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Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 95

Buys Stores in England

In England Fergus spent all the gold he brought with him, and then sold all the Countess Cathleen bade him sell—lands, castles, forests, pastures, timber—all but one lonely castle in the desolate woods, where she dwelt among her own people, with the dying folk thronging round her gates and in her halls. Good bargains Fergus made also, for he was a shrewd and loyal steward, and the saints must have touched the hearts of the English merchants, so that they gave good prices for all, or perhaps they did not realize the dire distress that prevailed in Ireland. However that may have been, Fergus prospered in his trading, and bought grain, and wine, and fat oxen and sheep, so that he loaded many ships with full freights of provisions, enough to carry the starving peasantry through the famine year till the next harvest. At last all his money was spent, all his ships were laden, everything was ready, and the little fleet lay in harbour, only awaiting a fair wind, which, unhappily, did not come.

His Return Delayed

First of all Fergus waited through a deadly calm, when the sails hung motionless, drooping, with no breath of air to stir them, when the fog that brooded over the shores of England never lifted and all sailing was impossible; then the winds dispersed the fog, and Fergus, forgetting caution in his great anxiety to return, hastily set sail for his own land, and there came fierce tempests and contrary winds, so that his little fleet was driven back, and one or two ships went down with all their stores of food. Fergus wept to see his lady’s wealth lost in the wintry sea, but he dared not venture again, and though he chafed and fretted at [Pg 167] the delay, it was nearly two months after he reached England before he could sail back to his young mistress and her starving countrymen. The trusty messenger who had been sent to buy cattle had succeeded beyond his own expectation; he also had made successful bargains, and had found more cattle than he believed were still alive in Ireland. He had bought all, and was driving them slowly towards the Countess Cathleen’s forest dwelling. Their progress was so slow, because of their weakness and the scanty fodder by the way, that no news of them came to Cathleen, and she knew not that while corn and cattle were coming with Fergus across the sea, food was also coming to her slowly through the barren ways of her own native land. None of this she knew, and despair would have filled her heart, but for her faith in God and her belief in the great inspiration that had been given to her.

Deepening Misery in Ireland

Meanwhile terrible things had been happening in Ireland. As in England in later days, “men said openly that Christ and His saints slept”; they thought with longing of the mighty old gods, for the new seemed powerless, and they yearned for the friendly “good people” who had fled from the sound of the church bell. Thus many minds were ready to revolt from the Christian faith if they had not feared the life after death and the endless torments of the Christian Hell. Some few, desperate, even offered secret worship to the old heathen gods, and true love to the One True God had grown cold.


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