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OVER THE WALNUTS, AND THE

Father Letheby did come up, and we had one of those pleasant meetings on which my memory dwells with gratitude. I hope he thinks of them tenderly, too; for I believe he gave more pleasure and edification than he received. We old men are garrulous, and rather laudatory of the past than enthusiastic about the present. And this must needs chafe the nerves of those whose eyes are always turned toward the sanguine future. Well, this evening we had the famous epilogue of the Third Book of the Odes of Horace for discussion, and our thoughts turned on the poet’s certainty of immortality, the immortality of fame, in which alone he believed. I remarked what a curious thing it was that men are forever craving for that which, when attained, they fling aside and despise.

“I remember a good old priest,” I said, “who was very angry because he did not receive the ecclesiastical honors that sometimes accompany old age. And when I asked, rather foolishly indeed, of what possible use could they be to him, the answer was, he would like to die with his full meed of honors. Well, he got them at last; and after a few months his regret was that he had spent nine pounds on the rochet and mozetta.”

“Do you think he would be satisfied to go back to the condition of a ‘simplex sacerdos’ again, and to be called ’Father’?” said my curate.

“I do. He had received recognition and was satisfied,” I replied.

“There must be something in it. I remember now that bitter letter about Fame, which Tennyson wrote when he had attained a world-wide reputation. He found Fame to be hostility from his peers, indifference from his superiors, worship from those he despised. He would barter all his Fame for L5,000 a year; and was sorry he ever wrote a line.”

“What then is it all? Of what consequence was it to Horace that a poor old priest, in the Ultima Thule of the earth, should find a little pleasure in his lines, some eighteen hundred years after his death?” I said, half musingly.

“None whatever. But these passions are the minor wheels of human action, and therefore of human progress, when the great motor, religion, is set aside.”

“And you think God permits them for that reason?”

“Possibly. By the way, Father Dan, allow me to congratulate you on your excellent taste. Why, you have made this little parlor a nest of luxury and refinement.”

“Alas! yes. But all my comfort is gone. I blame you for it all, you rascal. Why did you come introducing your civilization here? We were happy enough without it. And like Fame, luxury brings its trials. Hannah wasn’t easy until she rivalled your splendid establishment; and when taste came in, comfort went out by the window. God bless me! All I have suffered for the last fortnight! I must wipe my boots at the door, and hang up my hat in the hall, and walk on tiptoe on these waxed floors. I am afraid to sit down, lest I should break these doll’s chairs. I am afraid to get up lest I should slip and break my old bones. I am afraid to eat lest I should soil those new napkins. I am afraid to drink lest I should break one of these new gilt cups. I have no comfort but in bed. What in the world did I do that you should have been sent here?”

“There’s something in it,” he said, laughing. “It is the universal law of compensation. But, honestly, it is all very tasteful and neat, and you’ll get used to it. You know it is one of the new and laughable arguments against the eternity of punishment, that you can get used to anything.”

“I can’t get that poor fellow, Lloyd, out of my head,” I said, changing the subject. “That was a pitiful letter. And the pity is that a strictly private document, such as that was, should see the light and be discussed fifty years after it was written, by two priests on the west coast of Ireland To whom did he write it?”

“To Sir Robert Peel, then Prime Minister.”

“There was a dear old friend of my youth,” I said, “who was fond of giving advice. I suppose I picked up the evil habit from him. But his summary of all wisdom was this:

“Never consult a doctor!

“Never go security!

“Never write a letter that may not be read in the market square!”

“I hope you have followed this sapient, but rather preternatural advice,” said Father Letheby.

“No,” I replied. “It would have been well for me if I had done so.”

We both lapsed into a brown study.

“It is not easy for us priests to take advice,” he said at last; “I suppose our functions are so magisterial that we cannot understand even the suggestion of inferiority in reproof. Was it not Dean Stanley who said that the Anglican clergy are polished into natural perfection by domestic interchanges of those silent corrections that are so necessary, and that it is the absence of these correctives that accounts for the so many nodes and excrescences of our social characteristics?”

“True. But we won’t take correction. Or rather, no one dare give it. The Bishop can and will; but then a word from a bishop smites like a Nasmyth hammer, and he is necessarily slow of reproof. A Parish priest nowadays dare not correct a curate ”

“I beg pardon, sir,” Father Letheby said; “I am sure you’ll do me an infinite favor if you kindly point out my many imprudences and inconsistencies.”

“And you’ll take it well?”

“Well,” he said dubiously, “I won’t promise that I shall not be nettled. But I’ll take it respectfully.”

“All right. We’ll commence this moment. Give up that coffee-drinking, and take an honest glass of punch.”

He laughed in his own musical way. He knew the anguish that coffee had cost Hannah. She had taken to Father Letheby wonderfully. He had found for her a new brand of snuff, and had praised her cooking. And lo! a miracle. Hannah, the Parish priest’s housekeeper, had actually gone down and visited his servant. It was a tremendous condescension, involving a great deal of thought. But there was a new alliance, dual again; it is almost like the kaleidoscopic changes of European politicians. Then for several days there were conferences and colloguings, the result being that, as a reward of humility, which indeed always brings its reward even in this world, Hannah has her house furnished a la mode, and has learned the science of coffee-making, a science little known as yet in Ireland. Of course, there have been crosses. It is not pleasant, when a brother priest comes in, to see him stand in amazement and appear quite distracted whilst his politeness will not allow him to demand explanations. And when a more demonstrative character shouts Hallo! when he comes into your parlor, and vents his surprise in a prolonged whistle, and looks at you curiously when your attention is engaged, it is slightly embarrassing. Then, again, I’m told that the villagers are making sarcastic remarks about my little ménage: “Begor, Hannah won’t be left a pinny”; or, “Begor, Kilronan is looking up”; or, “Begor, he’ll be expecting an incrase of the jues”; and one old woman, who gets an occasional letter from America with an enclosure, is quite sure I have embezzled her money, and she comes to the door three times a week with “that little letther, your reverence? Sure, I don’t begredge it to you. You’re welcome to it over and over again; but whin ’t is convanient, sure you won’t see me wantin’? But sure, Mary will think it quare that I never wrote to thank her.” I have given up protesting that I have received no letter lately from Mary; but the “purty boys” down at the forge have set the poor woman crazy. “Yerra, where ’ud he get de money for all them grand tings he has?” “Yerra, Kate, you’ll never see dat post-office order.” “Write to the Bishop, ’oman, and he’ll see you rightified.” And then, to crown all, comes the bill, just double what I expected. But it is wonderful how many extras there were, and how wages and the price of material went up. Alas! my little deposit of fifty pounds, which was to secure a few masses after my death, where is it? And poor old Hannah? Well, she’ll have it all after my death, and that will make her doubly careful, and me doubly miserable.

“Now,” I said to Father Letheby, as he daintily balanced his spoon over his cup, and I leisurely stirred the sugar in, well, no matter, “I don’t like that coffee. It is not sociable. It makes you too cautious, while we, under the potent and expanding influence of native manufacture, are inclined to develop. Now, if you want to succeed in life, give up that Turkish drug and do what all your predecessors did.”

“I’m too Irish for that,” he said, rather paradoxically, I thought. “I’m afraid I should be talking about my ancestors, and asking some one to be good enough to tread on the tail of my coat.”

He knew well that I did not wish to interfere with his tastes.

“Well, however, think kindly of us who cling to old traditions. We too had our day.”

I was silent, thinking of old times.

“You never slept in a lime-kiln, I presume,” said I, starting from a long reverie.

“God forbid,” he said with a start.

“Well, I did. It happened in this way. It was nearly ten o’clock at night when I arrived at the door of the old pastor, to whose care I was committed on my first mission. I knocked, and knocked, and knocked. No answer. ’T was all the same. Father L had but one room and the kitchen; and that room was parlor, library, drawing-room, bedroom, and all. I dismissed the jarvey, left my portmanteau at the door, and wandered out into the night. I dared not rouse up the farmers around. It was the time of the White-boys, and I might get a charge of shot or a thrust of a pike for my pains. The night was cold and starry. And after wandering about for some time I came to a kiln. The men the lime-burners were not long gone, and the culm was still burning. I went in. The warmth was most grateful. I lay down quietly, took out my beads, and whilst saying the Rosary I fell fast asleep. I awoke to hear: ’Come, get out of this.’ And, then, ‘Good God! it is a priest.’ Ah! well, how times have changed! But think kindly of us old men. We too have borne the burden and the heat, the pondus diei et aestus.”

A deep silence fell upon us both, broken only by the crackling of the turf and wood fire, I busy with the past, and he sunk in his own reflections. At length I said:

“Would I trouble you to hand me down that ‘Pars Verna’ with the morocco cover? Thanks! This little time-stained book saw some curious scenes. It was my companion in many a rough adventure. In these old times it was quite a common experience for myself to leave home at six o’clock in the morning so as to be at the station-house by seven. By the way, you did murder the names of the mountain town-lands when calling the stations last Sunday. You must try and get the ‘bloß’ of the Irish on your tongue. Well, we usually heard confessions from seven to three o’clock in the afternoon, with just an interval for breakfast ”

“Pardon me, sir, but do you mean to say the people remained fasting and received Holy Communion at three o’clock?”

“Yes, my dear young man, that was an every-day experience. I remember a mission that was given in the town of N , where I was curate in ’54, the year the first great missions were given by Fathers Bernard and Petcherine. One evening, dead tired after a continuous day’s work, I was crossing the church toward the sacristy, when a huge shaggy countryman stopped me. It was just half-past ten o’clock. ’I’m for Communion, your reverence,’ said he. I was a little irritable and therefore a little sarcastic at the time. ’It is usually the habit of Catholics to receive Holy Communion fasting,’ said I, never dreaming but that the man was after his supper. ‘For the matter of that, your reverence,’ said he, ’I could have received Communion any minit these last three days; for God is my witness, neither bite nor sup has crossed my lips, not even a spoonful of wather.’ But to come back. Dear me, how easy it is to get me off the rail! After three o’clock I used to start out for my sick-calls; and, will you believe me, I was often out all night, going from one cabin to another, sometimes six or seven miles apart; and I often rode home in the morning when the larks were singing above the sod and the sun was high in the sky. Open that quarto.”

He did. The leaves were as black as the cover, and clung together, tattered as they were.

“The rain and the wind of Ireland,” I said. “It was no easy job to read Matins, with one hand clutching the reins and the pommel of the saddle, and the other holding that book in a mountain hurricane. But you are not a Manichaean, are you?”

He looked at me questioningly.

“I mean you don’t see Méphistophélès rising in that gentle cloud of steam from my glass?”

“Oh no,” he said; “you have your tastes, and I mine. Both are equally innocuous. But the fact is,” he said, after a pause, “I cannot touch wine or spirits, because I want to work at night, and I must have all my faculties clear.”

“Then you are working hard. God bless you! I saw your notes the other day. But don’t forget your Greek. French is the language of diplomacy, Italian the language of love, German the language of philosophy, English the language of commerce, Latin the language of the Church, Greek the language of the scholar, and Hebrew the language of God. But I remember it gave a new zest to my studies long ago, when I read somewhere that our Divine Lord spoke Greek, at least amongst the learned, for Greek in the East was what Latin has been in the West.”

“Yes, but ’t is pitiful,” he replied, with a blush; “I did get a gold medal from all Ireland in Greek; and yet, when I took up such an easy book as Homer the other day, why, ’t was all Greek to me.”

Here Hannah broke in, opening the door.

“Won’t you take another cup of coffee, sir?” Awaiting the reply, Hannah poked up the fire and sent the blazes dancing merrily up the chimney. Then she raised the flame of the lamp, and did a great many other unnecessary things; but the kitchen is lonesome.

“Well, Hannah,” said Father Letheby enthusiastically, “I will. You have made me a confirmed teetotaler. I would not even think of punch when your fragrant coffee is before me.”

“Wisha, then, sir, but there’s more life in the little drop of sperrits. However, your reverence is welcome to whatever you like in this house.”

This is not the first time Hannah has assumed a tone of proprietorship in my little establishment. Well, no matter. It is our Irish communism, very like that of the Apostles, too.

“You must not be disheartened about that,” I said. “I read some time ago that no less a person than Lord Dufferin declared that, although he had taken a degree in Greek, he could not read a line of it in after years till he had learned it all over again, and in his own way.”

“I am delighted to hear that,” said Father Letheby.

“And when you do master your Greek,” I said, “use your knowledge where it will profit you most.”

He waited.

“On the Greek Fathers. Believe me, there is more poetry, science, philosophy, and theology there than in all modern literature, since Shakespeare. We don’t know it. The Anglican divines do. I suspect that many a fairly sculptured sermon and learned treatise was cut from these quarries.”

I suppose the poor fellow was weary from all the lecturing. Indeed, I think too his mind had rather a practical cast; for he began to ply me with questions about the parish that fairly astonished me.

“Did Pat Herlihy’s big boy make his First Communion? What about establishing a First Confession class? He heard there was a night-dance at the cross-roads, half-ways to Moydore. Why don’t the Moydore priests stop it? Did I know Winifred Lane, a semi-imbecile up in the mountains? He did not like one of the teachers. He thought him disrespectful. What was the cause of the coolness between the Learys and the Sheas? Was it the way that one of the Sheas, about sixty years ago, served on a jury, at which some disreputable Leary was convicted? What about a bridge over that mountain torrent at Slieveogue? He had written to the surveyor. Did I think the nuns in Galway would take a postulant? He heard that there was a sister home from New Zealand who was taking out young girls ”

“My dear young friend,” I said, when I had tried to answer imperfectly this catechism, “I know you are a saint, and therefore endowed with the privilege of bilocation; but I did not know that you could dictate to six amanuenses at the same time, like Cæsar or Suarez.”

“Oh, by the way,” he said, putting up his note-book, “I was near forgetting. With your permission, sir, I intend to put up a little crib at Christmas. Now, the roof is leaking badly over St. Joseph’s Chapel. If you allow me, I shall put Jem Deady on the roof. He says you know him well, and can recommend him, and there are a few pounds in my hands from the Living Rosary.”

It was true. I knew Jem Deady very well, as a confirmed dipsomaniac, who took the Total Abstinence Pledge for life regularly every three months. I also knew that that leak over St. Joseph’s Chapel had been a steady source of income to Jem for the last ten years. Somehow it was an incurable malady, a kind of stone and mortar scrofula that was always breaking out, and ever resisting the science of this amiable physician. Sometimes it was “ground-damp,” sometimes the “weeping wall”; and there were dread dissertations on barge courses and string courses, but there the evil was, ugly and ineradicable.

“I dare say, Jem told you that I had been putting cobblers from the village every winter for the last ten years on that roof and that he alone possesses the secret that will make that wall a ’thing of beauty and a joy forever’?”

“Well, indeed, he said something of the kind. But I have taken a fancy to the fellow. He sings like an angel, and since the Concert he entertains me every night with a variety of melodies, amongst which I think ‘Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still’ is his masterpiece.”

“He does not sing ’Two Lovely Black Eyes’?” I asked.

“No,” said Father Letheby, seriously.

“I think his wife sings that,” I said, as Father Letheby rose to go.

“By the way,” I said, as I helped him on with his great coat in the hall, for he is one for whom I would make any sacrifice, “how have you acquired such a minute knowledge of my parishioners in such a short time?”

“Well,” said he, tying a silk handkerchief around his neck, “I was once at a military review in England, having been invited by some Catholic officers. I stood rather near the Duke of Cambridge. And this struck me. The Duke called out, ‘Who commands that company?’ ‘I, sir.’ ’What is the name of the third man on the right? Married or single? Term of service? Character? Trade?’ And I was utterly amazed at the accurate information of the officers. Now, I often thought, if our great Commander-in-Chief questioned us in that manner, could we reply with the same precision? And I determined to know, as soon as possible, the name, history, and position of every man, woman, and child in this parish.”

“And you have succeeded,” I said admiringly. “You know them better than I, who have spent thirty years amongst them. But” I could not resist the temptation of a little lecture “if you are asked, accept no responsibility in money matters; and if two cocks are fighting down the street, and consequently diplomatic courtesies are suspended between the neighbors, I would not, if I were you, trouble much to ascertain which of the belligerents had ethical and moral right on his side; and if Mrs. Gallagher, by pure accident, should happen to be throwing out a pail of particularly dirty water just at the psychological moment when Mrs. Casey is passing her door; and if the tailor-made gown of the latter is thereby desecrated, and you see a sudden eclipse of the sun, and hear the rumble of distant thunder, don’t throw aside your AEschylus to see the ‘Furies’; and if Mrs. Deady ”

“Thank you! thank you, Father,” he said, abruptly, “never fear. ’T will be all right!”

I closed the door on his fine, manly figure, and went back to my arm-chair, murmuring:

“[Greek: Pathemata mathemata]. So shall it be to the end, O Father of history!”