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The Black Baronet; or, The Chronicles Of Ballytrain, a novel by William Carleton

Chapter 2. The Town And Its Inhabitants

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_ CHAPTER II. The Town and its Inhabitants

The town itself contained about six thousand inhabitants, had a church, a chapel, a meeting-house, and also a place of worship for those who belonged to the Methodist connection, It was nearly half a mile long, lay nearly due north and south, and ran up an elevation or slight hill, and down again on the other side, where it tapered away into a string of cabins. It is scarcely necessary to say that it contained a main street, three or four with less pretensions, together with a tribe of those vile alleys which consist of a double row of beggarly cabins, or huts, facing each other, and lying so closely, that a tall man might almost stand with a foot on the threshold of each, or if in the middle, that is half-way between them, he might, were he so inclined, and without moving to either side, shake hands with the inhabitants on his right and left. To the left, as you went up from the north, and nearly adjoining the cathedral church, which faced you, stood a bishop's palace, behind which lay a magnificent demesne. At that time, it is but just to say that the chimneys of this princely residence were never smokeless, nor its saloons silent and deserted as they are now, and have been for years. No, the din of industry was then incessant in and about the offices of that palace, and the song of many a light heart and happy spirit rang sweetly in the valleys, on the plains and hills, and over the meadows of that beautiful demesne, with its noble deer-park stretching up to the heathy hills behind it. Many a time, when a school-boy, have we mounted the demesne wall in question, and contemplated its meadows, waving under the sunny breeze, together with the long strings of happy mowers, the harmonious swing of whose scythes, associated with the cheerful noise of their whetting, caused the very heart within us to kindle with such a sense of pure and early enjoyment as does yet, and ever will, constitute a portion of our best and happiest recollections.

At the period of which we write it mattered little whether the prelate who possessed it resided at home or not. If he did not, his family generally did; but, at all events, during their absence, or during their residence, constant employment was given, every working-day in the year, to at least one hundred happy and contented poor from a neighboring and dependent village, every one of whom was of the Roman Catholic creed.

I have stood, not long ago, upon a beautiful elevation in that demesne, and, on looking around me, I saw nothing but a deserted and gloomy country. The happy village was gone--razed to the very foundations--the demesne was a solitude--the songs of the reapers and mowers had vanished, as it were, into the recesses of memory, and the magnificent palace, dull and lonely, lay as if it were situated in some land of the dead, where human voice or footstep had not been heard for years.

The stranger, who had gone out to view the town, found, during that survey, little of this absence of employment, and its consequent destitution, to disturb him. Many things, it is true, both in the town and suburbs, were liable to objection.

Abundance there was; but, in too many instances, he could see, at a glance, that it was accompanied by unclean and slovenly habits, and that the processes of husbandry and tillage were disfigured by old usages, that were not only painful to contemplate, but disgraceful to civilization.

The stranger was proceeding down the town, when he came in contact with a ragged, dissipated-looking young man, who had, however, about him the evidences of having seen better days. The latter touched his hat to him, and observed, "You seem to be examining our town, sir?"

"Pray, what is your name?" inquired the stranger, without seeming to notice the question.

"Why, for the present, sir," he replied, "I beg to insinuate that I am rather under a cloud; and, if you have no objection, would prefer to remain anonymous, or to preserve my incognito, as they say, for some time longer."

"Have you no alias, by which you may be known?"

"Unquestionably, an alias I have," replied the other; "for as to passing through life, in the broad, anonymous sense, without some token to distinguish you by, the thing, to a man like me, is impossible. I am consequently known as Frank Fenton, a name I borrowed from a former friend of mine, an old school-fellow, who, while he lived, was, like myself, a bit of an original in his way. How do you like our town, sir," he added, changing the subject.

"I have seen too little of it," replied the stranger, "to judge. Is this your native town, Mr. Fenton," he added.

"No, sir; not my native town," replied Fenton; "but I have resided here from hand to mouth long enough to know almost every individual in the barony at large."

During this dialogue, the stranger eyed Fenton, as he called himself, very closely; in fact, he watched every feature of his with a degree of curiosity and doubt that was exceedingly singular.

"Have you, sir, been here before." asked Fenton; "or is this your first visit?"

"It is not my first visit," replied the other; "but it is likely I shall reside here for some months."

"For the benefit of your health, I presume," asked modest Frank.

"My good friend," replied the stranger, "I wish to make an observation. It is possible, I say, that I may remain here for some months; now, pray, attend, and mark me--whenever you and I chance, on any future occasion, to meet, it is to be understood between us that you are to answer me in anything I ask, which you know, and I to answer you in nothing, unless I wish it."

"Thank you, sir," he replied, with a low and not ungraceful bow; "that's a compliment all to the one side, like Clogher."*

* The proverb is pretty general throughout Tyrone. The town of Clogher consists of only a single string of houses.

"Very well," returned the stranger; "I have something to add, in order to make this arrangement more palatable to you."

"Hold, sir," replied the other; "before you proceed further, you must understand me. I shall pledge myself under no terms--and I care not what they may be--to answer any question that may throw light upon my own personal identity, or past history."

"That will not be necessary," replied the stranger.

"What do you mean, sir," asked Fenton, starting; "do you mean to hint that you know me?"

"Nonsense," said the other; "how could I know a man whom I never saw before? No; it is merely concerning the local history of Ballytrain and its inhabitants that I am speaking."

There was a slight degree of dry irony, however, on his face, as he spoke.

"Well," said the other, "in the mean time, I don't see why I am to comply with a condition so dictatorially laid down by a person of whom I know nothing."

"Why, the truth is," said our strange friend, "that you are evidently a lively and intelligent fellow, not badly educated; I think--and, as it is likely that you have no very direct connection with the inhabitants of the town and surrounding country, I take it for granted that, in the way of mere amusement, you may be able to--"

"Hem! I see--to give you all the scandal of the place for miles about; that is what you would say? and so I can. But suppose a spark of the gentleman should--should--but come, hang it, that is gone, hopelessly gone. What is your wish?"

"In the first place, to see you better clothed. Excuse me--and, if I offend you, say so--but it is not my wish to say anything that might occasion you pain. Are you given to liquor?"

"Much oftener than liquor is given to me, I assure you; it is my meat, drink, washing, and lodging--without it I must die. And, harkee, now; when I meet a man I like, and who, after all, has a touch of humanity and truth about him, to such a man, I say, I myself am all truth, at whatever cost; but to every other--to your knave, your hypocrite, or your trimmer, for instance, all falsehood--deep, downright, wanton falsehood. In fact, I would scorn to throw away truth upon them.

"You are badly dressed."

"Ah! after all, how little is known of the human heart and character!" exclaimed Fenton. "The subject of dress and the associations connected with it have all been effaced from my mind and feelings for years. So long as we are capable of looking to our dress, there is always a sense of honor and self-respect left. Dress I never think of, unless as a mere animal protection against the elements."

"Well, then," observed the other, surveying this unfortunate wretch with compassion, "whether all perception of honor and self-respect is lost in you I care not. Here are five pounds for you; that is to say--and pray understand me--I commit them absolutely to your own keeping--your own honor, your self-respect, or by whatever name you are pleased to call it. Purchase plain clothes, get better linen, a hat and shoes: when this is done, if you have strength of mind and resolution of character to do it, come to me at the head inn, where I stop, and I will only ask you, in return, to tell me anything you know or have heard about such subjects as may chance to occur to me at the moment."

On receiving the money, the poor fellow fastened his eyes on it with such an expression of amazement as defies description. His physical strength and constitution, in consequence of the life he led, were nearly gone--a circumstance which did not escape the keen eye of the stranger, on whose face there was an evident expression of deep compassion. The unfortunate Frank Fenton trembled from head to foot, his face became deadly pale, and after surveying the notes for a time, he held them out to the other, exclaiming, as he extended his hand--

"No, no! have it, no! You are a decent fellow, and I will not impose upon you. Take back your money; I know myself too well to accept of it. I never could keep money, and I wouldn't have a shilling of this in my possession at the expiration of forty-eight hours."

"Even so," replied the stranger, "it comes not back to me again. Drink it--eat it--spend it is you may; but I rely on your own honor, notwithstanding what you say, to apply it to a better purpose."

"Well, now, let me see," said Fenton, musing, and as if in a kind of soliloquy; "you are a good fellow, no doubt of it--that is, if you have no lurking, dishonest design in all this. Let me see. Why, now, it is a long time since I have had the enormous sum of five shillings in my possession, much less the amount of the national debt, which I presume must be pretty close upon five pounds; and in honest bank notes, too. One, two, three--ha!--eh! eh!--oh yes," he proceeded, evidently struck with some discovery that astonished him. "Ay!" he exclaimed, looking keenly at a certain name that happened to be written upon one of the notes; "well, it is all right! Thank you, sir; I will keep the money." _

Read next: Chapter 3. Pauden Gair's Receipt How To Make A Bad Dinner A Good One

Read previous: Chapter 1. A Mail-Coach By Night, And A Bit Of Moonshine

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