Barry Lyndon, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XIV

I Return to Ireland, and Exhibit My Splendour and Generosity in That Kingdom

How were times changed with me now! I had left my country a poor penniless boy — a private soldier in a miserable marching regiment. I returned an accomplished man, with property to the amount of five thousand guineas in my possession, with a splendid wardrobe and jewel-case worth two thousand more; having mingled in all the scenes of life a not undistinguished actor in them; having shared in war and in love; having by my own genius and energy won my way from poverty and obscurity to competence and splendour. As I looked out from my chariot windows as it rolled along over the bleak bare roads, by the miserable cabins of the peasantry, who came out in their rags to stare as the splendid equipage passed, and huzza’d for his Lordship’s honour as they saw the magnificent stranger in the superb gilded vehicle, my huge body-servant Fritz lolling behind with curling moustaches and long queue, his green livery barred with silver lace, I could not help thinking of myself with considerable complacency, and thanking my stars that had endowed me with so many good qualities. But for my own merits I should have been a raw Irish squireen such as those I saw swaggering about the wretched towns through which my chariot passed on its road to Dublin. I might have married Nora Brady (and though, thank Heaven, I did not, I have never thought of that girl but with kindness, and even remember the bitterness of losing her more clearly at this moment than any other incident of my life); I might have been the father of ten children by this time, or a farmer on my own account, or an agent to a squire, or a gauger, or an attorney; and here I was one of the most famous gentlemen of Europe! I bade my fellow get a bag of copper money and throw it among the crowd as we changed horses; and I warrant me there was as much shouting set up in praise of my honour as if my Lord Townshend, the Lord Lieutenant himself, had been passing.

My second day’s journey — for the Irish roads were rough in those days, and the progress of a gentleman’s chariot terribly slow — brought me to Carlow, where I put up at the very inn which I had used eleven years back, when flying from home after the supposed murder of Quin in the duel. How well I remember every moment of the scene! The old landlord was gone who had served me; the inn that I then thought so comfortable looked wretched and dismantled; but the claret was as good as in the old days, and I had the host to partake of a jug of it and hear the news of the country.

He was as communicative as hosts usually are: the crops and the markets, the price of beasts at last Castle Dermot fair, the last story about the vicar, and the last joke of Father Hogan the priest; how the Whiteboys had burned Squire Scanlan’s ricks, and the highwaymen had been beaten off in their attack upon Sir Thomas’s house; who was to hunt the Kilkenny hounds next season, and the wonderful run entirely they had last March; what troops were in the town, and how Miss Biddy Toole had run off with Ensign Mullins: all the news of sport, assize, and quarter-sessions were detailed by this worthy chronicler of small-beer, who wondered that my honour hadn’t heard of them in England, or in foreign parts, where he seemed to think the world was as interested as he was about the doings of Kilkenny and Carlow. I listened to these tales with, I own, a considerable pleasure; for every now and then a name would come up in the conversation which I remembered in old days, and bring with it a hundred associations connected with them.

I had received many letters from my mother, which informed me of the doings of the Brady’s Town family. My uncle was dead, and Mick, his eldest son, had followed him too to the grave. The Brady girls had separated from their paternal roof as soon as their elder brother came to rule over it. Some were married, some gone to settle with their odious old mother in out-of-the-way watering-places. Ulick, though he had succeeded to the estate, had come in for a bankrupt property, and Castle Brady was now inhabited only by the bats and owls, and the old gamekeeper. My mother, Mrs. Harry Barry, had gone to live at Bray, to sit under Mr. Jowls, her favourite preacher, who had a chapel there; and, finally, the landlord told me, that Mrs. Barry’s son had gone to foreign parts, enlisted in the Prussian service, and had been shot there as a deserter.

I don’t care to own that I hired a stout nag from the landlord’s stable after dinner, and rode back at nightfall twenty miles to my old home. My heart beat to see it. Barryville had got a pestle and mortar over the door, and was called ‘The Esculapian Repository,’ by Doctor Macshane; a red-headed lad was spreading a plaster in the old parlour; the little window of my room, once so neat and bright, was cracked in many places, and stuffed with rags here and there; the flowers had disappeared from the trim garden-beds which my good orderly mother tended. In the churchyard there were two more names put into the stone over the family vault of the Bradys: they were those of my cousin, for whom my regard was small, and my uncle, whom I had always loved. I asked my old companion the blacksmith, who had beaten me so often in old days, to give my horse a feed and a litter: he was a worn weary-looking man now, with a dozen dirty ragged children paddling about his smithy, and had no recollection of the fine gentleman who stood before him. I did not seek to recall my-self to his memory till the next day, when I put ten guineas into his hand, and bade him drink the health of English Redmond.

As for Castle Brady, the gates of the park were still there; but the old trees were cut down in the avenue, a black stump jutting out here and there, and casting long shadows as I passed in the moonlight over the worn grass-grown old road. A few cows were at pasture there. The garden-gate was gone, and the place a tangled wilderness. I sat down on the old bench, where I had sat on the day when Nora jilted me; and I do believe my feelings were as strong then as they had been when I was a boy, eleven years before; and I caught myself almost crying again, to think that Nora Brady had deserted me. I believe a man forgets nothing. I’ve seen a flower, or heard some trivial word or two, which have awakened recollections that somehow had lain dormant for scores of years; and when I entered the house in Clarges Street, where I was born (it was used as a gambling-house when I first visited London), all of a sudden the memory of my childhood came back to me — of my actual infancy: I recollected my father in green and gold, holding me up to look at a gilt coach which stood at the door, and my mother in a flowered sack, with patches on her face. Some day, I wonder, will everything we have seen and thought and done come and flash across our minds in this way? I had rather not. I felt so as I sat upon the bench at Castle Brady, and thought of the bygone times.

The hall-door was open — it was always so at that house; the moon was flaring in at the long old windows, and throwing ghastly chequers upon the floors; and the stars were looking in on the other side, in the blue of the yawning window over the great stair: from it you could see the old stable-clock, with the letters glistening on it still. There had been jolly horses in those stables once; and I could see my uncle’s honest face, and hear him talking to his dogs as they came jumping and whining and barking round about him of a gay winter morning. We used to mount there; and the girls looked out at us from the hall-window, where I stood and looked at the sad, mouldy, lonely old place. There was a red light shining through the crevices of a door at one corner of the building, and a dog presently came out baying loudly, and a limping man followed with a fowling-piece.

‘Who’s there?’ said the old man.

‘PHIL PURCELL, don’t you know me?’ shouted I; ‘it’s Redmond Barry.’

I thought the old man would have fired his piece at me at first, for he pointed it at the window; but I called to him to hold his hand, and came down and embraced him. . . . Psha! I don’t care to tell the rest: Phil and I had a long night, and talked over a thousand foolish old things that have no interest for any soul alive now: for what soul is there alive that cares for Barry Lyndon?

I settled a hundred guineas on the old man when I got to Dublin, and made him an annuity which enabled him to pass his old days in comfort.

Poor Phil Purcell was amusing himself at a game of exceedingly dirty cards with an old acquaintance of mine; no other than Tim, who was called my ‘valet’ in the days of yore, and whom the reader may remember as clad in my father’s old liveries. They used to hang about him in those times, and lap over his wrists and down to his heels; but Tim, though he protested he had nigh killed himself with grief when I went away, had managed to grow enormously fat in my absence, and would have fitted almost into Daniel Lambert’s coat, or that of the vicar of Castle Brady, whom he served in the capacity of clerk. I would have engaged the fellow in my service but for his monstrous size, which rendered him quite unfit to be the attendant of any gentleman of condition; and so I presented him with a handsome gratuity, and promised to stand godfather to his next child: the eleventh since my absence. There is no country in the world where the work of multiplying is carried on so prosperously as in my native island. Mr. Tim had married the girls’ waiting-maid, who had been a kind friend of mine in the early times; and I had to go salute poor Molly next day, and found her a slatternly wench in a mud hut, surrounded by a brood of children almost as ragged as those of my friend the blacksmith.

From Tim and Phil Purcell, thus met fortuitously together, I got the very last news respecting my family. My mother was well.

‘‘Faith sir,’ says Tim, ‘and you’re come in time, mayhap, for preventing an addition to your family.’

‘Sir!’ exclaimed I, in a fit of indignation.

‘In the shape of father-inlaw, I mane, sir,’ says Tim: ‘the misthress is going to take on with Mister Jowls the praacher.’

Poor Nora, he added, had made many additions to the illustrious race of Quin; and my cousin Ulick was in Dublin, coming to little good, both my informants feared, and having managed to run through the small available remains of property which my good old uncle had left behind him.

I saw I should have no small family to provide for; and then, to conclude the evening, Phil, Tim, and I, had a bottle of usquebaugh, the taste of which I had remembered for eleven good years, and did not part except with the warmest terms of fellowship, and until the sun had been some time in the sky. I am exceedingly affable; that has always been one of my characteristics. I have no false pride, as many men of high lineage like my own have, and, in default of better company, will hob and nob with a ploughboy or a private soldier just as readily as with the first noble in the land.

I went back to the village in the morning, and found a pretext for visiting Barryville under a device of purchasing drugs. The hooks were still in the wall where my silver-hiked sword used to hang; a blister was lying on the window-sill, where my mother’s ‘Whole Duty of Man’ had its place; and the odious Doctor Macshane had found out who I was (my countrymen find out everything, and a great deal more besides), and sniggering, asked me how I left the King of Prussia, and whether my friend the Emperor Joseph was as much liked as the Empress Maria Theresa had been. The bell-ringers would have had a ring of bells for me, but there was but one, Tim, who was too fat to pull; and I rode off before the vicar, Doctor Bolter (who had succeeded old Mr. Texter, who had the living in my time), had time to come out to compliment me; but the rapscallions of the beggarly village had assembled in a dirty army to welcome me, and cheered ‘Hurrah for Masther Redmond!’ as I rode away.

My people were not a little anxious regarding me, by the time I returned to Carlow, and the landlord was very much afraid, he said, that the highwaymen had gotten hold of me. There, too, my name and station had been learned from my servant Fritz: who had not spared his praises of his master, and had invented some magnificent histories concerning me. He said it was the truth that I was intimate with half the sovereigns of Europe, and the prime favourite with most of them. Indeed I had made my uncle’s order of the Spur hereditary, and travelled under the name of the Chevalier Barry, chamberlain to the Duke of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen.

They gave me the best horses the stable possessed to carry me on my road to Dublin, and the strongest ropes for harness; and we got on pretty well, and there was no rencontre between the highwaymen and the pistols with which Fritz and I were provided. We lay that night at Kilcullen, and the next day I made my entry into the city of Dublin, with four horses to my carriage, five thousand guineas in my purse, and one of the most brilliant reputations in Europe, having quitted the city a beggarly boy, eleven years before.

The citizens of Dublin have as great and laudable a desire for knowing their neighbours’ concerns as the country people have; and it is impossible for a gentleman, however modest his desires may be (and such mine have notoriously been through life), to enter the capital without having his name printed in every newspaper and mentioned in a number of societies. My name and titles were all over the town the day after my arrival. A great number of polite persons did me the honour to call at my lodgings, when I selected them; and this was a point very necessarily of immediate care, for the hotels in the town were but vulgar holes, unfit for a nobleman of my fashion and elegance. I had been informed of the fact by travellers on the Continent; and determining to fix on a lodging at once, I bade the drivers go slowly up and down the streets with my chariot, until I had selected a place suitable to my rank. This proceeding, and the uncouth questions and behaviour of my German Fritz, who was instructed to make inquiries at the different houses until convenient apartments could be lighted upon, brought an immense mob round my coach; and by the time the rooms were chosen you might have supposed I was the new General of the Forces, so great was the multitude following us.

I fixed at length upon a handsome suite of apartments in Capel Street, paid the ragged postilions who had driven me a splendid gratuity, and establishing myself in the rooms with my baggage and Fritz, desired the landlord to engage me a second fellow to wear my liveries, a couple of stout reputable chairmen and their machine, and a coachman who had handsome job-horses to hire for my chariot, and serviceable riding-horses to sell. I gave him a handsome sum in advance; and I promise you the effect of my advertisement was such, that next day I had a regular levee in my antechamber: grooms, valets, and maitres-d’hotel offered themselves without number; I had proposals for the purchase of horses sufficient to mount a regiment, both from dealers and gentlemen of the first fashion. Sir Lawler Gawler came to propose to me the most elegant bay-mare ever stepped; my Lord Dundoodle had a team of four that wouldn’t disgrace my friend the Emperor; and the Marquess of Ballyragget sent his gentleman and his compliments, stating that if I would step up to his stables, or do him the honour of breakfasting with him previously, he would show me the two finest greys in Europe. I determined to accept the invitations of Dundoodle and Ballyragget, but to purchase my horses from the dealers. It is always the best way. Besides, in those days, in Ireland, if a gentleman warranted his horse, and it was not sound, or a dispute arose, the remedy you had was the offer of a bullet in your waistcoat. I had played at the bullet game too much in earnest to make use of it heedlessly: and I may say, proudly for myself, that I never engaged in a duel unless I had a real, available, and prudent reason for it.

There was a simplicity about this Irish gentry which amused and made me wonder. If they tell more fibs than their downright neighbours across the water, on the other hand they believe more; and I made myself in a single week such a reputation in Dublin as would take a man ten years and a mint of money to acquire in London. I had won five hundred thousand pounds at play; I was the favourite of the Empress Catherine of Russia; the confidential agent of Frederick of Prussia; it was I won the battle of Hochkirchen; I was the cousin of Madame Du Barry, the French King’s favourite, and a thousand things beside. Indeed, to tell the truth, I hinted a number of these stories to my kind friends Ballyragget and Gawler; and they were not slow to improve the hints I gave them.

After having witnessed the splendours of civilised life abroad, the sight of Dublin in the year 1771, when I returned thither, struck me with anything but respect. It was as savage as Warsaw almost, without the regal grandeur of the latter city. The people looked more ragged than any race I have ever seen, except the gipsy hordes along the banks of the Danube. There was, as I have said, not an inn in the town fit for a gentleman of condition to dwell in. Those luckless fellows who could not keep a carriage, and walked the streets at night, ran imminent risks of the knives of the women and ruffians who lay in wait there — of a set of ragged savage villains, who neither knew the use of shoe nor razor; and as a gentleman entered his chair or his chariot, to be carried to his evening rout, or the play, the flambeaux of the footmen would light up such a set of wild gibbering Milesian faces as would frighten a genteel person of average nerves. I was luckily endowed with strong ones; besides, had seen my amiable countrymen before.

I know this description of them will excite anger among some Irish patriots, who don’t like to have the nakedness of our land abused, and are angry if the whole truth be told concerning it. But bah! it was a poor provincial place, Dublin, in the old days of which I speak; and many a tenth-rate German residency is more genteel. There were, it is true, near three hundred resident Peers at the period; and a House of Commons; and my Lord Mayor and his corporation; and a roystering noisy University, whereof the students made no small disturbances nightly, patronised the roundhouse, ducked obnoxious printers and tradesmen, and gave the law at the Crow Street Theatre. But I had seen too much of the first society of Europe to be much tempted by the society of these noisy gentry, and was a little too much of a gentleman to mingle with the disputes and politics of my Lord Mayor and his Aldermen. In the House of Commons there were some dozen of right pleasant fellows. I never heard in the English Parliament better speeches than from Flood, and Daly, of Galway. Dick Sheridan, though not a well-bred person, was as amusing and ingenious a table-companion as ever I met; and though during Mr. Edmund Burke’s interminable speeches in the English House I used always to go to sleep, I yet have heard from well-informed parties that Mr. Burke was a person of considerable abilities, and even reputed to be eloquent in his more favourable moments.

I soon began to enjoy to the full extent the pleasures that the wretched place affords, and which were within a gentleman’s reach: Ranelagh and the Ridotto; Mr. Mossop, at Crow Street; my Lord Lieutenant’s parties, where there was a great deal too much boozing, and too little play, to suit a person of my elegant and refined habits. ‘Daly’s Coffee-house,’ and the houses of the nobility, were soon open to me; and I remarked with astonishment in the higher circles, what I had experienced in the lower on my first unhappy visit to Dublin, an extraordinary want of money, and a preposterous deal of promissory notes flying about, for which I was quite unwilling to stake my guineas. The ladies, too, were mad for play; but exceeding unwilling to pay when they lost. Thus, when the old Countess of Trumpington lost ten pieces to me at quadrille, she gave me, instead of the money, her Ladyship’s note of hand on her agent in Galway; which I put, with a great deal of politeness, into the candle. But when the Countess made me a second proposition to play, I said that as soon as her Ladyship’s remittances were arrived, I would be the readiest person to meet her; but till then was her very humble servant. And I maintained this resolution and singular character throughout the Dublin society: giving out at ‘Daly’s’ that I was ready to play any man, for any sum, at any game; or to fence with him, or to ride with him (regard being had to our weight), or to shoot flying, or at a mark; and in this latter accomplishment, especially if the mark be a live one, Irish gentlemen of that day had no ordinary skill.

Of course I despatched a courier in my liveries to Castle Lyndon with a private letter for Runt, demanding from him full particulars of the Countess of Lyndon’s state of health and mind; and a touching and eloquent letter to her Ladyship, in which I bade her remember ancient days, which I tied up with a single hair from the lock which I had purchased from her woman, and in which I told her that Sylvander remembered his oath, and could never forget his Calista. The answer I received from her was exceedingly unsatisfactory and inexplicit; that from Mr. Runt explicit enough, but not at all pleasant in its contents. My Lord George Poynings, the Marquess of Tiptoff’s younger son, was paying very marked addresses to the widow; being a kinsman of the family, and having been called to Ireland relative to the will of the deceased Sir Charles Lyndon.

Now, there was a sort of rough-and-ready law in Ireland in those days, which was of great convenience to persons desirous of expeditious justice; and of which the newspapers of the time contain a hundred proofs. Fellows with the nicknames of Captain Fireball, Lieutenant Buffcoat, and Ensign Steele, were repeatedly sending warning letters to landlords, and murdering them if the notes were unattended to. The celebrated Captain Thunder ruled in the southern counties, and his business seemed to be to procure wives for gentlemen who had not sufficient means to please the parents of the young ladies; or, perhaps, had not time for a long and intricate courtship.

I had found my cousin Ulick at Dublin, grown very fat, and very poor; hunted up by Jews and creditors: dwelling in all sorts of queer corners, from which he issued at nightfall to the Castle, or to his card-party at his tavern; but he was always the courageous fellow: and I hinted to him the state of my affections regarding Lady Lyndon.

‘The Countess of Lyndon!’ said poor Ulick; ‘well, that IS a wonder. I myself have been mightily sweet upon a young lady, one of the Kiljoys of Ballyhack, who has ten thousand pounds to her fortune, and to whom her Ladyship is guardian; but how is a poor fellow without a coat to his back to get on with an heiress in such company as that? I might as well propose for the Countess myself.’

‘You had better not,’ said I, laughing; ‘the man who tries runs a chance of going out of the world first.’ And I explained to him my own intention regarding Lady Lyndon. Honest Ulick, whose respect for me was prodigious when he saw how splendid my appearance was, and heard how wonderful my adventures and great my experience of fashionable life had been, was lost in admiration of my daring and energy, when I confided to him my intention of marrying the greatest heiress in England.

I bade Ulick go out of town on any pretext he chose, and put a letter into a post-office near Castle Lyndon, which I prepared in a feigned hand, and in which I gave a solemn warning to Lord George Poynings to quit the country; saying that the great prize was never meant for the likes of him, and that there were heiresses enough in England, without coming to rob them out of the domains of Captain Fireball. The letter was written on a dirty piece of paper, in the worst of spelling: it came to my Lord by the post-conveyance, and, being a high-spirited young man, he of course laughed at it.

As ill-luck would have it for him, he appeared in Dublin a very short time afterwards; was introduced to the Chevalier Redmond Barry, at the Lord Lieutenant’s table; adjourned with him and several other gentlemen to the club at ‘Daly’s,’ and there, in a dispute about the pedigree of a horse, in which everybody said I was in the right, words arose, and a meeting was the consequence. I had had no affair in Dublin since my arrival, and people were anxious to see whether I was equal to my reputation. I make no boast about these matters, but always do them when the time comes; and poor Lord George, who had a neat hand and a quick eye enough, but was bred in the clumsy English school, only stood before my point until I had determined where I should hit him.

My sword went in under his guard, and came out at his back. When he fell, he good-naturedly extended his hand to me, and said, ‘Mr. Barry, I was wrong!’ I felt not very well at ease when the poor fellow made this confession: for the dispute had been of my making, and, to tell the truth, I had never intended it should end in any other way than a meeting.

He lay on his bed for four months with the effects of that wound; and the same post which conveyed to Lady Lyndon the news of the duel, carried her a message from Captain Fireball to say, ‘This is NUMBER ONE!’

‘You, Ulick,’ said I, ‘shall be NUMBER TWO.’

‘‘Faith,’ said my cousin, ‘one’s enough:’ But I had my plan regarding him, and determined at once to benefit this honest fellow, and to forward my own designs upon the widow.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07