How Mr. Daly The Middleman Rose up from Breakfast
The person who opened the door acted as a kind of herdsman or out-door servant to the family, and was a man of a rather singular appearance. The nether parts of his frame were of a size considerably out of proportion with the trunk and head which they supported. His feet were broad and flat like those of a duck; his legs long and clumsy, with knees and ancles like the knobs on one of those grotesque walking-sticks, which were in fashion among the fine gentlemen of our own day, some time since; his joints hung loosely, like those of a paste-board merry-andrew; his body was very small; his chest narrow; and his head so diminutive, as to be even too little for his herring shoulders. It seemed as if nature, like an extravagant projector, had laid the foundation of a giant, but running short of material, as the structure proceeded, had been compelled to terminate her undetaking within the dimensions of a dwarf. So far was this economy pursued, that the head, small as it was, was very scantily furnished with hair; and the nose, with which the face was garnished, might be compared for its flatness to that of a young kid. "It looked" as the owner of this mournful piece of journeywork himself facetiously observed, "as if his head were not thought worth a roof, nor his countenance worth a handle." His hands and arms were likewise of a smallness that was much to be admired, when contrasted with the hugeness of the lower members, and brought to mind the fore-paws of a Kangaroo, or the fins of a seal, the latter similitude prevailing when the body was put in motion, on which occasions they dabbled about in a very extraordinary manner. But there was one feature in which a corresponding prodigality had been manifested, namely the ears, which were as long as those of Riquet with the Tuft, or of any ass in the Barony.
The costume which enveloped this singular frame, was no less anomalous than was the nature of its own construction. A huge riding coat of grey frieze hung lazily from his shoulders, and gave to view in front a waistcoat of calf-skin with the hairy side outwards; a shirt, of a texture almost as coarse as sail-cloth, made from the refuse of flax; and a pair of corduroy nether garments, with two bright new patches upon the knees. Grey worsted stockings, with dog-skin brogues well paved in the sole, and greased until they shone again, completed the personal adornments of this unaspiring personage. On the whole, his appearance might have brought to the recollection of a modern beholder one of those architectural edifices, so fashionable in our time, in which the artist, with an admirable ambition, seeks to unite all that is excellent in the Tuscan, Doric, Corinthian, and Ionic order, in one coup d'oeil.
The expression of the figure though it varied with circumstances, was for the most part thoughtful and deliberative; the effect in a great measure of habitual penury and dependance. At the time of Lord Halifax's administration, Lowry Looby, then a very young man, held a spot of ground in the neighbourhood of Limerick, and was well to do in the world, but the scarcity which prevailed in England at the time, and which occasioned a sudden rise in the price of beef, butter, and other produce of grazing land in Ireland, threw all the agriculturists out of their little holdings, and occasioned a general destitution, similar to that produced by the anti-cottier system in the present day. Lowry was among the sufferers. He was saved, however, from the necessity of adopting one of the three ultimata of Irish misery, begging, listing, or emigrating, by the kindness of Mr. Daly, who took him into his service as a kind of runner between his farms, an office for which Lowry, by his long and muscular legs, and the lightness of the body that encumbered them, was qualified in an eminent degree. His excelling honesty, one of the characteristics of his country, which he was known to possess, rendered him a still more valuable acquisition to the family than had been first anticipated. He had moreover the national talent for adroit flattery, a quality which made him more acceptable to his patron than the latter would willingly admit, and every emulsion of this kind was applied under the disguise of a simpleness, which gave it a wonderful efficacy.
"Ha! Lowry—" said Mr. Daly "Well, have you made your fortune since you have agreed with the Post-master?"
Lowry put his hands behind his back, looked successively at the four corners of the room, then round the cornice, then cast his eyes down at his feet, turned up the soles a little, and finally straightening his person, and gazing on his master replied, "To lose it I did, Sir, for a place."
"To lose what?" "The place as postman, sir, through the country westwards. Sure there I was a gentleman for life if it wasn't my luck."
"I do not understand you Lowry. "I'll tell you how it was, masther. Afther the last postman died, sir, I took your ricommendation to the Post-masther, an' axed him for the place. 'I'm used to thravelling, sir,' says I, 'for Misther Daly, over, and—.' 'Aye," says he, takin' me up short, 'an' you have a good long pair o' legs I see.' 'Middling, sir,' says I, (he's a very pleasant gentleman) its equal to me any day, winther or summer, whether I go ten miles or twenty, so as I have the nourishment. "Twould be hard if you didn't get that any way,' says he, 'Well, I think I may as well give you the place, for I do'n' know any gentleman that I'd sooner take his ricommendation then Misther Daly's, or one that I'd sooner pay him a compliment, if I could."
"Well, and what was your agreement?" "Ten pounds a year, sir, answered Lowry, opening his eyes, as if he announced something of wonderful importance, and speaking in a loud voice, to suit the magnitude of the sum, "besides my clothing and shoes throughout the year."
"'Twas very handsome, Lowry." "Handsome, masther? 'Twas wages for a prince, sir. Sure there I was a made gentleman all my days, if it wasn't my luck, as I said before."
"Well, and how did you lose it?"
"I'll tell you, sir," answered Lowry, "I was going over to the Post-masther yestherday, to get the Thralee mail from him, and to start off with myself, on my first journey. Well an' good, of all the world, who should I meet, above upon the road, just at the turn down to the Post-office, but that red-headed woman that sells the free-stone, in the sthreets? So I turned back."
"Turned back, for what?"
"Sure the world knows, masther, that it isn't lucky to meet a red-haired woman an' you going of a journey."
"And you never went for the mail-bags!"
"Faiks, I'm sure I didn't that day." "Well, and the next morning?"
"The next morning, that's this morning, when I went, I found they had engaged another boy in my place."
"And you lost the situation!"
"For this turn, sir, any way. Tis luck that does it all. Sure I thought I was cock sure of it, an' I having the Pust-masther's word. But indeed, if I meet that free-stone crathur again, I'll knock her red head against the wall.
"Well, Lowry, this ought to show you the folly of your superstition. If you had not minded that woman when you met her, you might have had your situation now."
"'Twas she was in fault still, begging your pardon, sir," said Lowry, "for sure if I didn't meet her at all this wouldn't have happened me."
"Oh," said Mr. Daly, laughing, "I see that you are well provided against all argument. I have no more to say, Lowry."
The man now walked slowly towards Kyrle, and bending down with a look of solemn importance, as if he had some weighty intelligence to communicate, he said—" The horse, sir, is ready, this way, at the doore abroad."
"Very well, Lowry. I shall set out this instant."
Lowry raised himself erect again, turned slowly round and walked to the door with his eyes on the ground, and his hand raised to his temple, as if endeavouring to recollect something farther which he had intended to say.
"Lowry!" said Mr. Daly as the handle of the door was turned a second time. Lowry looked round.
"Lowry, tell me—did you see Eily O'Connor, the rope-maker's daughter, at the fair of Garryowen yesterday?"
"Ah, you're welcome to your game, Masther."
"'Pon my word, then, Eily is a very pretty girl, Lowry, and I'm told the old father can give her something besides her pretty face."
Lowry opened his huge mouth, (we forgot to mention that it was a huge one,) and gave vent to a few explosions of laughter which much more nearly resembled the braying of an ass. "You are welcome to your game, masther," he repeated;—" long life to your honour."
"But is it true, Lowry, as I have heard it insinuated, that old Mihil O'Connor used, and still does, twist ropes for the use of the County Gaol?"
Lowry closed his lips hard, while the blood rushed into his face at this unworthy allegation. Treating it however as a new piece of "the masther's game," he laughed and tossed his head.
"Folly* on-sir-folly on."
"Because, if that were the case, Lowry, I should expect to find you a fellow of too much spirit to become connected, even by affinity, with such a calling. A rope-maker! a manufacturer of rogue's last neckcloths—an understrapper to the gallows—a species of collateral hangman!"
"A' then, Missiz, do you hear this? And all rising out of a little ould fable of a story that happened as good as five year ago, because Moriarty the crooked hangman, (the thief!) stepped into Mihil's little place of a night, and nobody knowen of him, an bought a couple o' pen'orth o' whip-cord for some vagary or other of his own. And there's all the call Mihil O'Connor had ever to the gallowses or hangmen in his life. That's the whole tote o' their insiniwaytions."
"Never mind your master, Lowry," said Mrs. Daly, "he is only amusing himself with you."
"Oh, ha! I'm sure I know it ma'am; long life to him, and 'tis he that's welcome to his joke."
"But Lowry ——"
"A' heavens bless you, now masther, an let me alone. I'll say nothing to you."
"Nay, nay, I only wanted to ask you what sort of a fair it was at Garryowen yesterday."
"Middling, sir, like the small piatees ,they tell me," said Lowry, suddenly changing his manner to an appearance of serious occupation, "but 'tis hard to make out what sort a fair is when one has nothing to sell himself. I met a huxter an she told me 'twas a bad fair because she could not sell her piggins, an I met a pig-jobber, an he told me 'twas a dear fair, pork ran so high, an I met another little meagre creatur, a neighbour that has a cabin on the road above, an he said 'twas the best fair that ever come out o' the sky, because begot a power for his pig. But Mr. Hardress Cregan was there, and if he didn't make it a dear fair to some of 'em, you may call me an honest man."
"A very notable undertaking that would be, Lowry. But how was it?"
"Some o' them boys, them Garryowen lads, sir, to get about Danny Mann, the Lord, Mr. Hardress's boatman, as he was comen down from Mihil's with a new rope for some part o' the boat, and to begin reflecting on him in regard o' the hump on his back, poor creatur! Well, if they did, Masther Hardress heerd 'em, and he having a stout blackthorn in his hand, this way, and he made up to the foremost of 'em, 'What's that you're saying, you scoundrel?' says he, 'What would you give to know?' says the other, mighty impudent. Master Hardress made no more, only up with the stick, and without saying this or that, or by your leave, or how do you do, he stretched him. Well, such a scuffle as began among 'em was never seen. They all fell upon Master Hardress, but faix they had only the half of it, for he made his way through the thick of 'em without as much as a mark. Aw, indeed, it isn't a goose or a duck they had to do with when they came across Mr. Cregan, for all."
"And where were you all this while, Lowry?"
"Above, in Mihil's door, standen an looken about the fair for myself."
"And Eily?" "Ah, hear to this again, now! I'll run away out o' the place entirely from you, master, that's what I'll do."
And, suiting the action to the phrase, exit Lowry Looby.
"Well, Kyrle," said Mr. Daly, as the latter rose and laid aside his chair, "I suppose we are not to expect you back to night?"
"Likely not, sir. If I have any good news to tell, I shall send an answer by Lowry, who goes with me; and if ——" something seemed to stick in his throat, and he tried to laugh it out——" if I should be unsuccessful, I will ride on to the dairy-farm at Gurtenaspig, where Hardress Cregan promised to meet me."
Mr. Daly wished him better fortune than he seemed to hope for, and repeated an old proverb about a faint heart and a fair lady. The affectionate mother, who felt the feverishness of the young lover's hand as he placed it in her's, and probably in secret participated in his apprehensions, followed him to the steps of the hall-door. He was already on horseback.
"Kyrle," said Mrs. Daly smiling while she looked up in his face and shaded her own with her hand, "Remember, Kyrle, if Anne Chute should play the tyrant with you, that there is many a prettier girl in Munster."
Kyrle seemed about to reply, but his young horse became restive, and as the gentleman felt rather at a loss, he made the impatience of the animal an apology for his silence. He waved his hand to the kind old lady, and rode away.
"And if she should play the tyrant with you, Kyrle," Mrs. Daly continued in soliloquy, while she saw his handsome and graceful figure diminish in the distance, "Anne Chute is not of my mind."
So said the mother as she returned to the parlour, and so would many younger ladies have said, had they known Kyrle Daly as well as she did.
While Mrs. Daly, who was the empress of all housekeepers, superintended the removal of the breakfast table, not disdaining, with her own fair hands, to restore the plate and china to their former neatness, the old gentleman called all his children around him, to undergo a customary examination. They came flocking to his knees, the boys with their satchels thrown over their shoulders, and the girls with their gloves and bonnets on, ready for school. Occasionally, as they stood before the patriarchal sire, their eyes wandered from his face toward a lofty pile of sliced bread and butter, and a bowl of white sugar which stood near his elbow.
"North-East!" Mr. Daly began, addressing the eldest.—
It should be premised that this singular name was given to the child in compliance with a popular superstition; for sensible as the Dalys were accounted in their daily affairs, they were not wholly exempt from the prevailing weakness of their countrymen. Mrs. Daly's three first children died at nurse, and it was suggested to the unhappy parents that if the next little stranger were baptized by the name of North-East, the curse would be removed from their household. Mrs. Daly acceded to the proposition, adding to it at the same time the slight precaution of changing her nurses. With what success this ingenious remedy was attended, the flourishing state of Mr. Daly's nursery thenceforward sufficiently testified.
"North-East," said the old gentleman, "When was Ireland first peopled?"
"By Partholanus, sir, in anno mundi 1956, the great, great, great, great, great, great grandson of Noah."
"Six greats. Right my boy. Although the Cluan Mac Noisk makes it 1969. But a difference of a few years at a distance of nearly four thousand, is not a matter to be quarrelled with. Stay, I have not done with you yet. Mr. Tickleback tells me you are a great Latinist. What part of Ovid are you reading now?"
"The Metamorphoses, sir, book the thirteenth." "Ah, poor Ajax! He's an example and a warning for all Irishmen. Well, North-East, Ulysses ought to supply you with Latin enough to answer me one question. Give me the construction of this, Mater, mea sus est mala."
The boy hesitated a moment, laughed, reddened a little and looked at his mother. "That's a queer thing, sir," he said at last.
"Come, construe, construe." "My mother is a bad sow," said North-East, laughing, "that's the only English I can find for it."
"Ah, North-East! Do you call me names, my lad'?" said Mrs. Daly, while she laid aside the china in a cup-board.
"'Tis dadda you should blame, ma'am, 'twas he said it. I only told him the English of it."
This affair produced much more laughter and merriment than it was worth. At length Mr. Daly condescended to explain. "You gave me one construction of it," said he, "but not the right one. However, these things cannot be learned all in a day, and your translation was correct, North-East, in point of grammar, at all events. But, (he continued, with a look of learned wisdom,) "the true meaning of the sentence is this, Mater, mother, mea, hasten, sus, the sow, est, eats up, (edere, my boy, not esse,) mala, the apples."
"Oh, its a cran I see," said the boy with some indignation of tone. "One isn't obliged to know crans. I'd soon puzzle you if I was to put you all the crans I know."
"Not so easily as you suppose perhaps," said his father in dignified alarm, lest his reputation should suffer in the eyes of his wife, who really thought him a profound linguist. "But you are a good boy. Go to school, North-East. Here, open your satchel."
The satchel was opened, a huge slice of bread from the top of the pile above mentioned was dropt into it, and North-East set off south-south-west out of the house. "
Charles, who is the finest fellow in Ireland?"
"Henry Grattan, sir."
"Why so, Sir?"
"Because he says we must have a free trade, sir."
"You shall have a lump of sugar with your bread for that. Open your satchel. There. Run away now to school. Patcy!"
"Patcy, tell me, who was the first Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the present reign?"
Patcy, an idle young rogue, stood glancing alternately at the pile of bread, and at his father's face, and shifting from one foot to another like a foundered nag. At last he said stoutly—
"Julius Caesar, sir."
"That's a good boy. Ah, you young villain, if I had asked you who won the last boat-race, or how many hookers went by this morning, you'd give me a better answer than that. Was it Julius Caesar sailed round the revenue Cutter, near Tarbert, the other day?"
"No, sir, it was Larry Kets." "I'll engage you know that. Well, tell me this, and I'll forgive you—Who was the bravest seaman you ever heard of? always excepting Hardress Cregan."
"Brown, sir, the man that brought the Bilboa ship into Youghal, after making prisoners of nine Frenchmen—the fellows, dadda," the boy continued warming with his subject—" that were sent to take the vessel into France, and Brown had only three men and a boy with him, and they retook the ship and brought her into Youghal. But sure one Irishman was more than a match for two Frenchmen.
"Well, I perceive you have some knowledge in physics, and comparative physiology. There's some hope of you. Go to school." And the pile of bread appeared a few inches lower.
The remainder was distributed amongst the girls, to whom the happy father put questions, in history, geography, catechism, &c. proportioned to the capacity of each. At length, he descended to the youngest, a little cherub with roses of three years' growth in her cheeks.
"Well, Sally, my pet, what stands for sugar?"
"Ah, Sally's a wag I see. You do stand for it indeed, and you shall get it. We must not expect to force nature" he added, looking at his wife and tossing his head. "Every beginning is weak—and Sam Johnson himself was as indifferent a philologist once in his day. And now, to school at once, darlings, and bring home good judgments. Nelly will go for you at three o'clock."
The little flock of innocents, who were matched in size like the reeds of a pandean pipe, 'each under each' having left the scene, Mr. Daly proceeded to dispatch his own affairs, and possessed himself of his hat and cane.
"I'll step over to the meadow, my dear—and see how the hay gets on. And give me that pamphlet of Hutchinson's—Commercial Restraints—I promised to lend it to father Malachy. And let the stranger's room be got ready, my love, and the sheets aired, for I expect Mr. Windfall the tax-gatherer to sleep here to-night. And, Sally, if Ready should come about his pigs that I put in pound last night, let him have them free of cost, but not without giving the fellow a fright about them; and above all, insist upon having rings in their noses before night. My little lawn is like a fallow field with them. I'll be back at five."
Saying this, and often turning his head as some new commission arose to his memory, the Munster 'Middleman' sallied out of his house, and walked along the gravelled avenue humming, as he went, a verse of the popular old song—
"And when I at last must throw off this frail covering
Such, in happier days than ours, was the life of a Munster farmer. Indeed, the word is ill adapted to convey to an English reader an idea of the class of persons whom it is intended to designate, for they were and are, in mind and education, far superior to the persons who occupy that rank in must other countries. Opprobrious as the term 'middleman' has been rendered in our own time, it is certain that the original formation of the sept was both natural and beneficial. When the country was deserted by its gentry, a general promotion of one grade took place amongst those who remained at home. The farmers became gentlemen, and the labourers became farmers, the former assuming, together with the station and influence, the quick and honourable spirit, the love of pleasure, and the feudal authority which distinguished their aristocratic archetypes—while the humbler classes looked up to them for advice and assistance, with the same feeling of respect and of dependance which they had once entertained for the actual proprietors of the soil. The covetousness of landlords themselves, in selling leases to the highest bidder, without any enquiry into his character or fortunes, first tended to throw imputations on this respectable and useful body of men, which in progress of time swelled into a popular outcry, and ended in an act of the legislature for their gradual extirpation. There are few now in that class as prosperous, many as intelligent and high-principled, as Mr. Daly.