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Chapter XVI An Irish Rising
 When night came on Archie started for the west, accompanied by Ronald and two of the Irish as guides. They crossed the country without question or interference, and reached the wild mountains of Donegal in safety. Archie had asked that his conductors should lead him to the abode of the principal chieftain of the district. The miserable appearance of the sparsely scattered villages through which they had passed had prepared him to find that the superiors of such a people would be in a very different position from the feudal lords of the Highlands of Scotland. He was not surprised, therefore, when his attendants pointed out a small hold, such as would appertain to a small landowner on the Scottish Border, as the residence of the chief. Around it were scattered a number of low huts composed of turf, roofed with reeds. From these, when the approach of strangers was reported, a number of wild looking figures poured out, armed with weapons of the most primitive description. A shout from Archie's guides assured these people that the newcomer was not, as his appearance betokened him, a Norman knight, but a visitor from Scotland who sought a friendly interview with the chief.  
Insignificant as was the hold, it was evident that something like feudal discipline was kept up. Two men, armed with pikes, were stationed on the wall, while two others leant in careless fashion against the posts of the open gate. On the approach of Archie an elderly man, with a long white beard, came out to meet them. Ronald explained to him that Archie was a knight who had come as an emissary from the King of Scotland to the Irish chieftains, and desired to speak with the great Fergus of Killeen. The old man bowed deeply to Archie, and then escorted him into the house.
The room which they entered occupied the whole of the ground floor of the hold, and was some thirty feet wide by forty long. As apparently trees of sufficient length to form the beams of so wide an apartment could not be obtained, the floor above was supported by two rows of roughly squared posts extending down from end to end. The walls were perfectly bare. The beams and planks of the ceiling were stained black by the smoke of a fire which burned in one corner; the floor was of clay beaten hard. A strip some ten feet wide, at the further end, was raised eighteen inches above the general level, forming a sort of dais. Here, in a carved settle of black wood, sat the chief. Some females, evidently the ladies of his family, were seated on piles of sheepskins, and were plying their distaffs; while an aged man was seated on the end of the dais with a harp of quaint form on his knee; his fingers touched a last chord as Archie entered, and he had evidently been playing while the ladies worked. Near him on the dais was a fire composed of wood embers, which were replenished from time to time with fresh glowing pieces of charcoal taken from the fire at the other end of the room, so that the occupants of the dais should not be annoyed by the smoke arising close to them.
The chief was a fine looking man about fifty years old. He was clad in a loose fitting tunic of soft dark green cloth, confined at the waist by a broad leathern band with silver clasp and ornaments, and reaching to his knees. His arms were bare; on his feet he wore sandals, and a heavy sword rested against the wall near his hand. The ladies wore dresses of similar material and of somewhat similar fashion, but reaching to the feet. They wore gold armlets; and the chief's wife had a light band of gold round her head. The chief rose when Archie entered; and upon the seneschal informing him of the rank and mission of his visitor he stepped from the dais, and advancing, greeted him warmly. Then he led him back to the dais, where he presented to him the ladies of his family, ordering the retainers, of whom about a score were gathered in the hall, to place two piles of sheepskins near the fire. On one of these he sat down, and motioned to Archie to take his place on the other—his own chair being removed to a corner. Then, through the medium of Ronald, the conversation began.
Archie related to the chief the efforts which the Scotch were making to win their freedom from England, and urged in the king's name that a similar effort should be made by the Irish; as the forces of the English, being thereby divided and distracted, there might be better hope of success. The chief heard the communication in grave silence. The ladies of the family stood behind the chief with deeply interested faces; and as the narrative of the long continued struggle which the Scots were making for freedom continued it was clear, by their glowing cheeks and their animated faces, how deeply they sympathized in the struggle.
The wife of the chief, a tall and stately lady, stood immediately behind him with her two daughters, girls of some seventeen or eighteen years of age, beside her. As Ronald was translating his words Archie glanced frequently at the group, and thought he had never seen one fairer or more picturesque. There was a striking likeness between mother and daughters; but the expression of staid dignity in the one was in the others replaced by a bright expression of youth and happiness. Their beauty was of a kind new to Archie. Their dark glossy hair was kept smoothly in place by the fillet of gold in the mother's case, and by purple ribbons in that of the daughters. Their eyebrows and long eyelashes were black, but their eyes were gray, and as light as those to which Archie was accustomed under the fair tresses of his countrywomen. The thing that struck him most in the faces of the girls was their mobility, the expression changing as it seemed in an instant from grave to gay—flushing at one moment with interest at the tale of deeds of valour, paling at the next at the recital of cruel oppression and wrong. When Archie had finished his narrative he presented to the chief a beautifully wrought chain of gold as a token from the King of Scotland.
The chief was silent for some time after the interpreter concluded Archie's narrative; then he said:
"Sir knight, it almost seems to me as if I had been listening to the tale of the wrongs of Ireland, save that it appears that the mastery of the English here has been more firmly established than with you. This may be from the nature of the country; our hills are, for the most part, bare, while yours, you say, are covered with forest. Thus the Normans could more easily, when they had once gained the upper hand, crush out the last vestiges of opposition than they could with you. As I judge from what you say, the English in Scotland hold all the fortresses, and when the people rise they remain sheltered in them until assistance comes from England. With us it is different. First they conquer all the country; then from a wide tract, a third perhaps of the island, they drive out the whole of the people, and establish themselves firmly there, portioning the land among the soldiery and repeopling the country with an English race. Outside this district the Irish chieftains, like myself, retain something of independence; we pay a tribute, and are in the position of feudatories, being bound to furnish so many men for the King of England's wars if called upon to do so. The English seldom come beyond their pale so long as the tribute is paid, and the yoke, therefore, weighs not so heavy upon us; but were we to rise, the English army would pour out from its pale and carry fire and sword throughout the country.
"We, like you, have been without one who would unite us against the common enemy. Our great chiefs have, for the most part, accepted English titles, and since their power over the minor chiefs is extended, rather than decreased by the changed circumstances, they are well content, for they rule now over their districts, not only as Irish chieftains, but as English lieutenants. You have seen, as you journeyed here, how sparse is the population of our hills, and how slight would be the opposition which we could offer, did the Earl of Ulster sweep down upon us with trained English soldiers.
"Were there a chance of success, Fergus of Killeen would gladly draw the sword again; but I will not bring ruin upon my family and people by engaging in a hopeless enterprise. Did I raise my standard, all Donegal would take up arms; but Donegal alone is powerless against England. I know my people—they are ready for the fray, they would rush to battle and perish in thousands to win victory, but one great defeat would crush them. The story of the long fight which your Wallace, with a small following, made against the power of England, will never be told of an Irish leader. We have bravery and reckless courage, but we have none of the stubborn obstinacy of your Scottish folk. Were the flag raised the people would flock to it, and would fight desperately; but if they lost, there would be utter and complete collapse. The fortitude to support repeated defeats, to struggle on when the prospect seems darkest, does not belong to my people.
"It is for this reason that I have no hope that Ireland will ever regain its independence. She may struggle against the yoke, she may blaze out again and again in bloody risings, our sons may die in tens of thousands for her; but never, I believe, as long as the men of the two countries remain what they are, will Ireland recover her independence, for, in the long run, English perseverance and determination will overcome the fitful courage of the Irish. I grieve that I should say it. I mourn that I feel it my duty to repress rather than to encourage the eager desire of my people to draw the sword and strike for freedom; but such is my conviction.
"But understand, sir knight, that whatever I may think, I shall not be backward in doing my part. If Ireland again rises, should the other native chieftains determine to make one more effort to drive the English across the channel, be sure that Fergus of Killeen and the men of Donegal will be in the front of the battle. No heart beats more warmly for freedom than mine; and did I stand alone I would take to the bogs and join those who shelter there, defying the might of England. But I have my people to think of. I have seen how the English turn a land to desolation as they sweep across it, and I will not bring fire and sword into these mountain valleys unless all Ireland is banded in a common effort. You have seen Scotland wasted from sea to sea, her cities burned, her people slain by thousands, her dales and valleys wasted; and can you tell me that after these years of struggle you have gained any such advantage as would warrant your advising me to rise against England?"
Archie was silent. Thinking over the struggle in which he had taken part for so many years, and remembering the woes that it had brought on Scotland, and that, after fighting so long, Bruce and the handful of fugitives at Rathlin were the sole survivors of the patriotic party, he could not but acknowledge at heart the justice of the chiefs words. His sole hope for Scotland now rested in the perseverance and personal valour of the king, and the stubborn character of the people, which he felt assured would lead them to rise again and again, in spite of disaster and defeat, until freedom was won. The Irish possessed no Bruce; their country was less defendible than Scotland; and if, as Fergus said, they had none of that indomitable perseverance which enabled the Scotch people again and again to rise against the yoke, what hope could there be of final success, how could he be justified in urging upon the chieftain a step which would bring fire and sword into those quiet valleys! For some time, therefore, after Ronald had translated the chief's speech he remained silent.
"I will not urge you further, sir," he said, "for you are surely the best judge of what is good for your people, and I have seen such ruin and desolation in Scotland, so many scores of ruined towns and villages, so many thousands of levelled homesteads, that I will not say a single word to urge you to alter your resolution. It is enough for me that you have said that if Ireland rises you will also draw the sword. I must carry out my instructions, and hence shall travel south and visit other chiefs; they may view matters differently, and may see that what Ireland cannot do alone she may do in conjunction with Scotland."
"So be it!" Fergus said. "Believe me, if you raise a flame through the west the north will not hang back. And now I trust that you will remain here for a few days as my guest. All that I have is yours, and my wife and daughters will do their best to make the time pass pleasantly for you."
Archie remained three days at the chiefs hold, where the primitive life interested him greatly. A lavish hospitality was exercised. Several sheep were killed and roasted each day, and all comers were free to join the repast. The chief's more immediate retainers, some twenty in number, ate, lived, and slept in the great hall; while tables were spread outside, at which all who came sat down without question. The upper rooms of the hold were occupied by the chief, the ladies of his family, and the female domestics. Here they retired when they felt disposed, but their meals were served on the dais. In the evening the harper played and sang legends of deeds of bravery in the day of Ireland's independence; and as Ronald translated the songs to him Archie could not but conclude privately that civil war, rapine, strife, and massacre must have characterized the country in those days.
At the conclusion of his stay Fergus appointed two of the retainers to accompany Archie south, and to give assurance to the various wild people through whom he might pass, that Archie's mission was a friendly one to Ireland, and that he was an honoured friend and guest of the chief of Killeen.
On his arrival in Mayo Archie found matters more favourable to his mission. An insurrection had already broken out, headed by some of the local chieftains, originating in a broil between the English soldiers of a garrison and the natives. The garrison had been surprised and massacred, and the wild Irish were flocking to arms. By the chieftains here Archie, on explaining his mission, was warmly welcomed. As they were already in arms no urging on his part was needed, and they despatched messengers throughout the country, saying that an emissary from Scotland had arrived, and calling upon all to ris............
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