Mick O’Dwyer’s public-house at Kanturk was by no means so pretentious an establishment as that kept by his brother in South Main Street, Cork, but it was on the whole much less nasty. It was a drinking-shop and a public car office, and such places in Ireland are seldom very nice; but there was no attempt at hotel grandeur, and the little room in which the family lived behind the bar was never invaded by customers.
On one evening just at this time — at the time, that is, with which we have been lately concerned — three persons were sitting in this room over a cup of tea. There was a gentleman, midddle-aged, but none the worse on that account, who has already been introduced in these pages as Father Bernard M’Carthy. He was the parish priest of Drumbarrow; and as his parish comprised a portion of the town of Kanturk, he lived, not exactly in the town, but within a mile of it. His sister had married Mr. O’Dwyer of South Main Street, and therefore he was quite at home in the little back parlour of Mick O’Dwyer’s house in Kanturk. Indeed Father Bernard was a man who made himself at home in the houses of most of his parishioners — and of some who were not his parishioners.
His companions on the present occasion were two ladies who seemed to be emulous in supplying his wants. The younger and more attractive of the two was also an old friend of ours, being no other than Fanny O’Dwyer from South Main Street. Actuated, doubtless, by some important motive she had left her bar at home for one night, having come down to Kanturk by her father’s car, with the intention of returning by it in the morning. She was seated as a guest here on the corner of the sofa near the fire, but nevertheless she was neither too proud nor too strange in her position to administer as best she might to the comfort of her uncle.
The other lady was Mistress O’Dwyer, the lady of the mansion. She was fat, very; by no means fair, and perhaps something over forty. But nevertheless there were those who thought that she had her charms. A better hand at curing a side of bacon there was not in the county Cork, nor a woman who was more knowing in keeping a house straight and snug over her husband’s head. That she had been worth more than a fortune to Mick O’Dwyer was admitted by all in Kanturk; for it was known to all that Mick O’Dwyer was not himself a good hand at keeping a house straight and snug.
“Another cup of tay, Father Bernard,” said this lady. “It’ll be more to your liking now than the first, you’ll find.” Father Barney, perfectly reliant on her word, handed in his cup.
“And the muffin is quite hot,” said Fanny, stooping down to a tray which stood before the peat fire, holding the muffin dish. “But perhaps you’d like a morsel of buttered toast; say the word, uncle, and I’ll make it in a brace of seconds.”
“In course she will,” said Mrs. O’Dwyer: “and happy too, av you’ll only say that you have a fancy, Father Bernard.”
But Father Bernard would not own to any such fancy. The muffin, he said, was quite to his liking, and so was the tea; and from the manner in which he disposed of these delicacies, even Mrs. Townsend might have admitted that this assertion was true, though she was wont to express her belief that nothing but lies could, by any possibility, fall from his mouth.
“And they have been staying with you now for some weeks, haven’t they?” said Father Barney.
“Off and on,” said Fanny.
“But there’s one of them mostly there, isn’t he?” added the priest.
“The two of them is mostly there, just now. Sometimes one goes away for a day or two, and sometimes the other.”
“And they have no business which keeps them in Cork?” continued the priest, who seemed to be very curious on the matter.
“Well, they do have business, I suppose,” said Fanny, “but av so I never sees it.”
Fanny O’Dwyer had a great respect for her uncle, seeing that he filled an exalted position, and was a connexion of whom she could be justly proud; but, though she had now come down to Kanturk with the view of having a good talk with her aunt and uncle about the Molletts, she would only tell as much as she liked to tell, even to the parish priest of Drumbarrow. And we may as well explain here that Fanny had now permanently made up her mind to reject the suit of Mr. Abraham Mollett. As she had allowed herself to see more and more of the little domestic ways of that gentleman, and to become intimate with him as a girl should become with the man she intends to marry, she had gradually learned to think that he hardly came up to her beau ideal of a lover. That he was crafty and false did not perhaps offend her as it should have done. Dear Fanny, excellent and gracious as she was, could herself be crafty on occasions. He drank too, but that came in the way of her profession. It is hard, perhaps, for a barmaid to feel much severity against that offence. But in addition to this Aby was selfish and cruel and insolent, and seldom altogether good tempered. He was bad to his father, and bad to those below him whom he employed. Old Mollett would give away his sixpences with a fairly liberal hand, unless when he was exasperated by drink and fatigue. But Aby seldom gave away a penny. Fanny had sharp eyes, and soon felt that her English lover was not a man to be loved, though he had two rings, a gold chain, and half a dozen fine waistcoats.
And then another offence had come to light in which the Molletts were both concerned. Since their arrival in South Main Street they had been excellent customers — indeed quite a godsend, in this light, to Fanny, who had her own peculiar profit out of such house-customers as they were. They had paid their money like true Britons — not regularly indeed, for regularity had not been desired, but by a five pound now, and another in a day or two, just as they were wanted. Nothing indeed could be better than this, for bills so paid are seldom rigidly scrutinized. But of late, within the last week, Fanny’s requests for funds had not been so promptly met, and only on the day before her visit to Kanturk she had been forced to get her father to take a bill from Mr. Mollett senior for 20 l. at two months’ date. This was a great come-down, as both Fanny and her father felt, and they had begun to think that it might be well to bring their connexion with the Molletts to a close. What if an end had come to the money of these people, and their bills should be dishonoured when due? It was all very well for a man to have claims against Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, but Fanny O’Dwyer had already learnt that nothing goes so far in this world as ready cash.
“They do have business, I suppose,” said Fanny.
“It won’t be worth much, I’m thinking,” said Mrs. O’Dwyer, “when they can’t pay their weekly bills at a house of public entertainment, without flying their names at two months’ date.”
Mrs. O’Dwyer hated any such payments herself, and looked on them as certain signs of immorality. That every man should take his drop of drink, consume it noiselessly, and pay for it immediately — that was her idea of propriety in its highest form.
“And they’ve been down here three or four times, each of them,” said Father Barney, thinking deeply on the subject.
“I believe they have,” said Fanny. “But of course I don’t know much of where they’ve been to.”
Father Barney knew very well that his dear niece had been on much more intimate terms with her guest than she pretended. The rumours had reached his ears some time since that the younger of the two strangers in South Main Street was making himself agreeable to the heiress of the hotel, and he had intended to come down upon her with all the might of an uncle, and, if necessary, with all the authority of the Church. But now that Fanny had discarded her lover, he wisely felt that it would be well for him to know nothing about it. Both uncles and priests may know too much — very foolishly.
“I have seen them here myself,” said he, “and they have both been up at Castle Richmond.”
“They do say as poor Sir Thomas is in a bad way,” said Mrs. O’Dwyer, shaking her head piteously.
“And yet he sees these men,” said Father Barney. “I know that for certain. He has seen them, though he will rarely see anybody now-a-days.”
“Young Mr. Herbert is a-doing most of the business up about the place,” said Mrs. O’Dwyer. “And people do say as how he is going to make a match of it with Lady Clara Desmond. And it’s the lucky girl she’ll be, for he’s a nice young fellow entirely.”
“Not half equal to her other Joe, Mr. Owen that is,” said Fanny.
“Well, I don’t know that, my dear. Such a house and property as Castle Richmond is not likely to go a-begging among the young women. And then Mr. Herbert is not so rampageous like as him of Hap house, by all accounts.”
But Father Barney still kept to his subject. “And they are both at your place at the present moment, eh, Fanny?”
“They was to dine there, after I left.”
“And the old man said he’d be down here again next Thursday,” continued the priest. “I heard that for certain. I’ll tell you what it is, they’re not after any good here. They are Protestants, ain’t they?”
“Oh, black Protestants,” said Mrs. O’Dwyer. “But you are not taking your tay, Father Bernard,” and she again filled his cup for him.
“If you’ll take my advice, Fanny, you’ll give them nothing more without seeing their money. They’ll come to no good here, I’m sure of that. They’re afther some mischief with that poor old gentleman at Castle Richmond, and it’s my belief the police will have them before they’ve done.”
“Like enough,” said Mrs. O’Dwyer.
“They may have them tomorrow, for what I care,” said Fanny, who could not help feeling that Aby Mollett had at one time been not altogether left without hope as her suitor.
“But you wouldn’t like anything like that to happen in your father’s house,” said Father Barney.
“Bringing throuble and disgrace on an honest name,” said Mrs. O’Dwyer.
“There’d be no disgrace as I knows of,” said Fanny, stoutly. “Father makes his money by the public, and in course he takes in any that comes the way with money in their pockets to pay the shot.”
“But these Molletts ain’t got the money to pay the shot,” said Mrs. O’Dwyer, causticly. “You’ve about sucked ’em dhry, I’m thinking, and they owes you more now than you’re like to get from ’em.”
“I suppose father’ll have to take that bill up,” said Fanny, assenting. And so it was settled down there among them that the Molletts were to have the cold shoulder, and that they should in fact be turned out of the Kanturk Hotel as quickly as this could be done. “Better a small loss at first, than a big one at last,” said Mrs. O’Dwyer, with much wisdom. “They’ll come to mischief down here, as sure as my name’s M’Carthy,” said the priest. “And I’d be sorry your father should be mixed up in it.”
And then by degrees the conversation was changed, but not till the tea-things had been taken away, and a square small bottle of very particular whisky put on the table in its place. And the sugar also was brought, and boiling water in an immense jug, as though Father Barney were going to make a deep potation indeed, and a lemon in a wine-glass; and then the priest was invited, with much hospitality, to make himself comfortable. Nor did the luxuries prepared for him end here; but Fanny, the pretty Fan herself, filled a pipe for him, and pretended that she would light it, for such priests are merry enough sometimes, and can joke as well as other men with their pretty nieces.
“But you’re not mixing your punch, Father Bernard,” said Mrs. O’Dwyer, with a plaintive melancholy voice, “and the wather getting cowld and all! Faix then, Father Bernard, I’ll mix it for ye, so I will.” And so she did, and well she knew how. And then she made another for herself and her niece, urging that “a thimbleful would do Fanny all the good in life afther her ride acrass them cowld mountains,” and the priest looked on assenting, blowing the comfortable streams of smoke from his nostrils.
“And so, Father Bernard, you and Parson Townsend is to meet again tomorrow at Gortnaclough.” Whereupon Father Bernard owned that such was the case, with a nod, not caring to disturb the pipe which lay comfortably on his lower lip.
“Well, well; only to think on it,” continued Mrs. O’Dwyer. “That the same room should hould the two of ye.” And she lifted up her hands and shook her head.
“It houlds us both very comfortable, I can assure you, Mrs. O’Dwyer.”
“And he ain’t rampageous and highty-tighty? He don’t give hisself no airs?”
“Well, no; nothing in particular. Why should the man be such a fool as that?”
“Why, in course? But they are such fools, Father Bernard. They does think theyselves such grand folks. Now don’t they? I’d give a dandy of punch all round to the company just to hear you put him down once; I would. But he isn’t upsetting at all, then?”
“Not the last time we met, he wasn’t; and I don’t think he intends it. Things have come to that now that the parsons know where they are and what they have to look to. They’re getting a lesson they’ll not forget in a hurry. Where are their rent charges to come from — can you tell me that, Mrs. O’Dwyer?”
Mrs. O’Dwyer could not, but she remarked that pride would always have a fall. “And there’s no pride like Protesthant pride,” said Fanny. “It is so upsetting, I can’t abide it.” All which tended to show that she had given up her Protestant lover.
“And is it getthing worse than iver with the poor crathurs?” said Mrs. O’Dwyer, referring, not to the Protestants, but to the victims of the famine.
“Indeed it’s getting no betther,” said the priest, “and I’m fearing it will be worse before it is over. I haven’t married one couple in Drumbarrow since November last.”
“And that’s a heavy sign, Father Bernard.”
“The surest sign in the world that they have no money among them at all, at all. And it is bad with thim, Mrs. O’Dwyer — very bad, very bad indeed.”
“Glory be to God, the poor cratures!” said the soft-hearted lady. “It isn’t much the like of us have to give away, Father Bernard; I needn’t be telling you that. But we’ll help, you know — we’ll help.”
“And so will father, uncle Bernard. If you’re so bad off about here I know he’ll give you a thrifle for the asking.” In a short time, however, it came to pass that those in the cities could spare no aid to the country. Indeed it may be a question whether the city poverty was not the harder of the two.
“God bless you both — you’ve soft hearts, I know.” And Father Barney put his punch to his lips. “Whatever you can do for me shall not be thrown away. And I’ll tell you what, Mrs. O’Dwyer, it does behove us all to put our best foot out now. We will not let them say that the Papists would do nothing for their own poor.”
“‘Deed then an’ they’ll say anything of us, Father Bernard. There’s nothing too hot or too heavy for them.”
“At any rate let us not deserve it, Mrs. O’Dwyer. There will be a lot of them at Gortnaclough tomorrow, and I shall tell them that we, on our side, won’t be wanting. To give them their due, I must say that they are working well. That young Herbert Fitzgerald’s a trump, whether he’s Protestant or Catholic.”
“An’ they do say he’s a strong bearing towards the ould religion,” said Mrs. O’Dwyer.
“God bless his sweet young face av’ he’d come back to us. That’s what I say.”
“God bless his face any way, say I,” said Father Barney, with a wider philanthropy. “He is doing his best for the people, and the time has come now when we must hang together, if it be any way possible.” And with this the priest finished his pipe, and wishing the ladies good night, walked away to his own house.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55