Castle Richmond, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XV

Diplomacy

About a week after the last conversation that has been related as having taken place at the Kanturk Hotel, Mr. Mollett junior was on his way to Castle Richmond. He had on that occasion stated his intention of making such a journey with the view of “freshening the old gentleman up a bit;” and although his father did all in his power to prevent the journey, going so far on one occasion as to swear that if it was made he would throw over the game altogether, nevertheless Aby persevered.

“You may leave the boards whenever you like, governor,” said Aby. “I know quite enough of the part to carry on the play.”

“You think you do,” said the father in his anger; “but you’ll find yourself in the dark yet before you’ve done.”

And then again he expostulated in a different tone. “You’ll ruin it all, Aby; you will indeed; you don’t know all the circumstances; indeed you don’t.”

“Don’t I?” said Aby. “Then I’ll not be long learning them.”

The father did what he could; but he had no means of keeping his son at home, and so Aby went. Aby doubtless entertained an idea that his father was deficient in pluck for the management of so difficult a matter, and that he could supply what his father wanted. So he dressed himself in his best, and having hired a gig and a man who he flattered himself would look like a private servant, he started from Cork, and drove himself to Castle Richmond.

He had on different occasions been down in the neighbourhood, prowling about like a thief in the night, picking up information, as he called it, and seeing how the land lay; but he had never yet presented himself to any one within the precincts of the Castle Richmond demesne. His present intention was to drive up to the front door, and ask at once for Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, sending in his card if need be, on which were printed the words:—

MR. ABRAHAM MOLLETT, Junior.

With the additional words, “Piccadilly, London,” written in the left-hand lower corner.

“I’ll take the bull by the horns,” said he to himself. “It’s better to make the spoon at once, even if we do run some small chance of spoiling the horn.” And that he might be well enabled to carry out his purpose with reference to this bull, he lifted his flask to his mouth as soon as he had passed through the great demesne gate, and took a long pull at it. “There’s nothing like a little jumping powder,” he said, speaking to himself again, and then he drove boldly up the avenue.

He had not yet come in sight of the house when he met two gentlemen walking on the road. They, as he approached, stood a little on one side, not only so as to allow him to pass, but to watch him as he did so. They were Mr. Somers and Herbert Fitzgerald.

“It is the younger of those two men. I’m nearly certain of it,” said Somers as the gig approached. “I saw him as he walked by me in Kanturk Street, and I don’t think I can mistake the horrid impudence of his face. I beg your pardon, sir,”— and now he addressed Mollett in the gig —“but are you going up to the house?”

“Yes, sir; that’s my notion just at present. Any commands that way?”

“This is Mr. Fitzgerald — Mr. Herbert Fitzgerald; and I am Mr. Somers, the agent. Can we do anything for you?”

Aby Mollett raised his hat, and the two gentlemen touched theirs. “Thank’ee, sir,” said Aby; “but I believe my business must be with the worthy baro-nett himself; more particularly as I ‘appen to know that he’s at home.”

“My father is not very well,” said Herbert, “and I do not think that he will be able to see you.”

“I’ll take the liberty of hasking and of sending in my card,” said Aby; and he gave his horse a flick as intending thus to cut short the conversation. But Mr. Somers had put his hand upon the bridle, and the beast was contented to stand still.

“If you’ll have the kindness to wait a moment,” said Mr. Somers; and he put on a look of severity, which he well knew how to assume, and which somewhat cowed poor Aby. “You have been down here before, I think,” continued Mr. Somers.

“What, at Castle Richmond? No, I haven’t. And if I had, what’s that to you if Sir Thomas chooses to see me? I hain’t hintruding, I suppose.”

“You’ve been down at Kanturk before — once or twice; for I have seen you.”

“And supposing I’ve been there ten or twelve times — what is there in that?” said Aby.

Mr. Somers still held the horse’s head, and stood a moment considering.

“I’ll thank you to let go my ‘oss,” said Aby, raising his whip and shaking the reins.

“What do you say your name is?” asked Mr. Somers.

“I didn’t say my name was anything yet. I hain’t ashamed of it, however, nor hasn’t hany cause to be. That’s my name, and if you’ll send my card in to Sir Thomas, with my compliments, and say that hi’ve three words to say to him very particular; why, hi’ll be obliged to you.” And then Mr. Mollett handed Mr. Somers his card.

“Mollett!” said Mr. Somers very unceremoniously. “Mollett, Mollett. Do you know the name, Herbert?”

Herbert said that he did not.

“It’s about business, I suppose?” asked Mr. Somers.

“Yes,” said Aby; “private business; very particular.”

“The same that brought your father here;” and Mr. Somers again looked into his face with a close scrutiny.

Aby was abashed, and for a moment or two he did not answer. “Well, then; it is the same business,” he said at last. “And I’ll thank you to let me go on. I’m not used to be stopped in this way.”

“You can follow us up to the house,” said Mr. Somers to him. “Come here, Herbert.” And then they walked along the road in such a way that Aby was forced to allow his horse to walk after them.

“These are the men who are doing it,” said Mr. Somers in a whisper to his companion. “Whatever is in the wind, whatever may be the cause of your father’s trouble, they are concerned in it. They are probably getting money from him in some way.”

“Do you think so?”

“I do. We must not force ourselves upon your father’s confidence, but we must endeavour to save him from this misery. Do you go in to him with this card. Do not show it to him too suddenly; and then find out whether he really wishes to see the man. I will stay about the place; for it may be possible that a magistrate will be wanted, and in such a matter you had better not act.”

They were now at the hall door, and Somers, turning to Mollett, told him that Mr. Herbert Fitzgerald would carry the card to his father. And then he added, seeing that Mollett was going to come down, “You had better stay in the gig till Mr. Fitzgerald comes back; just sit where you are; you’ll get an answer all in good time.”

Sir Thomas was crouching over the fire in his study when his son entered, with his eyes fixed upon a letter which he held in his hand, and which, when he saw Herbert, he closed up and put away.

“Father,” said Herbert, in a cheerful everyday voice, as though he had nothing special to communicate, “there is a man in a gig out there. He says he wants to see you.”

“A man in a gig!” and Herbert could see that his father had already begun to tremble. But every sound made him tremble now.

“Yes; a man in a gig. What is it he says his name is? I have his card here. A young man.”

“Oh, a young man?” said Sir Thomas.

“Yes, here it is. Abraham Mollett. I can’t say that your friend seems to be very respectable, in spite of his gig,” and Herbert handed the card to his father.

The son purposely looked away as he mentioned the name, as his great anxiety was not to occasion distress. But he felt that the sound of the word had been terrible in his father’s ears. Sir Thomas had risen from his chair; but he now sat down again, or rather fell into it. But nevertheless he took the card, and said that he would see the man.

“A young man, do you say, Herbert?”

“Yes, father, a young man. And, father, if you are not well, tell me what the business is and let me see him.”

But Sir Thomas persisted, shaking his head, and saying that he would see the man himself.

“Somers is out there. Will you let him do it?”

“No. I wonder, Herbert, that you can tease me so. Let the man be sent in here. But, oh, Herbert — Herbert —!”

The young man rushed round and kneeled at his father’s knee. “What is it, father? Why will you not tell me? I know you have some grief, and cannot you trust me? Do you not know that you can trust me?”

“My poor boy, my poor boy!”

“What is it, father? If this man here is concerned in it, let me see him.”

“No, no, no.”

“Or at any rate let me be with you when he is here. Let me share your trouble if I can do nothing to cure it.”

“Herbert, my darling, leave me and send him in. If it be necessary that you should bear this calamity, it will come upon you soon enough.”

“But I am afraid of this man — for your sake, father.”

“He will do me no harm; let him come to me. But, Herbert, say nothing to Somers about this. Somers has not seen the man; has he?”

“Yes; we both spoke to him together as he drove up the avenue.”

“And what did he say? Did he say anything?

“Nothing but that he wanted to see you, and then he gave his card to Mr. Somers. Mr. Somers wished to save you from the annoyance.”

“Why should it annoy me to see any man? Let Mr. Somers mind his own business. Surely I can have business of my own without his interference.” With this Herbert left his father, and returned to the hall door to usher in Mr. Mollett junior.

“Well?” said Mr. Somers, who was standing by the hall fire, and who joined Herbert at the front door.

“My father will see the man.”

“And have you learned who he is?”

“I have learned nothing but this — that Sir Thomas does not wish that we should inquire. Now, Mr. Mollett, Sir Thomas will see you; so you can come down. Make haste now, and remember that you are not to stay long, for my father is ill.” And then leading Aby through the hall and along a passage, he introduced him into Sir Thomas’s room.

“And, Herbert —” said the father; whereupon Herbert again turned round. His father was endeavouring to stand, but supporting himself by the back of his chair. “Do not disturb me for half an hour; but come to me then, and knock at the door. This gentleman will have done by that time.”

“If we do not put a stop to this, your father will be in a mad-house or on his death-bed before long.” So spoke Mr, Somers in a low, solemn whisper when Herbert again joined him at the hall door.

“Sit down, sir; sit down,” said Sir Thomas, endeavouring to be civil and to seem at his ease at the same time. Aby was himself so much bewildered for the moment, that he hardly perceived the embarrassment under which the baronet was labouring.

Aby sat down, in the way usual to such men in such places, on the corner of his chair, and put his hat on the ground between his feet. Then he took out his handkerchief and blew his nose, and after that he expressed an opinion that he was in the presence of Sir Thomas Fitzgerald.

“And you are Mr. Abraham Mollett,” said Sir Thomas.

“Yes, Sir Thomas, that’s my name. I believe, Sir Thomas, that you have the pleasure of some slight acquaintance with my father, Mr. Matthew Mollett?”

What a pleasure under such circumstances! Sir Thomas, however, nodded his head, and Aby went on.

“Well, now, Sir Thomas, business is business; and my father, ‘e ain’t a good man of business. A gen’leman like you, Sir Thomas, has seen that with ‘alf an eye, I know.” And then he waited a moment for an answer; but as he got none he proceeded.

“My governor’s one of the best of fellows going, but ‘e ain’t sharp and decisive. Sharp’s the word now a days, Sir Thomas; ain’t it?” and he spoke this in a manner so suited to the doctrine which he intended to inculcate, that the poor old gentleman almost jumped up in his chair.

And Aby, seeing this, seated himself more comfortably in his own. The awe which the gilt bindings of the books and the thorough comfort of the room had at first inspired was already beginning to fade away. He had come there to bully, and though his courage had failed him for a moment under the stern eye of Mr. Somers, it quickly returned to him now that he was able to see how weak was his actual victim.

“Sharp’s the word, Sir Thomas; and my governor, ‘e ain’t sharp — not sharp as he ought to be in such a matter as this. This is what I calls a real bit of cheese. Now it’s no good going on piddling and peddling in such a case as this; is it now, Sir Thomas?”

Sir Thomas muttered something, but it was no more than a groan.

“Not the least use,” continued Aby. “Now the question, as I takes it, is this. There’s your son there as fetched me in ’ere; a fine young gen’leman ‘e is, as ever I saw; I will say that. Well, now; who’s to have this ’ere property when you walk the plank — as walk it you must some day, in course? Is it to be this son of yours, or is it to be this other Fitzgerald of ‘Appy ‘Ouse? Now, if you ask me, I’m all for your son, though maybe he mayn’t be all right as regards the dam.”

There was certainly some truth in what Aby had said with reference to his father. Mr. Mollett senior had never debated the matter in terms so sharp and decisive as these were. Think who they were of whom this brute was talking to that wretched gentleman; the wife of his bosom, than whom no wife was ever more dearly prized; the son of his love, the centre of all his hopes, the heir of his wealth — if that might still be so. And yet he listened to such words as these, and did not call in his servants to turn the speaker of them out of his doors.

“I’ve no wish for that ‘Appy ‘Ouse man, Sir Thomas; not the least. And as for your good lady, she’s nothing to me one way or the other whatever she may be to my governor —” and here there fell a spasm upon the poor man’s heart, which nearly brought him from the chair to the ground; but nevertheless, he still contained himself —“my governor’s former lady, my own mother,” continued Aby, “whom I never see’d, she’d gone to kingdom come, you know, before that time, Sir Thomas. There hain’t no doubt about that. So you see —” and hereupon he dropped his voice from the tone which he had hitherto been using to an absolute whisper, and drawing his chair close to that of the baronet, and putting his hands upon his knees, brought his mouth close to his companion’s ear —“So you see,” he said, “when that youngster was born, Lady F. was Mrs. M. — wasn’t she? and for the matter of that, Lady F. is Mrs. M. to this very hour. That’s the real chat; ain’t it, Sir Thomas? My stepmother, you know. The governor could take her away with him tomorrow if he chose, according to the law of the land — couldn’t he now?”

There was no piddling or peddling about this at any rate. Old Mollett in discussing the matter with his victim had done so by hints and inuendos, through long windings, by signs and the dropping of a few dark words. He had never once mentioned in full terms the name of Lady Fitzgerald; had never absolutely stated that he did possess or ever had possessed a wife. It had been sufficient for him to imbue Sir Thomas with the knowledge that his son Herbert was in great danger as to his heritage. Doubtless the two had understood each other; but the absolute naked horror of the surmised facts had been kept delicately out of sight. But such delicacy was not to Aby’s taste. Sharp, short, and decisive; that was his motto. No “longae ambages” for him. The whip was in his hand, as he thought, and he could best master the team by using it.

And yet Sir Thomas lived and bore it. As he sat there half stupefied, numbed as it were by the intensity of his grief, he wondered at his own power of endurance. “She is Mrs. M., you know; ain’t she now?” He could sit there and hear that, and yet live through it. So much he could do, and did do; but as for speaking, that was beyond him.

Young Mollett thought that this “freshening up of the old gentleman” seemed to answer; so he continued. “Yes, Sir Thomas, your son’s my favourite, I tell you fairly. But then, you know, if I backs the favourite, in course I likes to win upon him. How is it to be, now?” and then he paused for an answer, which, however, was not forthcoming.

“You see you haven’t been dealing quite on the square with the governor. You two is, has it were, in a boat together. We’ll call that boat the Lady F., or the Mrs. M., which ever you like; “— and then Aby laughed, for the conceit pleased him —“but the hearnings of that boat should be divided hequally. Ain’t that about the ticket? heh, Sir Thomas? Come, don’t be down on your luck. A little quiet talkee-talkee between you and me’ll soon put this small matter on a right footing.”

“What is it you want? tell me at once,” at last groaned the poor man.

“Well now, that’s something like; and I’ll tell you what we want. There are only two of us you know, the governor and I; and very lonely we are, for it’s a sad thing for a man to have the wife of his bosom taken from him.”

Then there was a groan which struck even Aby’s ear; but Sir Thomas was still alive and listening, and so he went on.

“This property here, Sir Thomas, is a good twelve thousand a year. I know hall about it as though I’d been ‘andling it myself for the last ten years. And a great deal of cutting there is in twelve thousand a year. You’ve ‘ad your whack out of it, and now we wants to have hourn. That’s Henglish, hain’t it?”

“Did your father send you here, Mr. Mollett?”

“Never you mind who sent me, Sir Thomas. Perhaps he did, and perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps I came without hany sending. Perhaps I’m more hup to this sort of work than he is. At any rate, I’ve got the part pretty well by ’eart — you see that, don’t you? Well hour hultimatum about the business is this. Forty thousand pounds paid down on the nail, half to the governor, and half to your ‘umble servant, before the end of this year; a couple of thousand more in hand for the year’s hexpenses — and — and — a couple of hundred or so now at once before I leave you; for to tell the truth we’re run huncommonly dry just at the present moment.” And then Aby drew his breath and paused for an answer.

Poor Sir Thomas was now almost broken down. His head swam round and round, and he felt that he was in a whirlpool from which there was no escape. He had heard the sum named, and knew that he had no power of raising it. His interest in the estate was but for his life, and that life was now all but run out. He had already begun to feel that his son must be sacrificed, but he had struggled and endured in order that he might save his wife. But what could he do now? What further struggle could he make? His present most eager desire was that that horrid man should be removed from his hearing and his eyesight.

But Aby had not yet done: he had hitherto omitted to mention one not inconsiderable portion of the amicable arrangement which, according to him, would have the effect of once more placing the two families comfortably on their feet. “There’s one other pint, Sir Thomas,” he continued, “and hif I can bring you and your good lady to my way of thinking on that, why, we may all be comfortable for all that is come and gone. You’ve a daughter Hemmeline.”

“What!” said Sir Thomas, turning upon him; for there was still so much of life left in him that he could turn upon his foe when he heard his daughter’s name thus polluted.

“Has lovely a gal to my way of thinking as my heyes ever rested on; and I’m not haccounted a bad judge of such cattle, I can tell you, Sir Thomas.”

“That will do, that will do,” said Sir Thomas, attempting to rise, but still holding on by the back of his chair. “You can go now, sir; I cannot hear more from you.”

“Go!”

“Yes, sir; go.”

“I know a trick worth two of that, Sir Thomas. If you like to give me your daughter Hemmeline for my wife, whatever her fortin’s to be, I’ll take it as part of my half of the forty thousand pounds. There now.” And then Aby again waited for a reply.

But now there came a knock at the door, and following quick upon the knock Herbert entered the room. “Well, father,” said the son.

“Herbert!”

“Yes, father;” and he went round and supported his father on his arm.

“Herbert, will you tell that man to go?”

“Come, sir, you have disturbed my father enough; will you have the kindness to leave him now?”

“I may chance to disturb him more, and you too, sir, if you treat me in that way. Let go my arm, sir. Am I to have any answer from you, Sir Thomas?”

But Sir Thomas could make no further attempt at speaking. He was now once more seated in his chair, holding his son’s hand, and when he again heard Mollett’s voice he merely made a sign for him to go.

“You see the state my father is in, Mr. Mollett,” said Herbert; “I do not know what is the nature of your business, but whatever it may be, you must leave him now.” And he made a slight attempt to push the visitor towards the door.

“You’d better take care what you’re doing, Mr. Fitzgerald,” said Mollett. “By —-you had! If you anger me, I might say a word that I couldn’t unsay again, which would put you into queer street, I can tell you.”

“Don’t quarrel with him, my boy; pray don’t quarrel with him, but let him leave me,” said Sir Thomas.

“Mr. Mollett, you see my father’s state; you must be aware that it is imperative that he should be left alone.”

“I don’t know nothing about that, young gen’leman; business is business, and I hain’t got hany answer to my proposals. Sir Thomas, do you say ‘Yes’ to them proposals.” But Sir Thomas was still dumb. “To all but the last? Come,” continued Aby, “that was put in quite as much for your good as it was for mine.” But not a word came from the baronet.

“Then I shan’t stir,” said Aby, again seating himself.

“Then I shall have the servants in,” said Herbert, “and a magistrate who is in the hall,” and he put his hand towards the handle of the bell.

“Well, as the old gen’leman’s hill, I’ll go now and come again. But look you here, Sir Thomas, you have got my proposals, and if I don’t get an answer to them in three days’ time — why you’ll hear from me in another way, that’s all. And so will her ladyship.” And with this threat Mr Abraham Mollett allowed himself to be conducted through the passage into the hall, and from thence to his gig.

“See that he drives away, see that he goes,” said Herbert to Mr. Somers, who was still staying about the place.

“Oh, I’ll drive away fast enough,” said Aby, as he stepped into the gig, “and come back fast enough too,” he muttered to himself. In the mean time Herbert had run back to his father’s room.

“Has he gone?” murmured Sir Thomas.

“Yes, he has gone. There; you can hear the wheels of his gig on the gravel.”

“Oh, my boy, my poor boy!”

“What is it, father? Why do you not tell me? Why do you allow such men as that to come and harass you, when a word would keep them from you? Father, good cannot come of it.”

“No, Herbert, no, good will not come of it. There is no good to come at all.”

“Then why will you not tell us?”

“You will know it all soon enough. But, Herbert, do not say a word to your mother. Not a word as you value my love. Let us save her while we can. You promise me that.”

Herbert gave him the required promise.

“Look here,” and he took up the letter which he had before crumpled in his hand. “Mr. Prendergast will be here next week. I shall tell everything to him.”

Soon afterwards Sir Thomas went to his bed, and there by his bedside his wife sat for the rest of the evening. But he said no word to her of his sorrow.

“Mr. Prendergast is coming here,” said Herbert to Mr. Somers.

“I am glad of it, though I do not know him,” said Mr. Somers. “For, my dear boy, it is necessary that there should be some one here.”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43