Charles James Lever.

The O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago online

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"Mullahedert, your honour," slipped in Wylie, "a very dacent crayture."

"Then why won't she keep those bee-hives; can't she see what an
excellent thing honey is in a house - if one of her children was sick,
for instance?"

"True for you, sir," said Sam, without the slightest change of feature.
"It is wonderful how your honour can have the mind to think of these
things - upon my word, it's surprising."

"Samuel M'Elroy refuses to drain the field - does he?"

"No, sir; but he says the praties isn't worth digging out of dry ground,
nor never does grow to any size. He's a Ballyvourney man, too, sir."

"Oh, is he?" said Sir Marmaduke, accepting this as a receipt in full for
any degree of eccentricity.

"Shamus M'Gillicuddy - heavens what a name! This Shamus appears a very
desperate fellow; he beat a man the other evening, coming back from the
market."

"It was only a neighbour, sir; they live fornint each other."

"A neighbour! but bless my heart, that makes it worse."

"Sure, sir, it was nothing to speak of; it was Darby Lenahan said your
honour's bull was a pride to the place, and Shamus said the O'Donoghue's
was a finer baste any day; and from one word they came to another,
and the end of it was, Lenahan got a crack on the scull that laid him
Quivering on the daisies."

"Savage ruffian, that Shamus; I'll keep a sharp eye on him."

"Faix, and there's no need - he's a Ballyvourney man."

The old baronet looked up from his large volume, and seemed for a moment
undecided whether he should not ask the meaning of a phrase, which,
occurring at every moment, appeared most perplexing in signification;
but the thought that by doing so, he should confess his ignorance before
the sub-agent, deterred him, and he resolved to leave the interpretation
to time and his own ingenuity.

"What of this old fellow, who has the mill? - has he consented to have
the overshot wheel?"

"He tried it on Tuesday, sir," said Sam, with an almost imperceptible
smile, "and the sluice gave way, and carried off the house and the end of
the barn into the tail race. He's gone in, to take an action again your
honour for the damages."

"Ungrateful rascal! I told him I'd be at the whole expense myself, and I
explained the great saving of water the new wheel would ensure him."

"True, indeed, sir; but as the stream never went dry for thirty years,
the ould idiot thought it would last his time. Begorra, he had enough of
water on Tuesday, anyhow."

"He's a Ballyvourney man, isn't he?"

"He is sir," replied Wylie, with the gravity of a judge.

Another temptation crossed Sir Marmaduke's mind, but he withstood it,
and went on -

"The mountain has then been divided as I ordered, has it?"

"Yes, sir; the lines were all marked out before Saturday."

"Well, I suppose the people were pleased to know, that they have, each,
their own separate pasturage?"

"Indeed, and, sir, I won't tell you a lie - they are not; they'd rather
it was the ould way still."

"What, have I taken all this trouble for nothing then? - is it possible
that they'd rather have their cattle straying wild about the country,
than see them grazing peaceably on their own land?"

"That's just it, sir; for, you see, when they had the mountain among
them, they fed on what they could get; one, had maybe a flock of goats,
another, maybe a sheep or two, a heifer, an ass, or a bullsheen.

"A what?"

"A little bull, your honour; and they didn't mind if one had more nor
another, nor where they went, for the place was their own; but now.
that it is all marked out and divided, begorra, if a beast is got
trespassing, out comes some one with a stick, and wallops him back
again, and then the man that owns him, natural enough, would'nt see
shame on his cow, or whatever it was, and that leads to a fight; and
faix, there's not a day now, but there's blood spilt over the same
boundaries."

"They're actually savages!" said Sir Marmaduke, as he threw his
spectacles over his forehead, and dropped his pen from his fingers in
mute amazement; "I never heard - I never read of such a people."

"They're Ballyvourney men," chimed in Wylie, assentively.

"D - - d - -"

Sir Marmaduke checked himself suddenly, for the idea flashed on him that
he ought at least to know what he was cursing, and so he abstained from
such a perilous course, and resumed his search in the big volume. Alas!
his pursuit of information was not more successful as he proceeded:
every moment disclosed some case, where, in his honest efforts to
improve the condition of the people, from ignorance of their habits,
from total unconsciousness of the social differences of two nations,
essentially unlike, he discovered the failure of his plans, and
unhesitatingly ascribed to the prejudices of the peasantry, what with
more justice might have been charged against his own unskilfulness. He
forgot that a people long neglected cannot at once be won back - that
confidence is a plant of slow growth; but more than all, he lost
sight of the fact, that to engraft the customs and wants of richer
communities, upon a people sunk in poverty and want - to introduce among
them new and improved modes of tillage - to inculcate notions which
have taken ages to grow up to maturity, in more favoured lands, must be
attended with failure and disappointment. On both sides the elements
of success were wanting. The peasantry saw - for, however strange it may
seem, through every phase of want and wretchedness their intelligence
and apprehension suffer no impairment - they saw his anxiety to serve
them, they believed him to be kind-hearted and well-wishing, but they
knew him to be also wrong-headed and ignorant of the country, and what
he gained on the score of good feeling, he lost on the score of good
sense; and Paddy, however humble his lot, however hard his condition,
has an innate reverence for ability, and can rarely feel attachment
to the heart, where he has not felt respect for the head. It is not a
pleasant confession to make, yet one might explain it without detriment
to the character of the people, but assuredly, popularity in Ireland
would seem to depend far more on intellectual resources, than on moral
principle and rectitude. Romanism has fostered this feeling, so natural
is it to the devotee to regard power and goodness as inseparable, and to
associate the holiness of religion, with the sway and influence of the
priesthood. If the tenantry regarded the landlord as a simple-hearted,
crotchety old gentleman with no harm in him, the landlord believed them
to be almost incurably sunk in barbarism and superstition. Their native
courtesy in declining to accept suggestions they never meant to
adopt, he looked on as duplicity; he could not understand that the
matter-of-fact sternness of English expression has no parallel here;
that politeness, as they understood it, has a claim, to which truth
itself may be sacrificed; and he was ever accepting in a literal
sense, what the people intended to be received with its accustomed
qualification.

But a more detrimental result followed than even these: the truly
well-conducted and respectable portion of the tenantry felt ashamed to
adopt plans and notions they knew inapplicable and unsuited to their
condition; they therefore stood aloof, and by their honest forbearance
incurred the reproach of obstinacy and barbarism; while the idle, the
lazy, and the profligate, became converts to any doctrine or class of
opinion, which promised an easy life and the rich man's favour. These,
at first sight, found favour with him, as possessing more intelligence
and tractibility than their neighbours, and for them, cottages were
built, rents abated, improved stock introduced, and a hundred devices
organized to make them an example for all imitation. Unhappily the
conditions of the contract were misconceived: the people believed that
all the landlord required was a patient endurance of his benevolence;
they never reckoned on any reciprocity in duty; they never dreamed that
a Swiss cottage cannot be left to the fortunes of a mud cabin; that
stagnant pools before the door, weed-grown fields, and broken fences,
harmonize ill with rural pailings, drill cultivation, and trim hedges.
They took all they could get, but assuredly they never understood the
obligation of repayment. They thought (not very unreasonably perhaps),
"it's the old gentleman's hobby that we should adopt a number of habits
and customs we were never used to - live in strange houses and work with
strange tools. Be it so; we are willing to gratify him," said they, "but
let him pay for his whistle."

He, on the other hand, thought they were greedily adopting what they
only endured, and deemed all converts to his opinion who lived on his
bounty. Hence, each morning presented an array of the most worthless,
irreclaimable of the tenantry around his door, all eagerly seeking to
be included in some new scheme of regeneration, by which they understood
three meals a day and nothing to do.

How to play off these two distinct and very opposite classes, Mr. Sam
Wylie knew to perfection; and while he made it appear that one portion
of the tenantry whose rigid rejection of Sir Marmaduke's doctrines
proceeded from a sturdy spirit of self-confidence and independence,
were a set of wild, irreclaimable savages; he softly insinuated his
compliments on the success in other quarters, while, in his heart he
well knew what results were about to happen.

"They're here now, sir," said Wylie, as he glanced through the window
towards the lawn, where, with rigid punctuality Sir Marmaduke each
morning held his levee; and where, indeed, a very strange and motley
crowd appeared.

The old baronet threw up the sash, and as he did so, a general mar-mur
of blessings and heavenly invocations met his ears - sounds, that if
one were to judge from his brightening eye and beaming countenance, he
relished well. No longer, however, as of old, suppliant, and entreating,
with tremulous voice and shrinking gaze did they make their advances.
These people were now enlisted in his army of "regenerators"; they were
converts to the landlords manifold theories of improved agriculture,
neat cottages, pig-styes, dove-cots, bee-hives, and heaven knows what
other suggestive absurdity, ease and affluence ever devised to plate
over the surface of rude and rugged misery.

"The Lord bless your honour every morning you rise, 'tis the iligant
little place ye gave me to live in. Musha, 'tis happy and comfortable
I do be every night, now, barrin' that the slates does be falling
betimes - bad luck to them for slates, one of them cut little Joe's head
this morning, and I brought him up for a bit of a plaster."

This was the address of a stout, middle-aged woman, with a man's great
coat around her in lieu of a cloak.

"Slates falling - why doesn't your husband fasten them on again? he said
he was a handy fellow, and could do any thing about a house."

"It was no lie then; Thady Morris is a good warrant for a job any day,
and if it was thatch was on it - - "

"Thatch - why, woman, I'll have no thatch; I don't want the cabins burned
down, nor will I have them the filthy hovels they used to be."

"Why would your honour? - sure there's rayson and sinse agin it," was the
chorus of all present, while the woman resumed -

"Well, he tried that same too, your honour, and if he did, by my sowl,
it was worse for him, for when he seen the slates going off every minit
with the wind, he put the harrow on the top - "

"The harrow - put the harrow on the roof?"

"Just so - wasn't it natural? But as sure as the wind riz, down came the
harrow, and stript every dirty kippeen of a slate away with it."

"So the roof is off," said Sir Marmaduke with stifled rage.

"Tis as clean as my five fingers, the same rafters," said she with
unmoved gravity.

"This is too bad - Wylie, do you hear this?" said the old gentleman, with
a face dark with passion.

"Aye," chorused in some half dozen friends of the woman - "nothing stands
the wind like the thatch."

Wylie whispered some words to his master, and by a side gesture,
motioned to the woman to take her departure. The hint was at once taken,
and her place immediately filled by another. This was a short little
old fellow, in yellow rags, his face concealed by a handkerchief,
on removing which, he discovered a countenance that bore no earthly
resemblance to that of a human being: the eyes were entirely concealed
by swollen masses of cheek and eye-lid - the nose might have been eight
noses - and the round immense lips, and the small aperture between,
looked like the opening in a ballot-box.

"Who is this? - what's the matter here?" said Sir Marmaduke, as he stared
in mingled horror and astonishment at the object before him.

"Faix, ye may well ax," said the little man, in a thick guttural voice.
"Sorra one of the neighbours knew me this morning. I'm Tim M'Garrey, of
the cross-roads."

"What has happened to you then?" asked Sir Marmaduke, somewhat ruffled
by the sturdy tone of the ragged fellow's address.

"'Tis your own doing, then - divil a less - you may be proud of your
work."

"My doing! - how do you dare to say so?"

"'Tis no darin' at all - 'tis thrue, as I'm here. Them bloody beehives
you made me take home wid me, I put them in a corner of the house, and
by bad luck it was the pig's corner, and, sorra bit, but she rooted them
out, and upset them, and with that, the varmint fell upon us all, and
it was two hours before we killed them - divil such a fight ever ye seen:
Peggy had the beetle, and I the griddle, for flattening them agin the
wall, and maybe we didn't work hard, while the childer was roarin' and
bawlin' for the bare life."

"Gracious mercy, would this be credited? - could any man conceive
barbarism like this?" cried Sir Marmaduke, as with uplifted hands he
stood overwhelmed with amazement.

Wylie again whispered something, and again telegraphed to the applicant
to move off; but the little man stood his ground and continued. "'Twas
a heifer you gave Tom Lenahan, and it's a dhroll day, the M'Garrey's
warn't as good as the Lenahans, to say we'd have nothing but bees, and
them was to get a dacent baste!"

"Stand aside, sir," said Sir Marmaduke; "Wylie has got my orders about
you. Who is this?"

"Faix, me, sir - Andrew Maher. I'm come to give your honour the key - I
couldn't stop there any longer."

"What! not stay in that comfortable house, with the neat shop I had
built and stocked for you? What does this mean?"

"'Tis just that, then, your honour - the house is a nate little place,
and barrin' the damp, and the little grate, that won't burn turf at all,
one might do well enough in it; but the shop is the divil entirely."

"How so - what's wrong about it?"

"Every thing's wrong about it. First and foremost, your honour, the
neighbours has no money; and though they might do mighty well for want
of tobacco, and spirits, and bohea, and candles, and soap, and them
trifles, as long as they never came near them, throth they couldn't have
them there fornint their noses, without wishing for a taste; and so one
comes in for a pound of sugar, and another wants a ha' porth of nails,
or a piece of naygar-head, or an ounce of starch - and divil a word they
have, but 'put it in the book, Andy.' By my conscience, it's a quare
book would hould it all."

"But they'll pay in time - they'll pay when they sell the crops."

"Bother! I ax yer honour's pardon - I was manin' they'd see me far enough
first. Sure, when they go to market, they'll have the rint, and the
tithe, and the taxes; and when that's done, and they get a sack of seed
potatoes for next year, I'd like to know where's the money that's to
come to me?"

"Is this true, Wylie? - are they as poor as this?" asked Sir Marmaduke.

Wylie's answer was still a whispered one.

"Well," said Andy, with a sigh, "there's the key any way. I'd rather be
tachin' the gaffers again, than be keeping the same shop."

These complaints were followed by others, differing in kind and
complexion, but all, agreeing in the violence with which they were
urged, and all, inveighing against "the improvements" Sir Marmaduke was
so interested in carrying forward. To hear them, you would suppose that
the grievances suggested by poverty and want, were more in unison with
comfort and enjoyment, than all the appliances wealth can bestow: and
that the privations to which habit has inured us, are sources of greater
happiness, than we often feel in the use of unrestricted liberty.

Far from finding any contented, Sir Marmaduke only saw a few among the
number, willing to endure his bounties, as the means of obtaining other
concessions they desired more ardently. They would keep their cabins
clean, if any thing was to be made by it: they'd weed their potatoes, if
Sir Marmaduke would only offer a price for the weeds. In fact, they
were ready to engage in any arduous pursuit of cleanliness, decency, and
propriety, but it must be for a consideration. Otherwise, they saw
no reason for encountering labour, which brought no requital; and
the _real_ benefits offered to them, came so often associated with
newfangled and absurd innovations, that, both became involved in the
same disgrace, and both sunk in the same ridicule together. These
were the refuse of the tenantry; for we have seen that the independent
feeling of the better class held them aloof from all the schemes of
"improvement," which the others, by participating in, contaminated.

Sir Marmaduke might, then, be pardoned, if he felt some sinking of
the heart at his failure; and, although encouraged by his daughter to
persevere in his plan to the end, more than once he was on the brink of
abandoning the field in discomfiture, and confessing that the game was
above his skill. Had he but taken one-half the pains to learn something
of national character, that he bestowed on his absurd efforts to fashion
it to his liking, his success might have been different. He would, at
least, have known how to distinguish between the really deserving,
and the unworthy recipients of his bounty - between the honest and
independent peasant, earning his bread by the sweat of his brow, and the
miserable dependant, only seeking a life of indolence, at any sacrifice
of truth or character; and even this knowledge, small as it may seem,
will go far in appreciating the difficulties which attend all attempts
at Irish social improvement, and explain much of the success or failure
observable in different parts of the country. But Sir Marmaduke fell
into the invariable error of his countrymen - he first suffered
himself to be led captive, by "blarney," and when heartily sick of the
deceitfulness and trickery of those who employed it, coolly sat down
with the conviction, that there was no truth in the land.




CHAPTER XVI. THE FOREIGN LETTER

The arrival of a post-letter at the O'Donoghue house was an occurrence
of sufficient rarity to create some excitement in the household; and
many a surmise, as to what new misfortune hung over the family, was
hazarded between Mrs. Branagan and Kerry O'Leary, as the latter poised
and balanced the epistle in his hand, as though its weight and form
might assist him in his divination.

After having conned over all the different legal processes which
he deemed might be conveyed in such a shape, and conjured up in his
imagination a whole army of sheriffs, sub-sheriffs, bailiffs, and
drivers, of which the ominous letter should prove the forerunner, he
heaved a heavy sigh at the gloomy future his forebodings had created,
and slowly ascended towards his master's bed-room.

"How is Herbert?" said the O'Donoghue, as he heard the footsteps beside
his bed, for he had been dreaming of the boy a few minutes previous.
"Who is that? Ah! Kerry. Well, how is he to-day?"

"Troth there's no great change to spake of," said Kerry, who, not having
made any inquiry himself, and never expecting to have been questioned
on the subject, preferred this safe line of reply, as he deemed it, to a
confession of his ignorance.

"Did he sleep well, Kerry?"

"Oh! for the matter of the sleep we won't boast of it. But here's a
letter for your honour, come by the post."

"Leave it on the bed, and tell me about the boy."

"Faix there's nothing particular, then, to tell yer honour - sometimes
he'd be one way, sometimes another - and more times the same way again.
That's the way he'd be all the night through."

The O'Donoghue pondered for a second or two, endeavouring to frame some
distinct notion from these scanty materials, and then said -

"Send Master Mark to me." At the same instant he drew aside the curtain,
and broke the seal of the letter. The first few lines, however, seemed
to satisfy his curiosity, although the epistle was written in a close
hand, and extended over three sides of the paper; and he threw it
carelessly on the bed, and lay down again once more. During all this
time, however, Kerry managed to remain in the room, and, while affecting
to arrange clothes and furniture, keenly scrutinized the features of his
master. It was of no use, however. The old man's looks were as apathetic
as usual, and he seemed already to have forgotten the missive Kerry had
endowed with so many terrors and misfortunes.

"Herbert has passed a favourable night," said Mark, entering a few
moments after. "The fever seems to have left him, and, except for
debility, I suppose there is little to ail him. What! - a letter! Who is
this from?"

"From Kate," said the old man listlessly. "I got as far as 'My dear
uncle;' the remainder must await a better light, and, mayhap, sharper
eyesight too - for the girl has picked up this new mode of scribbling,
which is almost unintelligible to me."

As the O'Donoghue was speaking, the young man had approached the window,
and was busily perusing the letter. As he read, his face changed colour
more than once. Breaking off, he said -

"You don't know, then, what news we have here? More embarrassment - ay,
by Jove, and a heavier one than even it seems at first sight. The French
armies, it appears, are successful all over the Low Countries, and
city after city falling into their possession; and so, the convents
are breaking up, and the Sacré Cour, where Kate: is, has set free its
inmates, who are returning to their friends. She comes here."

"What! - here?" said the O'Donoghue, with some evidence of doubt at
intelligence so strange and unexpected. "Why, Mark, my boy, that's
impossible - the house is a ruin; we haven't a room; we have no servants,
and have nothing like accommodation for the girl."

"Listen to this, then," said Mark, as he read from the letter: - "You may
then conceive, my dear old papa - for I must call you the old name again,
now that we are to meet - how happy I am to visit Carrig-na-curra once
more. I persuade myself I remember the old beech wood in the glen, and
the steep path beside the waterfall, and the wooden railings to guard
against the precipice. Am I not right? And there's an ash tree over the
pool, lower down. Cousin Mark climbed it to pluck the berries for me,
and fell in, too. There's memory for you!"

"She'll be puzzled to find the wood now," said the O'Donoghue, with a
sad attempt at a smile. "Go on, Mark."

"It's all the same kind of thing: she speaks of Molly Cooney's cabin,
and the red boat-house, and fifty things that are gone many a day ago.
Strange enough, she remembers what I myself have long since forgotten.
'How I long for my own little blue bed-room, that looked out on
Keim-an-eigh P - - "

"There, Mark - don't read any more, my lad. Poor dear Kate! - what would
she think of the place now?"

"The thing is impossible," said Mark, sternly; "the girl has got a
hundred fancies and tastes, unsuited to our rude life; her French habits
would ill agree with our barbarism. You must write to your cousin - that
old Mrs. Bedingfield - if that's her name. She must take her for the
present, at least; she offered it once before."

"Yes," said the old man, with an energy he had not used till now, "she
did, and I refused. My poor brother detested that woman, and would
never, had he lived, have entrusted his daughter to her care. If she
likes it, the girl shall make this her home. My poor Harry's child shall
not ask twice for a shelter, while I have one to offer her."

"Have you thought, sir, how long you may be able to extend the
hospitality you speak of? Is this house now your own, that you can make
a proffer of it to any one? - and if it were, is it here, within these
damp, discoloured walls, with ruin without and within, that you'd desire
a guest - and such a guest?"



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago → online text (page 13 of 41)