The Baldwin Library
SAVING THE CHILD.
T was a brilliant autumn day; the sun was
shining on a bright and glittering sea; the
high white cliffs that guarded that wild
and rocky coast were steeped in sunshine,
till the eye, dazzled by their brilliancy, turned gladly to
the green fields which for a considerable extent crowned
their summit. These fields were flax-fields, and now
especially green, for the flax-picking had scarcely begun,
and the tall tender stems, still supported by rods that
were put across the field each way, caught by the sun-
light, and fanned by the sea breeze, had the effect of a
pattern on a soft green carpet, even more beautiful
than the vivid green moss from which Ireland probably
first derived her name of the Emerald Isle.
It was still early, but the flax-pickers had already
begun to assemble in the field. As yet these were
principally men, but women and children came flocking
4 The Flax-Gatherers.
in by degrees, Some of the latter were unquestionably
ragged and dirty, but there were others who, though
shoeless and hatless, would have been no disgrace to
an English village. I was especially struck with the
intelligent expression of one boy, who was running
fast to overtake a woman toiling along the road
with a heavy child of about two years old in her
Oh, mother dear! how fast you've come up," he
said, breathlessly, catching hold of her gown to pull her
back; give me Denny; I ran so fast to carry him up
"'Tis no matter, dear, it's all in the day's work, and
we're at the top now."
But whatever will be done with the child, mother?
the flax is higher than his head; he'll be lost in it en-
tirely;" said Dermot McCarthy, laughing.
"True for ye, dear; but there was no leaving the
child at home, so I've just brought up my cloak, and
I'll set him at the far corner here, he'll sleep maybe till
dinner time;" so saying she spread her blue cloth cloak
upon the ground near the entrance of the field, and
took her place among the flax-gatherers.
I lingered to see them work, and to watch how
handful after handful was laid on the ground, one
bundle placed carefully across the other in rows all
along the field. I felt almost sorry to see that bright
The Flax-Gatherers. 5
"fairy wood," as the children used to call it, laid low.
At last I continued my walk along a path at the edge
of the cliffs. There was no road there; for the preci-
pice was so steep that it made me giddy whenever I
paused to look at the sparkling sea below After I
had rambled on for some time, I.was reminded by a
sudden feeling of hunger that it must be near dinner-
time; and, quickly retracing my steps, as I approached
the flax-fields I saw the same boy that I had taken such
a fancy to in the morning, standing before me breath-
less from the speed with which he had been running-
As soon as he could articulate he asked eagerly-
Has your honour seen him ? Have you come across
my little brother ? He's lost out of the field."
Lost out of the field !" I repeated. It is impos-
sible! Do you mean that baby your mother laid down
to sleep on the cloak ?"
Indeed she did, and now the child's gone lost en-
tirely Denny, Denny, where are ye ?" he wailed, and
the tears streamed down the lad's face.
A little child cannot be lost," I said; it could not
stray far, and no one would steal a baby I will come
back with you and have the field searched, the flax is
so high it would hide a baby like that."
The boy shook his head, but seemed glad of assis-
tance, and walked on quietly by my side.
Where's your mother, my boy ?"
6 The Flax-Gatherers.
"Gone home. She went off like some one mad, but
it's no good to go there a bit."
Considerably surprised at such an unusual calamity
in Ireland as that of losing a child, I walked as rapidly
as I could, but was stopped by a man before I could
reach the place where the child was left. He asked
eagerly for tidings, but of course we had none to give.
Well, then, it's the strangest luck as ever I knew, the
child's been spirited away by the good people* sure
enough, for if he'd been above ground we'd have found
him before this."
I think the child must be still in the field some-
where," I said; "could it walk ?"
"Denny could get about the house, partly walking,
partly crawling," said Dermot. He went fast enough
We met groups of people all on the same errand, the
work being suspended, owing to the alarm and interest
felt for the missing baby. The search was continued
quite unsuccessfully, and the distress of the poor mother,
who had thrown herself down on the cloak, was terrible
Presently I heard an exclamation of pleasure from
some of the people, and looking up I saw a gentleman
on horseback riding quickly towards them.
The Flax-Gatherers. 7
"Who is that ?" I asked of a woman near me.
"It's his lordship's brother, and it's him as is the kind
gentleman, and will tell us what to do. We'll ask him
if the child's been really charmed away, he knows every-
thing; he will know."
The new comer was a tall middle-aged man with a
countenance betokening great benevolence, as well as
decision and energy. He was a remarkable looking
man, and I watched the people crowd round him, with
surprise and interest.
"Tell me what is the matter ?" said Mr. Stuart, for
that was his name. Who is lost ?"
"It's Bridget McCarthy's child, little Denny, been
spirited out of the field," was said in different words by
all the people at once.
"Nonsense! you, Pat Brady, tell me what has
happened, it is of no use for you all to speak together.
Here, hold my horse, Dermot," he said, jumping off,
and giving the bridle to the still weeping boy. I was
much struck with the kindness, and the knowledge of
human nature displayed in this trifling incident, for
Dermot immediately wiped his eyes and looked up
"Now let me hear," he said again. "It's Bridget
McCarthy's child that is missing, you say. How came
she to bring it out with her ?"
"Why, your honour," Well, your honour," "I'll
8 The Flax-Gatherers.
just tell your honour," was uttered by a dozen voices
at once. Mr. Stuart held up his riding-whip, and the
effect was to produce immediate silence.
"Now, Pat," he said, looking at the man to whom he
had spoken first, "do you tell me."
In wonderfully few words for an Irishman, Pat
Brady stated the facts of the case.
You say the child could not walk ?" said Mr. Stuart.
"But he could crawl, so is it impossible he could
have slipped over the cliff?" I suggested.
A look of terror and consternation was instantly
seen upon every countenance, and Dermot, who had
been eagerly listening, suddenly left the horse he was
holding, rushed to the edge of the cliff, and throwing
himself down on his face, leant over the precipice.
The boy had darted forward so quickly that no one
had followed him, and there was a momentary silence
among the group of spectators, broken by a cry of
horror from Dermot as he stretched his body perilously
far over the crag.
In a moment they all crowded round him.
What is it, my boy ? what do you see ?" said Mr.
Stuart, stooping down and putting his arm round him.
Dermot did not speak, but looked up at him with a
face of ghastly whiteness, as he pointed to some object
beneath him. From the projection of that part of the
cliff it was difficult to see immediately below, but those
The Flax-Gatherers. 9
who followed the boy's example and lay down upon
their faces on the ground, could see distinctly something
that looked like a piece of coloured rag, fluttering on
the top of some gorse bushes that grew nearly half way
down the cliff. A few yards to the right there was a
cleft in the rock, on each side of which grew some
stunted bushes, principally stiff gorse, which clothed the
rugged s:de of that part of the cliff. Between one of
these stiff bushes and tbS rock, lying as it were in a
cradle, the baby was lying perfectly motionless, but
whether death or sleep had claimed it was impossible
to tell. No one knew what to do. The child seemed
suspended midway between earth and sky.
"It must be dead," a man suggested at length.
We can't tell that; some one must go down and
Spring the child up," replied Mr. Stuart. "I hope
SBridget is not here."
No, she went off in a dead faint, and was carried
into Mrs. Doran's house."
"Well, keep her there at present," said Mr.
Stuart, anxiously, "till we can settle what is to be
For a moment no one spoke; then a man who seemed
to be of a class rather above the others, but with a very
forbidding countenance, said, surlily-
"There's nothing can be done. It would be murder
to send any one after the child."
10 The Flax-Gatherers.
It would be something like it to let it lie there and
perish," returned Mr. Stuart, quickly.
"Let me go," cried Dermot, who had only just
caught what was passing. Let me run round to
Balmatray Bay. I could scramble up by the bushes, I
know I can!"
Mr. Stuart shook his head. "That would do no
good. How could you get down again with the child
in your arms ? No, Dermot, it must be a bigger man
than you to undertake such a job as this."
Some men now pressed forward, but the man who
had spoken first waved them back.
No one can do it," he said, peremptorily.
"It is a perilous venture, and I can't deny the
danger," said Mr. Stuart, thoughtfully.
It's as good as suicide for any one to attempt it-it
must not be-it would be a positive sin," said the man,
"It certainly cannot be a sin," said Mr. Stuart,
"Then if your honour thinks it right we'll go,"
said several of the men who were standing round.
"I'm not the man to wish you to risk your lives,
boys," said Mr. Stuart; "if I were a younger man I'd
go myself, but it would be useless for me to attempt it
We'll any one of us go your honour chooses, if
The Flax-Gatherers. II
you will tell us how to do it," said Pat Brady, speaking
for the rest. "If it's a right thing we'll do it, even if it's
to cost us our lives."
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay
down his life for his friends," replied Mr. Stuart,
It's true, and those are blessed words your honour
has spoken, and if you will say which is to go, we any
of us will go after the poor child, and gladly."
"I can't do that, but choose among yourselves six
that are young and strong, and with a quick foot and
a steady head, and then draw lots which is to go.
But, as you say, it's a case of life and death, so we will
first pray for God's blessing upon him who is about to
risk his life to save that of a helpless child."
Mr. Stuart spoke with deep emotion, and as he
reverently took off his hat and knelt down upon the
grass, all around followed his example. The sudden
silence that reigned among the crowd, while every head
was bare, every face upturned to the blue sky, every
heart beating with the same impulse and stirred by the
same feelings, was a striking and touching spectacle.
"Now, boys," he said, cheerily, "let us lose no time.
You must settle who is to go, and I must send for
what we shall want to manage this job properly.
Some of you get me a coil of very strong rope, and two
12 The Flax-Gatherers.
Several men ran off in different directions to execute
the commissions, meanwhile a fine looking young man
came and stood silently before him.
"Are you to go, Lawrence ? Well, if any one can
climb like a cat, you are the boy But we must make
it all sa-e for you before you start."
I'm not afraid, your honour, and I'll do it as well
as I can, but if there should be a mischance you will
see to my mother."
That I will," said Mr. Stuart, kindly, as he laid his
hand on the man's shoulder. But with a quick eye,
a steady head, and a stout heart like yours, I trust all
will go well."
The men soon returned with the rope and iron bars.
Now, boys, lend a hand," he said, "and I'll show
you what to do."
An iron bar was driven some way into the ground;
round this the rope was twisted twice, and one end
was caught hold of by several men, while three others
held it on the side nearest the cliff. To the other end
another strong bar was fixed. This bar was shorter
than the other, and it was secured in the middle by a
firm knot in the rope.
On this Lawrence Connor sat astride, while the rope,
being fastened round his waist, secured him from falling
if the bar on which he sat should fail. At a signal
from Mr. Stuart, he was let down carefully by.the three
The Flax-Gatherers. 13
men near the cliff, while the others gave out the rope,
and at the same time prevented its slipping off the bar.
Lawrence had also two straps round his waist, one of
which was to secure th4 child. He held in his hand a
short but strong stick, to enable him to steer clear of
Very steadily, according to Mr. Stuart's directions,
and as if moved by one impulse, the rope was let down.
Very breathlessly the spectators from above watched
that perilous descent. Lower and lower, till he ap-
peared to be parallel with the child. Then a shout of
exultation seemed about to escape them, but it was
checked before it was uttered, by Mr. Stuart, who
was directing every movement of the rope with rapt
attention, now looking over the cliff with a pocket-
telescope, and evidently showing by his countenance,
pale and rigid with anxiety, that he felt how life and
death were trembling in the balance. They could see
that Lawrence was as low as the stunted bushes-he
seems close to the child, and yet he does not stoop to
take it up. He is trying to obtain a footing if only for
a moment. He fails again and again-evidently the
bushes, which would support a baby, give way under
his weight. What can he do? He has swung himself
over to the other side of the child, where there is a
small projecting crag. Now he is bending over the
child, holding by the bushes as he stoops to take it up.
14 The Flax-Gatherers.
Now it is in his arms, and he is fastening it to his waist.
Thank God, the child is living, for its terrified screams
are borne upon the still air. Now for the ascent, which
is the most perilous part. Oh God! if the rope should
be weak in any part, or rubbed through by the friction
of the rock I turned sick and giddy, and could not
look again till the loud, glad shout of many voices
roused me, as the gallant youth was drawn up and
"Thank God !" said Mr. Stuart, and thank God
was echoed from every heart.
Lawrence looked pale, and said that at last he felt so
giddy that he had been afraid of losing his balance.
Get him a drop of whisky," said one of the men;
"and where's Bridget McCarthy, that he may tell her
the child is safe ?"
"Dermot, Dermot, where are ye ?" was shouted on
"The boy was off like a shot as soon as he saw all
was safe," said one of the men.
"Then it's a shame," answered a woman; for who
but Lawrence, who saved the mother's heart from
breaking, should put the baby back into her arms ?"
It's no matter for that," said Lawrence, hastily.
"I'd have done as much for any one."
At this moment Dermot was seen rushing towards
us, crying out, Mother's wake still, too wake to stir
The Flax-Gatherers. 15
a foot, but she's pining to see Denny; let me take
We will all take him," said Mr. Stuart. Here,
Lawrence, you must carry the child a bit longer; 'tis
an easier job now."
Mrs. Doran's cottage was not far off, and we all went
in a kind of procession; the motley crowd talking,
laughing, cheering, in a state of the wildest excitement,
the only serious faces being Lawrence Connor's and
Mr. Stuart's. Both had been brought face to face with
death too recently to shake off the impression.
Bridget McCarthy's ecstasy of delight at again
seeing her boy, and the gratitude she evinced towards
Lawrence, caused many a rough hand to be raised to
brush away tears that would spring to eyes that rarely
God bless you, Lawrence Connor! The blessing
of the widow and the orphan be with you. May the
bit and drop never be wanting in your home, for it's
the deed you've done this day will be your comfort on
your dying bed."
Lawrence seemed rather oppressed by the thanks
that were showered upon him, and turned away, saying
to Mr. Stuart-
"She need not think so much of it. No one would
let a child die like that."
"It would be strange if she were not grateful to you,
16 The Flax-Gatherers.
Lawrence," replied Mr. Stuart; "you could not
possibly have done more for her."
"No, indeed!" I thought, as I walked home after
the exciting events I had witnessed that day. What
could he have done more?" Greater love hath
no man than this, that a man lay down his life for