The Absentee by Maria Edgeworth
All were asleep at the cottage, when Lord Colambre arrived, except the widow, who was sitting up, waiting for him; and who had brought her dog into the house, that he might not fly at him, or bark at his return. She had a roast chicken ready for her guest, and it was--but this she never told him the only chicken she had left; all the others had been sent with the duty-fowl as a present to the under-agent's lady. While he was eating his supper, which he ate with the better appetite, as he had had no dinner, the good woman took down from the shelf a pocket-book, which she gave him: 'Is not that your book?' said she. 'My boy Brian found it after you in the potato furrow, where you dropped it.'
'Thank you,' said Lord Colambre; 'there are bank notes in it, which I could not afford to lose,'
'Are there?' said she ; 'he never opened it--nor I.'
Then, in answer to his inquiries about Grace and the young man, the widow answered, 'They are all in heart now, I thank ye kindly, sir, for asking; they'll sleep easy to-night anyway, and I'm in great spirits for them and myself--for all's smooth now. After we parted you, Brian saw Mr. Dennis himself about the lase and memorandum, which he never denied, but knew nothing about. "But, be that as it may," says he, " you're improving tenants, and I'm confident my brother will consider ye; so what you'll do is, you'll give up the possession to-morrow to myself, that will call for it by cock-crow, just for form's sake; and then go up to the castle with the new lase ready drawn, in your hand, and if all's paid off clear of the rent, and all that's due, you'll get the new lase signed; I'll promise you that upon the word and honour of a gentleman." And there's no going beyond that, you know, sir. So my boy came home as light as a feather, and as gay as a lark, to bring us the good news; only he was afraid we might not make up the rent, guineas and all; and because he could not get paid for the work he done, on account of the mistake in the overseer's tally, I sold the cow to a neighbour--dog-cheap; but needs must, as they say, when old Nick drives,' said the widow, smiling. 'Well, still it was but paper we got for the cow; then that must be gold before the agent would take or touch it so I was laying out to sell the dresser, and had taken the plates and cups, and little things off it, and my boy was lifting it out with Andy the carpenter, that was agreeing for it, when in comes Grace, all rosy, and out of breath--it's a wonder I minded her run out, and not missed her. "Mother," says she, "here's the gold for you! don't be stirring your dresser."--"And where's your gown and cloak, Grace?" says I. But I beg your pardon, sir; maybe I'm tiring you?'
Lord Colambre encouraged her to go on.
'"Where's your gown and cloak, Grace!" says I.--"Gone," says she. "The cloak was too warm and heavy, and I don't doubt, mother, but it was that helped to make me faint this morning. And as to the gown, sure I've a very nice one here, that you spun for me yourself, mother; and that I prize above all the gowns ever came out of a loom; and that Brian said become me to his fancy above any gown ever he see me wear; and what could I wish for more?" Now I'd a mind to scold her for going to sell the gown unknown'st to me, but I don't know how it was, I couldn't scold her just then, so kissed her, and Brian the same, and that was what no man ever did before. And she had a mind to be angry with him, but could not, nor ought not, says I; "for he's as good as your husband now, Grace; and no man can part yees now," says I, putting their hands together. Well, I never saw her look so pretty; nor there was not a happier boy that minute on God's earth than my son, nor a happier mother than myself; and I thanked God that had given them to me; and down they both fell on their knees for my blessing, little worth as it was; and my heart's blessing they had, and I laid my hands upon them. "It's the priest you must get to do this for you to-morrow," says I. And Brian just held up the ring, to show me all was ready on his part, but could not speak. "Then there's no America any more!" said Grace low to me, and her heart was on her lips; but the colour came and went, and. I was a feared she'd have swooned again, but not for sorrow so I carried her off Well, if she was not my own--but she is not my own born so I may say it--there never was a better girl, nor a more kind-hearted, nor generous; never thinking anything she could do, or give, too much for them she loved, and anything at all would do for herself; the sweetest natured and tempered both, and always was, from this high; the bond that held all together, and joy of the house.'
'Just like her namesake,' cried Lord Colambre.
'Plase your honour?'
'Is not it late?' said Lord Colambre, stretching himself and gaping; 'I've walked a great way to-day.'
The old woman lighted his rushlight, showed him to his red check bed, and wished him a very good night; not without some slight sentiment of displeasure at his gaping thus at the panegyric on her darling Grace. Before she left the room, however, her short- lived resentment vanished, upon his saying that he hoped, with her permission, to be present at the wedding of the young couple.
Early in the morning Brian went to the priest, to ask his reverence when it would be convenient to marry him; and, whilst he was gone, Mr. Dennis Garraghty came to the cottage, to receive the rent and possession. The rent was ready, in gold, and counted into his hand.
'No occasion for a receipt; for a new lase is a receipt in full for everything.'
'Very well, sir, said the widow; 'I know nothing of law. You know best--whatever you direct--for you are acting as a friend to us now. My son got the attorney to draw the pair of new lases yesterday, and here they are ready, all to signing.'
Mr. Dennis said his brother must settle that part of the business, and that they must carry them up to the castle; 'but first give me the possession.'
Then, as he instructed her, she gave up the key of the door to him, and a bit of the thatch of the house; and he raked out the fire, and said every living creature must go out. 'It's only form of law,' said he.
'And must my lodger get up and turn out, sir?' said she. 'He must turn out, to be sure--not a living soul must be left in it, or it's no legal possession properly. Who is your lodger?'
On Lord Colambre's appearing, Mr. Dennis showed some surprise, and said, 'I thought you were lodging at Brannagan's; are not you the man who spoke to me at his house about the gold mines?'
'No, sir, he never lodged at Brannagan's,' said the widow.
'Yes, sir, I am the person who spoke to you about the gold mines at Brannagan's; but I did not like to lodge--'
'Well, no matter where you liked to lodge; you must walk out of this lodging now, if you please, my good friend.'
So Mr. Dennis pushed his lordship out by the shoulders, repeating, as the widow turned back and looked with some surprise and alarm, 'Only for form sake, only for form sake!' then locking the door, took the key, and put it into his pocket. The widow held out her hand for it: 'The form's gone through now, sir, is not it? Be plased to let us in again.'
'When the new lease is signed, I'll give you possession again; but not till then--for that's the law. So make away with you to the castle; and mind,' added he, winking slily, 'mind you take sealing-money with you, and something to buy gloves.'
'Oh, where will I find all that?' said the widow.
'I have it, mother; don't fret,' said Grace. 'I have it--the price of---what I can want. [What I can do without.] So let us go off to the castle without delay. Brian will meet us on the road, you know.'
They set off for Clonbrony Castle, Lord Colambre accompanying them. Brian met them on the road. 'Father Tom is ready, dear mother; bring her in, and he'll marry us. I'm not my own man till she's mine. Who knows what may happen?'
'Who knows? that's true,' said the widow.
'Better go to the castle first,' said Grace.
'And keep the priest waiting! You can't use his reverence so.' said Brian.
So she let him lead her into the priest's house, and she did not make any of the awkward draggings back, or ridiculous scenes of grimace sometimes exhibited on these occasions; but blushing rosy red, yet with more self-possession than could have been expected from her timid nature, she gave her hand to the man she loved, and listened with attentive devotion to the holy ceremony.
'Ah!' thought Lord Colambre, whilst he congratulated the bride, 'shall I ever be as happy as these poor people are at this moment?' He longed to make them some little present, but all he could venture at this moment was to pay the priest's dues.
The priest positively refused to take anything. 'They are the best couple in my parish,' said he; 'and I'll take nothing, sir, from you, a stranger and my guest.'
'Now, come what will, I'm a match for it. No trouble can touch me,' said Brian.
'Oh, don't be bragging,' said the widow.
'Whatever trouble God sends, He has given one now will help to bear it, and sure I may be thankful,' said Grace.
'Such good hearts must be happy--shall be happy!' said Lord Colambre.
'Oh, you're very kind,' said the widow, smiling; 'and I wouldn't doubt you, if you had the power. I hope, then, the agent will give you encouragement about them mines, that we may keep you among us.'
'I am determined to settle among you, warm-hearted, generous people!' cried Lord Colambre, 'whether the agent gives me encouragement or not,' added he.
It was a long walk to Clonbrony Castle; the old woman, as she said herself, would not have been able for it, but for a lift given to her by a friendly carman, whom they met on the road with an empty car. This carman was Finnucan, who dissipated Lord Colambre's fears of meeting and being recognised by Mrs. Raffarty; for he, in answer to the question of, 'Who is at the castle?' replied, 'Mrs. Raffarty will be in it afore night; but she's on the road still. There's none but old Nick in it yet; and he's more of a neger than ever; for think, that he would not pay me a farthing for the carriage of his shister's boxes and bandboxes down. If you're going to have any dealings with him, God grant ye a safe deliverance!'
'Amen!' said the widow, and her son and daughter.
Lord Colambre's attention was now engaged by the view of the castle and park of Clonbrony. He had not seen it since he was six years old. Some faint reminiscence from his childhood made him feel or fancy that he knew the place. It was a fine castle, spacious park; but all about it, from the broken piers at the great entrance, to the messy gravel and loose steps at the hall- door, had an air of desertion and melancholy. Walks overgrown, shrubberies wild, plantations run up into bare poles; fine trees cut down, and lying on the gravel in lots to be sold. A hill that had been covered with an oak wood, in which, in his childhood, our hero used to play, and which he called the black forest, was gone; nothing to be seen but the white stumps of the trees, for it had been freshly cut down, to make up the last remittances.--'And how it went, when sold!--but no matter,' said Finnucan; 'it's all alike.--It's the back way into the yard, I'll take you, I suppose.'
And such a yard! 'But it's no matter,' repeated Lord Colambre to himself; 'it's all alike.'
In the kitchen a great dinner was dressing for Mr. Garraghty's friends, who were to make merry with him when the business of the day was over.
'Where's the keys of the cellar, till I get out the claret for after dinner,' says one; 'and the wine for the cook--sure there's venison,' cries another.--'Venison!--That's the way my lord's deer goes,' says a third, laughing.--'ay, sure! and very proper, when he's not here to eat 'em.'--'Keep your nose out of the kitchen, young man, if you plase,' said the agent's cook, shutting the door in Lord Colambre's face. 'There's the way to the office, if you've money to pay, up the back stairs.'
'No; up the grand staircase they must--Mr. Garraghty ordered,' said the footman; 'because the office is damp for him, and it's not there he'll see anybody to-day; but in my lady's dressing- room.'
So up the grand staircase they went, and through the magnificent apartments, hung with pictures of great value, spoiling with damp. 'Then, isn't it a pity to see them? There's my lady, and all spoiling,' said the widow.
Lord Colambre stopped before a portrait of Miss Nugent.-- 'Shamefully damaged!' cried he. 'Pass on, or let me pass, if you plase,' said one of the tenants; 'and don't be stopping the doorway.' 'I have business more nor you with the agent,' said the surveyor; 'where is he?'
'In the presence-chamber,' replied another; 'where should the viceroy be but in the presence-chamber?'
There was a full levee, and fine smell of greatcoats. 'Oh! would you put your hats on the silk cushions?' said the widow to some men in the doorway, who were throwing off their greasy hats on a damask sofa.--'Why not? where else?' 'If the lady was in it, you wouldn't,' said she, sighing.-- 'No, to be sure, I wouldn't; great news! would I make no differ in the presence of old Nick and my lady?' said he, in Irish. 'Have I no sense or manners, good woman, think ye?' added he, as he shook the ink out of his pen on the Wilton carpet, when he had finished signing his name to a paper on his knee. 'You may wait long before you get to the speech of the great man,' said another, who was working his way through numbers. They continued pushing forward, till they came within sight of Mr. Nicholas Garraghty, seated in state; and a worse countenance, or a more perfect picture of an insolent, petty tyrant in office, Lord Colambre had never beheld.
We forbear all further detail of this levee. 'It's all the same!' as Lord Colambre repeated to himself, on every fresh instance of roguery or oppression to which he was witness; and, having completely made up his mind on the subject, he sat down quietly in the background, waiting till it should come to the widow's turn to be dealt with, for he was now interested only to see how she would be treated. The room gradually thinned; Mr. Dennis Garraghty came in, and sat down at the table, to help his brother to count the heaps of gold.
'Oh, Mr. Dennis, I'm glad to see you as kind as your promise, meeting me here,' said the widow O'Neill, walking up to him; 'I'm sure you'll speak a good word for me; here's the lases--who will I offer this to?' said she, holding the glove-money and sealing- money,--'for I'm strange and ashamed.'
'Oh, don't be ashamed--there's no strangeness in bringing money or taking it,' said Mr. Nicholas Garraghty, holding out his hand. 'Is this the proper compliment?'
'I hope so, sir; your honour knows best.'
'Very well,' slipping it into his private purse. 'Now, what's your business?'
'The lases to sign--the rent's all paid up.'
'Leases! Why, woman, is the possession given up?'
'It was, plase your honour; and Mr. Dennis has the key of our little place in his pocket.'
'Then I hope he'll keep it there. Your little place--it's no longer yours; I've promised it to the surveyor. You don't think I'm such a fool as to renew to you at this rent.'
'Mr. Dennis named the rent. But anything your honour plases-- anything at all that we can pay.'
'Oh, it's out of the question--put it out of your head. No rent you can offer would do, for I've promised it to the surveyor.'
'Sir, Mr. Dennis knows my lord gave us his promise in writing of a renewal, on the back of the ould lase."
'Here's the lase, but the promise is rubbed out.'
'Nonsense! coming to me with a promise that's rubbed out. Who'll listen to that in a court of justice, do you think?'
'I don't know, plase your honour; but this I'm sure of, my lord and Miss Nugent, though but a child at the time, God bless her! who was by when my lord wrote it with his pencil, will remember it.'
'Miss Nugent! what can she know of business?--What has she to do with the management of my Lord Clonbrony's estate, pray?'
'Do you wish to get Miss Nugent turned out of the house?'
'Oh, God forbid!--how could that be?'
'Very easily; if you set about to make her meddle and witness in what my lord does not choose.'
'Well then, I'll never mention Miss Nugent's name in it at all, if it was ever so with me. But be plased, sir, to write over to my lord, and ask him; I'm sure he'll remember it.'
'Write to my lord about such a trifle--trouble him about such nonsense!'
'I'd be sorry to trouble him. Then take it on my word, and believe me, sir; for I would not tell a lie, nor cheat rich or poor, if in my power, for the whole estate, nor the whole world: for there's an eye above.'
'Cant! nonsense!--Take those leases off the table; I never will sign them. Walk off; ye canting hag; it's an imposition--I will never sign them.'
'You will then, sir,' cried Brian, growing red with indignation; 'for the law shall make you, so it shall; and you'd as good have been civil to my mother, whatever you did--for I'll stand by her while I've life; and I know she has right, and shall have law. I saw the memorandum written before ever it went into your hands, sir, whatever became of it after; and will swear to it, too.'
'Swear away, my good friend; much your swearing will avail in your own case in a court of justice,' continued old Nick.
'And against a gentleman of my brother's established character and property,' said St. Dennis. 'What's your mother's character against a gentleman's like his?'
'Character! take care how you go to that, anyway, sir,' cried Brian.
Grace put her hand before his mouth, to stop him. 'Grace, dear, I must speak, if I die for it; sure it's for my mother,' said the young man, struggling forward, while his mother held him back; 'I must speak.'
'Oh, he's ruin'd, I see it,' said Grace, putting her hand before her eyes, 'and he won't mind me.'
'Go on, let him go on, pray, young woman,' said Mr. Garraghty, pale with anger and fear, his lips quivering; 'I shall be happy to take down his words.'
'Write them; and may all the world read it, and welcome!' His mother and wife stopped his mouth by force.
'Write you, Dennis,' said Mr. Garraghty, giving the pen to his brother; for his hand shook so he could not form a letter. 'Write the very words, and at the top' (pointing) after warning, with malice prepense.'
'Write, then--mother, Grace--let me,' cried Brian, speaking in a smothered voice, as their hands were over his mouth. 'Write then, that, if you'd either of you a character like my mother, you might defy the world; and your word would be as good as your oath.'
'Oath! mind that, Dennis,' said Mr. Garraghty.
'Oh, sir! sir! won't you stop him?' cried Grace, turning suddenly to Lord Colambre.
'Oh dear, dear, if you haven't lost your feeling for us,' cried the widow.
'Let him speak,' said Lord Colambre, in a tone of authority; 'let the voice of truth be heard.'
'Truth!' cried St. Dennis, and dropped the pen.
'And who the devil are you, sir?' said old Nick.
'Lord Colambre, I protest! ' exclaimed a female voice; and Mrs. Raffarty at this instant appeared at the open door.
'Lord Colambre!' repeated all present, in different tones.
'My lord, I beg pardon;' continued Mrs. Raffarty, advancing as if her legs were tied; 'had I known you was down here, I would not have presumed. I'd better retire; for I see you're busy.'
'You'd best; for you're mad, sister,' said St. Dennis, pushing her back; 'and we are busy; go to your room, and keep quiet, if you can.'
'First, madam,' said Lord Colambre, going between her and the door, 'let me beg that you will consider yourself as at home in this house, whilst any circumstances make it desirable to you. The hospitality you showed me you cannot think that I now forget.'
'Oh, my lord, you're too good--how few--too kind-- kinder than my own,' and bursting into tears, she escaped out of the room.
Lord Colambre returned to the party round the table, who were in various attitudes of astonishment, and with faces of fear, horror, hope, joy, doubt.
'Distress,' continued his lordship, 'however incurred, if not by vice, will always find a refuge in this house. I speak in my father's name, for I know I speak his sentiments. But never more shall vice,' said he, darting such a look at the brother agents as they felt to the backbone--'never more shall vice, shall fraud enter here.'
He paused, and there was a momentary silence.
'There spoke the true thing! and the rael gentleman; my own heart's satisfied,' said Brian, folding his arms, and standing erect.
'Then so is mine,' said Grace, taking breath, with a deep sigh.
The widow advancing, put on her spectacles, and, looking up close at Lord Colambre's face--'Then it's a wonder I didn't know the family likeness.'
Lord Colambre now recollecting that he still wore the old greatcoat, threw it off.
'Oh, bless him! Then now I'd know him anywhere. I'm willing to die now, for we'll all be happy.'
'My lord, since it is so--my lord, may I ask you,' said Mr. Garraghty, now sufficiently recovered to be able to articulate, but scarcely to express his ideas; 'if what your lordship hinted just now--'
'I hinted nothing, sir; I spoke plainly.'
'I beg pardon, my lord,' said old Nick;--'respecting vice, was levelled at me; because, if it was, my lord,' trying to stand erect; 'let me tell your lordship, if I could think it was--'
'If it did not hit you, sir, no matter at whom it was levelled.'
'And let me ask, my lord, if I may presume, whether, in what you suggested by the word fraud, your lordship had any particular meaning?' said St. Dennis.
'A very particular meaning, sir,--feel in your pocket for the key of this widow's house, and deliver it to her.'
'Oh, if that's all the meaning, with all the pleasure in life. I never meant to detain it longer than till the leases were signed,' said St. Dennis.
'And I'm ready to sign the leases this minute,' said the brother.
'Do it, sir, this minute; I have read them; I will be answerable to my father.'
'Oh, as to that, my lord, I have power to sign for your father.' He signed the leases; they were duly witnessed by Lord Colambre.
'I deliver this as my act and deed,' said Mr. Garraghty; --'My lord,' continued he, 'you see, at the first word from you; and had I known sooner the interest you took in the family, there would have been no difficulty; for I'd make it a principle to oblige you, my lord.'
'Oblige me!' said Lord Colambre, with disdain.
'But when gentlemen and noblemen travel incognito, and lodge in cabins,' added St. Dennis, with a satanic smile, glancing his eye on Grace, 'they have good reasons, no doubt.'
'Do not judge my heart by your own, sir,' said Lord Colambre, coolly; 'no two things in nature can, I trust, be more different. My purpose in travelling incognito has been fully answered: I was determined to see and judge how my father's estates were managed; and I have seen, compared, and judged. I have seen the difference between the Clonbrony and the Colambre property; and I shall represent what I have seen to my father.'
'As to that, my lord, if we are to come to that but I trust your lordship will suffer me to explain these matters.--Go about your business, my good friends; you have all you want;--and, my lord, after dinner, when you are cool, I hope I shall be able to make you sensible that things have been represented to your lordship in a mistaken light; and I flatter myself I shall convince you I have not only always acted the part of a friend to the family, but am particularly willing to conciliate your lordship's goodwill,' said he, sweeping the rouleaus of gold into a bag; 'any accommodation in my power, at any time.'
'I want no accommodation, sir,--were I starving, I would accept of none from you. Never can you conciliate my goodwill; for you can never deserve it.'
'If that be the case, my lord, I must conduct myself accordingly; but it's fair to warn you, before you make any representation to my Lord Clonbrony, that if he should think of changing his agent, there are accounts to be settled between us--that may be a consideration.'
'No, sir; no consideration--my father never shall be the slave of such a paltry consideration.'
'Oh, very well, my lord; you know best. If you choose to make an assumpsit, I'm sure I shall not object to the security. Your lordship will be of age soon, I know--I'm sure I'm satisfied-- but,' added he with a malicious smile, 'I rather apprehend you don't know what you undertake; I only premise that the balance of accounts between us is not what can properly be called a paltry consideration.'
'On that point, perhaps, sir, you and I may differ.'
'Very well, my lord, you will follow your own principles, if it suits your convenience.'
'Whether it does or not, sir, I shall abide by my principles.'
'Dennis! the letters to the post.--When do you go to England, my lord?'
'Immediately, sir,' said Lord Colambre; his lordship saw new leases from his father to Mr. Dennis Garraghty, lying on the table, unsigned.
'Immediately!' repeated Messrs. Nicholas and Dennis, with an air of dismay. Nicholas got up, looked out of the window, and whispered something to his brother, who instantly left the room.
'Lord Colambre saw the post-chaise at the door, which had brought Mrs. Raffarty to the castle, and Larry standing beside it; his lordship instantly threw up the sash, and holding between his finger and thumb a six-shilling piece, cried, 'Larry, my friend, let me have the horses!'
'You shall have 'em--your honour,' said Larry. Mr. Dennis Garraghty appeared below, speaking in a magisterial tone. 'Larry, my brother must have the horses.'
'He can't, plase your honour--they're engaged.'
Half a crown! a crown!--half a guinea!' said Mr. Dennis Garraghty, raising his voice, as he increased his proffered bribe. To each offer Larry replied, 'You can't, plase your honour, they're engaged;'--and, looking up to the window at Lord Colambre, he said, 'as soon as they have eaten their oats, you shall have 'em.'
No other horses were to be had. The agent was in consternation. Lord Colambre ordered that Larry should have some dinner, and whilst the postillion was eating, and the horses finishing their oats, his lordship wrote the following letter to his father, which, to prevent all possibility of accident, he determined to put, with his own hand, into the post-office at Clonbrony, as he passed through the town.
My dear Father,
The horses came out. Larry sent word he was ready, and Lord Colambre, having first eaten a slice of his own venison, ran down to the carriage, followed by the thanks and blessings of the widow, her son, and daughter, who could hardly make their way after him to the chaise-door, so great was the crowd which had gathered on the report of his lordship's arrival. 'Long life to your honour! Long life to your lordship!' echoed on all sides. 'Just come, and going, are you?'
'Good-bye to you all, good people!'
'Then good-bye is the only word we wouldn't wish to hear from your honour.'
'For the sake both of landlord and tenant, I must leave you now, my good friends; but I hope to return to you at some future time.'
'God bless you! and speed ye! and a safe journey to your honour!--and a happy return to us, and soon!' cried a multitude of voices.
Lord Colambre stopped at the chaise-door and beckoned to the widow O'Neill, before whom others had pressed. An opening was made for her instantly.
There! that was the very way his father stood with his feet on the steps. And Miss Nugent was in it.'
Lord Colambre forgot what he was going to say--with some difficulty recollected.
'This pocket-book,' said he, 'which your son restored to me--I intend it for your daughter--don't keep it, as your son kept it for me, without opening it. Let what is within-side,' added he, as he got into the carriage, 'replace the cloak and gown, and let all things necessary for a bride be bought; "for the bride that has all things to borrow has surely mickle to do."--Shut the door, and drive on.'
'Blessings be wid you,' cried the widow, 'and God give you grace!'