The Macdermots of Ballycloran, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 16.

Promotion.

As soon as Father John had gone, Mrs. McKeon prepared to persuade her refractory daughter to agree to the propriety of what she was going to do with respect to Feemy, and to inform her husband of the visitor she intended to ask to her house; she had not much difficulty with either, for though Louey was indignant when Father John hinted at her want of a beau, she was not really ill-natured, and when her mother told her that Father John had said that this invitation would be the performance of a Christian duty, she soon reconciled herself to the prospect of Feemy’s company, in spite of Mr. Gayner and his bed. And as for Mr. McKeon, he seldom interfered with the internal management of his house, and when his spouse informed him that Feemy was coming to Drumsna, he merely remarked that “no wonder the poor girl was dull at that old ramshackle place up there, and that though Drumsna was dull enough itself, it was a little better than Ballycloran, especially now the Carrick races were coming on;” and so the three ladies put on their best bonnets and set off on their journey of charity.

Feemy was in her own sitting-room, and was somewhat more neat in her appearance than the last time we saw her there, for Ussher had said he would call early in the morning; but she was employed in the same manner as then — sitting over the fire with a novel in her hand, when she heard the sound of the car wheels, and on going to the window, saw Mrs. McKeon and her daughters.

That lady managed her business with all the tact and sincerity for which Father John had given her credit; she made no particular allusion to Ussher, but merely said that they should have a party to the race-course, as Mr. McKeon had a horse to run, and that afterwards they should all go to the ball at Carrick; and Mrs. McKeon added, “You know, Feemy, you’ll meet your old friend Captain Ussher there.”

She then assured Feemy how glad she would be if she would stay a short time at Drumsna, after the races were over, as her two daughters were now at home, and that if she would, she would try to make the house as pleasant as possible for her.

This was all said and done so pleasantly, that Feemy did not detect any other motive in her friend’s civility than the one which was apparent, and after a little pressing, agreed to accept the invitation. It was agreed that Mrs. McKeon was to call for her on the Monday following, when, if her father made no objection, she would accompany her home to Drumsna.

As soon as they were gone, Feemy made her father understand who had been there, and obtained his consent to her proposed visit, which he gave, saying at the time, “God knows, my dear, whether you’ll ever come back, for your brother’s determined to part with the owld place if he can, in spite of all your poor father can say to the contrary.”

She then returned to her room, resuming her novel, and waiting with what patience she could for Ussher’s coming. About two o’clock he made his appearance, and she was beginning gently to upbraid him for being so late, when he stopped her, by saying,

“Well, Feemy, I have strange news for you this morning.”

“Strange news, Myles! what is it? I hope it’s good news.”

Ussher had not quite his usual confidence and ease about him; he seemed as if he had something to say which he almost feared to disclose at once, and he did not give Feemy a direct answer.

“Why, as to that, it is, and it isn’t. I suppose it’s good news to me — at least I ought to think so; but I don’t know what you’ll think of it.”

Poor Feemy’s face fell, and she sat down on the chair from which she had risen, as if she had not strength to stand. Myles stood still, with his back to the fire, trying to look as if he were not disconcerted.

“Well, Myles, what is it? won’t you tell me?” And then, when he smiled, she said, “Why did you try and frighten me?”

“Frighten you! why you frightened yourself.”

“But what is it, Myles?” and she walked up to him, and put her two hands on his shoulders, and looked up in his face —“what is your strange news?”

“In the first place, I am promoted to the next rank. I’m in the highest now, next to a County Inspector.”

“Oh! Myles, I’m so glad! but you couldn’t but know that would be good news to me; — but what else?”

“Why, they’ve sent me a letter from Dublin, with a lot of blarney about praiseworthy energy and activity, and all that —”

“That’s why they’ve promoted you: but you don’t tell me all.”

“No, that’s not all: then they say they think there’s reason why I’d better not stay in this immediate neighbourhood.”

“Ah! I thought so!” exclaimed the poor girl; “you’re to go away out of this!”

“And they say I’m to commence in the new rank at Cashel, in County Tipperary.”

Feemy for a time remained quiet. She was endeavouring to realize to herself the idea that her lover was going away, and then trying in her mind to comprehend whether it must follow naturally, as a consequence from this, that he was going away from her, as well as from Ballycloran. Ussher still stood up by the fireplace, with the same smile on his face. What he had told Feemy was all true; he had unexpectedly received an official letter that morning from the Dublin office, complimenting him on his services, informing him that he was to be moved to a higher grade, and that on his promotion he was to leave Mohill, and take charge of the men stationed at Cashel. All this in itself was very agreeable; promotion and increased pay were of course desirable; Mohill was by no means a residence which it would cause such a man as Ussher much regret to leave; and though he had made up his mind not to fear any injury from those among whom he was situated, he could not but feel that he should be more assured of safety at any other place than that at which he now resided. All this was so far gratifying, but still he was perplexed to think what he should do about Feemy. It was true he could leave her, and let her, if she chose, break her heart; or he might promise to come back and marry her, when he was settled, with the intention of taking no further notice of her after he had left the place; — and so let her break her heart that way. But he was too fond of her for this; he could not decide what he would do; and when he came up to see her at the present time, the only conclusion to which he could bring himself with certainty was this — that nothing should induce him to marry her; but still he did not like to leave her.

He was, however, rather perplexed to know what to say to her, and therefore preferred waiting to see what turn she herself would give to the conversation. At length Feemy said,

“And when do you leave this?”

“Oh! they’ve given me a month’s leave of absence. I’m to be in Cashel in a month.”

Even this seemed a reprieve to Feemy, who at first thought that he would have to start immediately — perhaps that evening, a good deal might be done in a month; now, however, she regretted that she had promised to go to Mrs. M’Keon’s.

“Then, Myles, you’ll not leave this for a month?”

“I don’t know about that; that depends on circumstances. I’ve to run up to Dublin, and a deal to do.”

“But when do you mean to be out of this?”

“Why, I tell you, I haven’t settled yet — perhaps immediately after the races.”

Again they were silent for some time; Feemy longed for Ussher to say something that might sound at any rate kind; he had never met her before without an affectionate word — and now, on the eve of his departure, he stood at the fire and merely answered her questions coldly and harshly. At length she felt that this must be the time, if ever, for saying to him what she had made up her mind to say on the previous evening, when her courage failed her. So, plucking up all the heart she could, and blushing at the time to the top of her forehead, she said,

“An’t I to go with you, Myles, when you go?”

Ussher still remained silent; he did not know how to answer to this question. “Come, Myles, speak to me. I know you came down to tell me your plans. What am I to do? You know you must settle now, if you’re going so soon. What are your plans?”

“Why, Feemy, it’s not two hours or more since I’ve received the letter; of course I couldn’t think of everything at once. Tell me; what do you think best yourself?”

“Me! what do I think? — you know I’d do anything you bid me. Won’t you step in and tell father about it?”

“Oh, you can tell him. I couldn’t make him understand it at all, he’s so foolish.”

Feemy bore the slur on her father without indignation.

“But, Myles, if you go so soon, am I to go with you?” and when after a few minutes he did not answer — “Speak, Myles, an’t we to be married before you go?” When she said this, she sat down on the old sofa, looking up into his face, as if she would read there what was passing in his mind. That which was passing in his mind must be the arbitrament of her fate.

“Why, Feemy, how can you be so foolish? — How can we be married in eight days’ time? I must go, I tell you, in eight days from this.”

“But you won’t go to this new place then. You’ll be back here, won’t you, before you go to Cashel?”

“How can I be back again? — No, I could not be back again then; besides, Feemy, I wouldn’t be married in this place after what your brother and Father John said to me last night. If we are to be married at all, it can’t be here.”

“If we are to be married!” exclaimed Feemy, rising up —“if we are! Why, Myles, what do you mean?” and rushing to him she threw her arms round his neck, and hiding her face on his bosom, she continued, “Oh, Myles! you don’t mean to desert me! Myles — dear Myles — my own Myles — don’t you love me? — you won’t leave me now — say you won’t leave me!” and she sobbed and cried as though her heart was breaking.

Ussher put his arm round her waist and kissed her; he seated her on the sofa — sat down by her — and tried to comfort her by caresses: but he still said nothing.

“Why don’t you speak, Myles? I shall die if you don’t speak! Only tell me what you mean to do; I’ll do anything you bid me, if you’ll only say you don’t mean to desert me.”

“Desert you, Feemy! who spoke of deserting you, dearest?”

“Then you won’t leave me, my own Myles? You won’t leave me here with those I hate! I love no one — I care for no one but you; only say you won’t leave me here when you’re gone!” and again she clung to him as though she could have detained him there for ever by holding him.

“But, Feemy, what can I do? — you see I’ve told you after what passed I couldn’t be married here.”

“Why not, Miles? why not? — never mind what Thady said — or Father John. What does it signify? — you’ll be soon away from them. I’ll never treat you that way, my own Myles — I’d put up with more than that for you — I wouldn’t mind what the world might say to me — I’d bear anything for you!”

“I tell you, Feemy, there are reasons why I couldn’t be married before I get to Cashel. There — to tell you the whole, they wouldn’t let a man take his rise from one rank to another if he’s married. They can’t prevent the officers in the force marrying, but they don’t like it; and it’s a rule that they won’t promote a married man. You see I couldn’t marry till after I was settled at Cashel.”

Feemy received the lie with which Ussher’s brain had at the moment furnished him, without a doubt; she believed it all, and then went on.

“But when you’ve got your rank, you’ll come back, Myles, won’t you?”

“Why that’s the difficulty — I couldn’t well again get leave of absence.”

“Then, Myles, what will you do?”

And by degrees he proposed to her to leave her home and her friends, and trust herself to him, and go off with him unmarried, without her father’s blessing, or the priest’s — to go with him in a manner which she knew would disgrace herself, her name, and her family, and to trust to him afterwards to give her what reparation a tardy marriage could afford. She, poor girl, at first received the offer with sobs and tears. She proposed a clandestine marriage, but he swore that when afterwards detected, it would cause his dismissal; — then that she would come to him at Cashel, when he was settled; but no — he told her other lies equally false, to prove that this could not be done. She prayed and begged, and lay upon his bosom imploring him to spare her this utter degradation; but now that the proposal had been fairly made, that he had got her to discuss the plan, his usual sternness returned; and at last he told her, somewhat roughly, that if she would not come with him in the manner he proposed, he would leave her now and for ever.

Poor Feemy fell with her knees on the ground and her face on the sofa, and there she lay sobbing for many minutes, while he again stood silent with his back against the fireplace. During this time, old feelings, principles, religious scruples, the love of honour and fair fame, and the fear of the world’s harsh word, were sorely fighting in her bosom; they were striving to enable her to conquer the strong love she felt for Ussher, and make her reject the disgrace to which he was alluring her. Then he stooped to lift her up, and as he kissed the tears from her face, passion prevailed, and she whispered in his ear that she would go.

He stayed there for a considerable time after that; at first Feemy was so agitated and so miserable, that she was unable to converse with him, or listen to his plans for her removal. She sat there sobbing and crying, and all he could say — all his protestations of love — all his declarations that it was his firm intention to marry her at Cashel — all his promises of kind and good treatment, were unable to console her. He tried to animate her by describing to her the pleasure she would have in seeing Dublin — the delight it would be to her to leave so dull a place as Ballycloran, and see something of the world, from which she had hitherto been excluded. But for a long time it was in vain; she was thinking — though she rarely thought of them — of her father and her brother; of what the old man would feel, when she, his only joy, had gone from him in such a manner; of what Thady would do and say, when he found that the suspicions, which she knew he already entertained, were too true. She could not bring her heart to give up Ussher; but the struggles within her breast at length made her hysterical, and Ussher was greatly frightened lest he should have to call in assistance to bring her to herself. She did not, however, lose her senses, and after a time she became more tranquil, and was able to listen to his plans. She first of all told him that she had promised Mrs. McKeon to go to her house for a short time, during the races, and suggested that she should now send some excuse for declining the visit; but this he negatived. He desired her to go there — to go to the races and the ball — and, above all, to keep up her spirits, and at any rate seem to enjoy herself there as if nothing particular had happened. This she promised to do, but with a voice and face which gave but little sign of her being able to keep her promise.

He told her that he would occasionally call at Mrs. McKeon’s, so that no remark might be made about his not coming to see her; he desired her to tell no one that he was going permanently to leave the country, and that he should not himself let it be known at Mohill till the day or so before he went; and he added that even when it was known that he was going, there would be less suspicion arising respecting her, if she was at Drumsna, than if she remained at Ballycloran.

To all this she quietly submitted. He was to meet her at the ball at Carrick-on-Shannon, and then tell her what his definite plan of carrying her off would be; but he added that the ball night would be the last she would spend in the country, for that they would leave the next evening.

About five o’clock Ussher took his leave; she begged of him to come and see her the next day — every day till they went; but this he refused; she said that unless she saw him every day to comfort her, she would not be able to keep up her strength — that she was sure she would fall ill. It was now Friday, and she was to go to Mrs. McKeon’s on Monday; on Tuesday he said he would call on her there; the races and ball were to be on the Tuesday week. In vain she asked him how she was to bear the long days till she saw him again; Ussher had no true sympathy for such feelings as were racking Feemy’s heart and brain; he merely bid her keep up her spirits, and not be foolish; — that he would see her on Tuesday, and that after Tuesday week she would have nothing more to make her unhappy. And then, kissing her, he went away — and as we have seen, Thady met him in the avenue, so satisfied in appearance, so contented, so triumphant, that he was able to forget the words which had been applied to him on the previous evening, and to nod to Feemy’s brother with as pleasant an air as though there were no grounds for ill-feeling between them.

Poor Feemy! those vain words that “after Tuesday week she would have nothing more to make her unhappy,” sounded strangely in her ears. Nothing more to make her unhappy! Could she have anything more, then or ever, to make her happy? Could she ever be happy again? All that had happened during the last few days passed through her mind, and added to her torment. How indignant had she been when her brother had hinted to her that Ussher did not intend honestly by her; into what a passion had she flown with Father John, when he had cautioned her that she should be circumspect in her conduct with her lover; what an insult she had felt it when Mary Brady alluded to the chance of Ussher’s deserting her! And now so soon after all this — but a few hours after this strong feeling — after the indignation she had then shown, she had herself submitted to worse than they had even dared to suspect; she had herself agreed to leave her father’s house as the mistress of the man, of whom she had then confidently boasted as her future husband! And it was not only for her own degradation, dreadful as that was, that she grieved, but Ussher himself — he of whom she had felt so fond — whom she had so loved — was this his truth, his love? — was this the protection he had sworn to give her against her father’s folly, and her brother’s violence? — and, as he had basely added, against Father John’s bigotry? Was this the protection — roughly to swear he’d leave her, desert her for ever, unless she agreed to give up her family, her home, her principles, and follow him, a base low creature, without a name? And was it likely that after she had agreed to this — after she had so debased herself, that he who had already deceived her so grossly would at last keep his word by marrying her?

She was lying down with her face buried in her hands, tormenting herself with such thoughts, when Biddy came to tell her that dinner was on the table. Feemy did not dare to refuse to go in lest something should be suspected; so she rubbed her red eyes till they were still redder, and went into the parlour, where she alleged that she had a racking headache, which would give her no peace; and having sat there for a miserable half hour till her father and Thady had finished their dinner, she went up stairs to her bed-room, and after laying awake half the night, at last succeeded in crying herself to sleep.

When Thady came from the kitchen, on being told that Father John was waiting for him at the hall-door, he left his pipe behind him, swallowed a draught of water to take off the smell of the spirits, and prepared to listen to the priest’s lecture, as he expected, with sullenness and patience; but he was surprised out of his determined demeanour by the kindness of the priest’s address. He came forward, and taking his hand, said,

“What, Thady, are you ill? What ails you?”

“Not much, then, Father John; only a headache.”

“Are you too bad, my boy, to take a turn with me? I’ve a word or two I want to say; but if you’re really sick, Thady, and are going to bed, I’ll come down early tomorrow morning. Would you sooner I did so?”

Father John said this because he thought that Thady really looked ill. And so he did; his face was yellow, his hair unbrushed, his eyes sunken, and the expression of his countenance sad and painful; but he was overcome by the kindness of the priest’s manner, and replied,

“Oh no! I’m not going to bed. I believe, Father John, I did not come up to you because I was ashamed to see you afther last night.”

“So I thought, my boy; and that’s why I came down. I’m not sorry for your shame, though there was not much cause for it. If it was a usual thing with you to be drinking too much, you wouldn’t be thinking so much of it yourself the next day.”

“But I believe I said something to yourself, Father John.”

“Something to me! Egad, I forget what you said to me, or whether you said anything. Oh no! you weren’t so bad as that; but you were going to eat Ussher about something. But never mind that now; don’t get tipsy again, if you can help it, and that’s all about it. It’s not the drinking I’m come to talk to you about; for you’re no drunkard, Thady; and indeed it’s not as your priest I want to talk to you at all, but as one friend to another. And now, my dear boy, will you take what I’ve to say in good part?”

These gentle words were the first comfort that had reached Thady’s heart that day, and tears were in his eyes as he answered,

“Indeed I will, Father John, for you’re the only friend I have now.”

It was a fine moonlight evening, and they were on the road leading to the Cottage.

“Walk up this way, Thady; we’ll be less likely to be interrupted in the little parlour than here;” and they walked on to the priest’s house, Father John discoursing the while on the brightness of the moon and the beauty of the night, and Thady alternately thinking with pleasure of his kindness, and with dread of the questions he was about to be called upon to answer.

When they were in the parlour, and Thady had refused his host’s offers of punch, tea, or supper, and the door was close shut, Father John at once struck into the subject at his heart.

“I told you, Thady, that I thought but little of your having been drinking yesterday evening; not but that I think it very foolish for a man to make himself a beast; but what I did think of was the company you were drinking in. Now I heard — and I know you won’t contradict me unless it’s untrue — that the party consisted of you, and Brady, and Joe Reynolds, and Byrne, and Corney Dolan, and one or two others from Drumleesh, your own or your father’s tenants, and the very lowest of them — all of them infamous characters — men never, or seldom, seen at mass — makers of potheen — fellows who are known to be meeting nightly at that house of Mrs. Mulready, at Mohill, and who are strongly suspected to be Ribbonmen, or Terryalts, or to call themselves by some infernal name and sect, by belonging to which they have all become liable to death or transportation.”

The priest paused; but Thady sat quite still, listening, with his eyes fixed on the fender.

“Now, Thady, if this is so, what could you gain by mixing with them? You weren’t drunk when you went among them, or I should think nothing about it — for a drunken man doesn’t know what he does; and it wasn’t from chance — for a man never seeks society so much beneath himself from chance; and it wasn’t from habit — for I know your habits well enough, and that’s not one of them; but I fear you were there by agreement. If so, what could you get by a secret meeting with such men as those? You know their characters and vices; are you fool enough to think that you will find comfort in their society, or assistance in their advice?”

“I didn’t think so, Father John.”

“Then why were you with them? I know the most of your sorrows, Thady, and the most of your cares; and I also know and appreciate the courage with which you have tried to bear them; and if you would make me your friend, your assistant, and your counsellor, though I mightn’t do much for you, I think I could do more, or show you how to do more, than you are likely to learn from the men you were with yesterday; and at any rate, I shall not lead you into the danger which will beset you if you listen to them, and which, you may be sure, would soon end in your disgrace and destruction. Can you tell me, Thady, why you were with them, or they were with you?”

“I was only just talking to them about —” Thady began; but he felt that he was going to tell his friend a falsehood, and again held his tongue.

“If you’ll not tell me why you were there, I’ll tell you; at least, I’ll tell you what my fears are. You went to them to talk over your father’s affairs respecting Keegan and Flannelly; you went to induce those poor misguided men not to pay their rent to him; and oh! Thady, if what I’ve heard is true, you went there to consult with them respecting a greater crime than I’ll now name, and to instigate them to do that which would lead to their and your eternal shame and punishment.”

Thady now shook in his chair, as though he could hardly keep his seat; he felt the perspiration stand upon his brow, and he wiped it off with his sleeve; he did not dare to deny that he had done this, of which Father John was accusing him, though he felt that he had been far from instigating them to any crime like murder. Father John continued:

“If you have joined these men — if you have bound yourself to these men by any oath — if there is any league between you and them, let me implore you to disregard it; nothing can be binding, that is only to bind you to greater wickedness. I do not ask you to tell me any of their secrets or plans, though, God knows, what you tell me now would be as sacred as if I heard it in the confessional; but if you have such secrets, if you know their signs, whatever may be the consequence, at once renounce them.”

“I know no secrets or signs, Father John, and I don’t belong to any society.”

“Then, if you don’t, you can have nothing to bind you. Is it true that you were rash enough, mad enough, to speak to these men about murdering Keegan? Tell me; have you a plan made to murder Keegan? Have you had such a crime in your thoughts?”

It had been in his thoughts all day: what answer should he make? should he lie, and deny it all? or should he confess it all, just as it was?

“If you’ll not tell me, I must, for Mr. Keegan’s sake, take some step to secure his safety. Come, Thady, come; you know it’s not by threats I wish to guide you; you know I love you. I know well enough your patient industry — your want of selfishness. I know, if you have for a moment thought of this crime, you have now repented it: tell me how far you have gone, and if you are in danger; — if you have done that which was very, very wicked. I will still try and screen you from the effects of a sin, which I am sure was not premeditated. Is there any plot to murder Keegan?”

“There is not.”

“As you are a living man, there’s none?”

“There is not.”

“What were you saying about Keegan, then, to those men yesterday?”

“I don’t know what I said — I don’t know I said anything; they were threatening him, if he came on Drumleesh for rent; if they have a plot, I don’t know it.”

“But, Thady, are you to join them again? do you mean again to renew your revellings of last night? have you agreed to see them again?”

“I have.”

“And where?”

“At Mulready’s in Mohill.”

“And when?”

“They sent today to say it was tomorrow night, but I have refused to go.”

“You have refused?”

“Yes, Father John. I got the message from them just before dinner, and I said I’d not go tomorrow.”

“But have you said you’d never join them again? have you sent to them to say you’d never put your foot in that hole of sin? did you say you were mad when you promised it, and that you would never keep that promise? did you say, Thady, that you would not come? or are you still, in their opinion, one of their accursed set?”

“I’ll niver go there, Father John. I’ve not had one moment’s ase since I said I would; it’s been on my heart like lead all the morning; indeed, indeed, Father John, I’ll niver go there.”

“I will not doubt you, Thady; but still, that you may feel how solemnly you are bound not to peril your life and soul by joining them who can only wish to lead you into crime, give me your honour, on the sacred word of God, that you will never go to that place; — or join those men in any lawless plans or secret meetings.”

And Thady swore most solemnly, on the sacred volume, that he would do as the priest directed him respecting these men.

Father John then gradually drew from him in conversation what had really taken place. He told him what he had heard from McGovery — how he had quieted that man and Cullen — and advised him by his own demeanour to his tenants, to pass over what had been said, as though it had been a drunken frolic. He asked him, however, whether he considered that Mr. Keegan or Ussher were in any real danger; and Thady assured him that he did not think they were — that there was no plot laid — that the men were angry and violent, but that, unless further instigated, he did not think they would commit any act of absolute violence. These opinions were not given spontaneously, but in answer to various questions from the priest, who at last satisfied himself that in confirming the horror with which Thady evidently regarded what he had already done, and in preventing him from following any further the course he was about to pursue, he had done all that was possible in the case to prevent crime.

Whether he thought that either of those who had been named as the object of hatred to these unruly men might ultimately fall a victim to the feeling to which their actions had given rise in the country, is another question. If he did, he could not prevent it — nor was it his especial business to attend to it; but he felt tolerably sure that to whatever bad feelings hardships and cruelty might have given rise in Thady’s breast, he would not now gratify them by such atrocious means as those which McGovery’s statement had induced him to apprehend.

Under this impression he bade him good night, with another kind shake of the hand; telling him that though, at present, there might be much to sadden and distress him, if he confronted his difficulties with manly courage and honest purposes, he would be sure sooner or later to overcome them.

Thady returned home more comfortable than he had been in the morning, but he could not bring himself to that state of mind in which Father John had hoped to dismiss him. He felt, that though he was determined not to go to Mrs. Mulready’s, the affair could not rest there. He felt himself to be, in some horrible manner, in the power of Brady and Joe Reynolds — as though he could not escape from them. A general despondency respecting all his prospects weighed him down, and when he reached Ballycloran, he was nearly as unhappy as he had been in leaving it.

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