Mens Wives, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Dennis Haggarty’s Wife.

There was an odious Irishwoman who with her daughter used to frequent the “Royal Hotel” at Leamington some years ago, and who went by the name of Mrs. Major Gam. Gam had been a distinguished officer in His Majesty’s service, whom nothing but death and his own amiable wife could overcome. The widow mourned her husband in the most becoming bombazeen she could muster, and had at least half an inch of lampblack round the immense visiting tickets which she left at the houses of the nobility and gentry her friends.

Some of us, I am sorry to say, used to call her Mrs. Major Gammon; for if the worthy widow had a propensity, it was to talk largely of herself and family (of her own family, for she held her husband’s very cheap), and of the wonders of her paternal mansion, Molloyville, county of Mayo. She was of the Molloys of that county; and though I never heard of the family before, I have little doubt, from what Mrs. Major Gam stated, that they were the most ancient and illustrious family of that part of Ireland. I remember there came down to see his aunt a young fellow with huge red whiskers and tight nankeens, a green coat, and an awful breastpin, who, after two days’ stay at the Spa, proposed marriage to Miss S—— — or, in default, a duel with her father; and who drove a flash curricle with a bay and a grey, and who was presented with much pride by Mrs. Gam as Castlereagh Molloy of Molloyville. We all agreed that he was the most insufferable snob of the whole season, and were delighted when a bailiff came down in search of him.

Well, this is all I know personally of the Molloyville family; but at the house if you met the widow Gam, and talked on any subject in life, you were sure to hear of it. If you asked her to have peas at dinner, she would say, “Oh, sir, after the peas at Molloyville, I really don’t care for any others — do I, dearest Jemima? We always had a dish in the month of June, when my father gave his head gardener a guinea (we had three at Molloyville), and sent him with his compliments and a quart of peas to our neighbour, dear Lord Marrowfat. What a sweet place Marrowfat Park is! isn’t it, Jemima?” If a carriage passed by the window, Mrs. Major Gammon would be sure to tell you that there were three carriages at Molloyville, “the barouche, the chawiot, and the covered cyar.” In the same manner she would favour you with the number and names of the footmen of the establishment; and on a visit to Warwick Castle (for this bustling woman made one in every party of pleasure that was formed from the hotel), she gave us to understand that the great walk by the river was altogether inferior to the principal avenue of Molloyville Park. I should not have been able to tell so much about Mrs. Gam and her daughter, but that, between ourselves, I was particularly sweet upon a young lady at the time, whose papa lived at the “Royal,” and was under the care of Doctor Jephson.

The Jemima appealed to by Mrs. Gam in the above sentence was, of course, her daughter, apostrophised by her mother, “Jemima, my soul’s darling?” or, “Jemima, my blessed child!” or, “Jemima, my own love!” The sacrifices that Mrs. Gam had made for that daughter were, she said, astonishing. The money she had spent in masters upon her, the illnesses through which she had nursed her, the ineffable love the mother bore her, were only known to Heaven, Mrs. Gam said. They used to come into the room with their arms round each other’s waists: at dinner between the courses the mother would sit with one hand locked in her daughter’s; and if only two or three young men were present at the time, would be pretty sure to kiss her Jemima more than once during the time whilst the bohea was poured out.

As for Miss Gam, if she was not handsome, candour forbids me to say she was ugly. She was neither one nor t’other. She was a person who wore ringlets and a band round her forehead; she knew four songs, which became rather tedious at the end of a couple of months’ acquaintance; she had excessively bare shoulders; she inclined to wear numbers of cheap ornaments, rings, brooches, ferronnieres, smelling-bottles, and was always, we thought, very smartly dressed: though old Mrs. Lynx hinted that her gowns and her mother’s were turned over and over again, and that her eyes were almost put out by darning stockings.

These eyes Miss Gam had very large, though rather red and weak, and used to roll them about at every eligible unmarried man in the place. But though the widow subscribed to all the balls, though she hired a fly to go to the meet of the hounds, though she was constant at church, and Jemima sang louder than any person there except the clerk, and though, probably, any person who made her a happy husband would be invited down to enjoy the three footmen, gardeners, and carriages at Molloyville, yet no English gentleman was found sufficiently audacious to propose. Old Lynx used to say that the pair had been at Tunbridge, Harrogate, Brighton, Ramsgate, Cheltenham, for this eight years past; where they had met, it seemed, with no better fortune. Indeed, the widow looked rather high for her blessed child: and as she looked with the contempt which no small number of Irish people feel upon all persons who get their bread by labour or commerce; and as she was a person whose energetic manners, costume, and brogue were not much to the taste of quiet English country gentlemen, Jemima — sweet, spotless flower — still remained on her hands, a thought withered, perhaps, and seedy.

Now, at this time, the 120th Regiment was quartered at Weedon Barracks, and with the corps was a certain Assistant-Surgeon Haggarty, a large, lean, tough, raw-boned man, with big hands, knock-knees, and carroty whiskers, and, withal, as honest a creature as ever handled a lancet. Haggarty, as his name imports, was of the very same nation as Mrs. Gam, and, what is more, the honest fellow had some of the peculiarities which belonged to the widow, and bragged about his family almost as much as she did. I do not know of what particular part of Ireland they were kings; but monarchs they must have been, as have been the ancestors of so many thousand Hibernian families; but they had been men of no small consideration in Dublin, “where my father,” Haggarty said, “is as well known as King William’s statue, and where he ‘rowls his carriage, too,’ let me tell ye.”

Hence, Haggarty was called by the wags “Rowl the carriage,” and several of them made inquiries of Mrs. Gam regarding him: “Mrs. Gam, when you used to go up from Molloyville to the Lord Lieutenant’s balls, and had your townhouse in Fitzwilliam Square, used you to meet the famous Doctor Haggarty in society?”

“Is it Surgeon Haggarty of Gloucester Street ye mean? The black Papist! D’ye suppose that the Molloys would sit down to table with a creature of that sort?”

“Why, isn’t he the most famous physician in Dublin, and doesn’t he rowl his carriage there?”

“The horrid wretch! He keeps a shop, I tell ye, and sends his sons out with the medicine. He’s got four of them off into the army, Ulick and Phil, and Terence and Denny, and now it’s Charles that takes out the physic. But how should I know about these odious creatures? Their mother was a Burke, of Burke’s Town, county Cavan, and brought Surgeon Haggarty two thousand pounds. She was a Protestant; and I am surprised how she could have taken up with a horrid odious Popish apothecary!”

From the extent of the widow’s information, I am led to suppose that the inhabitants of Dublin are not less anxious about their neighbours than are the natives of English cities; and I think it is very probable that Mrs. Gam’s account of the young Haggartys who carried out the medicine is perfectly correct, for a lad in the 120th made a caricature of Haggarty coming out of a chemist’s shop with an oilcloth basket under his arm, which set the worthy surgeon in such a fury that there would have been a duel between him and the ensign, could the fiery doctor have had his way.

Now, Dionysius Haggarty was of an exceedingly inflammable temperament, and it chanced that of all the invalids, the visitors, the young squires of Warwickshire, the young manufacturers from Birmingham, the young officers from the barracks — it chanced, unluckily for Miss Gam and himself, that he was the only individual who was in the least smitten by her personal charms. He was very tender and modest about his love, however, for it must be owned that he respected Mrs. Gam hugely, and fully admitted, like a good simple fellow as he was, the superiority of that lady’s birth and breeding to his own. How could he hope that he, a humble assistant-surgeon, with a thousand pounds his Aunt Kitty left him for all his fortune — how could he hope that one of the race of Molloyville would ever condescend to marry him?

Inflamed, however, by love, and inspired by wine, one day at a picnic at Kenilworth, Haggarty, whose love and raptures were the talk of the whole regiment, was induced by his waggish comrades to make a proposal in form.

“Are you aware, Mr. Haggarty, that you are speaking to a Molloy?” was all the reply majestic Mrs. Gam made when, according to the usual formula, the fluttering Jemima referred her suitor to “Mamma.” She left him with a look which was meant to crush the poor fellow to earth; she gathered up her cloak and bonnet, and precipitately called for her fly. She took care to tell every single soul in Leamington that the son of the odious Papist apothecary had had the audacity to propose for her daughter (indeed a proposal, coming from whatever quarter it may, does no harm), and left Haggarty in a state of extreme depression and despair.

His down-heartedness, indeed, surprised most of his acquaintances in and out of the regiment, for the young lady was no beauty, and a doubtful fortune, and Dennis was a man outwardly of an unromantic turn, who seemed to have a great deal more liking for beefsteak and whisky-punch than for women, however fascinating.

But there is no doubt this shy uncouth rough fellow had a warmer and more faithful heart hid within him than many a dandy who is as handsome as Apollo. I, for my part, never can understand why a man falls in love, and heartily give him credit for so doing, never mind with what or whom. THAT I take to be a point quite as much beyond an individual’s own control as the catching of the small-pox or the colour of his hair. To the surprise of all, Assistant-Surgeon Dionysius Haggarty was deeply and seriously in love; and I am told that one day he very nearly killed the before-mentioned young ensign with a carving-knife, for venturing to make a second caricature, representing Lady Gammon and Jemima in a fantastical park, surrounded by three gardeners, three carriages, three footmen, and the covered cyar. He would have no joking concerning them. He became moody and quarrelsome of habit. He was for some time much more in the surgery and hospital than in the mess. He gave up the eating, for the most part, of those vast quantities of beef and pudding, for which his stomach used to afford such ample and swift accommodation; and when the cloth was drawn, instead of taking twelve tumblers, and singing Irish melodies, as he used to do, in a horrible cracked yelling voice, he would retire to his own apartment, or gloomily pace the barrack-yard, or madly whip and spur a grey mare he had on the road to Leamington, where his Jemima (although invisible for him) still dwelt.

The season at Leamington coming to a conclusion by the withdrawal of the young fellows who frequented that watering-place, the widow Gam retired to her usual quarters for the other months of the year. Where these quarters were, I think we have no right to ask, for I believe she had quarrelled with her brother at Molloyville, and besides, was a great deal too proud to be a burden on anybody.

Not only did the widow quit Leamington, but very soon afterwards the 120th received its marching orders, and left Weedon and Warwickshire. Haggarty’s appetite was by this time partially restored, but his love was not altered, and his humour was still morose and gloomy. I am informed that at this period of his life he wrote some poems relative to his unhappy passion; a wild set of verses of several lengths, and in his handwriting, being discovered upon a sheet of paper in which a pitch-plaster was wrapped up, which Lieutenant and Adjutant Wheezer was compelled to put on for a cold.

Fancy then, three years afterwards, the surprise of all Haggarty’s acquaintances on reading in the public papers the following announcement:

“Married, at Monkstown on the 12th instant, Dionysius Haggarty, Esq., of H.M. 120th Foot, to Jemima Amelia Wilhelmina Molloy, daughter of the late Major Lancelot Gam, R.M., and granddaughter of the late, and niece of the present Burke Bodkin Blake Molloy, Esq., Molloyville, county Mayo.”

“Has the course of true love at last begun to run smooth?” thought I, as I laid down the paper; and the old times, and the old leering bragging widow, and the high shoulders of her daughter, and the jolly days with the 120th, and Doctor Jephson’s one-horse chaise, and the Warwickshire hunt, and — and Louisa S—— — but never mind HER — came back to my mind. Has that good-natured simple fellow at last met with his reward? Well, if he has not to marry the mother-inlaw too, he may get on well enough.

Another year announced the retirement of Assistant-Surgeon Haggarty from the 120th, where he was replaced by Assistant-Surgeon Angus Rothsay Leech, a Scotchman, probably; with whom I have not the least acquaintance, and who has nothing whatever to do with this little history.

Still more years passed on, during which time I will not say that I kept a constant watch upon the fortunes of Mr. Haggarty and his lady; for, perhaps, if the truth were known, I never thought for a moment about them; until one day, being at Kingstown, near Dublin, dawdling on the beach, and staring at the Hill of Howth, as most people at that watering-place do, I saw coming towards me a tall gaunt man, with a pair of bushy red whiskers, of which I thought I had seen the like in former years, and a face which could be no other than Haggarty’s. It was Haggarty, ten years older than when we last met, and greatly more grim and thin. He had on one shoulder a young gentleman in a dirty tartan costume, and a face exceedingly like his own peeping from under a battered plume of black feathers, while with his other hand he was dragging a light green go-cart, in which reposed a female infant of some two years old. Both were roaring with great power of lungs.

As soon as Dennis saw me, his face lost the dull puzzled expression which had seemed to characterise it; he dropped the pole of the go-cart from one hand, and his son from the other, and came jumping forward to greet me with all his might, leaving his progeny roaring in the road.

“Bless my sowl,” says he, “sure it’s Fitz-Boodle? Fitz, don’t you remember me? Dennis Haggarty of the 120th? Leamington, you know? Molloy, my boy, hould your tongue, and stop your screeching, and Jemima’s too; d’ye hear? Well, it does good to sore eyes to see an old face. How fat you’re grown, Fitz; and were ye ever in Ireland before? and a’n’t ye delighted with it? Confess, now, isn’t it beautiful?”

This question regarding the merits of their country, which I have remarked is put by most Irish persons, being answered in a satisfactory manner, and the shouts of the infants appeased from an apple-stall hard by, Dennis and I talked of old times; I congratulated him on his marriage with the lovely girl whom we all admired, and hoped he had a fortune with her, and so forth. His appearance, however, did not bespeak a great fortune: he had an old grey hat, short old trousers, an old waistcoat with regimental buttons, and patched Blucher boots, such as are not usually sported by persons in easy life.

“Ah!” says he, with a sigh, in reply to my queries, “times are changed since them days, Fitz-Boodle. My wife’s not what she was — the beautiful creature you knew her. Molloy, my boy, run off in a hurry to your mamma, and tell her an English gentleman is coming home to dine; for you’ll dine with me, Fitz, in course?” And I agreed to partake of that meal; though Master Molloy altogether declined to obey his papa’s orders with respect to announcing the stranger.

“Well, I must announce you myself,” said Haggarty, with a smile. “Come, it’s just dinner-time, and my little cottage is not a hundred yards off.” Accordingly, we all marched in procession to Dennis’s little cottage, which was one of a row and a half of one-storied houses, with little courtyards before them, and mostly with very fine names on the doorposts of each. “Surgeon Haggarty” was emblazoned on Dennis’s gate, on a stained green copper-plate; and, not content with this, on the door-post above the bell was an oval with the inscription of “New Molloyville.” The bell was broken, of course; the court, or garden-path, was mouldy, weedy, seedy; there were some dirty rocks, by way of ornament, round a faded glass-plat in the centre, some clothes and rags hanging out of most part of the windows of New Molloyville, the immediate entrance to which was by a battered scraper, under a broken trellis-work, up which a withered creeper declined any longer to climb.

“Small, but snug,” says Haggarty: “I’ll lead the way, Fitz; put your hat on the flower-pot there, and turn to the left into the drawing-room.” A fog of onions and turf-smoke filled the whole of the house, and gave signs that dinner was not far off. Far off? You could hear it frizzling in the kitchen, where the maid was also endeavouring to hush the crying of a third refractory child. But as we entered, all three of Haggarty’s darlings were in full roar.

“Is it you, Dennis?” cried a sharp raw voice, from a dark corner in the drawing-room to which we were introduced, and in which a dirty tablecloth was laid for dinner, some bottles of porter and a cold mutton-bone being laid out on a rickety grand piano hard by. “Ye’re always late, Mr. Haggarty. Have you brought the whisky from Nowlan’s? I’ll go bail ye’ve not, now.”

“My dear, I’ve brought an old friend of yours and mine to take pot-luck with us today,” said Dennis.

“When is he to come?” said the lady. At which speech I was rather surprised, for I stood before her.

“Here he is, Jemima my love,” answered Dennis, looking at me. “Mr. Fitz-Boodle: don’t you remember him in Warwickshire, darling?”

“Mr. Fitz-Boodle! I am very glad to see him,” said the lady, rising and curtseying with much cordiality.

Mrs. Haggarty was blind.

Mrs. Haggarty was not only blind, but it was evident that smallpox had been the cause of her loss of vision. Her eyes were bound with a bandage, her features were entirely swollen, scarred and distorted by the horrible effects of the malady. She had been knitting in a corner when we entered, and was wrapped in a very dirty bedgown. Her voice to me was quite different to that in which she addressed her husband. She spoke to Haggarty in broad Irish: she addressed me in that most odious of all languages — Irish-English, endeavouring to the utmost to disguise her brogue, and to speak with the true dawdling distingue English air.

“Are you long in I-a-land?” said the poor creature in this accent. “You must faind it a sad ba’ba’ous place, Mr Fitz-Boodle, I’m shu-ah! It was vary kaind of you to come upon us en famille, and accept a dinner sans ceremonie. Mr. Haggarty, I hope you’ll put the waine into aice, Mr. Fitz-Boodle must be melted with this hot weathah.”

For some time she conducted the conversation in this polite strain, and I was obliged to say, in reply to a query of hers, that I did not find her the least altered, though I should never have recognised her but for this rencontre. She told Haggarty with a significant air to get the wine from the cellah, and whispered to me that he was his own butlah; and the poor fellow, taking the hint, scudded away into the town for a pound of beefsteak and a couple of bottles of wine from the tavern.

“Will the childhren get their potatoes and butther here?” said a barefoot girl, with long black hair flowing over her face, which she thrust in at the door.

“Let them sup in the nursery, Elizabeth, and send — ah! Edwards to me.”

“Is it cook you mane, ma’am?” said the girl.

“Send her at once!” shrieked the unfortunate woman; and the noise of frying presently ceasing, a hot woman made her appearance, wiping her brows with her apron, and asking, with an accent decidedly Hibernian, what the misthress wanted.

“Lead me up to my dressing-room, Edwards: I really am not fit to be seen in this dishabille by Mr. Fitz-Boodle.”

“Fait’ I can’t!” says Edwards; “sure the masther’s at the butcher’s, and can’t look to the kitchen-fire!”

“Nonsense, I must go!” cried Mrs. Haggarty; and Edwards, putting on a resigned air, and giving her arm and face a further rub with her apron, held out her arm to Mrs. Dennis, and the pair went upstairs.

She left me to indulge my reflections for half-an-hour, at the end of which period she came downstairs dressed in an old yellow satin, with the poor shoulders exposed just as much as ever. She had mounted a tawdry cap, which Haggarty himself must have selected for her. She had all sorts of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings in gold, in garnets, in mother-of-pearl, in ormolu. She brought in a furious savour of musk, which drove the odours of onions and turf-smoke before it; and she waved across her wretched angular mean scarred features an old cambric handkerchief with a yellow lace-border.

“And so you would have known me anywhere, Mr. Fitz-Boodle?” said she, with a grin that was meant to be most fascinating. “I was sure you would; for though my dreadful illness deprived me of my sight, it is a mercy that it did not change my features or complexion at all!”

This mortification had been spared the unhappy woman; but I don’t know whether, with all her vanity, her infernal pride, folly, and selfishness, it was charitable to leave her in her error.

Yet why correct her? There is a quality in certain people which is above all advice, exposure, or correction. Only let a man or woman have DULNESS sufficient, and they need bow to no extant authority. A dullard recognises no betters; a dullard can’t see that he is in the wrong; a dullard has no scruples of conscience, no doubts of pleasing, or succeeding, or doing right; no qualms for other people’s feelings, no respect but for the fool himself. How can you make a fool perceive he is a fool? Such a personage can no more see his own folly than he can see his own ears. And the great quality of Dulness is to be unalterably contented with itself. What myriads of souls are there of this admirable sort — selfish, stingy, ignorant, passionate, brutal; bad sons, mothers, fathers, never known to do kind actions!

To pause, however, in this disquisition, which was carrying us far off Kingstown, New Molloyville, Ireland — nay, into the wide world wherever Dulness inhabits — let it be stated that Mrs. Haggarty, from my brief acquaintance with her and her mother, was of the order of persons just mentioned. There was an air of conscious merit about her, very hard to swallow along with the infamous dinner poor Dennis managed, after much delay, to get on the table. She did not fail to invite me to Molloyville, where she said her cousin would be charmed to see me; and she told me almost as many anecdotes about that place as her mother used to impart in former days. I observed, moreover, that Dennis cut her the favourite pieces of the beefsteak, that she ate thereof with great gusto, and that she drank with similar eagerness of the various strong liquors at table. “We Irish ladies are all fond of a leetle glass of punch,” she said, with a playful air, and Dennis mixed her a powerful tumbler of such violent grog as I myself could swallow only with some difficulty. She talked of her suffering a great deal, of her sacrifices, of the luxuries to which she had been accustomed before marriage — in a word, of a hundred of those themes on which some ladies are in the custom of enlarging when they wish to plague some husbands.

But honest Dennis, far from being angry at this perpetual, wearisome, impudent recurrence to her own superiority, rather encouraged the conversation than otherwise. It pleased him to hear his wife discourse about her merits and family splendours. He was so thoroughly beaten down and henpecked, that he, as it were, gloried in his servitude, and fancied that his wife’s magnificence reflected credit on himself. He looked towards me, who was half sick of the woman and her egotism, as if expecting me to exhibit the deepest sympathy, and flung me glances across the table as much as to say, “What a gifted creature my Jemima is, and what a fine fellow I am to be in possession of her!” When the children came down she scolded them, of course, and dismissed them abruptly (for which circumstance, perhaps, the writer of these pages was not in his heart very sorry), and, after having sat a preposterously long time, left us, asking whether we would have coffee there or in her boudoir.

“Oh! here, of course,” said Dennis, with rather a troubled air, and in about ten minutes the lovely creature was led back to us again by “Edwards,” and the coffee made its appearance. After coffee her husband begged her to let Mr. Fitz-Boodle hear her voice: “He longs for some of his old favourites.”

“No! DO you?” said she; and was led in triumph to the jingling old piano, and with a screechy wiry voice, sang those very abominable old ditties which I had heard her sing at Leamington ten years back.

Haggarty, as she sang, flung himself back in the chair delighted. Husbands always are, and with the same song, one that they have heard when they were nineteen years old probably; most Englishmen’s tunes have that date, and it is rather affecting, I think, to hear an old gentleman of sixty or seventy quavering the old ditty that was fresh when HE was fresh and in his prime. If he has a musical wife, depend on it he thinks her old songs of 1788 are better than any he has heard since: in fact he has heard NONE since. When the old couple are in high good-humour the old gentleman will take the old lady round the waist, and say, “My dear, do sing me one of your own songs,” and she sits down and sings with her old voice, and, as she sings, the roses of her youth bloom again for a moment. Ranelagh resuscitates, and she is dancing a minuet in powder and a train.

This is another digression. It was occasioned by looking at poor Dennis’s face while his wife was screeching (and, believe me, the former was the more pleasant occupation). Bottom tickled by the fairies could not have been in greater ecstasies. He thought the music was divine; and had further reason for exulting in it, which was, that his wife was always in a good humour after singing, and never would sing but in that happy frame of mind. Dennis had hinted so much in our little colloquy during the ten minutes of his lady’s absence in the “boudoir;” so, at the conclusion of each piece, we shouted “Bravo!” and clapped our hands like mad.

Such was my insight into the life of Surgeon Dionysius Haggarty and his wife; and I must have come upon him at a favourable moment too, for poor Dennis has spoken, subsequently, of our delightful evening at Kingstown, and evidently thinks to this day that his friend was fascinated by the entertainment there. His inward economy was as follows: he had his half-pay, a thousand pounds, about a hundred a year that his father left, and his wife had sixty pounds a year from the mother; which the mother, of course, never paid. He had no practice, for he was absorbed in attention to his Jemima and the children, whom he used to wash, to dress, to carry out, to walk, or to ride, as we have seen, and who could not have a servant, as their dear blind mother could never be left alone. Mrs. Haggarty, a great invalid, used to lie in bed till one, and have breakfast and hot luncheon there. A fifth part of his income was spent in having her wheeled about in a chair, by which it was his duty to walk daily for an allotted number of hours. Dinner would ensue, and the amateur clergy, who abound in Ireland, and of whom Mrs. Haggarty was a great admirer, lauded her everywhere as a model of resignation and virtue, and praised beyond measure the admirable piety with which she bore her sufferings.

Well, every man to his taste. It did not certainly appear to me that SHE was the martyr of the family.

“The circumstances of my marriage with Jemima,” Dennis said to me, in some after conversations we had on this interesting subject, “were the most romantic and touching you can conceive. You saw what an impression the dear girl had made upon me when we were at Weedon; for from the first day I set eyes on her, and heard her sing her delightful song of ‘Dark-eyed Maiden of Araby,’ I felt, and said to Turniquet of ours, that very night, that SHE was the dark-eyed maid of Araby for ME— not that she was, you know, for she was born in Shropshire. But I felt that I had seen the woman who was to make me happy or miserable for life. You know how I proposed for her at Kenilworth, and how I was rejected, and how I almost shot myself in consequence — no, you don’t know that, for I said nothing about it to anyone, but I can tell you it was a very near thing; and a very lucky thing for me I didn’t do it: for — would you believe it? — the dear girl was in love with me all the time.”

“Was she really?” said I, who recollected that Miss Gam’s love of those days showed itself in a very singular manner; but the fact is, when women are most in love they most disguise it.

“Over head and ears in love with poor Dennis,” resumed that worthy fellow, “who’d ever have thought it? But I have it from the best authority, from her own mother, with whom I’m not over and above good friends now; but of this fact she assured me, and I’ll tell you when and how.

“We were quartered at Cork three years after we were at Weedon, and it was our last year at home; and a great mercy that my dear girl spoke in time, or where should we have been now? Well, one day, marching home from parade, I saw a lady seated at an open window, by another who seemed an invalid, and the lady at the window, who was dressed in the profoundest mourning, cried out, with a scream, ‘Gracious, heavens! it’s Mr. Haggarty of the 120th.’

“‘Sure I know that voice,’ says I to Whiskerton.

“‘It’s a great mercy you don’t know it a deal too well,’ says he: ‘it’s Lady Gammon. She’s on some husband-hunting scheme, depend on it, for that daughter of hers. She was at Bath last year on the same errand, and at Cheltenham the year before, where, Heaven bless you! she’s as well known as the “Hen and Chickens.”’

“‘I’ll thank you not to speak disrespectfully of Miss Jemima Gam,’ said I to Whiskerton; ‘she’s of one of the first families in Ireland, and whoever says a word against a woman I once proposed for, insults me — do you understand?’

“‘Well, marry her, if you like,’ says Whiskerton, quite peevish: ‘marry her, and be hanged!’

“Marry her! the very idea of it set my brain a-whirling, and made me a thousand times more mad than I am by nature.

“You may be sure I walked up the hill to the parade-ground that afternoon, and with a beating heart too. I came to the widow’s house. It was called ‘New Molloyville,’ as this is. Wherever she takes a house for six months she calls it ‘New Molloyville;’ and has had one in Mallow, in Bandon, in Sligo, in Castlebar, in Fermoy, in Drogheda, and the deuce knows where besides: but the blinds were down, and though I thought I saw somebody behind ’em, no notice was taken of poor Denny Haggarty, and I paced up and down all mess-time in hopes of catching a glimpse of Jemima, but in vain. The next day I was on the ground again; I was just as much in love as ever, that’s the fact. I’d never been in that way before, look you; and when once caught, I knew it was for life.

“There’s no use in telling you how long I beat about the bush, but when I DID get admittance to the house (it was through the means of young Castlereagh Molloy, whom you may remember at Leamington, and who was at Cork for the regatta, and used to dine at our mess, and had taken a mighty fancy to me)— when I DID get into the house, I say, I rushed in medias res at once; I couldn’t keep myself quiet, my heart was too full.

“Oh, Fitz! I shall never forget the day — the moment I was inthrojuiced into the dthrawing-room “ (as he began to be agitated, Dennis’s brogue broke out with greater richness than ever; but though a stranger may catch, and repeat from memory, a few words, it is next to impossible for him to KEEP UP A CONVERSATION in Irish, so that we had best give up all attempts to imitate Dennis). “When I saw old mother Gam,” said he, “my feelings overcame me all at once. I rowled down on the ground, sir, as if I’d been hit by a musket-ball. ‘Dearest madam,’ says I, ‘I’ll die if you don’t give me Jemima.’

“‘Heavens, Mr. Haggarty!’ says she, ‘how you seize me with surprise! Castlereagh, my dear nephew, had you not better leave us?’ and away he went, lighting a cigar, and leaving me still on the floor.

“‘Rise, Mr. Haggarty,’ continued the widow. ‘I will not attempt to deny that this constancy towards my daughter is extremely affecting, however sudden your present appeal may be. I will not attempt to deny that, perhaps, Jemima may have a similar feeling; but, as I said, I never could give my daughter to a Catholic.’

“‘I’m as good a Protestant as yourself, ma’am,’ says I; ‘my mother was an heiress, and we were all brought up her way.’

“‘That makes the matter very different,’ says she, turning up the whites of her eyes. ‘How could I ever have reconciled it to my conscience to see my blessed child married to a Papist? How could I ever have taken him to Molloyville? Well, this obstacle being removed, I must put myself no longer in the way between two young people. I must sacrifice myself; as I always have when my darling girl was in question. YOU shall see her, the poor dear lovely gentle sufferer, and learn your fate from her own lips.’

“‘The sufferer, ma’am,’ says I; ‘has Miss Gam been ill?’

“‘What! haven’t you heard?’ cried the widow. ‘Haven’t you heard of the dreadful illness which so nearly carried her from me? For nine weeks, Mr. Haggarty, I watched her day and night, without taking a wink of sleep — for nine weeks she lay trembling between death and life; and I paid the doctor eighty-three guineas. She is restored now; but she is the wreck of the beautiful creature she was. Suffering, and, perhaps, ANOTHER DISAPPOINTMENT— but we won’t mention that NOW— have so pulled her down. But I will leave you, and prepare my sweet girl for this strange, this entirely unexpected visit.’

“I won’t tell you what took place between me and Jemima, to whom I was introduced as she sat in the darkened room, poor sufferer! nor describe to you with what a thrill of joy I seized (after groping about for it) her poor emaciated hand. She did not withdraw it; I came out of that room an engaged man, sir; and NOW I was enabled to show her that I had always loved her sincerely, for there was my will, made three years back, in her favour: that night she refused me, as I told ye. I would have shot myself, but they’d have brought me in non compos; and my brother Mick would have contested the will, and so I determined to live, in order that she might benefit by my dying. I had but a thousand pounds then: since that my father has left me two more. I willed every shilling to her, as you may fancy, and settled it upon her when we married, as we did soon after. It was not for some time that I was allowed to see the poor girl’s face, or, indeed, was aware of the horrid loss she had sustained. Fancy my agony, my dear fellow, when I saw that beautiful wreck!”

There was something not a little affecting to think, in the conduct of this brave fellow, that he never once, as he told his story, seemed to allude to the possibility of his declining to marry a woman who was not the same as the woman he loved; but that he was quite as faithful to her now, as he had been when captivated by the poor tawdry charms of the silly Miss of Leamington. It was hard that such a noble heart as this should be flung away upon yonder foul mass of greedy vanity. Was it hard, or not, that he should remain deceived in his obstinate humility, and continue to admire the selfish silly being whom he had chosen to worship?

“I should have been appointed surgeon of the regiment,” continued Dennis, “soon after, when it was ordered abroad to Jamaica, where it now is. But my wife would not hear of going, and said she would break her heart if she left her mother. So I retired on half-pay, and took this cottage; and in case any practice should fall in my way — why, there is my name on the brass plate, and I’m ready for anything that comes. But the only case that ever DID come was one day when I was driving my wife in the chaise; and another, one night, of a beggar with a broken head. My wife makes me a present of a baby every year, and we’ve no debts; and between you and me and the post, as long as my mother-inlaw is out of the house, I’m as happy as I need be.”

“What! you and the old lady don’t get on well?” said I.

“I can’t say we do; it’s not in nature, you know,” said Dennis, with a faint grin. “She comes into the house, and turns it topsy-turvy. When she’s here I’m obliged to sleep in the scullery. She’s never paid her daughter’s income since the first year, though she brags about her sacrifices as if she had ruined herself for Jemima; and besides, when she’s here, there’s a whole clan of the Molloys, horse, foot, and dragoons, that are quartered upon us, and eat me out of house and home.”

“And is Molloyville such a fine place as the widow described it?” asked I, laughing, and not a little curious.

“Oh, a mighty fine place entirely!” said Dennis. “There’s the oak park of two hundred acres, the finest land ye ever saw, only they’ve cut all the wood down. The garden in the old Molloys’ time, they say, was the finest ever seen in the West of Ireland; but they’ve taken all the glass to mend the house windows: and small blame to them either. There’s a clear rent-roll of thirty-five hundred a year, only it’s in the hand of receivers; besides other debts, for which there is no land security.”

“Your cousin-inlaw, Castlereagh Molloy, won’t come into a large fortune?”

“Oh, he’ll do very well,” said Dennis. “As long as he can get credit, he’s not the fellow to stint himself. Faith, I was fool enough to put my name to a bit of paper for him, and as they could not catch him in Mayo, they laid hold of me at Kingstown here. And there was a pretty to do. Didn’t Mrs. Gam say I was ruining her family, that’s all? I paid it by instalments (for all my money is settled on Jemima); and Castlereagh, who’s an honourable fellow, offered me any satisfaction in life. Anyhow, he couldn’t do more than THAT.”

“Of course not: and now you’re friends?”

“Yes, and he and his aunt have had a tiff, too; and he abuses her properly, I warrant ye. He says that she carried about Jemima from place to place, and flung her at the head of every unmarried man in England a’most — my poor Jemima, and she all the while dying in love with me! As soon as she got over the small-pox — she took it at Fermoy — God bless her, I wish I’d been by to be her nurse-tender — as soon as she was rid of it, the old lady said to Castlereagh, ‘Castlereagh, go to the bar’cks, and find out in the Army List where the 120th is.’ Off she came to Cork hot foot. It appears that while she was ill, Jemima’s love for me showed itself in such a violent way that her mother was overcome, and promised that, should the dear child recover, she would try and bring us together. Castlereagh says she would have gone after us to Jamaica.”

“I have no doubt she would,” said I.

“Could you have a stronger proof of love than that?” cried Dennis. “My dear girl’s illness and frightful blindness have, of course, injured her health and her temper. She cannot in her position look to the children, you know, and so they come under my charge for the most part; and her temper is unequal, certainly. But you see what a sensitive, refined, elegant creature she is, and may fancy that she’s often put out by a rough fellow like me.”

Here Dennis left me, saying it was time to go and walk out the children; and I think his story has matter of some wholesome reflection in it for bachelors who are about to change their condition, or may console some who are mourning their celibacy. Marry, gentlemen, if you like; leave your comfortable dinner at the club for cold-mutton and curl-papers at your home; give up your books or pleasures, and take to yourselves wives and children; but think well on what you do first, as I have no doubt you will after this advice and example. Advice is always useful in matters of love; men always take it; they always follow other people’s opinions, not their own: they always profit by example. When they see a pretty woman, and feel the delicious madness of love coming over them, they always stop to calculate her temper, her money, their own money, or suitableness for the married life. . . . Ha, ha, ha! Let us fool in this way no more. I have been in love forty-three times with all ranks and conditions of women, and would have married every time if they would have let me. How many wives had King Solomon, the wisest of men? And is not that story a warning to us that Love is master of the wisest? It is only fools who defy him.

I must come, however, to the last, and perhaps the saddest, part of poor Denny Haggarty’s history. I met him once more, and in such a condition as made me determine to write this history.

In the month of June last I happened to be at Richmond, a delightful little place of retreat; and there, sunning himself upon the terrace, was my old friend of the 120th: he looked older, thinner, poorer, and more wretched than I had ever seen him. “What! you have given up Kingstown?” said I, shaking him by the hand.

“Yes,” says he.

“And is my lady and your family here at Richmond?”

“No,” says he, with a sad shake of the head; and the poor fellow’s hollow eyes filled with tears.

“Good heavens, Denny! what’s the matter?” said I. He was squeezing my hand like a vice as I spoke.

“They’ve LEFT me!” he burst out with a dreadful shout of passionate grief — a horrible scream which seemed to be wrenched out of his heart. “Left me!” said he, sinking down on a seat, and clenching his great fists, and shaking his lean arms wildly. “I’m a wise man now, Mr. Fitz-Boodle. Jemima has gone away from me, and yet you know how I loved her, and how happy we were! I’ve got nobody now; but I’ll die soon, that’s one comfort: and to think it’s she that’ll kill me after all!”

The story, which he told with a wild and furious lamentation such as is not known among men of our cooler country, and such as I don’t like now to recall, was a very simple one. The mother-inlaw had taken possession of the house, and had driven him from it. His property at his marriage was settled on his wife. She had never loved him, and told him this secret at last, and drove him out of doors with her selfish scorn and ill-temper. The boy had died; the girls were better, he said, brought up among the Molloys than they could be with him; and so he was quite alone in the world, and was living, or rather dying, on forty pounds a year.

His troubles are very likely over by this time. The two fools who caused his misery will never read this history of him; THEY never read godless stories in magazines: and I wish, honest reader, that you and I went to church as much as they do. These people are not wicked BECAUSE of their religious observances, but IN SPITE of them. They are too dull to understand humility, too blind to see a tender and simple heart under a rough ungainly bosom. They are sure that all their conduct towards my poor friend here has been perfectly righteous, and that they have given proofs of the most Christian virtue. Haggarty’s wife is considered by her friends as a martyr to a savage husband, and her mother is the angel that has come to rescue her. All they did was to cheat him and desert him. And safe in that wonderful self-complacency with which the fools of this earth are endowed, they have not a single pang of conscience for their villany towards him, consider their heartlessness as a proof and consequence of their spotless piety and virtue.

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