of Ireland was thrown over her shoulders.

  "Mother!" exclaimed the boy, "see, I have done well; I have had a betterhaul than we have got for many a day."

  "And may be, Dermot, we will have a better market too," observed thewoman. "It is said the Earl has come to the castle with many finepeople, and they will be wanting fish to a certainty. It would be toolate now to go, they would not see you; but to-morrow morning, as soonas the sun is up, you shall set forth, and to be sure they'll be glad tobuy fish of my Dermot." The woman drew herself up as she spoke, andlooked towards the boy with a glance of pride, as if she would notexchange him for any of the highest born in the land.

  "How are you, mother?" asked Dermot; "have all those aches of which youwere complaining gone away? Do you feel strong again?"

  "Yes; the saints were merciful; I did not forget to pray to them, andthey have heard me," answered the woman.

  With her, as with most of her countrywomen, superstition, if it had notaltogether taken the place of religion, had been strangely mixed up withit; yet she spoke in a tone of simple and touching faith, at which noone with any feeling would have ventured to sneer.

  Next morning, Dermot, laden with the finest of his fish in a basket athis back, set off along the shores of the bay towards Kilfinnan Castle.The approach to it was wild and picturesque. A narrow estuary, havingto be crossed by a bridge, almost isolated the castle from the mainland,for the ground on which the old fortress stood was merely joined to itby a rugged and nearly impassable ledge of rocks. The castle itself wasof considerable size and strongly built, so that it could well withstandthe gales which, from time to time, circled round it. Dermot had butlittle natural timidity or shyness; yet he felt somewhat awed when,having missed the back approach used by the servants of theestablishment, he found himself at the entrance-hall, in which a numberof well-dressed persons were assembled on their way to thebreakfast-room. Some passed him carelessly.

  "Oh, here, papa, is a fisher-boy with such fine fish," said a young andfair girl as she ran up to a tall and dignified man, who at that momentappeared.

  "Why, boy, what brought you here?" asked the gentleman.

  "To sell some fish; I caught them myself," was Dermot's answer. "Theyare fine and fresh. I will not bargain for the price, as I feel sureyou will give me what they are worth."

  The gentleman seemed amused at the boy's composure, and stepping forwardlooked into the basket which Dermot opened to exhibit his fish.

  "You are right, boy. Send Anderson here," he said, turning to afootman. "We will purchase your fish, and you may come whenever you canbring others as fine."

  Several ladies of the party seeing the Earl, for the gentleman who spokewas the owner of the castle, addressing the boy, came forward, and now,for the first time, remarked his handsome features and picturesque,though rough, costume.

  The little girl begged that the fish might be taken out of the basket tobe shown to her, and seemed delighted with the brightness of theirscales and their elegant forms.

  "Look after the boy, Anderson, and give him some breakfast," said theEarl, as the head cook appeared, and Dermot, finding himself morenoticed than he was ever before in his life, was conducted down below tothe servants' quarters. Although they were town servants, and wouldcertainly have disdained to speak to a mere beggar-boy, or to a youngcountry clown, there was something in Dermot's unaffected manner andappearance which won their regard, and they treated him with far morekindness and attention than would otherwise have been the case.

  Highly delighted with this his first visit to the castle, Dermotreturned to his mother's hut to give her an account of what hadoccurred. That evening she was sufficiently recovered to accompany himon their usual fishing expedition. Again they were successful, and thenext morning Dermot once more made his appearance at the castle. He wasreceived much in the same manner as on the previous occasion. His fishwere exhibited before being taken below, and greatly to his astonishmenta lady of the party begged that he would stand where he was, with hisbasket in his hand, while she produced her sketch-book and made aportrait of him. Dermot scarcely understood the process that was goingforward, and was somewhat relieved when the breakfast bell sounding, thelady was compelled to abandon her undertaking.

  "But I must have you notwithstanding, young fisher-boy," said the lady."You must come back after breakfast and hold one of those fish in yourhand; I have only made the outline, and the drawing will not be perfectuntil it is well coloured."

  "He does not understand the honour that has been done him," observed anelderly dame to the fair artist; "still he looks intelligent, andperhaps when he sees himself on paper he will be better pleased than heappears to be at present."

  Dermot scarcely understood all that was said, for though he spokeEnglish very fairly, he could not comprehend the language when spokenrapidly.

  Breakfast being concluded, he was again summoned to the hall, and to hisutter astonishment he was made to stand with the fish in his hand, whilethe young lady continued her sketch. As a reward she exhibited it tohim when it was finished. He blushed when he saw himself, for she wasno mean artist, and she had done him ample justice. Indeed he lookedfar more like the Earl's son, dressed in a fisher-boy's costume, thanwhat he really was.

  "Could my mother see that picture?" he asked at length, "I am sure shewould like it, she knows more about those things than I do, for I havenever seen anything of that sort before."

  "What! Have you never seen a picture before?" exclaimed the young ladyin surprise, "nor a print, nor a painting?"

  Dermot shook his head--"No, nothing of the sort. I did not think thatanything so like life could be put on paper."

  "Cannot you read?" asked the lady.

  "No," said Dermot, "I have no book. The priest can read, but there arefew people else in this part of the country who can do so."

  "Oh! you must be taught to read, then," exclaimed the young lady. "Itis a pity that you should be so ignorant. Would you not like to learn?"

  "Yes!" said the boy, looking up, "and to draw such figures as that. Ishould like to learn to place you on paper. You would make a far morebeautiful picture than that is."

  The young lady smiled at the boy's unsophisticated compliment. "Well,if you will come to the castle, I will try to teach you to read at allevents," she answered. "I should like such a pupil, for I am sure youwould learn rapidly."

  "And I must help you, Lady Sophy," said the little girl, who had beenthe first to draw attention to Dermot. "I am sure I should teach him toread very quickly, should I not, little fisher-boy? You would like tolearn of me, would you not?"

  "Indeed I would," answered Dermot, looking at her with an expression ofgratitude. "You are very gentle and kind, but I would not learn ofthose who try to force me."

  "When will you begin?" asked Lady Sophy.

  "To-morrow. I long to gain the art you speak of," answered the boyeagerly. "The priest tells me many things I have not known. Perhaps Ishall be able to tell him some things he does not know."

  "So you wish to show this portrait to your mother?" observed Lady Sophy,in a kind tone. "I cannot trust you with it, but if you will tell meher name and where she lives, we will ride over some day and p
ay her avisit."

  "My mother is Ellen O'Neil, the Widow O'Neil, she is generally called,for my father is dead. She is a kind mother to me, and there are notmany like her," answered the boy with a proud tone, showing how highlyhe prized his remaining parent. "But our hut is not fit for such nobleladies as you are to enter," he added, now gazing round the hall and forthe first time comparing it with his own humble abode. "It is but afisherman's hut, and my mother and I live there alone. You couldscarcely indeed ride down to it without the risk of your horses falling.If you will let me have the picture I will promise you faithfully thatI will bring it back."

  "No, no!" answered the young lady, laughing; "perhaps your mother mightkeep it, and I want to have an excuse for paying her a visit. So wewill come, tell her, and we shall not mind how small the hut may be."

  Dermot was at length compelled to explain where his mother's hut was tobe found, though he again warned the ladies that the approach to it wasdangerous, and entreated them to keep well to the right away from thesea as they crossed the downs.

  They promised to follow his injunction, and at length allowed him totake his departure. This he was anxious to do, as he knew that it wastime to put off, to haul the nets which had been laid down in themorning.

  Day after day, while the fine weather lasted and fish were to beprocured, Dermot paid a visit to the castle, and each morning afterbreakfast was over, the young ladies insisted on giving him his readinglesson. He made rapid progress, and after a few days, they gave him abook that he might take home and study by himself.

  Hitherto Lady Sophy and her friends at the castle, had not paid theirpromised visit to the fisherman's cottage. At length, however, oneevening just as Dermot and his mother had landed, they heard voices onthe downs above their hut, and looking up Dermot espied the party fromthe castle. They were standing irresolute what path to take. Heinstantly climbed up the cliff by a pathway which speedily placed him bytheir side. He begged them to dismount, and undertook to conduct LadySophy and the little girl, whom he heard addressed as Lady Nora, down tothe hut.

  "I have brought the drawing as I promised," said Lady Sophy, taking aportfolio from the groom who held their horses. "I will show it to yourmother, and perhaps she will let me take hers also."

  There were other ladies and several gentlemen, and they expressed anintention of coming also down to the hut. Lady Sophy guessed that thiswould not be pleasant to the boy's mother, and begged them to continuetheir ride along the downs, promising in a short time to rejoin them.Dermot was greatly relieved, for he knew his mother would be muchannoyed at having so many visitors; at the same time he felt equallysure she would be pleased at seeing the two young ladies.

  Widow O'Neil had just reached her hut with a basket of fish on hershoulders. As the young ladies entered, conducted by Dermot, she placedtwo three-legged stools and begged them to be seated, for there was nochair in the hut.

  "You have come to honour an old fishwife with a visit, ladies," shesaid; "you are welcome. If I lived in a palace you would be morewelcome still. My boy has told me of your kindness to him. A mother'sheart is grateful. I can give nothing in return, but again I say, youare welcome."

  "We came to show you a drawing I made of him," said Lady Sophy. "Here,see, do you think it like him?"

  "Oh! like him!" exclaimed the widow, lifting up her hands; "indeed, likehim, and far more like him who has gone--his father--whose grave liesoff there in the cold dark sea. I would that I could possess thatdrawing, I should prize it more than pearls!"

  "I will make you a copy," said Lady Sophy, "on one condition, that youallow me to make a drawing of yourself."

  "Of me! of the old fishwife?" exclaimed the astonished widow. "There islittle that would repay you for doing that, lady!"

  The young lady smiled as she gazed at the picturesque costume and thestill handsome features of the woman, although the signs of age hadalready come upon them. Her eyes were unusually bright, but her cheekand mouth had fallen in, and her figure having lost all the roundness ofyouth, was thin and wiry.

  "Oh yes, you would make a beautiful picture," exclaimed the young lady,looking at her with the enthusiasm of an artist. "Do sit still on thatcask for a time with a basket of fish at your feet. You must let medraw you thus. Remember, if you will not, I cannot promise to make acopy of your son's likeness for you."

  "As you will, ladies," answered the fishwife. "The bribe you offer isgreat. As for me, it matters little what you make of me. You arelikely to give me qualities I do not possess."

  Although she used appropriate terms, she spoke the English with somedifficulty. It was unusual for any of the peasantry of that part of thecoast in those days to speak English, and how she had acquired aknowledge of the language, and had been able to impart it to her son, itwas difficult to say. Perhaps her husband might have spoken it, or heryounger days might have been passed in some distant part of the country,and yet she had the characteristic features of the people in thesouth-west of Ireland, many of whom are descended from Spanish settlers,who had crossed over in ancient days from the coast of Spain.

  Dermot stood by Lady Nora's side, watching with looks of astonishmentthe progress made by Lady Sophy's pencil. He hastened to bring her acup of water that she asked for, to moisten her colours; still greaterwas his surprise when he saw the tints thrown in and gradually a veryperfect portrait produced of his mother.

  He clapped his hands with delight. "It's her, it's her," he exclaimed;"I wish that thus she could always be. Oh, lady, if you give my mothera likeness of me, I must ask you to give me a copy of that portrait.It's beautiful; it's like her in every respect. If I were away fromher, I should think it could speak to me."

  "Away from her," said the woman, looking up and speaking to herself."Oh, that so dark a day should ever arrive, and yet am I to keep himalways by me, perhaps to share the fate of his father."

  The words scarcely reached the ears of those in the hut.

  At length Dermot obtained a promise from Lady Sophy that she would givehim a copy of the portrait she had just taken. He now accompanied herand her young companion to the spot where they had left the horses.

  "You must promise to come to-morrow, Dermot," said the Lady Sophy; "wewish to push you on with your lessons, for we shall not be here muchlonger, and we probably shall not return until next year."