FARDOROUGHA, THE MISER.
By William Carleton
Part I. Part II. Part III. Part IV. Part V. Part VI. Part VII. Part VIII.
Fardorougha, the Miser.
It was on one of those nights in August, when the moon and stars shine through an atmosphere clear and cloudless, with a mildness of lustre almost continental, that a horseman, advancing at a rapid pace, turned off a remote branch of road up a narrow lane, and, dismounting before a neat whitewashed cottage, gave a quick and impatient knock at the door. Almost instantly, out of a small window that opened on hinges, was protruded a broad female face, surrounded, by way of nightcap, with several folds of flannel, that had originally been white.
"Is Mary Moan at home?" said the horseman.
"For a miricle-ay!" replied the female; "who's down, in the name o' goodness?"
"Why, thin, I'm thinkin' you'll be smilin' whin you hear it," replied the messenger. "The sorra one else than Honor Donovan, that's now marrid upon Fardorougha Donovan to the tune of thirteen years. Bedad, time for her, anyhow,—but, sure it'll be good whin it comes, we're thinkin'."
"Well, betther late than never—the Lord be praised for all His gifts, anyhow. Put your horse down to the mountin'-stone, and I'll be wid you in half a jiffy, acushla."
She immediately drew in her head, and ere the messenger had well placed his horse at the aforesaid stirrup, or mounting-stone, which is an indispensable adjunct to the midwife's cottage, she issued out, cloaked and bonneted; for, in point of fact, her practice was so extensive, and the demands upon her attendance so incessant, that she seldom, if ever, slept or went to bed, unless partially dressed. And such was her habit of vigilance, that she ultimately became an illustration of the old Roman proverb, Non dormio omnibus; that is to say, she could sleep as sound as a top to every possible noise except a knock at the door, to which she might be said, during the greater part of her professional life, to have been instinctively awake.
Having ascended the mounting-stone, and placed herself on the crupper, the guide and she, while passing down the narrow and difficult lane, along which they could proceed but slowly and with caution, entered into the following dialogue, she having first turned up the hood of her cloak over her bonnet, and tied a spotted cotton kerchief round her neck.
"This," said the guide, who was Fardorougha Donovan's servant-man, "is a quare enough business, as some o' the nabors do be sayin—marrid upon one another beyant thirteen year, an' ne'er a sign of a haporth. Why then begad it is quare."
"Whisht, whisht," replied Molly, with an expression of mysterious and superior knowledge; "don't be spakin' about what you don't understand—sure, nuttin's impossible to God, avick—don't you know that?"
"Oh, bedad, sure enough—that we must allow, whether or not, still—"
"Very well; seein' that, what more have we to say, barrin' to hould our tongues. Children sent late always come either for great good or great sarra to their parents—an' God grant that this may be for good to the honest people—for indeed honest people they are, by all accounts. But what myself wonders at is, that Honor Donovan never once opened her lips to me about it. However, God's will be done! The Lord send her safe over all her throubles, poor woman! And, now that we're out o' this thief of a lane, lay an for the bare life, and never heed me. I'm as good a horseman as yourself; and, indeed, I've a good right, for I'm an ould hand at it."
"I'm thinkin'," she added, after a short silence, "it's odd I never was much acquainted with the Donovans. I'm tould they're a hard pack, that loves the money."
"Faix," replied her companion, "Let Fardorougha alone for knowin' the value of a shillin'!—they're not in Europe can hould a harder grip o' one."
His master, in fact, was a hard, frugal man, and his mistress a woman of somewhat similar character; both were strictly honest, but, like many persons to whom God has denied offspring, their hearts had for a considerable time before been placed upon money as their idol; for, in truth, the affections must be fixed upon something, and we generally find that where children are denied, the world comes in and hardens by its influence the best and tenderest sympathies of humanity.
After a journey of two miles they came out on a hay-track, that skirted an extensive and level sweep of meadow, along which they proceeded with as much speed as a pillionless midwife was capable of bearing. At length, on a gentle declivity facing the south, they espied in the distance the low, long, whitewashed farm-house of Fardorougha Donovan. There was little of artificial ornament about the place, but much of the rough, heart-stirring wildness of nature, as it appeared in a strong, vigorous district, well cultivated, but without being tamed down by those finer and more graceful touches, which nowadays mark the skilful hand of the scientific agriculturist.
To the left waved a beautiful hazel glen, which gradually softened away into the meadows above mentioned. Up behind the house stood an ancient plantation of whitethorn, which, during the month of May, diffused its fragrance, its beauty, and its melody, over the whole farm. The plain garden was hedged round by the graceful poplar, whilst here and there were studded over the fields either single trees or small groups of mountain ash, a tree still more beautiful than the former. The small dells about the farm were closely covered with blackthorn and holly, with an occasional oak shooting up from some little cliff, and towering sturdily over its lowly companions. Here grew a thick interwoven mass of dog-tree, and upon a wild hedgerow, leaning like a beautiful wife upon a rugged husband, might be seen, supported by clumps of blackthorn, that most fragrant and exquisite of creepers, the delicious honeysuckle. Add to this the neat appearance of the farm itself, with its meadows and cornfields waving to the soft sunny breeze of summer, and the reader may admit, that without possessing any striking features of pictorial effect, it would, nevertheless, be difficult to find an uplying farm upon which the eye could rest with greater satisfaction.
Ere arriving at the house they were met by Fardorougha himself, a small man, with dark, but well-set features, which being at no time very placid, appeared now to be absolutely gloomy, yet marked by strong and profound, anxiety.
"Thank God!" he exclaimed on meeting them; "is this Mary Moan?"
"It is—it is!" she exclaimed; "how are all within?—am I in time?"
"Only poorly," he returned; "you are, I hope."
The midwife, when they reached the door, got herself dismounted in all haste, and was about entering the house, when Fardorougha, laying his hand upon her shoulder, said in a tone of voice full of deep feeling—
"I need say nothing to you; what you can do, you will do—but one thing I expect—if you see danger, call in assistance."
"It's all in the hands o' God, Fardorougha, acushla; be as aisy in your mind as you can; if there's need for more help you'll hear it; so keep the man an' horse both ready."
She then blessed herself and entered the house, repeating a short prayer, or charm, which was supposed to possess uncommon efficacy in relieving cases of the nature she was then called upon to attend.
Fardorougha Donovan was a man of great good sense, and of strong, but not obvious or flexible feeling; this is to say, on strong occasions he felt accordingly, but exhibited no remarkable symptoms of emotion. In matters of a less important character, he was either deficient in sensibility altogether, or it affected him so slightly as not to be perceptible. What his dispositions and feelings might have been, had his parental affections and domestic sympathies been cultivated by the tender intercourse which subsists between a parent and his children, it is not easy to say. On such occasions many a new and delightful sensation—many a sweet trait of affection previously unknown—and, oh! many, many a fresh impulse of rapturous emotion never before felt gushes out of the heart; all of which, were it not for the existence of ties so delightful, might have there lain sealed up forever. Where is the man who does not remember the strange impression of tumultuous delight which he experienced on finding himself a husband? And who does not recollect that nameless charm, amounting almost to a new sense, which pervaded his whole being with tenderness and transport on kissing the rose-bud lips of his first-born babe? It is, indeed, by the ties of domestic life that the purity and affection and the general character of the human heart are best tried. What is there more beautiful than to see that fountain of tenderness multiplying its affections instead of diminishing them, according as claim after claim arises to make fresh demands upon its love? Love, and especially parental love, like jealousy, increases by what it feeds on. But, oh! from what an unknown world of exquisite enjoyment are they shut out, to whom Providence has not vouchsafed those beloved beings on whom the heart lavishes the whole fulness of its rapture! No wonder that their own affections should wither in the cold gloom of disappointed hope, or their hearts harden into that moody spirit of worldly-mindedness which adopts for its offspring the miser's idol.
Whether Fardorougha felt the want of children acutely or otherwise, could not be inferred from any visible indication of regret on his part by those who knew him. His own wife, whose facilities of observation were so great and so frequent, was only able to suspect in the affirmative. For himself he neither murmured nor repined; but she could perceive that, after a few years had passed, a slight degree of gloom began to settle on him, and an anxiety about his crops, and his few cattle, and the produce of his farm. He also began to calculate the amount of what might be saved from the fruits of their united industry. Sometimes, but indeed upon rare occasions, his temper appeared inclining to be irascible or impatient; but in general it was grave, cold, and inflexible, without any outbreaks of passion, or the slightest disposition to mirth. His wife's mind, however, was by no means so firm as his, nor so free from the traces of that secret regret which preyed upon it. She both murmured and repined, and often in terms which drew from Fardorougha a cool rebuke for her want of resignation to the will of God. As years advanced, however, her disappointment became harassing even to herself, and now that hope began to die away, her heart gradually partook of the cool worldly spirit which had seized upon the disposition of her husband, Though cultivating but a small farm, which they held at a high rent, yet, by the dint of frugality and incessant diligence, they were able to add a little each year to the small stock of money which they had contrived to put together. Still would the unhappy recollection that they were childless steal painfully and heavily over them; the wife would sometimes murmur, and the husband reprove her, but in a tone so cool and indifferent that she could not avoid concluding that his own want of resignation, though not expressed, was at heart equal to her own. Each also became somewhat religious, and both remarkable for a punctual attendance upon the rites of their church, and that in proportion as the love of temporal things overcame them. In this manner they lived upwards of thirteen years, when Mrs. Donovan declared herself to be in that situation which in due time rendered the services of Mary Moan necessary.
From the moment this intimation was! given, and its truth confirmed, a faint light, not greater than the dim and trembling lustre of a single star, broke in upon the darkened affections and worldly spirit of Fardorougha Donovan. Had the announcement taken place within a reasonable period after his marriage, before he had become sick of disappointment, or had surrendered his heart from absolute despair to an incipient spirit of avarice, it would no doubt have been hailed with all the eager delight of unblighted hope and vivid affection; but now a new and subtle habit had been superinduced, after the last cherished expectation of the heart had departed; a spirit of foresight and severe calculation descended on him, and had so nearly saturated his whole being, that he could not for some time actually determine whether the knowledge of his wife's situation was more agreeable to his affection, or repugnant to the parsimonious disposition which had quickened his heart into an energy incompatible with natural benevolence, and the perception of those tender ties which spring up from the relations of domestic life. For a considerable time this struggle between the two principles went on; sometimes a new hope would spring up, attended in the background by a thousand affecting circumstances—on the other hand, some gloomy and undefinable dread of exigency, distress, and ruin, would wring his heart and sink his spirits down to positive misery. Notwithstanding this conflict between growing avarice and affection, the star of the father's love had risen, and though, as we have already said, its light was dim and unsteady, yet the moment a single opening occurred in the clouded mind, there it was to be seen serene and pure, a beautiful emblem of undying and solitary affection struggling with the cares and angry passions of life. By degrees, however, the husband's heart became touched by the hopes of his younger years, former associations revived, and remembrances of past tenderness, though blunted in a heart so much changed, came over him like the breath of fragrance that has nearly passed away. He began, therefore, to contemplate the event without foreboding, and by the time the looked-for period arrived, if the world and its debasing influences were not utterly overcome, yet nature and the quickening tenderness of a father's feeling had made a considerable progress in a heart from which they had been long banished. Far different from all this was the history of his wife since her perception of an event so delightful. In her was no bitter and obstinate principle subversive of affection to be overcome. For although she had in latter years sank into the painful apathy of a hopeless spirit, and given herself somewhat to the world, yet no sooner did the unexpected light dawn upon her, than her whole soul was filled with exultation and delight. The world and its influence passed away like a dream, and her heart melted into a habit of tenderness at once so novel and exquisite, that she often assured her husband she had never felt happiness before.
Such are the respective states of feeling in which our readers find Fardorougha Donovan and his wife, upon an occasion whose consequences run too far into futurity for us to determine at present whether they are to end in happiness or misery. For a considerable time that evening, before the arrival of Mary Moan, the males of the family had taken up their residence in an inside kiln, where, after having kindled a fire in the draught-hole, or what the Scotch call the "logie," they sat and chatted in that kind of festive spirit which such an event uniformly produces among the servants of a family. Fardorougha himself remained for the most part with them, that is to say except while ascertaining from time to time the situation of his wife. His presence, however, was only a restraint upon their good-humor, and his niggardly habits raised some rather uncomplimentary epithets during his short visits of inquiry. It is customary upon such occasions, as soon as the mistress of the family is taken ill, to ask the servants to drink "an aisy bout to the misthress, sir, an' a speedy recovery, not forgettin' a safe landin' to the youngsther, and, like a Christmas compliment, many of them to you both. Whoo! death alive, but that's fine stuff. Oh, begorra, the misthress can't but thrive wid that in the house. Thank you, sir, an' wishin' her once more safe over her troubles!—divil a betther misthress ever," etc., etc., etc.
Here, however, there was nothing of the kind. Fardorougha's heart, in the first instance, was against the expense, and besides, its present broodings resembled the throes of pain which break out from the stupor that presses so heavily upon the exhausted functions of life in the crisis of a severe fever. He could not, in fact, rest nor remain for any length of time in the same spot. With a slow but troubled step he walked backward and forward, sometimes uttering indistinct ejaculations and broken sentences, such as no one could understand. At length he approached his own servants, and addressed the messenger whose name was Nogher M'Cormick.
"Nogher," said he, "I'm throubled."
"Throubled! dad, Fardorougha, you ought to be a happy and a thankful man this night, that is, if God sinds the misthress safe over it, as I hope He will, plase goodness."
"I'm poor, Nogher, I'm poor, an' here's a family comin'."
"Faith, take care it's not sin you're com-mittin' by spakin' as you're doin'."
"But you know I'm poor, Nogher."
"But I know you're not, Fardorougha; but I'm afraid, if God hasn't said it, your heart's too much fix'd upon the world. Be my faix, it's on your knees you ought to be this same night, thankin' the Almighty for His goodness, and not grumblin' an' sthreelin' about the place, flyin' in the face of God for sendin' you an' your wife ablessin'—for sure I hear the Scripthur says that all childhres a blessin' if they're resaved as sich; an' wo be to the man, says Scripthur, dat's born wid a millstone about his neck, especially if he's cast into the say. I know you pray enough, but, be my sowl, it hasn't improved your morals, or it's the misthress' health we'd be drinkin' in a good bottle o' whiskey at the present time. Faix, myself wouldn't be much surprised if she had a hard twist in consequence, an' if she does, the fault's your own an' not ours, for we're willin' as the flowers o' May to drink all sorts o' good luck to her."
"Nogher," said the other, "it's truth a great dale of what you've sed—maybe all of it."
"Faith, I know," returned Nogher, "that about the whiskey it's parfit gospel."
"In one thing I'll be advised by you, an' that is, I'll go to my knees and pray to God to set my heart right if it's wrong. I feel strange—strange, Nogher—happy, an' not happy."
"You needn't go to your knees at all," replied Nogher, "if you give us the whiskey; or if you do pray, be in earnest, that your heart may be inclined to do it."
"You desarve none for them words," said Fardorougha, who felt that Nogher's buffoonery jarred upon the better feelings that were rising within him—"you desarve none, an' you'll get none—for the present at laste, an' I'm only a fool for spaking to you."
He then retired to the upper part of the kiln, where, in a dark corner, he knelt with a troubled heart, and prayed to God.
We doubt not but such readers as possess feeling will perceive that Fardorougha was not only an object at this particular period of much interest, but also entitled to sincere sympathy. Few men in his circumstances could or probably would so earnestly struggle with a predominant passion as he did, though without education, or such a knowledge of the world as might enable him, by any observation of the human heart in others, to understand the workings in his own. He had not been ten minutes at prayer when the voice of his female servant was heard in loud and exulting tones, calling out, ere she approached the kiln itself—
"Fardorougha, ca woul thu?—Where's my footin', masther? Where's my arles?—Come in—come in, you're a waitin' to kiss your son—the misthress is dyin' till you kiss our son."
The last words were uttered as she entered the kiln.
"Dyin'!" he repeated—"the misthress dyin'—oh Susy, let a thousand childre go before her—dyin'! did you say dyin'?"
"Ay did I, an' it's truth too; but it's wid joy she's dyin' to see you kiss one of the purtiest young boys in all the barony of Lisnamona—myself's over head and ears in love wid him already."
He gave a rapid glance upwards, so much so that it was scarcely perceptible, and immediately accompanied her into the house. The child, in the meantime, had been dressed, and lay on its mother's arm in the bed when its father entered. He approached the bedside and glanced at it—then at the mother who lay smiling beside it—she extended her hand to him, whilst the soft, sweet tears of delight ran quietly down her cheeks. When he seized her hand he stooped to kiss her, but she put up her other hand and said—
"No, no, you must kiss him first."
He instantly stooped over the babe, took it in his arms, looked long and earnestly upon it, put it up near him, again gave it a long, intense gaze, after which he raised its little mouth to his own, and then imprinted the father's first kiss upon the fragrant lips of his beloved first-born. Having gently deposited the precious babe upon its mother's arm, he caught her hand and imprinted upon her lips a kiss;—but to those who understand it, we need not describe it—to those who cannot, we could give no adequate notion of that which we are able in no other way to describe than by saying that it would seem as if the condensed enjoyment of a whole life were concentrated into that embrace of the child and mother.
When this tender scene was over, the midwife commenced—
"Well, if ever a man had raison to be thank—"
"Silence, woman!" he exclaimed in a voice which hushed her almost into terror.
"Let him alone," said the wife, addressing her, "let him alone, I know what he feels."
"No," he replied, "even you, Honora, don't know it—my heart, my heart went astray, and there, undher God and my Saviour, is the being that will be the salvation of his father."
His wife understood him and was touched; the tears fell fast from her eyes, and, extending her hand to him, she said, as he clasped it:
"Sure, Fardorougha, the world won't be as much in your heart now, nor your temper so dark as it was."
He made no reply; but, placing his other hand over his eyes, he sat in that posture for some minutes. On raising his head the tears were running as if involuntarily down his cheeks.
"Honora," said he, "I'll go out for a little—you can tell Mary Moan where anything's to be had—let them all be trated so as that they don't take too much—and, Mary Moan, you won't be forgotten."
He then passed out, and did not appear for upwards of an hour, nor could any one of them tell where he had been.
"Well," said Honora, after he had left the room, "we're now married near fourteen years; and until this night I never see him shed a tear."
"But sure, acushla, if anything can touch a father's heart, the sight of his first child will. Now keep yourself aisy, avourneen, and tell me where the whiskey an' anything else that may be a wantin' is, till I give these crathurs of sarvints a dhrop of something to comfort thim."
At this time, however, Mrs. Donovan's mother and two sisters, who had some hours previously been sent for, just arrived, a circumstance which once more touched the newly awakened chord of the mother's heart, and gave her that confidence which the presence of "one's own blood," as the people expressed it, always communicates upon such occasions. After having kissed and admired the babe, and bedewed its face with the warm tears of affection, they piously knelt down, as is the custom among most Irish families, and offered up a short but fervent prayer of gratitude as well for an event so happy, as for her safe delivery, and the future welfare of the mother and child. When this was performed, they set themselves to the distribution of the blithe meat or groaning malt, a duty which the midwife transferred to them with much pleasure, this being a matter which, except in matters of necessity, she considered beneath the dignity of her profession. The servants were accordingly summoned in due time, and, headed by Nogher, soon made their appearance. In events of this nature, servants in Ireland, and we believe everywhere else, are always allowed a considerable stretch of good-humored license in those observations which they are in the habit of making. Indeed, this is not so much an extemporaneous indulgence of wit on their part, as a mere repetition of the set phrases and traditionary apothegms which have been long established among the peasantry, and as they are generally expressive of present satisfaction and good wishes for the future, so would it be looked upon as churlishness, and in some cases, on the part of the servants, a sign of ill-luck, to neglect them.
"Now," said Honora's mother to the servants of both sexes, "now, childre, that you've aite a trifle, you must taste something in the way of dhrink. It would be too bad on this night above all nights we've seen yet, not to have a glass to the stranger's health at all events. Here, Nogher, thry this, avick—you never got a glass wid a warmer heart."
Nogher took the liquor, his grave face charged with suppressed humor, and first looking upon his fellow-servants with a countenance so droll yet dry, that none but themselves understood, it, he then directed a very sober glance at the good woman.
"Thank you, ma'am," he exclaimed; "be goxty, sure enough if our hearts wouldn't get warm now, they'd never warm. A happy night it is for Fardorougha and the misthress, at any rate. I'll engage the stranger was worth waitin' for, too. I'll hould a thrifle, he's the beauty o' the world this minnit—an' I'll engage it's breeches we'll have to be I gettin for him some o' these days, the darlin'. Well, here's his health, any way; an' may he——"
"Husth, arogorah!" exclaimed the mid-wife; "stop, I say—the tree afore the fruit, all the world over; don't you know, an' bad win to you, that if the sthranger was to go to-morrow, as good might come afther him, while the paarent stocks are to the fore. The mother an' father first, acushla, an' thin the sthranger."
"Many thanks to you, Mrs. Moan," replied Nogher, "for settin' me right—sure we'll know something ourselves whin it comes our turn, plase goodness. If the misthress isn't asleep, by goxty, I'd call in to her, that I'm dhrinkin' her health."
"She's not asleep," said her mother; "an' proud she'll be, poor thing, to hear you, Nogher."
"Misthress!" he said in a loud voice, "are you asleep, ma'am?"
"No, indeed, Nogher," she replied, in a good-humored tone of voice.
"Well, ma'am," said Nogher, still in a loud voice, and scratching his head, "here's your health; an' now that the ice is bruk—be goxty, an' so it is sure," said he in an undertone to the rest—"Peggy, behave yourself," he continued, to one of the servant-maids, "mockin's catchin': faix, you dunna what's afore yourself yet—beg pardon—I'm forgettin' myself—an' now that the ice is bruk, ma'am," he resumed, "you must be dacent for the futher. Many a bottle, plase goodness, we'll have this way yet. Your health, ma'am, an' a speedy recovery to you—an' a sudden uprise—not forgettin' the masther—long life to him!"
"What!" said the midwife, "are you forgettin' the sthranger?"
Nogher looked her full in the face, and opened his mouth, without saying a word, literally pitched the glass of spirits to the very bottom of his throat.
"Beggin' your pardon, ma'am," he replied, "is it three healths you'd have me dhrink wid the one glassful?—not myself, indeed; faix, I'd be long sorry to make so little of him—if he was a bit of a girsha I'd not scruple to give him a corner o' the glass, but, bein' a young man althers the case intirely—he must have a bumper for himself."
"A girsha!" said Peggy, his fellow-servant, feeling the indignity just offered to her sex—"Why thin, bad manners to your assurance for that same: a girsha's as well intitled to a full glass as a gorsoon, any day."
"Husth a colleen," said Nogher, good—humoredly, "sure, it's takin' pattern by sich a fine example you ought to be. This, Mrs. Moan, is the purty crature I was mintionin' as we came along, that intends to get spanshelled wid myself some o' these days—that is, if she can bring me into good-humor, the thief."
"And if it does happen," said Peggy, "you'll have to look sharper afther him, Mrs. Moan. He's pleasant enough now, but I'll be bound no man 'ill know betther how to hang his fiddle behind the door when he comes home to us."
"Well, acushla, sure he may, if he likes, but if he does, he knows what's afore him—not sayin' that he ever will, I hope, for it's a woful case whin it comes to that, ahagur."
"Faix, it's a happy story for half the poor wives of the parish that you're in it," said Peggy, "sure, only fore——"
"Be dhe huath Vread, agus glak sho—hould your tongue, Peggy, and taste this," said the mother of her mistress, handing her a glass: "If you intend to go together, in the name o' goodness fear God more than the midwife, if you want to have luck an' grace."
"Oh, is it all this?" exclaimed the sly girl; "faix, it 'ill make me hearty if I dhrink so much—bedeed it will. Well, misthress, your health, an' a speedy uprise to you—an' the same to the masther, not forgettin' the sthranger—long life an' good health to him."
She then put the glass to her lips, and after several small sips, appearing to be so many unsuccessful attempts at overcoming her reluctance to drink it, she at length took courage, and bolting it down, immediately applied her apron to her mouth, making at the same time two or three wry faces, gasping, as if to recover the breath which it did not take from her.
The midwife, in the mean time, felt that the advice just given to Nogher and Peggy contained a clause somewhat more detrimental to her importance than was altogether agreeable to her; and to sit calmly under any imputation that involved a diminution of her authority, was not within the code of her practice.
"If they go together," she observed, "it's right to fear God, no doubt; but that's no raison why they shouldn't pay respect to thim that can sarve thim or otherwise."
"Nobody says aginst that, Mrs. Moan," replied the other; "it's all fair, an' nothin' else."
"A midwife's nuttin' in your eyes, we suppose," rejoined Mrs. Moan; "but maybe's there's thim belongin' to you could tell to the contrary."
"Oblaged to you, we suppose, for your sarvices—an' we're not denyin' that, aither."
"For me sarvices—maybe thim same sarvices wasn't very sweet or treaclesome to some o' thim," she rejoined, with a mysterious and somewhat indignant toss of the head.
"Well, well," said the other in a friendly tone, "that makes no maxims one way or the other, only dhrink this—sure we're not goin' to quarrel about it, any how."
"God forbid, Honora More! but sure it ud ill become me to hear my own corree—no, no, avourneen," she exclaimed, putting hack the glass; "I can't take it this—a—way; it doesn't agree wid me; you must put a grain o' shugar an' a dhrop o' bilin' wather to it. It may do very well hard for the sarvints, but I'm not used to it."
"I hird that myself afore," observed Nogher, "that she never dhrinks hard whiskey. Well, myself never tasted punch but wanst, an' be goxty its great dhrink. Death alive, Honora More," he continued, in his most insinuating manner, "make us all a sup. Sure, blood alive, this is not a common night, afther what God has sint us: Fardorougha himself would allow you, if he was here; deed, be dad, he as good as promised me he would; an' you know we have the young customer's health to drink yet."
"Throth, an' you ought," said the mid-wife; "the boy says nuttin' but the thruth—it's not a common night; an' if God has given Fardorougha substance, he shouldn't begridge a little, if it was only to show a grateful heart."
"Well, well," said Honora More—which means great Honora, in opposition to her daughter, Fardorougha's wife; this being an epithet adopted for the purpose of contradistinguishing the members of a family when called by the same name—"Well," said she, "I suppose it's as good. My own heart, dear knows, is not in a thrifle, only I have my doubts about Fardorougha. However, what's done can't be undone; so, once we mix it, he'll be too late to spake if he comes in, any way."
The punch was accordingly mixed, and they were in the act of sitting down to enjoy themselves with more comfort when Fardorougha entered. As before, he was silent and disturbed, neither calm nor stern, but laboring, one would suppose, under strong feelings of a decidedly opposite character. On seeing the punch made, his brow gathered into something like severity; he looked quickly at his mother-in-law, and was about to speak, but, pausing a moment, he sat down, and after a little time said in a kind voice—
"It's right, it's right—for his sake, an' on his account, have it; but, Honora, let there be no waste."
"Sure we had to make it for Mrs. Moan whether or not," said his mother-in-law, "she can't drink it hard, poor woman."
Mrs. Moan, who had gone to see her patient, having heard his voice again, made her appearance with the child in her arms, and with all the importance which such a burden usually bestows upon persons of her calling.
"Here," said she, presenting him the infant, "take a proper look at this fellow. That I may never, if a finer swaddy ever crossed my hands. Throth if you wor dead tomorrow he'd be mistaken for you—your born image—the sorra thing else—eh alanna—the Lord loves my son—faix, you've daddy's nose upon you anyhow—an' his chin to a turn. Oh, thin, Fardorougha, but there's many a couple rowlin' in wealth that 'ud be proud to have the likes of him; an' that must die an' let it all go to strangers, or to them that doesn't care about them, 'ceptin' to get grabbin' at what they have, that think every day a year that they're above the sod. What! manim-an—kiss your child, man alive. That I may never, but he looks at the darlin' as if it was a sod of turf. Throth you're not worthy of havin' such a bully."
Fardorougha, during this dialogue, held the child in his arms and looked upon it earnestly as before, but without betraying any visible indication of countenance that could enable a spectator to estimate the nature of what passed within him. At length there appeared in his eye a barely perceptible expression of benignity, which, however, soon passed away, and was replaced by a shadow of gloom and anxiety. Nevertheless, in compliance with the commands of the midwife, he kissed its lips, after which the servants all gathered round it, each lavishing upon the little urchin those hyperbolical expressions of flattery, which, after all, most parents are willing to receive as something approximating to gospel truth.
"Bedad," said Nogher, "that fellow 'ill be the flower o' the Donovans, if God spares him—be goxty, I'll engage he'll give the purty girls many a sore heart yet—he'll play the dickens wid 'em, or I'm not here—a wough! do you hear how the young rogue gives tongue at that? the sorra one o' the shaver but knows what I'm savin'."
Nogher always had an eye to his own comfort, no matter under what circumstances he might be placed. Having received the full glass, he grasped his master's hand, and in the usual set phrases, to which, however, was added much extempore matter of his own, he drank the baby's health, congratulating the parents, in his own blunt way, upon this accession to their happiness. The other servants continued to pour out their praises in terms of delight and astonishment at his accomplishments and beauty, each, in imitation of Nogher, concluding with a toast in nearly the same words.
How sweet from all other lips is the praise of those we love! Fardorougha, who, a moment before, looked upon his infant's face with an unmoved countenance, felt incapable of withstanding the flattery of his own servants when uttered in favor of the child. His eye became complacent, and while Nogher held his hand, a slight pressure in return was proof sufficient that his heart beat in accordance with the hopes they expressed of all that the undeveloped future might bestow upon him.
When their little treat was over, the servants withdrew for the night, and Fardorougha himself, still laboring under an excitement so complicated and novel, retired rather to shape his mind to some definite tone of feeling than to seek repose.
How strange is life, and how mysteriously connected is the woe or the weal of a single family with the great mass of human society! We beg the reader to stand with us upon a low, sloping hill, a little to the left of Fardorougha's house, and, after having solemnized his heart by a glance at the starry gospel of the skies, to cast his eye upon the long, white-washed dwelling, as it shines faintly in the visionary distance of a moonlight night. How full of tranquil beauty is the hour, and how deep the silence, except when it is broken by the loud baying of the watch-dog, as he barks in sullen fierceness at his own echo! Or perhaps there is nothing heard but the sugh of the mountain river, as with booming sound it rises and falls in the distance, filling the ear of midnight with its wild and continuous melody. Look around, and observe the spirit of repose which sleeps on the face of nature; think upon the dream of human life, and of all the inexplicable wonders which are read from day to day in that miraculous page—the heart of man. Neither your eye nor imagination need pass beyond that humble roof before you, in which it is easy to perceive, by the lights passing at this unusual hour across the windows, that there is something added either to their joy or to their sorrow. There is the mother, in whose heart was accumulated the unwasted tenderness of years, forgetting all the past in the first intoxicating influence of an unknown ecstasy, and looking to the future with the eager aspirations of affection. There is the husband, too, for whose heart the lank devil of the avaricious—the famine-struck god of the miser—is even now contending with the almost extinguished love which springs up in a father's bosom on the sight of his first-born.
Reader, who can tell whether the entrancing visions of the happy mother, or the gloomy anticipations of her apprehensive husband, are most prophetic of the destiny which is before their child. Many indeed and various are the hopes and fears felt under that roof, and deeply will their lights and shadows be blended in the life of the being whose claims are so strong upon their love. There, for some time past the lights in the window have appeared less frequently—one by one we presume the inmates have gone to repose—no other is now visible—the last candle is extinguished, and this humble section of the great family of man is now at rest with the veil of a dark and fearful future unlifted before them.
There is not perhaps in the series of human passions any one so difficult to be eradicated out of the bosom as avarice, no matter with what seeming moderation it puts itself forth, or under what disguise it may appear. And among all its cold-blooded characteristics there is none so utterly unaccountable as that frightful dread of famine and ultimate starvation, which is also strong in proportion to the impossibility of its ever being realized. Indeed, when it arrives to this we should not term it a passion, but a malady, and in our opinion the narrow-hearted patient should be prudently separated from society, and treated as one laboring under an incurable species of monomania.
During the few days that intervened between our hero's birth and his christening, Fardorougha's mind was engaged in forming some fixed principle by which to guide his heart in the conflict that still went on between avarice and affection. In this task he imagined that the father predominated over the miser almost without a struggle; whereas, the fact was, that the subtle passion, ever more ingenious than the simple one, changed its external character, and came out in the shape of affectionate forecast and provident regard for the wants and prospects of his child. This gross deception of his own heart he felt as a relief; for, though smitten with the world, it did not escape him that the birth of his little one, all its circumstances considered, ought to have caused him to feel an enjoyment unalloyed by the care and regret which checked his sympathies as a parent. Neither was conscience itself altogether silent, nor the blunt remonstrances of his servants wholly without effect. Nay, so completely was his judgment overreached that he himself attributed this anomalous state of feeling to a virtuous effort of Christian duty, and looked upon the encroachments which a desire of saving wealth had made on his heart as a manifest proof of much parental attachment. He consequently loved his wealth through the medium of his son, and laid it down as a fixed principle that every act of parsimony on his part was merely one of prudence, and had the love of a father and an affectionate consideration for his child's future welfare to justify it.
The first striking instance of this close and griping spirit appeared upon an occasion which seldom fails to open, in Ireland at least, all the warm and generous impulses of our mature. When his wife deemed it necessary to make those hospitable preparations for their child's christening, which are so usual in the country, he treated her intention of complying with this old custom as a direct proof—of unjustifiable folly and extravagance—nay, his remonstrance with her exhibited such remarkable good sense and prudence, that it was a matter of extreme difficulty to controvert it, or to perceive that it originated from any other motive than a strong interest in the true welfare of their child.
"Will our wasting meat and money, an' for that matthur health and time, on his christenin', aither give him more health or make us love him betther? It's not the first time; Honora, that I've heard yourself make little of some of our nabors for goin' beyant their ability in gettin' up big christenins. Don't be foolish now thin when it comes to your own turn."
The wife took the babe up, and, after having gazed affectionately on its innocent features, replied to him, in a voice of tenderness and reproof—
"God knows, Fardorougha, an' if I do act wid folly, as you call it, in gettin' ready his christenin', surely, surely you oughtn't to blame the mother for that. Little I thought, acushla oge, that your own father 'ud begrudge you as good a christenin' as is put over any other nabor's child. I'm afraid, Fardorougha, he's not as much in your heart as he ought to be."
"It's a bad proof of love for him, Honora, to put to the bad what may an' would be serviceable to him hereafter. You only think for the present; but I can't forget that he's to be settled in the world, an' you know yourself what poor means we have o' doin' that, an' that if we begin to be extravagant an' wasteful, bekase God has sent him, we may beg wid him afore long."
"There's no danger of us beggin' wid him. No," she continued, the pride of the mother having been touched, "my boy will never beg—no, avourneen—you never will—nor shame or disgrace will never come upon him aither. Have you no trust in God, Fardorougha?"
"God never helps them that neglect themselves, Honora."
"But if it was plasing to His will to remove him from us, would you ever forgive yourself not lettin' him have a christenin' like another child?" rejoined the persevering mother.
"The priest," replied the good man, "will do as much for the poor child as the rich; there's but one sacrament for both; anything else is waste, as I said, an' I won't give in to it. You don't considher that your way of it 'ud spend as much in one day as 'ud clothe him two or three years."
"May I never sin this day, Fardorougha, but one 'ud think you're tired of him already. By not givin' in to what's dacent you know you'll only fret me—a thing that no man wid half a heart 'ud do to any woman supportin' a babby as I am. A fretted nurse makes a child sick, as Molly Moan tould you before she went; so that it's not on my own account I'm spakin', but on his—poor, weeny pet—the Lord love him! Look at his innocent purty little face, an' how can you have the heart, Fardorougha? Come, avourneen, give way to me this wanst; throth, if you do, you'll see how I'll nurse him, an' what a darlin' lump o' sugar I'll have him for you in no time!"
He paused a little at this delicate and affecting appeal of the mother; but, except by a quick glance that passed from her to their child, it was impossible to say whether or not it made any impression on his heart, or in the slightest degree changed his resolution.
"Well, well," said he, "let me alone now. I'll think of it. I'll turn it over an' see what's best to be done; do you the same, Honora, an' may be your own sinse will bring you to my side of the question at last."
The next day, his wife renewed the subject with unabated anxiety; but, instead of expressing any change in her favor, Fardorougha declined even to enter into it at all. An evasive reply was all she could extract from him, with an assurance that he would in a day or two communicate the resolution to which he had finally come. She perceived, at once, that the case was hopeless, and, after one last ineffectual attempt to bring him round, she felt herself forced to abandon it. The child, therefore, much to the mother's mortification, was baptized without a christening, unless the mere presence of the godfather and godmother, in addition to Fardorougha's own family, could be said to constitute one.
Our readers, perhaps, are not aware that a cause of deep anxiety, hitherto unnoticed by us, operated with latent power upon Fardorougha's heart. But so strong in Ireland is the beautiful superstition—if it can with truth be termed so—that children are a blessing only when received as such, that, even though supported by the hardest and most shameless of all vices, avarice, Fardorougha had not nerve to avow this most unnatural source for his distress. The fact, however, was, that, to a mind so constituted, the apprehension of a large family was in itself a consideration, which he thought might, at a future period of their lives, reduce both him and his to starvation and death. Our readers may remember Nogher M'Cormick's rebuke to him, when he heard Fardorougha allude to this; and so accessible was he then to the feeling, that, on finding his heart at variance with it, he absolutely admitted his error, and prayed to God that he might be enabled to overcome it.
It was, therefore, on the day after the baptism of young Connor, for so had the child been called after his paternal grandfather, that, as a justification for his own conduct in the matter of the christening, he disclosed to his wife, with much reluctance and embarrassment, this undivulged source of his fears for the future, alleging it as a just argument for his declining to be guided by her opinion.
The indignant sympathies of the mother abashed, on this occasion, the miserable and calculating impiety of the husband; her reproaches were open and unshrinking, and her moral sense of his conduct just and beautiful.
"Fardorougha," said she, "I thought, up to this time, to this day, that there was nothing in your heart but too much of the world; but now I'm afeard, if God hasn't sed it, that the devil himself's there. You're frettin' for 'fraid of a family; but has God sent us any but this one yet? No—an' I wouldn't be surprised, if the Almighty should punish your guilty heart, by making the child he gave you, a curse, instead of a blessin'. I think, as it is, he has brought little pleasure to you for so far, and, if your heart hardens as he grows up, it's more unhappy you'll get every day you live."
"That's very fine talk, Honora; but to people in our condition, I can't see any very great blessin' in a houseful of childre. If we're able to provide for this one, we'll have raison to be thankful widout wishin' for more."
"It's my opinion, Fardorougha, you don't love the child."
"Change that opinion, then, Honora; I do love the child; but there's no needcessity for blowin it about to every one I meet. If I didn't love him, I wouldn't feel as I do about all the hardships that may be before him. Think of what a bad sason, or a failure of the craps, might bring us all to. God grant that we mayn't come to the bag and staff before he's settled in the world at all, poor thing."
"Oh, very well, Fardorougha; you may make yourself as unhappy as you like; for me, I'll put my trust in the Saviour of the world for my child. If you can trust in any one better than God, do so."
"Honora, there's no use in this talk—it'll do nothing aither for him or us—besides, I have no more time to discoorse about it."
He then left her; but, as she viewed his dark, inflexible features ere he went, an oppressive sense of something not far removed from affliction weighed her down. The child had been asleep in her arms during the foregoing dialogue, and, after his father had departed, she placed him in the cradle, and, throwing the corner of her blue apron over her shoulder, she rocked him into a sounder sleep, swaying herself at the same time to and fro, with that inward sorrow, of which, among the lower classes of Irish females, this motion is uniformly expressive. It is not to be supposed, however, that, as the early graces of childhood gradually expanded (as they did) into more than ordinary beauty, the avarice of the father was not occasionally encountered in its progress by! sudden gushes of love for his son. It was impossible for any parent, no matter how strongly strongly the hideous idol of mammon might sway his heart, to look upon a creature so fair and beautiful, without being frequently touched into something like affection. The fact was, that, as the child advanced towards youth, the two principles we are describing nearly kept pace one with the other. That the bad and formidable passion made rapid strides, must be admitted, but that it engrossed the whole spirit of the father, is not true. The mind and gentle character of the boy—his affectionate disposition, and the extraordinary advantages of his person—could not fail sometimes to surprise his father into sudden bursts of affection. But these, when they occurred, were looked upon by Fardorougha as so many proofs that he still entertained for the boy love sufficient to justify a more intense desire of accumulating wealth for his sake. Indeed, ere the lad had numbered thirteen summers, Fardorougha's character as a miser had not only gone far abroad throughout the neighborhood, but was felt, by the members of his own family, with almost merciless severity. From habits of honesty, and a decent sense of independence, he was now degraded to rapacity and meanness; what had been prudence, by degrees degenerated into cunning; and he who, when commencing life, was looked upon only as a saving man, had now become notorious for extortion and usury.
A character such as this, among a people of generous and lively feeling like the Irish, is in every state of life the object of intense and undisguised abhorrence. It was with difficulty he could succeed in engaging servants, either for domestic or agricultural purposes, and, perhaps, no consideration, except the general kindness which was felt for his wife and son, would have induced any person whatsoever to enter into his employment. Honora and Connor did what in them lay to make the dependents of the family experience as little of Fardorougha's griping tyranny as possible. Yet, with all their kind-hearted ingenuity and secret bounty, they were scarcely able to render their situation barely tolerable.
It would be difficult to find any language, no matter what pen might wield it, capable of portraying the love which Honora Donovan bore to her gentle, her beautiful, and her only son. Ah! there in that last epithet, lay the charm which wrapped her soul in him, and in all that related to his welfare. The moment she saw it was not the will of God to bless them with other offspring, her heart gathered about him with a jealous tenderness which trembled into agony at the idea of his loss.
Her love for him, then, multiplied itself into many hues, for he was in truth the prism, on which, when it fell, all the varied beauty of its colors became visible. Her heart gave not forth the music of a single instrument, but breathed the concord of sweet sounds, as heard from the blended melody of many. Fearfully different from this were the feelings of Fardorougha, on finding that he was to be the first and the last vouchsafed to their union. A single regret, however, scarcely felt, touched even him, when he reflected that if Connor were to be removed from them, their hearth must become desolate. But then came the fictitious conscience, with its nefarious calculations, to prove that, in their present circumstances, the dispensation which withheld others was a blessing to him that was given. Even Connor himself, argued the miser, will be the gainer by it, for what would my five loaves and three fishes be among so many? The pleasure, however, that is derived from the violation of natural affection is never either full or satisfactory. The gratification felt by Fardorougha, upon reflecting that no further addition was to be made to their family, resembled that which a hungry man feels who dreams he is partaking of a luxurious banquet. Avarice, it is true, like fancy, was gratified, but the enjoyment, though rich to that particular passion, left behind it a sense of unconscious remorse, which gnawed his heart with a slow and heavy pain, that operated like a smothered fire, wasting what it preys upon, in secrecy and darkness. In plainer terms, he was not happy, but so absorbed in the ruling passion—the pursuit of wealth—that he felt afraid to analyze his anxiety, or to trace to its true source the cause of his own misery.
In the mean time, his boy grew up the pride and ornament of the parish, idolized by his mother, and beloved by all who knew him. Limited and scanty was the education which his father could be prevailed upon to bestow upon him; but there was nothing that could deprive him of his natural good sense, nor of the affections which his mother's love had drawn out and cultivated. One thing was remarkable in him, which we mention with reluctance, as it places his father's character in a frightful point of view; it is this, that his love for that father was such as is rarely witnessed, even in the purest and most affectionate circles of domestic life. But let not our readers infer, either from what we have written, or from any thing we may write, that Fardorougha hated this lovely and delightful boy; on the contrary, earth contained not an object, except his money, which he loved so well. His affection for him, however, was only such as could proceed from the dregs of a defiled and perverted heart. This is not saying much, but it is saying all. What in him was parental attachment, would in another man, to such a son, be unfeeling and detestable indifference. His heart sank on contemplating the pittance he allowed for Connor's education; and no remonstrance could prevail on him to clothe the boy with common decency. Pocket-money was out of the question, as were all those considerate indulgences to youth, that blunt, when timely afforded, the edge of early anxiety to know those amusements of life, which, if not innocently gratified before passion gets strong, are apt to produce, at a later period, that giddy intoxication, which has been the destruction of thousands. When Connor, however, grew up, and began to think for himself, he could not help feeling that, from a man so absolutely devoted to wealth as his father was, to receive even the slenderest proof of affection, was in this case no common manifestation of the attachment he bore him. There was still a higher and nobler motive. He could not close his ears to the character which had gone abroad of his father, and from that principle of generosity, which induces a man, even when ignorant of the quarrel, to take the weaker side, he fought his battles, until, in the end, he began to believe them just. But the most obvious cause of the son's attachment we have not mentioned, and it is useless to travel into vain disquisitions, for that truth which may be found in the instinctive impulses of nature. He was Connor's father, and though penurious in everything that regarded even his son's common comfort, he had never uttered a harsh word to him during his life, or denied him any gratification which could be had without money. Nay, a kind word, or a kind glance, from Fardorougha, fired the son's resentment against the world which traduced him; for how could it be otherwise, when the habitual defence made by him, when arraigned for his penury, was an anxiety to provide for the future welfare and independence of his son?
Many characters in life appear difficult to be understood, but if those who wish to analyze them only consulted human nature, instead of rushing into far-fetched theories, and traced with patience the effect which interest, or habit, or inclination is apt to produce on men of a peculiar temperament, when placed in certain situations, there would be much less difficulty in avoiding those preposterous exhibitions which run into caricature, or outrage the wildest combinations that can be formed from the common elements of humanity.
Having said this much, we will beg our readers to suppose that young Connor is now twenty-two years of age, and request them, besides, to prepare for the gloom which is about to overshadow our story.
We have already stated that Fardorougha was not only an extortioner, but a usurer. Now, as some of our readers may be surprised that a man in his station of life could practise usury or even extortion to any considerable extent, we feel it necessary to inform them that there exists among Irish farmers a class of men who stand, with respect to the surrounding poor and improvident, in a position precisely analogous to that which is occupied by a Jew or moneylender among those in the higher classes who borrow, and are extravagant upon a larger scale. If, for instance, a struggling small farmer have to do with a needy landlord or an unfeeling agent, who threatens to seize or eject, if the rent be not paid to the day, perhaps this small farmer is forced to borrow from one of those rustic Jews the full amount of the gale; for this he gives him, at a valuation dictated by the lender's avarice and his own distress, the oats, or potatoes, or hay, which he is not able to dispose of in sufficient time to meet the demand that is upon him. This property, the miser draws home, and stacks or houses it until the markets are high, when he disposes of it at a price which often secures for him a profit amounting to one-third, and occasionally one-half, above the sum lent, upon which, in the meantime, interest is accumulating. For instance, if the accommodation be twenty pounds, property to that amount at a ruinous valuation is brought home by the accommodator. This perhaps sells for thirty, thirty-five, or forty pounds, so that, deducting the labor of preparing it for market, there is a gain of fifty, seventy-five, or a hundred per cent. besides, probably, ten per cent, interest, which is altogether distinct from the former. This class of persons will also take a joint bond, or joint promissory note, or, in fact, any collateral security they know to be valid, and if the contract be not fulfilled, they immediately pounce upon the guarantee. They will, in fact, as a mark of their anxiety to assist a neighbor in distress, receive a pig from a widow, or a cow from a struggling small farmer, at thirty or forty per cent, beneath its value, and claim the merit of being a friend into the bargain. Such men are bitter enemies to paper money, especially to notes issued by private bankers, which they never take in payment. It is amusing, if a person could forget the distress which occasions the scene, to observe one of these men producing an old stocking, or a long black leathern purse—or a calf-skin pocket-book with the hair on, and counting down, as if he gave out his heart's blood drop by drop, the specific sum, uttering, at the same time, a most lugubrious history of his own poverty, and assuring the poor wretch he is fleecing, that if he (the miser) gives way to his good nature, he must ultimately become the victim of his own benevolence. In no case, however, do they ever put more in the purse or stocking than is just then wanted, and sometimes they will be short a guinea or ten shillings, which they borrow from a neighbor, or remit to the unfortunate dupe in the course of the day. This they do in order to enhance the obligation, and give a distinct proof of their poverty. Let not, therefore, the gentlemen of the Minories, nor our P———s and our M———s nearer home, imagine for a moment that they engross the spirit of rapacity and extortion to themselves. To the credit of the class, however, to which they belong, such persons are not so numerous as formerly, and to the still greater honor of the peasantry be it said, the devil himself is not hated with half the detestation which is borne them. In order that the reader may understand our motive for introducing such a description as that we have now given, it will be necessary for us to request him to accompany a stout, well-set young man, named Bartle Flanagan, along a green ditch, which, planted with osiers, leads to a small meadow belonging to Fardorougha Donovan. In this meadow, his son Connor is now making hay, and on seeing Flanagan approach, he rests upon the top of his rake, and exclaims in a soliloquy:—
"God help you and yours, Bartle! If it was in my power, I take God to witness, I'd make up wid a willin' heart for all the hardship and misfortune my father brought upon you all."
He then resumed his labor, in order that the meeting between him and Bartle might take place with less embarrassment, for he saw at once that the former was about to speak to him.
"Isn't the weather too hot, Connor, to work bareheaded? I think you ought to keep on your hat."
"Bartle, how are you?—off or on, it's the same thing; hat or no hat, it's broilin' weather, the Lord be praised! What news, Bartle?"
"Not much, Connor, but what you know—a family that was strugglin', but honest, brought to dissolation. We're broken up; my father and mother's both livin' in a cabin they tuck from Billy Nuthy; Mary and Alick's gone to sarvice, and myself's just on my way to hire wid the last man I ought to go to—your father, that is, supposin' we can agree."
"As heaven's above me, Bartle, there's not a man in the county this day sorrier for what has happened than myself! But the truth is, that when my father heard of Tom Grehan, that was your security, havin' gone to America, he thought every day a month till the note was due. My mother an' I did all we could, but you know his temper; 'twas no use. God knows, as I said before, I'm heart sorry for it."
"Every one knows, Connor, that if your mother an' you had your way an' will, your father wouldn't be sich a screw as he is."
"In the meantime, don't forget that he is my father, Bartle, an' above all things, remimber that I'll allow no man to speak disparagingly of him in my presence."
"I believe you'll allow, Connor, that he was a scourge an' a curse to us, an' that none of us ought to like a bone in his skin."
"It couldn't be expected you would, Bartle; but you must grant, after all, that he was only recoverin' his own. Still, when you know what my feeling is upon the business, I don't think it's generous in you to bring it up between us."
"I could bear his harrishin' us out of house an' home," proceeded the other, "only for one thought that still crasses in an me."
"What is that, Bartle?—God knows I can't help feelin' for you," he added, smote with the desolation which his father had brought upon the family.
"He lent us forty pounds," proceeded the young man; "and when he found that Tom Grehan, our security, went to America, he came down upon us the minute the note was due, canted all we had at half price, and turned us to starve upon the world; now, I could bear that, but there's one thing——"
"That's twice you spoke about that one thing," said Connor, somewhat sharply, for he felt hurt at the obstinacy of the other, in continuing a subject so distressing to him; "but," he continued, in a milder tone, "tell me, Bartle, for goodness' sake, what it is, an' let us put an' end to the discoorse. I'm sure it must be unpleasant to both of us."
"It doesn't signify," replied the young man, in a desponding voice—"she's gone; it's all over wid me there; I'm a beggar—I'm a beggar!"
"Bartle," said Connor, taking his hand, "you're too much downhearted; come to us, but first go to my father; I know you'll find it hard to deal with him. Never mind that; whatever he offers you, close wid him, an' take my word for it that my mother and I between us will make you up dacent wages; an' sorry I am that it's come to this wid you, poor fellow!"
Bartle's cheek grew pale as ashes; he wrung Connor's hand with all his force, and fixed an unshrinking eye on him as he replied—
"Thank you Connor, now—but I hope I'll live to thank you better yet, and if I do, you needn't thank me for any return I may make you or yours. I will close wid your father, an' take whatsomever he'll order me; for, Connor," and he wrung his hand again—"Connor O'Donovan, I haven't a house or home this day, nor a place under God's canopy where to lay my head, except upon the damp floor of my father's naked cabin. Think of that, Connor, an' think if I can forget it; still," he added, "you'll see, Connor—Connor, you'll see how I'll forgive it."
"It's a credit to yourself to spake as you do," replied Connor; "call this way, an' let me know what's done, an' I hope, Bartle, you an' I will have some pleasant days together."
"Ay, an' pleasant nights, too, I hope," replied the other: "to be sure I'll call; but if you take my advice, you'd tie a handkerchy about your head; it's mad hot, an' enough to give one a fever bareheaded."
Having made this last observation, he loaped across a small drain that bounded the meadow, and proceeded up the fields to Fardorougha's house.
Bartle Flanagan was a young man, about five feet six in height, but of a remarkably compact and athletic form. His complexion was dark, but his countenance open, and his features well set and regular. Indeed his whole appearance might be termed bland and prepossessing. If he ever appeared to disadvantage it was whilst under the influence of resentment, during which his face became pale as death, nay, almost livid; and, as his brows were strong and black, the contrast between them and his complexion changed the whole expression of his countenance into that of a person whose enmity a prudent man would avoid. He was not quarrelsome, however, nor subject to any impetuous bursts of passion; his resentments, if he retained any, were either dead or silent, or, at all events, so well regulated that his acquaintances looked upon him as a young fellow of a good-humored and friendly disposition. It is true, a hint had gone abroad that on one or two occasions he was found deficient in courage; but, as the circumstances referred to were rather unimportant, his conduct by many was attributed rather to good sense and a disinclination to quarrel on frivolous grounds, than to positive cowardice. Such he was, and such he is, now that he has entered upon the humble drama of our story.
On arriving at Fardorougha's house, he found that worthy man at dinner, upon a cold bone of bacon and potatoes. He had only a few moments before returned from the residence of the County Treasurer, with whom he went to lodge, among other sums, that which was so iniquitously wrung from the ruin of the Flanagans. It would be wrong to say that he felt in any degree embarrassed on looking into the face of one whom he had so oppressively injured. The recovery of his usurious debts, no matter how merciless the process, he considered only as an act of justice to himself, for his conscience having long ago outgrown the perception of his own inhumanity, now only felt compunction when death or the occasional insolvency of a security defeated his rapacity.
When Bartle entered, Fardorougha and he surveyed each other with perfect coolness for nearly half a minute, during which time neither uttered a word. The silence was first broken by Honora, who put forward a chair, and asked Flanagan to sit down.
"Sit down, Bartle," said she, "sit down, boy; an' how is all the family?"
"'Deed, can't complain," replied Bartle, "as time goes; an' how are you, Fardorougha? although I needn't ax—you re takin' care of number one, any how."
"I'm middlin', Bartle, middlin'; as well as a man can be that has his heart broke every day in the year strivin' to come by his own, an' can't do it; but I'm a fool, an' ever was—sarvin' others an' ruinin' myself."
"Bartle," said Mrs. Donovan, "are you unwell, dear? you look as pale as death. Let me get you a drink of fresh milk."
"If he's weak," said Fardorougha, "an' he looks weak, a drink of fresh wather 'ud be betther for him; ever an' always a drink of wather for a weak man, or a weak woman aither; it recovers them sooner."
"Thank you, kindly, Mrs. Donovan, an' I'm obliged to you, Fardorougha, for the wather; but I'm not a bit weak; it's only the heat o' the day ails me—for sure enough it's broilin' weather."
"'Deed it is," replied Honora, "kill in' weather to them that has to be out undher it."
"If it's good for nothin' else, it's good for, the hay—makin'," observed Fardorougha.
"I'm tould, Misther Donovan," said Bartle, "that' you want a sarvint man: now, if you do, I want a place, an' you see I'm comin' to you to look for one."
"Heaven above, Bartle!" exclaimed Honora, "what do you mean? Is it one of Dan Flanagan's sons goin' to sarvice?"
"Not one, but all of them," replied the other, coolly, "an' his daughters, too, Mrs. Donovan; but it's all the way o! the world. If Mr. Donovan 'll hire me I'll thank him."
"Don't be Mistherin' me, Bartle; Misther them that has means an' substance," returned Donovan.
"Oh, God forgive you, Fardorougha!" exclaimed his honest and humane wife. "God forgive you! Bartle, from my heart, from the core o' my heart, I pity you, my poor boy. An' is it to this, Fardorougha, you've brought them—Oh, Saviour o' the world!"
She fixed her eyes upon the victim of her husband's extortion, and in an instant they were filled with tears.
"What did I do," said the latter, "but strive to recover my own? How could I afford to lose forty pounds? An' I was tould for sartin that your father knew Grehan was goin' to Ameriky when he got him to go security. Whisht, Honora, you're as foolish a woman as riz this day; haven't you your sins to cry for?"
"God knows I have, Fardorougha, an' more than my own to cry for."
"I dare say you did hear as much," said Bartle, quietly replying to the observation of Fardorougha respecting his father; "but you know it's a folly to talk about spilt milk. If you want a sarvint I'll hire; for, as I said a while ago, I want a place, an' except wid you I don't know where to get one."
"If you come to me," observed the other, "you must go to your duty, an' observe the fast days, but not the holydays."
"Sarvints isn't obliged to obsarve them," replied Bartle.
"But I always put it in the bargain," returned the other.
"As to that," said Bartle, "I don't much mind it. Sure it'll be for the good o' my sowl, any way. But what wages will you be givin'?"
"Thirty shillings every half year;—that's three pounds—sixty shillings a year. A great deal o' money. I'm sure I dunna where it's to come from."
"It's very little for a year's hard labor," replied Bartle, "but little as it is, Fardorougha, owin' to what has happened betwixt us, believe me, I'm right glad to take it."
"Well, but Bartle, you know there's fifteen shillins of the ould account still due, and you must allow it out o' your wages; if you don't, it's no bargain."
Bartle's face became livid; but he was perfectly cool;—indeed, so much so that he smiled at this last condition of Fardorougha. It was a smile, however, at once so ghastly, dark, and frightful, that, by any person capable of tracing the secret workings of some deadly passion on the countenance, its purport could not have been mistaken.
"God knows, Fardorougha, you might let that pass—considher that you've been hard enough upon us."
"God knows I say the same," observed Honora. "Is it the last drop o' the heart's blood you want to squeeze out, Fardorougha?"
"The last drop! What is it but my right? Am I robbin' him? Isn't it due? Will he, or can he deny that? An' if it's due isn't it but honest in him to pay it? They're not livin' can say I ever defrauded them of a penny. I never broke a bargain; an' yet you open on me, Honora, as if I was a rogue! If I hadn't that boy below to provide for, an' settle in the world, what 'ud I care about money? It's for his sake I look afther my right."
"I'll allow the money," said Bartle. "Fardorougha's right; it's due, an' I'll pay him—ay will I, Fardorougha, settle wid you to the last farden, or beyant it if you like."
"I wouldn't take a farden beyant it, in the shape of debt. Them that's decent enough to make a present, may—for that's a horse of another color."
"When will I come home?" inquired Bartle.
"You may stay at home now that you're here," said the other. "An' in the mane time, go an' help Connor put that hay in lap-cocks. Anything you want to bring here you can bring afther your day's work tonight."
"Did you ate your dinner, Bartle?" said Honora; "bekase if you didn't I'll get you something."
"It's not to this time o' day he'd be without his dinner, I suppose," observed his new master.
"You're very right, Fardorougha," rejoined Bartle; "I'm thankful to you, ma'am, I did ate my dinner."
"Well, you'll get a rake in the barn, Bartle," said his master; "an' now tramp down to Connor, an' I'll see how you'll handle yourselves, both o' you, from this till night."
Bartle accordingly—proceeded towards the meadow, and Fardorougha, as was his custom, throwing his great coat loosely about his shoulders, the arms dangling on each side of him, proceeded to another part of his farm.
Flanagan's step, on his way to join Connor, was slow and meditative. The kindness of the son and mother touched him; for the line between their disposition and Fardorougha's was too strong and clear to allow the slightest suspicion of their participation in the spirit which regulated his life. The father, however, had just declared that his anxiety to accumulate money arose from a wish to settle his son independently in life; and Flanagan was too slightly acquainted with human character to see through this flimsy apology for extortion. He took it for granted that Fardorougha spoke truth, and his resolution received a bias from the impression, which, however, his better nature determined to subdue. In this uncertain state of mind he turned about almost instinctively, to look in the direction which Fardorougha had taken, and as he observed his diminutive figure creeping along with his great coat about him, he felt that the very sight of the man who had broken up their hearth and scattered them on the world, filled his heart with a deep and deadly animosity that occasioned him to pause as a person would do who finds himself unexpectedly upon the brink of a precipice.
Connor, on seeing him enter the meadow with the rake, knew at once that the terms had been concluded between them; and the excellent young man's heart was deeply moved at the destitution which forced Flanagan to seek for service with the very individual who had occasioned it.
"I see, Bartle," said he, "you have agreed."
"We have," replied Bartle. "But if there had been any other place to be got in the parish—(an' indeed only for the state I'm in)—I wouldn't have hired myself to him for nothing, or next to nothing, as I have done."
"Why, what did he promise?"
"Three pounds a year, an' out o' that I'm to pay him fifteen shillings that my father owes him still."
"Close enough, Bartle, but don't be cast down; I'll undertake that my mother an' I will double it—an' as for the fifteen shillings I'll pay them out o' my own pocket—when I get money. I needn't tell you that we're all kept upon the tight crib, and that little cash goes far with us; for all that, we'll do what I promise, go as it may."
"It's more than I ought to expect, Connor; but yourself and your mother, all the counthry would put their hands undher both your feets."
"I would give a great dale, Bartle, that my poor father had a little of the feelin' that's in my mother's heart; but it's his way, Bartle, an' you know he's my father, an' has been kinder to me than to any livin' creature on this earth. I never got a harsh word from him yet. An' if he kept me stinted in many things that I was entitled to as well as other persons like me, still, Bartle, he loves me, an' I can't but feel great affection for him, love the money as he may."
This was spoken with much seriousness of manner not unmingled with somewhat of regret, if not sorrow. Bartle fixed his eye upon the fine face of his companion, with a look in which there was a character of compassion. His countenance, however, while he gazed on him, maintained his natural color—it was not pale.
"I am sorry, Connor," said he slowly, "I am sorry that I hired with your father."
"An' I'm glad of it," replied the other; "why should you be sorry?"
Bartle made no answer for some time, but looked into the ground, as if he had not heard him.
"Why should you be sorry, Bartle?"
Nearly a minute elapsed before his abstraction was broken. "What's that?" said he at length. "What were you asking me?"
"You said you were sorry."
"Oh, ay!" returned the other, interrupting him; "but I didn' mind what I was sayin': 'twas thinkin' o' somethin' else I was—of home, Bartle, an' what we're brought to; but the best way's to dhrop all discoorse about that forever."
"You'll be my friend if you do," said Connor.
"I will, then," replied Bartle; "we'll change it. Connor, were you ever in love?"
O'Donovan turned quickly about, and, with a keen glance at Bartle, replied,
"Why, I don't know; I believe I might, once or so."
"I am," said Flanagan, bitterly; "I am Connor."
"An' who's the happy crature, will you tell us?"
"No," returned the other; "but if there's a wish that I'd make against my worst enemy, 'twould be, that he might love a girl above his means; or if he was her aquil, or even near her aquil, that he might be brought"——he paused, but immediately proceeded, "Well, no matter, I am, indeed, Connor."
"An' is the girl fond o' you?"
"I don't know; my mind was made up to tell her but it's past that now; I know she's wealthy and proud both, and so is all her family."
"How do you know she's proud when you never put the subject to her?"
"I'm not sayin' she's proud, in one sinse; wid respect to herself, I believe; she's humble enough; I mane, she doesn't give herself many airs, but her people's as proud as the very sarra, an' never match below them; still, if I'd opportunities of bain' often in her company, I'd not fear to trust to a sweet tongue for comin' round her."
"Never despair, Bartle," said Connor; "you know the ould proverb,'a faintheart;' however, settin' the purty crature aside, whoever she is, I think if we divided ourselves—you to that side, an' me to this—we'd get this hay lapped in half the time; or do you take which side you plase."
"It's a bargain," said Bartle; "I don't care a trawneen; I'll stay where I am, thin, an' do you go beyant; let us hurry, too, for, if I'm not mistaken, it's too sultry to be long without rain, the sky, too, is gettin' dark."
"I observed as much myself," said Connor; "an' that was what made me spake."
Both then continued their labor with redoubled energy, nor ceased for a moment until the task was executed, and the business of the day concluded.
Flanagan's observation was indeed correct, as to the change in the day and the appearance of the sky. From the hour of five o'clock the darkness gradually deepened, until a dead black shadow, fearfully still and solemn, wrapped the whole horizon. The sun had altogether disappeared, and nothing was visible in the sky but one unbroken mass of darkness, unrelieved even by a single pile of clouds. The animals, where they could, had betaken themselves to shelter; the fowls of the air sought the covert of the hedges, and ceased their songs; the larks fled from the mid-heaven; and occasionally might be seen a straggling bee hurrying homewards, careless of the flowers which tempted him in his path, and only anxious to reach his hive before the deluge should overtake him. The stillness indeed was awful, as was the gloomy veil which darkened the face of nature, and filled the mind with that ominous terror which presses upon the heart like a consciousness of guilt. In such a time, and under the aspect of a sky so much resembling the pall of death, there is neither mirth nor laughter, but that individuality of apprehension, which, whilst it throws the conscience in upon its own records, and suspends conversation, yet draws man to his fellows, as if mere contiguity were a safeguard against danger.
The conversation between the two young men as they returned from their labor, was short but expressive.
"Bartle," said Connor, "are you afeard of thundher? The rason I ask," he added, "is, bekase your face is as white as a sheet."
"I have it from my mother," replied Flanagan, "but at all evints such an evenin' as this is enough to make the heart of any man quake."
I'll feel my spirits low, by rason of the darkness, but I'm not afraid. It's well for them that have a clear conscience; they say that a stormy sky is the face of an angry God—"
"An' the thundher His voice," added Bartle; "but why are the brute bastes an' the birds afraid, that commit no sin?"
"That's true," said his companion; "it must be natural to be afraid, or why would they indeed?—but some people are naturally more timersome than others."