Volume One


5


THE SPORTSMEN returned home to dinner, bringing with them Masther Tony Ferret, three or four field companions, picked up during the day, and, exclusive of Aby's dogs, all of whom had been in their service, nearly a dozen of canine guests. Their bags were well stuffed; and John saw them, with amazement and anger, send every bird and hare they had killed "up to Mount Nelson, to the magistrate," by the hands of all the lounging fellows about the house, not a single one being even offered to Aby; and, immediately after, sit down, tantivying and shouting, to a smoking table of roast beef, boiled mutton, steaks, chops, and veal-cutlets; the whole mess supplied on old credit, and at arbitrary prices, by the village butchers, while no fowls of any kind, no bacon, no ham, in fact, nothing that the farm-yard should have furnished, appeared to qualify the heavy expense of such an entertainment.

     And, on this evening, "Mrs. Nowlan" had also her usual little coterie "above stairs." Ere dinner was announced, Matthew passed the open window of the parlour, coming, a second time, over the stile from the village, and laden with two large parcels, one of tea, the other of sugar, and three black bottles of whiskey;—and—

     "Where are you goin' wid them, you sprissaun o' the divil?" inquired Aby.

     "To the misthress, to be sure," answered Matthew; "there's to be tay an' fine language up stairs this evenin', so there is."

     The night closed even more gloriously than the last: John, although by a visit to the garden after dinner, where he met his beautiful cousin, he contrived to keep himself more temperate than his initiation had been, remaining up, at his uncle's desire, to witness it. The gentlemen guests now amounted to about nine; and as "the more the merrier," seems especially to apply to a set of topers, their spirits rose, after twelve o'clock, into something ecstatic. More "tumblers" and glasses were broken, more chairs dislocated, on this occasion, than had been known for weeks; and, at last, John saw them all start up, form themselves into opposite lines, arrange a country- dance, and, to the music of their own shouts, cut the strangest vagaries, in the name of figures, as they capered "up the middle, down again, hands across, and turned their partners;" Aby, all the while, sitting steadily in his chair, and, every now and then, crying ha, until, at last, an answering screech of female voices came from the upper regions, followed "by the misthress," heading half a dozen "ladies," with flushed cheeks, swimming eyes, and disarranged dresses, to whom immediately arrived an accession of the two kitchen-wenches, and old Poll; and now partners were really chosen, and a country dance, "somethin' like the thing," ensued, as was observed by Matthew, who, with a crowd of "workmen," that scarce ever worked, "poor relations and followers of the masther," stood at the open door of the parlour, to bless their visions with a view of the "company."

     And scarce a week elapsed without witnessing some such gala night; and not a day without its guests, of one kind or another; its mean extravagance; its vulgar riot; its heartless waste—its "wilful waste," that, on the faith of a good old adage, promised a "woeful want;" and its filthy, stupid vice, that, according to a higher warning, was ominous of retribution.

     John, it will be recollected, was to have been sent "afther the Latin to-morrow or next day;" but so was the agent's letter to have been answered "to-morrow or the next day;" and the chairs to have been mended; and the parlour papered; and the carpet nailed down; and the avenue cleared; and the garden trimmed; and, more than that, the numerous creditors who, day after day, sent the letters that Aby never read, all settled with; and his tenants "brought to account," as to whether they were in arrear or advance, or, "how it was between them and him, at-all-at-all;" and exactly as all these other resolutions were kept, the promise to send John "to a good hand in Limerick," was kept too. But why, the curious reader may ask, why were not all kept? We can see nothing to hinder Aby from doing so but the want of means: granted; and yet there was no such want up to this time. But the head landlord and the numerous creditors? surely he wanted means to settle with them? No, indeed. Every shilling he owed, at the time John entered the house, might have been cleared off, with scarcely a downright sacrifice of a single farm he held, or any eventual diminution of his good thousand a-year of profit rent; and if he had but reformed, in a degree, his domestic economy, Aby Nowlan might still have been what his neighbours termed "a strong man." What then? We cannot answer upon any rational principle; but "he couldn't bring his mind to it;" or, "to-morrow or next day would do;" or, in a word, we can only plead the nature of the blockhead; his lethargic indolence; his dull sensitiveness of any thing like an arrangement of any thing; or, and we say it not lightly, the Power whose bounty he had abused, whose likeness in his own soul he had degraded, whose long forbearance he had not respected, might have listened to the hundred curses, wrung from the broken hearts of fathers, mothers, and at last, of the wretches he had made, and cursed him in an answering curse, with the inveterate paralysis of mind and heart, that surely, though slowly, encompassed him with his ruin.

     John, despairing, in time, of being sent to school, and sick of the miserable scene around him, arranged in a little bed-room, which he had with much difticulty got his uncle to appoint exclusively for him, his humble set of books, English and Latin; namely, a Murray's and a Lilly's Grammar; the History of Ireland, in one volume, written by a silly schoolmaster; Goldsmith's paltry History of England; a small Geography; a few odd volumes of the Spectator; "Scott's Lessons," a school reading-book of Pieces in prose and verse; Caesar's Commentaries; Phaedrus's Fables; and an English and a Latin Dictionary; the greater part of the stock purchased for his intended entry into the Limerick academy. And in this chamber he strove to detach his mind ftom the disagreeable and sometimes bad impressions it was receiving; but with little effect. When his uncle missed him, alone, or at his orgies, he sent for the young student, perhaps to "cast up a few figures," or to read an old newspaper; perhaps to show him off to the company; perhaps for nothing at all; or his cousin Maggy came in too often "to her readin';" or her mamma, subdued by the harmless character of the boy, and thankful (for though a wretched creature, she was a mother too,) on account of his attentions to Maggy, and his playfulness with the younger imps, asked him to write a line for her, in his uncle's name, to the grocer, or the butcher, or the baker, (home-made bread seldom appearing in the house (—or the shoemaker, or "the soft- goods shop," or some other shop;—or, worse than all, when he left his room, without locking it, one or two of "the children" stole in, tore some of his books, gnawed others, conveyed others to the kitchen, where they were soon stolen, and spoiled his pens, and spilt his ink; and, in fact, poor John could be very little of a student, and his spirits were worried to death.

     In about a year after he came to the house, he began to be somewhat more occupied, but still not as a student. The head landlord, rather in anger at the impudent neglect with which his agent's applications had been treated, than in apprehension of not being paid, or, indeed, out of consideration for the debt, issued a summary distress, and, upon a fine morning, there was an unparalleled commotion through the house and lands, the women, of all kinds, running about, clapping their hands, and cursing, in Irish, "the villains o' the world" that could dare come to take the poor master's cows and horses; and Matthew and his colleagues, speeding out to the fields with sticks in their hands, to "smash the bones" of the "beggarly dhrivers," and the agent's own bones, "if he was to the fore." But, notwithstanding broken heads on both sides, for which, upon one side, Matthew and his merry-men were afterwards tried and sentenced to be confined at the sessions, the cows and horses lodged that night in the village pound; and next morning, John Nowlan was sent, very leisurely, by his uncle to "rise an advance from the tenants," in order to get them out. Many a weary ride, day and night, John took, in consequence of this new appointment, over hill and valley, meeting a ready relief from some of the wealthier tenants, but excuses, equivocations, and trickery from the greater part, who, either that they were already too much in advance, or that, from their private forebodings, they did not like the thing at all, generally contrived to send him home empty handed. More than enough was, however, obtained, to redeem the cattle; and things looked as they had ever been, when the house was stormed by a strong body of other claimants, such as "Mrs. Nowlan" was in the habit of getting John to write to, and repeated efforts, and new contrivances, became necessary; money was borrowed wherever it could be had, and such places were seldom found; but notes were also passed, bills accepted, and bonds executed, with tenants' security; and again all grew sunshine in Aby's heart, and to the view of all around him; such trifles could not harm any gentleman of a thousand a- year; it was just a drop of water to the Shannon; and "the company" still came to patronize Aby; "by hook or crook, the mistress went as brave as ever; and, in fact, nearly two years more elapsed pretty well, taking into account that the bills and notes had been twice renewed at the instance of a douceur, and with clearance of interest, and judgment duly entered on the bonds.

     But at last the scene rather changed. Writs and latitats grew out of the notes and bonds; summonses and processes, or civil-bills, out of every lesser debt, contracted in the mean time, and then devices and jeopardy again. Interest, and compound interest, costs upon costs, and interest on them too: the cattle were, over and over, taken to the pound by various creditors; head rent was once more in arrear; and Aby became a "Sunday man," and John was out, every day, begging from the tenants, not one of whom would be liable to a claim for two years to come, "any thrifle they liked" to provide for the house expenses, no longer supported by credit. One of the best farms was sold, at, of course, a bad price; and, by dint of clearing costs and interest a second time, another year rolled over; but the real debts remained still unpaid; as many new ones as meanness and stratagem could incur, were added to them; and, more astonishing than all, the greater portion of the purchase-money of the farm ran like quicksilver through Aby's hands, while he remained worse than ever.

     John, now about seventeen, ventured to speak to his uncle concerning the state of his affairs, and urged him to look into them. Aby said "he would so, to-morrow or next day"—John afterwards sought some clue to their real state himself, with a view to some effort of his own;—Aby could, in truth or fact, give him no information, and to stir himself to acquire it was a romantic hope:—" there was some ould books of his father's, an' one of his own; and there was bills and receipts about the house, and some of the leases and titles, but 'torney Screw had the most o' them, he believed;—an', some day or other, he certainly would get John to look over every thing; but it would take a great while; a year, for what he knew; so," &c. &c.

     John hinted the policy of a reduced establishment, and a more limited hospitality; such as getting rid of Matthew and some more of the men, and two or three of the women; and not entertaining so often Master Tony Ferret, (who was the only one of the magistrate's clan that now continued to patronise Aby, but he stuck close, even to the carrion,) and the sub-sheriff's four sons, who came in lieu of the magistrate's, always bringing with them their sthockacks too, half-pay cousins and cronies, and other non-descript idlers from Limerick; and "faith," Aby said, "so he would turn out that omadhaun o' the divil, to-morrow or next day; an' others besides; an' he didn't half like Masther Tony, neither; an' he would look sharper, sure enough, and—" he never did. As to the sheriff's sons, they were not to be spoken of. Like many indolent minds, Aby thought he was freeing himself from peril when he removed it to a little distance; like many mean and silly ones, he studied in his own stupid way so to remove it; and, in this view, his grouse, his dogs, his remaining horses, and remaining means were cunningly held out as so many temptations to the sons of the old perpetual sheriff, who played with him as a cat plays with a mouse, allowing him to race about a little, within reach of his claws, and ready for one decisive craunch, at his own good time. No other kind of measures would Aby take to relieve himself: yet in such measures he was rather energetic. Not only the young third-bred spawn of the sheriff, but the very' process- servers, drivers, and common bailiffs, became objects of his courteous attention; and John often caught a sight of his legs, and those of some such confidant, at a turn in the avenue up from the house, while their heads and bodies were hidden by the umbrageous bushes, "where," as Matthew used to tell him, "he spent the blessed day, callodgin' wid' a devil's mother's son, that, sooner or later, 'ud make him sorely rue it."

     Matthew was a prophet. In about another year, creditors of every description became determined, and law-officers of every kind too, from the sheriff to "the bum." Aby's house was regularly invested, and, with its garrison, made a regular defence. Matthew took up his post, morning, noon, and evening, at the bottom of the hill; Yomen on its top, within call of "the masther;" and all eyes were active within doors. When a posse approached, away went the few remaining cattle to a neighbour's field, away went all the rickety furniture into a neighbour's cabin, and away went Aby into a potato-pit, or up to a cabin-loft; and, when the attack had subsided, all came back to their places again. This happened almost every week. Sometimes, nay, twenty times, the vedettes were taken by surprise; of course the garrison; and (Aby being in the house) the bailiffs came up to the very doors and windows, and a desperate battle ensued; Matthew and his corps thwacking their foes outside; all the women holding down the windows from within, courageously led on by the misthress and seconded by Miss Maggy; if a window happened to be raised, or a pane broken, and then a head thrust in, hitting at it with a poker; until at last the assaulters retreated, and the garrison could breathe for a few days more, and vauntingly reckon up the number of skulls and ribs they had fractured.

     A year still, and Aby remained proof against all the wiles and attacks of the most experienced bailiffs in the city or county, or the next to it; but fortune at length deserted him: he caught a fever, and, in its crisis, taking advantage of the lax state of garrison discipline, the officers caught him. Not without a brilliant affair, and some dreadful circumstances, did they succeed, however, in a final arrest. Although within the house, ere they had been discovered, Matthew cheered on his party to breast them in the hall; great violence was offered, the bailiffs as violently resisted it; Matthew still retaliated, was wounded slightly by a pistol-shot, wrenched a second pistol from his foe, killed him on the spot, and was hanged for the achievement at the ensuing assizes.

     After venturing sufficiently near to the raving patient to make a technical arrest, the other bailiffs, in the midst of the screaming, curses and horrible confusion of the house, barricadoed themselves in John's little room, and awaited instructions from their employers. John flew to horse, and galloped to "an old friend" of his uncle, sufficiently able, if he was willing, to arrange the present difficulty; returned with him to the house: and on the first appearance of his uncle's recovery, introduced him, leaving them together. A long consultation, which he awaited, took place: the old friend met him with a cheering countenance; he said he was ready to secure all Aby's debts, as soon as an attorney could transact some business between them. Aby grew quite well, executed to his friend a deed of conveyance of the whole of his farms, unredeemable after twelve months, provided he did not, during those twelve months, repay a portion of the money lent. At the end of the twelve months not a shilling was repaid; at the end of two years, not a shilling: his friend had ventured much by becoming his security; being obliged, from time to time, to meet it out of his own means, he was nearly ruined; his family was large, their dearest interests at stake: he waited and waited, but met nothing except ingratitude and brutal indolence; at last his natural feelings aroused him, and, a few weeks after, Aby was turned out of land and house, and put to lodge and board, at a pound a week, allowed by his creditor, in the cabin of one of his former tenants, until his brother Daniel flew to him and conducted him to his own fire-side. And thus terminated Mrs. Nowlan's expectations for John from his uncle; and thus, at nineteen, John found himself unadvanced on the road of the world in any one shape, and a burden, in common with his wretched uncle, upon the industry of his father, mother, and brother Phelim.

     And had no other evil attended his departure from the paternal roof, this, considerable as it was, should little arouse our commiseration. But John Nowlan suffered in mind as well as prospects; his peace of mind was gone, his purity of mind was gone, and with it, his peace; his feelings, his passions, strong by nature, though by the anticipation of his boyish discipline, once likely to remain dormant, had been roused; his principles had been shaken, and, now called upon to renew his former studies, with a view to their former end, his spirit failed within him at the thought: he wavered, he wished to walk in another path; he drooped, he sighed, and, at one particular sigh, he hid his burning face with his hands; for it was sighed as his unhappy cousin, Maggy Nowlan, passed before his recollections.

     In giving a narrative of much that happened around John Nowlan, since his uncle Aby took him home, we have only meant to place before the reader circumstances, that, during the growth of his mind, must have influenced it; and, at the mention of this poor girl's name, we now turn back to complete our task, by adding other circumstances, more nearly appealing to him, more likely to affect his future life, and that we could not before have well mixed up with the story.