The Infernal Miscreant

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIV (7) start of chapter

One of these furious but honest 'No Popery' zealots was going on a voyage of some days' duration, and happening to come on board the steamer at the last moment before her departure, he found it difficult to procure accommodation. 'Not a cabin, sir—not a berth—all taken,' said the clerk. 'Can't you put me anywhere?' asked the gentleman; 'go I must, though I slept on the floor.' The clerk glanced over his books to see how, if possible, he could accommodate the passenger, who awaited the result with marked anxiety. 'I have discovered a berth, sir—the top berth—in one cabin; the lower berth is occupied by a very quiet person, who won't give you much trouble; he's a Catholic priest.' 'A Catholic priest!—did you say a priest? Why, damn him! I would not stay in the same room with him,' exclaimed the passenger. 'Well, sir, that's your affair, not mine,' replied the clerk; 'it is all I can do for you.' 'Look you!' said the passenger, 'if one of us is missed at the end of the voyage, I tell you it won't be me; for if that fellow dares to address one word to me, out of the window he will go—that I tell you now.' The clerk took the declaration coolly, not being unused to hear strong language, and even occasionally witness strange occurrences. In this happy frame of mind the passenger took possession of his upper berth at night, and growled himself to sleep. When he awoke in the morning, and remembered where he was, and who was his companion, he had the curiosity to ascertain what the 'infernal miscreant was after.' Peeping from his vantage-ground, he beheld the miscreant on his knees, apparently absorbed in prayer. 'Damn you! there you are,' was the benediction muttered in the bed-clothes of the upper berth. Its occupant looked again and again, but the miscreant was still at 'his humbug.' At length the miscreant rose from his knees and left the cabin, thus affording the tenant of the upper berth an opportunity of opening the window, and getting rid of the odour of brimstone which 'the devil' had left after him.

When the pair happened to meet during the day, the lower berth courteously bowed, and said something civil, to which the upper berth responded with something that bore a strange resemblance to an imprecation. 'Is the fellow really serious, or is it all a sham?' thought the Know Nothing, as he witnessed the same piety, the same wrapt devotion, the second morning. Stranger still, if the upper berth happened to visit the cabin during the day, it was ten chances to one that he discovered the 'extraordinary animal' on his knees, or deep in a book of devotion. For days the priest was the object of the most jealous watchfulness, stimulated by suspicion and dislike; but it was ever the same—the same appearance of genuine piety, and the same courtesy of manner. The honest gentleman in the upper berth was staggered, and did not know what to think of it. 'The fellow might possibly be a fool, but he certainly was not a humbug.' This was a great concession, a gigantic stride towards liberality of sentiment. At length he spoke with his fellow-passenger, and found him, what others had long before found him to be, intelligent and well-informed. He was not a fool, and not a humbug; then, what was he? The conviction rapidly grew upon the tenant of the upper berth, that his companion was a gentleman and a Christian minister; and, ere the voyage was at an end, the heart of the furious hater of Catholicity was changed; more than that, ere many months had passed, he who threatened to put the priest out of the window on the first provocation, became a practical Catholic, and there is not at this moment in America a stouter defender of the Church than he is!

As a striking contrast to the furious and unreasoning hatred which the incident just narrated represents, one of a different nature may be told. It occurred in the very height of the Know Nothing excitement, during a journey made by a priest, who is now Bishop of a Southern diocese.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America