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A Torch Is Lighted


TIS a fine, brave country, Erin—and a grand history is on it. You'll be reading of it in books, and you'll be hearing of it front the lips of old men, and you'll be hairing the song of it in your heart, if there's a bit of Irish in you. And many a tale of heroes there is in it, you may be sure.

There's the wild, galloping days of Sarsfield and the splendid record of the men of O'Niell. There's the fabulous deeds of Finn McCool and the glamorous knighthood of his Fianna. And in the far, misty past, there's the mighty swordings of Cuchulain, and the wise, good kingship of Art mac Art.

But in the midst of Erin's grand history stands Brian—Brian, whom they named Boru, calling to his countrymen to unite and cast forth the reaving foreigner. Through the disappointments of a long life, he called to them. Through their heedlessness and disregard, he called to them. And then, in his graybeard days, at last, he saw his prayers answered at Clontarf, and the power of the Danes and their Viking pirates was ended in Erin, forever. Sure, Erin needed a thousand steadfast Brians, but she got only the one.

* * *

EVENING began to draw down on the sun, and spots of light and shadow fell, like moving leopard cloaks, upon the backs of the little cavalcade.

With untiring pace the horses swept along, nor did the riders stop to feast I their eyes upon the beauty of the columned corridors of the Irish forest about them. For even here, far inland as they were, the invading Danes were still a menace to the peace of Erin, and who could say, if caught benighted in the wood, that his eyes, for sure, would see the dawn, or his lips breathe the cool air of a new day?

So they rode, all eyes alert and every sword loose in its scabbard, for they guarded that which, to them, was of more worth than gold or fine silver —the dark-haired lovely Kathleen, daughter of the king.

Six were the riders, beside the woman, but these were well equipped an fairly mounted. Their leader was a slim, brown-faced lad who, for his youth, had yet about him the bearing of a man. Goll of Leinster, he was called, and he was of royal blood and cousin to Kathleen; and there was fondness between the two of them such as you might see between an indulgent sister and her scamp of a younger brother.

"We will be through the forest soon, Kathleen," the lad said, half-turning in his saddle to address the lady, a length behind him; "and after the forest, 'tis scarce a mile to the monastery and safety for yourself this night."

"'Twas not fear that made me bid you haste, Goll, and well you know it," Kathleen replied, "but I wish to speak with Father Michael before he seeks his bed."

"Sure, I remember now—you had a vision," Goll said, and his eyes twinkled. "But women do be for always having visions and dreaming dreams, and the wonder is the poor priests do have the patience to be listening to them."

But Kathleen answered him not at all. Grave was the expression upon her lovely face, for in her mission, she felt, dwelt the fate of Erin. She must save her father, the King, from himself as well as from his enemies.

Afar, when they emerged from the woods, they could see the ancient monastery of Columbeith bathed in the dying light of the day. Pleasant and peaceful, it was, for all the stout wall that surrounded it. They could see, also, evidences of its one-time greatness. Upon its eastern side there still stood the bothies for students who dwelt there no more, at all, while upon the other were the ruined houses of the husbandmen who, in the old days, had tilled the fields round about. All these things were gone, with the coming of the foreigners, and only a few small patches of ground were cultivated by the monks, now.

When they rode into the courtyard, upturned faces all about bespoke the happy welcome that was in each monastic heart. Father Michael came before them, and his broad face matched the sun for glowing at the joy of their coming, whilst at his elbow leaned Dunnen, the old scribe.

"Get you down, Kathleen, and bless this old earth with your footsteps," said the stout priest. "'Tis long and long since such honor has come to these flagstones."


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