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

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

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_ CHAPTER III. Pauden Gair's Receipt how to make a Bad Dinner a Good One

--The Stranger finds Fenton as mysterious as Himself.

The stranger, on reaching the inn, had not long to wait for dinner, which, to his disappointment, was anything but what he had been taught to expect. The fair "waiter" had led his imagination a very ludicrous dance, indeed, having, as Shakspeare says, kept the word of promise to his ear, but broken it to his hope, and, what was still worse, to his appetite. On sitting down, he found before him two excellent salt herrings to begin with; and on ringing the bell to inquire why he was provided with such a dainty, the male waiter himself, who had finished the field he had been ploughing, made his appearance, after a delay of about five minutes, very coolly wiping his mouth, for he had been at dinner.

"Are you the waiter," asked the stranger, sharply.

"No, sir, I'm not the waiter, myself; but I and Peggy Moylan is."

"And why didn't you come when I rang for you at first?"

"I was just finishin' my dinner, sir," replied the other, pulling a bone of a herring from between his teeth, then going over and deliberately throwing it into the fire.

The stranger was silent with astonishment, and, in truth, felt a stronger inclination to laugh than to scold him. This fellow, thought he, is clearly an original; I must draw him out a little.

"Why, sir," he proceeded, "was I served with a pair of d--d salt herrings, as a part of my dinner?"

"Whist, sir," replied the fellow, "don't curse anything that God--blessed be his name--has made; it's not right, it's sinful."

"But why was I served with two salt herrings, I ask again?"

"Why wor you sarved with them?--Why, wasn't it what we had ourselves?"

"Was I not promised venison?"

"Who promised it to you?"

"That female waiter of yours."

"Peggy Moylan? Well, then, I tell you the fau't wasn't hers. We had a party o' gintlemen out here last week, and the sorra drop of it they left behind them. Devil a drop of venison there is in the house now. You're an Englishman, at any rate, sir, I think by your discourse?"

"Was I not promised part of a fat buck from the demesne adjoining, and where is it? I thought I was to have fish, flesh, and fowl."

"Well, and haven't you fish." replied the fellow. "What do you call them!" he added, pointing to the herrings; "an' as to a fat buck, faith, it isn't part of one, but a whole one you have. What do you call that." He lifted an old battered tin cover, and discovered a rabbit, gathered up as if it were in the act of starting for its burrow. "You see, Peggy, sir, always keeps her word; for it was a buck rabbit she meant. Well, now, there's the fish and the flesh; and here," he proceeded, uncovering another dish, "is the fowl."

On lifting the cover, a pair of enormous legs, with spurs on them an inch and a half long, were projected at full length toward the guest, as if the old cock--for such it was--were determined to defend himself to the last.

"Well," said the stranger, "all I can say is, that I have got a very bad dinner."

"Well, an' what suppose? Sure it has been many a betther man's case. However, you have one remedy; always ait the more of it--that's the sure card; ever and always when you have a bad dinner, ait, I say, the more of it. I don't, think, sir, beggin' your pardon, that you've seen much of the world yet."

"Why do you think so," asked the other, who could with difficulty restrain his mirth at the fellow's cool self-sufficiency and assurance.

"Because, sir, no man that has seen the world, and knows its ups and downs, would complain of sich a dinner as that. Do you wish for any liquor? But maybe you don't. It's not every one carries a full purse these times; so, at any rate, have the sense not to go beyant your manes, or whatsomever allowance you get."

"Allowance! what do you mean by allowance?"

"I mane," he replied, "that there's not such a crew of barefaced liars on the airth as you English travellers, as they call you. What do you think, but one of them had the imperance to tell me that he was allowed a guinea a-day to live on! Troth, I crossed mysolf, and bid him go about his business, an' that I didn't think the house or place was safe while he was in it--for it's I that has the mortal hatred of a liar."

"What liquor have you got in the house?"

"No--if there's one thing on airth that I hate worse than another, it's a man that shuffles--that won't tell the truth, or give you a straight answer. We have plenty o' liquor in the house--more than you'll use, at any rate."

"But what descriptions? How many kinds? for instance--"

"Kinds enough, for that matther--all sorts and sizes of liquor."

"Have you any wine?"

"Wine! Well, now, let me speak to you as a friend; sure, 't is n't wine you'd be thinking of?"

"But, if I pay for it?"

"Pay for it--ay, and break yourself--go beyant your manes, as I said. No, no--I'll give you no wine--it would be only aidin' you in extravagance, an' I wouldn't have the sin of it to answer for. We have all enough, and too much to answer for, God knows."

The last observation was made sotto voce, and with the serious manner of a man who uttered it under a deep sense of religious truth.

"Well," replied the stranger, "since you won't allow me wine, have you no cheaper liquor? I am not in the habit of dining without something stronger than water."

"So much the worse for yourself. We have good porther."

"Bring me a bottle of it, then."

"It's beautiful on draught."

"But I prefer it in bottle."

"I don't doubt it. Lord help us! how few is it that knows what's good for them! Will you give up your own will for wanst, and be guided by a wiser man? for health--an' sure health's before everything--for health, ever and always prefer draught porther."

"Well, then, since it must be draught, I shall prefer draught ale."

"Rank poison. Troth, somehow I feel a liking for you, an' for that very reason, devil a drop of draught ale I'll allow to cross your lips. Jist be guided by me, an' you'll find that your health an' pocket will both be the betther for it. Troth, it's fat and rosy I'll have you in no time, all out, if you stop with us. Now ait your good dinner, and I'll bring you the porther immediately."

"What's your name." asked the stranger, "before you go."

"I'll tell you when I come back--wait till I bring you the portlier, first."

In the course of about fifteen mortal, minutes, he returned with a quart of porter in his hand, exclaiming--

"Bad luck to them for pigs, they got into the garden, and I had to drive them out, and cut a lump of a bush to stop the gap wid; however, I think they won't go back that way again. My name you want? Why, then, my name is Paudeen Gair--that is, Sharpe, sir; but, in troth, it is n't Sharpe by name and Sharpe by nature wid me, although you'd get them that 'ud say otherwise."

"How long have you been here," asked the other.

"I've been laborin' for the master goin' on fourteen years; but I'm only about twelve months attendin' table."

"How long has your fellow-servant--Peggy, I think, you call her--been here?"

"Not long."

"Where had she been before, do you know."

"Do I know, is it? Maybe 'tis you may say that."

"What do you mean? I don't understand you."

"I know that well enough, and it is n't my intention you should."

"In what family was she at service."

"Whisper;--in a bad family, wid one exception. God protect her, the darlin'. Amin! A wurra yeelsh! may the curse that's hanging over him never fall upon her this day!"

A kind and complacent spirit beamed in the fine eyes of the stranger, as the waiter uttered these benevolent invocations; and, putting his hand in his pocket, he said,

"My good friend Paudeen, I am richer than you are disposed to give me credit for; I see you are a good-hearted fellow, and here's a crown for you."

"No! consumin' to the farden, till I know whether you're able to afford it or not. It's always them that has least of it, unfortunately, that's readiest to give it. I have known many a foolish creature to do what you are doing, when, if the truth was known, they could badly spare it; but, at any rate, wait till I deserve it; for, upon my reputaytion, I won't finger a testher of it sooner."

He then withdrew, and left the other to finish his dinner as best he might.

For the next three or four days the stranger confined himself mostly to his room, unless about dusk, when he glided out very quietly, and disappeared rather like a spirit than anything else; for, in point of fact, no one could tell what had become of him, or where he could have concealed himself, during these brief but mysterious absences. Paudeen Gair and Peggy observed that he wrote at least three or four letters every day, and knew that he must have put them into the post-office with his own hands, inasmuch as no person connected with the inn had been employed for that purpose.

On the fourth day, after breakfast, and as Pat Sharpe--by which version of his name he was sometimes addressed--was about to take away the things, his guest entered into conversation with him as follows:

"Paudeen, my good friend, can you tell me where the wild, ragged fellow, called Fenton, could be found?"

"I can, sir. Fenton? Begorra, you'd hardly know him if you seen him; he's as smooth as a new pin--has a plain, daicent suit o' clothes on him. It's whispered about among us this long time, that, if he had his rights, he'd be entitled to a great property; and some people say now that he has come into a part of it."

"And pray, what else do they say of him?"

"Wiry, then, I heard Father M'Mahon himself say that he had great learnin', an' must a' had fine broughten-up, an' could, act the real gintleman whenever he wished."

"Is it known who he is, or whether he is a native of this neighborhood?"

"No, sir; he doesn't belong to this neighborhood; an' the truth is, that nobody here that ever I heard of knows anything at all, barrin' guesswork, about the unfortunate poor creature. If ever he was a gintleman," exclaimed the kind-hearted waiter, "he's surely to be pitied, when one sees the state he's brought to."

"Well, Paudeen, will you fetch him to me, if you know where he is? Say I wish to see him."

"What name, if you plaise," asked the waiter, with assumed indifference; for the truth was, that the whole establishment felt a very natural curiosity to know who the stranger was.

"Never mind the name, Paudeen, but say as I desire you."

Paudeen had no sooner disappeared than the anonymous gentleman went to one of his trunks, and, pulling out a very small miniature, surveyed it for nearly half a minute; he then looked into the fire, and seemed absorbed in long and deep reflection. At length, after once more gazing closely and earnestly at it, he broke involuntarily into the following soliloquy:

"I know," he exclaimed, "that resemblances are often deceitful, and not to be depended upon. In this case, however, there is scarcely a trace that could constitute any particular peculiarity--a peculiarity which, if it existed, would strengthen--I know not whether to say--my suspicions or my hopes. The early disappearance of that poor boy, without the existence of a single vestige by which he could be traced, resembles one of those mysteries that are found only in romances. The general opinion is, that he has been made away with, and is long dead; yet of late, a different impression has gone abroad, although we know not exactly how it has originated."

He then paced, with a countenance of gloom, uncertainty, and deep anxiety, through the room, and after a little time, proceeded:

"I shall, at all events, enter into conversation with this person, after which I will make inquiries concerning the gentry and nobility of the neighborhood when I think I shall be able to observe whether he will pass the Gourlay family over, or betray any consciousness of a particular knowledge of their past or present circumstances. 'Tis true, he may overreach me; but if he does, I cannot help it. Yet, after all," he proceeded, "if he should prove to be the person I seek, everything may go well; I certainly observed faint traces of an honorable feeling about him when I gave him the money, which, notwithstanding his indigence and dissipation, he for a time refused to take."

He then resumed his seat, and seemed once more buried in thought and abstraction.

Our friend Paudeen was not long in finding the unfortunate object of the stranger's contemplation and interest. On meeting him, he perceived that he was slightly affected with liquor, as indeed was the case generally whenever he could procure it.

"Misther Fenton," said Paudeen, "there's a daicent person in our house that wishes to see you."

"Who do you call a decent person, you bog-trotting Ganymede." replied the other.

"Why, a daicent tradesman, I think, from--thin sorra one of me knows whether I ought to say from Dublin or London."

"What trade, Ganymede?"

"Troth, that's more than I can tell; but I know that he wants you, for he sent me to bring you to him."

"Well, Ganymede, I shall see your tradesman," he replied. "Come, I shall go to him."

On reaching the inn, Paudeen, in order to discharge the commission intrusted to him fully, ushered Fenton upstairs, and into the stranger's sitting-room. "What's this," exclaimed Fenton. "Why, you have brought me to the wrong room, you blundering villain. I thought you were conducting me to some worthy tradesman. You have mistaken the room, you blockhead; this is a gentleman. How do you do, sir? I hope you will excuse this intrusion; it is quite unintentional on my part; yet I am glad to see you."

"There is no mistake at all in it," replied the other, laughing. "That will do, Paudeen," he added, "thank you."

"Faix," said Paudeen to himself, when descending the stairs, "I'm afeard that's no tradesman--whatever he is. He took on him a look like a lord when that unfortunate Fenton went into the room. Troth, I'm fairly puzzled, at any rate!"

"Take a seat, Mr. Fenton," said the stranger, handing him a chair, and addressing him in terms of respect.

"Thank, you, sir," replied the other, putting, at the same time, a certain degree of restraint upon his maimer, for he felt conscious of being slightly influenced by liquor.

"Well," continued the stranger, "I am glad to see that you have improved your appearance."

"Ay, certainly, sir, as far as four pounds--or, I should rather say, three pounds went, I did something for the outer man."

"Why not the five?" asked the other. "I wished you to make yourself as comfortable as possible, and did not imagine you could have done it for less."

"No, sir, not properly, according to the standard of a gentleman; but I assure you, that, if I were in a state of utter and absolute starvation, I would not part with one of the notes you so generously gave me, scarcely to save my life."

"No!" exclaimed the stranger, with a good deal of surprise. "And pray, why not, may I ask?"

"Simply," said Fenton, "because I have taken a fancy for it beyond its value. I shall retain it as pocket-money. Like the Vicar of Wakefield's daughters, I shall always keep it about me; and then, like them also, I will never want money."

"That is a strange whim," observed the other, "and rather an unaccountable one, besides."

"Not in the slightest degree," replied Fenton, "if you knew as much as I do; but, at all events, just imagine that I am both capricious and eccentric; so don't be surprised at anything I say or do."

"Neither shall I," replied "the anonymous" "However, to come to other matters, pray what kind of a town is this of Ballytrain?"

"It is by no means a bad town," replied Fenton, "as towns and times go. It has a market-house, a gaol, a church, as you have seen--a Roman Catholic chapel, and a place of worship for the Presbyterian and Methodist. It has, besides, that characteristic locality, either of English legislation or Irish crimes--or, perhaps, of both--a gallows-green. It has a public pump, that has been permitted to run dry, and public stocks for limbs like those of your humble servant, that are permitted to stand (the stocks I mean) as a libel upon the inoffensive morals of the town."

"How are commercial matters in it?"

"Tolerable. Our shopkeepers are all very fair as shopkeepers. But, talking of that, perhaps you are not aware of a singular custom which even I--for I am not a native of this place--have seen in it?"

"What may it have been." asked the stranger.

"Why, it was this: Of a fair or market-day," he proceeded, "there lived a certain shopkeeper here, who is some time dead--and I mention this to show you how the laws were respected in this country; this shopkeeper, sir, of a fair or market-day had a post that ran from his counter to the ceiling; to this post was attached a single handcuff, and it always happened that, when any person was caught in the act of committing a theft in his shop, one arm of the offender was stretched up to this handcuff, into which the wrist was locked; and, as the handcuff was movable, so that it might be raised up or down, according to the height of the culprit, it was generally fastened so that the latter was forced to stand upon the top of his toes so long as was agreeable to the shopkeeper of whom I speak."

"You do not mean to say," replied his companion, who, by the way, had witnessed the circumstances ten times for Fenton's once, "that such an outrage upon the right of the subject, and such a contempt for the administration of law and justice, could actually occur in a Christian and civilized country?"

"I state to you a fact, sir," replied Fen-ton, "which I have witnessed with my own eyes; but we have still stranger and worse usages in this locality."

"What description of gentry and landed proprietors have you in the neighborhood?"

"Hum! as to that, there are some good, more bad, and many indifferent, among them. Their great fault in general is, that they are incapable of sympathizing, as they ought, with their dependents. The pride of class, and the influence of creed besides, are too frequently impediments, not only to the progress of their own independence, but to the improvement of their tenantry. Then, many of them employ servile, plausible, and unprincipled agents, who, provided they wring the rent, by every species of severity and oppression, out of the people, are considered by their employers valuable and honest servants, faithfully devoted to their interests; whilst the fact on the other side is, that the unfortunate tenantry are every day so rapidly retrograding from prosperity, that most of the neglected and oppressed who possess means to leave the country emigrate to America."

"Why, Fenton, I did not think that you looked so deeply into the state and condition of the country. Have you no good specimens of character in or about the town itself?"

"Unquestionably, sir. Look out now from this window," he proceeded, and he went to it as he spoke, accompanied by the stranger; "do you see," he added, "that unostentatious shop, with the name of James Trimble over the door?"

"Certainly," replied the other, "I see it most distinctly."

"Well, sir, in that shop lives a man who is ten times a greater benefactor to this town and neighborhood than is the honorable and right reverend the lordly prelate, whose silent and untenanted palace stands immediately behind us. In every position in which you find him, this admirable but unassuming man is always the friend of the poor. When an industrious family, who find that they cannot wring independence, by hard and honest labor, out of the farms or other little tenements which they hold, have resolved to seek it in a more prosperous country, America, the first man to whom they apply, if deficient in means to accomplish their purpose, is James Trimble. In him they find a friend, if he knows, as he usually does, that they have passed through life with a character of worth and hereditary integrity. If they want a portion of their outfit, and possess not means to procure it, in kind-hearted James Trimble they are certain to find a friend, who will supply their necessities upon the strength of their bare promise to repay him. Honor,--then--honor, sir, I say again, to the unexampled faith, truth, and high principle of the industrious Irish peasant, who, in no instance, even although the broad Atlantic has been placed between them, has been known to defraud James Trimble of a single shilling. In all parochial and public meetings--in every position where his influence can be used--he is uniformly the friend of the poor, whilst his high but unassuming sense of honor, his successful industry, and his firm, unshrinking independence, make him equally appreciated and respected by the rich and poor. In fact, it is such men as this who are the most unostentatious but practical benefactors to the lower and middle classes."

He had proceeded thus far, when a carriage-and-four came dashing up the street, and stopped at the very shop which belonged to the subject of Fenton's eulogium. Both went to the window at the same moment, and looked out.

"Pray, whose carriage is that." asked the stranger, fastening his eyes, with a look of intense scrutiny, upon Fenton's face.

"That, sir," he replied, "is the carriage of Sir Thomas Gourlay."

As he spoke, the door of it was opened, and a lady of surpassing elegance and beauty stepped out of it, and entered the shop of the benevolent James Trimble.

"Pray, who is that charming girl?" asked the stranger again.

To this interrogatory, however, he received no reply. Poor Fenton tottered over to a chair, became pale as death, and trembled with such violence that he was incapable, for the time, of uttering a single word.

"Do you know, or have you ever known, this family?" asked the other.

After a pause of more than a minute, during which the emotion subsided, he replied:

"I have already said that I could not--" he paused. "I am not well," said he; "I am quite feeble--in fact, not in a condition to answer anything. Do not, therefore, ask me--for the present, at least."

Fifteen or twenty minutes had elapsed before he succeeded in mastering this singular attack. At length he rose, and placing his chair somewhat further back from the window, continued to look out in silence, not so much from love of silence, as apparently from inability to speak. The stranger, in the mean time, eyed him keenly; and as he examined his features from time to time, it might be observed that an expression of satisfaction, if not almost of certainty, settled upon his own countenance. In a quarter of an hour, the sound of the carriage-wheels was heard on its return, and Fenton, who seemed to dread also a return of his illness, said:

"For heaven's sake, sir, be good enough to raise the window and let in air. Thank you, sir."

The carriage, on this occasion, was proceeding more slowly than before--in fact, owing to a slight acclivity in that part of the street, the horses were leisurely walking past the inn window at the moment the stranger raised it. The noise of the ascending sash reached Miss Gourlay (for it was she), who, on looking up, crimsoned deeply, and, with one long taper finger on her lips, as if to intimate caution and silence, bowed to the stranger. The latter, who had presence of mind enough to observe the hint, did not bow in return, and consequently declined to appropriate the compliment to himself. Fenton now surveyed his companion with an appearance of as much interest and curiosity as the other had bestowed on him. He felt, however, as if his physical powers were wholly prostrated.

"I am very weak," said he, bitterly, "and near the close of my brief and unhappy day. I have, however, one cure--get me drink--drink, I say; that is what will revive me. Sir, my life, for the last fourteen years, has been a battle against thought; and without drink I should be a madman--a madman! oh, God!"

The other remonstrated with him in vain; but he was inexorable, and began to get fierce and frantic. At length, it occurred to him, that perhaps the influence of liquor might render this strange individual more communicative, and that by this means he might succeed in relieving himself of his doubts--for he still had doubts touching Fenton's identity. In this, however, he was disappointed, as a circumstance occurred which prevented him from then gratifying Fenton's wish, or winning him into confidence. _

Read next: Chapter 4. An Anonymous Letter

Read previous: Chapter 2. The Town And Its Inhabitants

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