Mr. Prendergast had given himself two days to do all that was to be done, before he told Herbert Fitzgerald the whole of the family history. He had promised that he would then let him know all that there was to be known; and he had done so advisedly, considering that it would be manifestly unjust to leave him in the dark an hour longer than was absolutely necessary. To expect that Sir Thomas himself should, with his own breath and his own words, make the revelation either to his son or to his wife, was to expect a manifest impossibility. He would, altogether, have sank under such an effort, as he had already sank under the effort of telling it to Mr. Prendergast; nor could it be left to the judgment of Sir Thomas to say when the story should be told. He had now absolutely abandoned all judgment in the matter. He had placed himself in the hands of a friend, and he now expected that that friend should do all that there was to be done. Mr. Prendergast had therefore felt himself justified in making this promise.
But how was he to set about the necessary intervening work, and how pass the intervening hours? It had already been decided that Mr. Abraham Mollett, when he called, should be shown, as usual, into the study, but that he should there find himself confronted, not with Sir Thomas, but with Mr. Prendergast. But there was some doubt whether or no Mr. Mollett would come. It might be that he had means of ascertaining what strangers arrived at Castle Richmond; and it might be that he would, under the present circumstances, think it expedient to stay away. This visit, however, was not to take place till the second day after that on which Mr. Prendergast had heard the story; and, in the meantime, he had that examination of Mrs. Jones to arrange and conduct.
The breakfast was again very sad. The girls suggested to their brother that he and Mr. Prendergast should sit together by themselves in a small breakfast parlour, but to this he would not assent. Nothing could be more difficult or embarrassing than a conversation between himself and that gentleman, and he moreover was unwilling to let it be thought in the household that affairs were going utterly wrong in the family. On this matter he need hardly have disturbed himself, for the household was fully convinced that things were going very wrong. Maid-servants and men-servants can read the meaning of heavy brows and sad faces, of long meetings and whispered consultations, as well as their betters. The two girls, therefore, and Aunt Letty, appeared at the breakfast-table, but it was as though so many ghosts had assembled round the urn.
Immediately after breakfast, Mr. Prendergast applied to Aunt Letty. “Miss Fitzgerald,” said he, “I think you have an old servant of the name of Jones living here.”
“Yes, sure,” said Aunt Letty. “She was living with my sister-inlaw before her marriage.”
“Exactly — and ever since too, I believe,” said Mr. Prendergast, with a lawyer’s instinctive desire to divert suspicion from the true point.
“Oh yes, always; Mrs. Jones is quite one of ourselves.”
“Then would you do me the favour to beg Mrs. Jones to oblige me with her company for half an hour or so? There is an excellent fire in my room, and perhaps Mrs. Jones would not object to step there.”
Aunt Letty promised that Mrs. Jones should be sent, merely suggesting the breakfast-parlour, instead of the bed-room; and to the breakfast-parlour Mr. Prendergast at once betook himself, “What can she know about the London property, or about the Irish property?” thought Aunt Letty, to herself; and then it occurred to her that, perhaps, all these troubles arose from some source altogether distinct from the property.
In about a quarter of an hour, a knock came to the breakfast-parlour door, and Mrs. Jones, having been duly summoned, entered the room with a very clean cap and apron, and with a very low curtsey. “Good morning, Mrs. Jones,” said Mr. Prendergast; “pray take a seat;” and he pointed to an armchair that was comfortably placed near the fire, on the further side of the hearth-rug. Mrs. Jones sat herself down, crossed her hands on her lap, and looked the very personification of meek obedience.
And yet there was something about her which seemed to justify the soubriquet of duchess, which the girls had given to her. She had a certain grandeur about her cap, and a majestical set about the skirt of her dress, and a rigour in the lines of her mouth, which indicated a habit of command, and a confidence in her own dignity, which might be supposed to be the very clearest attribute of duchessdom.
“You have been in this family a long time. I am told, Mrs. Jones,” said Mr. Prendergast, using his pleasantest voice.
“A very long time indeed,” said Mrs. Jones.
“And in a very confidential situation, too. I am told by Sir Thomas that pretty nearly the whole management of the house is left in your hands?”
“Sir Thomas is very kind, sir; Sir Thomas always was very kind — poor gentleman!”
“Poor gentleman, indeed! you may well say that, Mrs. Jones. This family is in great affliction; you are no doubt aware of that.” And Mr. Prendergast as he spoke got up, went to the door, and saw that it was firmly closed.
Mrs. Jones acknowledged that she was aware of it. “It was impossible,” she said, “for servants to shut their eyes to things, if they tried ever so.”
“Of course, of course,” said Mr. Prendergast; “and particularly for a person so attached to them all as you are.”
“Well, Mr. Pendrergrass, I am attached to them, certainly. I have seed ’em all born, sir — that is, the young ladies and Mr. Herbert. And as for her ladyship, I didn’t see her born, in course, for we’re both of an age. But it comes much to the same thing, like.”
“Exactly, exactly; you are quite one of themselves, as Sir Thomas’s sister said to me just now. ‘Mrs. Jones is quite one of ourselves.’ Those were her very words.”
“I’m sure I’m much obliged to Miss Letty.”
“Well, as I was saying, a great sorrow has come upon them all, Mrs. Jones. Now, will you tell me this — do you know what it is? Can you guess at all? Do the servants know, down-stairs?”
“I’d rather not be guessing on any such matters, Mr. Pendrergrass. And as for them, if they were impudent enough for the like, they’d never dare to tell me. Them Irish servants is very impudent betimes, only they’re good at the heart too, and there isn’t one’d hurt a dog belonging to the family.”
“I am sure they would not,” said Mr. Prendergast. “But you yourself, you don’t know what this trouble is?”
“Not a know,” said Mrs. Jones, looking down and smoothing her apron.
“Well, now. Of course you understand, Mrs. Jones — and I must explain this to you to account for my questions. Of course you understand that I am here as Sir Thomas’s friend, to set certain matters right for him if I can.”
“I supposed as much as that, if you please, sir.”
“And any questions that I may ask you, I ask altogether on his behalf — on his behalf and on that of his wife, Lady Fitzgerald. I tell you, that you may have no scruples as to answering me.”
“Oh, sir, I have no scruples as to that. But of course, sir, in anything I say I must be guided by — by —”
“By your own judgment, you were going to say.”
“Yes, sir; begging pardon for mentioning such a thing to the likes of you, sir.”
“Quite right; quite right. Everybody should use their own judgment in everything they do or say, more or less. But now, Mrs. Jones, I want to know this: you remember her ladyship’s first marriage, I dare say.”
“Yes, sir, I remember it,” said Mrs. Jones, shaking her head.
“It was a sad affair, wasn’t it? I remember it well, though I was very young then. So were you too, Mrs. Jones.”
“Young enough, surely, sir; and foolish enough too. We were the most of us that, then, sir.”
“True, true; so we were. But you remember the man, don’t you — her ladyship’s husband? Mr. Talbot, he called himself.” And Mr. Prendergast took some trouble to look as though he did not at all wish to frighten her.
“Yes, I do remember him.” This she said after a considerable pause. “But it is a very long time ago, you know, Mr. Pendrergrass.”
“A very long time. But I am sure you do remember. You lived in the house, you know, for some months.”
“Yes, I did. He was my master for three months, or thereabouts; and to tell the truth, I never got my wages for those three months yet. But that’s neither here nor there.”
“Do you believe now, Mrs. Jones, that that Mr. Talbot is still alive?” He asked the question in a very soft voice, and endeavoured not to startle her by his look as he did so. But it was necessary to his purpose that he should keep his eye upon her. Half the answer to his question was to be conveyed by the effect on the muscles of her face which that question would produce. She might perhaps command her voice to tell a falsehood, but be unable to command her face to support it.
“Believe what, sir?” said she, and the lawyer could immediately perceive that she did believe and probably knew that that man who had called himself Talbot was still alive.
“Do you believe, Mrs. Jones, that he is alive — her ladyship’s former husband, you know?”
The question was so terrible in its nature, that Mrs. Jones absolutely shook under it. Did she think that that man was still alive? Why, if she thought that what was she to think of her ladyship? It was in that manner that she would have answered the question, had she known how; but she did not know; she had therefore to look about her for some other words which might be equally evasive. Those which she selected served her turn just as well. “Lord bless you, sir!” she said. It was not that the words were expressive, but the tone was decidedly so. It was as though she said, “How can that man be alive, who has been dead these twenty years and more?” But nevertheless, she was giving evidence all the time against the cause of her poor mistress.
“You think, then, that he is dead?”
“Dead, sir! Oh, laws! why shouldn’t he be dead?” And then there was a pause between them for a couple of minutes.
“Mrs. Jones,” said Mr. Prendergast, when he had well considered the matter, “my belief is that your only object and wish is to do good to your master and mistress.”
“Surely, sir, surely; it would be my bounden duty to do them good, if I knew how.”
“I will tell you how. Speak out to me the whole truth openly and freely. I am here as the friend of Sir Thomas and of her ladyship. He has sent to me that I may advise him what to do in a great trouble that has befallen him, and I cannot give him good advice till I know the truth.”
“What good could it do him, poor gentleman, to know that that man is alive?”
“It will do him good to know the truth; to know whether he be alive or no. Until he knows that he cannot act properly.”
“Poor gentleman! poor gentleman!” said Mrs. Jones, putting her handkerchief up to her eyes.
“If you have any information in this matter — and I think you have, Mrs. Jones — or even any suspicion, it is your duty to tell me.”
“Well, sir, I’m sure I don’t say against that. You are Sir Thomas’s friend to be sure, and no doubt you know best. And I’m a poor ignorant woman. But to speak candidly, sir, I don’t feel myself free to talk on this matter. I haven’t never made nor marred since I’ve been in this family, not in such matters as them. What I’ve seed, I’ve kep’ to myself, and when I’ve had my suspecs, as a woman can’t but have ’em, I’ve kep’ them to myself also. And saving your presence, sir, and meaning no offence to a gentleman like you,” and here she got up from her chair and made another curtsey, “I think I’d liefer hold my tongue than say anything more on this matter.” And then she remained standing as though she expected permission to retire.
But there was still another pause, and Mr. Pendergast sat looking at the fire. “Don’t you know, ma’am,” at last he said, with almost an angry voice, “that the man was here, in this house, last week?” And now he turned round at her and looked her full in the face. He did not, however, know Mrs. Jones. It might be difficult to coax her into free communication, but it was altogether out of his power to frighten her into it.
“What I knows, sir, I knows,” said she, “and what I don’t know, I don’t know. And if you please, sir, Lady Fitzgerald — she’s my missus; and if I’m to be said anything more to about this here matter, why, I’d choose that her ladyship should be by.” And then she made a little motion as though to walk towards the door, but Mr. Prendergast managed to stop her.
“But we want to spare Lady Fitzgerald, if we can — at any rate, for a while,” said he. “You would not wish to bring more sorrow upon her, would you?”
“God forbid, Mr. Pendrergrass; and if I could take the sorrow from her heart, I would willingly, and bear it myself to the grave; for her ladyship has been a good lady to me. But no good never did come, and never will, of servants talking of their missusses. And so if you please, sir, I’ll make bold to”— and again she made an attempt to reach the door.
But Mr. Prendergast was not yet persuaded that he could not get from the good old woman the information that he wanted, and he was persuaded that she had the information if only she could be prevailed upon to impart it. So he again stopped her, though on this occasion she made some slight attempt to pass him by as she did so. “I don’t think,” said she, “that there will be much use in my staying here longer.”
“Wait half a minute, Mrs. Jones, just half a minute. If I could only make you understand how we are all circumstanced here. And I tell you what; though you will trust me with nothing, I will trust you with everything.”
“I don’t want no trust, sir; not about all this.”
“But listen to me. Sir Thomas has reason to believe — nay, he feels quite sure — that this man is alive.”
“Poor gentleman! poor gentleman!”
“And has been here in this house two or three times within the last month. Sir Thomas is full sure of this. Now, can you tell me whether the man who did come was this Talbot, or was not? If you can answer that positively, either one way or the other, you will do a service to the whole family — which shall not go unrewarded.”
“I don’t want no reward sir. Ask me to tattle of them for rewards, after thirty years!” And she put her apron up to her eyes.
“Well, then, for the good of the family. Can you say positively that the man who came here to your master was Talbot, or that he was not?”
“Indeed then, sir, I can’t say anything positively, nor for that matter, not impositively either.” And then she shut herself up doggedly, and sat with compressed lips, determined to resist all the lawyer’s arts.
Mr. Prendergast did not immediately give up the game, but he failed in learning from her any more than what she had already told him. He felt confident that she did know the secret of this man’s existence and presence in the south of Ireland, but he was forced to satisfy himself with that conviction. So he let her go, giving her his hand as she went in token of respect, and receiving her demure curtsey with his kindest smile. “It may be,” thought he to himself, “that I have not done with her yet.”
And then he passed another tedious day — a day that was terribly tedious to them all. He paid a visit to Sir Thomas; but as that arrangement about Mollett’s visit had been made between them, it was not necessary that anything should be done or said about the business on hand. It was understood that further action was to be stayed till that visit was over, and therefore for the present he had nothing to say to Sir Thomas. He did not see Lady Fitzgerald throughout the whole day, and it appeared to him, not unnaturally, that she purposely kept out of his way, anticipating evil from his coming. He took a walk with Herbert and Mr. Somers, and was driven as far as the soup-kitchen and mill at Berry Hill, inquiring into the state of the poor, or rather pretending to inquire. It was a pretence with them all, for at the present moment their minds were intent on other things. And then there was that terrible dinner, that mockery of a meal, at which the three ladies were constrained to appear, but at which they found it impossible to eat or to speak. Mr. Somers had been asked to join the party, so that the scene after dinner might be less painful; but even he felt that he could not talk as was his ordinary wont. Horrible suspicions of the truth had gradually come upon him; and with a suspicion of such a truth — of such a tragedy in the very household — how could he, or how could any one hold a conversation? and then at about half-past nine, Mr. Prendergast was again in his bed-room.
On the next morning he was early with Sir Thomas, persuading him to relinquish altogether the use of his study for that day. On that evening they were to have another interview there, in which Mr. Prendergast was to tell his friend the result of what had been done. And then he had to arrange certain manoeuvring with the servants in which he was forced to obtain the assistance of Herbert. Mollett was to be introduced into the study immediately on his arrival, and this was to be done in such a manner that Mrs. Jones might assuredly be ignorant of his arrival. On this duty our old friend Richard was employed, and it was contrived that Mrs. Jones should be kept upstairs with her mistress. All this was difficult enough, but he could not explain even to Herbert the reason why such scheming was necessary. Herbert, however, obeyed in silence, knowing that something dreadful was about to fall on them.
Immediately after breakfast Mr. Prendergast betook himself to the study, and there remained with his London newspaper in his hand. A dozen times he began a leading article, in which the law was laid down with great perspicuity and certainty as to the present state of Ireland; but had the writer been treating of the Sandwich Islands he could not have attracted less of his attention. He found it impossible to read. On that evening he would have to reveal to Herbert Fitzgerald what was to be his fate!
Matthew Mollett at his last interview with Sir Thomas had promised to call on this day, and had been counting the days till that one should arrive on which he might keep his promise. He was terribly in want of cash, and as we all know Aby had entirely failed in raising the wind — any immediate fund of wind — on the occasion of his visit to the baronet; and now, when this morning came, old Mollett was early on the road. Aby had talked of going with him, but Aby had failed so signally on the occasion of the visit which he did make to Castle Richmond, that he had been without the moral strength to persist in his purpose.
“Then I shall write to the baronet and go alone to London,” said Mollett, pere.
“Bother!” replied Mollett, fils. “You hain’t got the cash, governor.”
“I’ve got what’ll take me there, my boy, whether you know it or not. And Sir Thomas’ll be ready enough to send me a remittance when I’m once out of this country.”
And so Aby had given way — partly perhaps in terror of Mr. Somers’ countenance; and Matthew Mollett started again in a covered car on that cold journey over the Boggeragh mountains. It was still mid-winter, being now about the end of February, and the country was colder, and wetter, and more wretched, and the people in that desolate district more ragged and more starved than when he had last crossed it. But what were their rags and starvation to him? He was worse off than they were. They were merely dying, as all men must do. But he was inhabiting a hell on earth, which no man need do. They came out to him in shoals begging; but they came in vain, getting nothing from him but a curse through his chattering teeth. What right had they to torment with their misery one so much more wretched than themselves?
At a little before twelve the covered car was at the front door of Castle Richmond house, and there was Richard under the porch. On former occasions Mr. Mollett had experienced some little delay in making his way into the baronet’s presence. The servants had looked cold upon him, and he had felt as though there might be hot ploughshares under his feet at any step which he took. But now everything seemed to be made easy. Richard took him in tow without a moment’s delay, told him confidentially that Sir Thomas was waiting for him, bade the covered car to be driven round into the yard with a voice that was uncommonly civil, seeing that it was addressed to a Cork carman, and then ushered Mr. Mollett through the hall and down the passage without one moment’s delay. Wretched as he had been during his journey — wretched as an infernal spirit — his hopes were now again elated, and he dreamed of a golden paradise. There was something pleasant in feeling his mastery over that poor old shattered baronet.
“The gentleman to wait upon Sir Thomas,” said Richard, opening the study door; and then Mr. Mollett senior found himself in the presence of Mr. Prendergast.
Mr. Prendergast was sitting in a high-backed easy-chair, facing the fire, when the announcement was made, and therefore Mollett still fancied that he was in the presence of Sir Thomas until he was well into the room and the door was closed upon him; otherwise he might probably have turned on his heels and bolted. He had had three or four interviews with Mr. Prendergast, having received different sums of money from that gentleman’s hands, and had felt on all such occasions that he was being looked through and through. Mr. Prendergast had asked but few questions, never going into the matter of his, Mollett’s, pecuniary connexion with Sir Thomas; but there had always been that in the lawyer’s eye which had frightened the miscreant, which had quelled his bluster as soon as it was assumed, and had told him that he was known for a blackguard and a scoundrel. And now when this man, with the terrible grey eye, got up from Sir Thomas’s chair, and wheeling round confronted him, looking him full in the face, and frowning on him as an honest man does frown on an unconvicted rascal — when, I say, this happened to Mr. Mollett senior, he thoroughly at that moment wished himself back in London. He turned his eye round to the door, but that was closed behind him. He looked around to see whether Sir Thomas was there, but no one was in the room with him but Mr. Prendergast. Then he stood still, and as that gentleman did not address him, he was obliged to speak; the silence was too awful for him —“Oh, Mr. Prendergast!” said he. “Is that you?”
“Yes, Mr. Mollett, it is I.”
“Oh, ah — I suppose you are here about business of your own. I was wishing to see Sir Thomas about a little business of my own; maybe he’s not in the way.”
“No, he is not; not exactly. But perhaps, Mr. Mollett, I can do as well. You have known me before, you know, and you may say to me openly anything you have to say to Sir Thomas.”
“Well; I don’t know about that, sir; my business is with the baronet — particular.” Mr. Mollett, as he spoke, strained every nerve to do so without appearance of dismay; but his efforts were altogether ineffectual. He could not bring himself to look Mr. Prendergast in the face for a moment, or avoid feeling like a dog that dreads being kicked. All manner of fears came upon him, and he would at the moment have given up all his hopes of money from the Castle Richmond people to have been free from Mr. Prendergast and his influence. And yet Mollett was not a coward in the ordinary sense of the word. Indeed he had been very daring in the whole management of this affair. But then a course of crime makes such violent demands on a man’s courage. Let any one think of the difference of attacking a thief, and being attacked as a thief! We are apt to call bad men cowards without much consideration. Mr. Mollett was not without pluck, but his pluck was now quelled. The circumstances were too strong against him.
“Listen to me, Mr. Mollett —; and, look here, sir; never mind turning to the door; you can’t go now till you and I have had some conversation. You may make up your mind to this: you will never see Sir Thomas Fitzgerald again — unless indeed he should be in the witness-box when you are standing in the dock.”
“Mr. Prendergast; sir!”
“Well. Have you any reason to give why you should not be put in the dock? How much money have you got from Sir Thomas during the last two years by means of those threats which you have been using? You were well aware when you set about this business that you were committing felony; and have probably felt tolerably sure at times that you would some day be brought up short. That day has come.”
Mr. Prendergast had made up his mind that nothing could be gained by soft usage with Mr. Mollett. Indeed nothing could be gained in any way, by any usage, unless it could be shown that Mollett and Talbot were not the same person. He could afford therefore to tell the scoundrel that he was a scoundrel, and to declare against him — war to the knife. The more that Mollett trembled, the more abject he became, the easier would be the task Mr. Prendergast now had in hand. “Well, sir,” he continued, “are you going to tell me what business has brought you here today?”
But Mr. Mollett, though he did shake in his shoes, did not look at the matter exactly in the same light. He could not believe that Sir Thomas would himself throw up the game on any consideration, or that Mr. Prendergast as his friend would throw it up on his behalf. He, Mollett, had a strong feeling that he could have continued to deal easily with Sir Thomas, and that it might be very hard to deal at all with Mr. Prendergast; but nevertheless the game was still open. Mr. Prendergast would probably distrust the fact of his being the lady’s husband, and it would be for him therefore to use the indubitable proofs of the facts that were in his possession.
“Sir Thomas knows very well what I’ve come about,” he began, slowly; “and if he’s told you, why you know too; and in that case —”
But what might or might not happen in that case Mr. Mollett had not now an opportunity of explaining, for the door opened and Mrs. Jones entered the room.
“When that man comes this morning,” Mr. Prendergast had said to Herbert, “I must get you to induce Mrs. Jones to come to us in the study as soon as may be.” He had not at all explained to Herbert why this was necessary, nor had he been at any pains to prevent the young heir from thinking and feeling that some terrible mystery hung over the house. There was a terrible mystery — which indeed would be more terrible still when it ceased to be mysterious. He therefore quietly explained to Herbert what he desired to have done, and Herbert, awaiting the promised communication of that evening, quietly did as he was bid.
“You must go down to him, Jones,” he had said.
“But I’d rather not, sir. I was with him yesterday for two mortal hours; and, oh, Mr. Herbert! it ain’t for no good.”
But Herbert was inexorable; and Mrs. Jones, feeling herself overcome by the weight of the misfortune that was oppressing them all, obeyed, and descending to her master’s study, knocked at the door. She knew that Mr. Prendergast was there, and she knew that Sir Thomas was not; but she did not know that any stranger was in the room with Mr. Prendergast. Mr. Mollett had not heard the knock, nor, indeed, had Mr. Prendergast; but Mrs. Jones having gone through this ceremony, opened the door and entered.
“Sir Thomas knows; does he?” said Mr. Prendergast, when Mollett ceased to speak on the woman’s entrance. “Oh, Mrs. Jones, good morning. Here is your old master, Mr. Talbot.”
Mollett of course turned round, and found himself confronted with the woman. They stared at each other for some moments, and then Mollett said, in a low dull voice, “Yes, she knows me; it was she that lived with her at Tallyho Lodge.”
“You remember him now, Mrs. Jones; don’t you?” said Mr. Prendergast.
For another moment or two Mrs. Jones stood silent; and then she acknowledged herself overcome, and felt that the world around her had become too much for her. “Yes,” said she, slowly; “I remembers him,” and then sinking into a chair near the door, she put her apron up to her eyes, and burst into tears.
“No doubt about that; she remembers me well enough,” said Mollett, thinking that this was so much gained on his side. “But there ain’t a doubt about the matter at all, Mr. Prendergast. You look here, and you’ll see it all as plain as black and white.” And Mr. Mollett dragged a large pocket-book from his coat, and took out of it certain documents, which he held before Mr. Prendergast’s eyes, still keeping them in his own hand. “Oh, I’m all right; I am,” said Mollett.
“Oh, you are, are you?” said the lawyer, just glancing at the paper, which he would not appear to heed. “I am glad you think so.”
“If there were any doubt about it, she’d know,” said he, pointing away up towards the body of the house. Both Mr. Prendergast and Mrs. Jones understood well who was that she to whom he alluded.
“You are satisfied, at any rate, Mrs. Jones,” said the lawyer. But Mrs. Jones had hidden her face in her apron, and would not look up. She could not understand why this friend of the family should push the matter so dreadfully against them. If he would rise from his chair and destroy that wretch who stood before them, then indeed he might be called a friend!
Mr. Prendergast had now betaken himself to the door, and was standing with his back to it, and with his hands in his trousers-pockets, close to the chair on which Mrs. Jones was sitting. He had resolved that he would get that woman’s spoken evidence out of her; and he had gotten it. But now, what was he to do with her next? — with her or with the late Mr. Talbot of Tallyho Lodge? And having satisfied himself of that fact, which from the commencement he had never doubted, what could he best do to spare the poor lady who was so terribly implicated in this man’s presence?
“Mrs. Jones,” said he, standing over her, and gently touching her shoulder, “I am sorry to have pained you in this way; but it was necessary that we should know, without a doubt, who this man is — and who he was. Truth is always the best, you know. So good a woman as you cannot but understand that.”
“I suppose it is, sir — I suppose it is,” said Mrs. Jones, through her tears, now thoroughly humbled. The world was pretty nearly at an end, as far as she was concerned. Here, in this very house of Castle Richmond, in Sir Thomas’s own room, was her ladyship’s former husband, acknowledged as such! What further fall of the planet into broken fragments could terrify or drive her from her course more thoroughly than this? Truth! yes, truth in the abstract, might be very good. But such a truth as this! how could any one ever say that that was good? Such was the working of her mind; but she took no trouble to express her thoughts.
“Yes,” continued Mr. Prendergast, speaking still in a low voice, with a tone that was almost tender, “truth is always best. Look at this wretched man here! He would have killed the whole family — destroyed them one by one — had they consented to assist him in concealing the fact of his existence. The whole truth will now be known; and it is very dreadful; but it will not be so dreadful as the want of truth.”
“My poor lady! my poor lady!” almost screamed Mrs. Jones from under her apron, wagging her head, and becoming almost convulsive in her grief.
“Yes, it is very sad. But you will live to acknowledge that even this is better than living in that man’s power.”
“I don’t know that,” said Mollett. “I am not so bad as you’d make me. I don’t want to distress the lady.”
“No, not if you are allowed to rob the gentleman till there’s not a guinea left for you to suck at. I know pretty well the extent of the evil that’s in you. If we were to kick you from here to Cork, you’d forgive all that, so that we still allowed you to go on with your trade. I wonder how much money you’ve had from him altogether?”
“What does the money signify? What does the money signify?” said Mrs. Jones, still wagging her head beneath her apron. “Why didn’t Sir Thomas go on paying it, and then my lady need know nothing about it?”
It was clear that Mrs. Jones would not look at the matter in a proper light. As far as she could see, there was no reason why a fair bargain should not have been made between Mollett and Sir Thomas — made and kept on both sides, with mutual convenience. That doing of justice at the cost of falling heavens was not intelligible to her limited philosophy. Nor did she bethink herself, that a leech will not give over sucking until it be gorged with blood. Mr. Prendergast knew that such leeches as Mr. Mollett never leave the skin as long as there is a drop of blood left within the veins.
Mr. Prendergast was still standing against the door, where he had placed himself to prevent the unauthorized departure of either Mrs. Jones or Mr. Mollett; but now he was bethinking himself that he might as well bring this interview to an end. “Mr. Mollett,” said he, “you are probably beginning to understand that you will not get much more money from the Castle Richmond family?”
“I don’t want to do any harm to any of them,” said Mollett, humbly; “and if I don’t make myself troublesome, I hope Sir Thomas will consider me.”
“It is out of your power, sir, to do any further harm to any of them. You don’t pretend to think that after what has passed, you can have any personal authority over that unfortunate lady?”
“My poor mistress! my poor mistress!” sobbed Mrs. Jones.
“You cannot do more injury than you at present have done. No one is now afraid of you; no one here will ever give you another shilling. When and in what form you will be prosecuted for inducing Sir Thomas to give you money, I cannot yet tell. Now, you may go: and I strongly advise you never to show your face here again. If the people about here knew who you are, and what you are, they would not let you off the property with a whole bone in your skin. Now go, sir. Do you hear me?”
“Upon my word, Mr. Prendergast, I have not intended any harm!”
“And even now, Mr. Prendergast, it can all be made straight, and I will leave the country altogether, if you wish it —”
“Go, sir!” shouted Mr. Prendergast. “If you do not move at once, I will ring the bell for the servants!”
“Then, if misfortune comes upon them, it is your doing, and not mine,” said Mollett.
“Oh, Mr. Pendrergrass, if it can be hushed up —” said Mrs. Jones, rising from her chair and coming up to him with her hands clasped together. “Don’t send him away in your anger; don’t’ee now, sir. Think of her ladyship. Do, do, do;” and the woman took hold of his arm, and looked up into his face with her eyes swimming with tears. Then going to the door she closed it, and returning again, touched his arm, and again appealed to him. “Think of Mr. Herbert, sir, and the young ladies! What are they to be called, sir, if this man is to be my lady’s husband? Oh, Mr. Pendrergrass, let him go away, out of the kingdom; do let him go away.”
“I’ll be off to Australia by the next boat, if you’ll only say the word,” said Mollett. To give him his due, he was not at that moment thinking altogether of himself and of what he might get. The idea of the misery which he had brought on these people did, to a certain measure, come home to him. And it certainly did come home to him also, that his own position was very perilous.
“Mrs. Jones,” said the lawyer, seeming to pay no attention whatever to Mollett’s words, “you know nothing of such men as that. If I were to take him at his word now, he would turn upon Sir Thomas again before three weeks were over.”
“By —-, I would not! By all that is holy, I would not. Mr. Prendergast, do —.”
“Mr. Mollett, I will trouble you to walk out of this house. I have nothing further to say to you.”
“Oh, very well, sir.” And then slowly Mollett took his departure, and finding his covered car at the door, got into it without saying another word to any of the Castle Richmond family.
“Mrs. Jones,” said Mr. Prendergast, as soon as Mollett was gone, “I believe I need not trouble you any further. Your conduct has done you great honour, and I respect you greatly as an honest woman and an affectionate friend.”
Mrs. Jones could only acknowledge this by loud sobs.
“For the present, if you will take my advice, you will say nothing of this to your mistress.”
“No, sir, no; I shall say nothing. Oh dear! oh dear!”
“The whole matter will be known soon, but in the mean time, we may as well remain silent. Good day to you.” And then Mrs. Jones also left the room, and Mr. Prendergast was alone.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14