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

Chapter 19. Interview Between Trailcudgel And The Stranger

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_ CHAPTER XIX. Interview between Trailcudgel and the Stranger

--A Peep at Lord Dunroe and His Friend.

It was on the morning that Sir Thomas Gourlay had made the disastrous discovery of the flight of his daughter--for he had not yet heard the spreading rumor of the imaginary elopement--that the stranger, on his way from Father M'Mahon's to the Mitre, was met in a lonely part of the road, near the priest's house, by a man of huge stature and savage appearance. He was literally in rags; and his long beard, gaunt features, and eyes that glared as if with remorse, distraction, or despair, absolutely constituted him an alarming as well as a painful spectacle. As he approached the stranger, with some obvious and urgent purpose, trailing after him a weapon that resembled the club of Hercules, the latter paused in his step and said,

"What is the matter with you, my good fellow? You seem agitated. Do you want anything with me? Stand back, I will permit you to come no nearer, till I know your purpose. I am armed."

The wretched man put his hand upon his eyes, and groaned as if his heart would burst, and for some moments was unable to make any reply.

"What can this mean?" thought the stranger; "the man's features, though wild and hollow, are not those of a ruffian."

"My good friend," he added, speaking in a milder tone, "you seem distressed. Pray let me know what is the matter with you?"

"Don't be angry with me," replied the man, addressing him with dry, parched lips, whilst his Herculean breast heaved up and down with agitation; "I didn't intend to do it, or to break in upon it, but now I must, for it's life or death with the three that's left me; and I durstn't go into the town to ask it there. I have lost four already. Maybe, sir, you could change this pound note for me? For the sake of the Almighty, do; as you hope for mercy don't refuse me. That's all I ask. I know that you stop in the inn in the town there above--that you're a friend of our good priest's--and that you are well spoken of by every one."

Now, it fortunately happened that the stranger had, on leaving the inn, put thirty shillings of silver in his pocket, not only that he might distribute through the hands of Father M'Mahon some portion of assistance to the poor whom that good man had on his list of distress, but visit some of the hovels on his way back, in order personally to witness their condition, and, if necessary, relieve them. The priest, however, was from home, and he had not an opportunity of carrying the other portion of his intentions into effect, as he was only a quarter of a mile from the good man's residence, and no hovels of the description he wished to visit had yet presented themselves.

"Change for a pound!" he exclaimed, with a good deal of surprise. "Why, from your appearance, poor fellow, I should scarcely suspect to find such a sum in your possession. Did you expect to meet me here?"

"No, sir, I was on my way to the priest, to open my heart to him, for if I don't, I know I'll be ragin' mad before forty-eight hours. Oh, sir, if you have it, make haste; every minute may cost me a life that's dearer to me a thousand times than my own. Here's the note, sir."

The stranger took the note out of his hand, and on looking at the face of it made no observation, but, upon mechanically turning up the back, apparently without any purpose of examining it, he started, looked keenly at the man, and seemed sunk in the deepest possible amazement, not unrelieved, however, by an air of satisfaction. The sudden and mysterious disappearance of Fenton, taken in connection with the discovery of the note which he himself had given him, and now in the possession of a man whose appearance was both desperate and suspicious, filled him with instant apprehensions for the safety of Fenton.

His brow instantly became stern, and in a voice full of the most unequivocal determination, he said,

"Pray, sir, how did you come by this note?"

"By the temptation of the devil; for although it was in my possession, it didn't save my two other darlins from dying. A piece of a slate would be as useful as it was, for I couldn't change it--I durstn't."

"You committed a robbery for this note, sir?"

The man glared at him with something like incipient fury, but paused, and looking on him with a more sorrowful aspect, replied,

"That is what the world will call it, I suppose; but if you wish to get anything out of me, change the tone of your voice. I haven't at the present time, much command over my temper, and I'm now a desperate man, though I wasn't always so. Either give me the change or the note back again."

The stranger eyed him closely. Although desperate, as he said, still there were symptoms of an honest and manly feeling, even in the very bursts of passion which he succeeded with such effort in restraining.

"I repeat it, that this note came into your hands by an act of robbery--perhaps of murder."

"Murder!" replied the man, indignantly. "Give me back the note, sir, and provoke me no farther."

"No," replied the other, "I shall not; and you must consider yourself my prisoner. You not only do not deny, but seem to admit, the charge of robbery, and you shall not pass out of my hands until you render me an account of the person from whom you took this note. You see," he added, producing a case of pistols--for, in accordance with the hint he had received in the anonymous note, he resolved never to go out without them--"I am armed, and that resistance is useless."

The man gave a proud but ghastly smile, as he replied--dropping his stick, and pulling from his bosom a pair of pistols much larger, and more dangerous than those of the stranger,

"You see, that if you go to that I have the advantage of you."

"Tell me," I repeat, "what has become of Mr. Fenton, from whom you took it."

"Fenton!" exclaimed the other, with surprise; "is that the poor young man that's not right in his head?"

"The same."

"Well, I know nothing about him."

"Did you not rob him of this note?"


"You did, sir; this note was in his possession; and I fear you have murdered him I besides. You must come with me,"--and as he spoke, our friend, Trailcudgel, saw two pistols, one in each hand, levelled at him. "Get on before me, sir, to the town of Ballytrain, or, resist at your peril."

Almost at the same moment the two pistols, taken from Sir Thomas Gourlay, were levelled at the stranger.

"Now," said the man, whilst his eyes shot fire and his brow darkened, "if it must be, it must; I only want the sheddin' of blood to fill up my misery and guilt; but it seems I'm doomed, and I can't help it. Sir," said he, "think of yourself. If I submit to become your prisoner, my life's gone. You don't know the villain you are goin' to hand me over to. I'm not afraid of you, nor of anything, but to die a disgraceful death through his means, as I must do."

"I will hear no reasoning on the subject," replied the other; "go on before me."

The man kept his pistols presented, and there they stood, looking sternly into each other's faces, each determined not to yield, and each, probably, on the brink of eternity.

At length the man dropped the muzzles of the weapons, and holding them reversed, approached the stranger, saying, in a voice and with an expression of feeling that smote the other to the heart,

"I will be conqueror still, sir! Instead of goin' with you, you will come with me. There are my pistols. Only come to a house of misery and sorrow and death, and you will know all."

"This is not treachery," thought the stranger. "There can be no mistaking the anguish--the agony--of that voice; and those large tears bear no testimony to the crime of murder or robbery."

"Take my pistols, sir," the other repeated, "only follow me."

"No," replied the stranger, "keep them: I fear you not--and what is more, I do not now even suspect you. Here are thirty shillings in silver--but you must allow me to' keep this note."

We need not describe anew the scene to which poor Trailcudgel introduced him. It is enough to say, that since his last appearance in our pages he had lost two more of his children, one by famine and the other by fever; and that when the stranger entered his hovel--that libel upon a human habitation--that disgrace to landlord inhumanity--he saw stretched out in the stillness of death the emaciated bodies of not less than four human beings--to wit, this wretched man's wife, their daughter, a sweet girl nearly grown,--and two little ones. The husband and father looked at them for a little, and the stranger saw a singular working or change, taking place on his features. At length he clasped his hands, and first smiled--then laughed outright, and exclaimed, "Thank God that they," pointing to the dead, "are saved from any more of this,"--but the scene--the effort at composure--the sense of his guilt--the condition of the survivors--exhaustion from want of food, all combined, overcame him, and he fell senseless on the floor.

The stranger got a porringer of water, bathed his temples, opened his teeth with an old knife, and having poured some of it down his throat, dragged him--and it required all his strength to do so, although a powerful man--over to the cabin-door, in order to get him within the influence of the fresh air. At length he recovered, looked wildly about him, then gazed up in the face of the stranger, and made one or two deep respirations.

"I see," said he, "I remember--set me sittin' upon this little ditch beside the door--but no, no--" he added, starting--"come away--I must get them food--come--quick, quick, and I will tell you as we go along."

He then repeated the history of his ruin by Sir Thomas Gourlay, of the robbery, and of the scene of death and destitution which drove him to it.

"And was it from Sir Thomas you got this note?" asked the stranger, whose interest was now deeply excited.

"From him I got it, sir; as I tould you," he replied, "and I was on my way to the priest to give him up the money and the pistols, when the situation of my children, of my family of the livin' and the dead, overcame me, and I was tempted to break in upon one pound of it for their sakes. Sir, my life's in your hands, but there is something in your face that tells my heart that you won't betray me, especially afther what you have seen."

The stranger had been a silent and attentive listener to this narrative, and after he had ceased he spoke not for some time. He then added, emphatically but quickly, and almost abruptly:

"Don't fear me, my poor fellow. Your secret is as safe as if you had never disclosed it. Here are other notes for you, and in the meantime place yourself in the hands of your priest, and enable him to restore Sir Thomas Gourlay his money and his pistols, I shall see you and your family again."

The man viewed the money, looked at him for a moment, burst into tears, and hurried away, without saying a word, to procure food for himself and his children.

Our readers need not imagine for a moment that the scenes with which we have endeavored to present them, in,the wretched hut of Trailcudgel, are at all overdrawn. In point of fact, they fall far short of thousands which might have been witnessed, and were witnessed, during the years of '47, '48, '49, and this present one of '50. We are aware that so many as twenty-three human beings, of all ages and sexes, have been found by public officers, all lying on the same floor, and in the same bed--if bed it can be termed--nearly one-fourth of them stiffened and putrid corpses. The survivors weltering in filth, fever, and famine, and so completely maddened by despair, delirium, and the rackings of intolerable pain, in its severest shapes--aggravated by thirst and hunger--that all the impulses of nature and affection were not merely banished from the heart, but superseded by the most frightful peals of insane mirth, cruelty, and the horrible appetite of the ghoul and vampire. Some were found tearing the flesh from the bodies of the carcasses that were stretched beside them. Mothers tottered off under the woful excitement of misery and frenzy, and threw their wretched children on the sides of the highways, leaving them there, with shouts of mirth and satisfaction, to perish or be saved, as the chances might turn out--whilst fathers have been known to make a wolfish meal upon the dead bodies of their own offspring. We might, therefore, have carried on our description up to the very highest point of imaginable horror, without going beyond the truth.

It is well for the world that the schemes and projects of ambition depend not in their fulfilment upon the means and instruments with which they are sought to be accomplished. Had Sir Thomas Gourlay, for instance, not treated his daughter with such brutal cruelty, an interview must have taken place between her and Lord Cullamore, which would, as a matter of course, have put an end forever to her father's hopes of the high rank for which he was so anxious to sacrifice her. The good old nobleman, failing of the interview he had expected, went immediately to London, with a hope, among other objects, of being in some way useful to his son, whom he had not seen for more than two years, the latter having been, during that period, making the usual tour of the Continent.

On the second day of his arrival, and after he had in some degree recovered from the effects of the voyage--by which, on the whole, he was rather improved--he resolved to call upon Dunroe, in pursuance of a note which he had written to him to that effect, being unwilling besides to take him unawares. Before he arrives, however, we shall take the liberty of looking in upon his lordship, and thus enable ourselves to form some opinion of the materials which constituted that young nobleman's character and habits.

The accessories to these habits, as exponents of his life and character, were in admirable keeping with both, and a slight glance at them will be sufficient for the reader.

His lordship, who kept a small establishment of his own, now lies in a very elegantly furnished bedroom, with a table beside his bed, on which are dressings for his wound, phials of medicines, some loose comedies, and a volume still more objectionable in point both of taste and morals. Beside him is a man, whether young or of the middle age it is difficult to say. At the first glance, his general appearance, at least, seemed rather juvenile, but after a second--and still more decidedly after a third--it was evident to the spectator that he could not be under forty. He was dressed in quite a youthful style, and in the very extreme of fashion. This person's features were good, regular, absolutely symmetrical; yet was there that in his countenance which you could not relish. The face, on being examined, bespoke the life of a battered rake; for although the complexion was or had been naturally good, it was now set in too high a color for that of a young man, and was hardened into a certain appearance which is produced on some features by the struggle that takes place between dissipation and health. The usual observation in such cases is--"with what a constitution has that man been blessed on whose countenance the symptoms of a hard life are so slightly perceptible." The symptoms, however, are there in every case, as they were on his. This man's countenance, we say, at the first glance, was good, and his eye seemed indicative of great mildness and benignity of heart--yet here, again, was a drawback, for, upon a stricter examination of that organ, there might be read in it the expression of a spirit that never permitted him to utter a single word that was not associated with some selfish calculation. Add to this, that it was unusually small and feeble, intimating duplicity and a want of moral energy and candor. In the mere face, therefore, there was something which you could not like, and which would have prejudiced you, as if by instinct, against the man, were it not that the pliant and agreeable tone of his conversation, in due time, made you forget everything except the fact that Tom Norton was a most delightful fellow, with not a bit of selfishness about him, but a warm and friendly wish to oblige and serve every one of his acquaintances, as far as he could, and with the greatest good-will in the world. But Tom's excellence did not rest here. He was disinterested, and frequently went so far as almost actually to quarrel with some of his friends on their refusing to be guided by his advice and experience. Then, again, Tom was generous and delicate, for on finding that his dissuasions against some particular course had been disregarded, and the consequences he had predicted had actually followed, he was too magnanimous ever to harass them by useless expostulations or vain reproofs; such as--"I told you how it would happen"--"I advised you in time"--"you would not listen to reason"--and other posthumous apothegms of the same character. No, on the contrary, he maintained a considerate and gentlemanly silence on the subject--a circumstance which saved them from the embarrassment of much self-defence, or a painful admission of their error--and not only satisfied them that Tom was honest and unselfish, but modest and forbearing. It is true, that an occasional act or solecism of manner, somewhat at variance with the conventional usages of polite society, and an odd vulgarism of expression, were slight blemishes which might be brought to his charge, and would probably have told against any one else. But it was well known that Mr. Norton admitted himself to be a Connaught gentleman, with some of the rough habits of his country, as well of manner as of phraseology, about him; and it was not to be expected that a Connemara gentleman, no matter how high his birth and connection, could at once, or at all, divest himself of these piquant and agreeable peculiarities.

So much for Tom, who had been for at least a couple of years previous to his present appearance fairly domesticated with his lordship, acting not only as his guide, philosopher, and friend, but actually as major-domo, or general steward of the establishment, even condescending to pay the servants, and kindly undertaking to rescue his friend, who was ignorant of business, from the disagreeable trouble of coming in contact with tradesmen, and making occasional disbursements in matters of which Lord Dunroe knew little or nothing. Tom was indeed a most invaluable friend, and his lordship considered it a very fortunate night on which they first became acquainted; for, although he lost to the tune of five hundred pounds to him in one of the most fashionable gaming-houses of London, yet, as a compensation--and more than a compensation--for that loss, he gained Tom in return.

His lordship was lying on one side in bed, with the Memoirs of ------ on the pillow beside him, when Tom, who had only entered a few minutes before, on looking at the walls of the apartment, exclaimed, "What the deuce is this, my lord? Are you aware that your father will be here in a couple of hours from this time?" and he looked at his watch.

"Oh, ay; the old peer," replied his lordship, in a languid voice, "coming as a missionary to reform the profane and infidel. I wish he would let me alone, and subscribe to the Missionary Society at once."

"But, my dear Dunroe, are you asleep?"

"Very nearly, I believe. I wish I was."

"But what's to be done with certain of these pictures? You don't intend his lordship should see them, I hope?"

"No; certainly not, Tom. We must have them removed. Will you see about it, Tom, like a good fellow? Stow them, however, in some safe place, where they won't be injured."

"Those five must go," said Norton.

"No," replied his lordship, "let the Magdalen stay; it will look like a tendency to repentance, you know, and the old peer may like it."

"Dunroe, my dear fellow, you know I make no pretence to religion; but I don't relish the tone in which you generally speak of that most respectable old nobleman, your father."

"Don't you, Tom? Well, but, I say, the idea of a most respectable old nobleman is rather a shabby affair. It's merely the privilege of age, Tom. I hope I shall never live to be termed a most respectable old nobleman. Pshaw, my dear Tom, it is too much. It's a proof that he wants character."

"I wish, in the mean time, Dunroe, that you and I had as much of that same commodity as the good old peer could spare us."

"Well, I suppose you do, Tom; I dare say. My sister is coming with him too."

"Yes; so he says in the letter."

"Well, I suppose I must endure that also; an aristocratic lecture on the one hand, and the uncouth affections of a hoiden on the other. It's hard enough, though."

Tom now rang the bell, and in a few moments a servant entered.

"Wilcox," said Norton, "get Taylor and M'Intyre to assist you in removing those five pictures; place them carefully in the green closet, which you will lock."

"Yes, carefully, Wilcox," said his lordship; "and afterwards give the key to Mr. Norton."

"Yes, my lord."

In a few minutes the paintings were removed, and the conversation began where it had been left off.

"This double visit, Tom, will be a great bore. I wish I could avoid it--philosophized by the father, beslobbered by the sister--faugh!"

"These books, too, my lord, had better be put aside, I think."

"Well, I suppose so; lock them in that drawer."

Norton did so, and then proceeded. "Now, my dear Dunroe--"

"Tom," said his lordship, interrupting him, "I know what you are going to say--try and put yourself into something like moral trim for the old peer--is not that it? Do you know, Tom, I have some thoughts of becoming religious? What is religion, Tom? You know we were talking about it the other day. You said it was a capital thing for the world--that it sharpened a man, and put him up to anything, and so on."

"What has put such a notion into your head now, my lord?"

"I don't know--nothing, I believe. Can religion be taught, Tom? Could one, for instance, take lessons in it?"

"For what purpose do you propose it, my lord?"

"I don't know--for two or three purposes, I believe."

"Will your lordship state them?"

"Why, Tom, I should wish to do the old peer; and touching the baronet's daughter, who is said to be very conscientious--which I suppose means the same thing as religion--I should wish to--"

"To do her too," added Norton, laughing.

"Yes, I believe so; but I forget. Don't the pas'ns teach it?"

"Yes, my lord, by precept, most of them do; not so many by example."

"But it's the theory only I want. You don't suppose I intend to practice religion, Tom, I hope?"

"No, my lord, I have a different opinion of your principles."

"Could you hire me a pas'n, to give lessons in it--say two a week--I shall require to know something of it; for, my dear Tom, you are not to be told that twelve thousand a year, and a beautiful girl, are worth making an effort for. It is true she--Miss Gourlay, I mean--is not to be spoken of in comparison with the cigar-man's daughter; but then, twelve thousand a year, Tom--and the good old peer is threatening to curtail my allowance. Or stay, Tom, would hypocrisy do as well as religion?"

"Every bit, my lord, so far as the world goes. Indeed, in point of fact, it requires a very keen eye to discover the difference between them. For one that practises religion, I there are five thousand who practise hypocrisy."

"Could I get lessons in hypocrisy? Are there men set apart to teach it? Are there, for instance, professors of hypocrisy as there are of music and dancing?"

"Not exactly, my lord; but many of the professors of religion come very nearly to the same point."

"How is that, Tom? Explain it, like a good fellow."

"Why a great number of them deal in both--that is to say, they teach the one by their doctrine, and the other by their example. In different words, they inculcate religion to others, and practise hypocrisy themselves."

"I see--that is clear. Then, Tom, as they--the pas'ns I mean--are the best judges of the matter, of course hypocrisy must be more useful than religion, or they--and such! an immense majority as you say--would not practise it."

"More useful it unquestionably is, my lord."

"Well, in that case, Tom, try and find me out a good hypocrite, a sound fellow, who properly understands the subject, and I will take lessons from him. My terms will be! liberal, say--"

"Unfortunately for your lordship, there are no professors to be had; but, as I said, it comes to the same thing. Engage a professor of religion, and whilst you pretend to study his doctrine, make a point also to study his life, and ten to one but you will close! your studies admirably qualified to take a degree in hypocrisy, if there were such an honor, and that you wish to imitate your teacher. Either that, my lord, or it may tend to cure you of a leaning toward hypocrisy as long as you live."

"Well, I wish I could make some progress in either one or the other, it matters not which, provided it be easier to learn, and more useful. We must think about it, Tom. You will remind me, of course. Was Sir George here to-day?"

"No, my lord, but he sent to inquire."

"Nor Lord Jockeyville?"

"He drove tandem to the door, but didn't come in. The other members of our set have been tolerably regular in their inquiries, especially since they were undeceived as to the danger of your wound."

"By the way, Norton, that was a d----d cool fellow that pinked me; he did the thing in quite a self-possessed and gentlemanly way, too. However it was my own fault; I forced him into it. You must know I had reason to suppose that he was endeavoring to injure me in a certain quarter; in short, that he had made some progress in the affections of Lucy Gourlay. I saw the attentions he paid to her at Paris, when I was sent to the right about. In short--but hang it--there--that will do--let us talk no more about it--I escaped narrowly--that is all."

"And I must leave you, my lord, for I assure you I have many things to attend to. Those creditors are unreasonable scoundrels, and must be put off with soft words and hard promises for some time longer. That Irish wine-merchant of yours, however, is a model to every one of his tribe."

"Ah, that is because he knows the old peer. Do you know, Tom, after all, I don't think it so disreputable a thing to be termed a respectable old nobleman; but still it indicates want of individual character. Now Tom, I think I have a character. I mean an original character. Don't every one almost say--I allude, of course, to every one of sense and penetration--Dunroe's a character--quite an original--an enigma--a sphinx--an inscription that cannot be deciphered--an illegible dog--eh--don't they, Tom?"

"Not a doubt of it, my lord. Even I, who ought to know you so well, can make nothing of you."

"Well, but after all, Tom, my father's name overshadows a great number of my venialities. Dunroe is wild, they say, but then he is the son of a most respectable old nobleman; and so, many of them shrug and pity, when they would otherwise assail and blame."

"And I hope to live long enough to see you a most respectable old 'character' yet, my dear Dunroe. I must go as your representative to these d-----d ravenous duns. But mark me, comport yourself in your father's and sister's presence as a young man somewhat meditating upon the reformation of his life, so that a favorable impression may be made here, and a favorable report reach the baronet's fair daughter. Au revoir." _

Read next: Chapter 20. Interview Between Lords Cullamore, Dunroe, And Lady Emily

Read previous: Chapter 18. Dunphy Visits The County Wicklow

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