The Macdermots of Ballycloran, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 7.

The Priest’s Dinner Party.

Thady, as I said, walked off to the priest’s cottage, to partake of the relics of a goose, and seek counsel of his friend; but it was not Father John’s dinner hour yet, and he found no one in but Judy McCan. He walked into the priest’s little parlour, and sat down to wait for him, again meditating on all the evils which hung over his devoted family, and sitting thus he at length fell fast asleep.

Here he slept for above an hour, when he was awakened by the door opening behind him, and in jumping up to meet Father John, as he thought, he encountered the lank and yellow features, much worn dress, and dirty, moist hand of Father Cullen.

“Were you sleeping, then, Mr. Thady, before Father McGrath’s fire? ‘deed, then, I dare say you’ve been walking a great sight, for you look jaded. I’m not that fresh myself, for I’ve been away to Loch Sheen, to widow Byrne’s. Bad luck to the cratures, there’s nothing but sick calls now, and my heart’s broken with them, so it is.”

Thady’s only answer to this was, “How are you, Father Cullen?” He wished him back at Maynooth.

“Well, I hope Father McGrath isn’t far off thin,” and he looked at a watch nearly as big as a church clock, “for I’m very hungry, and, my! it’s only twenty minutes to six —”

This gave Thady the very unwelcome intelligence that Father Cullen meant to dine at the cottage.

“And now the pony’s lamed undher me, I had to walk all the way to Loch Sheen, in the dirt and gutther.”

Thady’s mind was full of one object, and he could not interest himself about the curate’s misfortunes in the lameness of his pony and the dirt of his walk.

“And bad manners to them Commissioners and people they sent over bothering and altering the people! Couldn’t we have our own parishes as we like, and fix them ourselves, but they must be sending English people to give us English parishes, altering the meerings just to be doing something? You know, Thady, the far end of Loch Sheen up there?”

“Yes, Father Cullen, I know where Loch Sheen is.”

“Well, that used to be Cashcarrigan parish; and Father Comyns — that’s the parish priest in Cash — don’t live not two miles all out from there; and the widow Byrne’s is six miles from where I live out yonder, if it’s a step, and yet they must go and put Loch Sheen into this parish.”

Father Cullen’s misfortunes still did not come home to Macdermot; he sat looking at the fire.

“There’s that poor ould woman, too, up there, left to starve by herself, the crature, now they’ve gone and put her two sons into gaol. I wonder what the counthry’ll be the better for all them boys being crammed into gaol. I wish they’d kept that Ussher down in the north when he was there; he’s fitter for that place than County Leitrim, any how.”

“What’s that about Captain Ussher, Father Cullen?”

“Shure didn’t you hear he put three more of the boys into gaol Tuesday evening, and one of them off Drumleesh?”

“Heard it! of course I heard it; and more than I’ll be hearing it too. Oh, Father Cullen, wherever that Ussher came from, I wish they’d kept him there.”

Thady’s earnestness in this surprised the young priest.

“Why, I thought you and he were so thick; but I’m glad it’s not so much so. Why would the like of you be making so free with a Protestant like him? Did you break with him, then, Mr. Thady?”

Macdermot by no means desired to admit Father Cullen into the conference about his sister; the strong expression of his dislike had fallen from him as it were involuntarily: he therefore turned off the question.

“Oh no; break with him! why would I break with him? But you can’t think I like to see him dhriving the boys into the gaol like sheep to the shambles. What business had they sending Tim Reynolds into gaol? There’ll be noise enough in the counthry about that yet, Father Cullen.”

“There’ll never be noise enough about that, and such like cruelties till he and all of the sort is put down intirely in the counthry; and that’ll only be when the counthry rights herself as she should do, and, by God’s blessing, will still; and that you and I, Mr. Thady, may live to see it —”

The further expression of Father Cullen’s favourite political opinions was here interrupted by Father John’s quick, heavy step on the little gravel walk.

“Well, boys,” said he, sitting down and pulling off his dirty gaiters and shoes before the fire, “waiting for the goose, eh? Egad, when I found what time it was, I thought you’d be bribing Judy to divide it between you. Cullen, you look awfully hungry; I’d better set you at the ham first, or you’ll make terrible work at the half bird — for a half is all there is for the three of us. Well, Judy, let’s have the stew.”

The dinner was now brought in, and Father John talked joyously, as though nothing was on his mind; and yet we know the sad conversation he had had with young Macdermot that very morning, and that Thady was there chiefly to tell the upshot of his mission — and Thady’s face was certainly no emblem of good news. He had also had a sad morning’s work with his curate, his parishioners were in great troubles, the times were very bad on them; many of them were in gaol for illegal distillation; more were engaged in the business, and were determined so to continue in open defiance of the police; many of them were becoming ribbonmen, or, at any rate, were joining secret and illegal societies. Driven from their cabins and little holdings, their crops and cattle taken from them, they were everywhere around desperate with poverty, and discontented equally with their own landlords and the restraints put upon them by government. All this weighed heavily on Father John’s mind, and he strongly felt the difficulty of his own situation; but he was not the man to allow his spirits to master him when entertaining others in his own house. Had only Cullen or only Thady been there, he would have tuned his own mind to that of his guest; but as their cases were so different, he tried to cheer them both.

“Egad, Thady, here’s another leg — come, my boy, we’ve still a leg to stand upon — Cullen has just finished one, and I could have sworn I ate the other yesterday. See, did Judy put one of her own in the hash —‘ex pede Herculem’— you’d know it so any way by the toughness. Lend me your fork, Thady, or excuse my own. Well, when I get the cash from Denis’s marriage, I’ll get a carving-knife and fork from Garley’s; not but what I ought to have one. Judy, where’s the big fork?”

“Why, didn’t yer riverence smash it entirely drawing the cork from the bottle of sherry wine ye got for Doctor Blake the day he was here about the dispinsary business?”

This little explanation Judy bawled from the kitchen.

“It is true for you, Judy; so I did, and bad luck to the day and Doctor Blake, too. That same day, Thady, cost me three good shillings for a bottle of bad wine, my old fork, and a leg of mutton and all; for I thought I’d be able to come round the doctor about his coming down to Drumsna here once a week regular; and when he’d ate my mutton and drank the sherry, he just told me it was not possible.”

“He’d sooner be making may be twenty or thirty poor sick craturs be walking five or six miles, than he’d ride over to see them; though it’s little he’d think of the distance av he’d a fee to touch.”

“For the matter of that, Cullen, I think yourself would go quicker to a wedding than you would to a sick call. ‘Deed, and I know myself I like the part of the business where the cash is.”

“In course, Mr. McGrath, I’d go with more sperit, but not a foot quicker, nor so quick. May be I’d grumble at the one and not at the other; but what the church tells me, I’ll do, if it plazes God to let me.”

“Oh, Cullen, you’d make one think I was admonishing you. A fine martyr he’d make, wouldn’t he, Thady?”

Cullen, who took everything in downright earnest, clasped his dirty hands, and exclaimed,

“If the church required it, and it was God’s will, I hope I would.”

“Well, well, but it’ll be just at present much more comfortable for all parties you should square round a little, and take your punch. Come, Thady, are you going to be a martyr, too? it’s a heathenish kind of penance, though, to be holding your tongue so long. Come, my boy, you were to bring the ticket about the rent with you.”

Thady opened his ears at the word rent, but before he’d time to make any suitable reply, Judy was moving the things, Father John was pulling back the table, and pushing Cullen into a corner by the fire.

“Now, Judy, the fire under the pump, you know; out with the groceries — see, but have I any sugar, then?”

“Sorrow a bit of lump, but moist and plenty, Father John.”

“Well, my boys, you must make your punch with brown sugar for once in your life; and what’s the harm? what we want in sugar, we’ll make up in the whiskey, I’ll be bound. Judy, bring the tumblers.”

Out came the tumblers — that is, two tumblers, one with a stand, the other with a flat bottom, and a tea-cup with a spoon in it. The tea-cup was put opposite Father John’s chair, and the reverend father himself proceeded to pour a tolerable modicum of spirits out of the stone jar into a good-sized milk jug, and placed it on the table.

“Isn’t it queer, then, Thady, I can’t get a bottle, or a decanter, or anything of glass to remain in the house at all? I’m sure I had a decanter, though I didn’t see it these six months.”

“And wouldn’t it be odd if you did, Father John? wasn’t it smashed last February?”

“Smashed! why, I think everything gets smashed.”

“Well now, Mr. Thady, to hear his riverence going on the like of that,” said the old woman, appealing to Macdermot; “and wasn’t it himself sent the broth down in it to Widow Green the latter end of last winter, and didn’t the foolish slip of a girl, her grand-dater, go to hait it over the hot coals for the ould woman, jist as it was, and in course the hait smashed the glass, and why wouldn’t it, and the broth was all spilt? But isn’t the jug just as good for the sperits, yer honers?”

“Well, well; boiling mutton broth over a turf fire, in my cut decanter! ‘optat ephippia bos piger.’ That’ll do, Judy, that’ll do.”

And the old woman retreated with a look of injured innocence.

Father John sniffed the whiskey. “‘Fumum bibere institutæ;’ it’s the right smell of the smoke. Come, Cullen, make your punch; come, Thady, don’t be sitting there that way;"— and he proceeded to make a most unpalatable-looking decoction of punch in his tea-cup, to which the moist sugar gave a peculiarly nasty appearance.

But all Father John’s attempted jovialities and preparations for enjoyment could not dispel the sadness from Thady’s face, or the settled solemnity from Father Cullen’s visage; he never joked, and rarely conversed; when he did speak, it was usually to argue or declaim; and Thady, even in his best times, was but a sorry companion for such a man as Father John. There the three of them sat, with their eyes fixed on the fire, all drinking their punch, it is true, but with very little signs of enjoying it.

How long they remained thus, I am unable to say; but Father John was getting very tired of his company, when they were all three startled by a sharp rap at the hall door, and before they had had time to surmise who it was, Captain Ussher walked in.

Now, though neither Father John nor his curate were very fond of Ussher, they both were tolerably intimate with him; indeed, till lately, when the priest began to think the gallant Captain was playing his fair parishioner false, and the opinion was becoming general that he was acting the tyrant among the people, Father John had rather liked Ussher than not. He was lively; — and if not well educated, he had some little general comprehension of which no others of those the priest knew around him could boast. He had met him first very frequently at Ballycloran, had since dined with him at Mohill, and had more than once induced him to join the unpretending festivities of the cottage. There was nothing, therefore, very singular in Captain Ussher’s visit; and yet, from what was uppermost in the mind of each of the party, it did surprise them all.

Father John, however, was never taken aback. “Ah, my darling, and how are you? come to see we are drinking parliament and not cheating the king.”

Although they were drinking potheen, and though Ussher might, doubtless, have put a fine of from five to fifty pounds on the priest for doing so, Father John knew that he was safe. It was at that time considered that no revenue officer would notice potheen if he met it, as a guest. People are rather more careful now on the matter.

“Oh, Father John, I never bring my government taster with me when I am not on service; but if you’ve any charity, give me an air of the fire and a drop of what’s going forward, all for love. How are you, Father Cullen?” and he shook hands with the curate. “How are you, Thady, old boy?” and he slapped Macdermot on the back as though they were the best friends in the world.

“How are you, Captain Ussher?” said the former, sitting down again as though the Captain’s salutation were a signal for him to do so, and as if he did not dare do it before. Nor would he. Father Cullen had been told that he should stand up when strangers came into a room — that it was a point of etiquette; and there he would have stood, though it had been ten minutes, if Ussher had not addressed him.

Thady did not get up at all; in fact, he did not know what to do or to say. He had been waiting anxiously, hoping that Father Cullen would go, and now the difficulties in his way were more than doubled.

Captain Ussher, however, took no notice of his silence; but, sitting down by Father John, began rubbing and warming his hands at the fire.

“Well, may I be d —— d — begging your reverence’s pardon — if this isn’t as cold a night as I’d wish to be out in, and as dark as my hat. I say, Thady, this’ll be the night for the boys to be running a drop of the stuff; there’d be no seeing the smoke now, anyhow. I was dining early at Carrick, and was getting away home as quick as I could, and my mare threw a shoe, luckily just opposite the forge down there; so I walked up here, Father John, and I told them to bring the mare up when she’s shod.”

“I’m glad the mare made herself so agreeable. Come, Judy, another tumbler here. By the by, then, Cullen, you must take to a tea-cup like myself — you’re used to it; and Captain Ussher, you must take brown sugar in your punch, though you are not used to it. If I could make lump sugar for you, I’d do it myself directly.”

“Oh, what’s the odds! I’m so cold I shan’t feel it;” and without any apology, he took poor Father Cullen’s tumbler, who emptied the rest of his punch into a tea-cup.

“Well, Thady, and who do you think there was at Hewson’s, but Keegan, your friend, you know? and a very pleasant fellow he is in his way: but how he does abuse you Catholics!”

“Well, Captain, and it’s little good you’ll hear any of us say of him, so that’s all fair,” said Father John.

“Take it that way, so it is; but I thought I heard some of you at Ballycloran say he was once a Catholic,” said Ussher turning to Thady; “your father was telling me so I think.”

He seemed determined to make Thady say something, but he only muttered an affirmative.

“Whoever said so, said wrong,” began Father Cullen, rising up and putting his hands on the table, as if he was going to make a speech, “Whoever said so, said wrong. His father was a Catholic, and his mother was a Catholic, but he never was a Catholic; and how could he, for he never was a Christian,”— and as he sat down he turned round his large obtruding eyes for approval.

“Oh, if you go on that high ground, you’ll lose half your flock. We are glad to get them whether they are Christians or not, so long as they are good Protestants; so you see Keegan’s good enough for us; and what could he do, poor fellow? if you wouldn’t have him, he must come to us.”

“Oh then, Father John, he’s satisfied to say men become Protestants when they are no longer fit to be Catholics; was that the way yourself become a Protestant, Captain Ussher?”

“If I’m to be d —— d for that, you know, it’s my father’s and mother’s fault. I ain’t like Keegan. I didn’t choose the bad road myself.”

“Oh, but isn’t it for yourself to choose the good road? didn’t you say you knew ours was the ould church as it stood always down from Christ? If you do go wrong, you don’t do it from ignorance, but you do it wilfully, and your sowl will howl in hell for it.”

Captain Ussher only burst out laughing at this little outbreak, but Father John exclaimed, “Whist! whist! Cullen, none of that here: if you can take any steps towards sending Captain Ussher to heaven, well and good; but don’t be sending him the other way while the poor fellow is over his punch.”

“Never mind, Father John; I and Father Cullen are very good friends, and I think he’ll hear me read my recantation yet; but he can’t do it to-night, as here’s my mare. I must go by Ballycloran, Thady; will you walk as far as the avenue with me?”

“Thank you, Captain Ussher, I’ll not be going out of this just yet.”

“Ah, well; I see you’re out with me for the tiff we had this morning. He’s angry now, Father John, just through my telling him he couldn’t count all the money he’d received this week.”

Father John observed the different manners of the young men towards each other, and from Thady’s silence, was quite sure that matters had gone amiss between them.

“I didn’t know it before then, Captain Ussher,” said Thady; “but if you must know, I’ve business to spake to Father John about.”

“Oh, well; open confession’s good for the soul; I hope he’ll absolve you for your bad temper.”

“It’s I am to get the absolution, if I can, this time; it’s the old story. Captain, ‘a thrifle of rint that’s owing, nothing more.’”

“Well, it’s all one to me: good night to you all,” and Captain Ussher rode away home to Mohill.

Father Cullen reseated himself by the fire, and again assumed his gaze at the hot turf, just as he was before Ussher came in, and looked hopelessly immovable. Thady shifted about uneasily in his chair, then got up and walked round the room, and then sat down again; but the curate wouldn’t move. At last Father John ended the affair by saying,

“Any more punch, Cullen?”

“Thank you, no, Sir.”

“Then just go home, there’s a good fellow.”

Cullen rose up, not the least offended — nothing would offend him — took his hat, and did as he was bid. At last Thady and Father John were left alone.

“Now, my boy,” said the priest, as he put on more turf, “we’ll be alone for half an hour, or it is odd. Well, you spoke to Feemy?”

“I did spake to her, Father John; but I’d better have left it alone; for when I began she only snubbed me, and she told me she’d manage her own business; but oh Father John, I fear it will be a bad business! She told me she loved him, and that he had gone so far as asking her to marry him, and all that; but as far as I could learn, it was only just talk, that. But I could say nothing to her, for she got the better of me, and then flew out of the room, saying, it did not matter what I said.”

And then Macdermot told the priest exactly what had passed; how headstrong Feemy was, how infatuated she was with her lover, and how regardless of what any one could say to her on the subject; “and now, Father John, what on ‘arth shall I do at all, for the heart’s broken in me, with all the throubles that’s on me.”

“I’ll tell you what, Thady: don’t be falling out with Captain Ussher — any way, not yet — for he may mean honestly, you know, though I own my heart doubts him; but take my advice, and don’t be falling out with him yet. I’ll see Feemy tomorrow, and if she won’t hear or won’t heed what her priest says to her, I’ll tell you what we’ll do. One woman will always listen to another, and I’ll ask Mrs. McKeon to speak to Feemy, and tell her the character she’ll be giving herself. Mrs. McKeon has daughters of her own, and when I remind her that Feemy has neither mother, nor sister, nor female friend of any kind, she’ll not be refusing me this, disagreeable though it may be to her. And now, Thady, do you go home to bed, and pray to God to protect your sister; and, remember, my boy, that though you may have reason to be displeased with her, as I said, she has neither mother nor sister; she has no one to look to but yourself, and if there is much in her to forgive, there are many causes for forgiveness.”

Thady silently shook hands with his friend, and went home; and whether or no he obeyed the priest’s injunctions to pray for protection for his sister, that good man himself did not go to sleep till he had long been on his knees, imploring aid for her, and the numerous unfortunates of his flock.

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