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   Chapter 5 —A Mysterious Meeting

Valentine M'Clutchy, The Irish Agent / The Works of William Carleton, Volume Two By William Carleton Characters: 24944

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


-Description of a Summer Evening-A Jealous Vision-Letter from Squire Beaker to Lord Cumber-Lord Cumber's Reply.

The season was now about the close of May, that delightful month which presents, the heart and all our purer sensations with a twofold enjoyment; for in that sweet period have we not all the tenderness and delicacy of spring, combined with the fuller and more expanded charms of the leafy summer-like that portion of female life, in which the eye feels it difficult to determine whether the delicate beauty of the blushing girl, or the riper loveliness of the full grown maid, predominates in the person. The time was evening, about half an hour before that soft repose of twilight, in which may be perceived the subsiding stir of busy life as it murmurs itself into slumber, after the active pursuits of day. On a green upland lawn, that was a sheep walk, some portions of which were studded over with the blooming and fragrant furze, stood an old ecclesiastical ruin, grey from time, and breathing with that spirit of vague but dreamy reverie, which it caught from the loveliness of the season, the calmness and the golden light of the hour, accessories, that, by their influence, gave a solemn beauty to its very desolation. It reminded one somewhat of the light which coming death throws upon the cheek of youth when he treacherously treads in the soft and noiseless steps of decline-or rather of that still purer light, which, when the aged Christian arrives at the close of a well spent life, accompanied by peace, and hope, and calmness, falls like a glory on his bed of death. The ruin was but small, a remnant of one of those humble, but rude temples, in which God was worshipped in simplicity and peace, far from the noisy tumults and sanguinary conflicts of ambitious man.

Through this sweet upland, and close to the ruin, ran a footpath that led to a mountain village of considerable extent. Immediately behind the ruin stood a few large hawthorn trees, now white with blossoms, whose fragrance made the very air a luxury, and from whose branches came forth those gushes of evening melody that shed tenderness and tranquility into the troubled heart. The country in the distance lay charmed, as it were, by the calm spirit of peace which seemed to have diffused itself over the whole landscape-western windows were turned into fire-the motionless lakes shone like mirrors wherever they caught the beams of the evening light, as did several bends of the broad river which barely moved within its winding banks through the meadows below. The sun at length became half concealed behind the summit of the western hills, so that his rich and gorgeous beams fell only upon the surrounding uplands, now lit into purple, leaving the valleys and lower parts of the country to repose in that beautiful shadow which can be looked upon from the higher parts, only through the crimson glory of the departing light. And now the sun has disappeared-is gone-but still how beautiful is the fading splendor that sleeps for a little on the mountain tops, then becomes dimmer and dimmer-then a faint streak which gradually melts away until it is finally lost in the soft shadows of that thoughtful hour. And even thus passeth away all human glory! The ruin which we have mentioned stood about half way between the residence of Brian M'Loughlin and the mountain village to which we have alluded. Proceeding homewards from the latter place, having performed an errand of mercy and charity, was a very beautiful girl, exquisitely formed, but somewhat below the middle size. She was Brian M'Loughlin's only daughter-a creature that breathed of goodness, grace, and all those delightful qualities that make woman a ministering angel amidst the cares, and miseries, and sorrows of life. Her figure, symmetry itself, was so light, and graceful, and elegant, that a new charm was displayed by every motion, as a new beauty was discovered by every change of her expressive countenance; her hair was like the raven's wing, and her black eye, instead of being sharp and piercing, was more in accordance with the benignity of her character, soft, sweet, and mellow. Her bust and arm were perfection, and the small white hand and taper fingers would have told a connoisseur or sculptor, that her foot, in lightness and elegance of formation, might have excited, the envy of Iris or Camilla.

Having reached the ruin, she was surprised to see the figure of a thin woman, dressed in black, issue out of it, and approach her with somewhat of caution in her manner. Mary M'Loughlin was a girl of strong mind and firm character, and not likely to feel alarmed by any groundless cause of apprehension. She immediately recognized the woman, who was no other than our old friend Poll Doolin, and in the phrases peculiar to the country, made the usual kind inquiry after her health and welfare.

"It's a very unusual thing, Poll," she proceeded, "to see you in this part of the neighborhood!"

"It is," returned Poll, "I wasn't so near the mountains this many a day; an' I wouldn't be here now, only on your account. Miss M'Loughlin."

Now, Mary was by no means ignorant of the enmity which this woman entertained against her father and family, in consequence of having prosecuted and transported her profligate son. Without the slightest apprehension on that account, she felt, however, a good deal puzzled as to the meaning which could be attached to Poll's words. "How, on my account, Poll? I don't understand you."

"Neither you nor yours desarve it at my hands; but for all that, I am here to do you a good tarn."

"I hope I never deserved any evil at your! hands, Poll."

"No, but you're your father's daughter for all that, an' it's not usual to hate the tree and spare the branches."

"I suppose you allude to the transportation of your son; but remember, Poll, that I was only a child then; and don't forget that had your son been honest, he might I still be a comfort and a credit to you, instead of a shame and a sorrow. I don't I mean, nor do I wish to hurt your feelings, Poll; but I am anxious that you should not indulge in such bitterness of heart against my father, who only did what he could not avoid."

"Well," said Poll, "never mind that-although it isn't aisy for a mother to forget her child wid all his faults; I am here, as I said, on your 'account-I am here to tell you, that there is danger about you and before you, and to put you on your guard against it. I am here, Miss Mary M'Loughlin, and if I'm not your friend-I'm not sayin' that I am not-still I'm the friend of one that is your friend, and that will protect you if he can."

"That is very strange, Poll, for I know not how I can have an enemy. What danger could a simple inoffensive girl like me feel? I who have never knowingly offended anybody."

"I have said the truth," replied Poll, "and did my duty-you're now warned, so be on your guard and take care of yourself."

"But how, Poll? You mention danger, yet have not told me what it is, where it's to come from, nor how I am to guard myself against it."

"I'm not at liberty," said Poll, "but this I can tell you, it's threatening you, and it comes from a quarther where you'd never look for it."

Mary, who was neither timid nor surprised, smiled with the confidence of innocence, and replied, after a short pause of thought-

"Well, Poll, I have been thinking over my friends, and cannot find one that is likely to be my enemy; at all events I am deeply obliged to you, still if you could mention what the danger is, I would certainly feel the obligation to be greater. As it is, I thank you again. Good evening!"

"Stay, Miss Mary," replied Poll, walking eagerly a step or two after her, "stay a minute; I have run a risk in doin' this-only promise me, to keep what I said to you a saicret for a while-as well as that you ever had any private talk wid me. Promise this."

"I shall certainly not promise any such thing, Poll; so far from that, I will mention every word of your conversation to my father and family, the moment I reach home. If, as you say, there is danger before or around me, there are none whose protection I should so naturally seek."

"But this," said Poll, with an appearance of deep anxiety, "this is a matther of mere indifference to you: it's to me the danger is, if you spake of it-to me, I say-not to you."

"But I can have no secrets from my family."

"Well, but is it ginerous in you to put me-ay', my very life in danger-when all you have to do is merely to say nothing? However, since I must speak out-you'll put more than me in danger-them that you love betther, an' that you'd never carry a light heart if anything happened them."

Mary started-and a light seemed suddenly to break upon her.

"How," said she, "my engagement to Francis Harman is no secret; our marriage at no distant day being sanctioned by both our families. Is he involved in danger connected with your hints?"

"Deep and deadly, both to him and me. You don't know it, Miss Mary. If you love him, as you do-as is well known you do-if you would keep him and my poor worthless self out of danger, may be out of bloodshed-don't mention a syllable of this meetin' to any one; but of all persons livin' to himself, until I give you lave, until I can tell you it will be safe to do so. See, I kneel down with hands clasped, I beg it of you for his sake and safety!"

It was pretty well known through the parish, especially by the initiated, that this same Poll Doolin, had in truth most of its secrets in keeping; and that she had frequently conducted with success those rustic intrigues which are to be found in humble, as well as in high life. The former part of Poll's character, however, was all that had ever reached the youthful ears of poor innocent Mary, whilst of her address as a diplomatist in the plots and pursuits of love, she was utterly ignorant. Naturally unsuspicious, as we have already said, she looked upon the woman's knowing character rather as a circumstance calculated to corroborate the truth of the mystery which she, must have discovered: and was so much moved by the unquestionable sincerity of her manner, and the safety of her own lover, that she assured her she would keep the secret, until permitted to divulge it; which she begged might be at as early a period as possible. Poll thanked her eagerly and gratefully, and in a few minutes, having made a circuit behind the ruin, sought the lower and richer country by a different path.

Mary unconsciously stood for some time after Poll had left her, meditating over the strange and almost unaccountable scene which had just taken place, when a rich voice, with which she was well acquainted, addressed her. She started, and on turning about, found Francis Harman before her. Twilight had now nearly passed away, and the dusk of evening was deepening into the darkness of a summer night.

"What on earth are you thinking of alone in this place, my dear Mary, and who was that woman who just left you?"

Mary, though firm of character, was also tender and warm of heart, and felt deeply for those she loved. The interview with Poll, therefore, had excited apprehensions concerning Harman's safety, which disturbed her far more than any she felt for herself. He gave her his right arm as he spoke, and they went on towards her father's house.

"Good God," he exclaimed, before she had time to answer him, "what has disturbed or alarmed you, my sweet Mary? I feel your heart beating against my arm, in a most extraordinary manner. How is this?"

The consciousness of the injunction so solemnly and recently imposed, distressed her exceedingly. Her love of truth was like her love of life or of heaven, a sacred and instinctive principle which she must now not only violate, but be forced to run into the hateful practice of dissimulation. All this passed through her mind in a moment.

"My dear Francis, I will freely admit that the beatings of my heart are not altogether without cause; I have been somewhat disturbed, but it will not signify; I shall be quite well in a moment-but where did you come from?"

"They told me you had gone up to poor Widow Carrick's-and I took the short way, thinking to find you there. But what has disturbed you, my dear Mary? Something has, and greatly too."

She looked up with an affectionate smile into his face, although there trembled a tear upon her eyelids, as

she spoke-

"Do not ask me, my dear Frank; nor don't think the circumstance of much importance. It is a little secret of mine, which I cannot for the present disclose."

"Well, my love, I only ask to know if the woman that left you was Poll Doolin."

"I cannot answer even that, Frank; but such as the secret is, I trust you shall soon know it."

"That is enough, my darling. I am satisfied that you would conceal nothing from either your family or me, which might be detrimental either to yourself or us-or which we ought to know."

"That is true," said she, "I feel that it is true."

"But then on the other hand," said he, playfully, "suppose our little darling were in possession of a secret which we ought not to know-what character should we bestow on the secret?"

This, though said in love and jest, distressed her so much that she was forced to tell him so-"my dear Francis," she replied, with as much composure as she could assume, "do not press me on the subject;-I cannot speak upon it now, and I consequently must throw myself on your love and generosity only for a short time, I hope."

"Not a syllable, my darling, on the subject until you resume it yourself-how are Widow Carrick's sick children?"

"Somewhat better," she replied, "the two eldest are recovering, and want nourishment, which, with the exception of my poor contributions, they cannot get."

"God love and guard your kind and charitable heart, my sweet Mary," said he, looking down tenderly into her beautiful face, and pressing her arm lovingly against his side.

"What a hard-hearted man that under agent, M'Clutchy, is," she exclaimed, her beautiful eye brightening with indignation-"do you know that while her children were ill, his bailiff, Darby O'Drive, by his orders or authority, or some claim or other, took away her goose and the only half-dozen of eggs she had for them-indeed, Frank, he's a sad curse to the property."

"He is what an old Vandal was once called for his cruelty and oppression-the Scourge of God," replied Harman, "such certainly the unhappy tenantry of the Topertoe family find him. Harsh and heartless as he is, however, what would he be were it not for the vigilance and humanity of Mr. Hickman? But are you aware, Mary, that his graceful son Phil was a suitor of yours?"

"Of mine--ha, ha, ha!-oh, that's too comical, Frank-but I am not-Had I really ever that honor?"

"Most certainly; his amiable father had the modesty to propose a matrimonial union between your family and his!"

"I never heard of it," replied Mary, "never;-but that is easily accounted for-my father, I know, would not insult me by the very mention of it."

"It's a fact though, that the illegitimate son of the blasphemous old squire, and of the virtuous and celebrated Kate Clank, hoped to have united the M'Loughlin blood with his!"

"Hush!" exclaimed Mary, shuddering, "the very thought is sickening, revolting."

"It's not a pleasant subject, certainly," said Harman, "and the less that is said about it the more disgust we shall avoid, at any rate."

Her lover having safely conducted Mary home, remained with her family only a few minutes, as the evening was advanced, and he had still to go as far as Castle Cumber, upon business connected with the manufactory, which M'Loughlin and his father had placed wholly under his superintendence.

Upon what slight circumstances does the happiness of individuals, nay, even of states and kingdoms, too frequently depend! Harman most assuredly was incapable of altogether dismissing the circumstance of the evening-involved in mystery as they unquestionably were-out of his mind; not that he entertained the slightest possible suspicion of Mary's prudence or affection; but he felt a kind of surprise at the novelty of the position in which he saw she was placed, and no little pain in consequence of the disagreeable necessity for silence which she admitted had been imposed on her. His confidence in her, however, was boundless; and from this perfect reliance on her discretion and truth, he derived an assurance that she was acting with strict propriety under the circumstances, whatever might be their character or tendency.

It may be necessary to mention here that a right of passage ran from Beleeven, the name of the village in which M'Loughlin resided, to the Castle Cumber high road, which it joined a little beyond Constitution Cottage, passing immediately through an angle of the clump of beeches already mentioned as growing behind the house. By this path, which shortened the way very much, Harman, and indeed every pedestrian acquainted with it, was in the habit of passing, and on the night in question he was proceeding along it at a pretty quick pace, when, having reached the beeches just alluded to, he perceived two figures, a male and female, apparently engaged in close and earnest conversation. The distance at first was too great to enable him to form any opinion as to who they were, nor would he have even asked himself the question, were it not that the way necessarily brought him pretty near them. The reader may form some conception then of his surprise, his perplexity, and, disguise it as he might, his pain, on ascertaining that the female was no other than Poll Doolin, and her companion, graceful Phil himself-the gallant and accomplished owner of Handsome Harry.

It appeared quite evident that the subject matter of their conversation was designed for no other ears than their own, or why speak as they did in low and guarded tones, that implied great secrecy and caution. Nay, what proved still a plainer corroboration of this-no sooner was the noise of his footsteps heard, than Poll squatted herself down behind the small hedge which separated the pathway from the space on which they stood, and this clearly with a hope of concealing her person from his observation. Phil also turned away his face with a purpose of concealment, but the impression left by his lank and scraggy outline, as it stood twisted before Harman, was such as could not be mistaken. Poll's identity not only on this occasion, but also during her hasty separation from Mary, was now established beyond the possibility of a doubt; a fact which lent to both her interviews a degree of mystery that confounded Harman. On thinking over the matter coolly, he could scarcely help believing that Her appearance here was in some way connected with the, circumstances which had occasioned Mary so much agitation and alarm. This suspicion, however, soon gave way to a more generous estimate of her character, and he could not permit himself for a moment to imagine the existence of anything that was prejudicial to her truth and affection. At the same time he felt it impossible to prevent himself from experiencing a strong sense of anxiety, or perhaps we should say, a feeling of involuntary pain, which lay like a dead weight upon his heart and spirits. In truth, do what he might and reason as he would, he could not expel from his mind the new and painful principle which disturbed it. And thus he went on, sometimes triumphantly defending Mary from all ungenerous suspicion, and again writhing under the vague and shapeless surmises which the singular events of the evening sent crowding to his imagination. His dreams on retiring to seek repose were frightful-several times in the night he saw graceful Phil squinting at him with a nondescript leer of vengeance and derision in his yellow goggle eyes, and bearing Mary off, like some misshapen ogre of old, mounted upon Handsome Harry, who appeared to be gifted with the speed of Hark-away or flying Childers, whilst he himself could do nothing but stand helplessly by, and contemplate the triumph of his hated rival.

In the mean time the respected father and grandfather of that worthy young gentleman were laboring as assiduously for his advancement in life as if he had been gifted with a catalogue of all human virtues. Old Deaker, true to his word, addressed the very next day the following characteristic epistle-

"To the Right Hon. Lord Cumber.

"My Lord-It is unnecessary to tell you that I was, during my life, a plain blunt fellow in all my transactions. When I was honest, I was honest like a man; and when I did the roguery, I did it like a open, fearless knave, that defied the world and scorned hypocrisy. I am, therefore, the same consistent old scoundrel as ever; or the same bluff, good-humored rascal which your old father-who sold his country-and yourself-who would sell it too, if you had one to sell-ever found me. To make short work, then, I want you to dismiss that poor, scurvy devil, Hickman, from your agency, and put that misbegotten spawn of mine in his place. I mean Val M'Clutchy, or Val the Vulture, as they have very properly christened him. Hickman's not the thing, in any sense. He can't manage the people, and they impose upon him-then you suffer, of course. Bedsides, he's an anti-ascendancy man, of late, and will go against you at the forthcoming Election. The fellow pretends to have a conscience, and be cursed to him-prates about the Union-preaches against corruption-and talks about the people, as if they were fit to be anything else than what they are. This is a pretty fellow for you to have as an agent to your property. Now, I'll tell you what, my Lord-you know old Deaker well. His motto is-'Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die-' I'll tell you what, I say; I have a mortgage on your property for fourteen thousand pounds. Now, put in Val or I'll be speaking to my lawyer about it. Put in Val, or you will never warm your posteriors in a seat for this county, so long as I carry the key of it. In doing so, make no wry faces about it-you will only serve yourself and your property, and serve Val into the bargain. Val, to be sure, is as confounded a scoundrel as any of us, but then he is a staunch Protestant; and you ought not to be told at this time of day, that the greater the scoundrel the better the agent. Would you have a fellow, for instance, whose conscience, indeed, must stand between you and your interest? Would you have some honest blockhead, who, when you are to be served by a piece of friendly rascality, will plead scruples. If so, you are a greater fool than I ever took you to be. Make Val your agent, and it is not you that will suffer by him, but the people-whom, of course, no one cares a curse about. I ought to have some claim on you, I think. Many a lift I have given your precious old father, Tom Topertoe, when I did not think of pleading scruples. To tell you the truth, many a dirty trick I played for him, and never brought my conscience to account for it. Make the most of this rascally world, and of the rascals that are in it, for we are all alike in the grave. Put in Val, then, and don't made an enemy of

"Your old friend,

"Randal Deaker.

"P.S.-As to Val, he knows nothing of this transaction-I told him I would say so, and I keep my word. I forgot to say that if you write this beggarly devil, Hickman, a sharp letter for money, he may probably save you the trouble of turning him out. I know him well-he is a thin skinned fool, and will be apt to bolt, if you follow my advice.

"Yours as you deserve it,

"R D."

Now, it is necessary to say here, that amidst all this pretence of open villainy, there ran an undercurrent of cunning that might escape the observation of most men. In truth, old Deaker was not only a knave, but a most unscrupulous oppressor at heart, especially when he happened to get a man in his power from whom he wished to extort a favor, or on whom he wished to inflict an injury. In the present instance he felt perfectly conscious of his power over the heartless profligate, to whom he wrote such a characteristic letter, and the result shows that he neither miscalculated the feeble principles of his correspondent, nor the consequences of his own influence over him. By due return of post he received a reply, of which the following is a copy:-

"Old Deaker-You have me fast, and you know it-so I suppose must is the word; now I'll tell you what I want, you old villain; I want two thousand pounds, and if M'Clutchy is to get the agency, I must have the money-so there is my must as well as yours. In the meantime I have written to Hickman on the same subject, want of money, I mean-what the consequences may be, I know not, but I fancy I can guess them.

"Yours,

"Cumber."

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