The Macdermots of Ballycloran, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 14.

Denis M’govery’s Tidings.

As soon as he had finished his breakfast on the morning after the night’s events just recorded, Father John took his hat and stick, and walked down to Drumsna, still charitably intent on finding some means to soften, if he could not avert, the storm which he saw must follow the scenes he had witnessed on the previous evening. Ussher would have considered it want of pluck to stay away because Thady had told him to do so; Feemy also would encourage his visits, and would lean more to her lover than her brother — especially as her father, if it were attempted to make him aware of the state of the case, would be sure to take Feemy’s part. Father John felt it would be impossible to induce the old man to desire Ussher to discontinue his visits, and he was confident that unless he did so, the Captain would take advantage of the unfortunate state of affairs at Ballycloran, and consider himself as an invited guest, in spite of the efforts Thady might make to induce him to leave it. But what the priest most feared was, that the unfortunate girl would be induced to go off with her lover, who he knew under such circumstances would never marry her; and his present object was to take her out of the way of such temptation. Father John gave Feemy credit for principles and feelings sufficiently high to prevent her from falling immediately into vice, but he at the same time feared, that with the strong influence Ussher had over her, he might easily persuade her to leave her home, partly by promising at some early time to marry her, and partly by threatening her with desertion. He thought that if she were at present domiciled at Mrs. McKeon’s, Ussher might then be brought to hear reason, and be made to understand that if he was not contented to propose for and marry Feemy, in a proper decent manner, he must altogether drop her acquaintance.

He was not far wrong in the estimate he formed of both their characters. Though Ussher loved Feemy, perhaps as well as he was ever likely to love any woman, circumstances might easily have induced him to give her up. It was the impediments in the way, and the opposition he now met with, which would give the affair a fresh interest in his eyes. He certainly did not intend to marry the poor girl; had she had sufficient tact, she might, perhaps, have persuaded him to do so; but her fervent love and perfect confidence, though very gratifying to his vanity, did not inspire him with that feeling of respect which any man would wish to have for the girl he was going to marry. I do not say that his premeditated object had been to persuade her to leave her home, but Father John was not far wrong in fearing, that unless steps were taken to prevent it, it would be the most probable termination to the whole affair.

With regard to Feemy, he was quite right in thinking that her love of Ussher was strong enough to induce her to take almost any step that he might desire; and that that love, joined to her own obstinacy and determined resistance to the advice of those to whom she should have listened, was such as to render it most unlikely that she should be induced to give him up; but though he so well understood the weakness of her character, he was not aware of, for he had had no opportunity of trying, its strength.

As long as Feemy had her own way, as at the present time she had, she would, as we have seen, yield entirely to her strong love; but this was not all; had circumstances enabled her friends to remove her entirely out of Ussher’s way, and had they done so, her love would have remained the same; her passion was so strong, that it could not be weakened or strengthened by absence or opposition. When Father John calculated that by good management Ussher might be brought to relinquish Feemy, he was right, but he was far from right, when he thought that Feemy could be taught to forget him. She literally cared for no one but him; her life had been so dull before she knew him, and so full of interest since — he so nearly came up to her beau ideal of what a man should be, for she had seen, or at any rate had known, no better — he so greatly excelled her brother and father, and was so much better looking than young Cassidy, and so much more spirited than Frank McKeon, that to her young heart he was all perfection.

She had lately been vexed, tormented, and even frightened; but her fear was merely that Ussher did not love her as she did him — that he might be made to leave her; and she was learning to hate her brother for opposing, as she would have said, the only source of her happiness. As to being induced by prudence or propriety to be cool to her lover — as to taking the first step herself towards making a breach between them — nothing that her brother or the priest had said, nothing that they could ever say, could either make her think of doing so, or think that it could be advisable, or in any way proper, that she should do so. For this strong feeling Father John did not give our heroine credit; but he still felt that she was headstrong enough to make it a very difficult task for him to manage her in any way. But as his charity was unbounded, so were his zeal and courage great.

His present plan was to induce his friend, Mrs. McKeon, to ask Feemy to come over and spend some time with her and her daughters at Drumsna. There were difficulties in this; for, in the first place, although Feemy and the Miss McKeons had been very good friends, still the reports which had lately been afloat, both about her and the affairs of her family, might make Mrs. McKeon, a prudent woman, unwilling to comply with the priest’s wishes — though indeed it was not often that she contradicted him in anything; then, after he had talked Mrs. McKeon over, when he had aroused her charitable feelings and excited the good nature, which, to tell the truth, was never very dormant in her bosom, he had the more difficult task of persuading Feemy to accept the invitation. Not that under ordinary circumstances she would not be willing enough to go to Mrs. McKeon’s, but at present she would be likely to suspect a double meaning in everything. Father John had already mentioned Mrs. McKeon’s name to her, in reference to her attachment to Ussher; and it was more than probable that if he now brought her an invitation from that lady, she would perceive that the object was to separate her from her lover, and that she would obstinately persist in remaining at Ballycloran.

As Father John was entering Drumsna, he met his curate, Cullen, and McGovery, who, considering that he had only been married the evening before, and that if he had not been dancing himself, he had been kept up by his guests’ doing so till four or five in the morning, had left his bride rather early; for, according to custom, he had slept the first night after his wedding at his wife’s house, and, though it was only ten o’clock, he had been on a visit to Father Cullen, with whom he was now eagerly talking.

On the previous evening, when feigning to be asleep, he had managed to overhear a small portion of what had passed between Thady, Joe Reynolds, and the rest; but what he had overheard had reference solely to Keegan; for when they began to speak of Ussher, everything had been said in so low a voice, that he had been unable to comprehend a word. He had contrived, however, to pick up something, in which Ballycloran, rents, Keegan, and a bog-hole were introduced in marvellous close connection, and he was not slow in coming to the determination that he had been wrong when he fancied that Ussher was the object against whom plots were being formed, and that Keegan was the doomed man; but what was worse still, he was led to imagine that the perpetrators of Mr. Keegan’s future watery grave were instigated by young Macdermot! He was well aware that Flannelly and Keegan, for they were all one, had the greater portion of the rents out of Ballycloran, and he now plainly saw that the more active of this firm was to be made away with, while collecting, or attempting to collect, the rent.

Denis was puzzled as to what he should do; his conscience would not allow the man to be murdered without his interference; he had no great love for Mr. Keegan, and his sympathies were not more strongly excited than they had been when he thought Ussher was to be the victim. Should he tell Mr. Keegan? that would be setting the devil in arms against his wife’s brother — against his wife’s brother’s master — and against his wife’s brother’s master’s tenants; this was too near cutting his own throat, to be a line of action agreeable to Denis. Then it occurred to him to have recourse again to Father John: but Father John had made light of his former warning. Besides, the fact of his having been wrong in his last surmises, would have thrown stronger doubts on those he now entertained. Father John too was always quizzing him, and Denis did not like to be quizzed. After much consideration, McGovery resolved to go to Father Cullen, and disclose his secret to him; Father Cullen was a modest, steady man, who would neither make light of, or ridicule what he heard; and if after that Keegan was drowned in a bog-hole, it would be entirely off Denis’s conscience.

When Father John met the pair, they had just been discussing the subject; Cullen was far from making light of it; for, in the first place, he believed every word McGovery told him, and in the next, he was shocked, and greatly grieved, that one of his own parishioners, and one also of the most respectable of them, should be concerned in such a business: he felt towards Keegan all the abhorrence which a very bigoted and ignorant Roman Catholic could feel towards a Protestant convert, but he would have done anything to prevent his meeting his death by the hands, or with the connivance, of Thady Macdermot.

As soon as Cullen had heard McGovery’s statement — which, by the by, had been made without any reference to his previous statement to Father John, or his warning to Captain Ussher — he determined to tell it all to the parish priest, and to take McGovery with him. This plan did not, however, suit Denis at all, and he used all his eloquence to persuade Father Cullen, that if he told Mr. McGrath at all, he, Denis, had better not make one of the party; and he was at the moment considering what excuse he could give for refusing to go into the priest’s cottage, when they met Father John on the road coming into Drumsna.

Denis was greatly disconcerted — but Cullen, full of his news, and as eager to communicate it as if it had been arranged definitely that Keegan was to be put into the bog-hole at noon precisely, was very glad to see him, and instantly opened his budget.

“I’m very glad to meet you this morning, Mr. McGrath,” he began, “and it’s well since you’re out so early, that it’s not the other way you went — for I’d been greatly bothered if I hadn’t found you.”

“But here I am, you see — and if it was only after me you were going, I suppose you can turn, for I’m going to Drumsna.”

“Oh to be sure I can; don’t you be going, Denis McGovery.” Denis had taken off his hat, and muttering something about his wife, and “good morning, yer riverence,” was decamping towards Ballycloran.

“Why, man,” said Father John, “what business have you so far from your wife at this hour of the morning, after your wedding? Have you been to take the two pigs home?”

“He, he, Father John, you’ll niver have done with them pigs! — But the wife’ll be waiting for me, and, as yer riverence says, I mustn’t be baulking her the first morning.”

“Stay a while — as you’ve come so far without her, you can stop a moment.”

“Oh yes,” said Cullen, “wait till you’ve told Mr. McGrath what you told me.”

Denis was unwillingly obliged to remain, and repeat to Father John the whole story he had told Cullen. Though he could hardly tell why himself, he softened down a little the strong assurance he had given Cullen that Thady himself had been urging the boys to make away with Keegan. Father John listened to all in silence, till Denis ended by wishing “that the two young men got home safe last night, and that there war nothing worse nor harder than words betwixt them.”

“Get home safe, you fool!” answered Father John, “and why wouldn’t they? — don’t you know the difference yet, between a few foolish words, said half in fun, and a quarrel? To be sure they got home safe; — and let me tell you, Denis, for a sensible fellow as you pretend to be, you’d be a deal better employed minding your business, than thinking of other people’s quarrels, or trying to pick up stories of murders, and heaven knows what — filling your own mind and other people’s too with foolish fears, for which there are no grounds. And now, if you’d take my advice, you’ll go home, and leave your betters to take care of themselves, for you’ll find it quite enough to take care of yourself; — and mind, McGovery, if I find this cock and bull story of yours gets through the country, so as to reach Mr. Keegan’s ears, or to annoy Mr. Macdermot, I shall know where it came from; and perhaps you’re not aware, that a person inventing such a story as you’ve been telling Mr. Cullen, might soon find himself in Carrick Gaol.”

It would be impossible to say whether Cullen was most astonished, or McGovery disconcerted, by Father John’s address.

“But,” began Cullen, “if the man really heard the plan proposed, Mr. McGrath, and if Mr. Thady was one of them —”

“Ah, nonsense, Cullen.”

“But I haven’t invented a word, Father John,” said McGovery; “I heard it every word; and shure, afther hearing it all with my own ears, was I to let the man be shot into a bog-hole, without saying a word to no one about it, Father John?”

“Ah, you’re a nice boy, Denis — and why did you pass my gate to come all the way down to Father Cullen, to tell him the dreadful tale? why didn’t you come to me, eh — when you knew, not only that I was nearer you than Mr. Cullen, but also nearer to the place where all this was to happen?”

“Why then, Father John, not to tell you a lie, it is because you do be going on with your gagging at me so.”

“Nonsense, man; — how can you say you are not going to lie, when you know you’ve a lie in your mouth at the moment.”

“Sorrow a lie is there in it at all, Father John — I wish the tongue of me had been blistered this morning, before I said a word of it.”

“I wish it had been. Why, Cullen, it was only last night that he wanted to persuade me that a lot of boys were to meet at the place where he was married, to agree to murder Ussher; and to hear the man, you’d think it was all arranged, who was to strike the blow and all; and now here he is with you, with a similar story about Keegan! He was afraid to come to me, because he knew he’d half humbugged me with his other story last night.”

“But I tell you, Father John, I heard it all with my own ears this time.”

“And I tell you, you were dreaming. Do you think you’d make me believe that such a young gentleman as Mr. Thady would turn murderer all of a sudden? Now go home, and take my advice; if you don’t want to find yourself in a worse scrape than Captain Ussher, or Mr. Keegan, don’t repeat such a tale as that to any one.”

McGovery sneaked off with his tail, allegorically speaking, between his legs. He didn’t exactly know what to make of it; for though, as has been before said, he did not wish on this occasion to make Father John the depositary of his fears, he did not expect even from him to meet with such total discomfiture. He consoled himself, however, with the recollection that if anything did happen now, either to the revenue officer or the attorney — and he almost hoped there would — he could fairly say that he had given warning and premonitory tidings of it to the parish priests, which, if attended to, might have prevented all harm. With this comfortable feeling, to atone for Father John’s displeasure, and now not quite sure whether he had overheard any allusion last night to Keegan and a bog-hole or not, he returned to his wife.

As soon as he was gone, Cullen, as much surprised as McGovery at the manner in which Father John had received the story, asked him if he thought it was all a lie.

“Perhaps not all a lie,” answered the priest; “perhaps he heard something about Keegan — not very flattering to the attorney; no doubt Thady was asking the boys about the rent, and threatening them with Keegan as a receiver over the property, or something of that sort; and very likely one of those boys from Drumleesh said something about a bog-hole, which may be Thady didn’t reprove as he ought to have done. I’ve no doubt it all came about in that way — but that fellow with his tales and his stories, will get his ears cut off some of these days, and serve him right. Why, he wanted yesterday, to make me believe that these fellows who are to drown Keegan this morning, were to shoot Ussher last night! He’s just the fellow to do more harm in the country than all the stills, if he were listened to. — Well, Cullen, good day, I’m going into Mr. McKeon’s here;"— and Cullen went away quite satisfied with Father John’s view of the affair.

Not so, Father John. For Thady’s sake — to screen his character, and because he did not think there was any immediate danger — he had given the affair the turn which it had just taken; but he himself feared — more than feared — felt sure that there was too much truth in what the man had said. Thady’s unusual intoxication last night — his brutal conduct to his sister — to Ussher, and to himself — the men with whom he had been drinking — his own knowledge of the feeling the young man entertained towards Keegan, and the hatred the tenants felt for the attorney — all these things conspired to convince Father John that McGovery had too surely overheard a conversation, which, if repeated to Keegan, might probably, considering how many had been present at it, give him a desperate hold over young Macdermot, which he would not fail to use, either by frightening him into measures destructive to the property, or by proceeding criminally against him. Father John was not only greatly grieved that such a meeting should have been held, with reference to its immediate consequences, but he was shocked that Thady should so far have forgotten himself and his duty as to have attended it. But with the unceasing charity which made the great beauty of Father John’s character, he, in his heart, instantly made allowances for him; he remembered all his distress and misery — his want of friends — his grief for his sister — his continued attempts and continued inability to relieve his father from his difficulties; and he determined to endeavour to screen him.

His success with McGovery, whom he had made to disbelieve his own senses, and with Cullen, who was ready enough to take his superior’s views in any secular affair, had been complete; and he did not think that either would now be likely to repeat the story in a manner that would do any injury. We shall, in a short time, see what steps he took in the matter with Thady himself. In the meanwhile, we will follow him into Mrs. McKeon’s house, at whose door he had now arrived.

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