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

Chapter 26. The Priest Returns Sir Thomas's Money And Pistols

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_ CHAPTER XXVI. The Priest Returns Sir Thomas's Money and Pistols

--A Bit of Controversy--A New Light Begins to Appear.

Very fortunately for the priest he was not subjected to an examination before these worthies. Sir Thomas Gourlay, having heard of his arrest and the cause of it, sent a note with his compliments, to request that he might be conducted directly to his residence, together with his pocket-book and pistols, assuring them, at the same time, that their officers had committed a gross mistake as to his person.

This was quite sufficient, and ere the lapse of twenty minutes Father M'Mahon, accompanied by Skipton and another officer, found himself at the baronet's hall-door. On entering the hall, Sir Thomas himself was in the act of passing from the breakfast parlor to his study above stairs, leaning upon the arm of Gibson, the footman, looking at the same time pale, nervous, and unsteady upon his limbs. The moment Skipton saw him, he started, and exclaimed, as if to himself, but loud enough for the priest to hear him:

"'Gad! I've seen him before, once upon a time; and well I remember the face, for it is not one to be forgotten."

The baronet, on looking round, saw the priest, and desired him to follow them to his study.

"I beg your pardon, Sir Thomas," said the officer, "we now place his reverence safely in your hands; here, too, is your pocket-book and pistols."

"Hand them to him, sir," replied the baronet, nodding toward the priest; "and that is enough."

"But, Sir Thomas--"

"What is it, sir? Have you not done your duty?"

"I hope so, sir; but if it would not be troublesome, sir, perhaps you would give us a receipt; an acknowledgment, sir."

"For what?"

"For the priest's body, sir, in the first place, and then for the pocket-book and pistols."

"If I were a little stronger," replied the baronet, in an angry voice, "I would write the receipt upon your own body with a strong horsewhip; begone, you impudent scoundrel!"

Skipton turned upon him a bitter and vindictive look, and replied, "Oh, very well, sir--come, Tom, you are witness that I did my duty."

Sir Thomas on entering the study threw himself listlessly on a sofa, and desired Gibson to retire.

"Take a seat, sir," said he, addressing Father M'Mahon. "I am far from well, and must rest a little before I speak to you; I know not what is the matter with me, but I feel all out of sorts."

He then drew a long breath, and laid his head upon his hand, as if to recover more clearly the powers of his mind and intellect. His eyes, full of thought not unmingled with anxiety, were fixed upon the carpet, and he seemed for a time wrapped in deep and painful abstraction. At length he raised himself up, and drawing his breath apparently with more freedom began the conversation.

"Well, sir," said he, in a tone that implied more of authority and haughtiness than of courtesy or gentlemanly feeling; "it seems the property of which I have been robbed has come into your possession."

"It is true, sir; and allow me to place it in your own hands exactly as I got it. I took the precaution to seal the pocket-book the moment it was returned to me, and although it was for a short time in possession of the officers of justice, yet it is untouched, and the seal I placed on it unbroken."

The baronet's hand, as he took the pocket-book, trembled with an agitation which he could not repress, although he did everything in his power to subdue it: his eye glittered with animation, or rather with delight, as he broke the seal.

"It was very prudently and correctly done of you, sir, to seal up the pocket-book; very well done, indeed: and I am much obliged to you so far, although we must have some conversation upon the matter immediately--"

"I only did what, as a Catholic clergyman, Sir Thomas, and an honest man, I conceived to be my duty."

"What--what--what's this?" exclaimed the baronet, his eye blazing with rage and disappointment. "In the name of hell's fire, sir, what is this? My money is not all here! There is a note, sir, a one pound note wanting; a peculiar note, sir; a marked note; for I always put a marked note among my money, to provide against the contingency of such a robbery as I sustained. Pray, sir, what has become of that note? I say, priest, the whole pocket-book ten times multiplied, was not worth a fig compared with the value I placed upon that note."

"How much did you lose, Sir Thomas?" asked the priest calmly.

"I lost sixty-nine pounds, sir."

"Well, then," continued the other, "would it not be well to see whether that sum is in the pocket-book. You have not yet reckoned the money."

"The note I speak of was in a separate compartment; in a different fold of the book; apart from the rest."

"But perhaps it has got among them? Had you not better try, sir?"

"True," replied the other; and with eager and trembling hands he examined them note by note; but not finding that for which he sought, he stamped with rage, and dashing the pocket-book, notes and all, against the floor, he ground his teeth, and approaching the priest with the white froth of passion rising to his lips, exclaimed, "Hark you, priest, if you do not produce the missing note, I shall make you bitterly repent it! You know where it is, sir! You could understand from the note itself--" He paused, however, for he felt at once that he might be treading dangerous ground in entering into particulars. "I say, sir," he proceeded, with a look of menace and fury, "if you refuse to produce the note I speak of, or to procure it for me, I shall let you know to your cost what the power of British law can effect."

The priest rose up with dignity, his cheek heightened with that slight tinge, which a sense of unmerited insult and a consciousness of his own integrity render natural to man--so long as he is a man.

"Sir Thomas Gourlay," he proceeded, "upon your conduct and want of gentlemanly temper since I have entered this apartment it is not my intention to make any comment; but I need not tell you that the minister of God is received in Christian society with the respect due to his sacred office."

"Minister of the devil, sir," thundered the baronet; "do you think that I shall be influenced by this slavish cant? Where is the note I speak of? If you do not produce it, I shall consider you an accomplice after the fact, and will hold you responsible as such. Remember, you are but a Popish priest."

"That is a fact, sir, which I shall always recollect with an humble sense of my own unworthiness; but so long as I discharge its duties conscientiously and truly, I shall also recollect it with honor. Of the note you allude to in such unbecoming words, I know nothing; and as to your threats, I value them not."

"If you know nothing of the note, sir, you do certainly of the robber."

"I do, Sir Thomas; I know who the man is that robbed you."

"Well, sir," replied the other, triumphantly, "I am glad you have acknowledged so much. I shall force you to produce him. At least I shall take care that the law will make you do so."

"Sir Thomas Gourlay, I beg you to understand that there is a law beyond and above your law--the law of God--the law of Christian duty; and that you shall never force me to transgress. The man who robbed you in a moment of despair and madness, repented him of the crime; and the knowledge of that crime, and its consequent repentance were disclosed to me in one of the most holy ordinances of our religion."

"Is it one of the privileges of your religion to throw its veil over the commission of crime? If so, the sooner your religion is extirpated out of the land the better for society."

"No, sir, our religion does not throw its veil over the criminal, but over the penitent. We leave the laws of the land to their own resources, and aid them when we can; but in the case before us, and in all similar cases, we are the administrators of the laws of God to those who are truly penitent, and to none others. The test of repentance consists in reformation of life, and in making restitution to those who have been injured. The knowledge of this comes to us in administering the sacred ordinance of penance in the tribunal of confession; and sooner than violate this solemn compact between the mercy of God and a penitent heart, we would willingly lay down our lives. It is the most sacred of all trusts."

"Such an ordinance, sir, is a bounty and provocative to crime."

"It is a bounty and provocative to repentance, sir; and society has gained much and lost nothing by its operation. Remember, sir, that those who do not repent, never come to us to avow their crimes, in which case we are ignorant both of the crime and criminal. Here there is neither repentance, on the one hand, nor restitution, on the other, and society, of course, loses everything and gains nothing. In the other case, the person sustaining the injury gains that which he had lost, and society a penitent and reformed member. If, then, this sacred refuge for the penitent--not for the criminal, remember--had no existence, those restitutions of property which take place in thousands of cases, could never be made."

"Still, sir, you shield the criminal from his just punishment."

"No, sir; we never shield the criminal from his just punishment. God has promised mercy to him who repents, and we merely administer it without any reference to the operation of the law. It often happens, Sir Thomas Gourlay, that a person who has repented and made restitution, is taken hold of by the law and punished. This ordinance, therefore, does not stand between the law and its victim; it only deals between him and his God, leaving him, like any other offender, to the law he has violated."

"I am no theologian, sir; but without any reference to your priestly cant, I simply say, that the man who is cognizant of another's crime against the law, either of God or man, and who will shield him from justice, is particeps criminis, and I don't care a fig what your obsolete sacerdotal dogmas may assert to the contrary. You say you know the man who unjustly deprived me of my property; if then, acknowledging this, you refuse to deliver him up to justice, I hold you guilty of his crime. Suppose he had taken my life, as he was near doing, how, pray, would you have made restitution? Bring me to life again, I suppose, by a miracle. Away, sir, with this cant, which is only fit for the barbarity of the dark ages, when your church was a mass of crime, cruelty, and ignorance; and when a cunning and rapacious priesthood usurped an authority over both soul and body, ay, and property too, that oppressed and degraded human nature."

"I will reason no longer with you, sir," replied the priest; "because you talk in ignorance of the subject we are discussing--but having now discharged an important duty, I will take my leave."

"You may of me," replied the other; "but you will not so readily shift yourself out of the law."

"Any charge, sir, which either law or Justice may bring against me, I shall be ready to meet; and I now, for your information, beg to let you know that the law you threaten me with affords its protection to me and the class to which I belong, in the discharge of this most sacred and important trust. Your threats, Sir Thomas, consequently, I disregard."

"The more shame for it if it does," replied the baronet; "but, hark you, sir, I do not wish, after all, that you and I should part on unfriendly terms. You refuse to give up the robber?"

"I would give up my life sooner."

"But could you not procure me the missing note?"

"Of the missing note, Sir Thomas Gourlay, I know nothing. I consequently neither can nor will make any promise to restore it."

"You may tell the robber from me," pursued the baronet, "that I will give him the full amount of his burglary, provided he restores me that note. The other sixty-nine pounds shall be his on that condition, and no questions asked."

"I have already told you, sir, that it was under the seal of confession the knowledge of the crime came to me. Out of that seal I cannot revert to the subject without betraying my trust; for, if he acknowledged his guilt to me under any other circumstances, it would become my duty to hand him over to the law."

"Curse upon all priests!" said the other indignantly; "they are all the same; a crew of cunning scoundrels, who attempt to subjugate the ignorant and the credulous to their sway; a pack of spiritual swindlers, who get possession of the consciences of the people through pious fraud, and then make slavish instruments of them for their own selfish purposes. In the meantime I shall keep my eye upon you, Mr. M'Mahon, and, believe me, if I can get a hole in your coat I shall make a rent of it."

"It is a poor privilege, sir, that of insulting the defenceless. You know I am doubly so--defenceless from age, defenceless in virtue of my sacred profession; but if I am defenceless against your insults, Sir Thomas Gourlay, I am not against your threats, which I despise and defy. The integrity of my life is beyond your power, the serenity of my conscience beyond your vengeance. You are not of my flock, but if you were, I would say, Sir Thomas, I fear you are a bold, bad man, and have much to repent of in connection with your past and present life--much reparation to make to your fellow-creatures. Yes; I would say, Sir Thomas Gourlay, the deep tempest of strong passions within you has shaken your powerful frame until it totters to its fall. I would say, beware; repent while it is time, and be not unprepared for the last great event. That event, Sir Thomas, is not far distant, if I read aright the foreshadowing of death and dissolution that is evident in your countenance and frame. I speak these words in, I trust, a charitable and forgiving spirit. May they sink into your heart, and work it to a sense of Christian feeling and duty!

"This I would say were you mine--this I do say, knowing that you are not; for my charity goes beyond my church, and embraces my enemy as well as my friend;" and as he spoke he prepared co go.

"You may go, sir," replied the baronet, with a sneer of contempt, "only you have mistaken your man. I am no subject for your craft--not to be deceived by your hypocrisy--and laugh to scorn your ominous but impotent croaking. Only before you go, remember the conditions I have offered the scoundrel who robbed me; and if the theological intricacies of your crooked creed will permit you, try and get him to accept them. It will be better for him, and better for you too. Do this, and you may cease to look upon Sir Thomas Gourlay as an enemy."

The priest bowed, and without returning any reply left the apartment and took his immediate departure.

Sir Thomas, after he had gone, went to the glass and surveyed himself steadily. The words of the priest were uttered with much solemnity and earnestness; but withal in such a tone of kind regret and good feeling, that their import and impressiveness were much heightened by this very fact.

"There is certainly a change upon me, and not one for the better," he said to himself; "but at the same time the priest, cunning as he is, has been taken in by appearances. I am just sufficiently changed in my looks to justify and give verisimilitude to the game I am playing. When Lucy hears of my illness, which must be a serious one, nothing on earth will keep her from me; and if I cannot gain any trace to her residence, a short paragraph in the papers, intimating and regretting the dangerous state of my health, will most probably reach her, and have the desired effect. If she were once back, I know that, under the circumstances of my illness, and the impression that it has been occasioned by her refusal to marry Dunroe, she will yield; especially as I shall put the sole chances of my recovery upon her compliance. Yet why is it that I urge her to an act which will probably make her unhappy during life? But it will not. She is not the fool her mother was; and yet I am not certain that her mother was a fool either. We did not agree; we could not. She always refused to coincide with me almost in everything; and when I wished to teach Lucy the useful lessons of worldly policy, out came her silly maxims of conscience, religion, and such stuff. But yet religious people are the best. I have always found it so. That wretched priest, for instance, would give up his life sooner than violate what he calls--that is, what he thinks--his duty. There must be some fiction, however, to regulate the multitude; and that fiction must be formed by, and founded on, the necessities of society. That, unquestionably, is the origin of all law and all religion. Only religion uses the stronger and the wiser argument, by threatening us with another world. Well done, religion! You acted upon a fixed principle of nature. The force of the enemy we see not may be magnified and exaggerated; the enemy we see not we fear, especially when described in the most terrible colors by men who are paid for their misrepresentations, although these same impostors have never seen the enemy they speak of themselves. But the enemy we see we can understand and grapple with; ergo, the influence of religion over law; ergo, the influence of the priest, who deals in the imaginary and ideal, over the legislator and the magistrate, who deal only in the tangible and real. Yes, this indeed, is the principle. How we do fear a ghost! What a shiver, what a horror runs through the frame when we think we see one; and how different is this from our terror of a living enemy. Away, then, with this imposture, I will none of it. Yet hold: what was that I saw looking into the window of the carriage that contained my brother's son? What was it? Why a form created by my own fears. That credulous nurse, old mother Corbet, stuffed me so completely with superstition when I was young and cowardly, that I cannot, in many instances, shake myself free from it yet. Even the words of that priest alarmed me for a moment. This, however, is merely the weakness of human nature--the effect of unreal phantasms that influence the reason while we are awake, just as that of dreams does the imagination while we are asleep. Away, then, ye idle brood! I will none of you."

He then sat himself down on the sofa, and rang for Gibson, but still the train of thought pursued him.

"As to Lucy, I think it is still possible to force her into the position for which I destined her--quite possible. She reasons like a girl, of course, as I told her. She reasons like a girl who looks upon that silly nonsense called love as the great business of life; and acts accordingly. Little she thinks, however, that love--her love--his love--both their loves--will never meet twelve months after what is termed the honey-moon. No, they will part north and south. And yet the honey-moon has her sharp ends, as well as every other moon. When love passes away, she will find that the great business of life is, to make as many as she can feel that she is above them in the estimation of the world; to impress herself upon her equals, until they shall be forced to acknowledge her superiority. And although this may be sometimes done by intellect and principle, yet, in the society in which she must move, it is always done by rank, by high position, and by pride, that jealous vindictive pride which is based upon the hatred of our kind, and at once smiles and scorns. What would I be if I were not a baronet? Sir Thomas Gourlay passes where Mr. Gourlay would be spurned. This is the game of life, and we shall play it with the right weapons. Many a cringing scoundrel bows to the baronet who despises the man; and for this reason it is that I have always made myself to be felt to some purpose, and so shall Lucy, if I should die for it. I hate society, because I know that society hates me; and for that reason I shall so far exalt her, that she will have the base compound at her feet, and I shall teach her to scorn and trample upon it. If I thought there were happiness in any particular rank of life, I would not press her; but I know there is not, and for that reason she loses nothing, and gains the privilege--the power--of extorting homage from the proud, the insolent, and the worthless. This is the triumph she shall and must enjoy."

Gibson then entered, and the baronet, on hearing his foot, threw himself into a languid and invalid attitude.

"Gibson," said he, "I am very unwell; I apprehend a serious attack of illness."

"I trust not, sir."

"If any person should call, I am ill, observe, and not in a condition to see them."

"Very well, sir."

"Unless you should suspect, or ascertain, that it is some person on behalf of Miss Gourlay; and even then, mark, I am very ill indeed, and you do not think me able to speak to any one; but will come in and see."

"Yes, sir; certainly sir."

"There, then, that will do."

The priest, on leaving the baronet's residence, was turning his steps toward the hotel in which the stranger had put up, when his messenger to Constitution Hill approaching put his hand to his hat, and respectfully saluted him.

"I beg your pardon, sir," said he, "and I am sorry, now that I know who you are, for the trouble you got into."

"Thank you, my friend," said the priest; "I felt it wouldn't signify, knowing in my conscience that I was no robber. In the meantime, I got one glimpse of your metropolitan life, as they call it, and the Lord knows I never wish to get another. Troth, I was once or twice so confounded with the noise and racket, that I thought I had got into purgatory by mistake."

"Tut, sir, that's nothing," replied Skipton; "we were very calm and peaceable this morning; but with respect to that baronet, he's a niggardly fellow. Only think of him, never once offering us the slightest compensation for bringing him home his property! There's not another man in Ireland would send us off empty-handed as he did. The thing's always usual on recovering property."

"Speak for yourself, in the singular number, if you plaise; you don't imagine that I wanted compensation."

"No, sir, certainly not; but I'm just thinking," he added, after curiously examining Father M'Mahon's face for some time, "that you and I met before somewhere."

"Is that the memory you have?" said the priest, "when you ought to recollect that we met this morning, much against my will, I must say."

"I don't mean that," said the man; "but I think I saw you once in a lunatic asylum."

"Me, in a lunatic asylum?" exclaimed the good priest, somewhat indignantly. "The thing's a bounce, my good man, before you go farther. The little sense I've had has been sufficient, thank goodness, to keep me free from such establishments."

"I don't mean that, sir," replied the other, smiling, "but if I don't mistake, you once brought a clergyman of our persuasion to the lunatic asylum in ------."

"Ay, indeed," returned the priest; "poor Quin. His was a case of monomania; he imagined himself a gridiron, on which all heretics were to be roasted. That young man was one of the finest scholars in the three kingdoms. But how do you remember that?"

"Why for good reasons; because I was a servant in the establishment at the time. Well," he added, pausing, "it is curious enough that I should have seen this very morning three persons I saw in that asylum."

"If I had been much longer in that watch-house," replied the other, "I'm not quite certain but I'd soon be qualified to pay a permanent visit to some of them. Who were the three persons you saw there, in the mane time?"

"That messenger of yours was one of them, and that niggardly baronet was the other; yourself, as I said, making the third."

The priest looked at him seriously; "you mane Corbet," said he, "or Dunphy as he is called?"

"I do. He and the baron brought a slip of a boy there; and, upon my conscience, I think there was bad work between them. At all events, poor Mr. Quin and he were inseparable. The lad promised that he would allow himself to be roasted, the very first man, upon the reverend gridiron;--and! for that reason Quin took him into hand; and gave him an excellent education."

"And no one," replied the priest, "was better qualified to do it. But what bad work do you suspect between Corbet and the baronet?"

"Why, I have my suspicions," replied the man. "It's not a month since I heard that the son of that very baronet's brother, who was heir to the estate and titles, disappeared, and has never been heard of since. Now, all the water in the sea wouldn't wash the pair of them clear of what I suspect, which is--that both had a hand in removing that boy. The baronet was a young man at the time, but he has a face that no one could ever forget. As for Corbet, I remember him well, as why shouldn't I? he came there often. I'll take my oath it would be a charity to bring the affair to light."

"Do you think the boy is there still?" asked the priest, suppressing all appearance of the interest which he felt.

"No," replied the other, "he escaped about two or three years ago; but, poor lad, when it was discovered that he led too easy a life, and had got educated, his treatment was changed; a straight waistcoat was put on him, and he was placed in solitary confinement. At first he was no more mad than I am; but he did get occasionally mad afterwards. I know he attempted suicide, and nearly cut his throat with a piece of glass one day that his hands got loose while they were changing his linen. Old Rivet died, and the establishment was purchased by Tickleback, who, to my own knowledge, had him regularly scourged."

"And how did he escape, do you know?" inquired the priest.

"I could tell you that, too, maybe," replied Skipton; "but I think, sir, I have told you enough for the present. If that young man is living, I would swear that he ought to stand in Sir Thomas Gourlay's shoes. And now do you think, sir," he inquired, coming at last to the real object of his communication, "that if his right could be made clear, any one who'd help him to his own mightn't expect to be made comfortable for life?"

"I don't think there's a doubt about it," replied the priest. "The property is large, and he could well afford to be both generous and grateful."

"I know," returned the man, "that he is both one and the other, if he had it in his power."

"Well," said the priest, seriously; "mark my words--this may be the most fortunate day you ever saw. In the mane time, keep a close mouth. The friends of that identical boy are on the search for him this moment. They had given him up for dead; but it is not long since they discovered that he was living. I will see you again on this subject."

"I am now a constable," said the man, "attached to the office you were in to-day, and I can be heard of any time."

"Very well," replied the priest, "you shall hear either from me or from some person interested in the recovery of the boy that's lost." _

Read next: Chapter 27. Lucy Calls Upon Lady Gourlay, Where She Meets Her Lover

Read previous: Chapter 25. The Police Office

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