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   Chapter 2 —Birth and Origin of Mr. M’Clutchy

Valentine M'Clutchy, The Irish Agent / The Works of William Carleton, Volume Two By William Carleton Characters: 26834

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Christian Forgiveness-Mr. Hickman, the Head Agent-Darby O'Drive, the Bailiff-And an Instructive Dialogue.

Time, which passes with a slow but certain pace, had already crept twice around his yearly circle since the fair already described in the town of Castle Cumber. The lapse of three years, however, had made no change whatsoever in the heart or principles of Mr. Valentine M'Clutchy, although he had on his external manner and bearing. He now assumed more of the gentleman, and endeavored to impress himself upon those who came in contact with him, as a person of great authority and importance. One morning after the period just mentioned had! elapsed, he and his graceful son, "Mister Phil," were sitting in the parlor of Constitution Cottage, for so they were pleased to designate a house which had no pretension whatever to that unpretending appellation.

"So father," said Phil, "you don't forget that such was the treatment M'Loughlin gave you!"

"Why, I remember it, Phil; but you know, Phil, I'm a patient and a forgiving man notwithstanding; you know that Phil;-ha, ha, ha!"

"That was certainly the worst case came across us yet," replied the son, "none of the rest ventured to go so far, even when you had less power than you have now."

"I didn't tell you all, Phil," continued the father, following up the same train of thought.

"And why not," said Phil, "why should you conceal anything from me?"

"Because," replied the other, "I think you have heard enough for the present."

The fact was, that M'Clutchy's consciousness of the truth contained in M'Loughlin's indignant reproaches, was such as prevented him from repeating them, even to his son, knowing right well that had he done so they could not exactly have looked each other in the face without sensations regarding their own conduct, which neither of them wished to avow. There is a hypocrisy in villainy sometimes so deep that it cannot bear to repeat its own iniquity, even in the presence of those who are aware of it, and in this predicament stood Valentine M'Clutchy.

"Maybe he has relented," said Phil, "or that he will give me his pretty daughter yet-and you know they have the cash. The linen manufactory of M'Loughlin and Harman is flourishing."

"No, no, Phil," replied the father, "you must give her up-that's past-but no matter, I'll forgive him."

Phil looked at him and smiled. "Come, come, father," said he, "be original-that last is a touch of M'Slime-of honest Solomon. Keep back the forgiveness yet awhile, may be they may come round-begad, and upon my honor and reputation, I shouldn't wish to lose the girl-no, father, don't forgive them yet awhile."

"Phil, we'll do better for you, boy-don't be a fool, I say, but have sense-I tell you what, Phil," continued his father, and his face assumed a ghastly, deadly look, at once dark and pallid, "listen to me;-I'll forgive him, Phil, until the nettle, the chick-weed, the burdock, the fulsome preshagh, the black fungus, the slimiest weed that grows-aye, till the green mould of ruin itself, grows upon the spot that is now his hearth-till the winter rain beats into, and the whiter wind howls over it."

"No marriage, then," said Phil. "No marriage; but what keeps Darby O'Drive? the rascal should have been here before-oh no," said he, looking at his watch, "he has better than half an hour yet."

"What steps do you intend to take, father?"

"Phil, when I'm prepared, you shall know them. In the meantime leave me-I must write to M'Slime, or send to him. M'Slime's useful at a hint or suggestion, but, with all his wiliness and hypocrisy, not capable of carrying a difficult matter successfully out; he overdoes everything by too much caution, and consequently gets himself into ridiculous scrapes, besides I cannot and will not place full confidence in him. He is too oily, and cants too much, to be trusted; I think, still, we may use him and overreach him into the bargain. Are you going into Castle Cumber?"

"I am."

"Well, drop these couple of letters in the post office, and tell Rankin he must have the Garts finished by Monday next, at the farthest, or it will be worse for him. By the way, I have that fellow in my eye too-he had the assurance to tell me the other day, that he could not possibly undertake the carts until he had M'Loughlin's job at the manufactory finished. Off with you now, I see O'Drive and Hanlon coming up."

Graceful Phil in a few minutes was mounted in his usual lofty state on "Handsome Harry," and dashed off to Castle Cumber.

It may not be improper here, before we proceed farther, to give the reader some additional knowledge of the parentage and personal history of Mr. Valentine M'Clutchy, as well as a brief statement concerning the Castle Cumber property, and the gentleman who acted in the capacity of head agent.

The mother, then, of Valentine M'Clutchy, or as he was more generally called Val the Vulture, was daughter to the county goaler, Christie Clank by name, who had risen regularly through all the gradations of office, until the power of promotion could no farther go. His daughter, Kate Clank, was a celebrated beauty, and enjoyed a considerable extent of local reputation, independently of being a great favorite with the junior portion of the grand jury. Among the latter, however, there was one, a young squire of very libertine principles, named Deaker, whose suit to the fair Miss Clank proved more successful than those of his competitors, and the consequence was the appearance of young Val. The reader, therefore, already perceives that M'Clutchy's real name was Deaker; but perhaps he is not aware that, in the times of which we write, it was usual for young unmarried men of wealth not to suffer their illegitimate children to be named after them. There were, indeed, many reasons for this. In the first place, the mere fact of assuming the true name, was a standing argument of the father's profligacy. Secondly, the morals of the class and the period were so licentious, that the legitimate portion of a family did not like to be either outnumbered or insulted by their namesakes and illegitimate relatives, almost at every turn of the public roads. In the third place, a young man of this description could not, when seeking for a wife, feel the slightest inclination to have a living catalogue of his immoralities enumerated to her, under the names of Tom, or Dick, or Val so and so, all his children. This, of course, was an involuntary respect paid to modesty, and perhaps the strongest argument for suppressing the true name. The practice, however, was by no means universal; but in frequent instances it existed, and Val the Vulture's was one of them. He was named after neither father or mother, but after his grandmother, by the gaoler's side. Deaker would not suffer his name to be assumed; and so far as his mother was concerned, the general tenor of her life rendered the reminiscence of her's anything but creditable to her offspring. With respect to his education, Val's gratitude was principally due to his grandfather Clank, who had him well instructed. He himself, from the beginning, was shrewd, clever, and intelligent, and possessed the power, in a singular degree, of adapting himself to his society, whenever he felt it his interest to do so. He could, indeed, raise or depress his manners in a very surprising degree, and with an effort that often occasioned astonishment. On the other hand, he was rapacious, unscrupulous, cowardly, and so vindictive, that he was never known to forgive an injury. These are qualities to which, when you add natural adroitness and talent, you have such a character as has too frequently impressed itself, with something like the agreeable sensations produced by a red hot burning iron, upon the distresses, fears, and necessities of the Irish people.

M'Clutchy rose from the humble office of process-server to that of bailiff's follower, bailiff, head-bailiff, barony constable, until, finally, he felt himself a kind of factotum on the Castle Cumber property; and in proportion as he rose, so did his manners rise with him. For years before his introduction to our readers, he was the practical manager of the estate; and so judiciously did he regulate his own fortunes on it, that without any shameless or illegal breach of honesty, he actually contrived to become a wealthy man, and to live in a respectable manner. Much, however, will have more, and Val was rapacious. On finding himself comparatively independent, he began to take more enlarged, but still very cautious measures to secure some of the good things of the estate to him and his. This he was the better able to do, as he had, by the apparent candor of his manner, completely wormed himself into the full confidence of the head agent-a gentleman of high honor and integrity, remarkable alike for humanity and benevolence; but utterly without suspicion. Two or three farms, whose leases dropped, he most iniquitously took into his own hands, and so far wheedled the agent, that he induced that gentleman to think he was rendering a service to the property by doing so. The tenantry now began to murmur-a complaint came here, and another there-here was an instance of private and disguised oppression; and this was followed by a, vindictive attempt to injure either the property or character of some one who had the courage to tell him what he thought of his conduct.

Val apprehending that he might be out-borne by too powerful a mass of testimony, contrived just then, through his misrepresentations to the agent, who still confided in him, and by the political influence of his father, the squire, who was the landlord's strongest electioneering supporter in the county, to get himself formally appointed under-agent. Feeling now quite confident in his strength, and that his hold on the prejudices, and, we may add, the ignorance of the absentee landlord, was as strong, if not stronger than those of the agent himself, he began to give a greater and less guarded scope to his natural principles. Mr. Hickman, the agent, had been strongly disgusted by the political profligacy with which the union was carried; and had, on more than one occasion, intimated a doubt whether, as an honest man, he could render political support to any one who had participated in its corruption or recognized the justice of those principles on which it had been carried. All this gave M'Clutchy that imperturbable insolence which is inseparable from petty tyranny and licensed extortion. Day after day did his character come out in all its natural deformity. The outcry against him was not now confined to this portion of the property, or that-it became pretty general; and, perhaps, at the time we have brought him on the stage, there was not a man in Ireland, holding the situation he did, who was more feared and more detested.

Some time previous to this, however, Hickman's eyes were opened to his undisguised character, and what he could do he did. On finding that the Vulture was reviving all the oppressive usages with which property in Ireland is so penally taxed, he immediately gave orders that such exactions should be discontinued by M'Clutchy, and resisted by the tenants. In spite of all this, however, there were upon the property many timid persons, who, dreading his malignity of purpose, still continued to yield to his avarice and rapacity, that which nothing else but a dread of his vengeance could extort from them. Thus did he feather his nest at the expense of their terrors.

Hickman, who had also been agent to old Topertoe, felt a kind of personal attachment to that good-humored reprobate, so long as he believed him to be honest. Old Tom's venality, however, at the union, made him rather sick of the connection, and the conduct, or rather expensive profligacy of the young absentee Lord, rendered his situation, as an honest and humane agent, one of great pain to himself, considering his position between landlord and tenant.

He knew besides, that many men of his class had taken most scandalous advantages of the embarrassments which their dishonesty had occasioned in the affairs of their employers, and lent them their own rents in the moments of distress, in order to get a lien on their property. For this reason, and out of a feeling of honor and self-respect, Mr. Hickman had made it a point of principle to lend the young Lord, no money under any circumstances. As far as he could legitimately, and within the ordinary calculations of humanity, feed Lord Cumber's prodigality of expenditure he did it. This, however, was not exactly the kind of agent which his lordship wanted, and however highly he respected, and honored him, still that direful word necessity goaded him into a forgetfulness of his own real interests, and of what was due to Hickman. He wanted an agent with less feeling, less scruple, less independence, and more of that accommodating principle which would yield itself to, and go down with, the impetuous current of his offensive vices, and satisfy their cravings even at his own ruin. Such, then, was M'Clutchy-such the position of Mr. Hickman, the agent-and such the general state of the Castle Cumber property. As to the principles and necessities of its proprietor, if they are not already known, we may assure our readers that they soon will be.

Constitution Cottage, M'Cl

utchy's residence, was, in fact, no cottage at all, as we have said, but a very respectable house, and of considerable size. Attached to it was an extensive yard and office houses, an excellent garden, orchard, pigeon house, and everything, in fact, that could constitute substantial comfort and convenience. It was situated beside a small clump of old beeches, that sheltered it from the north-to the front lay, at a few miles distance, a range of fine mountains-and between them stretched as rich a valley, both in fertility and beauty, as the eye of man could rest upon. The ground before the door fell by an easy and gradual descent, until a little further down it reached a green expanse of level meadow, through which a clear river wound its lingering course, as if loth to pass away from between the rich and grassy banks that enclosed it. It was, in fact, a spot of that calm and perfectly rural character which draws the heart unconsciously to the secret charm that rests upon it, and which even the casual traveler leaves behind him with regret. Some improvements were at the present time in an incipient state-such as plantations-garden walls-and what seemed the lines of an avenue, or approach to the house, which, by the way, stood in the centre of a farm that consisted of about eighty Irish acres.

At length a single knock came, which was given by O'Drive, for Hanlon, who was his assistant, durst not attempt such a thing in his presence; and if ever a knock conveyed the duplicity of the man who gave it, that did. Though, as we said, but a single one, yet there was no mistaking its double meaning. It was impudent and servile; it was impudent, as much as to say to the servants, "why don't you open the door quickly for a man who is so deep in your master's confidence as I am?" while to that master himself, it said, or seemed to say, "I am your creature, your instrument, your slave, ready to execute any oppression, any hardship, or villainy, on which you can employ me."

It is said, and we believe with truth, that in military life no officer is so severe and oppressive as he who has risen from the ranks, and been most obsequious there. We do not doubt it, for the principle is a strong one in human nature, and is by no means confined to either the army or navy. At all events, shuffling, and cringing, and slinking Darby O'Drive presented himself to Val the Vulture. There was a downcast, cowardly, shy, uneasy, expression in his blank, straggling features, that seemed to say, for God's sake spare my very life-don't annihilate me-here I am-you see through me-heart, spirit, and soul-body, lungs, and lights-could I tell you a lie? No. Could I deceive you-such a man as you, that can look through me as if I was a lanthorn, or a pane of glass without a bull's eye in it. No! only let me live and I'll do your bidding.

"Well," said Val, in a sharp, imperious;one, "you're punctual for a wonder."

"God be praised for that," replied Darby, wiping the top of his nose with the finger and thumb of an old mitten, "heaven be praised that I'm not late."

"Hold your damned canting, tongue, you knave, what place is this for it?"

"Knave! well I am then."

"Yes, you know you are-you are all knaves-every bailiff is a knave-ahem-unless, indeed, one in a thousand."

"It's truth, indeed, plaise your honor."

"Not but there's worse than you after all, and be damned to you."

"An' betther, sir, too, i' you please, for sure, God help me, I'm not what I ought to be."

"Well, mend then, why don't you? for you want it. Come now, no jaw, I tell you, but answer me what I am about to ask you; not a word now."

"Well, no then, plaise your honor, I won't in throth."

"Did you warn the townland of Ballymackscud?"

"Yis, plaise your honor."

"Are they ready-have they the rent?"

"Only some o' them, sir,-an other some is axin' for time, the thieves."

"Who are asking for time?"

"Why the O'Shaughrans, sir-hopin', indeed, that your honor will let them wait till the markets rises, an not be forced to sell the grain whin the prices is so low now that it would ridin them-but it's wondherful the onraisonableness of some people. Says I, 'his honor, Mr. M'Clutchy, is only doin' his duty; but a betther hearted or a kinder man never bruk the world's bread than he is to them that desarves it at his hands;' so, sir, they began to-but-well, well, it's no matther-I tould them they were wrong-made it plain to them-but they wouldn't be convinced, say what I might."

"Why, what did they say, were they abusing me-I suppose so?"

"Och! the poor sowls, sure it was only ignorance and foolishness on their part-onraisonable cratures all or most of them is."

"Let me know at once what they said, you knave, or upon my honor and soul I'll turn you out of the room and bring in Hanlon."

"Plaise your honor, he wasn't present-I left him outside, in regard that I didn't think he was fit to be trust-a safe with-no matther, 'twas for a raison I had." He gave a look at M'Clutchy as he spoke, compounded of such far and distant cunning, scarcely perceptible-and such obvious, yet retreating cowardice, scarcely perceptible also--that no language could convey any notion of it.

"Ah!" said Val, "you are a neat lad-but go on-what did they say, for I must have it out of you."

"That I may die in happiness, your honor, but I'm afeard to tell you-but, sure, if you'd give your promise, sir-your bright word of honor, that you'd not pay me off for it, I'll tell you."

"Ah! you d--d crawling reptile, out with it-I won't pay you off."

"Well, then, here it is-oh! the curse o' Cromwell on them this day, for an ungrateful pack! they said, your honor, that-bad luck to them I pray-that there wasn't so black-hearted a scoundrel on the face of the airth as your four quarthers-that the gallows is gapin' for you-and that there's as many curses before you in hell as 'ud blisther a griddle."

M'Clutchy's face assumed its usual expression of diabolical malignity, whilst, at the same time, he gave a look so piercing at Darby, as if suspecting that the curse, from its peculiar character, was at least partially his own invention,-that the latter, who stood like a criminal, looking towards the floor, felt precisely what was going forward in the other's mind, and knew that he had nothing else for it but to look him steadily in the face, as a mark of his perfect innocence. Gradually, therefore, and slowly he raised his small gray eyes until they met those of M'Clutchy, and thus the gaze continued for nearly a minute between them, and that with such steadiness on both sides, that they resembled a mesmeric doctor and his patient, rather than anything else to which we could compare them. On the part of M'Clutchy the gaze was that of an inquisitor looking into the heart of him whom he suspected; on that of Darby, the eye, unconscious of evil, betrayed nothing but the purest simplicity and candor.

And yet, when we consider that Darby most unquestionably did not only ornament, but give peculiar point to the opinions expressed by the tenantry against the Vulture, perhaps we ought to acknowledge that of the two he possessed a larger share of histrionic talent.

At length M'Clutchy, whose eye, for reasons with which the reader is already acquainted, was never either a firm or a steady one, removed it from Darby, who nevertheless followed it with a simple but pertinacious look, as much as to say, I have told you truth, and am now waiting your leisure to proceed.

"What do you stare at?" said M'Clutchy, strongly disposed to vent his malignity on the next object to him; "and, you beggarly scoundrel, what did you say to that? Tell me, or I'll heave you, head foremost, through the window?"

"Why," replied Darby, in a quiet, confident, and insinuating tone, "I raisoned wid them-raisoned wid them like a Christian. 'Now, Sheemus O'Shaughran,' says I, 'you've said what I know to be a lie. I'm not the man to put ill between you and his honor, Mr. M'Clutchy, but at the same time,' says I, 'I'm his sarvint, and as an honest man I must do my duty. I don't intend to mintion a syllable of what you said this day; but as his sarvint, and gettin' bread through him, and undher him, I can't, nor I won't, suffer his honor to be backbitten before his own face-for it's next to that. Now,' says I, 'be guided by me, and all will be right. In the first place, you know, he's entitled to duty-fowl*-in the next place, he's entitled to duty-work.' 'Ay, the landlord is,' said they, 'but not the Vul--' 'Whisht,' says I, in a friendly whisper, puttin' my hand across Dan's mouth, an' winkin' both my eyes at him; 'send his honor down a pair of them fine fat turkeys-I know his honor's fond o' them; but that's not all,' says I-'do you wish to have a friend in coort? I know you do. Well and good-he's drawing gravel to make a new avenue early next week, so, Sheemus O'Shaughran, if you wish to have two friends in coort-a great one and a little one'-manin' myself, God pardon me, for the little one, your honor-'you will,' says I 'early on next Monday mornin', send down a pair of horses and carts, and give him a week's duty work. Then,' says I, 'lave the rest to somebody, for I won't name names.'-No, your honor, I did'nt bring Hanlon in.-By the same token, as a proof of it, there's young Bandy Shaughran, the son, wid a turkey under aich arm, comin'up to the hall door."

* These were iniquitous exactions, racked from the poor

tenantry by the old landlords or their agents.

"Well," proceeded M'Clutchy, without a single observation, "did you call on the Slevins?"

"Yes, sir; they're ready."

"The Magonnels?"

"Not ready, sir; but a pair of geese, and two men on next Thursday and Saturday. On Friday they must go to market to buy two slips." (* young pigs).

"Widow Gaffney?"

"Not ready, sir; but that I may never die in sin, a 'cute shaver."

"Why so-what did she say?"

"Oh, Mr. Hickman, sir, the head agent, your honor; that's the go. Throth, the same Mr. Hickman is-but, God forbid, sir, I'd spake a word against the absent; but any way, he's a good round thrifle, one way or the other, out of your pocket, from Jinny-warry to December."

"Darby, my good man, and most impertinent scoundrel, if you wish to retain your present situation, never open your lips against that excellent gentleman, Mr. Hickman. Mark my words-out you go, if I ever discover that you mention him with disrespect."

"Well, I won't then; and God forgive me for spakin' the truth-when it's not right."

"Did you see the Mulhollands?"

"Mr. Hickman again, sir, an' bad luck to-- Beg pardon, sir, I forgot. Throth, sir, when I mentioned the duty work an' the new aveny, they whistled at you."

"Whistled at me!"

"Yes, sir; an' said that Mr. Hickman tould them to give you neither duty fowl nor duty work, but to do their own business, and let you do yours. Ay, and 'twas the same from all the rest."

"Well," said Val, going to the window and looking abroad for a minute or two,-"well-so much for Ballymackscud; now for its next neighbor, Ballymackfud."

"Mr. Hickman again, sir. The divil sweep the same Hickman, any way," said Darby, in an aside, which he knew the other could easily hear. "Out of the whole townland, sir, all I got was two men for the aveny-a goose from Barney Scadden, and her last ten, along wid half-a-dozen eggs, from that dacent creature, widow M'Murt. Throth four fine little clildre she has, if they had anything on them, or anything to keep body and sowl together."

"You warned them all, of course?"

"Every sowl in the townland of Ballymackt 'ud; and there's the upshot. But it's all Mr. Hickman, sir; for he tould them-'I will have none of this work,' says he; 'the tenants musn't be harrished and fleeshed in this manner,' says he. Yes, your honor, that's the upshot from Ballymackfud-two day's work-a sick goose (for I disremembered to mention that Barney said, wid a wink, that she'd require great attintion, as she was in a delicate state of health)-one ould hen, and a half-a-dozen eggs; which wouldn't be the case, only for Hickman-not but he's a very respectable gentleman-by all accounts."

"I told you before, sirra, that I will have nothing offensive to him mentioned in my presence. Give this letter to Mr. M'Slime, and bring me an answer as soon as you can. Will you have a glass of spirits?"

"Would it be intherfairin' wid my duty, sir?"

"If you think so, don't take it; you ought to know best."

"Well, then, for this one time, in regard of a Lhin-roe* or the red wather in my stomach, I'll try it. I drank bog-bine last night goin' to bed, but divil a morsel o' good it did me."

* Lhin-roe, or red water-the Irish name for heart-burn.

M'Clutchy handed him a full glass, which he held steadily before his eye, till the other put up the decanter.

"Your honor's health, sir," said he, "and fireside; and if you war to throw me out o' fifty windies, I'll add to that-here's wishin' that the divil had his own, and I know where you'd soon be."

"How, you villainous scoundrel," said Val, starting with rising wrath, "what do you mean by that?"

Darby made no reply, but hastily tossing off the glass, he seized his hat, bolted outside the door, and putting in his head, said in a kind of loud but confidential whisper-

"IN HICKMAN'S PLACE, your honor!"

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