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   Chapter 29 —Richard Topertoe and his Brother

Valentine M'Clutchy, The Irish Agent / The Works of William Carleton, Volume Two By William Carleton Characters: 24388

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


-Lord Cumber's Duel-Shot by Hartley-Dies in the Vindication of a tyrannical Principle-Marriage of Harman and Mary O'Loughlin-Solomon struck off the roll-Handsome Compliment to the Judge-Solomon's Death-Dances the Swaggering Jig-Lucre's Virtues and Christian Death.

The Honorable Richard Alexander Topertoe, for he was sometimes called the one and sometimes the other, but most frequently Richard, had been for several years on the continent, where he found it more economical to reside than at home. A circumstance connected with a gambling debt of his brother's; communicated by a friend, brought him suddenly to London, where he arrived in time to save his brother's reputation and fortune, and most probably his life, for Lord Cumber, be it known, was very nearly what is termed a professed duelist. Having succeeded in saving his brother from being fleeced by a crew of aristocratic black-legs, and thereby rendered an appeal to the duello unnecessary, he happened to become acquainted with a very wealthy merchant, whose daughter, in the course of a few months, he wooed and won. The thing in fact is common, and has nothing at all of romance in it. She had wealth and beauty; he had some title. The father, who passed off to a different counting-house, about a couple of months after their marriage, left him and her to the enjoyment of an immense property in the Funds; and sooth to say, it could not have got into better hands. She was made the Honorable Mrs. Richard Topertoe, and if a cultivated understanding, joined to an excellent and humane heart, deserved a title, in her person they did. After his arrival in London he had several conversations with his brother, whose notions with regard to property he found to be of the cool, aristocratic, and contemptuous school; that is to say, he did not feel himself bound to neglect the pleasures and enjoyments of life, and to look after his tenants. It was enough that he received their rents, and paid a sensible Agent to collect them. What more could he do? Was he to become their slave?

Richard, who now felt quite anxious to witness the management of his brother's estate-if only for the purpose of correcting his bad logic upon the subject of property, came over incognito to the metropolis, accompanied by his wife; and it was to his brother, under the good-humored sobriquet of Spinageberd, that he addressed the letters recorded in these volumes. He also had a better object in view, which was to purchase property in the country, and to reside on it. That he did not succeed in rooting out of Lord Cumber's mind his senseless prejudices with respect to the duties of a landlord, was unfortunately none of his fault. All that man could do, by reasoning, illustration, and remonstrance, he did; but in vain; the old absurd principle of the landlord's claims upon his tenantry, Lord Cumber neither could nor would give up; and having made these necessary observations, we proceed with our narrative.

Better than a week had now elapsed; M'Clutchy had been interred with great pomp-all the Orangemen of the neighboring districts having attended "his honored and lamented remains" to the grave, each dressed in his appropriate Orange costume. The provincial chaplain, remarkable for singing his own songs, had been engaged to preach his funeral sermon, which he did with a force of eloquence and pathos that literally brought the tears of those who were acquainted with Val's virtues down their cheeks-but of none else. He dwelt with particular severity upon those who had kindled bonfires, and hung his respectable son, "our esteemed brother, Captain Phil, in effigy; whilst the sacred remains of that father whom he loved so well, and who so well deserved his love, and the love of all who had the pleasure and happiness of his acquaintance, &c, &c, were not yet cold."

All this, we say, had taken place, and our friend Hartley was seated quietly at his breakfast one morning, when a gentleman named Fenton waited upon him, on the part of Lord Cumber. After the usual salutations, Mr. Fenton opened the business on which he had come.

"I regret, Mr. Hartley, that there should be any misunderstanding between you and Lord Cumber."

"Not more so than I do, Mr. Fenton, I assure you; Lord Cumber, I presume, has arrived then? But pardon me, have you breakfasted?"

"Thank you, sir, I have breakfasted. He has arrived, sir, and, requested me, to wait upon you for an apology. It appears, according to my instructions, as the lawyers say, that you have charged him with holding and exercising tyrannical principles as a landlord; now this, you know, is really a thing that a man like him could not overlook."

"Of course, Mr. Fenton, he placed our correspondence in your hands."

"Unquestionably he submitted it to me, previous to my consenting to act."

"And may I ask your own opinion, Mr Fenton?"

"As an extensive landed proprietor, Mr. Hartley, I must say that I agree with him; I think a landlord has a right to demand every kind of support from his tenant, and that if the tenant claims the privilege of running counter to his landlord's interest, then the landlord is justified in removing the tenant off his property as soon as he can."

"In that case, then," replied Hartley, "I have no concession to make, and no apology to offer. I regret this business very much; but Lord Cumber places me in a position which I cannot leave without dishonor."

"He also wishes to have an explanation with respect to the circumstances which induced so many of his corps of yeomanry to enroll their names in your new troop."

"I have explained that already, by stating that I never solicited any of his men to join my troop; they came of their own free will, and I received them, and certainly will receive as many as come to us under similar circumstances."

"Then I suppose you will not cause them to withdraw from your troop, as Lord Cumber insists on."

"Insists on! Will he allow neither the tenant nor the yeoman the use of his free will, Mr. Fenton? I see nothing now remains but to refer you to my friend, Captain Ormsby, who will assist you in making all the necessary arrangements; and the sooner this unpleasant matter is terminated; the better."

After bidding each other good morning, Mr. Fenton departed to make, as Hartley termed them, "the necessary arrangements."

The next morning at day-break, in a paddock about two miles from Castle Cumber, there stood a very elegant young man, of a high and aristocratic bearing, accompanied by Mr. Fenton, to whom he appeared to be relating some pleasant anecdote, if one could judge by the cheerful features of the narrator, and the laughter of his companion. A carriage stood by a kind of scalp in the road, which carriage contained a medical man, who, indeed, was present with great reluctance. In a few minutes a gig, containing two persons, drove to the same spot at a rapid pace, a gentleman on horseback accompanying it; these were Mr. Hartley, his friend, Captain Ormsby, and a medical gentleman, whom he also had brought on the occasion.

On meeting the two principals bowed politely, addressing each other in friendly terms, and were actually advancing to shake hands, when they mutually checked themselves, and Hartley, smiling, said:-

"My Lord, I fear that this is really a foolish business-why, it is literally fighting a duel upon abstract principles."

"It is fighting a duel upon a principle, which, either abstract or not, I will always support. If, however, you wish to avoid a duel, Mr. Hartley, you have only to withdraw the offensive term you applied to the principle in question."

"As soon, my Lord, as you renounce the principle itself."

"Enough," said Lord Cumber, "gentlemen, please to let us take our ground."

Nothing could surpass the coolness, the ease of manner, and fine bearing of both. The ground was measured at twelve paces, and it was agreed by the seconds, from principles of humanity, that they should fire by signal. Indeed, we may say here, that the seconds did everything that men so circumstanced could do, to prevent the necessity of fighting. Each, however, was high-minded and courageous, and knowing that his opponent was remarkable for bravery and success as a duellist, refused to make any concession. They accordingly took their grounds, resolved to abide the event.

Having been placed, the seconds, previous to their agreement as to the signal to be given, withdrew a little, so as to be completely out of hearing. While discussing this point, a circumstance occurred worthy of notice, and, we must say, the high-minded courage which it manifested ought to have restrained Lord Cumber, as a man of honor, from turning a pistol against Hartley on the occasion. Both were standing, as we have said, awaiting the signal to fire, when Hartley said:-

"My Lord Cumber a word with you."

"It is too late, Mr. Hartley," replied that nobleman; "I am on my ground."

"It is not an apology, my Lord," replied the other smiling; "but really, as a man of honor, I cannot fight you as we stand at present: we are not upon equal terms."

"Speak to your second, sir," said his opponent.

"You perceive he happens to be engaged just now," rejoined Hartley; "but, in fact, the communication can as well be made to your lordship; I have just observed, my Lord, that the bullet of your pistol has dropped out, and I believe, if you will take the trouble to look upon the ground, you will see it at your feet; your second, I presume, has forgot to put in wadding."

"Mr. Hartley," replied Lord Cumber, "I always believed you to be a gentleman, and a man of bravery; I feel it now, and whatever the event of this meeting may be, I shall render you ample justice. I thank you, sir, for that act of true courage and honor." At length the bullet was restored to its place, and the seconds drew aside to give the signal, which was letting fall a white handkerchief, when each was immediately to fire.

How short a span there is between life and eternity! There they stood, both in high health and strength, full of the world, and the world's spirit, and yet in how brief a space was one of them to appear before the judgment-seat of God!

At length the signal was given, the handkerchief fell, two shots were heard, one instantly following the other. Hartley having fired, dropped his pistol hand by his side, whilst Lord Cumber raised his left hand to his breast, or rather was in the act of raising it, when he fell, gathered up his knees to his chin, and immediately stretching out his limbs at full length, was a corpse: thus dying as he did, in the maintenance of an unjust and tyrannical principle. And so passed away, by an untimely death, a man who was not destined to be a bad character. His errors as a man-a private nobleman-we do not canvass any farther than as they affected his duties as a landlord. His errors as a landlord were the errors of his time, and represented the principles of his class. These were contempt for, and neglect of, the condition and comforts of his tenantry, of the very individuals from whose exertions and straggles he derived his support. Strange, indeed, it is that men placed as his lordship was, should forget a principle, which a neglect of their duties may one day teach them to their cost-that principle is the equal right of every man to the soil which God has created for all. The laws of agrarian property are the laws of a class, and it is not too much to say, that if the rights of this class to legislate for their own interests were severely investigated, it might appear upon just and rational principles that the landlord is nothing more nor less than a pensioner upon popular credulity, and lives upon a fundamental error in society created by the class to which he belongs. Think of this, gentlemen, and pay attention to your duties.

Whilst Lord Cumber, who never communicated a syllable touching the duel with Hartley to his brother, was engaged in that mortal conflict, as it unhappily turned out to be, the Honorable Richard Topertoe was engaged in a far different occupation. On that same morning, in Castle Cumber ch

urch, he had the pleasure of giving away the hand of Mary M'Loughlin to her lover, Harman, and it was on their return from her father's house, after having witnessed their subsequent marriage by Father Roche, that he met his brother's carriage containing his dead body. Richard Topertoe possessed a mind above an empty title, and, perhaps, there lived not a man who more sincerely deplored the event which made him Lord Cumber, and put him in possession of a property which he did not require.

Our chronicles draw to a close. The contemplated interview between Mrs. Lenehan, her brother, and Solomon, never in fact took place. Solomon fell very seasonably into ill health, and could be seen by nobody, except his physician, who was nearly as religious as himself, and besides, a member of his own congregation. In the trust, however, which the widow placed in Solomon, she was, to use his own language, abundantly justified, as the event proved. Honest Solomon defrauded her out of the money, and had the satisfaction of reflecting that he reduced her and her family to beggary. Breach of trust it appears is a very slight thing in the eye of the law, and Solomon, encouraged by this consideration, ruined the unfortunate widow and her orphans. This act of gross, unprincipled robbery was, however, not unpunished. In about a month after he had perpetrated it, the following scene occurred in the Court of King's Bench, in presence of many who will have little difficulty in bringing it to their recollection. A thin, pale-faced man, far gone apparently in serious illness, supported on each side by a religious friend who had not given him up, one of them by the way was a Scotchman, and a far greater knave and hypocrite than himself-approached the table, and requested permission to address the Court, previous to the exercise of its jurisdiction in striking him off the Roll of Attornies. This permission was granted, and Solomon, for it was he, spoke briefly as follows:-

"My Lord, you see before you a frail sinner, who will soon appear before a greater and more awful tribunal than yours. I am not here, my Lord, to defend an act to which I was prompted by-may I be permitted to say so-by my very virtues. Some men, my Lord, we ruined by excellent qualities, and some by those which are the reverse. As touching mine, my Lord, and the principles upon which-but an explanation on this subject would not become me. Oh, no, my Lord; but your lordship sees these tears; your lordship sees this weak, feeble, and emaciated frame. You perceive, in fact, my Lord, that I am scarcely a subject for the severity of this or any other court. In the meantime, may I be prepared to meet a greater, a more awful one! May that be granted, my Lord! oh, may He grant it! I am very feeble, my Lord, but still able to entreat that your lordship will temper justice with mercy. About a month ago, my Lord, when I little apprehended the occurrence which-but may His will be done! My honesty is known, my Lord; it is known there, pointing up-about a month ago, I say, I had my last child baptized by-I am ashamed to tell your lordship what name, lest you might imagine that I done so for the purpose of biasing your judgment in the-No, my Lord, I will add nothing to the simple fact-I had my last child baptized by the name of Richard Pennywinkle M'Slime-a circumstance which fills my heart with sentiments of joy and gratification up to this moment. And I am not depressed--far from it. This, my Lord, is a trial, and I know, for I feel, that it is good for me to be tried, inasmuch as it is a proof that I am cared for THERE!" and he pointed again upwards as he spoke.

The judge, who was a kind-hearted and humane man, was melted even unto tears which he could with difficulty restrain whilst he spoke.

"Unhappy man," said he, "I have been for several years in the habit of dispensing law-"

"Justice, you mean, my Lord," said Solomon; "oh, justice, justice, or rather mercy, my Lord! little of law have you ever dispensed! Oh, little of law-but much of justice. May He be praised for it! amen, amen!"

"Your case, unhappy man, is one which places me in a peculiarly painful position indeed. The compliment you were good enough to pay me-I mean that of calling your child after me-makes me feel as if in addressing you I was-" here he sobbed and wiped his eyes bitterly, and was about to proceed, when Widow Lenehan's counsel rose up, and said:-

"My Lord, it is really too bad that hypocrisy should continue its impositions even to the last act of the drama. I feel it my duty to disabuse your lordship in this matter of naming the child after you. Perhaps the compliment will be considerably diminished, if not absolutely reversed, when you come to know, my Lord, that the child which bears your lordship's name-if it does bear it-is an illegitimate one, and very unworthy, indeed, my Lord of bearing such an honored name as yours."

The judge had been shedding tears for Solomon's calamities during this address, but it is almost unnecessary to say that the change from the benevolent and pathetic to the indignant was as fine a specimen as ever was given of the ludicrous.

"Do you mean to tell me," said the judge, the whole features of his face in a state of transition that was perfectly irresistible; "do you mean to tell me that the child which the wretched! man had the insolence to name after me, was not born in wedlock.

"My Lord," said Solomon, "this is a subject on which aided by my great namesake the wisest of-"

"The decision of the court," continued the judge, "is, that your name be struck off the list of Attornies who practice here."

In the course of about six weeks afterwards might be read, in all the metropolitan papers, the following announcement: "Died of deep decline in the forty-eighth year of his age, Solomon M'Slime, Esq., Attorney-at-Law. Indeed we are bound to say, that for the last and most exemplary portion of his life, he ought rather to have been termed Attorney-at-Gospel. We are glad to hear, for the sake of his interesting family, that his life was insured for the sum of two thousand pounds, which has been paid to them."

About four months after Solomon's death, an American vessel was lying at the Pigeon House, waiting for the tide. Several of the passengers were assembled in Mrs. Thumbstall's tavern-previous to the departure of the brig-where, as was then usual, they amused themselves by drinking punch and dancing. Among them was a little thin fellow, dressed in a short frieze coat, striped waistcoat, corduroy breeches, and stout brogues; beside him sat a comely, youthful, but somewhat prim female, dressed as a plain peasant girl. The moment the floor became vacant, the little frieze-coated fellow got to his legs, accompanied by the female, and addressed the musician as follows:

"My good friend, there is-is much cheerfulness in thy music, for which reason this young person and I will trouble you to play us that sustaining psalm-I mean that blessed air called the Swaggering Jig, which is really a consoling planxtic-come, Susanna."

Good by, Solomon, thou art now gone to that land of true liberty, and sorry are we to say, that thou has left so many who are so much worse than thyself behind thee! One of the most virtuous acts of thy life was the defrauding the Spiritual Railway Assurance office of two thousand pounds upon the fiction of thy death; which, truth to say, was a very bitter fiction to them.

Our chronicles are closed. Need we say that Richard Topertoe, on gaining the title and estate, became a resident landlord, and is at this day enjoying a green and happy old age upon one of the best managed properties in Ireland, where his tenantry are grateful, prosperous, and happy. Mary M'Loughlin, her husband, and family, lived happily, as they deserved to live, and some, of them live yet, and will easily recognize themselves in these pages.

Of Phil, we must say a word or two. On finding himself the uncontrolled inheritor of his father's ill-gotten wealth, he accelerated his progress in drunkenness and profligacy. He took to the turf, became a gambler and spendthrift, and went backwards in squandering his fortune through as unprincipled a course as his father pursued in making it. From step to step he came down until nothing was left. Having no manly principle to sustain him, he fell from one stage of rascality and meanness to another, until he succeeded at length in getting himself appointed as an under turnkey in Castle Cumber Gaol. A whisper has gone abroad, that upon a critical occasion when the Sheriff, owing to the death of a certain functionary essential to the discharge of his duty, felt himself considerably at a loss, he found in one of the under turnkeys a convenient substitute.

The living of Castle Cumber, left vacant by the promotion of Mr. Lucre to a Bishopric, was given to an Englishman, as was then the practice, and would be now, were it not for the influence of common shame and public opinion.

Mr. Clement opened an Academy in Castle Cumber, and succeeded; for he thought it a wiser thing to live by teaching a school, than to suffer his large family and himself to starve by the gospel.

We now beg to close, by a paragraph from the True Blue:-

"Elevation of the Rev. Dr. Lucre to the See of ---

"For many years a duty at once so painful and so delightful, has not devolved upon us as a public journalist. The elevation of the Right Rev., Father in God,, Phineas Lucre to the See of ---, is a dispensation to our Irish Establishment which argues the beneficent hand of a wise and overruling Providence. In him we may well say, that another bright and lustrous star is added to that dark, but beautiful galaxy, in the nether heavens above us, which is composed of our blessed Bishops. The diocese over which he has been called by the Holy Spirit to preside, will know, as they ought, how to appreciate his learning and attainments. But what shall we say of the poor of Castle Cumber, to whom he has been such a kind, meek, charitable, and consoling dispenser of God's gifts and God's word? At the bed of death, of disease, of poverty-at every post, no matter how poor, low, neglected, or how dangerous-there was he to be found, the champion of God-fighting his battles in peace, self-denial, and charity. It is true, he is not an Irishman; but is it not a blessed thing that such links of love as he, and of those who resemble him, should continue to bind the virtues of the two churches, and the two countries together? His Lordship was consecrated on last Sunday, by that Right Rev. and blessedly facetious prelate, Archbishop Drapely, who, in addition to his other evangelical gifts, is said to be a perfect Toler in canonicals. It is not often that so much piety proceeds from so comic a source."

Our readers can scarcely forget the circumstances of Mr. Lucre's departure out of this wicked, ungodly, and sensual world. About eight years ago, or less, he died in a very pious fit of apoplectic passion, brought on by his cook, in consequence of that important functionary having neglected the apostolic duty of dressing a haunch of venison, we presume, upon scriptural authority. We regret to say, for the sake of the Church, and the loss which she sustained in consequence, that the haunch in question was considerably overdone-a fact which one would scarcely imagine could have produced such important results upon the religion of the country as it did by his death.

With respect to Counsellor Browbeater, we have only to say, that the government of that period, having got out of him all the dirty work of which he was capable, felt extremely anxious to get rid of him as easily and safely as they could. Browbeater, however, who was a most insatiable leech, stuck to them, knowing that they could not well discharge him without a character. He was made a master in chancery, and had the honor of succeeding old Tom Silver, a lawyer, a gentleman, an orator, and a man of honor and integrity! And only think of Browbeater succeeding such an office, as excellent, respected, and admirable Tom Silver left behind him! him!

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