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

Chapter 33. The Priest Asks For A Loan Of Fifty Guineas

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_ CHAPTER XXXIII. The Priest asks for a Loan of Fifty Guineas

--and Offers "Freney the Robber" as Security.

Whilst Father M'Mahon was wending his way to Constitution Hill from the Brazen Head, where he had deposited his little bundle, containing three shirts, two or three cravats, and as many pairs of stockings, a dialogue was taking place in old Corbet's with which we must make the reader acquainted. He is already aware that Corbet's present wife was his second, and that she had a daughter by her first marriage, who had gone abroad to the East Indies, many years ago, with her husband. This woman was no other than Mrs. M'Bride, wife of the man who had abandoned her for the French girl, as had been mentioned by the stranger to Father M'Mahon, and who had, as was supposed, eloped with her to America. Such certainly was M'Bride's intention, and there is no doubt that the New World would have been edified by the admirable example of these two moralists, were it not for the fact that Mrs. M'Bride, herself as shrewd as the Frenchwoman, and burdened with as little honesty as the husband, had traced them to the place of rendezvous on the very first night of their disappearance; where, whilst they lay overcome with sleep and the influence of the rosy god, she contrived to lessen her husband of the pocketbook which he had helped himself to from his master's escritoire, with the exception, simply, of the papers in question, which, not being money, possessed in her eyes but little value to her. She had read them, however; and as she had through her husband become acquainted with their object, she determined on leaving them in his hands, with a hope that they might become the means of compromising matters with his master, and probably of gaining a reward for their restoration. Unfortunately, however, it so happened, that that gentleman did not miss them until some time after his arrival in Ireland; but, on putting matters together, and comparing the flight of M'Bride with the loss of his property, he concluded, with everything short of certainty, that the latter was the thief.

Old Corbet and this woman were seated in the little back parlor whilst Mrs. Corbet kept the shop, so that their conversation could take a freer range in her absence.

"And so you tell me, Kate," said the former, "that the vagabond has come back to the country?"

"I seen him with my own eyes," she replied; "there can be no mistake about it."

"And he doesn't suspect you of takin' the money from him?"

"No more than he does you; so far from that, I wouldn't be surprised if it's the Frenchwoman he suspects."

"But hadn't you better call on him? that is, if you know where he lives. Maybe he's sorry for leavin' you."

"He, the villain! No; you don't know the life he led me. If he was my husband--as unfortunately he is--a thousand times over, a single day I'll never live with him. This lameness, that I'll carry to my grave, is his work. Oh, no; death any time sooner than that."

"Well," said the old man, after a lung pause, "it's a strange story you've tould me; and I'm sorry, for Lord Cullamore's sake, to hear it. He's one o' the good ould gentlemen that's now so scarce in the country. But, tell me, do you know where M'Bride lives?"

"No," she replied, "I do not, neither do I care much; but I'd be glad that his old master had back his papers. There's a woman supposed to be livin' in this country that could prove this stranger's case, and he came over here to find her out if he could."

"Do you know her name?"

"No; I don't think I ever heard it, or, if I did, I can't at all remember it. M'Bride mentioned the woman, but I don't think he named her."

"At all events," replied Corbet, "it doesn't signify. I hope whatever steps they're takin' against that good ould nobleman will fail; and if I had the papers you speak of this minute, I'd put them into the fire. In the mane time try and make out where your vagabone of a husband lives, or, rather, set Ginty to work, as she and you are living together, and no doubt she'll soon ferret him out."

"I can't understand Ginty at all," replied the woman. "I think, although she has given up fortune tellin', that her head's not altogether right yet. She talks of workin' out some prophecy that she tould Sir Thomas Gourlay about himself and his daughter."

"She may talk as much about that as she likes," replied the old fellow. "She called him plain Thomas Gourlay, didn't she, and said he'd be stripped of his title?"

"So she told me; and that his daughter would be married to Lord Dunroe."

"Ay, and so she tould myself; but there she's in the dark. The daughter will be Lady Dunroe, no doubt, for they're goin' to be married; but she's takin' a bad way to work out the prophecy against the father by --hem--"

"By what?"

"I'm not free to mention it, Kate; but this very day it's to take place, and. I suppose it'll soon be known to everybody."

"Well, but sure you might mention it to me."

"I'll make a bargain with you, then. Set Ginty to work; let her find out your husband; get me the papers you spake of, and I'll tell you all about it."

"With all my heart, father. I'm sure I don't care if you had them this minute. Let Ginty try her hand, and if she can succeed, well and good."

"Well, Kate," said her father, "I'm glad I seen you; but I think it was your duty to call upon me long before this."

"I would, but that I was afraid you wouldn't see me; and, besides, Ginty told me it was better not for some time. She kept me back, or I would have come months ago."

"Ay, ay; she has some devil's scheme in view that'll end in either nothing or something. Good-by, now; get me these papers, and I'll tell you what'll be worth hearin'."

Immediately after her departure Father M'Mahon entered, and found Corbet behind his counter as usual. Each on looking at the other was much struck by his evident appearance for the worse; a circumstance, however, which caused no observation until after they had gone into the little back room. Corbet's countenance, in addition to a careworn look, and a consequent increase of emaciation, presented a very difficult study to the physiognomist, a study not unobserved! by the priest himself. It was indicative of the conflicting resolutions which had for some time past been alternating in his mind; but so roguishly was each resolution veiled by an assumed expression of an opposite I nature, that although the general inference was true, the hypocrisy of the whole face made it individually false. Let us suppose, by way of illustration, that a man whose heart is full of joy successfully puts on a look of grief, and vice versa. Of course, the physiognomist will be mistaken in the conclusions he draws from each individual expression, although correct in perceiving that there are before him the emotions of joy and grief; the only difference being, that dissimulation has put wrong labels upon each emotion.

"Anthony," said his reverence, after having taken a seat, "I am sorry to see such a change upon you for the worse. You are very much broken down since I saw you last; and although I don't wish to become a messenger of bad news, I feel, that as a clergyman, it is my duty to tell you so."

"Troth, your reverence," replied the other, "I'm sorry that so far as bad looks go I must return the compliment. It grieves me: to see you look so ill, sir."

"I know I look ill," replied the other; "and I know too that these hints are sent to us in mercy, with a fatherly design on the part of our Creator, that we may make the necessary preparations for the change, the awful change that is before us."

"Oh, indeed, sir, it's true enough," replied Corbet, whose visage had become much blanker at this serious intimation, notwithstanding his hypocrisy; "it's true enough, sir; too true, indeed, if we could only remember it as we ought. Have you been unwell, sir?"

"Not in my bodily health, thank God, but I've got into trouble; and what is more, I'm coming to you, Anthony, with a firm I hope that you will bring me out of it."

"The trouble can't be very great then," replied the apprehensive old knave, "or I wouldn't be able to do it."

"Anthony," said the priest, "I have known you a long time, now forty years at least, and you need not be told that I've stood by some of your friends when they wanted it. When your daughter ran away with that M'Bride, I got him to marry her, a thing he was very unwilling to do; and which I believe, only for me, he would not have done. On that occasion you know I advanced twenty guineas to enable them to begin the world, and to keep the fellow with her; and I did this all for the best, and not without the hope either that you would see me reimbursed for what you ought, as her father, to have given them yourself. I spoke to you once or twice about it, but you lent me the deaf ear, as they call it, and from that day to this you never had either the manliness or the honesty to repay me."

"Ay," replied Corbet, with one of his usual grins, "you volunteered to be generous to a profligate, who drank it, and took to the army."

"Do you then volunteer to be generous to an honest man; I will neither drink It nor take to the army. If he took to the army, he didn't do so without taking your daughter along with him. I spoke to Sir Edward Gourlay, who threatened to write to his colonel; and through the interference of the same humane gentleman I got permission for him to bring his wife along with him. These are circumstances that you ought not to forget, Anthony."

"I don't forget them, but sure you're always in somebody's affairs; always goin' security for some of your poor parishioners; and then, when they're not able to pay, down comes the responsibility upon you."

"I cannot see a poor honest man, struggling and industrious, at a loss for a friendly act. No; I never could stand it, so long as I had it in my power to assist him."

"And what's wrong now, if it's a fair question?"

"Two or three things; none of them very large, but amounting in all to about fifty guineas."

"Whew!--fifty guineas!"

"Ay, indeed; fifty guineas, which you will lend me on my own security."

"Fifty guineas to you? Don't I know you? Why, if you had a thousand, let alone fifty, it's among the poor o' the parish they'd be afore a week. Faith, I know you too well Father Peter."

"You know me, man alive--yes, you do know me; and it is just because you do that I expect you will lend me the money. You wouldn't wish to see my little things pulled about and auctioned; my laughy little library gone; nor would you wish to see me and poor Freney the Robber separated. Big Ruly desaved me, the thief; but I found him out at last. Money I know is a great temptation, and so is mate when trusted to a shark like him; but any way, may the Lord pardon the blackguard! and that's the worst I wish him."

There are some situations in life where conscience is more awakened by comparison, or perhaps we should say by the force of contrast, than by all the power of reason, religion, or philosophy, put together, and advancing against it in their proudest pomp and formality. The childlike simplicity, for instance, of this good and benevolent man, earnest and eccentric as it was, occasioned reflections more painful and touching to the callous but timid heart of this old manoeuvrer than could whole homilies, or the most serious and lengthened exhortations.

"I am near death," thought he, as he looked upon the countenance of the priest, from which there now beamed an emanation of regret, not for his difficulties, for he had forgotten them, but for his knavish servant--so simple, so natural, so affecting, so benevolent, that Corbet was deeply struck by them. "I am near death," he proceeded, "and what would I not give to have within me a heart so pure and free from villany as that man. He has made me feel more by thinkin' of what goodness and piety can do, than I ever felt in my life; and now if he gets upon Freney the Robber, or lugs in that giant Ruly, he'll forget debts, difficulties, and all for the time. Heavenly Father, that I had as happy a heart this day, and as free from sin!"

"Anthony," said the priest, "I must tell you about Freney--"

"No, sir, if you plaise," replied the other, "not now."

"Well, about poor Mat Ruly; do you know that I think by taking him back I might be able to reclaim him yet. The Lord has gifted him largely in one way, I admit; but still--"

"But still your bacon and greens would pay for it. I know it all, and who doesn't? But about your own affairs?"

"In truth, they are in a bad state--the same bacon and greens--he has not left me much of either; he made clean work of them, at any rate, before he went."

"But about your affairs, I'm sayin'?"

"Why, they can't be worse; I'm run to the last pass; and Freney now, the crature, when the saddle's on him, comes to the mounting-stone of himself, and waits there till I'm ready. Then," he added, with a deep sigh, "to think of parting with him! And I must do it--I must;" and here the tears rose to his eyes so copiously that he was obliged to take out his cotton handkerchief and wipe them away.

The heart of the old miser was touched. He knew not why, it is true, but he felt that the view he got of one immortal spirit uncorrupted by the crimes and calculating hypocrisy of life, made the contemplation of his own state and condition, as well as of his future hopes, fearful.

"What would I not give," thought he, "to have a soul as free from sin and guilt, and to be as fit to face my God as that man? And yet they say it can be brought about. Well, wait--wait till I have my revenge on this black villain, and I'll see what may be done. Ay, let what will happen, the shame and ruin of my child must be revenged. And yet, God help me, what am I sayin'? Would this good man say that? He that forgives every one and everything. Still, I'll repent in the long run. Come, Father Peter," said he, "don't be cast down; I'll thry what I can for you; but then, again, if I do, what security can you give me?"

"Poor Freney the Robber--"

"Well, now, do you hear this!"

"--Was a name I gave him on account of--"

"Troth, I'll put on my hat and lave you here, if you don't spake out about what you came for. How much is it you say you want?"

The good man, who was startled out of his affection for Freney by the tone of Corbet's voice more than by his words, now raised his head, and looked about him somewhat like a person restored to consciousness.

"Yes, Anthony," said he; "yes, man alive; there's kindness in that."

"In what, sir?"

"In the very tones of your voice, I say. God has touched your heart, I hope. But oh, Anthony, if it were His blessed will to soften it--to teach it to feel true contrition and repentance, and to fill it with love for His divine will in all things, and for your fellow-creatures, too--how little would I think of my own miserable difficulties! Father of all mercy! if I could be sure that I had gained even but one soul to heaven, I would say that I had not been born and lived in vain!"

"He'll never let me do it," thought Corbet, vexed, and still more softened by the piety, the charity, and the complete forgetfulness of self, which the priest's conduct manifested. Yet was this change not brought about without difficulty, and those pitiful misgivings and calculations which assail and re-assail a heart that has been for a long time under the influence of the world and those base principles by which it is actuated. In fact, this close, nervous, and penurious old man felt, when about to perform this generous action, all that alarm and hesitation which a virtuous man would feel when on the eve of committing a crime. He was about to make an inroad upon his own system--going to change the settled habits of his whole life, and, for a moment, he entertained thoughts of altering his purpose. Then he began to think that this visit of the priest might have been a merciful and providential one; he next took a glimpse at futurity--reflected for a moment on his unprepared state, and then decided to assist the priest now, and consider the necessity for repentance as soon as he felt it convenient to do so afterwards.

How strange and deceptive, and how full of the subtlest delusions, are the workings of the human heart!

"And now, Anthony," proceeded the priest, "while I think of it, let me speak to you on another affair."

"I see, sir," replied Corbet, somewhat querulously, "that you're determined to prevent me from sarvin' you. If my mind changes, I won't do it; so stick to your own business first. I know very well what you're goin' to spake about. How much do you want, you say?"

"Fifty guineas. I'm responsible for three bills to that amount. The bills are not for myself, but for three honest families that have been brought low by two of the worst enemies that ever Ireland had--bad landlords and bad times."

"Well, then, I'll give you the money."

"God bless you, Anthony!" exclaimed the good man, "God bless you! and above all things may He enable you and all of us to prepare for the life that is before us."

Anthony paused a moment, and looked with a face of deep perplexity at the priest.

"Why am I doin' this," said he, half repentant of the act, "and me can't afford it? You must give me your bill, sir, at three months, and I'll charge you interest besides."

"I'll give you my bill, certainly," replied the priest, "and you may charge interest too; but be moderate."

Corbet then went upstairs, much at that pace which characterizes the progress of a felon from the press-room to the gallows; here he remained for some time--reckoning the money--paused on the stairhead--and again the slow, heavy, lingering step was heard descending, and, as nearly as one could judge, with as much reluctance as that with which it went up. He then sat down and looked steadily, but with a good deal of abstraction, at the priest, after having first placed the money on his own side of the table.

"Have you a blank bill?" asked the priest.


"Have you got a blank bill? or, sure we can send out for one."

"For what?"

"For a blank bill."

"A blank bill--yes--oh, ay--fifty guineas!--why, that's half a hundre'. God protect me! what am I about? Well, well; there--there--there; now put it in your pocket;" and as he spoke he shoved it over hastily to the priest, as if he feared his good resolution might fail him at last.

"But about the bill, man alive?"

"Hang the bill--deuce take all the bills that ever were drawn! I'm the greatest ould fool that ever wore a head--to go to allow myself to be made a--a--. Take your money away out of this, I bid you--your money--no, but my money. I suppose I may bid farewell to it--for so long as any one tells you a story of distress, and makes a poor mouth to you, so long you'll get yourself into a scrape on their account."

The priest had already put the money in his pocket, but he instantly took it out, and placed it once more on Corbet's side of the table.

"There," said he, "keep it. I will receive no money that is lent in such a churlish and unchristian spirit. And I tell you now, moreover, that if I do accept it, it must be on the condition of your listening to what I feel it my duty to say to you. You, Anthony Corbet, have committed a black and deadly crime against the bereaved widow, against society, against the will of a merciful and--take care that you don't find him, too--a just God. It is quite useless for you to deny it; I have spoken the truth, and you know it. Why will you not enable that heart-broken and kind lady--whose whole life is one perpetual good action--to trace and get back her son?"

"I can't do it."

"That's a deliberate falsehood, sir. Your conscience tells you it's a he. In your last conversation with me, at the Brazen Head, you as good as promised to do something of the kind in a couple of months. That time and more has now passed, and yet you have done nothing."

"How do you know that?"

"Don't I know that the widow has got no trace of her child? And right well I know that you could restore him to her if you wished. However, I leave you now to the comfort of your own hardened and wicked heart. The day will come soon when the black catalogue of your own guilt will rise up fearfully before you--when a death-bed, with all its horrors, will startle the very soul within you by its fiery recollections. It is then, my friend, that you will feel--when it is too late--what it is to have tampered with and despised the mercy of God, and have neglected, while you had time, to prepare yourself for His awful judgment. Oh, what would I not do to turn your heart from the dark spirit of revenge that broods in it, and changes you into a demon! Mark these words, Anthony. They are spoken, God knows, with an anxious and earnest wish for your repentance, and, if neglected, they will rise and sound the terrible sentence of your condemnation at the last awful hour. Listen to them, then--listen to them in time, I entreat, I beseech you--I would go on my bare knees to you to do so." Here his tears fell fast, as he proceeded, "I would; and, believe me, I have thought of you and prayed for you, and now you see that I cannot but weep for you, when I know that you have the knowledge--perhaps the guilt of this heinous crime locked up in your heart, and will not reveal it. Have compassion, then, on the widow--enable her friends to restore her child to her longing arms; purge yourself of this great guilt, and you may believe me, that even in a temporal point of view it will be the best rewarded action you ever performed; but this is little--the darkness that is over your heart will disappear, your conscience will become light, and all its reflections sweet and full of heavenly comfort; your death-bed will be one of peace, and hope, and joy. Restore, then, the widow's son, and forbear your deadly revenge against that wretched baronet, and God will restore you to a happiness that the world can neither give nor take away."

Corbet's cheek became pale as death itself whilst the good man spoke, but no other symptom of emotion was perceptible; unless, indeed, that his hands, as he unconsciously played with the money, were quite tremulous.

The priest, having concluded, rose to depart, having completely forgotten the principal object of his visit.

"Where are you going?" said Corbet, "won't you take the money with you?"

"That depends upon your reply," returned the priest; "and I entreat you to let me have a favorable one."

"One part of what you wish I will do," he replied; "the other is out of my power at present. I am not able to do it yet."

"I don't properly understand you," said the other; "or rather, I don't understand you at all. Do you mean what you have just said to be favorable or otherwise?"

"I have come to a resolution," replied Corbet, "and time will tell whether it's in your favor or not. You must be content with this, for more I will not say now; I cannot. There's your money, but I'll take no bill from you. Your promise is sufficient--only say you will pay me?"

"I will pay you, if God spares me life."

"That is enough; unless, indeed "--again pausing.

"Satisfy yourself," said the priest; "I will give you either my bill or note of hand."

"No, no; I tell you. I am satisfied. Leave everything to time."

"That may do very well, but it does not apply to eternity, Anthony. In the meantime I thank you; for I admit you have taken me out of a very distressing difficulty. Good-by--God bless you; and, above all things, don't forget the words I have spoken to you."

"Now," said Corbet, after the priest had gone, "something must be done; I can't stand this state of mind long, and if death should come on me before I've made my peace with God--but then, the black villain!--come or go what may, he must be punished, and Ginty's and Tom's schemes must be broken. That vagabone, too! I can't forget the abuse he gave me in the watch-house; however, I'll set the good act against the bad one, and who knows but the one may wipe out the other? I suppose the promisin' youth has seen his father, and thinks himself the welcome heir of his title and property by this; and the father too--but wait, if I don't dash that cup from his lips, and put one to it filled with gall, I'm not here; and then when it's done, I'll take to religion for the remainder of my life."

What old Corbet said was, indeed, true enough; and this brings us to the interview between Mr. Ambrose Gray, his parent, and his sister.

There is nothing which so truly and often so severely tests the state of man's heart, or so painfully disturbs the whole frame of his moral being as the occurrence of some important event that is fraught with happiness. Such an event resembles the presence of a good man among a set of profligates, causing them to feel the superiority of virtue over vice, and imposing a disagreeable restraint, not only upon their actions, but their very thoughts. When the baronet, for instance, went from his bedroom to the library, he experienced the full force of this observation. A disagreeable tumult prevailed within him. It is true, he felt, as every parent must feel, to a greater or less extent delighted at the contemplation of his son's restoration to him. But, at the same time, the tenor of his past life rose up in painful array before him, and occasioned reflections that disturbed him deeply. Should this young man prove, on examination, to resemble his sister in her views of moral life in general--should he find him as delicately virtuous, and animated by the same pure sense of honor, he felt that his recovery would disturb the future habits of his life, and take away much of the gratification which he expected from his society. These considerations, we say, rendered him so anxious and uneasy, that he actually wished to find him something not very far removed from a profligate. He hoped that he might be inspired with his own views of society and men, and that he would now have some one to countenance him in all his selfish designs and projects. _

Read next: Chapter 34. Young Gourlay's Affectionate Interview With His Father

Read previous: Chapter 32. Discovery Of The Baronet's Son

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