Meehaul had but little doubt as to the truth of what Nell M’Collum told him. There was a saucy and malignant confidence in her manner, which, although it impressed him with a sense of her earnestness, left, nevertheless, an indefinite feeling of dislike against her on his mind. He knew that her motive for disclosure was not one of kindness or regard for him or for his family. Nell M’Collum had often declared that “the wide earth did not carry a bein’ she liked or loved, but one—not even excepting herself, that she hated most of all.” This however was not necessary to prove that she acted rather from the gratification of some secret malice, than from the principle of benevolence. The venomous leer of her eye, therefore, and an accurate knowledge of her character, induced him to connect some apprehension of approaching evil with the unpleasant information she had just given him.
“Well,” said Meehaul, “if what you say is true, I’ll make it a black business to Lamh Laudher. I’ll go directly and keep my eye on them; an’ I’ll have my fire-arms, Nell; an’ by the life that’s in me, he’ll taste them if he provokes me; an Ellen knows that.” Having thus spoken he left her.
The old woman stood and looked after him with a fiendish complacency.
“A black business, will you?” she exclaimed, repeating his words in a soliloquy;—“do so—an’ may all that’s black assist you in it! Dher Chiernah, I’ll do it or lose a fall—I’ll make the Lamh Laudhers the Lamh Lhugs afore I’ve done wid ’em. I’ve put a thorn in their side this many a year, that’ll never come out; I’ll now put one in their marrow, an’ let them see how they’ll bear that. I’ve left one empty chair at their hearth, an’ it ’ll go hard wid me but I’ll lave another.”
Having thus expressed her hatred against a family to whom she attributed the calamities that had separated her from society, and marked her as a being to be avoided and detested, she also departed from the Common, striking her stick with peculiar bitterness into the ground as she went along.
In the mean time young Lamh Laudher felt little suspicion that the stolen interview between him and Ellen Neil was known. The incident, however, which occurred to him on his way to keep the assignation, produced in his mind a vague apprehension which he could not shake off. To meet a red-haired woman, when going on any business of importance, was considered at all times a bad omen, as it is in the country parts of Ireland unto this day; but to meet a female familiar with forbidden powers, as Nell M’Collum was supposed to be, never failed to produce fear and misgiving in those who met her. Mere physical courage was no bar against the influence of such superstitions; many a man was a slave to them who never knew fear of a human or tangible enemy. They constituted an important part of the popular belief! for the history of ghosts and fairies, and omens, was, in general, the only kind of lore in which the people were educated; thanks to the sapient traditions of their forefathers.