MY NEW CURATE
Gathered from the Stray Leaves of an Old Diary
By the Rev. P. A. SHEEHAN, P. P. DONERAILE (DIOCESE OF CLOYNE)
Author of "Geoffrey Austin: Student," "The Triumph of Failure," &c.
BOSTON MARLIER & COMPANY, Limited 1902
I. The Change 1
II. A Retrospect 14
III. A Night Call 23
IV. The Pantechnicon 34
V. A Slight Misunderstanding 48
VI. At the Station 61
VII. Scruples 74
VIII. Our Concert 83
IX. Severely Reprimanded 97
X. Over the Walnuts, and the —— 113
XI. Beside the Singing River 129
XII. Church Improvements 140
XIII. "All Things to All Men" 154
XIV. First Fridays 170
XV. Holly and Ivy 187
XVI. Violent Contrasts 205
XVII. A Clerical Symposium 226
XVIII. The Kampaner Thal 241
XIX. Literary Attempts 255
XX. Madonna Mia 272
XXI. The Factory 297
XXII. The May Conference 316
XXIII. A Battle of Giants 332
XXIV. The Sermon 349
XXV. May Devotions 364
XXVI. At the Zenith 378
XXVII. The "Star of the Sea" 394
XXVIII. Sub Nube 410
XXIX. Stigmata? 429
XXX. All's Well 449
XXXI. Farewell! 475
"So there they were at last, the dream of half a lifetime" Frontispiece
"You will take something?" I said. "You have had a long drive" facing 10
"My door was suddenly flung open, and a bunch of keys was thrown angrily on the table" 49
"Do you call that clean?" 54
"Here I am, your Reverence!" facing 56
"Good Heavens!" was all I could say facing 94
"The orator was caught by the nape of the neck" 133
"'T is the way we wants to go to confession, Fader" 176
"And why don't you tell his reverence about the rice puddin'?" 223
"It broke in my fingers and revealed the little dreams and ambitions of nearly forty years ago" 262
"Was there anything wrong with the chicken?" facing 294
"I read that over three times to make quite sure of it" 321
"Ahem!—Reginald Ormsby, wilt thou take Mrs. Darcy—" facing 390
"Come down to Mrs. Haley's; there isn't a better dhrop betune this and Dublin" facing 450
"Come on, you ruffian!" 451
"For the love of God, Jem, is 't yourself or your ghost?" 453
"Hallo, there!... who the —— are ye?" facing 460
Waiting for my New Curate 479
MY NEW CURATE
Gathered from Stray Leaves of an Old Diary by an Irish Parish Priest
It is all my own fault. I was too free with my tongue. I said in a moment of bitterness: "What can a Bishop do with a parish priest? He's independent of him." It was not grammatical, and it was not respectful. But the bad grammar and the impertinence were carried to his Lordship, and he answered: "What can I do? I can send him a curate who will break his heart in six weeks."
I was not too much surprised, then, when one evening my dear old friend and curate, Father Tom Laverty, came to me, with tears in his eyes and an open letter in his hand:—
"I am off, Father Dan. Look at this!"
It was a succinct, laconic order to present himself to a parish priest twenty miles distant, and to be in time to discharge his duties in that parish the following Saturday and Sunday, for his jurisdiction was transferred, etc.
It was a hard stroke. I was genuinely attached to Father Tom. We had the same tastes and habits,—easy, contented, conservative, with a cordial dislike of innovations of any kind. We held the same political opinions, preached the same sermons, administered the Sacraments in the old way, and had a reverence for antiquities in general. It was a sad break in my life to part with him; and it is a harmless vanity on my part to say that he was sorry to part from me.
"I suppose there's no help for it?" said he.
"No," said I; "but if you care—"
"No use," said he; "when he has made up his mind you might as well be talking to a milestone."
"And you must be off to-morrow?" said I, consulting the bishop's letter.
"Yes," said he, "short shrift."
"And who am I getting?" I wondered.
"Hard to guess," said he. He was in no humor for conversation.
The following week, that most melancholy of processions, a curate's furniture en route, filed slowly through the village, and out along the highroad, that led through bog and fen, and by lake borders to the town of N——. First came three loads of black turf, carefully piled and roped; then two loads of hay; a cow with a yearling calf; and lastly, the house furniture, mostly of rough deal. The articles, that would be hardly good enough for one of our new laborers' cottages, were crowned by a kitchen table, its four legs pointing steadily to the firmament, like an untrussed fowl's, and between them, carefully roped, was the plague and the pet of the village, Nanny the goat, with her little kid beside her. What Nanny could not do in the way of mischief was so insignificant, that it need not be told. But the Celtic vocabulary, particularly rich in expletives, failed to meet the ever-growing vituperative wants of the villagers. They had to fall back on the Saxon, and call her a "rep," "a rip," "de ribble," etc., etc. I walked side by side with Father Laverty, who, with head bent on his breast, scarcely noticed the lamentations of the women, who came to their cross-doors, and poured out a Jeremiad of lamentations that made me think my own well-meant ministrations were but scantily appreciated.
"Wisha, God be wid you, Father, wherever you go!"
"Wisha, may your journey thry wid you. Sure 't is we'll miss you!"
"Yerra, what'll the poor do now, whin he's gone?"
"Bishop, inagh, 't is aisy for him wid his ring and his mitre, and his grand carriage. Couldn't he let him alone?"
"Father," said a young girl, earnestly, her black hair blinding her eyes, "may God be with you." She ran after him. "Pray for me," she whispered. "You don't know all the good you done me." She hadn't been very sensible.
He turned towards her.
"Yes! Nance, I'll remember you. And don't forget all that I told you."
He held out his hand. It was such an honor, such a condescension, that she blushed scarlet: and hastily rubbing her hand in her apron, she grasped his.
"May God Almighty bless you," she said.
But the great trial came when we were passing the school-house. It was after three o'clock, the time for breaking up: and there at the wall were all the little boys and the sheilas with their wide eyes full of sorrow. He passed by hastily, never looking up. His heart was with these children. I believe the only real pleasure he ever allowed himself was to go amongst them, teach them, amuse them, and listen to their little songs. And now—
"Good by, Father—"
"Good by, Father—"
Then, Alice Moylan gave a big "boo-hoo!" and in a moment they were all in tears; and I, too, began to wink, in a queer way, at the landscape.
At last, we came to the little bridge that humps itself over the trout stream. Many a summer evening we had made this the terminus of our evening's walk; for I was feeble enough on my limbs, though my head is as clear as a boy's of seventeen. And here we used to lean over the parapet, and talk of all things, politics, literature (the little we knew of it), the old classics, college stories, tales of the mission, etc.; and now we were to part.
"Good by, Father Tom," I said. "You know, there's always a bite and a sup and a bed, whenever you come hither. Good by. God knows, I'm sorry to part with you."
"Good by," he said. Not another word. I watched and waited, till I saw the melancholy procession fade away, and until he became a speck on the horizon. Then, with a heavy heart I turned homewards.
If I had the least doubt about the wonderful elasticity of the Irish mind, or its talent for adaptation, it would have been dispelled as I passed again through the village. I had no idea I was so popular, or that my little labors were so warmly appreciated.
"Well, thank God, we have himself whatever."
Gentle reader, "himself" and "herself" are two pronouns, that in our village idioms mean the master and mistress of the situation, beyond whom there is no appeal.
"Wisha, the Lord spare him to us. God help us, if he wint."
"The heads of our Church, God spare them long! Wisha, your reverence might have a copper about you to help a poor lone widow?"
I must say this subtle flattery did not raise my drooped spirits. I went home, sat down by my little table, and gave myself up to gloomy reflections.
It must have been eight o'clock, or more, for the twilight had come down, and my books and little pictures were looking misty, when a rat-tat-tat rang at the door. I didn't hear the car, for the road was muddy, I suppose; but I straightened myself up in my arm-chair, and drew my breviary towards me. I had read my Matins and Lauds for the following day, before dinner; I always do, to keep up the old tradition amongst the Irish priests; but I read somewhere that it is always a good thing to edify people who come to see you. And I didn't want any one to suspect that I had been for a few minutes asleep. In a moment, Hannah, my old housekeeper, came in. She held a tiny piece of card between her fingers, which were carefully covered with her check apron, lest she should soil it. I took it—while I asked—
"Who is it?"
"I don't know, your reverence."
"Is 't a priest?"
"No, but I think he's a gintleman," she whispered. "He talks like the people up at the great house."
She got a candle, and I read:—
Rev. Edward Letheby, B. A., C. C.
"'Tis the new curate," I said.
"Oyeh," said Hannah, whose dread and admiration for the "strange gintleman" evaporated, when she found he was a mere curate.
I went out and welcomed with what warmth I could my new cooeperator. It was too dark for me to see what manner of man he was; but I came to some rapid conclusions from the way he spoke. He bit off his words, as riflemen bite their cartridges, he chiselled every consonant, and gave full free scope to every vowel. This was all the accent he had, an accent of precision and determination and formalism, that struck like a knell, clear and piercing on my heart.
"I took the liberty of calling, Sir," he said, "and I hope you will excuse my troubling you at such an unseasonable hour; but I am utterly unacquainted with the locality, and I should be thankful to you if you would refer me to a hotel."
"There's but one hotel in the village," I replied slowly. "It has also the advantage of being the post-office, and the additional advantage of being an emporium for all sorts of merchandise, from a packet of pins to Reckitt's blue, and from pigs' crubeens to the best Limerick flitches. There's a conglomeration of smells," I continued, "that would shame the City on the Bosphorus; and there are some nice visitors there now in the shape of two Amazons who are going to give selections from 'Maritana' in the school-house this evening; and a drunken acrobat, the leavings of the last circus."
"Good heavens," he said under his breath.
I think I astonished him, as I was determined to do. Then I relented, as I had the victory.
"If, however," said I, "you could be content with the humble accommodation and poor fare that this poor presbytery affords, I shall be delighted to have you as my guest, until you can secure your own little domicile."
"I thank you very much, Sir," said he, "you are extremely kind. Would you pardon me a moment, whilst I dismiss the driver and bring in my portmanteau?"
He was a little humbled and I was softened. But I was determined to maintain my dignity.
He followed me into the parlor, where the lamp was now lighting, and I had a good opportunity of observing him. I always sit with my back to the light, which has the double advantage of obscuring my own features and lighting up the features of those whom I am addressing. He sat opposite me, straight as an arrow. One hand was gloved; he was toying gently with the other glove. But he was a fine fellow. Fairly tall, square shouldered, not a bit stout, but clean cut from head to spur, I thought I should not like to meet him in a wrestling bout, or try a collision over a football. He had a mass of black hair, glossy and curled, and parted at the left side. Large, blue-black luminous eyes, that looked you squarely in the face, were hardly as expressive as a clear mouth that now in repose seemed too quiet even for breathing. He was dressed ad ——. Pardon me, dear reader, I have had to brush up my classics, and Horace is like a spring eruption. There was not a line of white visible above his black collar; but a square of white in front, where the edges parted. A heavy chain hung from his vest; and his boots glistened and winked in the lamplight.
"You'll take something?" I said. "You have had a long drive."
"If not too much trouble," he said, "I'll have a cup of tea."
I rang the bell.
"Get a cup of tea, Hannah," I said.
"A cup of wha—at?" queried Hannah. She had the usual feminine contempt for men that drink tea.
"A cup of tea," I said decisively, "and don't be long."
"Oyeh!" said Hannah. But she brought in a few minutes later the tea and hot cakes that would make an alderman hungry, and two poached eggs on toast. I was awfully proud of my domestic arrangements. But I was puzzled. Hannah was not always so courteous. She explained next day.
"I didn't like him at all, at all," she said, "but whin I came out and saw his portmanty all brass knobs, and took up his rug, whew! it was that soft and fine it would do to wrap up the Queen, I said to myself, 'this is a gintleman, Hannah; who knows but he's the Bishop on his tower.'"
"I hope you like your tea?" I said.
"It's simply delicious," he answered.
He ate heartily. Poor fellow, he was hungry after a long drive; but he chewed every morsel as a cow would chew the cud on a lazy summer afternoon, without noise or haste, and he lifted my poor old china cup as daintily as if it were Sevres. Then we fell to talking.
"I am afraid," I said tentatively, "that you'll find this place dull after your last mission. But have you been on the mission before?"
"Oh yes, Father," he said, "I thought the Bishop might have written to you."
"Well," I said, "I had reason to know you were coming; but the Bishop is rather laconic in his epistles. He prides himself on his virtue of reticence."
I said this, because it would never do to let him suppose that the Bishop would send me a curate without letting me know of it. And I thought I was using select language, an opinion which, after the nine years and more of Horace, I have no reason to alter.
"My only mission hitherto," he said, "has been in Manchester, at St. Chad's. It was a populous mission, and quite full of those daily trials and contingencies that make life wearisome to a priest. I confess I was not sorry to have been called home."
"But you had society," I interjected, "and unless you wish to spend an hour at the constabulary barracks, you must seek your society here in an occasional conversazione with some old woman over her cross-door, or a chat with the boys at the forge—"
"But I have got my books, Father," he said, "and I assure you I want some time to brush up the little I have ever read. I haven't opened a serious book for seven years."
This was candid; and it made me warm towards him.
"Then," I said, "there's no use in preaching fine English sermons, they won't be understood. And you must be prepared for many a night call to mountain cabins, the only access to which is through a bog or the bed of a mountain stream; and your income will reach the princely sum of sixty pounds per annum. But," I added hastily, "you'll have plenty of turf, and oats and hay for your horse, an occasional pound of butter, and you'll have to export all the turkeys you'll get at Christmas."
"You have painted the lights and shadows, Father," he said cheerily, "and I am prepared to take them together. I am sure I'll like the poor people. It won't be my fault."
Then my heart rose up to this bright, cheery, handsome fellow, who had no more pride in him than a barelegged gossoon; and who was prepared to find his pleasure amongst such untoward surroundings. But I didn't like to let myself out as yet. I had to keep up some show of dignity.
My education commenced next morning. He had served my mass, and said his own in my little oratory; and he came down to breakfast, clean, alert, happy. I asked him how he had slept.
"Right well," he said, "I never woke till I heard some far off bell in the morning."
"The six o'clock bell at the great house," I replied. "But where are you going?"
"Nowhere, Sir," said he, "I understood I was to remain over Sunday."
"But you're shaved?" said I.
"Oh yes," he said, with the faintest ripple of a smile. "I couldn't think of sitting down to breakfast, much less of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice, without shaving."
"And you have a clean collar. Do you mean to say you change your collar every morning?"
"Certainly, Sir," he said.
"Poor Father Tom!" I exclaimed mentally, "this is a change." But I said nothing; but sent out my razors in the afternoon to be set.
There was a letter from the Bishop. It ran thus:—
My dear Father Dan:—I have thought it necessary to make a change of curates in your parish. I have removed Father Laverty on promotion; and I am sending you one of the most promising young priests in my diocese. He has just returned from England, where he won golden opinions from the people and the priests. I may mention that he was an exhibitioner under the Intermediate System; and took a gold medal for Greek. Perhaps you will stimulate him to renew his studies in that department, as he says he has got quite rusty from want of time to study. Between you both, there will be quite an Academia at Kilronan.
Yours in Christ.
"Clever, my Lord," I soliloquized, "clever!" Then, as the "gold medal in Greek" caught my eye again, I almost let the letter fall to the ground; and I thought of his Lordship's words: "I can send him a curate who will break his heart in six weeks." But as I looked over my cup at Father Letheby, I couldn't believe that there was any lurking diablerie there. He looked in the morning a frank, bright, cheery, handsome fellow. But, will he do?
Long ago, when I used to read an occasional novel, if the author dared to say: "But I am anticipating; we must go back here twenty years to understand the thread of this history," I invariably flung down the book in disgust. The idea of taking you back to ancient history when you were dying to know what was to become of the yellow-haired Blumine, or the grand chivalrous Roland. Well, I am just going to commit the very same sin; and, dear reader, be patient just a little while.
It is many years since I was appointed to the parish of Kilronan. It happened in this wise. The Bishop, the old man, sent for me; and said, with what I would call a tone of pity or contempt, but he was incapable of either, for he was the essence of charity and sincerity:—
"Father Dan, you are a bit of a litterateur, I understand. Kilronan is vacant. You'll have plenty of time for poetizing and dreaming there. What do you say to it?"
I put on a little dignity, and, though my heart was beating with delight, I quietly thanked his Lordship. But, when I had passed beyond the reach of episcopal vision, which is far stretching enough, I spun my hat in the air, and shouted like a schoolboy: "Hurrah!"
You wonder at my ecstasies! Listen. I was a dreamer, and the dream of my life, when shut up in musty towns, where the atmosphere was redolent of drink, and you heard nothing but scandal, and saw nothing but sin,—the dream of my life was a home by the sea, with its purity and freedom, and its infinite expanse, telling me of God. For, from the time when as a child the roar of the surges set my pulse beating, and the scents of the weed and the brine would make me turn pale with pleasure, I used to pray that some day, when my life's work would be nearly done, and I had put in my years of honest labor in the dusty streets, I might spend my declining years in the peace of a seaside village, and go down to my grave, washed free from the contaminations of life in the daily watching and loving of those
"Moving waters at their priestlike task Of cold ablution round earth's human shores."
My wish was realized, and I was jubilant.
Returning home by train, when my emotion had calmed down, my mind could not help recurring to the expression used by the Bishop; and it suggested the following reflections: How has it come to pass in Ireland that "poet" and "saint" are terms which denote some weakness or irregularity in their possessors? At one time in our history we know that the bard was second only to the King in power and influence; and are we not vaguely proud of that title the world gives us,—Island of Saints? Yet, nowadays, through some fatal degeneracy, a poet is looked upon as an idealist, an unpractical builder of airy castles, to whom no one would go for advice in an important matter, or intrust with the investment of a five-pound note. And to speak of a man or woman as a "saint" is to hint at some secret imbecility, which it would be charitable to pass over in silence. I was quite well aware, therefore, on that day, when I had the secret pleasure and the sublime misfortune of seeing my name in print over some wretched verses, that I was ruining my prospects in life. The fact of being a litterateur, although in the most modest and hidden manner, stamped me as a volatile, flighty creature, who was no more to be depended upon than a feather in the wind; or, as the Italians say, qu' al piume al vento. It is a curious prejudice, and a purely insular one. And sometimes I think, or rather I used to think, that there was something infinitely grotesque in these narrow ideas, that shut us out from sympathy with the quick moving, subtle world as completely as if we were fakirs by the banks of the sacred Ganges. For what does modern literature deal with? Exactly those questions of philosophy, ethics, and morality which form the staple material of theological studies and discussions in our own colleges and academies. Novels, poetry, essays, lectures, treatises on the natural sciences,—all deal with the great central questions of man's being, his origin, and his conduct. And surely it is folly to ignore these discussions in the market places of the world, because they are literature, and not couched in scholastic syllogisms. Dear me! I am philosophizing,—I, old Daddy Dan, with the children plucking at my coat-tails and the brown snuff staining my waistcoat, and, ah, yes! the place already marked in my little chapel, where I shall sleep at last. I must have been angry, or gloomy, that day, thirty years ago, when I stepped on the platform at M——, after my interview with the Bishop, and met my friends, who had already become aware that I was elevated out of the junior ranks, and had become an independent officer of the Church Militant.
"You don't mean to say that you have accepted that awful place?" said one.
"You'll have nothing but fish to eat," said another. "The butcher's van goes there but once a week."
"And no society but fishermen," said a third. "And they speak nothing but Irish, and you know you cannot bless yourself in Irish."
"Well," I replied, "my Job's comforters, I have accepted Kilronan, and am going there. If all things go well, and you are good boys, I may ask for some of you as curate—"
"You'll be glad to get a curacy yourself in six months," they shouted in chorus.
And so I came to Kilronan, and here have I been since. The years have rolled by swiftly. Life is a coach, whose wheels move slowly and painfully at the start; but, once set moving, particularly when going down the deep decline of life, the years move so swiftly you cannot see the spokes in the wheels, which are the days we number so sadly. What glorious resolutions I made the first months of my residence here! How I would read and write and burn the midnight oil, and astonish the world, and grow from dignity to dignity into an honored old age! Alas! circumstances are too much for us all, and here I am, in my seventieth year, poor old Daddy Dan, with no great earthly trouble, indeed, and some few consolations,—my breviary and the grand psalms of hope,—my daily Mass and its hidden and unutterable sweetness,—the love of little children and their daily smiles,—the prayers of my old women, and, I think, the reverence of the men. But there comes a little sting sometimes, when I see young priests, who served my Masses long ago, standing in cathedral stalls in all the glory of purple and ermine, and when I see great parishes passing into the hands of mere boys, and poor old Daddy Dan passed over in silence. I know, if I were really good and resigned, I would bless God for it all, and I do. But human nature will revolt sometimes, and people will say, "What a shame, Father Dan; why haven't you the red buttons as well as so and so," or, "What ails the Bishop, passing over one of the most learned men in the diocese for a parcel of gossoons!" I suppose it was my own fault. I remember what magnificent ideas I had. I would build factories, I would ferr the streets, I would establish a fishing station and make Kilronan the favorite bathing resort on the western coast; I would write books and be, all round, a model of push, energy, and enterprise. And I did try. I might as well have tried to remove yonder mountain with a pitchfork, or stop the roll of the Atlantic with a rope of sand. Nothing on earth can cure the inertia of Ireland. It weighs down like the weeping clouds on the damp heavy earth, and there's no lifting it, nor disburthening of the souls of men of this intolerable weight. I was met on every side with a stare of curiosity, as if I were propounding something immoral or heretical. People looked at me, put their hands in their pockets, whistled dubiously, and went slowly away. Oh, it was weary, weary work! The blood was stagnant in the veins of the people and their feet were shod with lead. They walked slowly, spoke with difficulty, stared all day at leaden clouds or pale sunlight, stood at the corners of the village for hours looking into vacuity, and the dear little children became old the moment they left school, and lost the smiles and the sunlight of childhood. It was a land of the lotos. The people were narcotized. Was it the sea air? I think I read somewhere in an old philosopher, called Berkeley, that the damp salt air of the sea has a curious phlegmatic effect on the blood, and will coagulate it and produce gout and sundry disorders. However that be, there was a weary weight on everything around Kilronan. The cattle slept in the fields, the fishermen slept in their coracles. It was a land of sleep and dreams.
I approached the agent about a foreshore for the pier, for you cannot, in Ireland, take the most preliminary and initial step in anything without going, cap in hand, to the agent. I explained my intentions. He smiled, but was polite.
"Lord L——, you know, is either in Monte Carlo or yachting in the Levant. He must be consulted. I can do nothing."
"And when will his Lordship return?"
"Probably in two years."
"You have no power to grant a lease of the foreshore, or even give temporary permission to erect a pier?"
I went to the Presentment Sessions about a grant for paving or flagging the wretched street. I woke a nest of hornets.
"What! More taxation! Aren't the people crushed enough already? Where can we get money to meet rates and taxes? Flagging Kilronan! Oh, of course! Wouldn't your reverence go in for gas or the electric light? Begor, ye'll be wanting a water supply next," etc., etc.
I applied to a factory a few miles distant to establish a local industry by cottage labor, which is cheap and remunerative.
"They would be delighted, but—" And so all my castles came tumbling down from the clouds, and left them black and lowering and leaden as before. Once or twice, later on, I made a few spasmodic efforts to galvanize the place into life; they, too, failed, and I accepted the inevitable. When Father Laverty came he helped me to bear the situation with philosophical calmness. He had seen the world, and had been rubbed badly in contact with it. He had adopted as his motto and watchword the fatal Cui bono? And he had printed in large Gothic letters over his mantelpiece the legend:
'TWILL BE ALL THE SAME IN A HUNDRED YEARS.
And so I drifted, drifted down from high empyreans of great ideals and lofty speculations into a humdrum life, that was only saved from sordidness by the sacred duties of my office. After all, I find that we are not independent of our circumstances. We are fashioned and moulded by them as plaster of Paris is fashioned and moulded into angels or gargoyles by the deft hand of the sculptor. "Thou shalt lower to his level," true of the wife in Locksley Hall, is true of all who are thrown by fate or fortune into unhappy environments. In my leisure moments, when I took up my pen to write, some evil spirit whispered, Cui bono? and I laid down my pen and hid my manuscript. Once or twice I took up some old Greek poets and essayed to translate them. I have kept the paper still, frayed and yellow with age; but the fatal Cui bono? disheartened me, and I flung it aside. Even my love for the sea had vanished, and I had begun to hate it. During the first few years of my ministry I spent hours by the cliffs and shores, or out on the heaving waters. Then the loneliness of the desert and barren wastes repelled me, and I had begun to loathe it. Altogether I was soured and discontented, and I had a dread consciousness that my life was a failure. All its possibilities had passed without being seized and utilized. I was the barren fig tree, fit only to be cut down. May I escape the fire! Such were my surroundings and disposition when Father Letheby came.
A NIGHT CALL
It must have been about two o'clock on Sunday morning, when the house bell was pulled violently and a rapid series of fierce, sharp knocks woke up the house. What priest does not know that tocsin of the night, and the start from peaceful slumbers? I heard the housekeeper wake up Father Letheby; and in a short time I heard him go down stairs. Then there was the usual hurried colloquy at the hall door, then the retreating noises of galloping feet. I pulled the blankets around my shoulders, lifted the pillow, and said, "Poor fellow!" He had to say last Mass next day, and this was some consolation, as he could sleep a few hours in the morning. I met him at breakfast about half past one o'clock. There he was, clean, cool, cheerful, as if nothing had happened.
"I was sorry you had that night call," I said; "how far had you to go?"
"To some place called Knocktorisha," he replied, opening his egg; "'t was a little remote, but I was well repaid."
"Indeed," said I; "the poor people are very grateful. And they generally pay for whatever trouble they give."
He flushed up.
"Oh, I didn't mean any pecuniary recompense," he said, a little nettled. "I meant that I was repaid by the extraordinary faith and fervor of the people."
"Why, Father," said he, turning around and flicking a few invisible crumbs with his napkin, "I never saw anything like it. I had quite an escort of cavalry, two horsemen, who rode side by side with me the whole way to the mountain, and then, when we had to dismount and climb up through the boulders of some dry torrent course, I had two linkmen or torchbearers, leaping on the crest of the ditch on either side, and lighting me right up to the door of the cabin. It was a picture that Rembrandt might have painted."
He paused and blushed a little, as if he had been pedantic.
"But tell me, Father," said he, "is this the custom in the country?"
"Oh yes," said I; "we look upon it as a matter of course. Your predecessors didn't make much of it."
"It seems to me," he said, "infinitely picturesque and beautiful. It must have been some tradition of the Church when she was free to practise her ceremonies. But where do they get these torches?"
"Bog-oak, steeped in petroleum," I said. "It is, now that you recall it, very beautiful and picturesque. Our people will never allow a priest, with the Blessed Sacrament with him, to go unescorted."
"Now that you have mentioned it," he said, "I distinctly recall the custom that existed among the poor of Salford. They would insist always on accompanying me home from a night sick-call. I thought it was superfluous politeness, and often insisted on being alone, particularly as the streets were always well lighted. But no. If the men hesitated, the women insisted; and I had always an escort to my door. But this little mountain ceremony here is very touching."
"Who was sick?"
"Old Conroy,—a mountain ranger, I believe. He is very poorly; and I anointed him." "By Jove," said he after a pause, "how he did pray,—and all in Irish. I could imagine the old Hebrew prophets talking to God from their mountains just in that manner. But why do they expect to be anointed on the breast?"
"I do not know," I replied, "I think it is a Gallican custom introduced by the French refugee priests at the beginning of the century. The people invariably expect it."
"But you don't?" he asked in surprise.
"Oh dear, no. It would be hardly orthodox. Come, and if you are not too tired, we'll have a walk."
I took him through the village, where he met salaams and genuflections enough; and was stared at by the men, and blessed by the women, and received the mute adoration of the children. We passed along the bog road, where on either side were heaps of black turf drying, and off the road were deep pools of black water, filling the holes whence the turf was cut. It was lonely; for to-day we had not even the pale sunshine to light up the gloomy landscape, and to the east the bleak mountains stood, clear-cut and uniform in shagginess and savagery, against the cold, gray sky. The white balls of the bog cotton waved dismally in the light breeze, which curled the surface of a few pools, and drew a curlew or plover from his retreat, and sent him whistling dolefully, and beating the heavy air, as he swept towards mountain or lake. After half an hour's walking, painful to me, the ground gently rose, and down in the hollow a nest of poplars hid from the western gales. I took Father Letheby through a secret path in the plantation. We rested a little while, and talked of many things. Then we followed a tiny path, strewn with withered pine needles, and which cut upward through the hill. We passed from the shelter of the trees, and stood on the brow of a high declivity. I never saw such surprise in a human face before, and such delight. Like summer clouds sweeping over, and dappling a meadow, sensations of wonder and ecstasy rolled visibly across his fine mobile features. Then, he turned, and said, as if not quite sure of himself:—
"Why! 't is the sea!"
So it was. God's own sea, and his retreat, where men come but seldom, and then at their peril. There the great ball-room of the winds and spirits stretched before us, to-day as smooth as if waxed and polished, and it was tessellated with bands of blue and green and purple, at the far horizon line, where, down through a deep mine shaft in the clouds, the hidden sun was making a silent glory. It was a dead sea, if you will. No gleam of sail, near or afar, lit up its loneliness. No flash of sea bird, poised for its prey, or beating slowly over the desolate waste, broke the heavy dulness that lay upon the breast of the deep. The sky stooped down and blackened the still waters; and anear, beneath the cliff on which we were standing, a faint fringe of foam alone was proof that the sea still lived, though its face was rigid and its voice was stilled, as of the dead.
Father Letheby continued gazing in silence over the solemn scene for some time. Then lifting his hat he said aloud:—
"Mirabiles elationes maris; Mirabilis in altis Dominus!"
"Not very many 'upliftings' to-day," I replied. "You see our great friend at a disadvantage. But you know she has moods: and you will like her."
"Like her!" he replied. "It is not liking. It is worship. Some kind of Pantheism which I cannot explain. Nowhere are the loneliness and grandeur of God so manifested. Mind, I don't quite sympathize with that comparison of St. Augustine's where he detects a resemblance between yon spectra of purple and green and the plumage of a dove. What has a dove to do with such magnificence and grandeur? It was an anti-climax, a bathos, of which St. Augustine is seldom guilty. 'And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.' There's the sublime!"
"It is desolate," said I. "Not even a seamew or a gull."
"Quite so," he replied. "It is limitless and unconditioned. There is its grandeur. If that sea were ploughed by navies, or disfigured by the hideous black hulks of men-of-war, it would lose its magnificence. It would become a poor limited thing, with pygmies sporting on its bosom. It is now unlimited, free, unconditioned, as space. It is the infinite and the eternal in it that appeals to us. When we were children, the infinite lay beyond the next mountain, because it was the unknown. We grew up and we got knowledge; and knowledge destroyed our dreams, and left us only the commonplace. It is the unknown and unlimited that still appeals to us,—the something behind the dawn, and beyond the sunset, and far away athwart the black line of that horizon, that is forever calling, calling, and beckoning to us to go thither. Now, there is something in that sombre glory that speaks to you and me. It will disappear immediately; and we will feel sad. What is it? Voiceless echoes of light from the light that streams from the Lamb?"
"I hope," I said demurely, for I began to fear this young enthusiast, "that you don't preach in that tone to the people!"
"Oh dear, no," he said, with a little laugh, "but you must forgive my nonsense. You gave me such a shock of surprise."
"But," he said, after a pause, "how happy your life must have been here! I always felt in Manchester that I was living at the bottom of a black chimney, in smoke and noise and fetor, material and spiritual. Here, you have your holy people, and the silence and quiet of God. How happy you must have been!"
"What would you think if we returned," I said. "It's almost our dinner hour."
It was not so late, however, but that I was able to take a ten minutes' stroll through the village, and bid "good day" to some of my parishioners.
I suppose there was a note of interrogation hidden away somewhere under my greeting, for I was told in different tones and degrees of enthusiasm:—
"Yerra, your reverence, he's a nate man."
"Yerra, we never saw his likes before."
"He spakes almost as plain and common as yourself."
"They say, your reverence, that he's the son of a jook."
Some old cronies, who retained a lingering gratitude for Father Laverty's snuff, diluted their enthusiasm a little.
"He is, indeed, a rale nice man. But God be with poor Father Tom wherever he is. Sure 't was he was kind to the poor."
There was a deputation of young men waiting at my house. I have been pestered from deputations and speeches since the Land League. A shaggy giant stepped forward and said:—
"We have preshumed, your reverence, to call upon you to ascertain whether you'd be agreeable to our what I may call unanimous intinsion of asking the new cojutor to be prisident of the Gaelic association of Kilronan, called the 'Holy Terrors.'"
I said I was agreeable to anything they wished: and Father Letheby became president of the "Holy Terrors."
After dinner something put me into better humor. I suppose it was the mountain mutton, for there's nothing like it in Ireland,—mutton raised on limestone land, where the grass is as tender to the lips of the sheep, as the sheep to the lips of men. I thought I had an excellent opportunity of eliciting my curate's proficiency in his classics. With a certain amount of timidity, for you never know when you are treading on a volcano with these young men, I drew the subject around. I have a way of talking enigmatically, which never fails, however, to reveal my meaning. And after a few clever passes, I said, demurely, drawing out my faded and yellow translation, made nearly thirty years ago:—
"I was once interested in other things. Here is a little weak translation I once made of a piece of Greek poetry, with which you are quite familiar. Ah me! I had great notions at the time, ideas of corresponding with classical journals, and perhaps, sooner or later, of editing a classic myself. But Cui bono? paralyzed everything. That fatal Cui bono? that is the motto and watchword of every thinking and unthinking man in Ireland. However, now that you have come, perhaps—who knows? What do you think of this?"
I read solemnly:—
"I have argued and asked in my sorrow What shall please me? what manner of life? At home am I burdened with cares that borrow Their color from a world of strife. The fields are burdened with toil, The seas are sown with the dead, With never a hand of a priest to assoil A soul that in sin hath fled. I have gold: I dread the danger by night; I have none: I repine and fret; I have children: they darken the pale sunlight; I have none: I'm in nature's debt. The young lack wisdom; the old lack life; I have brains; but I shake at the knees; Alas! who could covet a scene of strife? Give me peace in this life's surcease!"
"What do you think of this? It is a loose translation from Posidippus."
"It swings well," said Father Letheby. "But who was he?"
"One of the gnomic, or sententious poets," I replied.
"Greek or Latin?" he asked.
Then I succumbed.
"You never heard his name before?" I said.
"Never," said he emphatically.
I paused and reflected.
"The Bishop told me," said I, "that you were a great Greek scholar, and took a medal in Greek composition?"
"The Bishop told me," said he, "that you were the best Greek scholar in Ireland, with the exception, perhaps, of a Jesuit Father in Dublin."
We looked at each other. Then burst simultaneously into a fit of laughter, the likes of which had not been heard in that room for many a day.
"I am not sure," said I, "about his Lordship's classical attainments; but he knows human nature well."
Father Letheby left next morning to see after his furniture. He had taken a slated, one-storied cottage in the heart of the village. It was humble enough; but it looked quite aristocratic amongst its ragged neighbors.
The usual deadly silence of a country village in Ireland, which is never broken but by the squeal of a pig, or the clucking of chickens, or a high voice, heard occasionally in anger, was rudely shocked on the following Thursday evening. The unusual commotion commenced with a stampede of sans-culottish boys, and red-legged, wild-eyed girls, who burst into the village streets with shouts of
"Rah! rah! the circus! the circus! the wild baste show! Rah! rah!"
In an instant every door frame was filled with a living picture. Women of all shapes, and in all manners of habille and dishabille, leaned over the cross-doors and gazed curiously at the coming show. The men, too phlegmatic even in their curiosity, simply shifted the pipe from one side of the mouth to the other; and, as the object of all this curiosity lumbered into the street, three loafers, who supported a blank wall opposite my door, steered round as slowly as a vessel swings with the tide, and leaned the right shoulder, instead of the left, against the gable. It was a tremendous expenditure of energy; and I am quite sure it demanded a drink. And I, feeling from these indications that something unusual was at hand, drew back my window curtains, and stared decorously at the passing wonder. It was a long van, drawn by two horses, which sweated and panted under the whip of their driver. It was painted a dark green; and in gold letters that glittered on the green, I read the magic legend:—
"Pan" is Greek for "all," thought I; and "technicon" is appertaining to art. It means an exhibition of all the arts; that is, a Gypsy wagon with bric-a-brac, or one of these peep-shows, which exhibits to admiring youngsters Napoleon crossing the Alps, or Marius sitting on the ruins of Carthage. I let the curtain fall, and went back to my books; but in a moment I heard the caravan stopping just a few doors below, and I heard my bedroom window raised; and I knew that Hannah was half way between heaven and earth. I have not a particle of curiosity in my composition, but I drew back the curtain again, and looked down the street. The van had stopped at Father Letheby's new house, and a vast crowd surged around it. The girls kept at a respectful distance, whilst the men unyoked their horses; but the boys stood near, in the attitude of runners at a tournament, ready to make off the moment the first ominous growl was heard. The adults were less excited, though quite as curious, and I could hear the questionings over the silence of expectation that had fallen on the village.
"Yerra, what is it?"
"How do I know? It's the place where the circus people live."
"O—yeh! what a quare place to live in? And where do they sleep?"
"In the wagon."
"In the wagon."
"Yerra, they're not Christians at all, at all."
Then the men slowly opened the door of the wagon, and took out, from a mass of canvas and straw, a dainty satin-covered chair. A tidy, well dressed servant, with a lace cap perched on the top of her head, and what the village folk called "sthramers" flying behind, came out of Father Letheby's cottage, and helped to take the furniture within. As each pretty article appeared, there was a chorus of "oh-h-hs" from the children. But the climax of delight was reached when a gilt mirror appeared. Then for the first time sundry boys and girls saw their own dear smutty faces; and huge was their delight. But I am wrong. The climax came when the heaviest article appeared. Great was the curiosity.
"What is it? what is it?" "A bed?" "No." "A dresser?" "No." "A thing for books?" "No."
But one enlightened individual, who had been up to the great house at a spring cleaning, astonished the natives by declaring that it was a piano.
"A pianney? Yeh, for what? A priest with a pianney! Yerra, his niece is going to live wid him. Yerra, no! He'll play it himself."
Which last interpretation was received with shouts of incredulous laughter. What a versatile people we are! And how adoration and laughter, and reverence and sarcasm, move side by side in our character, apparently on good terms with each other. Will the time come when the laughter and the wit, grown rampant, will rudely jostle aside all the reverential elements in our nature, and mount upwards to those fatal heights which other nations have scaled like Satan,—and thence have been flung into the abyss?
I was curious to know what Hannah thought of it all. Hannah too is versatile; and leaps from adoration to envy with wonderful facility.
"Father Letheby's furniture, I suppose?" I said, when she brought in the dinner.
"I believe so," she replied, in a tone of ineffable scorn,—"a parcel of gimcracks and kimmeens."
"I thought they looked nice from here," I said.
"Don't sit on his chairs, unless you have your will made," she said.
"Did I see a looking-glass?" I asked.
"Oh yes! to curl his hair, I suppose. And a pianney to play polkas."
"It isn't as solid as ours, Hannah," I said. This opened the flood-gates of wrath.
"No," she said, in that accent of sarcasm in which an Irish peasant is past master, "nor purtier. Look at that sophy now. Isn't it fit for any lady in the land? And these chairs? Only for the smith, they'd be gone to pieces long ago. And that lovely carpet? 'T would do for a flag for the 'lague.' You haven't one cup and saucer that isn't cracked, nor a plate that isn't burnt, nor a napkin, nor a tablecloth, nor a saltcellar, nor—nor a—nor a—"
"I'll tell you what, Hannah," I said. "Father Letheby is going to show us what's what. I'll furnish the whole house from top to bottom. Was that his housekeeper?"
"I suppose so," she said contemptuously. "Some poor girl from an orphanage. If she wasn't, she wouldn't wear them curifixes."
I admit that Hannah's scorn for my scanty belongings was well bestowed. The sofa, which appeared to affect her aesthetic sense most keenly, was certainly a dilapidated article. Having but three legs, it leaned in a loafing way against the wall, and its rags of horsehair and protruding springs gave it a most trampish and disreputable appearance. The chairs were solid, for the smith had bound them in iron clamps. And the carpet?—Well, I pitied it. It was threadbare and transparent. Yet, when I looked around, I felt no feminine scorn. They all appealed to me and said:—
"We have been forty years in your service. We have seen good things and evil things. Our faces are familiar to you. We have spent ourselves in your service."
And I vowed that, even under the coming exigencies, when I should have to put on an appearance of grace and dignity,—exigencies which I clearly foresaw the moment my curate made his appearance, these old veterans should never be set aside or cast as lumber, when their aristocratic friends would make their appearance. And my books looked at me as much as to say:—
"You're not ashamed of us?"
No, dear silent friends, I should be the meanest, most ungrateful of mortals if I could be ashamed of you. For forty years you have been my companions in solitude; to you I owe whatever inspirations I have ever felt; from you have descended in copious streams the ideas that raised my poor life above the commonplace, and the sentiments that have animated every good thing and every holy purpose that I have accomplished. Friends that never obtruded on my loneliness by idle chatter and gossip, but always spoke wise, inspiriting things when most I needed them; friends that never replied in irritation to my own disturbed imaginings, but always uttered your calm wisdom like voices from eternity, to soothe, to control, or to elevate; friends that never tired and never complained; that went back to your recesses without a murmur; and never resented by stubborn silence my neglect,—treasures of thought and fountains of inspiration, you are the last things on earth on which my eyes shall rest in love, and like the orphans of my flock your future shall be my care. True, like your authors, you look sometimes disreputable enough. Your clothes, more to my shame, hang loose and tattered around you, and some of your faces are ink-stained or thumb-worn from contact with the years and my own carelessness. I would dress you in purple and fine linen if I may, yet you would reproach me and think I was weary of your homely faces. Like the beggar-maid you would entreat to be allowed to go back from queenly glory and pomp to the tatters and contentment of your years. So shall it be! but between you and me there must be no divorce, so long as time shall last for me. Other friends will come and go, but nothing shall dissolve our union based upon gratitude and such love as man's heart may have for the ideal and insensible.
When there had been time for perfecting all his arrangements, I strolled down to pay a formal visit to Father Letheby. The atmosphere of absolute primness and neatness struck my senses when I entered. Waxed floors, dainty rugs, shining brasses, coquettish little mirrors here and there, a choice selection of daintily bound volumes, and on a writing desk a large pile of virgin manuscript, spoke the scholar and the gentleman. My heart sank, as I thought how sick of all this he will be in a few weeks, when the days draw in, and the skies scowl, and the windows are washed, and the house rocked under the fierce sou'westers that sweep up the floor of the Atlantic, and throw all its dripping deluges on the little hamlet of Kilronan. But I said:—
"You have made a cosey little nest for yourself, Father Letheby; may you long enjoy it."
"Yes," he said, as if answering my horrible scepticism, "God has been very good to send me here."
Now what can you do with an optimist like that?
"There is just one drawback," I said, with a faint attempt at humor, "to all this aestheticism." I pointed to a window against which four very dirty noses were flattened, and four pairs of delighted eyes were wandering over this fairy-land, and a dirty finger occasionally pointed out some particularly attractive object.
"Poor little things," he said, "it gives them pleasure, and does me no harm."
"Then, why not bring them in?" I said.
"Oh, no," he replied, with a little laugh, "I draw the line there." He pointed to the shining waxed floors. "Besides, it would destroy their heaven. To touch and handle the ideal, brings it toppling down about our ears."
We spoke long and earnestly about a lot of things. Then, looking a little nervously at me, he made a great leap of thought.
"Would you mind my saying a serious word to you, sir?" said he.
"Certainly not," I replied, "go ahead."
"It seems to me, then," he said, deliberately, "that we are not making all that we might out of the magnificent possibilities that lie at our disposal. There is no doubt things are pretty backward in Ireland. Yet, we have an intelligent people, splendid natural advantages,—an infernally bad government, it is true,—but can we not share the blame with the government in allowing things to remain as they are? Now, I am not an advocate for great political designs: I go in for decentralization, by which I mean that each of us should do his very best exactly in that place where Providence has placed him. To be precise, what is there to prevent us from improving the material condition of these poor people? There is a pier to be built. I am told shoals of fish whiten the sea in the summer, and there are no appliances to help our fishermen to catch them and sell them at a vast profit. There is an old mill lying idle down near the creek. Why not furnish it up, and get work for our young girls there? We have but a poor water supply; and, I am told, there is a periodical recurrence of fever. Pardon me, sir," he continued, "if I seem to be finding fault with the ministry of the priests here, but I am sure you do not misunderstand me?"
"Certainly not," said I, "go on."
And he went on with his airy optimism, drawing wonderful castles with the light pencils of his young fancy, and I seemed to hear my own voice echoing back from thirty years long passed by, when the very same words were on my lips and the same ideas throbbed through my brain. But would it be kind to leave him undeceived? I decided not.
"Your first step," I said, "is to see the landlord, who owns the sloping fields and the foreshore."
"Certainly," he said, "that's quite easy. What's his address?" He took up his note-book.
"I am not quite sure," I replied. "He is probably this moment staking half his property on the red at Monte Carlo, or trying to peep into a harem at Stamboul, or dining off bison steak in some canon in the Sierras."
He looked shocked.
"But his agent,—his representative?"
"Oh! he's quite available. He will be very polite, and tell you in well chosen words that he can do—nothing."
"But the Governmental Office,—the Board of Works?"
"Quite so. You'll write a polite letter. It will be answered in four weeks to the day: 'We beg to acknowledge receipt of your communication, which shall have our earliest attention.' You'll write again. Reply in four weeks: 'We beg to acknowledge receipt of your communication, which we have placed before the Board.' You'll hear no more on the matter. But don't let me depress you!"
"But is there no redress? What about Parliament?"
"Oh, to be sure! A question will be asked in the House of Commons. The Chief Secretary will reply: 'The matter is under the deliberation of the Board of Works, with whose counsels we do not wish to interfere.'"
He was silent.
"About the factory," I continued. "You know there is a large shirt factory in Loughboro, six miles away. If you apply to have a branch factory established here, the manager will come down, look at the store, turn up his nose, ask you where are you to find funds to put the building in proper order, and do you propose to make the store also a fish-curing establishment; and then he will probably write what a high-born lady said of the first Napoleon: 'Il salissait tout ce qu'il touchait.'"
"It's a damned lie," said Father Letheby, springing up, and, I regret to say, demolishing sundry little Japanese gimcracks, "our people are the cleanest, purest, sweetest people in the world in their own personal habits, whatever be said of their wretched cabins. But you are not serious, sir?"
He bent his glowing eyes upon me. I liked his anger. And I liked very much that explosive expletive. How often, during my ministry, did I yearn to be able to utter that emphatic word! Mind, it is not a cuss-word. It is only an innocent adjective—condemned. But what eloquence and emphasis there is in it! How often I could have flung it at the head of a confirmed toper, as he knelt at my feet to take the pledge. How often I could have shot it at the virago, who was disturbing the peace of the village; and on whom my vituperation, which fell like a shot without powder, made no impression! It sounded honest. I like a good fit of anger, honest anger, and such a gleam of lightning through it.
"I am," I said, "quite serious. You want to create a Utopia. You forget your Greek."
"I am reserving the worst," I said.
"What is it?" he cried. "Let me know the worst."
"Well," I said slowly, "the people won't thank you even in the impossible hypothesis that you succeed."
He looked incredulous.
"What! that they won't be glad to lift themselves from all this squalor and misery, and be raised into a newer and sweeter life?"
"Precisely. They are happy. Leave them so. They have not the higher pleasures. Neither have they the higher perils. 'They sow not, neither do they spin.' But neither do they envy Solomon in all his glory. Jack Haslem and Dave Olden sleep all day in their coracles. They put down their lobster pots at night. Next day, they have caught enough of these ugly brutes to pay for a glorious drunk. Then sleep again. How can you add to such happiness? By building a schooner, and sending them out on the high seas, exposed to all the dangers of the deep; and they have to face hunger and cold and death, for what? A little more money, and a little more drink; and your sentence: Why didn't he leave us alone? Weren't we just as well off as we were? which is the everlasting song of your respected predecessor, only he put it in Latin: Cui bono?"
He pondered deeply for a long time. Then he said: "It sounds sensible; but there is some vile fallacy at the bottom of it. Anyhow, I'll try. Father, give me your blessing!"
"There again," I said, "see how innocent you are. You don't know the vernacular."
He looked surprised.
"When you know us better," I answered, in reply to his looks, "you will understand that by that formula you ask for a drink. And as I don't happen to be under my own roof just now—"
His glorious laugh stopped me. It was like the ringing of a peal of bells.
"No matter," he said. "I may go on?"
"Certainly," I replied. "You'll have a few gray hairs in your raven locks in twelve months time,—that's all."
"What a hare," I thought as I went home, "is madness, the youth, to leap over the meshes of good counsel, the cripple." Which is not mine, but that philosopher, Will Shakespeare; or is it Francis Bacon?
A SLIGHT MISUNDERSTANDING
Father Letheby commenced sooner than I had expected.
I think it was about nine or ten days after his formal instalment in his new house, just as I was reading after breakfast the Freeman's Journal of two days past, the door of my parlor was suddenly flung open, a bunch of keys was thrown angrily on the table, and a voice (which I recognized as that of Mrs. Darcy, the chapel woman), strained to the highest tension of indignation, shouted:—
"There! and may there be no child to pray over my grave if ever I touch them again! Wisha! where in the world did you get him? or where did he come from, at all, at all? The son of a jook! the son of a draper over there at Kilkeel. Didn't Mrs. Morarty tell me how she sowld socks to his ould father? An' he comes here complaining of dacent people! 'Dirt,' sez he. 'Where?' sez I. 'There,' sez he. 'Where?' sez I. I came of as dacent people as him. Wondher you never complained. But you're too aisy. You always allow these galivanters of curates to crow over you. But I tell you I won't stand it. If I had to beg my bread from house to house, I won't stand being told I'm dirty. Why, the ladies of the Great House said they could see their faces in the candlesticks; and didn't the Bishop say 't was the natest vestry in the diocese? And this new cojutor with his gran' accent, which no one can understand, and his gran' furniture, and his whipster of a servant, begor, no one can stand him. We must all clear out. And, after me eighteen years, scrubbing, and washing, and ironing, wid me two little orphans, which that blackguard, Jem Darcy (the Lord have mercy on his sowl!) left me, must go to foreign countries to airn me bread, because I'm not good enough for his reverence. Well, 't is you'll be sorry. But, if you wint down on your two binded knees and said: 'Mrs. Darcy, I deplore you to take up them kays and go back to your juties,' I wouldn't! No! Get some whipster that will suit his reverence. Mary Darcy isn't good enough."
She left the room, only to return. She spoke with forced calmness.
"De thrifle of money you owe me, yer reverence, ye can sind it down to the house before I start for America. And dere's two glasses of althar wine in the bottle, and half a pound of candles."
She went out again, but returned immediately.
"The surplus is over at Nell O'Brien's washing, and the black vestment is over at Tom Carmody's since the last station. The kay of the safe is under the door of the linny to de left, and the chalice is in the basket, wrapped in the handkercher. And, if you don't mind giving me a charackter, perhaps, Hannah will take it down in the evening."
She went out again; but kept her hand on the door.
"Good by, your reverence, and God bless you! Sure, thin, you never said a hard word to a poor woman." Then there was the sound of falling tears.
To all this tremendous philippic I never replied. I never do reply to a woman until I have my hand on the door handle and my finger on the key. I looked steadily at the column of stocks and shares on the paper, though I never read a word.
"This is rather a bad mess," said I. "He is coming out too strong."
The minute particulars I had from Hannah soon after. Hannah and Mrs. Darcy are not friends. Two such village potentates could not be friends any more than two poets, or two critics, or two philosophers. As a rule, Hannah rather looked down on the chapel woman, and generally addressed her with studied politeness. "How are you to-day, Mrs. Darcy?" or more frequently, "Good morning, Mrs. Darcy." On the other hand, Mary Darcy, as arbitress at stations, wakes, and weddings, had a wide influence in the parish, and I fear used to speak contemptuously sometimes of my housekeeper. But now there was what the newspapers call a Dual Alliance against the newcomers, and a stern determination that any attempt at superiority should be repressed with a firm hand, and to Mrs. Darcy's lot it fell to bear the martyrdom of high principle and to fire the first shot, that should be also the final one. And so it was, but not in the way Mrs. Darcy anticipated.
It would appear, then, that Father Letheby had visited the sacristy, and taken a most minute inventory of its treasures, and had, with all the zeal of a new reformer, found matters in a very bad state. Now, he was not one to smile benignantly at such irregularities and then throw the burden of correcting them on his pastor. He was outspoken and honest. He tore open drawers, and drew out their slimy, mildewed contents, sniffed ominously at the stuffy atmosphere, flung aside with gestures of contempt some of Mrs. Darcy's dearest treasures, such as a magnificent reredos of blue paper with gold stars; held up gingerly, and with curled lip, corporals and purificators, and wound up the awful inspection with the sentence:—
"I never saw such abominable filth in my life."
Now, you may accuse us in Ireland of anything you please from coining to parricide, but if you don't want to see blazing eyes and hear vigorous language don't say, Dirt. Mrs. Darcy bore the fierce scrutiny of her menage without shrinking, but when he mentioned the ugly word, all her fury shot forth, and it was all the more terrible, because veiled under a show of studied politeness.
"Dirt!" she said. "I'd be plazed to see your reverence show one speck of dirt in the place."
"Good heavens, woman!" he said, "what do you mean? There is dirt everywhere, in the air, under my feet, in the grate, on the altar. It would take the Atlantic to purify the place."
"You're the first gentleman that ever complained of the place," said Mrs. Darcy. "Of coorse, there aren't carpets, and bearskins, and cowhides, which are now the fashion, I believe. An' dere isn't a looking-glass, nor a pianney; but would your reverence again show me the dirt. A poor woman's charackter is all she has."
"I didn't mean to impute anything to your character," he said, mildly, "but if you can't see that this place is frightfully dirty, I suppose I can't prove it. Look at that!"
He pointed to a grewsome heap of cinders, half-burnt papers, brown ashes, etc., that choked up the grate.
"Yerra. Glory be to God!" said Mrs. Darcy, appealing to an imaginary audience, "he calls the sweepings of the altar, and the clane ashes, dirt. Yerra, what next?"
"This next," he said, determinedly; "come here." He took her out and pointed to the altar cloth. It was wrinkled and grimy, God forgive me! and there were stars of all sizes and colors darkening it.
"Isn't that a disgrace to the Church?" he said, sternly.
"I see no disgrace in it," said Mrs. Darcy. "It was washed and made up last Christmas, and is as clane to-day as the day it came from the mangle."
"Do you call that clean?" he shouted, pointing to the drippings of the candles.
"Yerra, what harm is that," said she, "a bit of blessed wax that fell from the candles? Sure, 't is of that they make the Agnus Deis."
"You're perfectly incorrigible," he said. "I'll report the whole wretched business to the parish priest, and let him deal with you."
"Begor you may," said she, "but I'll have my story first."
And so she had. Father Letheby gave me his version afterwards. He did so with the utmost delicacy, for it was all an indirect indictment of my own slovenliness and sinful carelessness. I listened with shamed face and bent head? And determined to let him have his way. I knew that Mrs. Darcy would not leave for America just yet.
But what was my surprise on the following Sunday, when, on entering the sacristy to prepare for Mass, I slid along a polished floor, and but for the wall would probably have left a vacancy at Kilronan to some expectant curate. The floor glinted and shone with wax; and there were dainty bits of fibre matting here and there. The grate was black-leaded, and there was a wonderful firescreen with an Alpine landscape. The clock was clicking steadily, as if Time had not stood still for us all for many years: and there were my little altar boys in snowy surplices as neat as the acolytes that proffered soap and water to the Archbishop of Rheims, when he called for bell and book in the famous legend.
But oh! my anguish when I drew a stiff white amice over my head, instead of the dear old limp and wrinkled one I was used to; and when I feebly tried to push my hands through the lace meshes of an alb, that would stand with stiffness and pride, if I placed it on the floor. I would gladly have called for my old garment; but I knew that I too had to undergo the process of the new reformation; and, with much agony, I desisted. But I drew the line at a biretta which cut my temples with its angles, and I called out:—
A young woman, with her hair all tidied up, and with a white apron, laced at the edges, and pinned to her breast, came out from a recess. She was smiling bashfully, and appeared as if she would like to run away and hide somewhere.
"Mrs. Darcy," I called again.
The young woman smiled more deeply, and said with a kind of smirk:—
"Here I am, your reverence!"
It is fortunate for me that I have acquired, after long practice, the virtue of silence; for when I recognized the voice of my old friend, I was thunderstruck. I'm sure I would have said something very emphatic, but my habits restrained me. But I regret to say it was all a source of distraction to me in the celebration of the Divine Mysteries, and during the day. What had occurred? I was dying to know; but it would not be consistent with the dignity of my position to ask. To this day, I congratulate myself on my reticence; for, who could help asking how? when face to face with a miracle. It was some days before I discovered the secret of the magical transformation.
It would appear, then, that the late lamented Jem Darcy, when he departed to his reward, left his poor widow two charges in the shape of children. What do I say? Charges? No. She would scornfully repudiate the word. For was not Patsey, the baby of eighteen months, "the apple of her eye," and Jemmy, the little hunchback of six summers, "the core of her heart"? For them she labored and toiled, and "moiled," as she used to say; and worked herself into oil to get them bread, and a pink ribbon for the baby's shoulder knot, and a navy cap, with "Hero" in gold letters for Jemmy. And across her troubled life, full of cares and apprehensions, poor soul! was there any gleam of sunshine, except that which was reflected in the iris of her baby's eyes; or that which dappled the mud floor of her cabin, when Jemmy lay there and played hide and seek with the gossamer threads that shone through the chink in the half-door! Ah me! it is easy to lecture the poor, and complain of their horrid ways; but the love such as no man hath gilds and enamels most of the crooked and grimy things that disfigure their poor lives in the eyes of the fastidious; and perhaps makes the angels of Him, before whose Face the stars are not spotless, turn from the cold perfection of the mansion and the castle to gaze lovingly on the squalid lowliness of the hamlet and the cabin. Well. On the morning that Mrs. Darcy gave me formal notice of her relinquishment of the solemn office she held, she bent her steps homeward with a heavy heart. She had done her duty, like all the other great people who have done disagreeable things; but it brought no consolation. And she had flung behind her her little cabin, and all the sweet associations connected therewith, and the pomp and pride of power, when she officiated at the public offices of the Church, and every one knew her to be indispensable. For who could tell the name of a defaulter at the station, but Mrs. Darcy? And who arranged the screaming baby in the clumsy arms of a young godmother, but Mrs. Darcy? And who could lay out a corpse like Mrs. Darcy? And who but Mrs. Darcy found the ring when the confused and blushing bridegroom fumbled in every pocket at the altar, and the priest looked angry, and the bride ashamed?
And then her pride in the Church! How wonderful were her designs in holly and ivy at Christmas! What fantasies she wove out of a rather limited imagination! What art fancies, that would shame William Morris, poet and socialist, did she conceive and execute in the month of May for the Lady Altar! Didn't Miss Campion say that she was a genius, but undeveloped? Didn't Miss Campion's friend from Dublin declare that there was nothing like it in Gardiner Street? And when her time would be spent, and she was old and rheumatized, would not little Jemmy, the hunchback, who was a born pre-Raphaelite, take her place, and have a home, for he could not face the rough world? Ah me! and it was all gone; cast behind her through a righteous feeling of pride and duty. She moved through the village with a heavy heart; and her check apron went to her eyes.
She had an amiable habit of never entering her cabin without playing "Peek-a-boo!" through the window with the baby. For this purpose, the cradle was always drawn so that the baby faced the window; and when it saw the round face, which it knew so well, peeping over the speck blossoms of the mignonette, well—there were developments. On this particular morning, Mrs. Darcy was in no humor for playacting; but the force of habit is strong, and she peered through the little window with reddened eyes. And these eyes, as she afterwards described it, "sprod in her head" at what she saw. For, on the floor, in his favorite attitude, his head propped between his hands, was the hunchback, Jemmy, studying with all the intense appreciation of an Edison, how to construct an airy castle out of certain painted wood-blocks, which strewed the floor; and there, his back turned towards the window, was her arch-enemy, Father Letheby, his right hand raised aloft and dangling an india-rubber baby; whilst Patsey, his eyes dilated with excitement, made frantic attempts to seize the prize, and crowed and chuckled in the exuberance of his delight. Mrs. Darcy drew back hastily, then peeped again. No doubt of it. It was no phantasm of the imagination. She looked again. Then whispered something softly to herself, and, with a great lump in her throat, sped swiftly through the village and up to the "Great House." The result of her interview with Miss Campion we have seen. Father Letheby has scored again. There were heavy bets of fifteen to one in half-gallons of porter, laid by desperate gamblers, that Father Letheby would make Mrs. Darcy wash her face. It was supposed to be a wild plunge in a hopeless speculation. I am told now, that the betting has gone up at the forge, and is now fifty to one that, before a month, she'll have a lace cap and "sthramers" like the maids at the "Great House."
[Footnote 1: Saxon, linhay.]
AT THE STATION
Captain Campion was one of that singular race of Catholics, with which Ireland was familiar fifty years ago, but which is now dying rapidly away under the new conditions and environments of our age. A strong, rough lot they were, with whom a word meant a blow; gentlemen every inch of them, who would die for the faith whose dogmas they knew nothing of, and whose commands they ignored. Often in the town and country clubs of Ireland strange things happened, of which the outer world heard nothing; for stewards are discreet, and managers imbibe the spirit of respectability from their superiors. But the walls could tell of wine glasses shattered, and billiard cues broken, and hot blows exchanged for a word about the Pope, or against the priests; it was a leap of hot flame, which died out in a moment, and they were gentlemen again. And the perfervid imagination of the Celt had invented some such heroism about Captain Campion,—particularly one brilliant achievement at a hunt, when he unhorsed with the butt of his riding whip, and then cut and lashed an unfortunate young officer in the Lancers, who had dared say something about Bittra,—the "lovely Papist," who was toasted at the mess in distant Galway, and had set half the hunting men of the country wild with her beauty and her prowess. It may be supposed then that Captain Campion was not a practical Catholic. He came to Mass occasionally, where he fidgeted in his pew, and twisted and writhed under the sermon. He never went to Confession; not even to his Easter duty,—which prevented me from accepting the hospitalities which he freely proffered. There were other little circumstances which made me wish not to be too intimate. Whatever political opinions I held, and they were thin and colorless enough, were in direct antagonism to his. He was a three-bottle Tory, who regarded the people as so many serfs, who provided laborers for his comfort, and paid him for the privilege of living on stony mountain or barren bog. The idea of their having any rights struck him as positively ludicrous. There was but one thing that had rights, and that was the fetish, property. Every attempt, therefore, to lift the people from that condition of serfdom he regarded as absolutely treasonable; and he was my chief opponent in any futile attempts I made to introduce some improvements into the wretched place. And of course he was hated. There was hardly a family to whom he had not done an injury, for he pushed the law to savage extremes. He had evicted, and burnt down the deserted cottages; he had driven honest lads for some paltry act of poaching into criminal and dishonest courses; he had harassed the widow and unhoused the orphan; and every prayer that went up for the sweet face of his child was weighted with a curse for the savage and merciless father. He knew it, and didn't care. For there were plenty to fawn upon him and tell him he was quite right. Ah me! how the iron has sunk into our souls! Seven centuries of slavery have done their work well.
Bittra Campion sat in the large drawing-room, with the high, broad windows, that looked over a dun, brown moorland, to where the sea-line threw its clear curve athwart the sky. She was working quietly at some little garment for a poor peasant girl or half-clad boy in the mountains; but over her gentle and usually placid face stole a look of apprehension, as if a shadow of coming evil was thrown forward by the undefined future. Yet why should she fear, who hated no one, but poured her love abroad upon all? Ah, why? is it not upon the gentle and the kind that the hailstones of destiny beat oftenest, as if they felt that here, and not upon the rugged and the stern, their pitiless strength should succeed? From time to time, Bittra looked to the door, or paused in her work, to listen for a footstep. At last it came,—her father's heavy step, as he strode across the corridor, and the doors slammed behind him.
"All alone, mignonne," he said. "A penny, nay, a pound for your thoughts."
"Agreed, father," she said eagerly, "I want a pound rather badly just now."
"Some new idiot discovered in the hills," he said, "or some disreputable tramp with a good imagination. You shall have it, Bittra," he said, coming over, and gently stroking her hair. He looked down fondly upon her, and said, suddenly changing his voice:—
"I am hungry as a hawk, Bittra; would you get me some tea?"
She rose to meet his wishes, and as her tall, beautiful figure passed from the room, he said to himself:—
"God, how like her mother!"
He threw himself on a sofa, and looked out over the moor. But he saw—
A long, low island, with the plumes of palms crowning the hill; and beneath, the white waves creeping up the coral crests to mingle with the lazy waters of the lagoon. A cottage, shaded with palms, close down by the beach, with magnolias clustering round the windows, and orchids far back in the moist shades, and creeping vines tangled in and out amongst the palms, and a strong sun, going down in an orange and crimson sky, and a cool, welcome breeze from the sea, that just lifts up the fans of the palms, and a stray curl on the forehead of a girl—for she was hardly more than a girl—who sat out on the tiny lawn, and at her feet the young naval officer, who had carried off his bride at the last season at the Castle and brought her here under southern skies, and believed that this was the world—and heaven. His ship lay at anchor on the eastern side; and here they were stationed for weeks, it may be for months, away from civilization and all its nuisances, and alone with Nature and the children of Nature, who came by degrees to love at least the gentle lady who was so kind to them and their brown babies. Alas for human happiness! One short year, and he was a widower, with the charge of a little babe.
"It was a bitter fate," he said to himself, "and I called her 'Bittra' in my rage. I must change that name."
He started, for the door opened and Bittra came in, immediately followed by the servant with tea.
"We've got a new neighbor, mignonne," he said, as he broke up his toast, "and must call immediately. Can you guess?"
"No, father," she said; but it fitted in with her apprehensions and made her shudder.
"Neither can I," he said, laughing. "But I have got mysterious hints that indicate a neighbor."
"Judith again," said Bittra. "She can never be explicit."
Then, after a long pause, she said, as if communing with herself:—
"I don't like new acquaintances. They are pretty certain to be troublesome. Can't we live for one another, father?"
"Gladly, my child," he said, darkly, "but what can you do? Life is warp and woof. It must be held together somehow. And the woof is what we call society."
"Father," she said timidly, "there will be a station at the glen in the morning. Might I ask the priests to breakfast here?"
"By all means," he replied, "it will be better than a dejeuner in a room with two beds, and a squalling baby, with the bread taken from the blankets, and the butter from the top of the dresser."
"Ah, no, pap, 't is never so bad as that. They do their best, poor things—"
"All right," he cried. "Bring up their reverences. There are two or three sole brought up from the yacht."
It was rather a remarkable station, that at Glencarn, although we did not accept Miss Campion's invitation. I was rather apprehensive of the effect these country stations would have on my fastidious curate; and I narrowly watched him, as we left our car on the hills, and strode through soft yellow mud and dripping heather to some mountain cabin. And I think there was a little kindly malice in my thoughts when I allowed him enter first, and plunge into the night of smoke that generally filled these huts. Then the saying of Mass on a deal table, with a horse collar overhead, and a huge collie dog beneath, and hens making frantic attempts to get on the altar-cloth,—I smiled to myself, and was quite impatient to know what effect all these primitive surroundings would have on such refinement and daintiness. "He'll never stand it," I thought, "he'll pitch up the whole thing, and go back to England." As usual, I was quite wrong. Where I anticipated disgust, there were almost tears of delight and sympathy; where I expected indignation, I found enthusiasm.
"There's nothing like it in the world," he used say (this was a favorite expression of his); "such faith, such reverence, such kindly courtesy! Why, no empress could do the honors of the table like that poor woman! Did you notice her solicitude, her eagerness, her sensitiveness lest she should be intruding on our society. But those men in that smoky kitchen,—it took me a long time to discern their faces in the gloom of the smoke. And then I'd have given half that I have ever learned to be able to paint them,—strong, brave mountaineers, their faces ruddy from sun and wind; and such a reverential attitude! And then the idea of their coming over to me, a young lad like themselves, and kneeling down on the cobblestones, and whispering their little story,—there in the presence of their comrades; and the little maidens with their sweet, pure faces hidden under the hoods of their shawls, and the eyes of wondering children, and the old men, bending over the fire,—why you ought to be the happiest man on the face of the earth,—they are a people to die for!"
Well, this morning at Glencarn we had a scene; and, as an easy, good-tempered old man, I hate scenes, and keep away from them. The morning was sullenly wet,—not in fierce, autumnal gusts, but there was a steady persistent downpour of soft, sweet rain, that bathed your face like a sponge, and trickled under your coat collar, and soaked your frieze and waterproof, and made you feel flabby and warm and uncomfortable. We did not see the cabin until we were quite close to it; and when we entered, the first person we saw, kneeling on the mud floor, but the kindness of the people had placed a bag under her knees, was Bittra Campion. She was wrapped round about with a waterproof cloak, the hood of which, lined with blue, covered her head, and only left her face visible. There she knelt among the simple people; and if the saint of the day appeared in bodily form, I am not sure that he would have received more reverence than was poured around that gentle figure from the full hearts that beat silently near her. I was not much surprised, for I had seen Miss Campion at stations before; but Father Letheby started back in astonishment, and looked inquiringly at me. I took no notice, but passed into the little bedroom, and commenced hearing confessions.
The tinkling of the little bell was the only indication I had of the progress of the Holy Sacrifice; and when I knew it was ended, and was studying some faded photographs of American friends over the rude mantelpiece, I heard, amid the profound silence, Father Letheby's voice suddenly raised in anger.
"Kneel down at once! Have you no respect for Him whom you have just received, and who is before you on the altar?"
The people had arisen the moment the last prayer was said. It grated on the feelings of the young priest, who, as I afterwards found, had the most intense reverence and devotion towards the Most Holy Sacrament. I waited for some minutes; then came out, and read the Station List, and returned to the little bedroom off the kitchen. Miss Campion came in, and proffered the hospitality of her home. We gladly declined. It would have pained our humble hosts to have turned our backs upon them; and I confess I was infinitely more at my ease there in that little bedroom with its mud floor and painted chairs, than in Captain Campion's dining-room. It is quite true, that James Casey cut the bread very thick, and drank his tea with a good deal of expression from his saucer. But these were slight drawbacks. The eggs were fresh and milky, the cream delicious, the tea strong, the bread crispy, the butter sweet and golden; and the daughters of the house and the mother waited on us with a thoroughness and courtesy, that would have done credit to a court; and we talked on all subjects,—the weather, the harvest, the neighbors; and chaffed old Dan Downey—who was a great Biblical scholar—about the "Jeroakims," and asked him where a hare might be found on the mountains; but this was professional, so he stuffed his mouth with bread, and insured his statutory silence. Then the little children crept in shyly for bits of sugar; and the neighbors waited patiently till the clergy were served; and we left the house with our blessing, and such gratitude as only an Irish priest can feel for his flock.