He reined up to let the gray drink from a trough. Slowly, through the dazzle of his high spirits, he detected something amiss in the farmyard. Why were the fowl in such a state of excitement? Where were the children of the place, and the women? No sooner had these questions occurred to him than two little girls, perhaps five and six years of age, came running up to him out of a shed where they had been hiding. Hand in hand, dressed in rags, covered in filth, and crying pitifully, the girls stood before him, ankle deep in the muck. The older girl pointed across the yard.
Following the gesture, Sean saw that on the far side of the enclosure, a woman—the mother of the girls?—was bound against a fence, her pitifully thin back bared. What was the meaning of this? Then, to Sean’s amazement, Robert Hyde issued from some bushes where he had apparently been relieving himself. Carrying a black whip in his left hand, Hyde was busily re-arranging his breeches with his right. He had not yet noticed the horse and rider at the trough.
Now Sean understood: Hyde intended to punish the woman before the eyes of her children. Wrath rising in his throat like a ball of fire, Sean shouted across to Hyde. “Put up that whip!”
Though startled for a moment, the rat-man quickly recovered. Showing his rat-teeth, he lifted his whip to Sean in a mocking salute. “I do what the law demands! I do my duty!”
Sean walked the gray forward and halted a few feet from Hyde and his victim. Behind him the girls began to wail. The woman, face averted, back bare, stood unmoving as a pillar of salt, too terrified even to comfort her children. Sean realized that he knew her. Kathleen was her name. She was the wife of a man who, when drunk, babbled stupidly of rebellion. Sean growled an order to Hyde as if speaking as the lord of the Manor, not the bastard. “You will not whip this woman, Hyde.”
For Robert Hyde the order, peremptory and haughty, especially because it was in defense of Irish “criminals”, seemed an unendurable insolence. How long, he asked himself, would he be willing to look on in silence while this arrogant young Prince of Nothing rode on that gray horse which the Irish bastard had taken as his own from the estate’s stables—and without so much as a by-your-leave?
Red with unexpressed fury, Hyde felt his stomach back up into his gorge. Here am I forced to collect rents, he thought, while this cockerel goes where he pleases. Here am I without wife or woman—while he steals silks and shillings, and God knows what else, from the estate to give to that pale whore of his! Too much to bear! Too much at long last.
Aloud, Hyde sneered an angry reply to the bastard. “This slut’s man stole one of Sir John's ponies, and then he ran off to join the robbers. The papist slattern will not say where he has gone.” He hefted his whip making it clear once and for all that he would no longer be intimidated by the likes of Sean O’Gara, that no one could deter him from forcing Kathleen to give up her man.
At this Sean erupted. “You will not whip her!”
Pleased to have goaded the bastard so, and certain of his righteousness, Hyde grinned, and spoke high words. “I am steward here and I am sworn to punish thieving on this estate whether by this woman’s traitorous man or by Sir John’s own whelp!”
Hyde rejoiced to see the blood drain from his antagonist’s face.
“You accuse me of thievery, Hyde?” the arrogant pup gasped in disbelief.
Seized with exultation, Hyde felt the floodgates of his hatred open fully. “Aye, you are a thief! What else is it but thievery when you bring pilfered money to your slut, and gifts of food and cloth—stolen goods! Yes, I know how you pay for the favors of your whore, Shoneen!”
Sean was now choking on his own fury. He could not believe that the rat-man was challenging him in this fashion. Still, it was clear that Hyde, moved by some sense of honor peculiar to his breed, had determined to brook no more interference from the bastard of the Manor, namely Sean O’Gara.
As if to make this plain, Hyde now whirled and, with a snap of his wrist, snaked the whip across Kathleen’s emaciated back. She screamed—and so did her little girls. The Arabian reared briefly at the crack of the whip. Sean brought him under control—and then stared in amazement at the welt that now marked Kathleen's white skin.
For a moment Sean imagined that he was looking upon Moira's back, savaged by Hyde. He saw that the agent, a smirk on his rat-face, was preparing to deliver a second blow. A scarlet rage seized Sean. All at once it seemed to him that Hyde embodied all the evil in the land, perhaps all the evil in the world.
He drew his long-bladed knife from its scabbard. Without considering anything other than the need to rid Creation of Robert Hyde, Sean leaned over the withers of the gray and plunged the weapon into the villain’s chest. He saw with joy the astonishment in the rat-face as a ragged blossom of red appeared on his shirt. Hyde swayed, opened his mouth as if to speak, then staggered a step toward Sean, as if trying to grasp the bridle of the gray. Sean stabbed him again. Hyde toppled backwards into the mud, the knife stuck in his heart.
Sean stared down at him as if surprised to see the man lying there, as if the blood spewing from his body had naught to do with Sean—and in his head he heard Padraic Cooley screaming Pucka Man! Pucka Man! Suddenly panicked by what he had just done, Sean cut Kathleen free, turned the gray, and galloped away from the scene.
As he rode, panic dissolved under a singular surge of jubilation. He assured himself that he had only done justice on Hyde. He had punished a criminal. He had avenged cruelties that neither God nor the English law would ever have avenged. The next moment, however, this jubilant righteousness passed as swiftly as it had come. Slowing his horse to a walk, Sean thought: I’ve just killed a man. Who am I to hand out death—even to Robert Hyde? Perhaps, he reflected, Padraic Cooley in the clarity of madness had seen the truth. A pucka twin did dwell in Sean O’Gara, and now that pucka-man had killed.
At this moment another somber fact also presented itself: Sean had committed a capital offense against the English law. He had taken the life of an Englishman in the performance of his duty. And it wasn't Sean’s pucka twin who'd hang for the rat-man’s death; it was Sean who would go to the gallows. He might be the bastard son of Proud John but he would swing in Castlebar nevertheless for murdering a subject of His Majesty. He imagined the jeers of the crowd at his trial, the tears of Moira Cooley, and the weeping of Old Kate as he ascended the scaffold. He knew he would never be able to endure such a humbling. In fact he feared it more than death itself. Given that truth, he reasoned, he had to run, to escape the law. But where?