Herbert Fitzgerald, in speaking of the Rev. Aeneas Townsend to Lady Clara Desmond, had said that in his opinion the reverend gentleman was a good man, but a bad clergyman. But there were not a few in the county Cork who would have said just the reverse, and declared him to be a bad man, but a good clergyman. There were others, indeed, who knew him well, who would have declared him to be perfect in both respects, and others again who thought him in both respects to be very bad. Amidst these great diversities of opinion I will venture on none of my own, but will attempt to describe him.
In Ireland stanch Protestantism consists too much in a hatred of Papistry — in that rather than in a hatred of those errors against which we Protestants are supposed to protest. Hence the cross — which should, I presume, be the emblem of salvation to us all — creates a feeling of dismay and often of disgust instead of love and reverence; and the very name of a saint savours in Irish Protestant ears of idolatry, although Irish Protestants on every Sunday profess to believe in a communion of such. These are the feelings rather than the opinions of the most Protestant of Irish Protestants, and it is intelligible that they should have been produced by the close vicinity of Roman Catholic worship in the minds of men who are energetic and excitable, but not always discreet or argumentative.
One of such was Mr. Townsend, and few men carried their Protestant fervour further than he did. A cross was to him what a red cloth is supposed to be to a bull; and so averse was he to the intercession of saints, that he always regarded as a wolf in sheep’s clothing a certain English clergyman who had written to him a letter dated from the feast of St. Michael and All Angels. On this account Herbert Fitzgerald took upon himself to say that he regarded him as a bad clergyman: whereas, most of his Protestant neighbours looked upon this enthusiasm as his chief excellence.
And this admiration for him induced his friends to overlook what they must have acknowledged to be defects in his character. Though he had a good living — at least, what the laity in speaking of clerical incomes is generally inclined to call a good living, we will say amounting in value to four hundred pounds a-year — he was always in debt. This was the more inexcusable as he had no children, and had some small private means.
And nobody knew why he was in debt — in which word nobody he himself must certainly be included. He had no personal expenses of his own; his wife, though she was a very queer woman, as Lady Clara had said, could hardly be called an extravagant woman; there was nothing large or splendid about the way of living at the glebe; anybody who came there, both he and she were willing to feed as long as they chose to stay, and a good many in this way they did feed; but they never invited guests; and as for giving regular fixed dinner-parties, as parish rectors do in England, no such idea ever crossed the brain of either Mr. or Mrs. Townsend.
That they were both charitable all the world admitted; and their admirers professed that hence arose all their difficulties. But their charities were of a most indiscreet kind. Money they rarely had to give, and therefore they would give promises to pay. While their credit with the butcher and baker was good they would give meat and bread; and both these functionaries had by this time learned that, though Mr. Townsend might not be able to pay such bills himself, his friends would do so, sooner or later, if duly pressed. And therefore the larder at Drumbarrow Glebe — that was the name of the parish — was never long empty, and then again it was never long full.
But neither Mr. nor Mrs. Townsend were content to bestow their charities without some other object than than of relieving material wants by their alms. Many infidels, Mr. Townsend argued, had been made believers by the miracle of the loaves and fishes; and therefore it was permissible for him to make use of the same means for drawing over proselytes to the true church. If he could find hungry Papists and convert them into well-fed Protestants by one and the same process, he must be doing a double good, he argued; — could by no possibility be doing an evil.
Such being the character of Mr. Townsend, it will not be thought surprising that he should have his warm admirers and his hot detractors. And they who were inclined to be among the latter were not slow to add up certain little disagreeable eccentricities among the list of his faults — as young Fitzgerald had done in the matter of the dirty surplices.
Mr. Townsend’s most uncompromising foe for many years had been the Rev. Bernard M’Carthy, the parish priest for the same parish of Drumbarrow. Father Bernard, as he was called by his own flock, or Father Barney, as the Protestants in derision were delighted to name him, was much more a man of the world than his Protestant colleague. He did not do half so many absurd things as did Mr. Townsend, and professed to laugh at what he called the Protestant madness of the rector. But he also had been an eager, I may also say, a malicious antagonist. What he called the “souping” system of the Protestant clergyman stank in his nostrils — that system by which, as he stated, the most ignorant of men were to be induced to leave their faith by the hope of soup, or other food. He was as firmly convinced of the inward, heart-destroying iniquity of the parson as the parson was of that of the priest. And so these two men had learned to hate each other. And yet neither of them were bad men.
I do not wish it to be understood that this sort of feeling always prevailed in Irish parishes between the priest and the parson even before the days of the famine. I myself have met a priest at a parson’s table, and have known more than one parish in which the Protestant and Roman Catholic clergymen lived together on amicable terms. But such a feeling as that above represented was common, and was by no means held as proof that the parties themselves were quarrelsome or malicious. It was a part of their religious convictions, and who dares to interfere with the religious convictions of a clergyman?
On the day but one after that on which the Castle Richmond ladies had been thrown from their car on the frosty road, Mr. Townsend and Father Bernard were brought together in an amicable way, or in a way that was intended to be amicable, for the first time in their lives. The relief committee for the district in which they both lived was one and the same, and it was of course well that both should act on it. When the matter was first arranged, Father Bernard took the bull by the horns and went there; but Mr. Townsend, hearing this, did not do so. But now that it had become evident that much work, and for a long time, would have to be performed at these committees, it was clear that Mr. Townsend, as a Protestant clergyman, could not remain away without neglecting his duty. And so, after many mental struggles and questions of conscience, the parson agreed to meet the priest.
The point had been very deeply discussed between the rector and his wife. She had given it as her opinion that priest M’Carthy was pitch, pitch itself in its blackest turpitude, and as such could not be touched without defilement. Had not all the Protestant clergymen of Ireland in a body, or, at any rate, all those who were worth anything, who could with truth be called Protestant clergymen, had they not all refused to enter the doors of the National schools because they could not do so without sharing their ministration there with papist priests; with priests of the altar of Baal, as Mrs. Townsend called them? And should they now yield, when, after all, the assistance needed was only for the body — not for the soul?
It may be seen from this that the lady’s mind was not in its nature logical; but the extreme absurdity of her arguments, though they did not ultimately have the desired effect, by no means came home to the understanding of her husband. He thought that there was a great deal in what she said, and almost felt that he was yielding to instigations from the evil one; but public opinion was too strong for him; public opinion and the innate kindness of his own heart. He felt that at this very moment he ought to labour specially for the bodies of these poor people, as at other times he would labour specially for their souls; and so he yielded.
“Well,” said his wife to him as he got off his car at his own door after the meeting, “what have you done?” One might have imagined from her tone of voice and her manner that she expected, or at least hoped to hear that the priest had been absolutely exterminated and made away with in the good fight.
Mr. Townsend made no immediate answer, but proceeded to divest himself of his rusty outside coat, and to rub up his stiff, grizzled, bristly, uncombed hair with both his hands, as was his wont when he was not quite satisfied with the state of things.
“I suppose he was there?” said Mrs. Townsend.
“Oh yes, he was there. He is never away, I take it, when there is any talking to be done.” Now Mr. Townsend dearly loved to hear himself talk, but no man was louder against the sins of other orators. And then he began to ask how many minutes it wanted to dinner-time.
Mrs. Townsend knew his ways. She would not have a ghost of a chance of getting from him a true and substantial account of what had really passed if she persevered in direct questions to the effect. So she pretended to drop the matter, and went and fetched her lord’s slippers, the putting on of which constituted his evening toilet; and then, after some little hurrying inquiry in the kitchen, promised him his dinner in fifteen minutes.
“Was Herbert Fitzgerald there?”
“Oh yes; he is always there. He’s a nice young fellow; a very fine young fellow; but —”
“He thinks he understands the Irish Roman Catholics, but he understands them no more than — than — than this slipper,” he said, having in vain cudgelled his brain for a better comparison.
“You know what Aunt Letty says about him. She doubts he isn’t quite right, you know.”
Mrs. Townsend by this did not mean to insinuate that Herbert was at all afflicted in that way which we attempt to designate, when we say that one of our friends is not all right, and at the same time touch our heads with our forefinger. She had intended to convey an impression that the young man’s religious ideas were not exactly of that stanch, true-blue description which she admired.
“Well, he has just come from Oxford, you know,” said Mr. Townsend: “and at the present moment Oxford is the most dangerous place to which a young man can be sent.”
“And Sir Thomas would send him there, though I remember telling his aunt over and over again how it would be.” And Mrs. Townsend as she spoke shook her head sorrowfully.
“I don’t mean to say, you know, that he’s absolutely bitten.”
“Oh, I know — I understand. When they come to crosses and candlesticks, the next step to the glory of Mary is a very easy one. I would sooner send a young man to Rome than to Oxford. At the one he might be shocked and disgusted; but at the other he is cajoled, and cheated, and ruined.” And then Mrs. Townsend threw herself back in her chair, and threw her eyes up towards the ceiling.
But there was no hypocrisy or pretence in this expression of her feelings. She did in her heart of hearts believe that there was some college or club of papists at Oxford, emissaries of the Pope or of the Jesuits. In her moments of sterner thought the latter were the enemies she most feared; whereas, when she was simply pervaded by her usual chronic hatred of the Irish Roman Catholic hierarchy, she was wont to inveigh most against the Pope. And this college, she maintained, was fearfully successful in drawing away the souls of young English students. Indeed, at Oxford a man had no chance against the devi. Things were better at Cambridge; though even there there was great danger. Look at A— and Z—; and she would name two perverts to the Church of Rome, of whom she had learned that they were Cambridge men. But, thank God, Trinity College still stood firm. Her idea was, that if there were left any real Protestant truth in the Church of England, that Church should look to feed her lambs by the hands of shepherds chosen from that seminary, and from that seminary only.
“But isn’t dinner nearly ready?” said Mr. Townsend, whose ideas were not so exclusively Protestant as were those of his wife. “I haven’t had a morsel since breakfast.” And then his wife, who was peculiarly anxious to keep him in a good humour that all might come out about Father Barney, made another little visit to the kitchen.
At last the dinner was served. The weather was very cold, and the rector and his wife considered it more cosy to use only the parlour, and not to migrate into the cold air of a second room. Indeed, during the winter months the drawing-room of Drumbarrow Glebe was only used for visitors, and for visitors who were not intimate enough in the house to be placed upon the worn chairs and threadbare carpet of the dining-parlour. And very cold was that drawing-room found to be by each visitor.
But the parlour was warm enough; warm and cosy, though perhaps at times a little close; and of evenings there would pervade it a smell of whisky punch, not altogether acceptable to unaccustomed nostrils. Not that the rector of Drumbarrow was by any means an intemperate man. His single tumbler of whisky toddy, repeated only on Sundays and some other rare occasions, would by no means equal, in point of drinking, the ordinary port of an ordinary English clergyman. But whisky punch does leave behind a savour of its intrinsic virtues, delightful no doubt to those who have imbibed its grosser elements, but not equally acceptable to others who may have been less fortunate.
During dinner there was no conversation about Herbert Fitzgerald, or the committee, or Father Barney. The old gardener, who waited at table with all his garden clothes on him, and whom the neighbours, with respectful deference, called Mr. Townsend’s butler, was a Roman Catholic, as, indeed, were all the servants at the glebe, and as are, necessarily, all the native servants in that part of the country. And though Mr. and Mrs. Townsend put great trust in their servant Jerry as to the ordinary duties of gardening, driving, and butlering, they would not knowingly trust him with a word of their habitual conversation about the things around them. Their idea was, that every word so heard was carried to the priest, and that the priest kept a book in which every word so uttered was written down. If this were so through the parish, the priest must in truth have had something to do, both for himself and his private secretary, for, in spite of all precautions that were taken, Jerry and Jerry’s brethren no doubt did hear much of what was said. The repetitions to the priest, however, I must take leave to doubt.
But after dinner, when the hot water and whisky were on the table, when the two old armchairs were drawn cozily up on the rug, each with an old footstool before it, when the faithful wife had mixed that glass of punch — or jug rather, for, after the old fashion, it was brewed in such a receptacle; and when, to inspire increased confidence, she had put into it a small extra modicum of the eloquent spirit, then the mouth of the rector was opened, and Mrs. Townsend was made happy.
“And so Father Barney and I have met at last,” said he, rather cheerily, as the hot fumes of the toddy regaled his nostrils.
“And how did he behave, now?”
“Well, he was decent enough — that is, as far as absolute behaviour went. You can’t have a silk purse from off a sow’s ear, you know.”
“No, indeed; and goodness knows there’s plenty of the sow’s ear about him. But now, Aeneas, dear, do tell me how it all was, just from the beginning.”
“He was there before me,” said the husband.
“Catch a weasel asleep!” said the wife.
“I didn’t catch him asleep, at any rate,” continued he. “He was there before me; but when I went into the little room where they hold the meeting —”
“It’s at Berryhill, isn’t it?”
“Yes, at the Widow Casey’s. To see that woman bowing and scraping and curtsying to Father Barney, and she his own mother’s brother’s daughter, was the best thing in the world.”
“That was just to do him honour before the quality, you know.”
“Exactly. When I went in, there was nobody there but his reverence and Master Herbert.”
“As thick as possible, I suppose. Dear, dear; isn’t it dreadful! — Did I put sugar enough in it, Aeneas?”
“Well, I don’t know; perhaps you may give me another small lump. At any rate, you didn’t forget the whisky.”
“I’m sure it isn’t a taste too strong — and after such work as you’ve had today. — And so young Fitzgerald and Father Barney —”
“Yes, there they were with their heads together. It was something about a mill they were saying.”
“Oh, it’s perfectly dreadful!”
“But Herbert stopped, and introduced me at once to Father Barney.”
“What! a regular introduction? I like that, indeed.”
“He didn’t do it altogether badly. He said something about being glad to see two gentlemen together —”
“A gentleman, indeed!”
“— who were both so anxious to do the best they could in the parish, and whose influence was so great — or something to that effect. And then we shook hands.”
“You did shake hands?”
“Oh yes; if I went there at all, it was necessary that I should do that.”
“I am very glad it was not me, that’s all. I don’t think I could shake hands with Father Barney.”
“There’s no knowing what you can do, my dear, till you try.”
“H— m,” said Mrs. Townsend, meaning to signify thereby that she was still strong in the strength of her own impossibilities.
“And then there was a little general conversation about the potato, for no one came in for a quarter of an hour or so. The priest said that they were as badly off in Limerick and Clare as we are here. Now, I don’t believe that; and when I asked him how he knew, he quoted the ‘Freeman.’”
“The ‘Freeman,’ indeed! Just like him. I wonder it wasn’t the ‘Nation.’” In Mrs. Townsend’s estimation, the parish priest was much to blame because he did not draw his public information from some newspaper specially addicted to the support of the Protestant cause.
“And then Somers came in, and he took the chair. I was very much afraid at one time that Father Barney was going to seat himself there.”
“You couldn’t possibly have stood that?”
“I had made up my mind what to do. I should have walked about the room, and looked on the whole affair as altogether irregular — as though there was no chairman. But Somers was of course the proper man.”
“And who else came?”
“There was O’Leary, from Boherbue.”
“He was another Papist?”
“Oh yes; there was a majority of them. There was Greilly, the man who has got that large take of land over beyond Banteer; and then Father Barney’s coadjutor came in.”
“What! that wretched-looking man from Gortnaclough?”
“Yes; he’s the curate of the parish, you know.”
“And did you shake hands with him too?”
“Indeed I did; and you never saw a fellow look so ashamed of himself in your life.”
“Well, there isn’t much shame about them generally.”
“And there wasn’t much about him by-and-by. You never heard a man talk such trash in your life, till Somers put him down.”
“Oh, he was put down? I’m glad of that.”
“And to do Father Barney justice, he did tell him to hold his tongue. The fool began to make a regular set speech.”
“Father Barney, I suppose, didn’t choose that anybody should do that but himself.”
“He did enough for the two, certainly. I never heard a man so fond of his own voice. What he wants is to rule it all just his own way.”
“Of course he does; and that’s just what you won’t let him do. What other reason can there be for your going there?”
And so the matter was discussed. What absolute steps were taken by the committee; how they agreed to buy so much meal of such a merchant, at such a price, and with such funds; how it was to be resold, and never given away on any pretext; how Mr. Somers had explained that giving away their means was killing the goose that laid the golden eggs, when the young priest, in an attitude for oratory, declared that the poor had no money with which to make the purchase; and how in a few weeks’ time they would be able to grind their own flour at Herbert Fitzgerald’s mill; — all this was also told. But the telling did not give so much gratification to Mrs. Townsend as the sly hits against the two priests.
And then, while they were still in the middle of all this; when the punch-jug had given way to the teapot, and the rector was beginning to bethink himself that a nap in his armchair would be very refreshing, Jerry came into the room to announce that Richard had come over from Castle Richmond with a note for “his riverence.” And so Richard was shown in.
Now, Richard might very well have sent in his note by Jerry, which after all contained only some information with reference to a list of old women which Herbert Fitzgerald had promised to send over to the glebe. But Richard knew that the minister would wish to chat with him, and Richard himself had no indisposition for a little conversation.
“I hope yer riverences is quite well, then,” said Richard, as he tendered his note, making a double bow, so as to include them both.
“Pretty well, thank you,” said Mrs. Townsend. “And how’s all the family?”
“Well, then, they’re all rightly, considhering. The Masther’s no just what he war, you know, ma’am.”
“I’m afraid not — I’m afraid not,” said the rector. “You’ll not take a glass of spirits, Richard?”
“Yer riverence knows I never does that,” said Richard, with somewhat of a conscious look of high morality, for he was a rigid teetotaller.
“And do you mean to say that you stick to that always?” said Mrs. Townsend, who firmly believed that no good could come out of Nazareth, and that even abstinence from whisky must be bad if accompanied by anything in the shape of a Roman Catholic ceremony.
“I do mean to say, ma’am, that I never touched a dhrop of anything sthronger than wather, barring tay, since the time I got the pledge from the blessed apostle.” And Richard boldly crossed himself in the presence of them both. They knew well whom he meant by the blessed apostle: it was Father Mathew.
“Temperance is a very good thing, however we may come by it,” said Mr. Townsend, who meant to imply by this that Richard’s temperance had been come by in the worst way possible.
“That’s thrue for you, sir,” said Richard; “but I never knew any pledge kept, only the blessed apostle’s.” By which he meant to imply that no sanctity inherent in Mr. Townsend’s sacerdotal proceedings could be of any such efficacy.
And then Mr. Townsend read the note. “Ah, yes,” said he; “tell Mr. Herbert that I’m very much obliged to him. There will be no other answer necessary.”
“Very well, yer riverence, I’ll be sure to give Mr. Herbert the message.” And Richard made a sign as though he were going.
“But tell me, Richard,” said Mrs. Townsend, “is Sir Thomas any better? for we have been really very uneasy about him.”
“Indeed and he is, ma’am; a dail betther this morning, the Lord be praised.”
“It was a kind of a fit, wasn’t it, Richard?” asked the parson.
“A sort of a fit of illness of some kind, I’m thinking,” said Richard, who had no mind to speak of his family’s secrets out of doors. Whatever he might be called upon to tell the priest, at any rate he was not called on to tell anything to the parson.
“But it was very sudden this time, wasn’t it, Richard?” asked the lady; “immediately after that strange man was shown into his room — eh?”
“I’m sure, ma’am, I can’t say; but I don’t think he was a ha’porth worse than ordinar, till after the gentleman went away. I did hear that he did his business with the gentleman, just as usual like.”
“And then he fell into a fit, didn’t he, Richard?”
“Not that I heard of, ma’am. He did a dail of talking about some law business, I did hear our Mrs. Jones say; and then afther he warn’t just the betther of it.”
“Was that all?”
“And I don’t think he’s none the worse for it neither, ma’am; for the masther do seem to have more life in him this day than I’se seen this many a month. Why, he’s been out and about with her ladyship in the pony-carriage all the morning.”
“Has he now? Well, I’m delighted to hear that. It is some trouble about the English estates, I believe, that vexes him?”
“Faix, then, ma’am, I don’t just know what it is that ails him, unless it be just that he has too much money for to know what to do wid it. That’d be the sore vexation to me, I know.”
“Well; ah, yes; I suppose I shall see Mrs. Jones tomorrow, or at latest the day after,” said Mrs. Townsend, resolving to pique the man by making him understand that she could easily learn all that she wished to learn from the woman: “a great comfort Mrs. Jones must be to her ladyship.”
“Oh yes, ma’am; ‘deed an’ she is,” said Richard; “‘specially in the matter of puddins and pies, and such like.”
He was not going to admit Mrs. Jones’s superiority, seeing that he had lived in the family long before his present mistress’s marriage.
“And in a great many other things too, Richard. She’s quite a confidential servant. That’s because she’s a Protestant, you know.”
Now of all men, women, and creatures living, Richard the coachman of Castle Richmond was the most good tempered. No amount of anger or scolding, no professional misfortune — such as the falling down of his horse upon the ice, no hardship — such as three hours’ perpetual rain when he was upon the box — would make him cross. To him it was a matter of perfect indifference if he were sent off with his car just before breakfast, or called away to some stable work as the dinner was about to smoke in the servants’ hall. He was a great eater, but what he didn’t eat one day he could eat the next. Such things never ruffled him, nor was he ever known to say that such a job wasn’t his work. He was always willing to nurse a baby, or dig potatoes, or cook a dinner, to the best of his ability, when asked to do so; but he could not endure to be made less of than a Protestant; and of all Protestants he could not endure to be made less of than Mrs. Jones.
“‘Cause she’s a Protestant, is it, ma’am?”
“Of course, Richard; you can’t but see that Protestants are more trusted, more respected, more thought about than Romanists, can you?”
“‘Deed then I don’t know, ma’am.”
“But look at Mrs. Jones.”
“Oh, I looks at her often enough; and she’s well enough too for a woman. But we all know her weakness.”
“What’s that, Richard?” asked Mrs. Townsend, with some interest expressed in her tone; for she was not above listening to a little scandal, even about the servants of her great neighbours.
“Why, she do often talk about things she don’t understand. But she’s a great hand at puddins and pies, and that’s what one mostly looks for in a woman.”
This was enough for Mrs. Townsend for the present, and so Richard was allowed to take his departure, in full self-confidence that he had been one too many for the parson’s wife.
“Jerry,” said Richard, as they walked out into the yard together to get the Castle Richmond pony, “does they often thry to make a Prothestant of you now?”
“Prothestants be d — — ” said Jerry, who by no means shared in Richard’s good gifts as to temper.
“Well, I wouldn’t say that; at laist, not of all of ’em.”
“The likes of them’s used to it,” said Jerry.
And then Richard, not waiting to do further battle on behalf of his Protestant friends, trotted out of the yard.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01