By Alan Glynn
On a cold afternoon in early spring, Jack Newbould and his father, Sir Lucius Newbould, a fractious brute who spends his days harrumphing his way through the newspapers and the world’s affairs, go walking in the family estate in County Tipperary. The two figures cut a tortuous path through their garden. The orchard walls are overgrown, gates and fences are entwined with prickly bushes, briars and gnarled roots. Nettles grow everywhere and weeds of every description, from the exotic ones drooping with aching milky buds and a fulsome proliferation of colours to the simple ones, dull, green and poisonous, are growing, it seems, at an alarming rate, rushing up in busy clusters overnight and reclaiming substantial sections of the garden for their own. The estate is being eaten by a ravenous Mother Nature whose gluttony mocks the devastating famine that is raging outside the walls in the surrounding countryside. Within the walls there is an inescapable dreariness. Neglect, seeping out from the interior of their house has simply enveloped the garden and landscaped it accordingly, so that to come from one of the crumbling damp rooms of the house into the garden makes no impression at all, no contrast is struck, there is no relief in the continuum of gloom which passes imperceptibly from the grey high ceilings to the low-hung oppressive clouds.
A chill wind blows from the east as Jack and Sir Lucius pass the sycamore tree in the broad meadow below the orchard. They both shiver in silence and plod up towards the edge of the meadow. They awkwardly negotiate a ditch and plunge themselves into an open field. Drumcoolie estate slopes away to the foothills.
“Someday all of this will be yours.” Sir Lucius gestures expansively with his stick.
Jack clears his throat. “No, Father, not unless something happens to Edmund. He is older than I am.”
“Oh!” Sir Lucius grunts something and then shuffles for a bit. He repeats the expansive gesture. “Someday all of this will be Edmund’s.”
Jack is visiting his parents and is supposed to be staying for a few days. During this time he will have to endure a host of such minor humiliations; he will have to breathe the family air, sleep in his old bedroom and cower about in the cobwebs and shadows of his childhood; but most important, he will have to find a way to stave off the tide of his father’s mindless garrulity. Jack set out from Dublin very early the previous morning and rode virtually all day without stopping. He then had to find a tavern for the night, and before going to sleep, shivering and grumbling, he drank three quarters of a bottle of brandy. When he was setting out again the next morning, with nearly a third of the journey still ahead of him, he naturally felt severely ill. He arrived in the stables of Drumcoolie late in the afternoon in that furthest reach of exhaustion where the mind is a skein of waking sleep that is periodically animated by ripples of either mild hilarity or acute melancholy. Left alone in an armchair he would have drifted from pleasurable reveries into a deep sleep, but Sir Lucius’s insistence on going for a walk, his tirades and maledictions, the non sequiturs of his encroaching senility, sparred and boxed so relentlessly at Jack’s mood that hilarity and melancholy fused to form a Frankenstein mood of demonic irritability.
These visits to the family seat with which Jack is obliged to punctuate his year are tiresome and occasionally harrowing affairs which invariably end up as set pieces for grand, ludicrous performances by Sir Lucius – fine specimens of the aging politician’s craving for the engineered situation, for drama however thin on the ground, for frayed threads spindling back through time to the cloth-of-gold years that can still be delicately picked up and wondered at. It will begin during dinner or in the library after midnight over port – or out walking in the grounds – an accusation, a scheme, a confession. Jack has grown to detect the warning signs and knows well how to carry himself through the various stages, but each time it is becoming more of a struggle, each time the antagonism a little sharper. His last visit to Drumcoolie, for example, five months ago, was excruciating and left him in a state of wretchedness for weeks.
Jack lives in rooms on Leeson Street and his life in Dublin usually assumes a rosy complexion in his mind whenever he visits his parents’ house, the dank confines of Drumcoolie opening out into the airy thoroughfares of the city, the still image of his lunatic bedridden mother transmogrifying into the municipal statuary of the delightful young Queen Victoria. But his visits to Drumcoolie are now so infrequent that Dublin itself is starting to acquire for him a measure of the same dankness and lunacy that characterizes Drumcoolie, and Drumcoolie, his entire world from infancy to early manhood, is fast becoming a repository in the back of his mind for all those buried assaults on the young personality that after a certain age inexorably move beyond the reach of picturing and even metaphor and into the insidious realm of skin disorders, speech impediments, knock-kneed sexual terror or simply, in later years, an inexhaustible appetite for sausage and cakes, or laudanum and gin. Nevertheless, as he throws a sidelong glance at his father beside him in the tall grass now, Jack is for once relieved to be away from the fiddle strings and Ringsend black-drops of an ever increasingly mad and distracted Dublin.
The two wander on to the edge of the field, and as they dust themselves down after the prickly mess of another ditch Sir Lucius turns to Jack.
“Son,” he begins, nervously jabbing his stick into the earth and leaning on it so hard that it sinks some inches and casts him into a lopsided position, “what’s this nonsense I’ve been hearing about you consorting with radicals and agitators?”
The question hangs in the air for a moment as Sir Lucius furtively retrieves his stick from the earth. “Come on, young man, you’ve been seen. Pamphleteers, revolutionists. You think I’m non compos mentis but I still have a few friends up in Dublin. William Grene tells me everything. Drinking and laughing with agitators!”
“Oh Father, don’t be so tiresome . . .”
“Tiresome? . . .” Sir Lucius raises his fist but just manages to restrain himself from striking Jack, his fury nevertheless spilling out of him like lava from an erupting volcano. “I’ll have you horsewhipped . . . I’ll, I’ll . . .”
“Father!” Jack recoils in horror.
“Have you lost your wits, boy?” Sir Lucius barks, and stalks off, turning back abruptly after about three yards. “Have you no sense of loyalty? Do you want to bring ruin and disgrace on your family?”
Jack stares dumbly back.
“Do you not read the newspapers? All this talk of . . .” – he spits out the words – “democracies a-and republics . . . it’s rotten to the core.” He angrily rips a newspaper out from inside his coat and fumbles with the pages. “Listen to this. Listen. This is some Frenchman addressing a chamber.” Softly now and with excruciating irony, he reads, “Do you not see that the earth trembles anew? A wind of revolution blows, the storm is on the horizon . . .”
Jack sees it quite clearly, a rock flying out of nowhere and ricocheting off the side of Sir Lucius’s skull, and then the seasoned old-timer reeling around for a bit and straightening up with a dazed “Whazzah?” Jack looks around but there is no one to be seen. Whoever threw the rock will be running for their life or hiding in a ditch. Almost thankful for the timely interruption Jack takes Sir Lucius by the arm and attempts to distract him by examining the graze on the side of his head. Sir Lucius then falls into a coughing fit during which Jack tries furiously to formulate a defence position. He guiltily pictures his father’s solicitor, William Grene, spotting him across a smoky crowded room full of newspapermen, seditionists, laudanum fiends and musicians. Perhaps even – he can picture it vividly – he was overheard parroting radical views or suggesting syntactical adjustments to a broadsheet extolling the virtues of the vitriol-bomb as an effective street weapon. He squirms. Jack knows that if Sir Lucius heard some lurid story from William Grene about, say, Jack’s sexual prowess, it would be of little consequence, the two men would share a good smoke and muse sentimentally about the passing on from one generation to the next of sterling qualities. But association with seditionists and their like is another matter altogether; it’s not that Jack has to be plotting or theorising or agitating, mere association is too appalling to consider; it implies too much, for Sir Lucius, too quickly, casual shedding of ingrained values, disrespect, stupidity even. Jack feels like a cornered animal staring up at the rusty pitchfork prongs of his father’s disapproval. But when Sir Lucius emerges from his fit he is quite disorientated and – miraculously – seems to have forgotten exactly what they were talking about. He starts up again, vaguely this time, launching himself into a convoluted lecture on the current scene which inevitably develops into a broad survey of the last fifty years, cause and effect, non-intervention, brief character sketches of half a dozen prime ministers – the thrust of his original attack diffused, the overall point lost in a proliferation of examples and quotes, his rage shattered into a million atoms raining down invisibly around them and settling on the grass like some obscure seasonal pollen of the senile and amnesiac that well versed naturalists of the day haven’t yet discovered.
Jack for his part is beginning to feel a little faint. He looks around him. There is an uneasy feeling in the air, and someone did, after all, throw a rock at his father. Perhaps, he thinks, they should be getting back. Renewed gusts of icy wind and a first cloudburst of rain then herald the gathering force of a storm and a half an hour after they set out Jack and Sir Lucius, pulling up their collars and muttering irritably, find themselves retracing their steps and scuttling back towards the house.
* * * * *
The two men dine in silence, picking at a fairly meagre rabbit stew. After some dried fruit they retire to the library where they are served port and cigars. Jack inhales the cigar smoke and as a result very nearly throws up. He is not used to cigars any more than he is used to being treated by his father as though he were used to them and, by extension, to manly pow-wows on an equal footing such as this seems to be. Jack is too tired to be suspicious of Sir Lucius’s motives, however. His exhaustion is now so extreme that his surroundings takes on the quality of an hallucination, the space inside his head and that outside in the room kneading itself into a single dough-like consistency. Jack begins to nod off several times but each time Sir Lucius prods him with his stick and tells him not to slouch. At one point Jack seizes an opportunity to excuse himself and retire, but Sir Lucius requests that he stay a little longer – he has a delicate matter he wishes to discuss, something that is preying on his mind. Jack sits down. He becomes nervous that Sir Lucius is going to start in again about the company he is keeping up in Dublin. Speaking barely above a whisper, however, Sir Lucius announces that he and Lady Newbould have contracted this “black fever” that is devastating the general population. Dr Brogan does not expect them to last even until the end of the month. Drumcoolie is in disarray, the estate is in a shambles. Sir Lucius’s tear-ducts wobble loose and he speaks, not of fearing death, but of resenting the manner in which he must be struck from the “register of life”, with so much left undone, so much left to accomplish. Jack stares at his father in disbelief and grunts sarcastically. Sir Lucius becomes furious. He says how does Jack know that he doesn’t have it himself, that that would wipe the smirk off his face. He goes on about how these locals are going around infecting the whole countryside, trade is being devastated, innocent people are being struck down.
Jack feels a wave of nausea and braces himself. The physiological ebbs and tides of a hangover are very familiar to him, as is that delicacy of mind which cannot tolerate the contemplation of any serious subject, least of all death, without an accompanying stab of panic. Normally the subject will be dismissed from the mind to be dealt with later, on the far side of a long sleep, but sometimes circumstances make this impossible. Resigning himself, therefore, Jack hunches forward in his chair and starts to argue that Sir Lucius looks perfectly healthy, symptoms are fairly obvious and Dr Brogan is an irresponsible idiot who doesn’t know what he is talking about; furthermore, Sir Lucius will live to be a hundred and the reason he won’t have a successor to his title will be because both of his sons have died of old age. Sir Lucius, who despises flippancy, launches into a counterattack: he and Lady Newbould have been diagnosed as fever victims by impeccable medical opinion, they are about to die, unceremoniously, but with courage and dignity, Sir Lucius’s only concern being the shape of things he will leave behind; he needs to know that as his right hand reaches towards the ultimate light it will be fully aware that his left hand is being affectionately unclasped from an ordered mortality. Jack, who remembers always wanting to read through the Annual Register from his father’s years in parliament but never getting around to it, is temporarily swayed by this. Sir Lucius then says that at any rate he has no wish to live to be a hundred; Jack says that neither does he but that he certainly isn’t ready to give up the ghost just yet, that he wants to go to Paris and be seduced by the wife of an eminent physician or get a job in the East India Company or something; suddenly becoming impatient he berates Sir Lucius with a graphic description of the symptoms of black fever – swelling limbs, boiling blood, crawling skin. This outburst overpowers Sir Lucius. He sits in silence for a while, his brow furrowed, his eyes burning holes in the floorboards. More gently but with even greater assurance Jack repeats his argument and concludes, in a mocking tone, “Break open some Champagne, Father, we’re going to live!”
Sir Lucius is cautious at first, but he soon yields to childish glee. He strides over to the door. “I must go and tell your mother.”
* * * * *
In the hollow silence and dimness of the library Jack begins to feel uneasy and a little frightened. What does he know about medical matters? What does he know about anything? He glances around at the bookshelves, at the mountain of papers and documents on his father’s desk that contains a lifetime of struggles and grievances. Here are the tedious details of who knows what tangled transactions with lawyers, businessmen, journalists, judges, politicians – or at least so he supposes. His anxiety deepens as he thinks how foolish he was just now in imagining amorous advances being made to him in a Parisian salon or the East India Company offering him a position in Bombay, because even the thought of escape from this room, from Drumcoolie, from the estate, let alone escape from the countryside to sanctuary in his Leeson Street rooms suddenly seems impossible to him, survival a stupid dream, quick painful death by disease maybe a preferable alternative. After all death is everywhere, and where it isn’t there is chaos and hysteria and violence, mad people, assassination plots . . . stories, murders, infidelities, reveries. How can he face the betrayals that await him in future years, freak accidents that will change everything, streaks of bad luck, heartbreak? His insides now churn uncontrollably. This is horrible. He tries to think of something inane, something whimsical, to diffuse the awful gloom and steer himself towards a lighter mood, the way the full swing of any decent hangover should just about now be allowing, but he finds he is unable to, it is impossible, any thought that comes into his head seems to transform immediately into a hot flaming coal and drop headlong into the pit of his stomach. If only he’d had the will power to steel himself against this ordeal by remaining sober for the few days beforehand. If only he’d cast his mind back five months to that last visit here in early October.
He casts his mind back now, automatically, and it all seems to come in an unstoppable flood, as if he’d been suppressing it for months. Then, as now, Sir Lucius displayed a ludicrous hypochondria, he wept openly and went through a dizzying series of tirades about politics, the poison of idleness, betrayal, he even elicited sympathy from Jack and then turned on him viciously with a lecture about his lack of ambition, his cruel neglect of his mother, and how unlike Edmund he was. Jack went to bed reeling after an evening of this and when he happened to awake a few hours later he got up, dressed quickly, ran out to the stables, awkwardly straddled his horse and galloped off to the boundaries. The ride back to Dublin was almost the worst part, the countryside and its various scenes of deserted homesteads, emaciated figures at dawn, clusters of silent breathing scarecrows, bones encrusted in mud, field after field, abundant, scorched, all turning his head and twisting his mind, the road so familiar to him that he might more conveniently have just blindfolded himself. Back in his rooms he collapsed on his bed and as layer after layer of consciousness peeled away, his eyelids lowering like a grinding portcullis, he was helplessly transported back to the confines of Drumcoolie to go through a thousand sketchy variations of the two days or so just gone by, his confused dreams culminating with himself, somehow his own horse, talking loudly of his glory days on the turf but then getting it all mixed up with the smell and tug of cartloads of grain and stories of bone-boiling and glue-making, the track at the Curragh stretching out before him forever as he realises he’s not racing but being chased, whipped, whinnying like a maniac, his eyes out on sticks for the final post and, less surely, the clubhouse crowd and their scented garlands of triumph and adulation.
In the days and weeks that followed Jack carried the gloom of Drumcoolie around with him like a dead animal under his coat. It was not a part of him but he couldn’t get rid of it, and although no one knew what the source of his despondency was, the longer he held on to it the more offensive it became, like the stench of rotting meat that would naturally emanate from the carcass of a cat or a hare concealed, for whatever reason, in the lining of a winter greatcoat. Close friends poked fun at him behind his back and went out of their way to avoid him. He drank excessively and dwelt as he had not done for years on family matters and his childhood. Progressing from wine to gin his thoughts on the family dynamics grew more and more outlandish until he was finally postulating to himself, wrapped in newspapers on a bench in Phoenix Park at five o’clock one morning, that it was only since Sir Lucius’s influence over his brother, Edmund, had diminished, and ultimately vanished, that it had lighted on him, and that the increasingly sinister hold Sir Lucius had over him was something that could not be explained except in terms of a subtle persecution the uses of which even Sir Lucius himself was only dimly beginning to understand.
Edmund, who was nearly ten years older than Jack, had been the apple of Sir Lucius’s eye and when, after a promising academic career, he moved to Dublin, Sir Lucius didn’t seem at all perturbed that he ended up doing little else besides drinking, gambling and cracking jokes at the expense of fat people, ugly women and Whigs. He was clearly biding his time. But when Edmund’s early twenties had drifted by in this self-perpetuating torpor and the likelihood of anything so radical as his getting a job or “thinking of London” had faded, Sir Lucius became alarmed. He goaded his son mercilessly and undermined his confidence to such a degree that when he suggested bankrolling a trip for him to the Levant, supposedly to expand his mind and prepare him for his future responsibilities, Edmund jumped at it willingly – and simply never came back. For a period of about eighteen months, Jack received a stream of anguished letters from Edmund, the geographical line of their points of origin treading steadily eastwards, their train of thought heading inexorably for derailment, and when Jack’s school days were over, by which time nothing had been heard from Edmund in nearly two years, Jack re-read the collected letters in search of some clue, some indication of how he should proceed in life, and concluded, from the evidence, that he shouldn’t be too interested in travelling, the society of women seemed more trouble than it was worth and a career in anything from politics to business was certain death to the soul.
Edmund’s disappearance had a profound effect on Jack, but it also left him feeling exposed. Since it was only from this period that he and his father started spending any real time together it was somehow natural for Jack to assume that he was next in the firing line, and that Sir Lucius’s irritating habit of confusing him with Edmund was some sort of opening shot in a grisly psychological campaign to crush his spirit.
From the shivering dawn perspective of a bench in Phoenix Park, at any rate, this stiff and headachy theory did seem to amount to something, but as it drifted up through the early morning fog it broke easily into fragments and lingered in the air around him as a vague and confused paranoia, distilling ultimately into an essential dread of his father.
In time, even this evaporated and by the following March, when Sir Lucius next summoned Jack to put in an appearance at Drumcoolie, it had long given way to the distractions of a Dublin swarming with thousands of beggars, a Dublin of soup kitchens, fever hospitals and boarded-up shop fronts, a Dublin where the gay laughter and music of the drawing rooms and fancy-dress balls seemed to be mingling in the air with whispered rumours of rebellion, the rhythmic sharpening of pikes and knives and the daily clack-clop-clack of extra troops marching through the city’s cobbled streets. When Jack was setting out for Drumcoolie, therefore, he gave little thought to what he was actually doing, he didn’t look back to the turmoil and frenzy of his previous visit, nor did he look ahead to what awaited him, but rather he looked, with some remove and not a little ambivalence, to the turmoil and frenzy of the expanding world he was temporarily leaving behind.
Sitting now in the library, however, Jack sees that he was a fool not to anticipate another episode in this recent and bewildering tussle for power with his father. But maybe what he doesn’t fully realise is that this “tussle for power” is not some recent development at all, but is something that can be traced back to the very day that he was born. The mood on that particular day was dominated by Sir Lucius’s misplaced acrimony over what was popularly being perceived as a “deadly blow to the moral character of the nation”, the trial of Queen Caroline. The prickly question of divorce pervaded Drumcoolie on a day which should have been a joyous one, Lady Newbould taking sides, in the full flush of her childbed, with the maddeningly arrant Caroline and Sir Lucius arguing vehemently for Lord Liverpool, the government and the new George. When he was one and a half, Jack spoke for the first time, but this event was overshadowed by the publication on the very same day of Sir Lucius’s first political pamphlet, In Praise of the Lash, the father’s first words in print outnumbering by many thousands the son’s first spoken words, a gurgled pronouncement of infant discomfort. But perhaps the most significant early example of this guignol of father upstaging son at key points of son’s development with key points, and proportionately noisier ones, of father’s development, began when Jack, at the age of six, was out exploring one afternoon in the grounds of the estate and for no particular reason set a small shed which contained tools and building materials on fire. As blue flames rose up and crackled all around him, Jack stood paralysed by the mystery and violence of his actions. He barely managed to run out into the courtyard to safety before the four main beams crumbled in on themselves. He savoured the thrill of destruction and wished he had chosen a bigger structure, the barn or the stables . . . or the house. Farmhands soon appeared out of nowhere and the young arsonist was dragged screaming up to the main parlour by the estate’s warden, Mr. Dolan. Five minutes before, however, in a curious accident of timing a courier arrived from London to announce that Sir Lucius had been arraigned by the House for gross personal misconduct, evidence was irrefutable and a full trial was expected. Mr. Dolan was not even let in the door, and a shaken and singed Jack was set free into the cold vastness of Drumcoolie’s interior, bewildered since obviously no one had told him his father was in a similar predicament, but relieved to be on his own to absorb and relive a hundred times, rolling around on the floor of his bedroom, his own misadventure. During the course of the following months, as details of Sir Lucius’s trial filtered down to the parlours and barnyards of Drumcoolie, and through malicious distillation to Jack’s ears, he developed a private indignation at being denied a trial of his own, and an envy even of the attention his father was receiving for what, in his estimation at least, was clearly a lesser crime.
Jack does not actually recall these events, but they hover in the background of his mind like ghosts, haunting events he does remember, giving them a curious resonance, pulling at them and subtly transposing details. As he was growing up, and later, as he cowered in Edmund’s shadow, Jack never really identified his father as a bully or a tyrant, so it is all the more perplexing for him now to find Sir Lucius – and as though in a perverse way to make up for all the years of neglect – trying to club him into some kind of obedience and submission.
* * * * *
There is a loud crashing sound followed by a howl of laughter from somewhere in the house. The library, as Jack shifts in his chair and looks around, is suddenly unnaturally still, as though all the objects in the room have heard the sound as well but are too polite or embarrassed to react. Jack guesses that rather than going upstairs to inform Lady Newbould of the good news, Sir Lucius chose instead to go down to the wine cellar, probably to fetch some champagne.
The chemistry of Jack’s body stirs at the prospect.
Sir Lucius hobbles back into the library, three bottles in or under his arms, a glass protruding from each of his pockets, a globule of blood on his forehead.
“I dropped one.”
After quickly tending to his wound, Sir Lucius piles the sprawl of his desk up into a tottering column, lays out the glasses, opens the champagne and proposes a curious toast.
“To the filthy wretches and to the backs of them!”
In the ensuing conversation, in which Jack is addressed occasionally, and with noticeable pique, as Jack, but more frequently, and in the happy spirit of the occasion, as Edmund, there is nothing to compound the cheerfulness he feels creeping over him with each sip from his glass. There is a tirade against the new democracies, despair is expressed in regard to the pitiable character of the native Irish, Sir Lucius’s good friend, Sir Henry Farthing, is touted as a future Prime Minister, relief programmes are declared a waste of time, who does Prince Albert think he is, and so forth. At one point Jack is bold enough to ask about the family finances, the condition of the estates, the collection of rents et cetera. Cloudy now and unsure whether it is Edmund or Jack addressing him, Sir Lucius mutters something about the Poor Law, a slogan about emigration meaning less destitution, something about his pocket and how it is time for bed. The dregs of the third bottle are poured and Sir Lucius says what a good thing it is he feels so well because what a dreadful thing it would be to die with a hangover.
In a moment, Jack is alone again, in the same chair, not having moved out of it for several hours. The gloom from earlier on clings to his stubble as he wraps the palm of his hand over its abrasive surface. On his way upstairs, Jack is surprised to see from the clock in the hallway that it is only five minutes to midnight.
At around two o’clock in the morning a strong gust of wind charges through Drumcoolie Castle. It makes its way in through windows, cracks and open doors, substantial wisps of it taking off down crooked passageways or up winding staircases, the main force rushing headlong through the grand hall and into the library where it swirls itself into a minor tornado. Chandeliers shake violently and rattle; old pieces of furniture creak and the column of documents and folders on Sir Lucius’s desk topples over and spills to the floor, loose leaves gliding out in chaotic flocks across the room. A door in the courtyard leading into the dairy opens and slams shut again, making a thunderous noise which carries up and in through Sir Lucius’s bedroom window. He shifts in his sleep but doesn’t wake up – his dreams dissolving, however, and re-forming in an instant: from a brash cavalry officer he is suddenly an old man on his deathbed who hears a noise in the street and fears that it is the revolution breaking out. Luddite mobs dance on the edges of his consciousness, smash expensive machinery, wield hammers, mouth obscenities. Elsewhere in Drumcoolie Castle, Lady Newbould lies bolt awake reading a book, oblivious to the storm, but with no one to point out to her that the book she is holding is upside down, or to re-kindle the long extinguished candle on her night table. Over on the only completed floor of the abandoned Nursery Tower, Jack lies snoring, twitching, dead to the world.
Back in the library, the storm over, things have settled into an unholy mess. The contents of the bureau – testimonials, affidavits, invoices, letters, architectural sketches, newspaper cuttings, tattered manuscripts, old galley proofs, diaries – lie scattered everywhere. A china figurine, whisked from the mantelpiece, lies smashed in pieces over a batch of letters before the fireplace, letters from a heated correspondence dating back to the early thirties between Sir Lucius and a firm of plasterwork contractors in London. A toppled high-back chair covers the uncorrected proofs of an article about chemicals and agriculture Sir Lucius wrote ten years previously for The Spectator but was never published, the rejection notice, seared now and stained with brandy, having found its way and become lodged, along with some discarded dinner-party menus, down between the back legs of the bureau and the skirting board. A loose page from Sir Lucius’s journal, recounting an escapade with Sir Henry Farthing’s daughter, Penelope, balances precariously on the pate of a terracotta bust and gives, in the imperfect light, the appearance of an exotic form of head-dress.
In the unlikely event of someone gathering all of these documents up, and in the strict chronological order of their composition, a well-rounded portrait of Sir Lucius (the raw materials, at any rate, for a well-researched biography) would emerge.
* * * * *
In powdered wigs and knee-breeches, Lucius Newbould led a dissolute, undisciplined youth, cock fighting, bare-knuckle boxing, cracking George III jokes, drinking and swearing, and displaying none of the protean qualities he was later to develop. After a prolonged illness, which he contracted on a pleasure tour of Europe’s ravaged cities in the dreamlike wake of the Napoleonic Wars, and during which he read voraciously, alternating between Edmund Burke and Sir Walter Scott, Lucius emerged a full-blooded Tory, ready to think about contesting a seat, haughty, robust, already constructing sentences in his head for a maiden speech which would rage for three hours and receive a special notice in the Annual Register.
Under Lord Liverpool, Sir Lucius waged war on reformers, especially those bent on changing the penal system; he championed an increase in public flogging, the reinstatement of the pillory, the exchange of dangerous criminals for Christian slaves and the strict enforcement of capital statutes against defilement of property. He earned a reputation as a formidable speaker and soon began publishing a series of pamphlets (The Christian Pugilist, Against Ideas) which gained him quite a few enemies among radicals and free-thinkers, and prompted William Cobbett in his Weekly Political Register, to comment: “It is the most difficult thing in the world to accept that such a man as Lucius Newbould could actually exist; he believes in everything it is impossible to believe in.”
At about this time a certain predilection for unbridled hedonism re-surfaced from Sir Lucius’s youthful days and by May of 1826 he had become embroiled in a scandal involving an archbishop’s wife, a farmyard animal and a half a pound of opium. He was so vilified by the press and by colleagues during the lengthy trial that followed that he was forced, in a blaze of name-calling and recrimination, to retire from Parliament. In a popular play of the time, Bromley’s He Knew No Better, he was mercilessly caricatured as Sir Pillory Flogg.
A period of disillusionment and bitterness followed but by the late twenties a new and transformed Sir Lucius had begun a career as a businessman and minor industrialist. Dividing his time and interests now between London and Dublin, he invested his money in railways and cattle export and in various manufacturing concerns, including a paper-mill and a chemical plant. For a run of about ten years Sir Lucius was the very model of the early capitalist, the merchant-manufacturer as prince; he was his own technical expert, his own buying and selling agent, the personnel manager and head of his own office. His plans were titanic and his blood rushed quicker with each new industrial development, each new tour of England’s cities, each glimmer of the near future which seemed to pulsate and roar for those who could barely wait for it and were from that vigorous stock of early Victorian supermen for whom the clangourous music of ten thousand times ten thousand steam-hammers quaking the earth at half past five on a Monday morning was an intoxication, an anthem, the pumping heart of what it was plain to see was emerging as the sheer miracle of the nineteenth century. It was not to last for Sir Lucius, however; too many things were to militate against his ambitions, but in these years, for a short time, the gathering electricity of the age coursed through his veins.
In the public eye, Sir Lucius of Castle Drumcoolie was the ex-parliamentarian with a colourful past; he and his wife, Beatrice, were the darlings of society, they were inveterate party-goers and magnificent hosts, Castle Drumcoolie being the unofficial vice regal seat of the county’s gaieties, its raciest balls and charades, its most lavish drawing-rooms and its most clandestine depravities. As a landlord Sir Lucius was responsible for the welfare of dozens and dozens of families spread out over hundreds of acres. But unlike his father, the ever-popular Sir Giles, Sir Lucius found his responsibilities irksome; they intruded on his business career in Dublin and London and he found, as he once told the House, “the buttermilk charm and pigswill mentality of the native Irish utterly repugnant”. On public occasions he was magnanimous and avuncular with the locals, but apart from entertaining he spent little real time at Drumcoolie, he rarely consulted those responsible for the day-to-day running of the estate and, in exasperation, he dreamt of a perfectly divided land with productive sub-plots and invisible rent-paying tenants. But more frequently, and closer to his heart, Sir Lucius dreamt of milky thighs and rouged nipples, of razor slashes, piglets and plump infants, of standing around with two or three other men, smoking, looking on at some hideous scene of humiliation engineered for their entertainment. A wealthy industrialist with keen personal appetites, Sir Lucius had not had time to spare for compassion and charity, temptations which as a businessman he had had to club to death and banish from his soul. He felt that famine and pestilence, even genocide, were righteous judgements of God and many times in Parliament, in his early years, had grappled with the issue, smiting the Papist lobby, “Do you believe in the Old Testament? If Cromwell was wrong, then Moses, Joshua and David were wrong! We worship God and God worships force, so let us have civil engineers and drown all your priests . . . give me the Spinning Jenny and take you your Virgin Mary . . .”
As the thirties melted into the forties, however, and indulgence yielded to dissipation, Sir Lucius began to lose his hold on reality. He was seen chastising lamp-posts and was overheard by one of his employees telling a client, who had a large account with them, that he was really Queen Victoria, and that nobody should be deceived otherwise, unbuttoning his shirt he said that one had only to see his pouting breasts. Soon after this he began losing accounts and less attention was paid to the books. By the mid forties, as the country was drawn into the embrace of famine and agitation, there were tremendous disruptions in business, in supply and demand, trade ground to a halt, streets once humming with commerce were deserted, shops were boarded up, vast warehouses left to the desolate winds and rain. In fact, secretly, the very structures of business were transforming altogether, falling apart and re-grouping into stronger gridlocked bonds of who knew whose mysterious interest, but not the interest, certainly, of Sir Lucius, who found himself left behind, a relic, storming the kingdom of reduced circumstances.
He could no longer properly afford to maintain the estate in Tipperary, but he nevertheless continued to live there, surrounding himself with a monstrous machinery of decomposition which he was powerless to reverse and to which, at any rate, he seemed quite oblivious. Lady Newbould lived in bed, suffering, according to Dr Brogan, from the residual poisoning of having worn a lead-based cosmetic face down through the years of their public life in London. Sir Lucius only ever went to Dublin these days, and less and less frequently at that, since it was only to be grilled and interrogated and abused by his solicitors at Cornish and Grene, who were being driven nearly to distraction themselves by the financial briars in which the Newbould commercial empire was becoming increasingly entangled. There were litigations, arbitration hearings, foreclosures, allegations of mismanagement and even of misappropriation and fraudulence. Nicholas Cornish was reluctant to pursue matters further until he himself was paid outstanding fees of some five thousand guineas, and even then the thought of the task at hand was enough to cast a heavy gloom over his entire office.
Not for the first time in his career, Sir Lucius floundered in penury and isolation; but he eventually roused himself and devised a scheme to get working again. The political realities of the day, famine and the lack of bureaucratic resources to cope with the resulting chaos, ironically dovetailed for a brief period with his new plans. In the late summer of ‘46 the Labour Rate Act was passed. At the discretion of the Lord Lieutenant and under the direction of government officers, public works would be undertaken as a form of relief for the impoverished and starving. With this in mind, Sir Lucius hatched a scheme to build a gigantic obelisk or honorific column in the middle of the front lawn. It would be two hundred feet high and set on a square pedestal with bronze plaques, modelled in low relief, on the east and west faces, alternating with figures, in light marble, occupying niches in the north and south faces. Work on the obelisk would alleviate a great deal of suffering, Sir Lucius had no doubt, but in the back of his mind was also the tentative notion that the obelisk might one day form the cornerstone of a new city – a city unlike the burgeoning industrial cities of England with their swelling immigrant-fed populations and relentless machine-powered rates of production, but a shimmering city, a metropolis with a central plaza of municipal buildings, a surrounding grid of avenues and streets and an ingenious scheme of crescents, squares and public parks webbing outwards to the city limits . . . it was only an idea, something that in future generations might bear his name, but the obelisk would certainly be a powerful symbol, the inverse image of a stake being driven into the heart of the countryside, its pointed tip reaching up instead as if to scrape the sky.
In order that work might start immediately on these public works monies were to be advanced from the Treasury. The various provisions and conditions outlined in the act, however, made it virtually impossible for the officers of the Board of Works and the members of the local committees of landlords and justices to conjoin interests and set the scheme in motion. But wading alone through the marshes of paperwork and contractual details, Sir Lucius quickly managed to present coherent and detailed plans of his own for the Board’s approval and almost immediately raised enough money and labour to start work on the obelisk. As gangs of able-bodied paupers shuffled in from all over the countryside to Drumcoolie, Sir Lucius felt in his breast a stoutness he had not felt for many years.
But as the job of digging the huge foundations was about to commence, Sir Lucius received word from the firm of hardware manufacturers in Birmingham, from whom he had ordered hundreds of picks and short shovels, that supplies would be delayed indefinitely. Because his credit was notoriously bad he had had to pay them in advance and since in a fit of largesse he had also paid his architects there was now not enough left to pay the masonry firm for the first shipment of granite, so no granite would be supplied either. Impatient and hungry, the workers quickly dispersed. The beginnings of a big hole were all that survived of the obelisk and Sir Lucius retreated to his library and refused to answer any of the flood of letters that started pouring in from the Board of Works.
By the middle of the next year conditions in the country had so deteriorated and Sir Lucius had become so lugubrious that it seemed as if no real relief was possible. But then a suggestion from Nicholas Cornish, who was desperately trying to rescue the estate from complete ruin, roused him one last time. Together, out among the mud patches and quarter-acres, and in the name of the newest scheme of relief, they offered free passage and provisions to about fifty-five or sixty families if they would emigrate at once to Canada. Those approached agreed willingly and sailed on August 5th on the brig Lucullus. As it transpired there were no provisions onboard and after about a week at sea “ship fever” broke out. Before long the fevered passengers outnumbered the healthy ones and the fetid atmosphere became unbearable. Without food or medicine there was nothing to check the spread of despair and madness onboard the ship, the only substance available for ingestion being an exceptionally potent grog, which led in the early weeks of the voyage to grog parties and dancing, all woes, chief among them malnutrition, disease and nakedness being set aside for a few short hours of relaxation. As the voyage of the Lucullus entered its third month, however, even the grog ran out (not that there was anyone strong enough left to bend an elbow) and the weather took a turn for the worse. The captain, who had been a pillar of strength, perished of pneumonia and a subsequent attempt at mutiny degenerated into a tense staring match between the first mate and the leader of the mutineers, splayed across the deck from one another – everyone else either comatose or in the early stages of putrefaction. By the time they reached the mouth of the St. Lawrence, in early November, the great river had begun to freeze over and the Lucullus silently, blithely drifted into the treacherous waters, cracked its hull and sank. Some people who saw the Lucullus go down, from the shore, commented on how still and peaceful it had seemed, even if the stench it blew their way had been a little overpowering. The letter of notification Sir Lucius received was from, as it turned out, a nephew of his who was in the service of Colonial Secretary Earl Grey, in Quebec. The letter was a brief bulletin of the facts which also contained some comments on the escalating bureaucratic chaos at the immigration and quarantine station on Grosse Island. The letter continued in a chatty vein, touching on family matters and closing roundly with the dutiful nephew’s kindest regards.
The implications of what had happened, the awful tragedy, his negligence, his culpability, barely seemed to make an impression on Sir Lucius. He was careful not to discuss it or even to inform Lady Newbould of the affair. And yet Sir Lucius gradually became obsessed with the sinking of the Lucullus, not as a tragedy in itself, but as a cruel twist of fate for him. He realised that this was to be the crowning achievement of his career; by any standards, it was a grand scale business to have been involved in, the relocation of a whole community to another section of the globe, but it was not one which he could readily discuss, or boast about, or point to as the apex of his accomplishments. The mood of the times was hostile, his way of thinking had been superseded by newfangled ideologies, and he just felt a little bit cheated. The burden of secret disappointment weighed heavily on Sir Lucius. He had no energy left for new projects and his personal affairs were in such disarray that he preferred to ignore them. He was aware that he had grown a little absent-minded and that the onset of the fifties would probably quell his spirit completely, but the sad fact was he still alive, still pottering about, still creating trouble for those around him, and there was nothing he could think of to do about it.
* * * * *
As he lies awake now in his enormous bed, the early morning sunlight shafting through the window, Sir Lucius ruminates on the silliness of “taking stock”, the arbitrariness of how a lifetime is perceived. If history is the amalgamated biographies of great men, as Thomas Carlyle (of all people!) had once said, then he knows that downstairs in the library his allotted portion of greatness is neatly stacked and waiting for the scavengers and opportunists of Grub Street and the Bodley.
Downstairs, a good hour before Sir Lucius will climb from his bed, there is in fact a flurry of activity as staff-members repair the damage from last night’s storm. Since there is no bacon to be cured and there are no eggs to be collected, even the kitchen people have been enlisted to reposition furniture, gather papers, sweep up and dispose of the smashed remains of ornaments, delftware and various pieces of bric-a-brac that are lying around. Lady Newbould has finally nodded off, and Jack, just entering the second day of one of those surprise never-ending hangovers, turns his delicate frame around in the bed and sucks on the corner of his pillow, and curses daylight.
By late afternoon things have returned to normal. With the assistance all day long of uninterrupted sunshine and cool breezes the heavy saturation of the storm slowly retreats into the earth. Rich foliage and rapid waterways bustle; small, seemingly crazed animals dart from holes in the ground to halfway houses in the barks of trees; acres of crops sway, side-by-side fields of them nudging one another in a full-throated chorus of spring. Jack and Sir Lucius are taking another walk through the estate and neither the accusation of this time yesterday, the company Jack has lately been keeping in Dublin, nor the morbid diagnosis of last evening, black fever à la mode, are showing any signs of reappearing. Jack feels slightly better and has spent most of the day alone. He got up at about midday and after a breakfast of porridge and kippers he wandered aimlessly about the house, avoiding both his mother’s room, where Dr Brogan was in consultation, and the library, where he could hear Sir Lucius muttering loudly to himself and shuffling papers. He planted himself in an armchair in one of the front parlours, and after staring at a newspaper for a few minutes, columns and columns of tiny print receding into a blur, he gave himself up to the thoughts – clearer now and not so direful – that were spilling over in his mind from the night before. He reflected, for example, on how little he actually knew about his father. He knew that he had been in politics and business, that the family fortune had dwindled to almost nothing and that the years of gradual retreat had left him a virtual prisoner on his own estate, but along with a few details here and there this was really all he did know. The grand stature Sir Lucius casually bestowed upon himself in conversation and the often repeated suggestion of great accomplishments insufficiently rewarded had always been a puzzle to Jack, and although there were many ways in which he could discover what exactly had happened in such and such a year or just what Sir Lucius’s dealings had been and with whom, he had never bothered to find out. He didn’t care to know, he told himself, just what kind of a man Sir Lucius was, what he was capable of, how amenable he was to the beasts of mischief and havoc that lurked in the human soul. But whatever Jack thought in his blackest humour and whatever drunken theories he might hatch, he also knew that in a different mood and under a different influence Sir Lucius could just as easily appear to him as an eccentric buffoon, a faintly ridiculous fair-ground Mystery Man whose secret was hardly worth the price of admission.
He turned these thoughts over in his mind for a while, vacillating wildly, veering one way and then the other, but eventually, impatience getting the better of him, he dismissed the whole question as futile, counterproductive, a psychological chimera that in his relatively sober state he now saw as the grotesque offspring of alcoholic poisoning (his own) and senile dementia (his father’s). Determined to distract himself from any further thoughts of his father, therefore, he went back to the newspaper and assiduously read an article about the forthcoming programme of musical events at the Rotunda.
But again now, walking along beside Sir Lucius in a field behind the stables, Jack feels a dull oppression weighing down on him. He wants to be far away working on the new railroad systems he’s read of that bridge coastlines and lakeshores in the vast continent of America, or huddled in a laboratory somewhere pushing forward the frontiers of electricity. Sir Lucius’s whiskers and jowls are just too close for comfort, and the pugnacious flash of indignation Jack was able to muster last night, which had arisen more from frustration than from any genuine will to engage in combat, is too remote, even now, to be of any use in shielding him from his father’s powerful influence.
Sir Lucius has actually been fairly subdued up to this point in their walk, but as they move on and plod over another ditch into another field, the evening drawing them into its purple dusk, teeming colours seceding into cool shadows and intricate silhouettes, he starts into yet another interminable lecture on the cabinet politics of the twenties, his position on the congress system, what a wild town Berlin had been and so forth. Jack just closes it out, half listening and half patching together for himself a reverie of the future.
Then, all of a sudden, and out of the corner of his eye, Jack notices the portly moustachioed figure of his father keeling over into the tall Tipperary grass.
Frightened, Jack spins around and sees approaching from several directions clusters of ragged, skeletal locals, their wiry arms outstretched and sunken eyes staring vacantly. He dances nervously to keep them all in view; Sir Lucius’s skull is bleeding. Another rock comes hurtling through the air and knocks Jack down into a convulsive heap in the grass. His head begins to spin; he opens his eyes and sees closing down in from above him a perfect ring of wild gnarled faces, but they immediately takes off into a kaleidoscope and he sinks into unconsciousness.
* * * * *
He wakes some time later, but how much later he cannot tell. It is dark now. The tall grass sways above him in the breeze and thin clouds course by the even higher moon. His body aches all over and a clanging pain runs from his head down to his feet. He shuffles up a bit and sees that his clothes are torn, that he is spattered with blood and that his boots are gone. There is no accounting for this. He shakes his head, stupefied, his thoughts forming and as soon dissolving. He kneels for a few moments, swaying with the grass.
“Jack . . . over here”, a whispered voice comes from somewhere behind him. He struggles around on his hands and knees, breathing deeply. He braces himself, and rising up, parts the tall grass in the direction of the whispered voice. He starts back violently at what he sees. Some twelve yards or so away on a mound in the middle of the field stands Sir Lucius, the appearance of his face changed, his clothes dazzling white, talking with two other men who are equally luminescent and spectral. The man to his father’s right Jack recognizes unmistakably as the late Lord Liverpool, prime minister of some twenty years ago, and the man to his father’s left he sees is Archbishop Manners-Sutton, who died in ‘28. Jack gasps in horror at this supernatural vision. He shakes his head and gapes incredulously as the glow from the tabernacular mound creeps through the grass in wispy threads like snakes to envelope him.
Turning to Lord Liverpool, as casually as if they were chatting in an alehouse, Sir Lucius then says, “This is my son, Edmund, heir to the lot. He’s the image of his mother”.
Jack feels what he imagines to be the weight of the entire planet beneath his feet, as if he were at the vanguard of time and space, as if no more intense a scene could be taking place anywhere across the vast extent of the earth’s land and oceans. But why – his speculations jumping forward – why if the grease of God’s majestic elbow is being secreted before his very eyes, for him . . . why does Sir Lucius have to be there wilfully misidentifying him as his older brother?
“And how is your good lady wife?”, Lord Liverpool asks in a voice distant and hollow.
“Not in the best of health, I’m afraid”, says Sir Lucius.
“Indeed? How dreadful! Do give her my kindest regards.”
During this exchange Jack’s eyes meet those of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who appears to shrug his shoulders and sigh a little impatiently, as if peeved at being excluded from the conversation.
“. . . on my own estate,” Sir Lucius is droning on, “local agitators . . . and my own son up in Dublin drinking and laughing with them . . . repealers, prostitutes, papists, pamphleteers . . .”
Jack is dizzy again and feels his stomach surge up out of him; he splutters and falls down again and heaves and fights at the grass to stay awake, but he sinks into blackness, face down, members of the busy community of tiny life forms scuttling around the few square inches beneath his face soon prostrate themselves, in heathen awe of Jack’s nostrils which appear to them as vast cavernous portals leading to a world of mystery and perhaps deliverance.
The vast bedroom of his childhood, as Jack awakes, is a sea of darkness in which he struggles to make out the familiar forms of bedposts, chairs, bookshelves and the grisly face of a wooden hobbyhorse that terrified his early years. A wick still burns on a knobbly plate of wax over by the hearth, throwing a weak, flickering light down the room but keeping the remoter corners in total obscurity. As he grows accustomed to the half-light, he remembers the portraits on either wall of his grandfather and great-grandfather, which will emerge soon enough and dwarf the hobbyhorse as an effective agency of terror. A vague recollection of his ramble through the estate with Sir Lucius spurs Jack to fling a leg out of the bed, but dizziness throws him back onto the pillows. He sleeps for a while, but wakes again with renewed anxiety, having dreamt fleetingly of a cabinet session in which new measures were proposed but which nobody could agree on or even pay much attention to since there was a gymkhana going on in a side chamber and people were talking over each other and placing bets. He tries again and manages to shift himself a few feet from his bed, but he knocks into a side table, trips over it and ends up stretched out on the floor. He rolls onto his side. The distorted view, from this angle, of the contents and features of the room bring a vivid impression to his mind of having been in this exact position many years before on some frightening and significant day of his childhood. Groaning, he rolls from side to side and eventually clutches his stomach as though the enzymes and fluids of his memory have stormed his intestines and the pain he is feeling has nothing to do with eating badly or drinking too much, but with a dyspepsia of the soul.
He stands up and with great concentration takes the candle by the fireplace, lights another one with it from the pile on the mantelpiece and walks over to the door. He opens it slowly and emerges into a renewed blaze of ancestral portraiture, grand-aunts and distant cousins seeming to tut-tut his sudden appearance in a nightshirt. He heads for the kitchen, in search of . . . something, he doesn’t know, bread, a newspaper. But he has no intention of going back to sleep and nervously suspects that he has already been asleep for a very considerable period of time.
As Jack approaches the kitchen door, which is slightly ajar, a gust of wind races up behind him and gently nudges it open. Framed in the doorway, the kitchen table is mounted high with newspapers, documents, letters, ribboned parchments, architectural sketches, pots of ink and various sealed boxes and objects which do not belong and probably have never been on a kitchen table before. As he walks in he is not greeted by any lingering aromas, or even by a stale kitchen pungency, but by the musty odour of compressed acres of thick paper, gallons, transformed into pounds, of congealed ink, and the dry, creaking edifice of information their silent coalition preserves. The curious mountain of papers, which defiantly occupy the rightful place of platters of bacon and jugs of milk, breadboards, fresh fruit bowls, oatmeal and giblets, alert Jack to the irregularity of the whole arrangement and set him speculating furiously, his hand reaching automatically for his face where the appalling fuzzy growth of his beard throws him into a blind panic of chest palpitations and nausea. Through these physical symptoms comes a fleeting but maddeningly lucid reflection on Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, whose bizarre experiences lay such welcome siege on his childhood imagination, and then, his stomach steadying as his eyes grow accustomed to the light, a rising anger. As he approaches the table and lays down the candle, he becomes aware of a low but steady breathing from somewhere in the room.
“Here he is,” a voice declares itself immediately. “Heir to the lot.”
Jack pauses. He recognizes the unmistakable voice of William Grene, and realizes in an awful flash that Sir Lucius is dead, he is alive and the family estate is already far into the process of being torn apart for what it is worth and sized up for profitable distribution. There is a nervous delay during which Jack detects a separate breathing pattern and guesses that it belongs to the perfidious camphor-smelling Dr Brogan, Sir Lucius’s personal physician, a “friend” of the family’s and a regular at Drumcoolie. In the silence, the occasional glow from Dr Brogan’s pipe illuminates his face and half of William Grene’s, and then extinguishes and illuminates them again, giving Jack the impression that they are not real at all but merely some form of debris left over from his dreams, struggling to take material form.
“You’re very lucky to be alive, young man,” Dr Brogan says sleepily, “very lucky indeed.”
“I shouldn’t expect,” William Grene chimes in, “you’ll be so eager to be fraternizing with the rowdy boys up in Dublin” – the candle sputters and some wax dribbles off the top and down the side – “now that you’re a man of property.”
Jack turns away from them and picks up a newspaper from the kitchen table. The main story roughly approximates Sir Lucius’s nightmare of revolution . . . stones, mobs, fleeing monarchs, a republic in Paris. Animated now, Jack paces back and forth across the kitchen firing rapid questions at the two men and in less than five minutes establishes that he himself has been in and out of a raging delirium for about a week, that Sir Lucius has been dead (stoned to death, effectively assassinated) for the same length of time, and that Dublin itself is holding its breath as its moderates turn overnight into radicals, its pacifists into stone-throwing, barricade-building thugs. Dr Brogan shows Jack a letter from Edmund that he found in Sir Lucius’s files. It is a suicide note. It arrived well over a year ago but was never opened.
The atmosphere in the kitchen eventually grows ugly as Jack insists that Dr Brogan and William Grene leave, and not just the kitchen but Drumcoolie. They seem to be complying, standing up, gathering coats and sticks, but they nevertheless continue to taunt Jack with cryptic comments and unnecessary delays. Jack understands that they are trying to get him to declare his intentions.
“Well, I have absolutely no intention of remaining here . . .”
“Aaahh,” Dr Brogan says and turns to William Grene, who purses his lips and looks sheepishly down at the flagstones of the kitchen floor. Their timing is impeccable.
“What?” Jack snaps.
Apparently, some of Jack’s drinking companions up in Dublin have been more than a little involved in the disruptions of the past week. There has been a raid on Sir Lucius’s chemical plant in Ringsend and some vitriol – presumably to make vitriol bombs with – has been stolen. There are numerous allegations of sedition and a few arrests have been made. Those involved are generally considered to be a bad lot and somehow, William Grene is saying, Jack’s name has been linked to them. “Honour among thieves, I believe they call it,” Dr Brogan says. Neither Dr Brogan nor William Grene recommend that Jack show his face in Dublin for a while, and in fact, if he wants to maintain a shred of credibility he will stay here at Drumcoolie and attend to his new responsibilities. Buttoning up his overcoat with exaggerated vigour, Dr Brogan adds that if Jack needs him for anything he is of course available at all times of the night or day.
* * * * *
The next week two locals are arrested and charged with the murder of Sir Lucius Newbould. Similar incidents have taken place all over the country. The government officials and journalists who swarm about for a few days grow frustrated at not being able to talk to Jack, and having to deal with Dr Brogan. They eventually move on to the next theatre of action and list the incident as one to be followed up on. Jack hates Dr Brogan but allows him to engineer the whole situation. At the trial Jack is honestly unable to identify anybody, but the weight of circumstantial evidence ensures a conviction and the two men are sentenced to be hanged. Amidst the coverage in the newspapers none of the people Jack associated with in Dublin mentions him by name and only one of them, a red-haired scrivener called Shanard, makes the headlines himself, being deported to Van Dieman’s Land for distributing a broadsheet Jack had once proof-read and recommended be re-drafted on the grounds that its muddied line of thought might result in an unexpected truce between radicals and conservatives.
In the corridors, during the frequent recesses, Jack learns all there is to know about Sir Lucius, and from several different sources – from Nicholas Cornish, from Sir Henry Farthing, and from a newspaperman named McCarthy who delights in the obvious shock effect his well-worn stories are having on fresh ears. Jack sees that he himself hardly figured in Sir Lucius’s life at all, having been at most a minor irritation, and even well beneath notice for a large part of the time. At one point, Sir Henry Farthing overhears McCarthy, whom he takes to be drunk, saying something to Jack about the terrible exploitation of the locals and how the consequences of this are infinitely worse than anything anyone else – and here he seems sarcastically to be implying Jack himself – might have had to suffer as a result of a few unkind words, or a snide remark, from Sir Lucius Newbould. Shocked to see that Jack appears to be swallowing this whole, Sir Henry later takes the young man aside and warns him against such pernicious reasoning. Why, with regard to these very people, he says, Jack is in the very same position that his father was in just a few short weeks before.
The next time Jack visits Dublin is in August 1849, nearly a year and a half later. Something he only properly realizes a few days before setting out, however, is that his visit is to coincide with a state visit being paid by Queen Victoria, so that when he arrives, already quite apprehensive about seeing Dublin again after such a long absence, he finds himself completely disoriented by the bunting and the decorations and the general air of festivity – a tawdry transfiguration of the streets that does little to conceal the reality of their dirty and dilapidated condition.
On his first evening he dines with friends in Mountjoy Square and afterwards they all decide to go for a stroll down to Sackville Street. Over dinner his friends tell him that Nelson’s Pillar has been decorated with electric lights for the royal visit, everyone is talking about it and they should go and have a look. Jack doesn’t know whether or not to believe them – he’s had quite a bit to drink and thinks that maybe they are teasing him – but when they turn the corner of Great Denmark Street into Rutland Square, he is astonished to see what look like giant diamonds shimmering and coruscating against the night sky. He doesn’t feel terribly steady on his pins and as the group stroll down the incline into Sackville Street he becomes increasingly giddy and nervous, so much so that as they are passing the Rotunda he trips on his own bootlaces and falls, hurting his ankle and badly grazing the palm of his hand. One of his friends helps him up and tries to take his arm, but Jack pulls away impatiently and limps on, cursing under his breath. The dark imposing column now rises before them as they progress down the middle of the street, through the assembled crowds, mostly a leftover rabble from earlier in the evening, students, beggars, prostitutes, drunken soldiers. All eyes are raised and backs arched as the dazzling, brilliant light at the top of the column obliterates everything in its radiant sphere. “Positively unnatural!” one of the ladies says with distaste, and one of the gentlemen, looking around with equal distaste at the menacing crowds, says, “Steady on there, Newbould!” but Jack, drifting further into the throng, scorched of any awareness of his surroundings, doesn’t hear and continues staring intently up at the fiery orb, imagining, if only for a fleeting moment, that he can see not just one figure but two, Lord Nelson and his own father, and that the two figures are huddled together in the tiny railed enclosure at the top of the column, struggling to see out through the blinding light, or supporting one another, or wrestling maybe, he can’t be sure, jostling for command of the pillar.
When he finally turns away from the light and looks around him, Jack can’t see his friends anywhere, and notices for the first time the extent of the crowds – people crushing up against each other, bustling, shouting, fighting – an atmosphere he would have revelled in two years before, but is now horrified by. Whatever business he has in the city, he decides, can wait, because this is unbearable. But perhaps he shouldn’t have come back so soon. Perhaps he shouldn’t have come back at all. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Jack suddenly surges forward through the mob, determined to get away as quickly as possible, back to his friends’ house in Mountjoy Square, back round the corner to the stables, and then without any further delay back home to his estate in County Tipperary.