Lotta Schmidt, by Anthony Trollope

Father Giles Of Ballymoy.

IT is nearly thirty years since I, Archibald Green, first entered the little town of Ballymoy, in the west of Ireland, and became acquainted with one of the honestest fellows and best Christians whom it has ever been my good fortune to know. For twenty years he and I were fast friends, though he was much my elder. As he has now been ten years beneath the sod, I may tell the story of our first meeting.

Ballymoy is a so-called town, or was in the days of which I am speaking, lying close to the shores of Lough Corrib, in the county of Galway. It is on the road to no place, and, as the end of a road, has in itself nothing to attract a traveller. The scenery of Lough Corrib is grand; but the lake is very large, and the fine scenery is on the side opposite to Ballymoy, and hardly to be reached, or even seen, from that place. There is fishing, but it is lake fishing. The salmon fishing of Lough Corrib is far away from Ballymoy, where the little river runs away from the lake down to the town of Gal way. There was then in Ballymoy one single street, of which the characteristic at first sight most striking to a stranger was its general appearance of being thoroughly wet through. It was not simply that the rain water was generally running down its unguttered streets in muddy, random rivulets, hurrying towards the lake with true Irish impetuosity, but that each separate house looked as though the walls were reeking with wet; and the alternated roofs of thatch and slate, the slated houses being just double the height of those that were thatched, assisted the eye and mind of the spectator in forming this opinion. The lines were broken everywhere, and at every break it seemed as though there was a free entrance for the waters of heaven. The population of Ballymoy was its second wonder. There had been no famine then; no rot among the potatoes; and land around Ballymoy had been let for nine, ten, and even eleven pounds an acre. At all hours of the day, and at nearly all hours of the night, able-bodied men were to be seen standing in the streets, with knee-breeches unbuttoned, with stockings rolled down over their brogues, and with swallow-tailed frieze coats. Nor, though thus idle, did they seem to suffer any of the distress of poverty. There were plenty of beggars, no doubt, in Ballymoy, but it never struck me that there was much distress in those days. The earth gave forth its potatoes freely, and neither man nor pig wanted more.

It was to be my destiny to stay a week at Ballymoy, on business, as to the nature of which I need not trouble the present reader. I was not, at that time, so well acquainted with the manners of the people of Connaught as I became afterwards, and I had certain misgivings as I was driven into the village on a jaunting-car from Tuam. I had just come down from Dublin, and had been informed there that there were two “hotels” in Ballymoy, but that one of the “hotels” might, perhaps, be found deficient in some of those comforts which I, as an Englishman, might require. I was therefore to ask for the “hotel” kept by Pat Kirwan. The other hotel was kept by Larry Kirwan; so that it behoved me to be particular. I had made the journey down from Dublin in a —night and a day, travelling, as we then did travel in Ireland, by canal boats and by Bianconi’s long cars; and I had dined at Tuam, and been driven over, after dinner on an April evening; and when I reached Ballymoy I was tired to death and very cold.

“Pat Kirwan’s hotel,” I said to the driver, almost angrily. “Mind you don’t go to the other.”

“Shure, yer honour, and why not to Larry’s? You’d be getting better enthertainment at Larry’s, because of Father Giles.”

I understood nothing about Father Giles, and wished to understand nothing. But I did understand that I was to go to Pat Kirwan’s “hotel,” and thither I insisted on being taken.

It was dusk at this time, and the wind was blowing down the street of Ballymoy, carrying before it wild gusts of rain. In the west of Ireland March weather comes in April, and it comes with a violence of its own, though not with the cruelty of the English east wind. At this moment my neck was ricked by my futile endeavours to keep my head straight on the side car, and the water had got under me upon the seat, and the horse had come to a stand-still half-a-dozen times in the last two minutes, and my apron had been trailed in the mud, and I was very unhappy. For the last ten minutes I had been thinking evil of everything Irish, and especially of Connaught.

I was driven up to a queerly-shaped, three-cornered house, that stood at the bottom of the street, and which seemed to possess none of the outside appurtenances of an inn.

“Is this Pat Kirwan’s hotel?” said I.

“Faix, and it is then, yer honour,” said the driver. “And barring only that Father Giles——”

But I had rung the bell, and as the door was now opened by a barefooted girl, I entered the little passage without hearing anything further about Father Giles.

“Could I have a bed-room immediately, with a fire in it?”

Not answering me directly, the girl led me into a sitting-room, in which my nose was at once greeted by that peculiar perfume which is given out by the relics of hot whisky-punch mixed with a great deal of sugar, and there she left me.

“Where is Pat Kirwan himself?” said I, coming to the door, and blustering somewhat. For, let it be remembered, I was very tired; and it may be a fair question whether in the far west of Ireland a little bluster may not sometimes be of service. “If you have not a room ready, I will go to Larry Kirwan’s,” said I, showing that I understood the bearings of the place.

“It’s right away at the furder end then, yer honour,” said the driver, putting in his word, “and we corned by it ever so long since. But shure yer honour wouldn’t think of leaving this house for that?”

This he said because Pat Kirwan’s wife was close behind him.

Then Mrs. Kirwan assured me that I could and should be accommodated. The house, to be sure, was crowded, but she had already made arrangements, and had a bed ready. As for a fire in my bed-room, she could not recommend that, “becase the wind blew so mortial sthrong down the chimney since the pot had blown off, bad cess to it; and that loon, Mick Hackett, wouldn’t lend a hand to put it up again, becase there were jobs going on at the big house, bad luck to every joint of his body, thin,” said Mrs. Kirwan, with great energy. Nevertheless, she and Mick Hackett the mason were excellent friends.

I professed myself ready to go at once to the bed-room without the fire, and was led away up stairs. I asked where I was to eat my breakfast and dine on the next day, and was assured that I should have the room so strongly perfumed with whisky all to myself. I had been rather cross before, but on hearing this, I became decidedly sulky. It was not that I could not eat my breakfast in the chamber in question, but that I saw before me seven days of absolute misery, if I could have no other place of refuge for myself than a room in which, as was too plain, all Ballymoy came to drink and smoke. But there was no alternative, at any rate for that night and the following morning, and I therefore gulped down my anger without further spoken complaint, and followed the barefooted maiden up stairs, seeing my portmanteau carried up before me.

Ireland is not very well known now to all Englishmen, but it is much better known than it was in those days. On this my first visit into Connaught, I own that I was somewhat scared lest I should be made a victim to the wild lawlessness and general savagery of the people; and I fancied, as in the wet, windy gloom of the night, I could see the crowd of natives standing round the doors of the inn, and just discern their naked legs and old battered hats, that Ballymoy was probably one of those places so far removed from civilisation and law, as to be an unsafe residence for an English Protestant. I had undertaken the service on which I was employed, with my eyes more or less open, and was determined to go through with it; but I confess that I was by this time alive to its dangers. It was an early resolution with me that I would not allow my portmanteau to be out of my sight. To that I would cling; with that ever close to me would I live; on that, if needful, would I die. I therefore required that it should be carried up the narrow stairs before me, and I saw it deposited safely in the bed-room.

The stairs were very narrow and very steep. Ascending them was like climbing into a loft. The whole house was built in a barbarous, uncivilised manner, and as fit to be an hotel as it was to be a church. It was triangular and all corners, the most uncomfortably arranged building I had ever seen. From the top of the stairs I was called upon to turn abruptly into the room destined for me; but there was a side step which I had not noticed under the glimmer of the small tallow candle, and I stumbled headlong into the chamber, uttering imprecations against Pat Kirwan, Ballymoy, and all Connaught.

I hope the reader will remember that I had travelled for thirty consecutive hours, had passed sixteen in a small comfortless canal boat without the power of stretching my legs, and that the wind had been at work upon me sideways for the last three hours. I was terribly tired, and I spoke very uncivilly to the young woman.

“Shure, yer honour, it’s as clane as clane, and as dhry as dhry, and has been slept in every night since the big storm,” said the girl, good-humouredly. Then she went on to tell me something more about Father Giles, of which, however, I could catch nothing, as she was bending over the bed, folding down the bedclothes. “Feel of ’em,” said she, “they’s dhry as dhry.”

I did feel them, and the sheets were dry and clean, and the bed, though very small, looked as if it would be comfortable. So I somewhat softened my tone to her, arid bade her call me the next morning at eight.

“Shure, yer honour, and Father Giles will call yer hisself,” said the girl.

I begged that Father Giles might be instructed to do no such thing. The girl, however, insisted that he would, and then left me. Could it be that hi this savage place, it was considered to be the duty of the parish priest to go round, with matins perhaps, or some other abominable papist ceremony, to the beds of all the strangers? My mother, who was a strict woman, had warned me vehemently against the machinations of the Irish priests, and I, in truth, had been disposed to ridicule her. Could it be that there were such machinations? Was it possible that my trousers might be refused me till I had taken mass? Or that force would be put upon me in some other shape, perhaps equally disagreeable?

Regardless of that and other horrors, or rather, I should perhaps say, determined to face manfully whatever horrors the night or morning might bring upon me, I began to prepare for bed. There was something pleasant in the romance of sleeping at Pat Kirwan’s house in Ballymoy, instead of in my own room in Keppel Street, Russell Square. So I chuckled inwardly at Pat Kirwan’s idea of an hotel, and unpacked my things.

There was a little table covered with a clean cloth, on which I espied a small comb. I moved the comb carefully without touching it, and brought the table up to my bedside. I put out my brushes and clean linen for the morning, said my prayers, defying Father Giles and his machinations, and jumped into bed. The bed certainly was good, and the sheets were very pleasant. In five minutes I was fast asleep.

How long I had slept when I was awakened, I never knew. But it was at some hour in the dead of night, when I was disturbed by footsteps in my room, and on jumping up, I saw a tall, stout, elderly man standing with his back towards me, in the middle of the room, brushing his clothes with the utmost care. His coat was still on his back, and his pantaloons on his legs; but he was most assiduous in his attention to every part of his body which he could reach.

I sat upright, gazing at him, as I thought then, for ten minutes, we will say that I did so perhaps for forty seconds, and of one thing I became perfectly certain, namely, that the clothes-brush was my own! Whether, according to Irish hotel law, a gentleman would be justified in entering a stranger’s room at midnight for the sake of brushing his clothes, I could not say; but I felt quite sure that in such a case, he would be bound at least to use the hotel brush or his own. There was a manifest trespass in regard to my property.

“Sir,” said I, speaking very sharply, with the idea of startling him, “what are you doing here in this chamber? ”

“Deed, then, and I’m sorry I’ve waked ye, my boy,” said the stout gentleman.

“Will you have the goodness, Sir, to tell me what you are doing here?”

“Bedad, then, just at this moment it’s brushing my clothes, I am. It was badly they wanted it.”

“I dare say they did. And you were doing it with my clothes-brush.”

“And that’s thrue too. And if a man hasn’t a clothes-brush of his own, what else can he do but use somebody else’s?”

“I think it’s a great liberty, Sir,” said I.

“And I think it’s a little one. It’s only in the size of it we differ. But I beg your pardon. There is your brush. I hope it will be none the worse.”

Then he put down the brush, seated himself on one of the two chairs which the room contained, and slowly proceeded to pull off his shoes, looking me full in the face all the while.

“What are you going to do, Sir?” said I, getting a little further out from under the clothes, and leaning over the table.

“I am going to bed,” said the gentleman.

“Going to bed! where?”

“Here,” said the gentleman; and he still went on untying the knot of his shoe-string.

It had always been a theory with me, in regard not only to my own country, but to all others, that civilisation displays itself never more clearly than when it ordains that every man shall have a bed for himself. In older days Englishmen of good position, men supposed to be gentlemen, would sleep together and think nothing of it, as ladies, I am told, will still do. And in outlandish regions, up to this time, the same practice prevails. In parts of Spain you will be told that one bed offers sufficient accommodation for two men, and in Spanish America the traveller is considered to be fastidious who thinks that one on each side of him is oppressive. Among the poorer classes with ourselves this grand touchstone of civilisation has not yet made itself felt. For aught I know there might be no such touchstone in Connaught at all. There clearly seemed to be none such at Ballymoy.

“You can’t go to bed here,” said I, sitting bolt up-right on the couch.

“You’ll find you are wrong there, my friend,” said the elderly gentleman. “But make yourself aisy, I won’t do you the least harm in life, and I sleep as quiet as a mouse.”

It was quite clear to me that time had come for action. I certainly would not let this gentleman get into my bed. I had been the first comer, and was for the night, at least, the proprietor of this room. Whatever might be the custom of this country in these wild regions, there could be no special law in the land justifying the landlord in such treatment of me as this.

“You won’t sleep here, Sir,” said I, jumping out of the bed, over the table, on to the floor, and confronting the stranger just as he had succeeded in divesting himself of his second shoe. “You won’t sleep here to-night, and so you may as well go away.”

With that I picked up his two shoes, took them to the door, and chucked them out. I heard them go rattling down the stairs, and I was glad that they made so much noise. He would see that I was quite in earnest.

“You must follow your shoes,” said I, “and the sooner the better.”

I had not even yet seen the man very plainly, and even now, at this time, I hardly did so, though I went close up to him and put ray hand upon his shoulder. The light was very imperfect, coming from one small farthing candle, which was nearly burnt out in the socket. And I, myself, was confused, ill at ease, and for the moment unobservant. I knew that the man was older than myself, but I had not recognised him as being old enough to demand or enjoy personal protection by reason of his age. He was tall, and big, and burly, as he appeared to me then. Hitherto, till his shoes had been chucked away, he had maintained imperturbable good-humour. When he heard the shoes clattering down stairs, it seemed that he did not like it, and he began to talk fast and in an angry voice. I would not argue with him, and I did not understand him, but still keeping my hand on the collar of his coat, I insisted that he should not sleep there. Go away out of that chamber he should.

“But it’s my own,” he said, shouting the words a dozen times. “It’s my own room. It’s my own room.”

So this was Pat Kirwan himself, drunk probably, or mad.

“It may be your own,” said I; “but you’ve let it to me for to-night, and you sha’n’t sleep here;” so saying I backed him towards the door, and in so doing I trod upon his unguarded toe.

“Bother you, thin, for a pig-headed Englishman!” said he. “You’ve kilt me entirely now. So take your hands off my neck, will ye, before you have me throttled outright? ”

I was sorry to have trod on his toe, but I stuck to him all the same. I had him near the door now, and I was determined to put him out into the passage. His face was very round and very red, and I thought that he must be drunk; and since I had found out that it was Pat Kirwan the landlord, I was more angry with the man than ever.

“You sha’n’t sleep here, so you might as well go,” I said, as I backed him away towards the door. This had not been closed since the shoes had been thrown out, and with something of a struggle between the doorposts, I got him out. I remembered nothing whatever as to the suddenness of the stairs. I had been fast asleep since I came up them, and hardly even as yet knew exactly where I was. So, when I got him through the aperture of the door, I gave him a push, as was most natural, I think, for me to do. Down he went backwards, down the stairs, all in a heap, and I could hear that in his fall he had stumbled against Mrs. Kirwan, who was coming up, doubtless to ascertain the cause of all the trouble above her head.

A hope crossed my mind that the wife might be of assistance to her husband in this time of his trouble. The man had fallen very heavily, I knew, and had fallen backwards. And I remembered then how steep the stairs were. Heaven and earth! Suppose that he were killed, or even seriously injured in his own house. What, in such case as that, would my life be worth in that wild country? Then I began to regret that I had been so hot. It might be that I had murdered a man on my first entrance into Connaught !

For a moment or two I could not make up my mind what I would first do. I was aware that both the land-lady and the servant were occupied with the body of the ejected occupier of my chamber, and I was aware also that I had nothing on but my night-shirt. I returned, therefore, within the door, but could not bring myself to shut myself in and return to bed without making some enquiry as to the man’s fate. I put my head out, therefore, and did make enquiry.

“I hope he is not much hurt by his fall,” I said.

“Ochone, ochone! murdher, murdher! Spake, Father Giles, dear, for the love of God!” Such and many such exclamations I heard from the women at the bottom of the stairs.

“I hope he is not much hurt,” I said again, putting my head out from the doorway; “but he shouldn’t have forced himself into my room.”

“His room, the omadhaun! the born idiot!” said the landlady.

“Faix, Ma’am, and Father Giles is a dead man,” said the girl, who was kneeling over the prostrate body in the passage below.

I heard her say Father Giles as plain as possible, and then I became aware that the man whom I had thrust out was not the landlord, but the priest of the parish! My heart became sick within me as I thought of the troubles around me. And I was sick also with fear lest the man who had fallen should be seriously hurt. But why—why—why had he forced his way into my room? How was it to be expected that I should have remembered that the stairs of the accursed house came flush up to the door of the chamber?

“He shall be hanged if there’s law in Ireland,” said a voice down below; and as far as I could see it might be that I should be hung. When I heard that last Voice I began to think that I had in truth killed a man, and a cold sweat broke out all over me, and I stood for awhile shivering where I was. Then I remembered that it behoved me as a man to go down among my enemies below, and to see what had really happened, to learn whom I had hurt—let the consequences to myself be what they might. So I quickly put on some of my clothes a pair of trousers, a loose coat, and a pair of slippers, and I descended the stairs. By this time they had taken the priest into the whisky-perfumed chamber below, and although the hour was late, there were already six or seven persons with him. Among them was the real Pat Kirwan himself, who had not been so particular about his costume as I had.

Father Giles—for indeed it was Father Giles, the priest of the parish—had been placed in an old arm-chair, and his head was resting against Mrs. Kirwan’s body. I could tell from the moans which he emitted that there was still, at any rate, hope of life.

Pat Kirwan, who did not quite understand what had happened, and who was still half asleep, and as I afterwards learned, half tipsy, was standing over him wagging his head. The girl was also standing by, with an old woman and two men who had made their way in through the kitchen.

“Have you sent for a doctor?” said I.

“Oh, you born blagghuard!” said the woman. “You thief of the world! That the like of you should ever have darkened my door!”

“You can’t repent it more than I do, Mrs. Kirwan; but hadn’t you better send for the doctor?”

“Faix, and for the police too, you may be shure of that, young man. To go and chuck him out of the room like that—his own room too, and he a priest and an ould man—he that had given up the half of it, though I axed him not to do so, for a sthranger as nobody knowed nothing about.”

The truth was coming out by degrees. Not only was the man I had put out Father Giles, but he was also the proper occupier of the room. At any rate somebody ought to have told me all this before they put me to sleep in the same bed with the priest.

I made my way round to the injured man, and put my hand upon his shoulder, thinking that perhaps I might be able to ascertain the extent of the injury. But the angry woman, together with the girl, drove me away, heaping on me terms of reproach, and threatening me with the gallows at Galway.

I was very anxious that a doctor should be brought as soon as possible; and as it seemed that nothing was being done, I offered to go and search for one. But I was given to understand that I should not be allowed to leave the house until the police had come. I had therefore to remain there for half-an-hour, or nearly so, till a sergeant, with two other policemen, really did come. During this time I was in a most wretched frame of mind. I knew no one at Ballymoy or in the neighbourhood. From the manner in which I was addressed, and also threatened by Mrs. Kirwan and by those who came in and out of the room, I was aware that I should encounter the most intense hostility. I had heard of Irish murders, and heard also of the love of the people for their priests, and I really began to doubt whether my life might not be in danger.

During this lime, while I was thus waiting, Father Giles himself recovered his consciousness. He had been stunned by the fall, but his mind came back to him, though by no means all at once; and while I was left in the room with him he hardly seemed to remember all the events of the past hour.

I was able to discover from what was said that he had been for some days past, or, as it afterwards turned out, for the last month, the tenant of the room, and that when I arrived he had been drinking tea with Mrs. Kirwan. The only other public bed-room in the hotel was occupied, and he had with great kindness given the landlady permission to put the Saxon stranger into his chamber. All this came out by degrees, and I could see how the idea of any base and cruel ingratitude rankled in the heart of Mrs. Kirwan. It was in vain that I expostulated and explained, and submitted myself humbly to everything that was said around me.

“But, Ma’am,” I said, “if I had only been told that it was the reverend gentleman’s bed!”

“Bed, indeed! To hear the blagghuard talk you’d think it was axing Father Giles to sleep along with the likes of him we were. And there’s two beds in the room as dacent as any Christian iver stretched in.”

It was a new light to me. And yet I had known over night, before I undressed, that there were two bedsteads in the room! I had seen them, and had quite forgotten the fact in my confusion when I was woken. I had been very stupid, certainly. I felt that now. But I had truly believed that that big man was going to get into my little bed. It was terrible as I thought of it now. The good-natured priest, for the sake of accommodating a stranger, had consented to give up half of his room, and had been repaid for his kindness by being—perhaps murdered! And yet, though just then I hated myself cordially, I could not quite bring myself to look at the matter as they looked at it. There were excuses to be made, if only I could get anyone to listen to them.

“He was using my brush—my clothes-brush—indeed he was,” I said. “Not but what he’d be welcome; but it made me think he was an intruder.”

“And wasn’t it too much honour for the likes of ye?” said one of the women, with infinite scorn in the tone of her voice.

“I did use the gentleman’s clothes-brush, certainly,” said the priest. They were the first collected words he had spoken, and I felt very grateful to him for them. It seemed to me that a man who could condescend to remember that he had used a clothes-brush could not really be hurt to death, even though he had been pushed down such very steep stairs as those belonging to Pat Kirwan’s hotel.

“And I’m sure you were very welcome, Sir,” said I. “It wasn’t that I minded the clothes-brush. It wasn’t, indeed; only I thought—indeed, I did think that there was only one bed. And they had put me into the room, and had not said anything about anybody else. And what was I to think when I woke up in the middle of the night?”

“Faix, and you’ll have enough to think of in Galway gaol, for that’s where you’re going to,” said one of the bystanders.

I can hardly explain the bitterness that was displayed against me. No violence was absolutely shown to me, but I could not move without eliciting a manifest determination that I was not to be allowed to stir out of the room. Red angry eyes were glowering at me, and every word I spoke called down some expression of scorn and ill-will. I was beginning to feel glad that the police were coming, thinking that I needed protection. I was thoroughly ashamed of what I had done, and yet I could not discover that I had been very wrong at any particular moment. Let any man ask himself the question, what he would do, if he supposed that a stout old gentleman had entered his room at an inn and insisted on getting into his bed? It was not my fault that there had been no proper landing-place at the top of the stairs.

Two sub-constables had been in the room for some time before the sergeant came, and with the sergeant arrived also the doctor, and another priest—Father Columb he was called—who, as I afterwards learned, was curate or coadjutor to Father Giles. By this time there was quite a crowd in the house, although it was past one o’clock, and it seemed that all Ballymoy knew that its priest had been foully misused. It was manifest to me that there was something in the Roman Catholic religion which made the priests very dear to the people; for I doubt whether in any village in England, had such an accident happened to the rector, all the people would have roused themselves at midnight to wreak their vengeance on the assailant. For vengeance they were now beginning to clamour, and even before the sergeant of police had come, the two sub-constables were standing over me; and I felt that they were protecting me from the people in order that they might give me up—to the gallows!

I did not like the Ballymoy doctor at all—then, or even at a later period of my visit to that town. On his arrival he made his way up to the priest through the crowd, and would not satisfy their affection or my anxiety by declaring at once that there was no danger. Instead of doing so he insisted on the terrible nature of the outrage and the brutality shown by the assailant. And at every hard word he said, Mrs. Kirwan would urge him on.

“That’s thrue for you, doctor!” “‘Deed, and you may say that, doctor; two as good beds as ever Christian stretched in!” “‘Deed, and it was just Father Giles’s own room, as you may say, since the big storm fetched the roof off his riverence’s house below there.”

Thus gradually I was learning the whole history. The roof had been blown off Father Giles’s own house, and therefore he had gone to lodge at the inn. He had been willing to share his lodging with a stranger, and this had been his reward!

“I hope, doctor, that the gentleman is not much hurt,” said I, very meekly.

“Do you suppose a gentleman like that, Sir, can be thrown down a long flight of stairs without being hurt?” said the doctor, in an angry voice. “It is no thanks to you, Sir, that his neck has not been sacrificed.”

Then there arose a hum of indignation, and the two policemen standing over me bustled about a little, coming very close to me, as though they thought they should have something to do to protect me from being torn to pieces.

I bethought me that it was my special duty in such a crisis to show a spirit, if it were only for the honour of my Saxon blood among the Celts. So I spoke up again, as loud as I could well speak.

“No one in this room is more distressed at what has occurred than I am. I am most anxious to know, for the gentleman’s sake, whether he has been seriously hurt?”

“Very seriously hurt indeed,” said the doctor; “very seriously hurt. The vertebrae may have been injured for aught I know at present.”

“Arrah, blazes, man,” said a voice, which I learned afterwards had belonged to an officer of the revenue corps of men which was then stationed at Ballymoy, a gentleman with whom I became afterwards familiarly acquainted; Tom Macdermot was his name, Captain Tom Macdermot, and he came from the county of Leitrim,—“Arrah, blazes, man; do ye think a gentleman’s to fall sthrait headlong backwards down such a ladder as that, and not find it inconvanient? Only that he’s the priest, and has had his own luck, sorrow a neck belonging to him there would be this minute.”

“Be aisy, Tom,” said Father Giles himself; and I was delighted to hear him speak. Then there was a pause for a moment. “Tell the gentleman I aint so bad at all,” said the priest; and from that moment I felt an affection to him which never afterwards waned.

They got him up stairs back into the room from which he had been evicted, and I was carried off to the police-station, where I positively spent the night. What a night it was! I had come direct from London, sleeping on my road but once in Dublin, and now I found myself accommodated with a stretcher in the police barracks at Ballymoy! And the worst of it was that I had business to do at Ballymoy which required that I should hold up my head and make much of myself. The few words which had been spoken by the priest had comforted me and had enabled me to think again of my own position. Why was I locked up? No magistrate had committed me. It was really a question whether I had done anything illegal. As that man whom Father Giles called Tom had very properly explained, if people will have ladders instead of staircases in their houses, how is anybody to put an intruder out of the room without risk of breaking the intruder’s neck? And as to the fact now an undoubted fact that Father Giles was no intruder, the fault in that lay with the Kirwans, who had told me nothing of the truth. The boards of the stretcher in the police-station were very hard, in spite of the blankets with which I had been furnished; and as I lay there I began to remind myself that there certainly must be law in county Galway. So I called to the attendant policeman and asked him by whose authority I was locked up.

“Ah, thin, don’t bother,” said the policeman; “shure, and you’ve given throuble enough this night!” The dawn was at that moment breaking, so I turned myself on the stretcher, and resolved that I would put a bold face on it all when the day should come.

The first person I saw in the morning was Captain Tom, who came into the room where I was lying, followed by a little boy with my portmanteau. The sub-inspector of police who ruled over the men at Ballymoy lived, as I afterwards learned, at Oranmore, so that I had not, at this conjuncture, the honour of seeing him. Captain Tom assured me that he was an excellent fellow, and rode to hounds like a bird. As in those days I rode to hounds myself as nearly like a bird as I was able I was glad to have such an account of my head-gaoler. The sub-constables seemed to do just what Captain Tom told them, and there was, no doubt, a very good understanding between the police force and the revenue officer.

“Well, now, I’ll tell you what you must do, Mr. Green,” said the captain.

“In the first place,” said I, “I must protest that I’m now locked up here illegally.”

“Oh, bother; now don’t make yourself unaisy.”

“That’s all very well, Captain ———. I beg your pardon, Sir, but I didn’t catch any name plainly except the Christian name.”

“My name is Macdermot—Tom Macdermot. They call me captain but that’s neither here nor there.”

“I suppose, Captain Macdermot, the police here cannot lock up anybody they please, without a warrant?”

“And where would you have been if they hadn’t locked you up? I’m blessed if they wouldn’t have had you into the Lough before this time.”

There might be something in that, and I therefore resolved to forgive the personal indignity which I had suffered, if I could secure something like just treatment for the future. Captain Tom had already told me that Father Giles was doing pretty well.

“He’s as sthrong as a horse, you see, or, sorrow a doubt, he’d be a dead man this minute. The back of his neck is as black as your hat with the bruises, and it’s the same way with him all down his loins. A man like that, you know, not just as young as he was once, falls mortial heavy. But he’s as jolly as a four-year old,” said Captain Tom, “and you’re to go and ate your breakfast with him, in his bed-room, so that you may see with your own eyes that there are two beds there.”

“I remembered it afterwards quite well,” said I.

“‘Deed, and Father Giles got such a kick of laughter this morning, when he came to understand that you thought he was going to get into bed alongside of you, that he strained himself all over again, and I thought he’d have frightened the house, yelling with the pain. But anyway you’ve to go over and see him. So now you’d better get yourself dressed.”

This announcement was certainly very pleasant. Against Father Giles, of course, I had no feeling of bitterness. He had behaved well throughout, and I was quite alive to the fact that the light of his countenance would afford me a better aegis against the ill-will of the people of Ballymoy, than anything the law would do for me. So I dressed myself in the barrack-room, while Captain Tom waited without, and then I sallied out under his guidance to make a second visit to Pat Kirwan’s hotel. I was amused to see that the police, though by no means subject to Captain Tom’s orders, let me go without the least difficulty, and that the boy was allowed to carry my portmanteau away with him.

“Oh, it’s all right,” said Captain Tom when I alluded to this. “You’re not down in the sheet. You were only there for protection, you know.”

Nevertheless, I had been taken there by force, and had been locked up by force. If, however, they were disposed to forget all that, so was I. I did not return to the barracks again; and when, after that, the policemen whom I had known met me in the street, they always accosted me as though I were an old friend; hoping my honour had found a better bed than when they last saw me. They had not looked at me with any friendship in their eyes when they had stood over me in Pat Kirwan’s parlour.

This was my first view of Ballymoy, and of the “hotel” by daylight. I now saw that Mrs. Pat Kirwan kept a grocery establishment, and that the three-cornered house which had so astonished me was very small. Had I seen it before I entered it, I should hardly have dared to look there for a night’s lodging. As it was, I stayed there for a fortnight, and was by no means uncomfortable. Knots of men and women were now standing in groups round the door, and, indeed, the lower end of the street was almost crowded.

“They’re all here,” whispered Captain Tom, “because they’ve heard how Father Giles has been murdered during the night by a terrible Saxon; and there isn’t a man or woman among them who doesn’t know that you are the man who did it.”

“But they know also, I suppose,” said I, “that Father Giles is alive.”

“Bedad, yes, they know that, or I wouldn’t be in your skin, my boy. But come along. We mustn’t keep the priest waiting for his breakfast”

I could see that they all looked at me, and there were some of them, especially among the women, whose looks I did not even yet like. They spoke among each other in Gaelic, and I could perceive that they were talking of me.

“Can’t you understand, then,” said Captain Tom, speaking to them aloud, just as he entered the house, “that father Giles, the Lord be praised, is as well as ever he was in his life? Shure it was only an accident.”

“An accident done on purpose, Captain Tom!” said one person.

“What is it to you how it was done, Mick Healy? If Father Giles is satisfied, isn’t that enough for the likes of you? Get out of that, and let the gentleman pass.” Then Captain Tom pushed Mick away roughly, and the others let us enter the house. “Only they wouldn’t do it unless somebody gave them the wink, they’d pull you in pieces this moment for a dandy of punch—they would, indeed.”

Perhaps Captain Tom exaggerated the prevailing feeling, thinking thereby to raise the value of his own service in protecting me; but I was quite alive to the fact that I had done a most dangerous deed, and had a most narrow escape.

I found Father Giles sitting up in his bed, while Mrs. Kirwan was rubbing his shoulder diligently with an embrocation of arnica. The girl was standing by with a basin half full of the same, and I could see that the priest’s neck and shoulders were as red as a raw beefsteak. He winced grievously under the rubbing, but he bore it like a man.

“And here comes the hero,” said Father Giles. “Now stop a minute or two, Mrs. Kirwan, while we have a mouthful of breakfast, for I’ll go bail that Mr. Green is hungry after his night’s rest. I hope you got a better bed, Mr. Green, than the one I found you in when I was unfortunate enough to waken you last night. There it is, all ready for you still,” said he; “and if you accept of it to-night, take my advice and don’t let a trifle stand in the way of your dhraims.”

“I hope, thin, the gintleman will contrive to suit hisself elsewhere,” said Mrs. Kirwan.

“He’ll be very welcome to take up his quarters here if he likes,” said the priest. “And why not? But, bedad, Sir, you’d better be a little more careful the next time you see a stranger using your clothes-brush. They are not so strict here in their ideas of meum and tuum as they are perhaps in England; and if you had broken my neck for so small an offence, I don’t know but what they’d have stretched your own.”

We then had breakfast together, Father Giles, Captain Tom, and I; and a very good breakfast we had. By degrees even Mrs. Kirwan was induced to look favourably at me, and before the day was over I found myself to be regarded as a friend in the establishment. And as a friend I certainly was regarded by Father Giles—then, and for many a long day afterwards. And many times when he has, in years since that, but years nevertheless which are now long back, come over and visited me in my English home, he has told the story of the manner in which we first became acquainted. “When you find a gentleman asleep,” he would say, “always ask his leave before you take a liberty with his clothes-brush.”

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/lotta-schmidt/chapter4.html

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01