It may be imagined that Mr. Mollett’s drive back to Cork after his last visit to Castle Richmond had not been very pleasant; and indeed it may be said that his present circumstances altogether were as unpleasant as his worst enemies could desire. I have endeavoured to excite the sympathy of those who are going with me through this story for the sufferings of that family of the Fitzgeralds, but how shall I succeed in exciting their sympathy for this other family of the Molletts? And yet why not? If we are to sympathise only with the good, or worse still, only with the graceful, how little will there be in our character that is better than terrestrial? Those Molletts also were human, and had strings to their hearts, at which the world would now probably pull with sufficient vigour. For myself I can truly say that my strongest feeling is for their wretchedness.
The father and son had more than once boasted among themselves that the game they were now playing was a high one; that they were, in fact, gambling for mighty stakes. And in truth, as long as the money came in to them — flowing in as the result of their own craft in this game — the excitement had about it something that was very pleasurable. There was danger, which makes all games pleasant; there was money in handfuls for daily expenses — those daily wants of the appetite, which are to such men more important by far than the distant necessities of life; there was a possibility of future grandeur, an opening out of magnificent ideas of fortune, which charmed them greatly as they thought about it. What might they not do with forty thousand pounds divided between them, or even with a thousand a-year each, settled on them for life? and surely their secret was worth that money! Nay, was it not palpable to the meanest calculation that it was worth much more? Had they not the selling of twelve thousand a-year for ever and ever to this family of Fitzgerald?
But for the last fortnight things had begun to go astray with them. Money easily come by goes easily, and money badly come by goes badly. Theirs had come easily and badly, and had so gone. What necessity could there be for economy with such a milch-cow as that close to their elbows? So both of them had thought, if not argued; and there had been no economy — no economy in the use of that very costly amusement, the dice-box; and now, at the present moment, ready money having failed to be the result of either of the two last visits to Castle Richmond, the family funds were running low.
It may be said that ready money for the moment was the one desire nearest to the heart of Mollett pere, when he took that last journey over the Boggeragh mountains — ready money wherewith to satisfy the pressing claims of Miss O’Dwyer, and bring back civility, or rather servility, to the face and manner of Tom the waiter at the Kanturk Hotel. Very little of that servility can be enjoyed by persons of the Mollett class when money ceases to be ready in their hands and pocket, and there is, perhaps, nothing that they enjoy so keenly as servility. Mollett pere had gone down determined that that comfort should at any rate be forthcoming to him, whatever answer might be given to those other grander demands, and we know what success had attended his mission. He had looked to find his tame milch-cow trembling in her accustomed stall, and he had found a resolute bull there in her place — a bull whom he could by no means take by the horns. He had got no money, and before he had reached Cork he had begun to comprehend that it was not probable that he should get more from that source.
During a part of the interview between him and Mr. Prendergast, some spark of mercy towards his victims had glimmered into his heart. When it was explained to him that the game was to be given up, that the family at Castle Richmond was prepared to acknowledge the truth, and that the effort made was with the view of proving that the poor lady up stairs was not entitled to the name she bore rather than that she was so entitled, then some slight promptings of a better spirit did for a while tempt him to be merciful. “Oh, what are you about to do?” he would have said had Mr. Prendergast admitted of speech from him. “Why make this terrible sacrifice? Matters have not come to that. There is no need for you to drag to the light this terrible fact. I will not divulge it — no not although you are hard upon me in regard to these terms of mine. I will still keep it to myself, and trust to you — to you who are all so rich and able to pay, for what consideration you may please to give me.” This was the state of his mind when Mrs. Jones’s evidence was being slowly evoked from her; but it had undergone a considerable change before he reached Cork. By that time he had taught himself to understand that there was no longer a chance to him of any consideration whatever. Slowly he had brought it home to himself that these people had resolutely determined to blow up the ground on which they themselves stood. This he perceived was their honesty. He did not understand the nature of a feeling which could induce so fatal a suicide, but he did understand that the feeling was there, and that the suicide would be completed.
And now what was he to do next in the way of earning his bread? Various thoughts ran through his brain, and different resolves — half-formed but still, perhaps, capable of shape — presented themselves to him for the future. It was still on the cards — on the cards, but barely so — that he might make money out of these people; but he must wait perhaps for weeks before he again commenced such an attempt. He might perhaps make money out of them, and be merciful to them at the same time; — not money by thousands and tens of thousands; that golden dream was gone for ever; but still money that might be comfortably luxurious as long as it could be made to last. But then on one special point he made a firm and final resolution — whatever new scheme he might hatch he alone would manage. Never again would he call into his councils that son of his loins whose rapacious greed had, as he felt sure, brought upon him all this ruin. Had Aby not gone to Castle Richmond, with his cruelty and his greed, frightening to the very death the soul of that poor baronet by the enormity of his demands, Mr. Prendergast would not have been there. Of what further chance of Castle Richmond pickings there might be Aby should know nothing. He and his son would no longer hunt in couples. He would shake him off in that escape which they must both now make from Cork, and he would not care how long it might be before he again saw his countenance.
But then that question of ready money; and that other question, perhaps as interesting, touching a criminal prosecution! How was he to escape if he could not raise the wind? And how could he raise the wind now that his milch-cow had run so dry? He had promised the O’Dwyers money that evening, and had struggled hard to make that promise with an easy face. He now had none to give them. His orders at the inn were treated almost with contempt. For the last three days they had given him what he wanted to eat and drink, but would hardly give him all that he wanted. When he called for brandy they brought him whisky, and it had only been by hard begging, and by oaths as to the promised money, that he had induced them to supply him with the car which had taken him on his fruitless journey to Castle Richmond. As he was driven up to the door in South Main Street, his heart was very sad on all these subjects.
Aby was again sitting within the bar, but was no longer basking in the sunshine of Fanny’s smiles. He was sitting there because Fanny had not yet mustered courage to turn him out. He was half-drunk, for it had been found impossible to keep spirits from him. And there had been hot words between him and Fanny, in which she had twitted him with his unpaid bill, and he had twitted her with her former love. And things had gone from bad to worse, and she had all but called in Tom for aid in getting quit of him; she had, however, refrained, thinking of the money that might be coming, and waiting also till her father should arrive. Fanny’s love for Mr. Abraham Mollett had not been long lived.
I will not describe another scene such as those which had of late been frequent in the Kanturk Hotel. The father and the son soon found themselves together in the small room in which they now both slept, at the top of the house, and Aby, tipsy as he was, understood the whole of what had happened at Castle Richmond. When he heard that Mr. Prendergast was seen in that room in lieu of Sir Thomas, he knew at once that the game had been abandoned. “But something may yet be done at ‘Appy ’ouse,” Aby said to himself, “only one must be deuced quick.”
The father and the son of course quarrelled frightfully, like dogs over the memory of a bone which had been arrested from the jaws of both of them. Aby said that his father had lost everything by his pusillanimity, and old Mollett declared that his son had destroyed all by his rashness. But we need not repeat their quarrels, nor repeat all that passed between them and Tom before food was forthcoming to satisfy the old man’s wants. As he ate he calculated how much he might probably raise upon his watch towards taking him to London, and how best he might get off from Cork without leaving any scent in the nostrils of his son. His clothes he must leave behind him at the inn, at least all that he could not pack upon his person. Lately he had made himself comfortable in this respect, and he sorrowed over the fine linen which he had worn but once or twice since it had been bought with the last instalment from Sir Thomas. Nevertheless in this way he did make up his mind for the morrow’s campaign.
And Aby also made up his mind. Something, at any rate, he had learned from Fanny O’Dwyer in return for his honeyed words. When Herbert Fitzgerald should cease to be the heir to Castle Richmond, Owen Fitzgerald of Hap House would be the happy man. That knowledge was his own in absolute independence of his father, and there might still be time for him to use it. He knew well the locality of Hap House, and he would be there early on the following morning. These tidings had probably not as yet reached the owner of that blessed abode, and if he could be the first to tell him —! The game there too might be pretty enough, if it were played well, by such a master-hand as his own. Yes; he would be at Hap House early in the morning; — but then, how to get there?
He left his father preparing for bed, and going down into the bar found Mr. O’Dwyer and his daughter there in close consultation. They were endeavouring to arrive, by their joint wisdom, at some conclusion as to what they should do with their two guests. Fanny was for turning them out at once. “The first loss is the least,” said she. “And they is so disrispectable. I niver know what they’re afther, and always is expecting the p’lice will be down on them.” But the father shook his head. He had done nothing wrong; the police could not hurt him; and thirty pounds, as he told his daughter, with much emphasis, was “a deuced sight of money.” “The first loss is the least,” said Fanny, perseveringly; and then Aby entered to them.
“My father has made a mull of this matter again,” said he, going at once into the middle of the subject. “‘E ‘as come back without a shiner.”
“I’ll be bound he has,” said Mr. O’Dwyer, sarcastically.
“And that when ‘e’d only got to go two or three miles further, and hall his troubles would have been over.”
“Troubles over, would they?” said Fanny, “I wish he’d have the goodness to get over his little troubles in this house, by paying us our bill. You’ll have to walk if it’s not done, and that tomorrow, Mr. Mollett; and so I tell you; and take nothing with you, I can tell you. Father’ll have the police to see to that.”
“Don’t you be so cruel now, Miss Fanny,” said Aby, with a leering look. “I tell you what it is, Mr. O’Dwyer, I must go down again to them diggings very early tomorrow, starting, say, at four o’clock.”
“You’ll not have a foot out of my stables,” said Mr. O’Dwyer. “That’s all.”
“Look here, Mr. O’Dwyer; there’s been a sight of money due to us from those Fitzgerald people down there. You know ’em; and whether they’re hable to pay or not. I won’t deny but what father’s ‘ad the best of it — ‘ad the best of it, and sent it trolling, bad luck to him. But there’s no good looking hafter spilt milk; is there?”
“If so be that Sir Thomas owed the likes of you money, he would have paid it without your tramping down there time after time to look for it. He’s not one of that sort.”
“No, indeed,” said Fanny; “and I don’t believe anything about your seeing Sir Thomas.”
“Oh, we’ve seed him hoften enough. There’s no mistake about that. But now —” and then, with a mysterious air and low voice, he explained to them, that this considerable balance of money still due to them was to be paid by the cousin, “Mr. Owen of ‘Appy ’ouse.” And to substantiate all his story, he exhibited a letter from Mr. Prendergast to his father, which some months since had intimated that a sum of money would be paid on behalf of Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, if Mr. Mollett would call at Mr. Prendergast’s office at a certain hour. The ultimate effect of all this was, that the car was granted for the morning, with certain dire threats as to any further breach of engagement.
Very early on the following morning Aby was astir, hoping that he might manage to complete his not elaborate toilet without disturbing his father’s slumbers. For, it must be known, he had been very urgent with the O’Dwyers as to the necessity of keeping this journey of his a secret from his “governor.” But the governor was wide awake, looking at him out of the corner of his closed eye whenever his back was turned, and not caring much what he was about to do with himself. Mollett pere wished to be left alone for that morning, that he also might play his little game in his own solitary fashion, and was not at all disposed to question the movements of his son.
At about five Aby started for Hap House. His toilet, I have said, was not elaborate; but in this I have perhaps wronged him. Up there in the bed-room he did not waste much time over his soap and water; but he was aware that first impressions are everything, and that one young man should appear smart and clever before another if he wished to carry any effect with him; so he took his brush and comb in his pocket, and a pot of grease with which he was wont to polish his long side-locks, and he hurriedly grasped up his pins, and his rings, and the satin stock which Fanny in her kinder mood had folded for him; and then, during his long journey to Hap House, he did perform a toilet which may, perhaps, be fairly called elaborate.
There was a long, tortuous, narrow avenue, going from the Mallow and Kanturk road down to Hap House, which impressed Aby with the idea that the man on whom he was now about to call was also a big gentleman, and made him more uneasy than he would have been had he entered a place with less pretence. There is a story current, that in the west of England the grandeur of middle-aged maiden ladies is measured by the length of the tail of their cats; and Aby had a perhaps equally correct idea, that the length of the private drive up to a gentleman’s house, was a fair criterion of the splendour of his position. If this man had about him as much grandeur as Sir Thomas himself, would he be so anxious as Aby had hoped to obtain the additional grandeur of Sir Thomas? It was in that direction that his mind was operating when he got down from the car and rang at the door-bell.
Mr. Owen, as everybody called him, was at home, but not down; and so Aby was shown into the dining-room. It was now considerably past nine; and the servant told him that his master must be there soon, as he had to eat his breakfast and be at the hunt by eleven. The servant at Hap House was more unsophisticated than those at Castle Richmond, and Aby’s personal adornments had had their effect. He found himself sitting in the room with the cups and saucers — aye, and with the silver teaspoons; and began again to trust that his mission might be successful.
And then the door opened, and a man appeared, clad from top to toe in hunting costume. This was not Owen Fitzgerald, but his friend Captain Donnellan. As it had happened, Captain Donnellan was the only guest who had graced the festivities of Hap House on the previous evening; and now he appeared at the breakfast table before his host. Aby got up from his chair when the gentleman entered, and was proceeding to business; but the Captain gave him to understand that the master of the house was not yet in presence, and so Aby sat down again. What was he to do when the master did arrive? His story was not one which would well bear telling before a third person.
And then, while Captain Donnellan was scanning this visitor to his friend Owen, and bethinking himself whether he might not be a sheriff’s officer, and whether if so some notice ought not to be conveyed upstairs to the master of the house, another car was driven up to the front door. In this case the arrival was from Castle Richmond, and the two servants knew each other well. “Thady,” said Richard, with much authority in his voice, “this gentl’man is Mr. Prendergast from our place, and he must see the masther before he goes to the hunt.” “Faix and the masther’ll have something to do this blessed morning,” said Thady, as he showed Mr. Prendergast also into the dining-room, and went upstairs to inform his master that there was yet another gentleman come upon business. “The Captain has got ’em both to hisself,” said Thady, as he closed the door.
The name of Mr. “Pendhrergrast,” as the Irish servants generally called him, was quite unknown to the owner of Hap House, as was also that of Mr. Mollett, which had been brought up to him the first of the two; but Owen began to think that there must be something very unusual in a day so singularly ushered in to him. Callers at Hap House on business were very few, unless when tradesmen in want of money occasionally dropped in upon him. But now that he was so summoned Owen began to bestir himself with his boots and breeches. A gentleman’s costume for a hunting morning is always a slow one — sometimes so slow and tedious as to make him think of forswearing such articles of dress for all future ages. But now he did bestir himself — in a moody melancholy sort of manner; for his manner in all things latterly had become moody and melancholy.
In the mean time Captain Donnellan and the two strangers sat almost in silence in the dining-room. The Captain, though he did not perhaps know much of things noticeable in this world, did know something of a gentleman, and was therefore not led away, as poor Thady had been, by Aby’s hat and rings. He had stared Aby full in the face when he entered the room and having explained that he was not the master of the house, had not vouchsafed another word. But then he had also seen that Mr. Prendergast was of a different class, and had said a civil word or two, asking him to come near the fire, and suggesting that Owen would be down in less than five minutes. “But the old cock wouldn’t crow,” as he afterwards remarked to his friend, and so they all three sat in silence, the Captain being very busy about his knees, as hunting gentlemen sometimes are when they come down to bachelor breakfasts.
And then at last Owen Fitzgerald entered the room. He has been described as a handsome man, but in no dress did he look so well as when equipped for a day’s sport. And what dress that Englishmen ever wear is so handsome as this? Or we may perhaps say what other dress does English custom allow them that is in any respect not the reverse of handsome. We have come to be so dingy — in our taste I was going to say, but it is rather in our want of taste — so careless of any of the laws of beauty in the folds and lines and hues of our dress, so opposed to grace in the arrangement of our persons, that it is not permitted to the ordinary English gentleman to be anything else but ugly. Chimney-pot hats, swallow-tailed coats, and pantaloons that fit nothing, came creeping in upon us, one after the other, while the Georges reigned — creeping in upon us with such pictures as we painted under the reign of West, and such houses as we built under the reign of Nash, till the English eye required to rest on that which was constrained, dull, and graceless. For the last two score of years it has come to this, that if a man go in handsome attire he is a popinjay and a vain fool; and as it is better to be ugly than to be accounted vain I would not counsel a young friend to leave the beaten track on the strength of his own judgment. But not the less is the beaten track to be condemned, and abandoned, and abolished, if such be in any way possible. Beauty is good in all things; and I cannot but think that those old Venetian senators, and Florentine men of Council, owed somewhat of their country’s pride and power to the manner in which they clipped their beards and wore their flowing garments.
But an Englishman may still make himself brave when he goes forth into the hunting field. Custom there allows him colour, and garments that fit his limbs. Strength is the outward characteristic of manhood, and at the covert-side he may appear strong. Look at men as they walk along Fleet-street, and ask yourself whether any outward sign of manhood or strength can be seen there. And of gentle manhood outward dignity should be the trade mark. I will not say that such outward dignity is incompatible with a black hat and plaid trousers, for the eye instructed by habit will search out dignity for itself wherever it may truly exist, let it be hidden by what vile covering it may. But any man who can look well at his club, will look better as he clusters round the hounds; while many a one who is comely there, is mean enough as he stands on the hearth-rug before his club fire. In my mind men, like churches and books, and women too, should be brave, not mean, in their outward garniture.
And Owen, as I have said, was brave as he walked into his dining-room. The sorrow which weighed on his heart had not wrinkled his brow, but had given him a set dignity of purpose. His tall figure, which his present dress allowed to be seen, was perfect in its symmetry of strength. His bright chestnut hair clustered round his forehead, and his eye shone like that of a hawk. They must have been wrong who said that he commonly spent his nights over the wine-cup. That pleasure always leaves its disgusting traces round the lips; and Owen Fitzgerald’s lips were as full and lusty as Apollo’s. Mollett, as he saw him, was stricken with envy. “If I could only get enough money out of this affair to look like that,” was his first thought, as his eye fell on the future heir; not understanding, poor wretch that he was, that all the gold of California could not bring him one inch nearer to the goal he aimed at. I think I have said before, that your silk purse will not get itself made out of that coarse material with which there are so many attempts to manufacture that article. And Mr. Prendergast rose from his chair when he saw him, with a respect that was almost involuntary. He had not heard men speak well of Owen Fitzgerald; — not that ill-natured things had been said by the family at Castle Richmond, but circumstances had prevented the possibility of their praising him. If a relative or friend be spoken of without praise, he is, in fact, censured. From what he had heard he had certainly not expected a man who would look so noble as did the owner of Hap House, who now came forward to ask him his business.
Both Mr. Prendergast and Aby Mollett rose at the same time. Since the arrival of the latter gentleman, Aby had been wondering who he might be, but no idea that he was that lawyer from Castle Richmond had entered his head. That he was a stranger like himself, Aby saw; but he did not connect him with his own business. Indeed he had not yet realized the belief, though his father had done so, that the truth would be revealed by those at Castle Richmond to him at Hap House. His object now was that the old gentleman should say his say and begone, leaving him to dispose of the other young man in the top-boots as best he might. But then, as it happened, that was also Mr. Prendergast’s line of action.
“Gentlemen,” said Owen, “I beg your pardon for keeping you waiting; but the fact is that I am so seldom honoured in this way in a morning, that I was hardly ready. Donnellan, there’s the tea; don’t mind waiting. These gentlemen will perhaps join us.” And then he looked hard at Aby, as though he trusted in Providence that no such profanation would be done to his tablecloth.
“Thank you, I have breakfasted,” said Mr. Prendergast.
“And so ‘ave I,” said Aby, who had eaten a penny loaf in the car, and would have been delighted to sit down at that rich table. But he was a little beside himself, and not able to pluck up courage for such an effort.
“I don’t know whether you two gentlemen have come about the same business,” said Owen, looking from one to the other.
“No,” said Mr. Prendergast, very confidently, but not very correctly. “I wish to speak to you, Mr. Fitzgerald, for a few minutes. but my business with you is quite private.”
“So is mine,” said Aby, “very private; very private indeed.”
“Well, gentlemen, I have just half an hour in which to eat my breakfast, attend to business, get on my horse and leave the house. Out of that twenty-five minutes are very much at your service. Donnellan, I beg your pardon. Do pitch into the broiled bones while they are hot, never mind me. And now, gentlemen, if you will walk with me into the other room. First come first served: that I suppose should be the order.” And he opened the door and stood with it ajar in his hand.
“I will wait, Mr. Fitzgerald, if you please,” said Mr. Prendergast; and as he spoke he motioned Mollett with his hand to go to the door.
“Oh! I can wait, sir, I’d rather wait, sir. I would indeed,” said Aby. “My business is a little particular, and if you’ll go on, sir, I’ll take up with the gen’leman as soon as you’ve done, sir.”
But Mr. Prendergast was accustomed to have his own way. “I should prefer that you should go first, sir. And to tell the truth, Mr. Fitzgerald, what I have to say to you will take some time. It is of much importance, to yourself and to others; and I fear that you will probably find that it will detain you from your amusement today.”
Owen looked black as he heard this. The hounds were going to draw a covert of his own; and he was not in the habit of remaining away from the drawing of any coverts belonging to himself or others, on any provocation whatever. “That will be rather hard,” said he, “considering that I do not know any more than the man in the moon what you’ve come about.”
“You shall be the sole judge yourself, sir, of the importance of my business with you,” said Mr. Prendergast.
“Well, Mr. — I forget your name,” said Owen.
“My name’s Mollett,” said Aby. Whereupon Mr. Prendergast looked up at him very sharply, but he said nothing. — He said nothing, but he looked very sharply indeed. He now knew well who this man was, and guessed with tolerable accuracy the cause of his visit. But, nevertheless, at the moment he said nothing.
“Come along, then, Mr. Mollett. I hope your affair is not likely to be a very long one also. Perhaps you’ll excuse my having a cup of tea sent in to me as you talk to me. There is nothing like saving time when such very important business is on the tapis. Donnellan, send Thady in with a cup of tea, like a good fellow. Now, Mr. Mollett.”
Mr. Mollett rose slowly from his chair, and followed his host. He would have given all he possessed in the world, and that was very little, to have had the coast clear. But in such an emergency, what was he to do? By the time he had reached the door of the drawing-room, he had all but made up his mind to tell Fitzgerald that, seeing there was so much other business on hand this morning at Hap House, this special piece of business of his must stand over. But then, how could he go back to Cork empty-handed? So he followed Owen into the room, and there opened his budget with what courage he had left to him.
Captain Donnellan, as he employed himself on the broiled bones, twice invited Mr. Prendergast to assist him; but in vain. Donnellan remained there, waiting for Owen, till eleven; and then got on his horse. “You’ll tell Fitzgerald, will you, that I’ve started? He’ll see nothing of today’s hunt; that’s clear.”
“I don’t think he will,” said Mr. Prendergast.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01