All the world no doubt knows South Main Street in the city of Cork. In the “ould” ancient days, South and North Main Streets formed the chief thoroughfare through the city, and hence of course they derived their names. But now, since Patrick Street, and Grand Parade, and the South Mall have grown up, Main Street has but little honour. It is crowded with second-rate tobacconists and third-rate grocers; the houses are dirty, and the street is narrow; fashionable ladies never visit it for their shopping, nor would any respectable commercial gent stop at an inn within its purlieus.
But here in South Main Street, at the time, of which I am writing, there was an inn, or public-house, called the Kanturk Hotel. In dear old Ireland they have some foibles, and one of them is a passion for high nomenclature. Those who are accustomed to the sort of establishments which are met with in England, and much more in Germany and Switzerland, under the name of hotels, might be surprised to see the place in South Main Street which had been dignified with the same appellation. It was a small, dingy house of three stories, the front door of which was always open, and the passage strewed with damp, dirty straw. On the left-hand side as you entered was a sitting-room, or coffee-room as it was announced to be by an appellation painted on the door. There was but one window to the room, which looked into the street, and was always clouded by a dingy-red curtain. The floor was uncarpeted, nearly black with dirt, and usually half covered with fragments of damp straw brought into it by the feet of customers. A strong smell of hot whisky and water always prevailed, and the straggling mahogany table in the centre of the room, whose rickety legs gave way and came off whenever an attempt was made to move it, was covered by small greasy circles, the impressions of the bottoms of tumblers which had been made by the overflowing tipple. Over the chimney there was a round mirror, the framework of which was bedizened with all manner of would-be gilt ornaments, which had been cracked, and twisted, and mended till it was impossible to know what they had been intended to represent; and the whole affair had become a huge receptacle of dust, which fell in flakes upon the chimney-piece when it was invaded. There was a second table opposite the window, more rickety than that in the centre; and against the wall opposite to the fireplace there was an old sideboard, in the drawers of which Tom, the one-eyed waiter, kept knives and forks, and candle-ends, and bits of bread, and dusters. There was a sour smell, as of old rancid butter, about the place, to which the guests sometimes objected, little inclined as they generally were to be fastidious. But this was a tender subject, and not often alluded to by those who wished to stand well in the good graces of Tom. Many things much annoyed Tom; but nothing annoyed him so fearfully as any assertion that the air of the Kanturk Hotel was not perfectly sweet and wholesome.
Behind the coffee-room was the bar, from which Fanny O’Dwyer dispensed dandies of punch and goes of brandy to her father’s customers from Kanturk. For at this, as at other similar public-houses in Irish towns, the greater part of the custom on which the publican depends came to him from the inhabitants of one particular country district. A large four-wheeled vehicle, called a long car, which was drawn by three horses, and travelled over a mountain road at the rate of four Irish miles an hour, came daily from Kanturk to Cork, and daily returned. This public conveyance stopped in Cork at the Kanturk Hotel, and was owned by the owner of that house, in partnership with a brother in the same trade located in Kanturk. It was Mr. O’Dwyer’s business to look after this concern, to see to the passengers and the booking, the oats, and hay, and stabling, while his well-known daughter, the charming Fanny O’Dwyer, took care of the house, and dispensed brandy and whisky to the customers from Kanturk.
To tell the truth, the bar was a much more alluring place than the coffee-room, and Fanny O’Dwyer a more alluring personage than Tom, the one-eyed waiter. This Elysium, however, was not open to all comers — not even to all comers from Kanturk. Those who had the right of entry well knew their privilege; and so also did they who had not. This sanctum was screened off from the passage by a window, which opened upwards conveniently, as is customary with bar-windows; but the window was blinded inside by a red curtain, so that Fanny’s stool near the counter, her father’s wooden armchair, and the old horsehair sofa on which favoured guests were wont to sit, were not visible to the public at large.
Of the upstair portion of this establishment it is not necessary to say much. It professed to be an hotel, and accommodation for sleeping was to be obtained there; but the well-being of the house depended but little on custom of this class.
Nor need I say much of the kitchen, a graphic description of which would not be pleasing. Here lived a cook, who, together with Tom the waiter, did all that servants had to do at the Kanturk Hotel. From this kitchen lumps of beef, mutton chops, and potatoes did occasionally emanate, all perfumed with plenteous onions; as also did fried eggs, with bacon an inch thick, and other culinary messes too horrible to be thought of. But drinking rather than eating was the staple of this establishment. Such was the Kanturk Hotel in South Main Street, Cork.
It was on a disagreeable, cold, sloppy, raw, winter evening — an evening drizzling sometimes with rain, and sometimes with sleet — that an elderly man was driven up to the door of the hotel on a one-horse car — or jingle, as such conveniences were then called in the south of Ireland. He seemed to know the house, for with his outside coat all dripping as it was he went direct to the bar-window, and as Fanny O’Dwyer opened the door he walked into that warm precinct. There he encountered a gentleman, dressed one would say rather beyond the merits of the establishment, who was taking his ease at full length on Fanny’s sofa, and drinking some hot compound which was to be seen in a tumbler on the chimney-shelf just above his head. It was now six o’clock in the evening, and the gentleman no doubt had dined.
“Well, Aby; here I am, as large as life, but as cold as death. Ugh! what an affair that coach is! Fanny, my best of darlings, give me a drop of something that’s best for warming the cockles of an old man’s heart.”
“A young wife then is the best thing in life to do that, Mr. Mollett,” said Fanny, sharply, preparing, however, at the same time some mixture which might be taken more instantaneously.
“The governor’s had enough of that receipt already,” said the man on the sofa; or rather the man now off the sofa, for he had slowly arisen to shake hands with the new comer.
This latter person proceeded to divest himself of his dripping greatcoat. “Here, Tom,” said he, “bring your old Cyclops eye to bear this way, will you. Go and hang that up in the kitchen; not too near the fire, now; and get me something to eat: none of your mutton chops; but a beefsteak, if there is such a thing in this benighted place. Well, Aby, how goes on the war?”
It was clear that the elderly gentleman was quite at home in his present quarters; for Tom, far from resenting such impertinence, as he would immediately have done had it proceeded from an ordinary Kanturk customer, declared “that he would do his honour’s bidding av there was such a thing as a beefsteak to be had anywheres in the city of Cork.”
And indeed the elderly gentleman was a person of whom one might premise, judging by his voice and appearance, that he would probably make himself at home anywhere. He was a hale hearty man, of perhaps sixty years of age, who had certainly been handsome, and was even now not the reverse. Or rather, one may say, that he would have been so were it not that there was a low, restless, cunning legible in his mouth and eyes, which robbed his countenance of all manliness. He was a hale man, and well preserved for his time of life; but nevertheless, the extra rubicundity of his face, and certain incipient pimply excrescences about his nose, gave tokens that he lived too freely. He had lived freely; and were it not that his constitution had been more than ordinarily strong, and that constant exercise and exposure to air had much befriended him, those pimply excrescences would have shown themselves in a more advanced stage. Such was Mr. Mollett senior — Mr. Matthew Mollett, with whom it will be soon our fate to be better acquainted.
The gentleman who had slowly risen from the sofa was his son, Mr. Mollett junior — Mr. Abraham Mollett, with whom also we shall become better acquainted. The father has been represented as not being exactly prepossessing; but the son, according to my ideas, was much less so. He also would be considered handsome by some persons — by women chiefly of the Fanny O’Dwyer class, whose eyes are capable of recognizing what is good in shape and form, but cannot recognize what is good in tone and character. Mr. Abraham Mollett was perhaps some thirty years of age, or rather more. He was a very smart man, with a profusion of dark, much-oiled hair, with dark, copious mustachoes — and mustachoes being then not common as they are now, added to his otherwise rakish, vulgar appearance — with various rings on his not well-washed hands, with a frilled front to his not lately washed shirt, with a velvet collar to his coat, and patent-leather boots upon his feet.
Free living had told more upon him, young as he was, than upon his father. His face was not yet pimply, but it was red and bloated; his eyes were bloodshot and protruding; his hand on a morning was unsteady; and his passion for brandy was stronger than that for beefsteaks; whereas his father’s appetite for solid food had never flagged. Those who were intimate with the family, and were observant of men, were wont to remark that the son would never fill the father’s shoes. These family friends, I may perhaps add, were generally markers at billiard-tables, head grooms at race-courses, or other men of that sharp, discerning class. Seeing that I introduce these gentlemen to my readers at the Kanturk Hotel, in South Main Street, Cork, it may be perhaps as well to add that they were both Englishmen; so that mistakes on that matter may be avoided.
The father, as soon as he had rid himself of his upper coat, his dripping hat, and his goloshes, stood up with his back to the bar-room fire, with his hands in his trousers-pockets, and the tails of his coat stuck inside his arms.
“I tell you, Aby, it was cold enough outside that infernal coach. I’m blessed if I’ve a morsel of feeling in my toes yet. Why the d — don’t they continue the railway on to Cork? It’s as much as a man’s life is worth to travel in that sort of way at this time of the year.”
“You’ll have more of it, then, if you intend going out of town tomorrow,” said the son.
“Well; I don’t know that I shall. I shall take a day to consider of it, I think.”
“Consideration be bothered,” said Mollett, junior; “strike when the iron’s hot, that’s my motto.”
The father here turned half round to his son and winked at him, nodding his head slightly towards the girl, thereby giving token that, according to his ideas, the conversation could not be discreetly carried on before a third person.
“All right,” said the son, lifting his joram of brandy and water to his mouth; an action in which he was immediately imitated by his father, who had now received the means of doing so from the hands of the fair Fanny.
“And how about a bed, my dear?” said Mollett senior; “that’s a matter of importance too; or will be when we are getting on to the little hours.”
“Oh, we won’t turn you out, Mr. Mollett,” said Fanny; “we’ll find a bed for you, never fear.”
“That’s all right, then, my little Venus. And now if I had some dinner I’d sit down and make myself comfortable for the evening.”
As he said this Fanny slipped out of the room, and ran down into the kitchen to see what Tom and the cook were doing. The Molletts, father and son, were rather more than ordinary good customers at the Kanturk Hotel, and it was politic therefore to treat them well. Mr. Mollett junior, moreover, was almost more than a customer; and for the sake of the son Fanny was anxious that the father should be well treated.
“Well, governor, and what have you done?” said the younger man in a low voice, jumping up from his seat as soon as the girl had left them alone.
“Well, I’ve got the usual remittance from the man in Bucklersbury. That was all as right as a trivet.”
“And no more than that? Then I tell you what it is; we must be down on him at once.”
“But you forget that I got as much more last month, out of the usual course. Come, Aby, don’t you be unreasonable.”
“Bother — I tell you, governor, if he don’t ——” And then Miss O’Dwyer returned to her sanctum, and the rest of the conversation was necessarily postponed.
“He’s managed to get you a lovely steak, Mr. Mollett,” said Fanny, pronouncing the word as though it were written “steek.” “And we’ve beautiful pickled walnuts; haven’t we, Mr. Aby? and there’ll be kidneys biled” (meaning potatoes) “by the time the ‘steek’s’ ready. You like it with the gravy in, don’t you, Mr. Mollett?” And as she spoke she drew a quartern of whisky for two of Beamish and Crawford’s draymen, who stood outside in the passage and drank it at the bar.
The lovely “steek” with the gravy in it — that is to say, nearly raw — was now ready, and father and son adjourned to the next room. “Well, Tom, my lad of wax; and how’s the world using you?” said Mr. Mollett senior.
“There ain’t much difference, then,” said Tom; “I ain’t no younger, nor yet no richer than when yer honour left us — and what is’t to be, sir? — a pint of stout, sir?”
As soon as Mr. Mollett senior had finished his dinner, and Tom had brought the father and son materials for making whisky-punch, they both got their knees together over the fire, and commenced the confidential conversation which Miss O’Dwyer had interrupted on her return to the bar-room. They spoke now almost in a whisper, with their heads together over the fender, knowing from experience that what Tom wanted in eyes he made up in ears.
“And what did Prendergast say when he paid you the rhino?” asked the son.
“Not a word,” said the other. “After all, I don’t think he knows any more than a ghost what he pays it for: I think he gets fresh instructions every time. But, any ways, there it was, all right.”
“Hall right, indeed! I do believe you’d be satisfied to go on getting a few dribblets now and then like that. And then if anything ‘appened to you, why I might go fish.”
“How, Aby, look here —”
“It’s hall very well, governor; but I’ll tell you what. Since you started off I’ve been thinking a good deal about it, and I’ve made up my mind that this shilly-shallying won’t do any good: we must strike a blow that’ll do something for us.”
“Well, I don’t think we’ve done so bad already, taking it all-inall.”
“Ah, that’s because you haven’t the pluck to strike a good blow. Now, I’ll just let you know what I propose — and I tell you fairly, governor, if you’ll not hear reason, I’ll take the game into my own hands.”
The father looked up from his drink and scowled at his son, but said nothing in answer to this threat.
“By G— I will!” continued Aby. “It’s no use ‘umbugging, and I mean to make myself understood. While you’ve been gone I’ve been down to that place.”
“You ‘aven’t seen the old man?”
“No; I ‘aven’t taken that step yet; but I think it’s very likely I may before long if you won’t hear reason.”
“I was a d —-fool, Aby, ever to let you into the affair at all. It’s been going on quiet enough for the last ten years, till I let you into the secret.”
“Well, never mind about that. That mischief’s done. But I think you’ll find I’ll pull you through a deal better than hever you’d have pulled through yourself. You’re already making twice more out of it than you did before I knew it. As I was saying, I went down there; and in my quiet way I did just venture on a few hinquiries.”
“I’ll be bound you did. You’ll blow it all in about another month, and then it’ll be up with the lot of us.”
“It’s a beautiful place: a lovely spot; and hall in prime horder. They say it’s fifteen thousand a-year, and that there’s not a shilling howing on the whole property. Even in these times the tenants are paying the rent, when no one else, far and near, is getting a penny out of them. I went by another place on the road — Castle Desmond they call it, and I wish you’d seen the difference. The old boy must be rolling in money.”
“I don’t believe it. There’s one as I can trust has told me he’s hard up enough sometimes. Why, we’ve had twelve hundred in the last eight months.”
“Twelve hundred! and what’s that? But, dickens, governor, where has the twelve hundred gone? I’ve only seen three of it, and part of that —. Well; what do you want there, you long-eared shark, you?” These last words were addressed to Tom, who had crept into the room, certainly without much preparatory noise.
“I was only wanting the thingumbob, yer honour,” said Tom, pretending to search diligently in the drawer for some required article.
“Then take your thingumbob quickly out of that, and be d —-to you. And look here; if you don’t knock at the door when next you come in, by heavens I’ll throw this tumbler at your yead.”
“Sure and I will, yer honour,” said Tom, withdrawing.
“And where on hearth has the twelve hundred pounds gone?” asked the son, looking severely at the father.
Old Mr. Mollett made no immediate answer in words, but putting his left hand to his right elbow, began to shake it.
“I do wonder that you keep hon at that work,” said Mollett junior, reproachfully. “You never by any chance have a stroke of luck.”
“Well, I have been unfortunate lately; but who knows what’s coming? And I was deucedly sold by those fellows at the October meeting. If any chap ever was safe, I ought to have been safe then; but hang me if I didn’t drop four hundred of Sir Thomas’s shiners coolly on the spot. That was the only big haul I’ve had out of him all at once; and the most of it went like water through a sieve within forty-eight hours after I touched it.” And then, having finished this pathetical little story of his misfortune, Mr. Mollett senior finished his glass of toddy.
“It’s the way of the world, governor; and it’s no use sighing after spilt milk. But I’ll tell you what I propose; and if you don’t like the task yourself, I have no hobjection in life to take it into my own hands. You see the game’s so much our own that there’s nothing on hearth for us to fear.”
“I don’t know that. If we were all blown, where should we be —”
“Why, she’s your own —”
“H-h-sh, Aby. There’s that confounded long-eared fellow at the keyhole, as sure as my name’s Matthew; and if he hears you, the game’s all up with a vengeance.”
“Lord bless you, what could he hear? Besides, talking as we are now, he wouldn’t catch a word even if he were in the room itself. And now I’ll tell you what it is; do you go down yourself, and make your way into the hold gentleman’s room. Just send your own name in boldly. Nobody will know what that means, except himself.”
“I did that once before; and I never shall forget it.”
“Yes, you did it once before, and you have had a steady income to live on ever since; not such an income as you might have had. Not such an income as will do for you and me, now that we both know so well what a fine property we have under our thumbs. But, nevertheless, that little visit has been worth something to you.”
“Upon my word, Aby, I never suffered so much as I did that day. I didn’t know till then that I had a soft heart.”
“Soft heart! Oh, bother. Such stuff as that always makes me sick. If I ‘ate anything, it’s maudlin. Your former visit down there did very well, and now you must make another, or else, by the holy poker! I’ll make it for you.”
“And what would you have me say to him if I did manage to see him?”
“Perhaps I’d better go —”
“That’s out of the question. He wouldn’t see you, or understand who you were. And then you’d make a row, and it would all come out, and the fat would be in the fire.”
“Well, I guess I should not take it quite quiet if they didn’t treat me as a gentleman should be treated. I ain’t always over-quiet if I’m put upon.”
“If you go near that house at all I’ll have done with it. I’ll give up the game.”
“Well, do you go, at any rate first. Perhaps it may be well that I should follow after with a reminder. Do you go down, and just tell him this, quite coolly, remember —”
“Oh, I shall be cool enough.”
“That, considering hall things, you think he and you ought to —”
“Just divide it between you; share and share alike. Say it’s fourteen thousand — and it’s more than that — that would be seven for him and seven for you. Tell him you’ll agree to that, but you won’t take one farthing less.”
“Aby!” said the father, almost overcome by the grandeur of his son’s ideas.
“Well; and what of Haby? What’s the matter now?”
“Expect him to shell out seven thousand pounds a-year!”
“And why not? He’ll do a deal more than that, I expect, if he were quite sure that it would make all things serene. But it won’t; and therefore you must make him another hoffer.”
“Yes. He’ll know well enough that you’ll be thinking of his death. And for all they do say he might pop off any day.”
“He’s a younger man than me, Aby, by full ten years.”
“What of that? You may pop off any day too, mayn’t you? I believe you old fellows don’t think of dying nigh as hoften as we young ones.”
“You young ones are always looking for us old ones to go. We all know that well enough.”
“That’s when you’ve got anything to leave behind you, which hain’t the case with you, governor, just at present. But what I was saying is this. He’ll know well enough that you can split upon his son hafter he’s gone, every bit as well as you can split on him now.”
“Oh, I always looked to make the young gentleman pay up handsome, if so be the old gentleman went off the hooks. And if so be he and I should go off together like, why you’d carry on, of course. You’ll have the proofs, you know.”
“Oh, I should, should I? Well, we’ll look to them by-and-by. But I’ll tell you what, governor, the best way is to make all that safe. We’ll make him another hoffer — for a regular substantial family harrangement —”
“A family arrangement, eh?”
“Yes; that’s the way they always manage things when great family hinterests is at stake. Let him give us a cool seven thousand a-year between us while he’s alive; let him put you down for twenty thousand when he’s dead — that’d come out of the young gentleman’s share of the property, of course — and then let him give me his daughter Hemmeline, with another twenty thousand tacked on to her skirt-tail. I should be mum then for hever for the honour of the family.”
The father for a moment or two was struck dumb by the magnitude of his son’s proposition. “That’s what I call playing the game firm,” continued the son. “Do you lay down your terms before him, substantial, and then stick to ’em. ‘Them’s my terms, Sir Thomas,’ you’ll say. ‘If you don’t like ’em, as I can’t halter, why in course I’ll go elsewhere.’ Do you be firm to that, and you’ll see how the game’ll go.”
“And you think he’ll give you his daughter in marriage?”
“Why not? I’m honest born, hain’t I? And she’s a bastard.”
“But, Aby, you don’t know what sort of people these are. You don’t know what her breeding has been.”
“D—-her breeding. I know this: she’d get a deuced pretty fellow for her husband, and one that girls as good as her has hankered hafter long enough. It won’t do, governor, to let people as is in their position pick and choose like. We’ve the hupper hand, and we must do the picking and choosing.”
“She’d never have you, Aby; not if her father went down on his knees to her to ask her.”
“Oh, wouldn’t she? By heaven, then, she shall, and that without any kneeling at all. She shall have me, and be deuced glad to take me. What! she’d refuse a fellow like me when she knows that she and all belonging to her’d be turned into the streets if she don’t have me! I’m clear of another way of thinking, then. My opinion is she’d come to me jumping. I’ll tell you what, governor, you don’t know the sex.”
Mr. Mollett senior upon this merely shook his head. Perhaps the fact was that he knew the sex somewhat better than his son. It had been his fate during a portion of his life to live among people who were, or ought to have been, gentlemen. He might have been such himself had he not gone wrong in life from the very starting-post. But his son had had no such opportunities. He did know and could know nothing about ladies and gentlemen.
“You’re mistaken, Aby,” said the old man. “They’d never suffer you to come among them on such a footing as that. They’d sooner go forth to the world as beggars.”
“Then, by G—! they shall go forth as beggars. I’ve said it now, father, and I’ll stick to it. You know the stuff I’m made of.” As he finished speaking, he swallowed down the last half of a third glass of hot spirits and water, and then glared on his father with angry, blood-shot eyes, and a red, almost lurid face. The unfortunate father was beginning to know the son, and to feel that his son would become his master.
Shortly after this they were interrupted; and what further conversation they had on the matter that night took place in their joint bedroom; to which uninviting retreat it is not now necessary that we should follow them.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01