On the following morning Lord Ballindine as he had appointed to do, drove over to Dunmore, to settle with Martin about the money, and, if necessary, to go with him to the attorney’s office in Tuam. Martin had as yet given Daly no answer respecting Barry Lynch’s last proposal; and though poor Anty’s health made it hardly necessary that any answer should be given, still Lord Ballindine had promised to see the attorney, if Martin thought it necessary. The family were all in great confusion that morning, for Anty was very bad worse than she had ever been. She was in a paroxysm of fever, was raving in delirium, and in such a state that Martin and his sister were occasionally obliged to hold her in bed.
Sally, the old servant, had been in the room for a considerable time during the morning, standing at the foot of the bed with a big tea-pot in her hand, and begging in a whining voice, from time to time, that ‘Miss Anty, God bless her, might get a dhrink of tay!’ But, as she had been of no other service, and as the widow thought it as well that she should not, hear what Anty said in her raving, she had been desired to go down-stairs, and was sitting over the fire. She had fixed the big tea-pot among the embers, and held a slop-bowl of tea in her lap, discoursing to Nelly, who with her hair somewhat more than ordinarily dishevelled, in token of grief for Anty’s illness, was seated on a low stool, nursing a candle-stick.
‘Well, Nelly,’ said the prophetic Sally, boding evil in her anger for, considering how long she had been in the family, she had thought herself entitled to hear Anty’s ravings; ‘mind, I tell you, good won’t come of this. The Virgin prothect us from all harum! it niver war lucky to have sthrangers dying in the house.’
‘But shure Miss Anty’s no stranger.’
‘Faix thin, her words must be sthrange enough when the likes o’ me wouldn’t be let hear ’em. Not but what I did hear, as how could I help it? There’ll be no good come of it. Who’s to be axed to the wake, I’d like to know.’
‘Axed to the wake, is it? Why, shure, won’t there be rashions of ating and lashings of dhrinking? The misthress isn’t the woman to spare, and sich a frind as Miss Anty dead in the house. Let ’em ax whom they like.’
‘You’re a fool, Nelly Ax whom they like! that’s asy said. Is they to ax Barry Lynch, or is they to let it alone, and put the sisther into the sod without a word said to him about it? God be betwixt us and all evil’ and she took a long pull at the slop-bowl; and, as the liquid flowed down her throat, she gradually threw back her head till the top of her mop cap was flattened against the side of the wide fire-place, and the bowl was turned bottom upwards, so that the half-melted brown sugar might trickle into her mouth. She then gave a long sigh, and repeated that difficult question ‘Who is they to ax to the wake?’
It was too much for Nelly to answer: she reechoed the sigh, and more closely embraced the candlestick.
‘Besides, Nelly, who’ll have the money when she’s gone? and she’s nigh that already, the Blessed Virgin guide and prothect her. Who’ll get all her money?
‘Why; won’t Mr Martin? Sure, an’t they as good as man and wife all as one?’
‘That’s it; they’ll be fighting and tearing, and tatthering about that money, the two young men will, you’ll see. There’ll be lawyering, an’ magisthrate’s work an’ factions an’ fighthins at fairs; an’ thin, as in course the Lynches can’t hould their own agin the Kellys, there’ll be undherhand blows, an’ blood, an’ murdher! you’ll see else.’
‘Glory be to God,’ involuntarily prayed Nelly, at the thoughts suggested by Sally’s powerful eloquence.
‘There will, I tell ye,’ continued Sally, again draining the tea-pot into the bowl. ‘Sorrow a lie I’m telling you;’ and then, in a low whisper across the fire, ‘didn’t I see jist now Miss Anty ketch a hould of Misther Martin, as though she’d niver let him go agin, and bid him for dear mercy’s sake have a care of Barry Lynch? Shure I knowed what that meant. And thin, didn’t he thry and do for herself with his own hands? Didn’t Biddy say she’d swear she heard him say he’d do it? and av he wouldn’t boggle about his own sisther, it’s little he’d mind what he’d do to an out an out inemy like Misther Martin.’
‘Warn’t that a knock at the hall-door, Sally?’
‘Run and see, girl; maybe it’s the docthor back again; only mostly he don’t mind knocking much.’
Nelly went to the door, and opened it to Lord Ballindine, who had left his gig in charge of his servant. He asked for Martin, who in a short time, joined him in the parlour.
‘This is a dangerous place for your lordship, now,’ said he: ‘the fever is so bad in the house. Thank God, nobody seems to have taken it yet, but there’s no knowing.’
‘Is she still so bad, Martin?’
‘Worse than iver, a dale worse; I don’t think It’ll last long, now: another bout such as this last’ll about finish it. But I won’t keep your lordship. I’ve managed about the money;’ and the necessary writing was gone through, and the cash was handed to Lord Ballindine.
‘You’ve given over all thoughts then, about Lynch’s offer eh, Martin? I suppose you’ve done with all that, now?’
‘Quite done with it, my lord; and done with fortune-hunting too. I’ve seen enough this last time back to cure me altogether at laist, I hope so.’
‘She doesn’t mean to make any will, then?’
‘Why, she wishes to make one, but I doubt whether she’ll ever be able;’ and then Martin gave his landlord an account of all that Anty had said about her will, her wishes as to the property, her desire to leave something to him (Martin) and his sisters: and last he repeated the strong injunctions which Anty had given him respecting her poor brother, and her assurance, so full of affection, that had she lived she would have done her best to make him happy as her husband.
Lord Ballindine was greatly affected; he warmly shook hands with Martin, told him how highly he thought of his conduct, and begged him to take care that Anty had the gratification of making her will as she had desired to do. ‘The fact,’ Lord Ballindine said, ‘of your being named in the will as her executor will give you more. control over Barry than anything else could do.’ He then proposed at once to go, himself, to Tuam, and explain to Daly what it was Miss Lynch wished him to do. This Lord Ballindine did, and the next day the will was completed.
For a week or ten days Anty remained in much the same condition. After each attack of fever it was expected that she would perish from weakness and exhaustion; but she still held on, and then the fever abated, and Doctor Colligan thought that it was possible she might recover: she was, however, so dreadfully emaciated and worn out, there was so little vitality left in her, that he would not encourage more than the faintest hope. Anty herself was too weak either to hope or fear and the women of the family, who from continual attendance knew how very near to death she was, would hardly allow themselves to think that she could recover.
There were two persons, however, who from the moment of her amendment felt an inward sure conviction of her convalescence. They were Martin and Barry. To the former this feeling was o course one of unalloyed delight. He went over to Kelly’s Court, and spoke there of his betrothed as though she were already sitting up and eating mutton chops; was congratulated by the young ladies on his approaching nuptials, and sauntered round the Kelly’s Court shrubberies with Frank, talking over his future prospects; asking advice about this and that, and propounding the pros and cons on that difficult question, whether he would live at Dunmore, or build a house at Toneroe for himself and Anty. With Barry, however, the feeling was very different: he was again going to have his property wrenched from him; he was again to suffer the pangs he had endured, when first he learned the purport of his father’s will; after clutching the fruit for which he had striven, as even he himself felt, so basely, it was again to be torn from him so cruelly.
He had been horribly anxious for a termination to Anty’s sufferings; horribly impatient to feel himself possessor of the whole. From day to day, and sometimes two or three times a day, he had seen Dr Colligan, and inquired how things were going on: he had especially enjoined that worthy man to come up after his morning call at the inn, and get a glass of sherry at Dunmore House; and the doctor had very generally done so. For some time Barry endeavoured to throw the veil of brotherly regard over the true source of his anxiety; but the veil was much too thin to hide what it hardly covered, and Barry, as he got intimate with the doctor, all but withdrew it altogether. When Barry would say, ‘Well, doctor, how is she today?’ and then remark, in answer to the doctor’s statement that she was very bad ‘Well, I suppose it can’t last much longer; but it’s very tedious, isn’t it, poor thing?’ it was plain enough that the brother was not longing for the sister’s recovery. And then he would go a little further, and remark that ‘if the poor thing was to go, it would be better for all she went at once,’ and expressed an opinion that he was rather ill-treated by being kept so very long in suspense.
Doctor Colligan ought to have been shocked at this; and so he was,, at first, to a certain extent, but he was not a man of a very high tone of feeling. He had so often heard of heirs to estates longing for the death of the proprietors of them; he had so often seen relatives callous and indifferent at the loss of those who ought to have been dear to them; it seemed so natural to him that Barry should want the estate, that he gradually got accustomed to his impatient inquiries, and listened to, and answered them, without disgust. He fell too into a kind of intimacy with Barry; he liked his daily glass, or three or four glasses, of sherry; and besides, it was a good thing for him to stand well in a professional point of view with a man who had the best house in the village, and who would soon have eight hundred a-year.
If Barry showed his impatience and discontent as long as the daily bulletins told him that Anty was still alive, though dying, it may easily be imagined that he did not hide his displeasure when he first heard that she was alive and better. His brow grew very black, his cheeks flushed, the drops of sweat stood on his forehead, and he said, speaking through his closed teeth, ‘D— it, doctor, you don’t mean to tell me she’s recovering now?’
‘I don’t say, Mr Lynch, whether she is or no; but it’s certain the fever has left her. She’s very weak, very weak indeed; I never knew a person to be alive and have less life in ’em; but the fever has left her and there certainly is hope.’
‘Hope!’ said Barry ‘why, you told me she couldn’t live!’
‘I don’t say she will, Mr Lynch, but I say she may. Of course we must do what we can for her,’ and the doctor took his sherry and went his way.
How horrible then was the state of Barry’s mind! For a time he was absolutely stupified with despair; he stood fixed on the spot where the doctor had left him, realising, bringing home to himself, the tidings which he had heard. His sister to rise again, as though it were from the dead, to push him off his stool! Was he to fall again into that horrid low abyss in which even the Tuam attorney had scorned him; in which he had even invited that odious huxter’s son to marry his sister and live in his house? What! was he again to be reduced to poverty, to want, to despair, by her whom he so hated? Could nothing be done? Something must be done she should not be, could not be allowed to leave that bed of sickness alive. ‘There must be an end of her,’ he muttered through his teeth, ‘or she’ll drive me mad!’ And then he thought how easily he might have smothered her, as she lay there clasping his hand, with no one but themselves in the room; and as the thought crossed his brain his eyes nearly started from his head, the sweat ran down his face, he clutched the money in his trousers’ pocket till the coin left an impression on his flesh, and he gnashed his teeth till his jaws ached with his own violence. But then, in that sick-room, he had been afraid of her; he could not have touched her then for the wealth of the Bank of England! but now!
The devil sat within him, and revelled with full dominion over his soul: there was then no feeling left akin to humanity to give him one chance of escape; there was no glimmer of pity, no shadow of remorse, no sparkle of love, even though of a degraded kind; no hesitation in the will for crime, which might yet, by God’s grace, lead to its eschewal: all there was black, foul, and deadly, ready for the devil’s deadliest work. Murder crouched there, ready to spring, yet afraid cowardly, but too thirsty alter blood to heed its own fears. Theft low, pilfering, pettifogging, theft; avarice, lust, and impotent, scalding hatred. Controlled by these the black blood rushed quick to and from his heart, filling him with sensual desires below the passions of a brute, but denying him one feeling or one appetite for aught that was good or even human.
Again the next morning the doctor was questioned with intense anxiety; ‘Was she going? was she drooping? had yesterday’s horrid doubts raised only a false alarm?’ It was utterly beyond Barry’s power to make any attempt at concealment, even of the most shallow kind. ‘Well, doctor, is she dying yet?’ was the brutal question he put.
‘She is, if anything, rather stronger;’ answered the doctor, shuddering involuntarily at the open expression of Barry’s atrocious wish, and yet taking his glass of wine.
‘The devil she is!’ muttered Barry, throwing himself into an arm-chair. He sat there some little time, and the doctor also sat down, said nothing, but continued sipping his wine.
‘In the name of mercy, what must I do?’ said Barry, speaking more to himself than to the other.
‘Why, you’ve enough, Mr Lynch, without hers; you can do well enough without it.’
‘Enough! Would you think you had enough if you were robbed of more than half of all you have. Half, indeed,’ he shouted ‘I may say all, at once. I don’t believe there’s a man in Ireland would bear it. Nor will I.’
Again there was a silence; but still, somehow, Colligan seemed to stay longer than usual. Every now and then Barry would for a moment look full in his face, and almost instantly drop his eyes again. He was trying to mature future plans; bringing into shape thoughts which had occurred to him, in a wild way at different times; proposing to himself schemes, with which his brain had been long loaded, but which he had never resolved on which he had never made palpable and definite. One thing he found sure and certain; on one point he was able to become determined: he could not do it alone; he must have an assistant; he must buy some one’s aid; and again he looked at Colligan, and again his eyes fell. There was no encouragement there, but there was no discouragement. Why did he stay there so long? Why did he so slowly sip that third glass of wine? Was he waiting to be asked? was he ready, willing, to be bought? There must be something in his thoughts he must have some reason for sitting there so long, and so silent, without speaking a word, or taking his eyes off the fire.
Barry had all but made up his mind to ask the aid he wanted; but he felt that he was not prepared to do so that he should soon quiver and shake, that he could not then carry it through. He felt that he wanted spirit to undertake his own part in the business, much less to inspire another with the will to assist him in it. At last he rose abruptly from his chair, and said,
‘Will you dine with me today, Colligan? I’m so down in the mouth, so deucedly hipped, it will be a charity.’
‘Well,’ said Colligan, ‘I don’t care if I do. I must go down to your sister in the evening, and I shall be near her here.’
‘Yes, of course; you’ll be near her here, as you say: come at six, then. By the bye, couldn’t you go to Anty first, so that we won’t be disturbed over our punch?’
‘I must see her the last thing, about nine, but I can look up again afterwards, for a minute or so. I don’t stay long with her now: it’s better not.’
‘Well, then, you’ll be here at six?’
‘Yes, six sharp;’ and at last the doctor got up and went away.
It was odd that Doctor Colligan should have sat thus long; it showed a great want of character and of good feeling in him. He should never have become intimate, or even have put up with a man expressing such wishes as those which so often fell from Barry’s lips. But he was entirely innocent of the thoughts which Barry attributed to him. It had never even occurred to him that Barry, bad as he was, would wish to murder his sister. No; bad, heedless, sensual as Doctor Colligan might be, Barry was a thousand fathoms deeper in iniquity than he.
As soon as he had left the room the other uttered a long, deep sigh. It was a great relief to him to be alone: he could now collect his thoughts, mature his plans, and finally determine. He took his usual remedy in his difficulties, a glass of brandy; and, going out into the garden, walked up and down the gravel walk almost unconsciously, for above an hour.
Yes: he would do it. He would not be a coward. The thing had been clone a thousand times before. Hadn’t he heard of it over and over again? Besides, Colligan’s manner was an assurance to him that he would not boggle at such a job. But then, of course, he must be paid and Barry began to calculate how much he must offer for the service; and, when the service should be performed, how he might avoid the fulfilment of his portion of the bargain.
He went in and ordered the dinner; filled the spirit decanters, opened a couple of bottles of wine, and then walked out again. In giving his orders, and doing the various little things with which he had to keep himself employed, everybody, and everything seemed strange to him. He hardly knew what he was about, and felt almost as though he were in a dream. He had quite made up his mind as to what he would do; his resolution was fixed to carry it through but: still there was the but, how was he to open it to Doctor Colligan? He walked up and down the gravel path for a long time, thinking of this; or rather trying to think of it, for his thoughts would fly away to all manner of other subjects, and he continually found himself harping upon some trifle, connected with Anty, but wholly irrespective of her death; some little thing that she had done for him, or ought to have done; something she had said a long time ago, and which he had never thought of till now; something she had worn, and which at the time he did not even know that he had observed; and as often as he found his mind thus wandering, he would start off at a quicker pace, and again endeavour to lay out a line of conduct for the evening.
At last, however, he came to the conclusion that it would he better to trust to the chapter of chances: there was one thing, or rather two things, he could certainly do: he could make the doctor half drunk before he opened on the subject, and he would take care to be in the same state himself. So he walked in and sat still before the fire, for the two long remaining hours, which intervened before the clock struck six.
It was about noon when the doctor left him, and during those six long solitary hours no one feeling of remorse had entered his breast. He had often doubted, hesitated as to the practicability of his present plan, but not once had he made the faintest effort to overcome the wish to have the deed done. There was not one moment in which lie would not most willingly have had his sister’s blood upon his hands, upon his brain, upon his soul; could he have willed and accomplished her death, without making himself liable to the penalties of the law.
At length Doctor Colligan came, and Barry made a great effort to appear unconcerned and in good humour.
‘And how is she now, doctor?’ he said, as they sat down to table.
‘Is it Anty? why, you know I didn’t mean to see her since I was here this morning, till nine o’clock.’
‘Oh, true; so you were saying. I forgot. Well, will you take a glass of wine?’ and Barry filled his own glass quite full.
He drank his wine at dinner like a glutton, who had only a short time allowed him, and wished during that time to swallow as much as possible; and he tried to hurry his companion in the same manner. But the doctor didn’t choose to have wine forced down his throat; he wished to enjoy himself, and remonstrated against Barry’s violent hospitality.
At last, dinner was over; the things were taken away, they both drew their chairs over the fire, and began the business of the evening the making and consumption of punch. Barry had determined to begin upon the subject which lay so near his heart, at eight o’clock. He had thought it better to fix an exact hour, and had calculated that the whole matter might be completed before Colligan went over to the inn. He kept continually looking at his watch, and gulping down his drink, and thinking over and over again how he would begin the conversation.
‘You’re very comfortable here, Lynch,’ said the doctor, stretching his long legs before the fire, and putting his dirty boots upon the fender.
‘Yes, indeed,’ said Barry, not knowing what the other was saying.
‘All you want’s a wife, and you’d have as warm a house as there is in Galway. You’ll be marrying soon, I suppose?’
‘Well, I wouldn’t wonder if I did. You don’t take your punch; there’s brandy there, if you like it better than whiskey.’
‘This is very good, thank you couldn’t be better. You haven’t much land in your own hands, have you?’
‘Why, no I don’t think I have. What’s that you’re saying? land? No, not much: if there’s a thing I hate, it’s farming.’
‘Well, upon my word you’re wrong. I don’t see what else a gentleman has to do in the country. I wish to goodness I could give up the gallipots and farm a few acres of my own land. There’s nothing I wish so much as to get a bit of land: indeed, I’ve been looking out for it, but it’s so difficult to get.’
Up to this, Barry had hardly listened to what the doctor had been saying; but now he was all attention. ‘So that is to be his price,’ thought he to himself, ‘he’ll cost me dear, but I suppose he must have it.’
Barry looked at his watch: it was near eight o’clock, but he seemed to feel that all he had drank had had no effect on him: it had not given him the usual pluck; it had not given him the feeling of reckless assurance, which he mistook for courage and capacity.
‘If you’ve a mind to be a tenant of mine, Colligan, I’ll keep a look out for you. The land’s crowded now, but there’s a lot of them cottier devils I mean to send to the right about. They do the estate no good, and I hate the sight of them. But you know how the property’s placed, and while Anty’s in this wretched state, of course I can do nothing.’
‘Will you bear it in mind though, Lynch? When a bit of land does fall into your hands, I should be glad to be your tenant. I’m quite in earnest, and should take it as a great favour.’
‘I’ll not forget it;’ and then he remained silent for a minute. What an opportunity this was for him to lose! Colligan so evidently wished to be bribed so clearly showed what the price was which was to purchase him. But still he could not ask the fatal question.
Again he sat silent for a while, till he looked at his watch, and found it was a quarter past eight.
‘Never fear,’ he said, referring to the farm; ‘you shall have it, and it shall not be the worst land on the estate that I’ll give you, you may be sure; for, upon my soul, I have a great regard for you; I have indeed.’
The doctor thanked him for his good opinion.
‘Oh! I’m not blarneying you; upon my soul I’m not; that’s not the way with me at all; and when you know me better you’ll say so and you may be sure you shall have the farm by Michaelmas.’ And then, in a voice which he tried to make as unconcerned as possible, he continued: ‘By the bye, Colligan, when do you think this affair of Anty’s will be over? It’s the devil and all for a man not to know when he’ll be his own master.’
‘Oh, you mustn’t calculate on your sister’s property at all now,’ said the other, in an altered voice. ‘I tell you it’s very probable she may recover.’
This again silenced Barry, and he let the time go by, till the doctor took up his hat, to go down to his patient.
‘You’ll not be long, I suppose?’ said Barry.
‘Well, it’s getting late,’ said Colligan, ‘and I don’t think I’ll be coming back to-night.’
‘Oh, but you will; indeed, you must. You promised you would, you know, and I want to hear how she goes on.’
‘Well, I’ll just come up, but I won’t stay, for I promised Mrs Colligan to be home early.’ This was always the doctor’s excuse when he wished to get away. He never allowed his domestic promises to draw him home when there was anything to induce him to stay abroad; but, to tell the truth, he was getting rather sick of his companion. The doctor took his hat, and went to his patient.
‘He’ll not be above ten minutes or at any rate a quarter of an hour,’ thought Barry, ‘and then I must do it. How he sucked it all in about the farm! that’s the trap, certainly.’ And he stood leaning with his back against the mantel-piece, and his coat-laps hanging over his arm, waiting for and yet. fearing, the moment of the doctor’s return. It seemed an age since he went. Barry looked at his, watch almost every minute; it was twenty minutes past nine, five-and-twenty thirty forty three quarters of an hour ‘By Heaven!’ said he, ‘the man is not coming! he is going to desert me and I shall be ruined! Why the deuce didn’t I speak out when the man was here!’
At last his ear caught the sound of the doctor’s heavy foot on the gravel outside the door, and immediately afterwards the door bell was rung. Barry hastily poured out a glass of raw spirits and swallowed it; he then threw himself into his chair, and Doctor Colligan again entered the room.
‘What a time you’ve been, Colligan! Why I thought you weren’t coming all night. Now, Terry, some hot water, and mind you look sharp about it. Well, how’s Anty to-night?’
‘Weak, very weak; but mending, I think. The disease won’t kill her now; the only thing is whether the cure will.’
‘Well, doctor, you can’t expect me to be very anxious about it: unfortunately, we had never any reason to be proud of Anty, and it would be humbug in me to pretend that I wish she should recover, to rob me of what you know I’ve every right to consider my own.’ Terry brought the hot water in, and left the room.
‘Well, I can’t say you do appear very anxious about it. I’ll just swallow one dandy of punch, and then I’ll get home. I’m later now than I meant to be.’
‘Nonsense, man. The idea of your being in a hurry, when everybody knows that a doctor can never tell how long he may be kept in a sick-room! But come now, tell the truth; put yourself in my condition, and do you mean to say you’d be very anxious that Anty should recover? Would you like your own sister to rise from her death-bed to rob you of everything you have? For, by Heaven! it is robbery nothing less. She’s so stiff-necked, that there’s no making any arrangement with her. I’ve tried everything, fair means and foul, and nothing’ll do but she must go and marry that low young Kelly so immeasurably beneath her, you know, and of course only scheming for her money. Put yourself in my place, I say; and tell me fairly what your own wishes would be?’
‘I was always fond of my brothers and sisters,’ answered the doctor; ‘and we couldn’t well rob each other, for none of us had a penny to lose.’
‘That’s a different thing, but just supposing you were exactly in my shoes at this moment, do you mean to tell me that you’d be glad she should get well? that you’d be glad she should be able to deprive you of your property, disgrace your family, drive you from your own home, and make your life miserable for ever after?’
‘Upon my soul I can’t say; but good night now, you’re getting excited, and I’ve finished my drop of punch.’
‘Ah! nonsense, man, sit down. I’ve something in earnest I want to say to you,’ and Barry got up and prevented the doctor from leaving the room. Colligan had gone so far as to put on his hat and great coat, and now sat down again without taking them off.
‘You and I, Colligan, are men of the world, and too wide awake for all the old woman’s nonsense people talk. What can I, or what could you in my place, care for a half-cracked old maid like Anty, who’s better dead than alive, for her own sake and everybody’s else; unless it is some scheming ruffian like young Kelly there, who wants to make money by her?’
‘I’m not asking you to care for her; only, if those are your ideas, it’s as well not to talk about them for appearance sake.’
‘Appearance sake! There’s nothing makes me so sick, as for two men like you and me, who know, what’s what, to be talking about appearance sake, like two confounded parsons, whose business it is to humbug everybody, and themselves into the bargain. I’ll tell you what: had my father bad luck to him for an old rogue not made such a will as he did, I’d’ve treated Anty as well as any parson of ’em all would treat an old maid of a sister; but I’m not going to have her put over my head this way. Come, doctor, confound all humbug. I say it openly to you to please me, Anty must never come out of that bed alive.’
‘As if your wishes could make any difference. If it is to be so, she’ll die, poor creature, without your saying so much about it; but maybe, and it’ very likely too, she’ll be alive and strong, after the two of us are under the sod.’
‘Well; if it must be so, it must; but what I wanted to say to you is this: while you were away, I was thinking about what you said of the farm of being a tenant of mine, you know.’
‘We can talk about that another time,’ said the doctor, who began to feel an excessive wish to be out of the house.
‘There’s no time like the present, when I’ve got it in my mind; and, if you’ll wait, I can settle it all for you to-night. I was telling you that I hate farming, and so I do. There are thirty or five-and-thirty acres of land about the house, and lying round to the back of the town; you shall take them off my hands, and welcome.’
This was too good an offer to be resisted, and Colligan said he would take the land, with many thanks, if the rent any way suited him.
‘We’ll not quarrel about that, you may be sure, Colligan,’ continued Barry; ‘and as I said fifty acres at first it was fifty acres I think you were saying you wished for I’ll not baulk you, and go back from my own word.’
‘What you have yourself, round the house, ‘ll be enough; only I’m thinking the rent’ll be too high.’
‘It shall not; it shall be low enough; and, as I was saying, you shall have the remainder, at the same price, immediately after Michaelmas, as soon as ever those devils are ejected.’
‘Well;’ said Colligan, who was now really interested, ‘what’s the figure?’
Barry had been looking steadfastly at the fire during the whole conversation, up to this: playing with the poker, and knocking the coals about. He was longing to look into the other’s face, but he did not dare. Now, however, was his time; it was now or never: he took one furtive glance at the doctor, and saw that he was really anxious on the subject that his attention was fixed.
‘The figure,’ said he; ‘the figure should not trouble you if you had no one but me to deal, with. But there’ll be Anty, confound her, putting her fist into this and every other plan of mine!’
‘I’d better deal with the agent, I’m thinking,’ said Colligan; ‘so, good night.’
‘You’ll find you’d a deal better be dealing with me: you’ll never find an easier fellow to deal with, or one who’ll put a better thing in your way.’
Colligan again sat down. He couldn’t quite make Barry out: he suspected he was planning some iniquity, but he couldn’t, tell what; and he remained silent, looking full into the other’s face till he should go on. Barry winced under the look, and hesitated; but at last he screwed himself up to the point, and said,
‘One word, between two friends, is as good as a thousand. If Anty dies of this bout, you shall have the fifty acres, with a lease for perpetuity, at sixpence an acre. Come, that’s not a high figure, I think.’
‘What?’ said Colligan, apparently not understanding him, ‘a lease for perpetuity at how much an acre?’
‘Sixpence a penny a pepper-corn just anything you please. But it’s all on Anty’s dying. While she’s alive I can do nothing for the best friend I have.’
‘By the Almighty above us,’ said the doctor, almost in a whisper, ‘I believe the wretched man means me to murder her his own sister!’
‘Murder? Who talked or said a word of murder?’ said Barry, with a hoarse and croaking voice ‘isn’t she dying as she is? and isn’t she better dead than alive? It’s only just not taking so much trouble to keep the life in her; you’re so exceeding clever you know!’ and he made a ghastly attempt at smiling. ‘With any other doctor she’d have been dead long since: leave her to herself a little, and the farm’s your own; and I’m sure there’ll ‘ve been nothing at all like murder between us.’
‘By Heavens, he does!’ and Colligan rose quickly from his seat ‘he means to have her murdered, and thinks to make me do the deed! Why, you vile, thieving, murdering reptile!’ and as he spoke the doctor seized him by the throat, and shook him violently in his strong grasp ‘who told you I was a fit person for such a plan? who told you to come to me for such a deed? who told you I would sell my soul for your paltry land?’ and he continued grasping Barry’s throat till he was black in the face, and nearly choked. ‘Merciful Heaven! that I should have sat here, and listened to such a scheme! Take care of yourself,’ said he; and he threw him violently backwards over the chairs ‘if you’re to be found in Connaught tomorrow, or in Ireland the next day, I’ll hang you!’ and so saying, he hurried out of the room, and went home.
‘Well,’ thought he, on his road: ‘I have heard of such men as that before, and I believe that when I was young I read of such: but I never expected to meet so black a villain! What had I better do? If I go and swear an information before a magistrate there’ll be nothing but my word and his. Besides, he said nothing that the law could take hold of. And yet I oughtn’t to let it pass: at any rate I’ll sleep on it.’ And so he did; but it was not for a 1ong time, for the recollection of Barry’s hideous proposal kept him awake.
Barry lay sprawling among the chairs till the sound of the hall door closing told him that his guest had gone, when he slowly picked himself up, and sat down upon the sofa. Colligan’s last words were ringing in his ear ‘If you’re found in Ireland the next day, I’ll hang you.’ Hang him! and had he really given any one the power to speak to him in such language as that? After all, what had he said? He had not even whispered a word of murder; he had only made an offer of what he would do if Anty should die: besides, no one but themselves had heard even that; and then his thoughts went off to another train. ‘Who’d have thoughts’ he said to himself ‘the man was such a fool! He meant it, at first, as well as I did myself. I’m sure he did. He’d never have caught as he did about the farm else, only he got afraid — the confounded fool! As for hanging, I’ll let him know; it’s just as easy for me to tell a story, I suppose, as it is for him.’ And then Barry, too, dragged himself up to bed, and cursed himself to sleep. His waking thoughts, however, were miserable enough.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01