I FOUND the company of Father Roach so pleasant that I accepted an invitation which he gave me when we arrived at the termination of our walk to breakfast the next morning at the little hut, as he called the unpretending but neat cottage he inhabited, a short mile distant from the churchyard where we first met. I repaired, accordingly, the next morning at an early hour to my appointment, and found the worthy pastor ready to receive me. He met me at the little avenue (not that I mean to imply an idea of grandeur by the term) which led from the main road to his dwelling. It was a short, narrow road, bordered on each side by alder bushes, and an abrupt, awkward turn placed you in front of the humble dwelling of which he was master; the area before it, however, was clean, and the offensive dunghill, the intrusive pig, and barking cur-dog were not the distinguishing features of this, as unfortunately they too often are of other Irish cottagers.
On entering the house, an elderly and comfortably clad woman curtsied as we crossed the threshold, and I was led across an apartment, whose
"Neatly sanded floor--"
(an earthen one, by the way)--we traversed diagonally to an opposite corner, where an open door admitted us into a small but comfortable boarded apartment, where breakfast was laid, unostentatiously but neatly, and inviting to the appetite, as far as that could be stimulated by a white cloth, most promising fresh butter, a plate of evidently fresh eggs, and the best of cream, whose rich white was most advantageously set off by the plain blue ware of which the ewer was composed; add to this an ample cake of fresh griddle bread, and
"Though last, not least,"
the savoury smell that arose from a rasher of bacon, which announced itself through the medium of more senses than one; for its fretting and fuming in the pan, playing many an ingenious variation upon " fiz and whiz!"
"Gave dreadful note of preparation."
But I must not forget to notice the painted tin tea canister of mine host, which was emblazoned with the talismanic motto of
"O'Connell and Liberty;"
and underneath the semi-circular motto aforesaid appeared the rubicund visage of a lusty gentleman in a green coat, holding in his hand a scroll inscribed with the dreadful words, "Catholic rent,"
"Unpleasing most to Brunswick ears,"
which was meant to represent no less a personage than the "Great Liberator" himself.
While breakfast was going forward, the priest and myself had made no inconsiderable advance towards intimacy. Those who have mingled much in the world have often, no doubt, experienced, like myself, how much easier it is to enter at once, almost, into friendship with some, before the preliminaries of common acquaintance can be established with others.
Father Roach was one of the former species. We soon sympathised with each other; and becoming, as it were, at once possessed of the keys of each other's freemasonry, we mutually unlocked our confidence. This led to many an interesting conversation with the good father while I remained in his neighbourhood. He gave me a sketch of his life in a few words. It was simply this: He was a descendant of a family that had once been wealthy and of large possessions in the very county where, as he said himself, he was "a pauper."
"For what else can I call myself," said the humble priest, "when I depend on the gratuitous contributions of those who are little better than paupers themselves for my support? But God's will be done."
His forefathers had lost their patrimony by repeated forfeitures, under every change of power that had distracted, the unfortunate island of which be was a native; and for him and his brothers nothing was left but personal exertion.
"The elder boys would not remain here," said he, "where their religion was a barrier to their promotion. They went abroad, and offered their swords to the service of a foreign power. They fought and fell under the banners of Austria, who disdained not the accession of all such strong arms and bold hearts that left their native soil to be better appreciated in a stranger land.
"I, and a younger brother, who lost his father ere he could feel the loss, remained in poor Ireland. I was a sickly boy, and was constantly near my beloved mother--God rest her soul!--who early instilled Into my infant mind deeply reverential notions of religion, which at length imbued my mind so strongly with their influence that I determined to devote my life to the priesthood. I was sent to St. Omer to study, and on my return was appointed to the ministry, which I have ever since exercised to the best of the ability that God has vouchsafed to his servant."
Such was the outline of Father Roach's personal and family history.
In some of the conversations which our intimacy originated, I often sought for information touching the peculiar doctrines of his Church, and the discipline which its followers are enjoined to adopt.
I shall not attempt to weary the reader with an account of our arguments--for the good Father Roach was so meek as to condescend to an argument with one unlearned as myself, and a heretic to boot--nor to detail some anecdotes that to me were interesting on various points in question. I shall reserve, but one fact--and a most singular one it is--to present to my readers on the subject of confession.
Speaking upon this point, I remarked to Father Roach, that of all the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, that of confession I considered the most beneficial within the range of its discipline.
He concurred with me in admitting it as highly advantageous to the sinner. I ventured to add that I considered it very beneficial also to the person sinned against.
"Very true," said Father Roach; "restitution is often made through its agency."
"But in higher cases than those you allude to," said I; "for instance, the detection of conspiracies, unlawful meetings, etc. etc."
"Confession," said he, somewhat hesitatingly, "does not immediately come into action in the way you allude to."
I ventured to hint, rather cautiously, that in this kingdom, where the Roman Catholic religion was not the one established by law, there might be some reserve between penitent and confessor on a subject where the existing government might be looked upon something in the light of a step-mother.
A slight flush passed, over the priest's pallid face. "No, no," said he; "do not suspect us of any foul play to the power under which we live. No! But recollect, the doctrine of our Church is this--that whatsoever penance may be enjoined on the offending penitent by his confession, his crime, however black, must in all cases be held sacred, when its acknowledgment is made under the seal of confession."
"In all cases?" said I.
"Without an exception," answered he.
"Then, would you not feel it your duty to give a murderer up to justice?"
The countenance of Father Roach assumed an instantaneous change, as if a sudden pang shot through him--his lip became suddenly ashy pale, he hid his face in his hands, and seemed struggling with some deep emotion. I feared I had offended, and feeling quite confused, began to stammer out some nonsense, when he interrupted me.
"Do not be uneasy," said he. "You have said nothing to be ashamed of but your words touched a chord "--and his voice trembled as he spoke--"that cannot vibrate without intense pain;" and wiping away a tear that glistened in each humid eye, "I shall tell you a story" said he, "that will be the strongest illustration of such a case as you have supposed."
And he proceeded to give me the following narrative.