Castle Richmond, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXXVII

A Tale of a Turbot

It would have been Owen Fitzgerald’s desire to disclaim the inheritance which chance had put in his way in absolute silence, had such a course been possible to him. And, indeed, not being very well conversant with matters of business, he had thought for a while that this might be done — or at any rate something not far different from this. To those who had hitherto spoken to him upon the subject, to Mr. Prendergast, Mr. Somers, and his cousin, he had disclaimed the inheritance, and that he had thought would have sufficed. That Sir Thomas should die so quickly after the discovery had not of course been expected by anybody; and much, therefore, had not been thought at the moment of these disclaimers; — neither at the moment, nor indeed afterwards, when Sir Thomas did die.

Even Mr. Somers was prepared to admit that as the game had been given up — as his branch of the Fitzgeralds, acting under the advice of their friend and lawyer, admitted that the property must go from them — even he, much as he contested within his own breast the propriety of Mr. Prendergast’s decisions, was fain to admit now that it was Owen’s business to walk in upon the property. Any words which he may have spoken on the impulse of the moment were empty words. When a man becomes heir to twelve thousand a year, he does not give it up in a freak of benevolence. And, therefore, when Sir Thomas had been dead some four or five weeks, and when Herbert had gone away from the scene which was no longer one of interest to him, it was necessary that something should be done.

During the last two or three days of his life Sir Thomas had executed a new will, in which he admitted that his son was not the heir to his estates, and so disposed of such moneys as it was in his power to leave as he would have done had Herbert been a younger son. Early in his life he himself had added something to the property, some two or three hundred a year, and this, also, he left of course to his own family. Such having been done, there would have been no opposition made to Owen had he immediately claimed the inheritance; but as he made no claim, and took no step whatever — as he appeared neither by himself, nor by letter, nor by lawyer, nor by agent — as no rumour ever got about as to what he intended to do, Mr. Somers found it necessary to write to him. This he did on the day of Herbert’s departure, merely asking him, perhaps with scant courtesy, who was his man of business, in order that he, Mr. Somers, as agent to the late proprietor, might confer with him. With but scant courtesy — for Mr. Somers had made one visit to Hap House since the news had been known, with some intention of ingratiating himself with the future heir; but his tenders had not been graciously received. Mr. Somers was a proud man, and though his position in life depended on the income he received from the Castle Richmond estate, he would not make any further overture. So his letter was somewhat of the shortest, and merely contained the request above named.

Owen’s reply was sharp, immediate, and equally short, and was carried back by the messenger from Castle Richmond who had brought the letter, to which it was an answer. It was as follows:—

“Hap House, Thursday morning, two o’clock.”

(There was no other date; and Owen probably was unaware that his letter being written at two P.M. was not written on Thursday morning.)

“DEAR SIR,

“I have got no lawyer, and no man of business; nor do I mean to employ any if I can help it. I intend to make no claim to Mr. Herbert Fitzgerald’s property of Castle Richmond; and if it be necessary that I should sign any legal document making over to him any claim that I may have, I am prepared to do so at any moment. As he has got a lawyer, he can get this arranged, and I suppose Mr. Prendergast had better do it.

“I am, dear sir,

“Your faithful servant,

“OWEN FITZGERALD of Hap House.”

And with those four or five lines he thought it would be practicable for him to close the whole affair.

This happened on the day of Herbert’s departure, and on the day preceding Lord Desmond’s visit to Hap House; so that on the occasion of that visit, Owen looked upon the deed as fully done. He had put it quite beyond his own power to recede now, even had he so wished. And then came the tidings to him — true tidings as he thought — that Clara was still within his reach if only he were master of Castle Richmond. That this view of his position did for a moment shake him I will not deny; but it was only for a moment: and then it was that he had looked up at Clara’s brother, and bade him go back to his mother and sister, and tell them that Owen of Hap House was Owen of Hap House still; — that and nothing more. Clara Desmond might be bought at a price which would be too costly even for such a prize as her. It was well for him that he so resolved, for at no price could she have been bought.

Mr. Somers, when he received that letter, was much inclined to doubt whether or no it might not be well to take Owen at his word. After all, what just right had he to the estate? According to the eternal and unalterable laws of right and wrong ought it not to belong to Herbert Fitzgerald? Mr. Somers allowed his wish on this occasion to be father to many thoughts much at variance from that line of thinking which was customary to him as a man of business. In his ordinary moods, law with him was law, and a legal claim a legal claim. Had he been all his life agent to the Hap House property instead of to that of Castle Richmond, a thought so romantic would never have entered his head. He would have scouted a man as nearly a maniac who should suggest to him that his client ought to surrender an undoubted inheritance of twelve thousand a year on a point of feeling. He would have rejected it as a proposed crime, and talked much of the indefeasible rights of the coming heirs of the new heir. He would have been as firm as a rock, and as trenchant as a sword in defence of his patron’s claims. But now, having in his hands that short, pithy letter from Owen Fitzgerald, he could not but look at the matter in a more Christian light. After all, was not justice, immutable justice, better than law? And would not the property be enough for both of them? Might not law and justice make a compromise? Let Owen be the baronet, and take a slice of four or five thousand, and add that to Hap House; and then if these things were well arranged, might not Mr. Somers still be agent to them both?

Meditating all this in his newly tuned romantic frame of mind, Mr. Somers sat down and wrote a long letter to Mr. Prendergast, enclosing the short letter from Owen, and saying all that he, as a man of business with a new dash of romance, could say on such a subject. This letter, not having slept on the road as Herbert did in Dublin, and having been conveyed with that lightning rapidity for which the British Post-office has ever been remarkable — and especially that portion of it which has reference to the sister island — was in Mr. Prendergast’s pocket when Herbert dined with him. That letter, and another to which we shall have to refer more specially. But so much at variance were Mr. Prendergast’s ideas from those entertained by Mr. Somers, that he would not even speak to Herbert on the subject. Perhaps, also, that other more important letter, which, if we live, we shall read at length, might also have had some effect in keeping him silent.

But in truth Mr. Somers’ mind, and that of Mr. Prendergast, did not work in harmony on this subject. Judging of the two men together by their usual deeds and ascertained character, we may say that there was much more romance about Mr. Prendergast than there was about Mr. Somers. But then it was a general romance, and not one with an individual object. Or perhaps we may say, without injury to Mr. Somers, that it was a true feeling, and not a false one. Mr. Prendergast, also, was much more anxious for the welfare of Herbert Fitzgerald than that of his cousin; but then he could feel on behalf of the man for whom he was interested that it did not behove him to take a present of an estate from the hands of the true owner.

For more than a week Mr. Somers waited, but got no reply to his letter, and heard nothing from Mr. Prendergast; and during this time he was really puzzled as to what he should do. As regarded himself, he did not know at what moment his income might end, or how long he and his family might be allowed to inhabit the house which he now held: and then he could take no steps as to the tenants; could neither receive money nor pay it away, and was altogether at his wits’ ends. Lady Fitzgerald looked to him for counsel in everything, and he did not know how to counsel her. Arrangements were to be made for an auction in the house as soon as she should be able to move; but would it not be a thousand pities to sell all the furniture if there was a prospect of the family returning? And so he waited for Mr. Prendergast’s letter with an uneasy heart and vexation of spirit.

But still he attended the relief committees, and worked at the soup-kitchens attached to the estate, as though he were still the agent to Castle Richmond; and still debated warmly with Father Barney on one side, and Mr. Townsend on the other, on that vexatious question of out-door relief. And now the famine was in full swing; and, strange to say, men had ceased to be uncomfortable about it; — such men, that is, as Mr. Somers and Mr. Townsend. The cutting off of maimed limbs, and wrenching out from their sockets of smashed bones, is by no means shocking to the skilled practitioner. And dying paupers, with “the drag” in their face — that certain sign of coming death of which I have spoken — no longer struck men to the heart. Like the skilled surgeon, they worked hard enough at what good they could do, and worked the better in that they could treat the cases without express compassion for the individuals that met their eyes. In administering relief one may rob five unseen sufferers of what would keep them in life if one is moved to bestow all that is comfortable on one sufferer that is seen. Was it wise to spend money in alleviating the last hours of those whose doom was already spoken, which money, if duly used, might save the lives of others not yet so far gone in misery? And so in one sense those who were the best in the county, who worked the hardest for the poor and spent their time most completely among them, became the hardest of heart, and most obdurate in their denials. It was strange to see devoted women neglecting the wants of the dying, so that they might husband their strength and time and means for the wants of those who might still be kept among the living.

At this time there came over to the parish of Drumbarrow a young English clergyman who might be said to be in many respects the very opposite to Mr. Townsend. Two men could hardly be found in the same profession more opposite in their ideas, lives, purposes, and pursuits; — with this similarity, however, that each was a sincere, and on the whole an honest man. The Rev. Mr. Carter was much the junior, being at that time under thirty. He had now visited Ireland with the sole object of working among the poor, and distributing according to his own judgment certain funds which had been collected for this purpose in England.

And indeed there did often exist in England at this time a misapprehension as to Irish wants, which led to some misuses of the funds which England so liberally sent. It came at that time to be the duty of a certain public officer to inquire into a charge made against a seemingly respectable man in the far west of Ireland, purporting that he had appropriated to his own use a sum of twelve pounds sent to him for the relief of the poor of his parish. It had been sent by three English maiden ladies to the relieving officer of the parish of Kilcoutymorrow, and had come to his hands, he then filling that position. He, so the charge said — and unfortunately said so with only too much truth — had put the twelve pounds into his own private pocket. The officer’s duty in the matter took him to the chairman of the Relief Committee, a stanch old Roman Catholic gentleman nearly eighty years of age, with a hoary head and white beard, and a Milesian name that had come down to him through centuries of Catholic ancestors; — a man urbane in his manner, of the old school, an Irishman such as one does meet still here and there through the country, but now not often — one who, above all things, was true to the old religion.

Then the officer of the government told his story to the old Irish gentleman — with many words, for there were all manner of small collateral proofs, to all of which the old Irish gentleman listened with a courtesy and patience which were admirable. And when the officer of the government had done, the old Irish gentleman thus replied:—

“My neighbour Hobbs,”— such was the culprit’s name —“has undoubtedly done this thing. He has certainly spent upon his own uses the generous offering made to our poor parish by those noble-minded ladies, the three Miss Walkers. But he has acted with perfect honesty in the matter.”

“What!” said the government officer, “robbing the poor, and at such a time as this!”

“No robbery at all, dear sir,” said the good old Irish gentleman, with the blandest of all possible smiles; “the excellent Miss Walkers sent their money for the Protestant poor of the parish of Kilcoutymorrow, and Mr. Hobbs is the only Protestant within it.” And from the twinkle in the old man’s eye, it was clear to see that his triumph consisted in this — that not only he had but one Protestant in the parish, but that that Protestant should have learned so little from his religion.

But this is an episode. And nowadays no episodes are allowed.

And now Mr. Carter had come over to see that if possible certain English funds were distributed according to the wishes of the generous English hearts by whom they had been sent. For as some English, such as the three Miss Walkers, feared on the one hand that the Babylonish woman so rampant in Ireland might swallow up their money for Babylonish purposes; so, on the other hand, did others dread that the too stanch Protestantism of the church militant in that country might expand the funds collected for undoubted bodily wants in administering to the supposed wants of the soul. No such faults did, in truth, at that time prevail. The indomitable force of the famine had absolutely knocked down all that; but there had been things done in Ireland, before the famine came upon them, which gave reasonable suspicion for such fears.

Mr. Townsend among others had been very active in soliciting aid from England, and hence had arisen a correspondence between him and Mr. Carter; and now Mr. Carter had arrived at Drumbarrow with a respectable sum to his credit at the provincial bank, and an intense desire to make himself useful in this time of sore need. Mr. Carter was a tall, thin, austere-looking man; one, seemingly, who had macerated himself inwardly and outwardly by hard living. He had a high, narrow forehead, a sparse amount of animal development, thin lips, and a piercing, sharp, gray eye. He was a man, too, of few words, and would have been altogether harsh in his appearance had there not been that in the twinkle of his eye which seemed to say that, in spite of all that his gait said to the contrary, the cockles of his heart might yet be reached by some play of wit — if only the wit were to his taste.

Mr. Carter was a man of personal means, so that he not only was not dependent on his profession, but was able — as he also was willing — to aid that profession by his liberality. In one thing only was he personally expensive. As to his eating and drinking it was, or might have been for any solicitude of his own, little more than bread and water. As for the comforts of home, he had none, for since his ordination his missions had ever been migrating. But he always dressed with care, and consequently with expense, for careful dressing is ever expensive. He always wore new black gloves, and a very long black coat which never degenerated to rust, black cloth trousers, a high black silk waistcoat, and a new black hat. Everything about him was black except his neck, and that was always scrupulously white.

Mr. Carter was a good man — one may say a very good man — for he gave up himself and his money to carry out high views of charity and religion, in which he was sincere with the sincerity of his whole heart, and from which he looked for no reward save such as the godly ever seek. But yet there was about him too much of the Pharisee. He was greatly inclined to condemn other men, and to think none righteous who differed from him. And now he had come to Ireland with a certain conviction that the clergy of his own Church there were men not to be trusted; that they were mere Irish, and little better in their habits and doctrines than under-bred dissenters. He had been elsewhere in the country before he visited Drumbarrow, and had shown this too plainly; but then Mr. Carter was a very young man, and it is not perhaps fair to expect zeal and discretion also from those who are very young.

Mrs. Townsend had heard of him, and was in dismay when she found that he was to stay with them at Drumbarrow parsonage for three days. If Mr. Carter did not like clerical characters of her stamp, neither did she like them of the stamp of Mr. Carter. She had heard of him, of his austerity, of his look, of his habits, and in her heart she believed him to be a Jesuit. Had she possessed full sway herself in the parish of Drumbarrow, no bodies should have been saved at such terrible peril to the souls of the whole parish. But this Mr Carter came with such recommendation — with such assurances of money given and to be given, of service done and to be done — that there was no refusing him. And so the husband, more worldly wise than his wife, had invited the Jesuit to his parsonage.

“You’ll find, Aeneas, he’ll have mass in his room in the morning instead of coming to family prayers,” said the wife.

“But what on earth shall we give him for dinner?” said the husband, whose soul at the present moment was among the flesh-pots, and indeed Mrs. Townsend had also turned over that question in her prudent mind.

“He’ll not eat meat in Lent, you may be sure,” said Mrs. Townsend, remembering that that was the present period of the year.

“And if he would there is none for him to eat,” said Mr. Townsend, calling to mind the way in which the larder had of late been emptied.

Protestant clergymen in Ireland in those days had very frequently other reasons for fasting than those prescribed by ecclesiastical canons. A well-nurtured lady, the wife of a parish rector in the county Cork, showed me her larder one day about that time. It contained two large loaves of bread, and a pan full of stuff which I should have called paste, but which she called porridge. It was all that she had for herself, her husband, her children, and her charity. Her servants had left her before she came to that pass. And she was a well-nurtured, handsome, educated woman, born to such comforts as you and I enjoy every day — oh, my reader! perhaps without much giving of thanks for them. Poor lady! the struggle was too much for her, and she died under it.

Mr. Townsend was, as I have said, the very opposite to Mr. Carter, but he also was a man who could do without the comforts of life, if the comforts of life did not come readily in his way. He liked his glass of whisky punch dearly, and had an idea that it was good for him. Not caring much about personal debts, he would go in debt for whisky. But if the whisky and credit were at an end, the loss did not make him miserable. He was a man with a large appetite, and who took great advantage of a good dinner when it was before him, nay, he would go a long distance to insure a good dinner; but, nevertheless, he would leave himself without the means of getting a mutton chop, and then not be unhappy. Now Mr. Carter would have been very unhappy had he been left without his superfine long black coat.

In tendering his invitation to Mr. Carter, Mr. Townsend had explained that with him the res angusta domi, which was always a prevailing disease, had been heightened by the circumstances of the time; but that of such crust and cup as he had, his brother English clergyman would be made most welcome to partake. In answer to this, Mr. Carter had explained that in these days good men thought but little of crusts and cups, and that as regarded himself, nature had so made him that he had but few concupiscences of that sort. And then, all this having been so far explained and settled, Mr. Carter came.

The first day the two clergymen spent together at Berryhill, and found plenty to employ them. They were now like enough to be in want of funds at that Berryhill soup-kitchen, seeing that the great fount of supplies, the house, namely, of Castle Richmond, would soon have stopped running altogether. And Mr. Carter was ready to provide funds to some moderate extent if all his questions were answered satisfactorily. “There was to be no making of Protestants,” he said, “by giving away of soup purchased with his money.” Mr. Townsend thought that this might have been spared him. “I regret to say,” replied he, with some touch of sarcasm, “that we have no time for that now.” “And so better,” said Mr. Carter, with a sarcasm of a blunter sort. “So better. Let us not clog our alms with impossible conditions which will only create falsehood.” “Any conditions are out of the question when one has to feed a whole parish,” answered Mr. Townsend.

And then Mr Carter would teach them how to boil their yellow meal, on which subject he had a theory totally opposite to the practice of the woman employed at the soup-kitchen. “Av we war to hocus it that, yer riverence,” said Mrs. Daly, turning to Mr. Townsend, “the crathurs couldn’t ate a bit of it; it wouldn’t bile at all, at all, not like that.”

“Try it, woman,” said Mr. Carter, when he had uttered his receipt oracularly for the third time.

“‘Deed, an’ I won’t,” said Mrs. Daly, whose presence there was pretty nearly a labour of love, and who was therefore independent. “It’d be a sin an’ a shame to spile Christian vittels in them times, an’ I won’t do it.” And then there was some hard work that day; and though Mr. Townsend kept his temper with his visitor, seeing that he had much to get and nothing to give, he did not on this occasion learn to alter his general opinion of his brethren of the English High Church.

And then, when they got home, very hungry after their toil, Mr. Townsend made another apology for the poorness of his table. “I am almost ashamed,” said he, “to ask an English gentleman to sit down to such a dinner as Mrs. Townsend will put before you.”

“And indeed then it isn’t much,” said Mrs. Townsend; “just a bit of fish I found going the road.”

“My dear madam, anything will suffice,” said Mr. Carter, somewhat pretentiously. And anything would have sufficed. Had they put before him a mess of that paste of which I have spoken he would have ate it and said nothing — ate enough of it at least to sustain him till the morrow.

But things had not come to so bad a pass as this at Drumbarrow parsonage; and, indeed, that day fortune had been propitious; fortune which ever favours the daring. Mrs. Townsend, knowing that she had really nothing in the house, had sent Jerry to waylay the Lent fishmonger, who twice a week was known to make his way from Kanturk to Mallow with a donkey and panniers, and Jerry had returned with a prize.

And now they sat down to dinner, and lo and behold, to the great surprise of Mr. Carter, and perhaps also to the surprise of the host, a magnificent turbot smoked upon the board. The fins no doubt had been cut off to render possible the insertion of the animal into the largest of the Drumbarrow parsonage kitchen-pots — an injury against which Mr. Townsend immediately exclaimed angrily. “My goodness, they have cut off the fins!” said he, holding up both hands in deep dismay. According to his philosophy, if he did have a turbot, why should he not have it with all its perfections about it — fins and all?

“My dear Aeneas!” said Mrs. Townsend, looking at him with that agony of domestic distress which all wives so well know how to assume.

Mr. Carter said nothing. He said not a word, but he thought much. This then was their pretended poorness of living; with all their mock humility, these false Irishmen could not resist the opportunity of showing off before the English stranger, and of putting on their table before him a dish which an English dean could afford only on gala days. And then this clergyman, who was so loudly anxious for the poor, could not repress the sorrow of his heart because the rich delicacy was somewhat marred in the cooking. “It was too bad,” thought Mr. Carter to himself, “too bad.”

“None, thank you,” said he, drawing himself up with gloomy reprobation of countenance. “I will not take any fish, I am much obliged to you.”

Then the face of Mrs. Townsend was one on which neither Christian nor heathen could have looked without horror and grief. What, the man whom in her heart she believed to be a Jesuit, and for whom nevertheless, Jesuit though he was, she had condescended to cater with all her woman’s wit! — this man, I say, would not eat fish in Lent! And it was horrible to her warm Irish heart to think that after that fish now upon the table there was nothing to come but two or three square inches of cold bacon. Not eat turbot in Lent! Had he been one of her own sort she might have given him credit for true antagonism to popery; but every inch of his coat gave the lie to such a supposition as that.

“Do take a bit,” said Mr. Townsend, hospitably. “The fins should not have been cut off, otherwise I never saw a finer fish in my life.”

“None, I am very much obliged to you,” said Mr. Carter, with sternest reprobation of feature.

It was too much for Mrs. Townsend. “Oh, Aeneas,” said she, “what are we to do?” Mr. Townsend merely shrugged his shoulders, while he helped himself. His feelings were less acute, perhaps, than those of his wife, and he, no doubt, was much more hungry. Mr. Carter the while sat by, saying nothing, but looking daggers. He also was hungry, but under such circumstances he would rather starve than eat.

“Don’t you ever eat fish, Mr. Carter?” said Mr. Townsend, proceeding to help himself for a second time, and poking about round the edges of the delicate creature before him for some relics of the glutinous morsels which he loved so well. He was not, however, enjoying it as he should have done, for seeing that his guest ate none, and that his wife’s appetite was thoroughly marred, he was alone in his occupation. No one but a glutton could have feasted well under such circumstances, and Mr. Townsend was not a glutton.

“Thank you, I will eat none today,” said Mr. Carter, sitting bolt upright, and fixing his keen gray eyes on the wall opposite.

“Then you may take away, Biddy; I’ve done with it. But it’s a thousand pities such a fish should have been so wasted.”

The female heart of Mrs. Townsend could stand these wrongs no longer, and with a tear in one corner of her eye, and a gleam of anger in the other, she at length spoke out. “I am sure then I don’t know what you will eat, Mr. Carter, and I did think that all you English clergymen always ate fish in Lent — and indeed nothing else; for indeed people do say that you are much the same as the papists in that respect.”

“Hush, my dear!” said Mr. Townsend.

“Well, but I can’t hush when there’s nothing for the gentleman to eat.”

“My dear madam, such a matter does not signify in the least,” said Mr. Carter, not unbending an inch.

“But it does signify, it signifies a great deal; and so you’d know if you were a family man;”—“as you ought to be,” Mrs. Townsend would have been delighted to add. “And I’m sure I sent Jerry five miles, and he was gone four hours to get that bit of fish from Paddy Magrath, as he stops always at Ballygibblin Gate; and indeed I thought myself so lucky, for I only gave Jerry one and sixpence. But they had an uncommon take of fish yesterday at Skibbereen, and —”

“One and sixpence!” said Mr. Carter, now slightly relaxing his brow for the first time.

“I’d have got it for one and three,” said Mr. Townsend, upon whose mind an inkling of the truth was beginning to dawn.

“Indeed and you wouldn’t, Aeneas; and Jerry was forced to promise the man a glass of whisky the first time he comes this road, which he does sometimes. That fish weighed over nine pounds, every ounce of it.”

“Nine fiddlesticks,” said Mr. Townsend.

“I weighed it myself, Aeneas, with my own hands, and it was nine pounds four ounces before we were obliged to cut it, and as firm as a rock the flesh was.”

“For one and sixpence!” said Mr. Carter, relaxing still a little further, and condescending to look his hostess in the face.

“Yes, for one and six, and now —”

“I’m sure I’d have bought it for one and four, fins and all,” said the parson, determined to interrupt his wife in her pathos.

“I’m sure you would not then,” said his wife, taking his assertion in earnest. “You could never market against Jerry in your life; I will say that for him.”

“If you will allow me to change my mind, I think I will have a little bit of it,” said Mr. Carter, almost humbly.

“By all means,” said Mr. Townsend. “Biddy, bring that fish back. Now I think of it, I have not half dined myself yet.”

And then they all three forgot their ill humours, and enjoyed their dinner thoroughly — in spite of the acknowledged fault as touching the lost fins of the animal.

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