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   Chapter 4 —Poll Doolin, the Child Cadger

Valentine M'Clutchy, The Irish Agent / The Works of William Carleton, Volume Two By William Carleton Characters: 25863

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

-Raymond, her Son-Short Dialogue on the Times-Polls Opinion on the Causes of Immorality-Solomon is Generous-A Squire of the Old School-And a Moral Dialogue.

The next morning was that on which the Quarter Sessions of Castle Cumber commenced; and of course it was necessary for Darby O'Drive, who was always full of business on such occasions, to see M'Clutchy, in order to receive instructions touching his duties on various proceedings connected with the estate. He had reached the crossroads that ran about half-way between Constitution Cottage and Castle Cumber, when! he met, just where the road turned to M'Clutchy's, a woman named Poll Doolin, accompanied, as she mostly was, by her son-a poor, harmless, idiot, named Raymond; both of whom were well known throughout the whole parish. Poll was a thin, sallow woman, with piercing dark eyes, and a very; gipsy-like countenance. Her dress was always black, and very much worn; in fact, everything about her was black-black stockings, black bonnet, black hair, and black kerchief. Poll's occupation was indeed a singular one, and not very creditable to the morals of the day. Her means of living were derived from the employment of child-cadger to the Foundling Hospital of Dublin. In other words, she lived by conveying illegitimate children from the places of their birth to the establishment just mentioned, which has been very properly termed a bounty for national immorality. Whenever a birth of this kind occurred, Poll was immediately sent for-received her little charge with a name-whether true or false mattered not-pinned to its dress-then her traveling expenses; after which she delivered it at the hospital, got a receipt for its delivery, and returned to claim her demand, which was paid only on her producing it. In the mean time, the unfortunate infant had to encounter all the comforts of the establishment, until it was drafted out to a charter school, in which hot-bed of pollution it received that exquisitely moral education that enabled it to be sent out into society admirably qualified to sustain the high character of Protestantism.

"Morrow, Poll," said Darby; "what's the youngest news wid you? And Raymond, my boy, how goes it wid you?"

"I don't care for you," replied the fool; "you drove away Widow Branagan's cow, an' left the childre to the black wather. Bad luck to you!"

Darby started; for there is a superstition among the Irish, that the curse of an "innocent" is one of the most unlucky that can be uttered.

"Don't curse me," replied Darby; "sure, Raymond, I did only my duty."

"Then who made you do your duty?" asked the other.

"Why, Val the Vul-hem-Mr. M'Clutchy, to be sure."

"Bad luck to him then!"

His mother, who had been walking a little before him, turned, and, rushing towards him, put her hand hastily towards his mouth, with the obvious intention of suppressing the imprecation; but too late; it had escaped, and be the consequence what it might, Val had got the exciting cause of it.

"My poor unfortunate boy," said she, "you oughtn't to curse anybody; stop this minute, and say God bless him."

"God bless who?"

"Mr. McClutchy."

"The devil bless him! ha, ha, ha! Doesn't he harry the poor, an' drive away their cows from them-doesn't he rack them an' rob them-harry them, rack them, rob them-

"Harry them, rack them, rob them,

Rob them, rack them, harry them-

Harry them, rack them, rob them,

Rob them, rack them, harry them."

This he sung in an air somewhat like "Judy Callahan."

"Ha, ha, ha! Oh the devil bless him! and they say a blessin' from the devil is very like a curse from God."

The mother once more put up her hands to his face, but only with the intention of fondling and caressing him. She tenderly stroked down his head, and patted his cheek, and attempted to win him out of the evil humor into which the sight of Darby had thrown him. Darby could observe, however, that she appeared to be deeply troubled by the idiot's conduct, as was evident by the trembling of her hands, and a perturbation of manner which she could not conceal.

"Raymond," she said, soothingly, "won't you be good for me, darlin'-for your own mother, my poor helpless boy? Won't you be good for me?"

"I will," said he, in a more placid voice.

"And you will not curse anybody any more?"

"No, mother, no."

"And won't you bless Mr. M'Clutchy, my dear child?"

"There's a fig for him," he replied-there's a fig for him. Now!"

"But you didn't bless him, my darlin'-you didn't bless him yet."

As she spoke the words, her eye caught! his, and she perceived that it began to gleam and kindle.

"Well no," said she hastily; "no, I won't ask you; only hould your tongue-say no more."

She again patted his cheek tenderly, and the fiery light which began to burn in his eye, died gradually away, and no other expression remained in it but the habitual one of innocence and good-nature.

"No, no," said she, shaking her head, and speaking as much to herself as to Darby; "I know him too well; no earthly power will put him out of his own way, once he takes it into his head. This minute, if I had spoke another word about the blessin', Mr. M'Clutchy would a got another curse; yet, except in these fits, my poor child is kindness and tendheress itself."

"Well now," said Darby, "that that's over, can you tell me, Poll, what's the news? When were you in Dublin?"

"I've given that up," replied Poll; "I'm too ould and stiff for it now. As for the news, you ought to know what's goin' as well as I do. You're nearly as much on the foot."

"No; nor if every head in the parish was 'ithin side o'mine, I wouldn't know as much in the news line as you, Poll."

"The news that's goin' of late, Darby, is not good, an' you know it. There's great grumlin' an' great complaints, ever since. Val, the lad, became undher agent; and you know that too."

"But how can I prevent that?" said Darby; "sure I'd side wid the people if I could."

"You'd side wid the people, an' you'd side wid the man that oppresses them, even in spite of Mr. Hickman."

"God bless Mr. Hickman!" said Raymond, "and the divil curse him! and sure 'tis well known that the divil's curse is only another name for God's blessin'. God bless, Mr. Hickman!"

"Amen, my darlin' child, wid all my heart," said Poll; "but, Darby," she continued, "take my word for it, that these things won't end well. The estate and neighborhood was peaceable and quiet till the Vulture began his pranks, and now--"

"Very well," said Darby, "the blame be his, an' if it comes to that, the punishment; so far as myself's consarned, I say, let every herrin' hang by its own tail-I must do my duty. But tell me, Poll-hut, woman, never mind the Vulture-let him go to the devil his own way-tell me do you ever hear from your son Frank, that Brian M'Loughlin sent acrass?"

"No," said she, "not a word; but the curse o' heaven on Brian M'Loughlin! Was my fine young man worth no more than his garran of a horse, that he didn't steal either, till he was put to it by the Finigans."

"Well, sure two o' them were sent over soon afther him, if that's any comfort."

"It's no comfort," replied Poll, "but I'll tell you what's a comfort, the thought that I'll never die till I have full revenge on Brian M'Loughlin-ay, either on him or his-or both. Come, Raymond, have you ne'er a spare curse now for Brian M'Loughlin?-you could give a fat one to M'Clutchy this minute and have you none for Brian M'Loughlin?"

"No," replied, the son, "he doesn't be harryin' the poor."

"Well, but he transported your brother.

"No matter; Frank used to beat me-he was bad, an Brian M'Loughlin was good to me, and does be good to me; he gives me my dinner or breakfast whenever I go there-an' a good bed in the barn. I won't curse him. Now!"

"It's no use," continued Poll, whose thin features had not yet subsided from the inflammatory wildness of expression which had been awakened by the curse, "it's no use, he'll only do what he likes himself, an' the best way is to never heed him."

"I believe so," said Darby, "but where's your daughter Lucy now, Poll?"

"Why," said Poll, "she has taken to my trade, an' thravels up to the Foundling; although, dear knows, it's hardly worth her while now-it won't give her salt to her kale, poor girl."

"Why, are the times mendin'?" asked Darby, who spoke in a moral point of view.

"Mendin'!" exclaimed Poll, "oh, ay indeed-Troth they're not fit to be named in the one day with what they used to be. But indeed, of late I'm happy to say that they are improvin' a bit," said she, speaking professionally. "M'Clutchy's givin' them a lift, for I've ever an' always remarked, that distress, and poverty, and neglect o' the poor, and hardship, and persecution, an' oppression, and anything that way, was sure to have my very heart broke wid business."

"And tell me, Poll, did you ever happen to get a job from a sartin pious gentleman, o' the name of M'Slime?-now tell the truth."

"It's a question," replied Poll, "you have no right to axe-you must know, Darby O'Drive, that I've had my private business, as well as my public business, an' that I'd suffer that right hand to be cut off sooner than betray trust. Honor bright, or what's the world good for!"

They now reached a spot where the road branched into two, but Poll still kept to that which led to M'Clutchy's. "Are you for the Cottage too," asked Darby.

"I am," replied Poll, "I've been sent for; but what he wants wid me, I know no more than the man in the moon."

Just then the tramp of a horse's feet was heard behind' them, and in a minute or two, Solomon M'Slime, who was also on his way to the Cottage, rode up to them.

"A kind good morning to you Darby, my friend! I trust you did not neglect to avail yourself of the-Ah!" said he complacently on catching a glimpse of Poll's face, "I think I ought to recollect your features, my good woman-but, no-I can't say I do-No, I must mistake them for those of another-but, indeed, the best of us is liable to mistake and error-all frail-flesh is grass."

"You might often see my face," returned Poll, "but I don't think ever we spoke before. I know you to look at you, sir, that's all-an' it's thrue what you say too, sir, there's nothing but frailty in the world-divil a much else-howsomever, be that as is may, honor bright's my motive."

"And a good motto it is, my excellent woman-is that interesting young man your son?"

"He is, sir; but he's a poor innocent that, hasn't the full complement of wit, sir, God help him!"

"Well, my good woman," continued Solomon, "as he appears to be without shoes to his feet, will you accept of five shillings, which is all the silver I have about me, to buy him a pair."

"Many thanks, Mr. M'Sl-hem-many thanks, sir; honor bright's my motive."

"And let it always be so, my excellent, woman; a good morning to you very kindly! Darby, I bid you also good morning, and peace be with you both."

So saying, he rode on at a quiet, easy amble, apparently at peace with his heart, his conscience, his sleek cob, and all the world besides.

The sessions of Castle Cumber having concluded as sessions usually conclude, we beg our reader to accompany us to Deaker Hall the residence of M'Clutchy's father, the squire. This man was far advanced in years, but appeared to have been possessed of a constitution which sustains sensuality, or perhaps that retrospective spirit which gloats over its polluted recollections, on the very verge of the grave. In the case before us, old age sharpened the inclination to vice in proportion as it diminished the power of being vicious, and presented an instance of a man, at the close of a long life, watching over the grave of a corrupted heart, with a hope of meeting the wan spectres of his own departed passions, since he could not meet the passions themselves; and he met them, for they could not rest, but returned to their former habitation, like unclean spirits as they were, each bringing seven more along with it, but not to torment him. Such were the beings with which the soul of this aged materialist was crowded. During life his well known motto was, "let us eat, and drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die." Upon this principle, expanded into still wider depravity, did he live and act during a protracted existence, and to those who knew him, and well known he was, there appeared something frightfully revolting in the shameless career of this impenitent old infidel.

Deaker was a large man, with a rainbow protuberance before, whose chin, at the time we speak of, rested upon his breast, giving to him the exact character which he bore-that of a man who to the last was studious of every sensual opportunity. His gray, goatish eye, was vigilant and. circumspect, and his under lip protruded in a manner, which, joined to the character of his

age, left no one at a loss for the general subject matter of his thoughts. He always wore top boots, and generally went on horseback, having that part of his hat which rested on the collar of his coat, turned up and greasy.

Squire Deaker's language was not more moral than his life-for he not only enforced his principles by his example, but also by his precept. His conversation consequently resolved itself into a mingled stream of swearing and obscenity. Ridicule of religion, and a hardened triumph in his own iniquitous exploits, illustrated and confirmed by a prodigality of blasphemous asservations, constituted the staple of his thoughts and expressions. According to his own principles he could not look forward to another life, and consequently all that remained for him was to look back upon an unbroken line of seduction and profligacy-upon wealth and influence not merely abused, but prostituted to the lowest and grossest purposes of our worst passions-upon systematic crime-unmanly treachery-and that dishonest avarice which constituted the act of heartless desertion in himself the ultimate ruin and degradation of his victims. Such was this well known squire of the old school, whose portrait, taken from life, will be recognized by every one who ever knew him, should any such happen to peruse these pages.

At the period of which we write Squire Deaker was near eighty, and although feeble and broken down, he still exhibited the remains of a large, coarse, strong-boned animal, not without a vigorous twinkle of low cunning in his eye, and a duplicity of character and principle about his angular and ill-shaped eye-brows which could not be mistaken. He was confined to his bed, and for the first time during many years, was unable to attend the Castle Cumber quarter sessions.

It was the second or third day after their close that about the hour of ten o'clock, a.m., he awoke from a heavy and unhealthy doze, which could scarcely be termed sleep, but rather a kind of middle state between that and waking. At length he raised his head, gasped, and on finding no one in the room, he let fly a volley of execrations, and rang the bell.

"Is there any one there? Any one within hearing? I say Isabel, Isabel, jezabel, are you all dead and d--d?"

"No, your honor, not yet-some of us at least," replied a shrewd-looking lad of about eighteen, nicking his appearance.

"Ha, Lanty-it's you, is it? What do you mean by that, you devil's pick-tooth? Where's Isabel? Where's Jezabel? Playing her pranks, I suppose-where is she, you devil's tooth-brush? eh?"

"Do you want your brandy and wather, sir?"

"Brandy and h-l, you scoundrel! Where's Miss Puzzle?"

"Why, she's just rinsing her mouth, sir, wid a drop of "-

"Of what, you devil's imp; but I know-she's drinking-she's drunk, you young candidate for perdition?"

"I'm not an ould one, sir, any how; as to Miss Fuzzle, sir, she bid me say, that she's doin' herself the pleasure of drinkin' your health"-

"Ha, ha, ha! Oh, if I were near her-that's all! drinking my health! She's tipsy, the she scoundrel, she never sends me that message unless when she's tipsy"-

"Not tipsy, your honor, only unwell-she's a little touched wid the falling sickness-she always takes it after rinsing her mouth, sir; for she's fond of a sweet breath, your honor."

"Ah, she's a confounded blackguard-a living quicksand, and nothing else. Lanty, my lad, if the Mississippi was brandy grog, she'd dry the river-drinking at this hour!-well, never mind, I was drunk myself last night, and I'm half drunk yet. Here, you devil's tinder box, mix me a glass of brandy and water."

"Wouldn't you do it better yourself, sir?"

"No, you whelp, don't you see how my hands, and be hanged to them, tremble and shake. Put in another glass, I say-carry it to my mouth now; hold, you croil-here's the glorious, pious, and immortal memory! Ho! Lanty, there's nothing like being a good Protestant after all-so I'll stand to glorious Bill, to the last; nine times nine, and one cheer more! hurra!"

He then laid himself back, and attempted to whistle the Boyne Water, but having only one tusk in front, the sound produced resembled the wild whistle of the wind through the chink of a door-shrill and monotonous; after which he burst out into a chuckling laugh, tickled, probably, at the notion of that celebrated melody proving disloyal in spite of him, as refusing, as it were, to be whistled.

At this moment Miss Isabel, or as he most frequently called her Miss Jezabel Puzzle, came in with a gleaming eye and an unsteady step-her hair partially dishevelled, and her dress most negligently put on. The moment Deaker saw her, his whole manner changed, notwithstanding his previous violence-the swagger departed from him, his countenance fell, and he lay mute and terror-stricken before her. It was indeed clear that her sway over him was boundless, and such was the fact. On this occasion she simply looked at him significantly, held up her hand in a menacing attitude, and having made a mock curtesy, immediately left the room.

"Lanty," said he in an undertone, when she had gone, "Lanty, you clip, go and tell her to forgive me; I said too much, and I'm sorry for it, say-go you scoundrel."

"Faix I'll do no such thing, sir," replied Lanty, alarmed at the nature of the message; "I know better than to come across her now; she'd whale the life out o' me. Sure she's afther flailing the cook out o' the kitchen-and Tom Corbet the butler has one of his ears, he says, hangin' off him as long as a blood-hound's."

"Speak easy," said Doaker, in a voice of terror, "speak lower, or she may hear you-Isn't it strange," he said to himself, "that I who never feared God or man, should quail before this Jezabel!"

"Begad, an' here's one, your honor, that'll make her quail, if he meets her."

"Who is it," asked the other eagerly, "who is it you imp?"

"Why, Mr. M'Clutchy, sir; he's ridin' up the avenue."

"Ay, Val the Vulture-Val the Vulture-I like that fellow-like him for his confoundedly clever roguery; only he's a hypocrite, and doesn't set the world at defiance as I do;-no, he's a cowardly, skulking hypocrite, nearly as great a one as M'Slime, but doesn't talk so much about religion as that oily gentleman."

In a few moments M'Clutchy entered. "Good morrow, Val. Well, Val-well, my Vulture, what's in the wind now? Who's to suffer? Are you ready for a pounce? Eh?"

"I was sorry to hear that your health's not so good, sir, as it was."

"You lie, my dear Vulture, you lie in your throat, I tell you. You're watching for my carcase, snuffing the air at a distance under the hope of a gorge. No-you didn't care the devil had me, provided you could make a haul by it."

"I hope sir, there's no--"

"Hope! You rascally hypocrite, what's hope good for? Hope to rot in the grave is it? To melt into corruption and feed the worms? What a precious putrid carcase I'll make, when I'm a month in the dirt. Maybe you wouldn't much relish the scent of me then, my worthy Vulture. Curse your beak, at all events! what do you want? what did you come for?"

Val, who knew his worthy sire well, knew also the most successful method of working out any purpose with him. He accordingly replied, conscious that hypocrisy was out of the question-

"The fact is, sir, I want you to aid me in a piece of knavery."

"I'll do it-I'll do it. Hang me if I don't. Come-I like that-it shows that there's no mock modesty between us-that we know one another. What's the knavery?"

"Why, sir, I'm anxious, in the first place, to have Hickman, the head agent, out, and in the next, to get into his place, if possible. Now, I know that you can assist me in both, if you wish."

"How?" asked Deaker, who was quite as able a tactician as his son; and who, in fact, had contrived to put himself so completely! in possession of the political influence of the county as to be able to return any one he wished. "How is it to be done? Tell me that?"

"I have understood from George Gamble, Lord Cumber's own man, that he wants money."

"Tut," replied Deaker, who now forgot a great deal of his swearing, and applied himself to the subject, with all the coolness and ability of a thorough man of business.

"Tut, Val, is that your news? When was he ever otherwise? Come to the point; the thing's desirable-but how can it be done?"

"I think it can; but it must be by very nice handling indeed."

"Well-your nice handling then?"

"The truth is, that Hickman, I suspect, is almost sick of the agency-thanks to Lord Cumber's extravagance, and an occasional bit of blister which I, through the tenantry, lay on him at home. Cumber, you know, is an unsteady scoundrel, and in the ordinary I transactions of life, has no fixed principle, for he is possessed of little honor, and I am afraid not much honesty."

"Oh murder! this from Val the Vulture! Let me look at you! Did M'Slime bite you? or have you turned Methodist? Holy Jupiter, what a sermon! Curse your beak, sir; go on, and no preaching."

"Not much honesty as I said. Now, sir, if you, who have him doubly in your power-first, by the mortgage; and, secondly, as his political godfather, who can either put him in, or keep him out of the country-if you were to write him a friendly, confidential letter, in which, observe, you are about to finally arrange your affairs; and you are sorry-quite sorry-but the truth is, something must be done about the mortgage-you are very sorry-mark-but you are old, and cannot leave your property in an unsettled state. Just touch that part of it so-"

"Yes-touch and go."

"Exactly-touch and go. Well, you pass then to the political portion of it. Hickman's political opinions are not well known, or at least doubtful. Indeed you have reason to believe that he will not support his lordship or his family-is not in the confidence of government-displeased at the Union-and grumbles about corruption. His lordship is abroad you know, and cannot think for himself. You speak as his friend-his tried friend-he ought to have a man on his property who is staunch, can be depended on, and who will see that full justice is done him in his absence. Hickman, too, is against Ascendancy principles. Do you see, sir?"

"Proceed-what next?"

"Why, we stop there for the present; nothing more can be done until we hear from the scoundrel himself."

"And what do you imagine will be the upshot?"

"Why, I think it not at all unlikely that he will place himself and his interests, pecuniary and political, altogether in your hands, and consequently you will probably have the guiding of him."

"Well, Val, you are an able knave to be sure; but never mind; I like you all the better. The true doctrine is always-eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow you die,-take as much out of life and your fellow-men as you can. There's no knavery in the grave, my Vulture. There the honest man and the knave are alike; and this being the case, what the devil is public opinion worth?"

"It's worth a great deal if we use it for our own purposes while we're here; otherwise I agree with you that it's valueless in itself."

"You're a cursed clever fellow, Val, an able knave, as I said-but I don't like your son; he's a dishonest blockhead, and I needn't tell you that the man who has not brains enough to be dishonest is a most contemptible scoundrel."

"Are you not able to get up?" asked Val, in a very dutiful and affectionate voice.

"Able enough now, but my head swam a while ago at a deuced rate. I was drunk, as usual, last night, and could do nothing, not even put a tumbler to my mouth, until I took a stiff glass of brandy and water, and that has set me up again. When shall I write to young Topertoe, the Cumber blade?"

"The sooner the better, now; but I think you ought to rise and take some exercise."

"So I shall, immediately, and to-morrow I write then, according to your able instructions, most subtle and sagacious Val. Are you off?"

"Yes, good-bye, sir, and many thanks."

"None of your stuff I say, but be off out of this-" and as he spoke Val disappeared.

So far the first steps for ousting Mr. Hickman were taken by this precious father and his equally valuable son. Val, however, entertained other speculations quite as ingenious, and far more malignant in their tendency. Hickman, of course, he might, by undercurrents and manoeuvering, succeed in ejecting from the agency; but he could not absolutely ruin him. Nothing short of this, however, did he propose to himself, so far as M'Loughlin, and, we may add, every one connected with him, was concerned; for M'Clutchy possessed that kind of economy in his moral feelings, that always prompted him to gratify his interest and his malice by the same act of virtue. How he succeeded in this benevolent resolution, time and the progress of this truthful history will show.

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