The Macdermots of Ballycloran, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 25.

Retrospective.

As story-tellers of every description have, from time immemorial, been considered free from those niceties by which all attempts in the nobler classes of literature are, or should be restrained, we consider no apology necessary for requesting the reader to leap over with us the space of four months; but still, before we continue our tale from that date, it will be as well that we should give a short outline of the principal events which produced the state in which the circumstances of the Macdermots will then be found, and we are sorry to say that they were not such as could offer much consolation to them.

It will be remembered that Pat Brady was commissioned by his master to take Ussher’s body to the police station at Carrick, in Fred Brown’s gig. This commission he promptly performed, and also that of restoring the gig to its owner; and after having thus completed his master’s behests like a good servant, he paid a visit on his own account to Mr. Keegan.

Although it was late, he still found that active gentleman up, and gave him a tolerably accurate account of what had happened at Ballycloran, adding that “the young masther had gone off to join the boys, at laste that’s what he supposed he’d be afther now.” As soon as Keegan’s surprise was a little abated, he perceived that the affair would probably act as a stepping-stone, on which he might walk into Ballycloran even sooner than he had hitherto thought to do; and when, as one of the jurors at the coroner’s inquest, on the next morning, he saw that poor Larry had evidently fallen into absolute idiotcy, and heard that Thady had, in fact, escaped, he instantly determined to take such legal steps on behalf of his father-in-law as would put the property under his management. And this, accordingly, he did. The proper steps for proving the old man to be of unsound mind would have been attended with very great expense; instead of doing this, he got himself made receiver over the property, and determined to arrest Larry, which, in his existing state, he conceived he should have no difficulty in doing. Here, however, he found himself very much mistaken, for nothing could induce the old man to leave his own room, or so much as allow the front door to be unlocked. Mary Brady still continued to attend him every day, returning home to her husband after sunset, and she found him very easy to manage in every other particular, as long as he was allowed to have his own way in this.

He had quite lost the triumphant feeling which led him to boast in the streets of Carrick, after leaving the inquest, that he had escaped from Flannelly’s power, and that he would never have to pay him another farthing; for now if he heard a strange step, he fancied it to be a bailiff’s, and if there was the slightest noise in the house, he thought that an attempt was being made to drag him off by violence. It was a miserable sight to see the old man, thin, wan, and worn out, sitting during that cold winter, by a few sods of turf, with the door of his own room ajar, watching the front door from morning till night, to see that no one opened it. Before Christmas he had his bed brought down into the same room, in order that he might not be betrayed into the hands of his enemies in the morning before he was up, and from that time no inducement could prevail on him to leave the room for a moment.

During this time his poverty was very great; the tenants had been served with legal notices to pay neither to him nor to Thady any portion of their rents, and consequently provisions were very low and very scarce at Ballycloran; in fact, had it not been for the kindness of Father John, Mr. McKeon, and Counsellor Webb, whose property was adjoining to Ballycloran, Larry would have been starved into a surrender. Mr. Webb went so far as to interfere with Mr. Keegan, and to point out to him that in all humanity he should stay his proceedings till after Thady’s trial, but Keegan replied that he was only acting for Mr. Flannelly, who was determined to have the matter settled at once; that all he wanted was his own, and that he had already waited too long.

When Keegan found that Larry Macdermot, in spite of his infirmities, was too wary to be caught, he endeavoured to bribe Mary to open the door to his emissaries, and to betray the old man; but though Mary was very fond of money, she was too honest for this, and she replied to the attorney by telling him, “that for all the money in the bank of Carrick, she wouldn’t be the one to trate the ould blood that way.” Larry consequently still held out at Ballycloran, living on the chance presents of his friends, who sent him at one time a few stone of potatoes, at another a pound of tea, then a bit of bacon, or a few bottles of whiskey; this last, however, was confided to Mary, with injunctions not to allow him too frequently to have recourse to the only comforter that was left to him.

Though Keegan failed to gain admission into the house, and could not therefore put himself into absolute possession of the estate, still he could do what he pleased with the lands, and he was not long in availing himself of the power. In January he served notices on all the tenants that unless the whole arrears were paid on or before the end of the next month, they would be ejected; and to many of those who held portions of the better part of the land, he sent summary notices to quit on the first of May next following. These notices were all served by Pat, who assured the tenants that he only performed the duties which he had now undertaken that he might look after Mr. Thady’s interests, and as, as he said, “there could be no use in life in his refusing to do it, for av he didn’t, another would, and the tenants would be no betther, and he a dale the worse.”

These things by no means tended to make Keegan’s name popular on the estate, particularly at Drumleesh, where the tenants were but ill prepared to pay their rent by small portions at a time, and were utterly confounded at the idea of having to pay up the arrears in a lump; but Pat assured him that although they were surly and sullen, they gave no signs or showed any determination of having recourse to violence, or of openly rebelling against the authority of their new landlord.

Pat, however, knew but little of what was going on amongst them now. Although they found no absolute fault with the arguments which he used for acting on Mr. Keegan’s behalf, still he soon discovered that the tenants had withdrawn their confidence from him, and that they looked upon him rather as the servant of their new tyrant, than as the friend to whom they had been accustomed to turn, when they wanted any little favour from their old master. He had moreover discontinued his visits to Mrs. Mulready’s, and had for a long time seen nothing of Joe Reynolds and his set, who spent most of their time in Aughacashel, or at any rate away from Drumleesh.

Joe Reynolds had been altogether unable to account for Thady’s sudden disappearance from Aughacashel. At first he thought he must have been taken prisoner by some of the police, whilst roaming about in the neighbourhood; and although he ultimately heard that Father John and he had gone together to Counsellor Webb’s, still he never could learn how Thady had fallen into the priest’s hands. Joe, however, did not forget that Thady had done what he considered the good service of ridding the country of Ussher, and he swore that he would repay it by punishing the man, who in his estimation was robbing Thady of his right and his property; he had long since declared at Mrs. Mulready’s, as we are aware, that if Thady would come over and join his party, Keegan should not come upon the estate with impunity, and he was now determined to keep his word.

Keegan, trusting to the assurance of Pat, that the tenants were all quiet and peaceable, at length began to go among them himself, and had, about the beginning of February, once or twice ridden over portions of the property. About five o’clock one evening in that month, he was riding towards home along the little lane that skirts Drumleesh bog, after having seen as much of that delectable neighbourhood as a man could do on horseback, when his horse was stopped by a man wrapped in a very large frieze coat, but whose face was not concealed, who asked him, “could he spake to his honer about a bit of land that he was thinking of axing afther, when the man that was on it was put off, as he heard war to be done.” As the man said this he laid his hands on the bridle, and Keegan fearing from this that something was not right, put his hand into his coat pocket, where his pistols were, and told the man to come to him at Carrick, if he wanted to say anything. The man, however, continued, “av his honer wouldn’t think it too much throuble jist to come down for one moment, he’d point out the cabin which he meant.” Keegan was now sure from the man’s continuing to keep his hand on the bridle, that some injury to him was intended, and was in the act of drawing his pistol from his pocket, when he was knocked altogether from off his horse by a blow which he received on the head with a large stone, thrown from the other side of one of the banks which ran along the road. The blow and the fall completely stunned him, and when he came to himself he was lying on the road; the man who had stopped his horse was kneeling on his chest; a man, whose face was blackened, was holding down his two feet, and a third, whose face had also been blackened, was kneeling on the road beside him with a small axe in his hand. Keegan’s courage utterly failed him when he saw the sharp instrument in the ruffian’s grasp; he began to promise largely if they would let him escape — forgiveness — money — land — anything — everything for his life. Neither of them, however, answered him, and before the first sentence he uttered was well out of his mouth, the instrument fell on his leg, just above the ankle, with all the man’s force; the first blow only cut his trousers and his boot, and bruised him sorely — for his boots protected him; the second cut the flesh, and grated against the bone; in vain he struggled violently, and with all the force of a man struggling for his life; a third, and a fourth, and a fifth descended, crushing the bone, dividing the marrow, and ultimately severing the foot from the leg. When they had done their work, they left him on the road, till some passer by should have compassion on him, and obtain for him the means of conveyance to his home.

In a short time Keegan fainted from loss of blood, but the cold frost soon brought him to his senses; he got up and hobbled to the nearest cabin, dragging after him the mutilated foot, which still attached itself to his body by the cartilages and by the fragments of his boot and trousers; and from thence reached his home on a country car, racked by pain, which the jolting of the car and the sharp frost did not tend to assuage.

At the time of which we are writing — about the first week in March — he had been entirely unable to ascertain any of the party by whom he had been attacked. The men were Dan Kennedy, Joe Reynolds, and Corney Dolan; of these, Joe alone was personally known to Keegan, and it was he who used the axe with such fell cruelty; but he had been so completely disguised at the time, that Keegan had not in the least recognised him. Dan was the man who had at first stopped the horse, and he being confident that Keegan had not even heard his name, and that he was very unlikely to be in any place where his victim could again see him so as to know him, had not feared to stop the horse, and address its rider without any disguise.

This act, which was originally proposed and finally executed more with the intent of avenging Thady, than with any other purpose, was the most unfortunate thing for him that could have happened; for in the first place it made the magistrates and the government imagine that the country was in a disorderly state generally, and that it was therefore necessary to follow up the prosecutions at the Assizes with more than ordinary vigour; and in the next place, it made Keegan determined to do all that he could to secure Thady’s conviction, for he attributed his horrible mutilation to the influence of the Macdermots.

Other things had also occurred during the four months since Thady had given himself up to the authorities, which had determined the law officers of the government to follow up Ussher’s murderer with all severity, and obtain if possible a conviction.

The man who had been sent to Mohill in Ussher’s place was by no means his equal either in courage, determination, or perseverance; still it had been necessary for him to follow to a certain degree in his predecessor’s steps, especially as at the time illicit distillation had become more general in the country than it had ever been known to be before. A man named Cogan, who had acted very successfully as a spy to Ussher, also offered his services to the new officer, by whom they were accepted. This man had learnt that potheen was being made at Aughacashel, and, dressed in the uniform of one of the Revenue police, had led the men to Dan Kennedy’s cabin. Here they merely found Abraham, the cripple, harmlessly employed in superintending the boiling of some lumpers, and Andy McEvoy in the other cabin, sitting on his bed; not a drop of potheen — not a grain of malt — not a utensil used in distillation was found, and they had to return foiled and beaten.

The new officer, whose name was Foster, also received various threatening letters, and among them the following:—

This is to giv’ notis, Captin Furster, av you’ll live and let live, and be quite an’ pacable — divil a rason is there, why you need be afeard — but av you go on among the Leatrim boys — as that bloody thundhering ruffin Ussher, by the etarnal blessed Glory, you wul soon be streatched as he war — for the Leatrim boys isn’t thim as wul put up with it.

This was only one of many that he received — and these, together with the futility of his first attempt — a tremendous stoning which he and his men received in the neighbourhood of Drumshambo — the burning of Cogan’s cabin, and the fate of his predecessor, totally frightened him; and he represented to the head office in Dublin that the country was in such a state, that he was unable, with the small body of men at his command, to carry on his business with anything approaching to security.

These things all operated much against the chance of Thady’s acquittal, and his warmest friends could not but feel that they did so. People in the country began to say that some severe example was necessary — that the country was in a dreadful state — and that the government must be upheld; and these fears became ten times greater, when it was generally known that Thady, a day or two before the catastrophe, had absolutely associated with some of the most desperate characters in the country.

Brady, at first, had been unwilling to divulge all that he knew to Mr. Keegan; for, though he felt no hesitation in betraying his old master, he was not desirous to hang him; but Keegan, by degrees, got it all out of him, and bribed so high that Pat, at last, consented to come forward at the trial and swear to all the circumstances of the meeting at Mrs. Mehan’s, and the attorney lost no time in informing the solicitor, who was to conduct the prosecution on behalf of the crown, what this witness was able to prove.

All this was sad news for Father John, and his friend McKeon, but still they would not despair. They talked the matter over and over again in McKeon’s parlour, and Tony occasionally almost forgot his punch in his anxiety to put forward and make the most of all those points, which he considered to be in Thady’s favour. It was not only the love of justice, his regard for the family of the Macdermots, and Father John’s eloquence which had enlisted McKeon so thoroughly in Thady’s interest — though, no doubt, these three things had great weight with him — but his own personal predilections had also a considerable share in doing so.

The three leading resident gentlemen in the neighbourhood were Sir Michael Gibson, Mr. Jonas Brown, and Counsellor Webb; they were the three magistrates who regularly attended the petty sessions at Carrick; and as they usually held different opinions on all important subjects relative to the locality in which they resided, so all their neighbours swore by one of them, condemning the other two as little better than fools or knaves.

Sir Michael was by far the richest, and would, therefore, naturally have had the greatest number of followers, had it not been that it was usually extremely difficult to find out what his opinion was. He was neither a bad nor a good landlord — that is to say, his land was seldom let for more than double its value; and his agent did not eject his tenants as long as they contrived not to increase the arrears which they owed when he undertook the management of the property; but Sir Michael himself neither looked after their welfare, or took the slightest care to see that they were comfortable.

On the bench, by attempting to agree with both his colleagues, he very generally managed to express an opinion different from either of them; and as he was, of course, the chairman, the decisions of the bench were in consequence frequently of a rather singular nature; however, on the whole, Sir Michael was popular, for if he benefited none, he harmed none; and he was considered by many a safe constitutional man, with no flighty ideas on any side.

Jonas Brown was hated by the poor. In every case he would, if he had the power, visit every fault committed by them with the severest penalty awarded by the law. He was a stern, hard, cruel man, with no sympathy for any one, and was actuated by the most superlative contempt for the poor, from whom he drew his whole income. He was a clever, clear-headed, avaricious man; and he knew that the only means of keeping the peasantry in their present utterly helpless and dependent state, was to deny them education, and to oppose every scheme for their improvement and welfare. He dreaded every movement which tended to teach them anything, and when he heard of landlords reducing their rents, improving cabins, and building schools, he would prophesy to his neighbour, Sir Michael, that the gentry would soon begin to repent of their folly, when the rents they had reduced were not paid, the cabins which they had made comfortable were filled with ribbonmen, and when the poor had learnt in the schools to disobey their masters and landlords. Sir Michael never contradicted all this, and he would probably have become a second Jonas Brown, and much more injurious, because so much more extensive in his interests, were it not for the counteracting influence of Counsellor Webb, who was in all his opinions diametrically opposed to Mr. Brown.

Mr. Webb was a clear-headed, and a much more talented man than his brother magistrate. He was, moreover, a kind-hearted landlord — ever anxious to ameliorate the condition of the poor — and by no means greedy after money, though he was neither very opulent nor very economical. But, nevertheless, with all these high qualities he was hardly the man most fit to do real good in a very poor and ignorant neighbourhood. He was, in the first place, by far too fond of popularity, and of being the favourite among the peasantry; and, in the next, he had become so habituated to oppose Jonas Brown in all his sayings and doings, that he now did so whether he was right or wrong.

Thady’s case had been much talked of in the country, and the rival magistrates, of course, held diametrically opposite opinions respecting it.

Jonas Brown had declared at his own table, that “unless that young man were hanged, there would be an end to anything like law in the country; his being the son of a landlord made it ten times worse; if the landlords themselves turned ribbonmen, and taught the tenants all manner of iniquity, and the law didn’t then interfere, it would be impossible to live in the country; he, for one, should leave it. Here had a most praiseworthy servant of the crown — a man who had merited the thanks of the whole country by the fearless manner in which he had performed his duties, here,” he said, “had this man been murdered in cold blood by a known ribbonman, by one, who, as he understood, had, a few days before the murder, conspired with others to commit it; and yet he was told there were a pack of people through the country — priests, and popularity hunters, who were not only using their best endeavours to screen the murderer, but who absolutely justified the deed. By G——d, he couldn’t understand how a man, holding the position of a gentleman, could so far forget what he owed to his country and himself as to dirty his hands with such a filthy business as this, however absurd his general opinions on politics might be. As for the man’s sister, that was all a got up story since the business. Every one knew that the family had been trying to catch the young man for the girl; she had been allowed to walk with Captain Ussher at all hours, night and day; and he was doing no more than walking with her when he was basely murdered by her brother. As for him (Jonas Brown), he hoped and trusted the murderer would be hung as he deserved.”

The purport of this piece of after-dinner eloquence was duly conveyed to Counsellor Webb, who fully appreciated the remarks about the popularity-hunting gentleman who was dirtying his hands. Up to this time these two men, though differing so widely from each other, had still kept up a show of courtesy between them; but Mr. Brown’s remarks altogether put an end to it.

Counsellor Webb never again addressed him in friendly terms.

He did not, however, in the least relax his efforts on Thady’s behalf, or express less strongly his opinion on the case. He told Sir Michael one morning in Carrick, after some public meeting at which all the gentry of the neighbourhood had been present, and while many of them, and among them Mr. Brown, were standing by, that “he had lately been giving a great deal of very close attention to that very distressing case of young Mr. Macdermot; he thought it was the most melancholy and heartrending case he had ever known. It was proved beyond possibility of doubt that Ussher was eloping with the young man’s sister; it seemed now to be pretty certain that the girl was herself absolutely senseless at the time the occurrence took place; he believed she had changed her mind, or got frightened, or what not; it was now a known fact, that she was being dragged senseless in the man’s arms, when Macdermot attacked him. And was a brother to stand by and look on at such a sight as that, and not protect his sister, and punish the miscreant who was endeavouring to dishonour her? Was Mr. Macdermot to turn his back upon the affair, and leave his sister to her fate because, forsooth, the man who did it was a Revenue officer? Let us bring the matter home to ourselves, Sir Michael,” he continued. “Suppose you saw that gay young Captain Jem Boyle hurrying through the demesne at Knockadrum with one of your own fair flock in his arms, violently carrying her off, wouldn’t you not only knock him down yourself, if you could catch him; but also set all your people after him, begging them to do the same? Of course, you would; and what more has this young man done? Unfortunately he struck too hard; but that, although we may deplore the circumstance, shows no criminality on his part; but only the strong indignation which he very properly felt. As to the cock and bull story of his being a ribbonman, no man of sense could entertain it. It appears that a few nights before the occurrence he went to a tenant’s wedding, and unfortunately took a drop too much punch. That had been many a good man’s case before his. And then he got among a lot of men who were uttering vague, nonsensical threats against different persons, whom they disliked. One, I hear, says that Ussher was threatened; and another — and, I am told, by far the more creditable witness — that it was Keegan, the attorney, whose name was mentioned; it appears, that when drunk, he promised to join these men in another drinking party, which promise he, of course, never thought of keeping after he was sober; and yet there are some who are cruel enough to say — I won’t say harsh enough to believe, for they can’t believe it — that when he attacked Ussher in his sister’s defence, Macdermot was only carrying into execution a premeditated plan of murdering him! Premeditated indeed, when it was plain to every one, that it was by the merest accident that he happened to be in the avenue at the time. People might just as well say that it was he who cut off the attorney’s foot the other day, though he was in gaol at the time. I must say,” continued the Counsellor, “that should the poor young man fall a victim to the false evidence which I am aware private malice and wretchedly vindictive feeling will supply, then the basest murder will really have been committed which ever disgraced this county. I don’t envy the state of mind of any gentleman who can look forward with a feeling of satisfaction to the prospect of that poor youth’s being hanged for protecting his sister, merely because the seducer was in habits of intimacy with himself or his family.”

Mr. Brown left the meeting, taking no immediate notice of the Counsellor’s philippic. It was not, however, because he did not comprehend the latter part of it, or that he meant to overlook it.

Sir Michael was much distressed in making up his mind finally on the subject. It was reported, however, soon after the meeting above alluded to, that he had stated to some of his more immediate friends and admirers, that “he considered it highly discreditable, he might say disgraceful, for any of the more respectable classes to give any countenance to the illegal meetings, which he was afraid were too general through the country, and that there was too much reason to fear that the unfortunate man in prison had been guilty in doing so; but that there could be no doubt that every one was justified — he might add, only performed his bounden duty — in protecting the females of his family from injury or violence.”

Now Tony McKeon was a tenant both of Sir Michael and of the Counsellor; he also held land from other landlords, but he had no connexion whatever with Mr. Brown: he was not at all the sort of tenant that Jonas liked; for though he always punctually paid his rent to the day, he usually chose to have everything his own way, and would take no land except at a fair rent and on a long lease.

Mr. Webb, however, was his chief friend and principal ally in the country. Sir Michael was altogether too grand for him, seeing that Tony had no idea of being a humble dependent; but Mr. Webb would occasionally come and dine with him — and often asked him in return. Mrs. Webb too was civil to his wife and the girls — always lent them the Dublin pattern for their frills, frocks, and other frippery — and seldom drove into Drumsna without calling. The consequence was, that the Counsellor was a man after Tony’s own heart. Though they were of different religions, they had, generally speaking, the same political feelings and opinions — the same philanthropical principles — and the same popular prejudices; and after a few years intimacy in each other’s neighbourhood, Mr. Webb well knew where to find a powerful recruit for any service in which he might wish to enlist one.

Tony declared that if any one spoke ill of Feemy’s character, he should make it personal with himself; that he was ready, willing, and moreover determined to quarrel with any one who dared to apply the opprobrious name of murderer to Thady; and he had even been heard, on one or two occasions, to stand up for Larry himself, and to declare that although he might be a little light-headed or so, he was still a deal better than those muddy-minded blackguards at Carrick who had driven him to his present state.

For a long time Feemy had been very ill, but after Christmas she had apparently got a little stronger; she would sit up in her bed-room for a few hours in the day; but still she would talk to no one. Mrs. McKeon endeavoured more than once to lead her to the subject which she knew must be nearest her heart, thinking that if she could be got to speak of it, she would be relieved; but in vain. In vain she tried to interest her in her brother’s fate — in vain she tried to make her understand that Thady’s safety — that his acquittal would, in a great degree, depend on her being able to prove, at the trial, that at the time when the occurrence took place, she was herself insensible. She shuddered violently at the idea of being again questioned, and declared with sobs that she should die if she were again dragged to that horrid place. When Mrs. McKeon asked her if she would not make a struggle to save her brother’s life, she remained mute. It was evident that it was for her lover that she was still grieving, and that it was not the danger or ignominy of Thady’s position that afflicted her.

Mrs. McKeon, however, conceived it to be her duty to persevere with her — and, at last, told her how wrong it was of her to give way to a grief, which was in its first stage respected. Feemy answered her only with tears; and on the next morning told her that she had determined to return to Ballycloran, as she thought she would be better there, at home with her father.

To this, however, Mrs. McKeon would not consent, and Feemy was told that the doctor had forbidden her to be moved. She was, therefore, obliged to remain satisfied for the present, as she had no means of escaping from Drumsna; but she soon became more sullen than ever — and, at last, almost refused to speak to any one.

Things went on in this way till about the middle of March. Feemy constantly requested to be allowed to go home, which request was as constantly refused; when different circumstances acting together gave rise to a dreadful suspicion in Mrs. McKeon’s mind. She began to fear that Ussher, before his death, had accomplished the poor girl’s ruin, and that she was now in the family way. For some few days she was determined to reject the idea, and endeavoured to make herself believe that she was mistaken; but the more close her observations were, the more certain she became that her suspicions were well founded. She was much distressed as to what she should do. Her first and most natural feelings were those of anger against Feemy, and of dismay at the situation into which her own and her husband’s good nature had brought herself and her daughters; and she made up her mind that Feemy should at once have her wish and return to Ballycloran. But then, she might be mistaken — or even, if it were too true — how could she turn the poor girl, weak, ill, and miserable, out of her house, and send her to an empty unprovided barrack, inhabited by an infirm, idiotical old man, where she could receive none of that attention which her situation so much required?

She communicated her suspicions to the doctor, and after a few days’ observations, he told her that there was too much reason to fear that the case was as she supposed. He, however, strongly advised her to speak to Miss Macdermot herself on the subject. This she did, at last, most tenderly, and with the greatest gentleness — but still imploring Feemy to tell her the truth. Feemy, at first, could not speak in reply; she threw herself on her bed sobbing most violently, and fell from one fit into another, till Mrs. McKeon was afraid that she would choke herself with the violence of her emotion. At last, however, she declared that the accusation brought against her was untrue — protested on her most solemn word and honour that it was not the case — and ended by saying how thankful she was to Mrs. McKeon for her kindness and protection, but that she must now beg her to allow her to return to Ballycloran.

Feemy’s denial of the charge against her was so firm, and so positively made, that it very much shook her friend’s suspicions. When Feemy begged to be sent home, she told her not to agitate herself at present — that they would all see how she was in a day or two — and then speaking a few kind words to her, left her to herself.

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