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not give way to their errors. He was to contend with them and not give way an inch till he had driven them from their idolatry." Mr. Townsend had been specially primed by his wife that morning with vigorous hostility against Father Barney, and was grieved to his heart at finding that his young friend was prepared to take the priest's part in anything. In this matter of the roads Mr. Townsend was doubtless right, but hardly on the score of the arguments assigned by him.
"I don't mean to say that there should be no road-making," said Herbert, after a pause. "The general opinion seems to be that we can't do better. I only say that we shall come to grief about it. Those poor fellows there have as much idea of cutting down a hill as I have; and it seems to me that the young lad whom I left with them has not much more."
"They'll learn all in good time."
"Let us hope it will be in good time."
"If we once let them have the idea that we are to feed them in idleness," said Mr. Townsend, "they will want to go on for ever in the same way. And then, when they receive such immense sums in money wages, the priests will be sure to get their share. If the matter had been left to me, I would have paid the men in meal. I would never have given them money. They should have worked and got their food. The priest will get a penny out of every shilling; you'll see else." And so the matter was discussed between them as they went along to Gortnaclough.
When they reached the room in which the committee was held they found Mr. Somers already in the chair. Priest M'Carthy was there also, with his coadjutor, the Rev. Columb Creagh--Father Columb as he was always called; and there was a Mr. O'Leary from Boherbuy, one of the middlemen as they were formerly named--though, by the way, I never knew that word to be current in Ireland; it is familiar to all, and was I suppose common some few years since, but I never heard the peasants calling such persons by that title. He was one of those with whom the present times were likely to go very hard. He was not a bad man, unless in so far as this, that he had no idea of owing any duty to others beyond himself and his family. His doctrine at present amounted to this, that if you left the people alone and gave them no false hopes, they would contrive to live somehow. He believed in a good deal, but he had no belief whatever in starvation,--none as yet. It was probable enough that some belief in this might come to him now before long. There were also one or two others; men who had some stake in the country, but men who hadn't a tithe of the interest possessed by Sir Thomas Fitzgerald.
Mr. Townsend again went through the ceremony of shaking hands with his reverend brethren, and, on this occasion, did not seem to be much the worse for it. Indeed, in looking at the two men cursorily, a stranger might have said that the condescension was all on the other side. Mr. M'Carthy was dressed quite smartly. His black clothes were spruce and glossy; his gloves, of which he still kept on one and showed the other, were quite new; he was clean shaven, and altogether he had a shiny, bright, ebon appearance about him that quite did a credit to his side of the Church. But our friend the parson was discreditably shabby. His clothes were all brown, his white neck-tie could hardly have been clean during the last forty-eight hours, and was tied in a knot, which had worked itself nearly round to his ear as he had sat sideways on the car; his boots were ugly and badly brushed, and his hat was very little better than some of those worn by the workmen--so called--at Ballydahan Hill. But nevertheless, on looking accurately into the faces of both, one might see which man was the better nurtured and the better born. That operation with the sow's ear is, one may say, seldom successful with the first generation.
"A beautiful morning, this," said the coadjutor, addressing Herbert Fitzgerald, with a very mild voice and an unutterable look of friendship; as though he might have said, "Here we are in a boat together, and of course we are all very fond of each other." To tell the truth, Father Columb was not a nice-looking young man. He was red-haired, slightly marked with the small-pox, and had a low forehead and cunning eyes.
"Yes, it is a nice morning," said Herbert. "We don't expect anybody else here, do we, Somers?"
"At any rate we won't wait," said Somers. So he sat down in the arm-chair, and they all went to work.
"I am afraid, Mr. Somers," said Mr. M'Carthy from the other end of the table, where he had constituted himself a sort of deputy chairman, "I am afraid we are going on a wrong tack." The priest had shuffled away his chair as he began to speak, and was now standing with his hands upon the table. It is singular how strong a propensity some men have to get upon their legs in this way.
"How so, Mr. M'Carthy?" said Somers. "But shan't we be all more comfortable if we keep our chairs? There'll be less ceremony, won't there, Mr. Townsend?"
"Oh! certainly," said Townsend.
"Less liable to interruption, perhaps, on our legs," said Father Columb, smiling blandly.
But Mr. M'Carthy was far too wise to fight the question, so he sat down. "Just as you like," said he; "I can talk any way, sitting or standing, walking or riding; it's all one to me. But I'll tell you how we are on the wrong tack. We shall never get these men to work in gangs on the road. Never. They have not been accustomed to be driven like droves of sheep."
"But droves of sheep don't work on the road," said Mr. Townsend.
"I know that, Mr. Townsend," continued Mr. M'Carthy. "I am quite well aware of that. But droves of sheep are driven, and these men won't bear it."
"'Deed an' they won't," said Father Columb, having altogether laid aside his bland smile now that the time had come, as he thought, to speak up for the people. "They may bear it in England, but they won't here." And the sternness of his eye was almost invincible.
"If they are so foolish, they must be taught better manners," said Mr. Townsend. "But you'll find they'll work just as other men do-- look at the navvies."
"And look at the navvies' wages," said Father Columb.
"Besides, the navvies only go if they like it," said the parish priest.
"And these men need not go unless they like it," said Mr. Somers. "Only with this proviso, that if they cannot manage for themselves they must fall into our way of managing for them."
"What I say, is this," said Mr. O'Leary. "Let 'em manage for 'emselves. God bless my sowl! Why, we shall be skinned alive if we have to pay all this money back to Government. If Government chooses to squander thousands in this way, Government should bear the brunt. That's what I say." Eventually, Government, that is, the whole nation, did bear the brunt. But it would not have been very wise to promise this at the time.
"But we need hardly debate all that at the present moment," said Mr. Somers. "That matter of the roads has already been decided for us, and we can't alter it if we would."
"Then we may as well shut up shop," said Mr. O'Leary.
"It's all very aisy to talk in that way," said Father Columb; "but the Government, as you call it, can't make men work. It can't force eight millions of the finest pisantry on God's earth--," and Father Columb was, by degrees, pushing away the seat from under him, when he was cruelly and ruthlessly stopped by his own parish priest.
"I beg your pardon for a moment, Creagh," said he; "but perhaps we are getting a little out of the track. What Mr. Somers says is very true. If these men won't work on the road--and I don't think they will--the responsibility is not on us. That matter has been decided for us."
"Men will sooner work anywhere than starve," said Mr. Townsend.
"Some men will," said Father Columb, with a great deal of meaning in his tone. What he intended to convey was this--that Protestants, no doubt, would do so, under the dominion of the flesh; but that Roman Catholics, being under the dominion of the Spirit, would perish first.
"At any rate we must try," said Father M'Carthy.
"Exactly," said Mr. Somers; "and what we have now to do is to see how we may best enable these workers to live on their wages, and how those others are to live, who, when all is done, will get no wages."
"I think we had better turn shopkeepers ourselves, and open stores for them everywhere," said Herbert. "That is what we are doing already at Berryhill."
"And import our own corn," said the parson.
"And where are we to get the money?" said the priest.
"And why are we to ruin the merchants?" said O'Leary, whose brother was in the flour-trade, in Cork.
"And shut up all the small shopkeepers," said Father Columb, whose mother was established in that line in the neighbourhood of Castleisland.
"We could not do it," said Somers. "The demand upon us would be so great, that we should certainly break down. And then where would we be?"
"But for a time, Somers," pleaded Herbert.
"For a time we may do something in that way, till other means present themselves. But we must refuse all out-door relief. They who cannot or do not bring money must go into the workhouses."
"You will not get houses in county Cork sufficient to hold them," said Father Bernard. And so the debate went on, not altogether without some sparks of wisdom, with many sparks also of eager benevolence, and some few passing clouds of fuliginous self-interest. And then lists were produced, with the names on them
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