Some Experiences of an Irish R.M., by Somerville and Ross

8

The Holy Island

For three days of November a white fog stood motionless over the country. All day and all night smothered booms and bangs away to the south-west told that the Fastnet gun was hard at work, and the sirens of the American liners uplifted their monstrous female voices as they felt their way along the coast of Cork. On the third afternoon the wind began to whine about the windows of Shreelane, and the barometer fell like a stone. At 11 P.M. the storm rushed upon us with the roar and the suddenness of a train; the chimneys bellowed, the tall old house quivered, and the yelling wind drove against it, as a man puts his shoulder against a door to burst it in.

We none of us got much sleep, and if Mrs. Cadogan is to be believed — which experience assures me she is not — she spent the night in devotional exercises, and in ministering to the panic-stricken kitchen-maid by the light of a Blessed candle. All that day the storm screamed on, dry-eyed; at nightfall the rain began, and next morning, which happened to be Sunday, every servant in the house was a messenger of Job, laden with tales of leakages, floods, and fallen trees, and inflated with the ill-concealed glory of their kind in evil tidings. To Peter Cadogan, who had been to early Mass, was reserved the crowning satisfaction of reporting that a big vessel had gone on the rocks at Yokahn Point the evening before, and was breaking up fast; it was rumoured that the crew had got ashore, but this feature, being favourable and uninteresting, was kept as much as possible in the background. Mrs. Cadogan, who had been to America in an ocean liner, became at once the latest authority on shipwrecks, and was of opinion that “whoever would be dhrownded, it wouldn’t be thim lads o’ sailors. Sure wasn’t there the greatest storm ever was in it the time meself was on the say, and what’d thim fellows do but to put us below entirely in the ship, and close down the doors on us, the way theirselves’d leg it when we’d be dhrownding!”

This view of the position was so startlingly novel that Philippa withdrew suddenly from the task of ordering dinner, and fell up the kitchen stairs in unsuitable laughter. Philippa has not the most rudimentary capacity for keeping her countenance.

That afternoon I was wrapped in the slumber, balmiest and most profound, that follows on a wet Sunday luncheon, when Murray, our D.I. of police, drove up in uniform, and came into the house on the top of a gust that set every door banging and every picture dancing on the walls. He looked as if his eyes had been blown out of his head, and he wanted something to eat very badly.

“I’ve been down at the wreck since ten o’clock this morning,” he said, “waiting for her to break up, and once she does there’ll be trouble. She’s an American ship, and she’s full up with rum, and bacon, and butter, and all sorts. Bosanquet is there with all his coastguards, and there are five hundred country people on the strand at this moment, waiting for the fun to begin. I’ve got ten of my fellows there, and I wish I had as many more. You’d better come back with me, Yeates, we may want the Riot Act before all’s done!”

The heavy rain had ceased, but it seemed as if it had fed the wind instead of calming it, and when Murray and I drove out of Shreelane, the whole dirty sky was moving, full sailed, in from the south-west, and the telegraph wires were hanging in a loop from the post outside the gate. Nothing except a Skebawn car-horse would have faced the whooping charges of the wind that came at us across Corran Lake; stimulated mysteriously by whistles from the driver, Murray’s yellow hireling pounded woodenly along against the blast, till the smell of the torn sea-weed was borne upon it, and we saw the Atlantic waves come towering into the bay of Tralagough.

The ship was, or had been, a three-masted barque; two of her masts were gone, and her bows stood high out of water on the reef that forms one of the shark-like jaws of the bay. The long strand was crowded with black groups of people, from the bank of heavy shingle that had been hurled over on to the road, down to the slope where the waves pitched themselves and climbed and fought and tore the gravel back with them, as though they had dug their fingers in. The people were nearly all men, dressed solemnly and hideously in their Sunday clothes; most of them had come straight from Mass without any dinner, true to that Irish instinct that places its fun before its food. That the wreck was regarded as a spree of the largest kind was sufficiently obvious. Our car pulled up at a public-house that stood askew between the road and the shingle; it was humming with those whom Irish publicans are pleased to call “Bonâ feeds,” and sundry of the same class were clustered round the door. Under the wall on the lee-side was seated a bagpiper, droning out “The Irish Washerwoman” with nodding head and tapping heel, and a young man was cutting a few steps of a jig for the delectation of a group of girls.

So far Murray’s constabulary had done nothing but exhibit their imposing chest measurement and spotless uniforms to the Atlantic, and Bosanquet’s coastguards had only salvaged some spars, the debris of a boat, and a dead sheep, but their time was coming. As we stumbled down over the shingle, battered by the wind and pelted by clots of foam, some one beside me shouted, “She’s gone!” A hill of water had smothered the wreck, and when it fell from her again nothing was left but the bows, with the bowsprit hanging from them in a tangle of rigging. The clouds, bronzed by an unseen sunset, hung low over her; in that greedy pack of waves, with the remorseless rocks above and below her, she seemed the most lonely and tormented of creatures.

About half-an-hour afterwards the cargo began to come ashore on the top of the rising tide. Barrels were plunging and diving in the trough of the waves, like a school of porpoises; they were pitched up the beach in waist-deep rushes of foam; they rolled down again, and were swung up and shouldered by the next wave, playing a kind of Tom Tiddler’s ground with the coastguards. Some of the barrels were big and dangerous, some were small and nimble like young pigs, and the bluejackets were up to their middles as their prey dodged and ducked, and the police lined out along the beach to keep back the people. Ten men of the R.I.C. can do a great deal, but they cannot be in more than twenty or thirty places at the same instant; therefore they could hardly cope with a scattered and extremely active mob of four or five hundred, many of whom had taken advantage of their privileges as “bonâ-fide travellers,” and all of whom were determined on getting at the rum.

As the dusk fell the thing got more and more out of hand; the people had found out that the big puncheons held the rum, and had succeeded in capturing one. In the twinkling of an eye it was broached, and fifty backs were shoving round it like a football scrummage. I have heard many rows in my time: I have seen two Irish regiments — one of them Militia — at each other’s throats in Fermoy barracks; I have heard Philippa’s water spaniel and two fox-terriers hunting a strange cat round the dairy; but never have I known such untrammelled bedlam as that which yelled round the rum-casks on Tralagough strand. For it was soon not a question of one broached cask, or even of two. The barrels were coming in fast, so fast that it was impossible for the representatives of law and order to keep on any sort of terms with them. The people, shouting with laughter, stove in the casks, and drank rum at 34° above proof, out of their hands, out of their hats, out of their boots. Women came fluttering over the hillsides through the twilight, carrying jugs, milk-pails, anything that would hold the liquor; I saw one of them, roaring with laughter, tilt a filthy zinc bucket to an old man’s lips.

With the darkness came anarchy. The rising tide brought more and yet more booty: great spars came lunging in on the lap of the waves, mixed up with cabin furniture, seamen’s chests, and the black and slippery barrels, and the country people continued to flock in, and the drinking became more and more unbridled. Murray sent for more men and a doctor, and we slaved on hopelessly in the dark, collaring half-drunken men, shoving pig-headed casks up hills of shingle, hustling in among groups of roaring drinkers — we rescued perhaps one barrel in half-a-dozen. I began to know that there were men there who were not drunk and were not idle; I was also aware, as the strenuous hours of darkness passed, of an occasional rumble of cart wheels on the road. It was evident that the casks which were broached were the least part of the looting, but even they were beyond our control. The most that Bosanquet, Murray, and I could do was to concentrate our forces on the casks that had been secured, and to organise charges upon the swilling crowds in order to upset the casks that they had broached. Already men and boys were lying about, limp as leeches, motionless as the dead.

“They’ll kill themselves before morning, at this rate!” shouted Murray to me. “They’re drinking it by the quart! Here’s another barrel; come on!”

We rallied our small forces, and after a brief but furious struggle succeeded in capsizing it. It poured away in a flood over the stones, over the prostrate figures that sprawled on them, and a howl of reproach followed.

“If ye pour away any more o’ that, Major,” said an unctuous voice in my ear, “ye’ll intoxicate the stones and they’ll be getting up and knocking us down!”

I had been aware of a fat shoulder next to mine in the throng as we heaved the puncheon over, and I now recognised the ponderous wit and Falstaffian figure of Mr. James Canty, a noted member of the Skebawn Board of Guardians, and the owner of a large farm near at hand.

“I never saw worse work on this strand,” he went on. “I considher these debaucheries a disgrace to the counthry.”

Mr. Canty was famous as an orator, and I presume that it was from long practice among his fellow P.L.G.’s that he was able, without apparent exertion, to out-shout the storm.

At this juncture the long-awaited reinforcements arrived, and along with them came Dr. Jerome Hickey, armed with a black bag. Having mentioned that the bag contained a pump — not one of the common or garden variety — and that no pump on board a foundering ship had more arduous labours to perform, I prefer to pass to other themes. The wreck, which had at first appeared to be as inexhaustible and as variously stocked as that in the “Swiss Family Robinson,” was beginning to fail in its supply. The crowd were by this time for the most part incapable from drink, and the fresh contingent of police tackled their work with some prospect of success by the light of a tar barrel, contributed by the owner of the public-house. At about the same time I began to be aware that I was aching with fatigue, that my clothes hung heavy and soaked upon me, that my face was stiff with the salt spray and the bitter wind, and that it was two hours past dinner-time. The possibility of fried salt herrings and hot whisky and water at the public-house rose dazzlingly before my mind, when Mr. Canty again crossed my path.

“In my opinion ye have the whole cargo under conthrol now, Major,” he said, “and the police and the sailors should be able to account for it all now by the help of the light. Wasn’t I the finished fool that I didn’t think to send up to my house for a tar barrel before now! Well — we’re all foolish sometimes! But indeed it’s time for us to give over, and that’s what I’m after saying to the Captain and Mr. Murray. You’re exhausted now the three of ye, and if I might make so bold, I’d suggest that ye’d come up to my little place and have what’d warm ye before ye’d go home. It’s only a few perches up the road.”

The tide had turned, the rain had begun again, and the tar barrel illumined the fact that Dr. Hickey’s dreadful duties alone were pressing. We held a council and finally followed Mr. Canty, picking our way through wreckage of all kinds, including the human variety. Near the public-house I stumbled over something that was soft and had a squeak in it; it was the piper, with his head and shoulders in an overturned rum-barrel, and the bagpipes still under his arm.

I knew the outward appearance of Mr. Canty’s house very well. It was a typical southern farm-house, with dirty whitewashed walls, a slated roof, and small, hermetically-sealed windows staring at the morass of manure which constituted the yard. We followed Mr. Canty up the filthy lane that led to it, picked our way round vague and squelching spurs of the manure heap, and were finally led through the kitchen into a stifling best parlour. Mrs. Canty, a vast and slatternly matron, had evidently made preparations for us; there was a newly-lighted fire pouring flame up the chimney from layers of bogwood, there were whisky and brandy on the table, and a plateful of biscuits sugared in white and pink. Upon our hostess was a black silk dress which indifferently concealed the fact that she was short of boot-laces, and that the boots themselves had made many excursions to the yard and none to the blacking-bottle. Her manners, however, were admirable, and while I live I shall not forget her potato cakes. They came in hot and hot from a pot-oven, they were speckled with caraway seeds, they swam in salt butter, and we ate them shamelessly and greasily, and washed them down with hot whisky and water; I knew to a nicety how ill I should be next day, and heeded not.

“Well, gentlemen,” remarked Mr. Canty later on, in his best Board of Guardians’ manner, “I’ve seen many wrecks between this and the Mizen Head, but I never witnessed a scene of more disgraceful ex-cess than what was in it to-night.”

“Hear, hear!” murmured Bosanquet with unseemly levity.

“I should say,” went on Mr. Canty, “there was at one time to-night upwards of one hundhred men dead dhrunk on the strand, or anyway so dhrunk that if they’d attempt to spake they’d foam at the mouth.”

“The craytures!” interjected Mrs. Canty sympathetically.

“But if they’re dhrunk to-day,” continued our host, “it’s nothing at all to what they’ll be to-morrow and afther to-morrow, and it won’t be on the strand they’ll be dhrinkin’ it.”

“Why, where will it be?” said Bosanquet, with his disconcerting English way of asking a point-blank question.

Mr. Canty passed his hand over his red cheeks.

“There’ll be plenty asking that before all’s said and done, Captain,” he said, with a compassionate smile, “and there’ll be plenty that could give the answer if they’ll like, but by dam I don’t think ye’ll be apt to get much out of the Yokahn boys!”

“The Lord save us, ’twould be better to keep out from the likes o’ thim!” put in Mrs. Canty, sliding a fresh avalanche of potato cakes on to the dish; “didn’t they pull the clothes off the gauger and pour potheen down his throath till he ran screeching through the streets o’ Skebawn!”

James Canty chuckled.

“I remember there was a wreck here one time, and the undherwriters put me in charge of the cargo. Brandy it was — cases of the best Frinch brandy. The people had a song about it, what’s this the first verse was —

“One night to the rocks of Yokahn

Came the barque Isabella so dandy,

To pieces she went before dawn,

Herself and her cargo of brandy.

And all met a wathery grave

Excepting the vessel’s carpenther,

Poor fellow, so far from his home.”

Mr. Canty chanted these touching lines in a tuneful if wheezy tenor. “Well, gentlemen, we’re all friends here,” he continued, “and it’s no harm to mention that this man below at the public-house came askin’ me would I let him have some of it for a consideration. ‘Sullivan,’ says I to him, ‘if ye ran down gold in a cup in place of the brandy, I wouldn’t give it to you. Of coorse,’ says I, ‘I’m not sayin’ but that if a bottle was to get a crack of a stick, and it to be broken, and a man to drink a glass out of it, that would be no more than an accident.’ ‘That’s no good to me,’ says he, ‘but if I had twelve gallons of that brandy in Cork,’ says he, ‘by the Holy German!’ says he, saying an awful curse, ‘I’d sell twenty-five out of it!’ Well, indeed, it was true for him; it was grand stuff. As the saying is, it would make a horse out of a cow!”

“It appears to be a handy sort of place for keeping a pub,” said Bosanquet.

“Shut to the door, Margaret,” said Mr. Canty with elaborate caution. “It’d be a queer place that wouldn’t be handy for Sullivan!”

A further tale of great length was in progress when Dr. Hickey’s Mephistophelian nose was poked into the best parlour.

“Hullo, Hickey! Pumped out? eh?” said Murray.

“If I am, there’s plenty more like me,” replied the Doctor enigmatically, “and some of them three times over! James, did these gentlemen leave you a drop of anything that you’d offer me?”

“Maybe ye’d like a glass of rum, Doctor?” said Mr. Canty with a wink at his other guests.

Dr. Hickey shuddered.

I had next morning precisely the kind of mouth that I had anticipated, and it being my duty to spend the better part of the day administering justice in Skebawn, I received from Mr. Flurry Knox and other of my brother magistrates precisely the class of condolences on my “Monday head” that I found least amusing. It was unavailing to point out the resemblance between hot potato cakes and molten lead, or to dilate on their equal power of solidifying; the collective wisdom of the Bench decided that I was suffering from contraband rum, and rejoiced over me accordingly.

During the next three weeks Murray and Bosanquet put in a time only to be equalled by that of the heroes in detective romances. They began by acting on the hint offered by Mr. Canty, and were rewarded by finding eight barrels of bacon and three casks of rum in the heart of Mr. Sullivan’s turf rick, placed there, so Mr. Sullivan explained with much detail, by enemies, with the object of getting his licence taken away. They stabbed potato gardens with crowbars to find the buried barrels, they explored the chimneys, they raided the cow-houses; and in every possible and impossible place they found some of the cargo of the late barque John D. Williams, and, as the sympathetic Mr. Canty said, “For as much as they found, they left five times as much afther them!”

It was a wet, lingering autumn, but towards the end of November the rain dried up, the weather stiffened, and a week of light frosts and blue skies was offered as a tardy apology. Philippa possesses, in common with many of her sex, an inappeasable passion for picnics, and her ingenuity for devising occasions for them is only equalled by her gift for enduring their rigours. I have seen her tackle a moist chicken pie with a splinter of slate and my stylograph pen. I have known her to take the tea-basket to an auction, and make tea in a four-wheeled inside car, regardless of the fact that it was coming under the hammer in ten minutes, and that the kettle took twenty minutes to boil. It will therefore be readily understood that the rare occasions when I was free to go out with a gun were not allowed to pass uncelebrated by the tea-basket.

“You’d much better shoot Corran Lake to-morrow,” my wife said to me one brilliant afternoon. “We could send the punt over, and I could meet you on Holy Island with ——”

The rest of the sentence was concerned with ways, means, and the tea-basket, and need not be recorded.

I had taken the shooting of a long snipe bog that trailed from Corran Lake almost to the sea at Tralagough, and it was my custom to begin to shoot from the seaward end of it, and finally to work round the lake after duck.

To-morrow proved a heavenly morning, touched with frost, gilt with sun. I started early, and the mists were still smoking up from the calm, all-reflecting lake, as the Quaker stepped out along the level road, smashing the thin ice on the puddles with his big feet. Behind the calves of my legs sat Maria, Philippa’s brown Irish water-spaniel, assiduously licking the barrels of my gun, as was her custom when the ecstasy of going out shooting was hers. Maria had been given to Philippa as a wedding-present, and since then it had been my wife’s ambition that she should conform to the Beth Gelert standard of being “a lamb at home, a lion in the chase.” Maria did pretty well as a lion: she hunted all dogs unmistakably smaller than herself, and whenever it was reasonably possible to do so she devoured the spoils of the chase, notably jack snipe. It was as a lamb that she failed; objectionable as I have no doubt a lamb would be as a domestic pet, it at least would not snatch the cold beef from the luncheon-table, nor yet, if banished for its crimes, would it spend the night in scratching the paint off the hall door. Maria bit beggars (who valued their disgusting limbs at five shillings the square inch), she bullied the servants, she concealed ducks’ claws and fishes’ backbones behind the sofa cushions, and yet, when she laid her brown snout upon my knee, and rolled her blackguard amber eyes upon me, and smote me with her feathered paw, it was impossible to remember her iniquities against her. On shooting mornings Maria ceased to be a buccaneer, a glutton, and a hypocrite. From the moment when I put my gun together her breakfast stood untouched until it suffered the final degradation of being eaten by the cats, and now in the trap she was shivering with excitement, and agonising in her soul lest she should even yet be left behind.

Slipper met me at the cross roads from which I had sent back the trap; Slipper, redder in the nose than anything I had ever seen off the stage, very husky as to the voice, and going rather tender on both feet. He informed me that I should have a grand day’s shooting, the head-poacher of the locality having, in a most gentlemanlike manner, refrained from exercising his sporting rights the day before, on hearing that I was coming. I understood that this was to be considered as a mark of high personal esteem, and I set to work at the bog with suitable gratitude.

In spite of Mr. O’Driscoll’s magnanimity, I had not a very good morning. The snipe were there, but in the perfect stillness of the weather it was impossible to get near them, and five times out of six they were up, flickering and dodging, before I was within shot. Maria became possessed of seven devils and broke away from heel the first time I let off my gun, ranging far and wide in search of the bird I had missed, and putting up every live thing for half a mile round, as she went splashing and steeple-chasing through the bog. Slipper expressed his opinion of her behaviour in language more appallingly picturesque and resourceful than any I have heard, even in the Skebawn Courthouse; I admit that at the time I thought he spoke very suitably. Before she was recaptured every remaining snipe within earshot was lifted out of it by Slipper’s steam-engine whistles and my own infuriated bellows; it was fortunate that the bog was spacious and that there was still a long tract of it ahead, where beyond these voices there was peace.

I worked my way on, jumping treacle-dark drains, floundering through the rustling yellow rushes, circumnavigating the bog-holes, and taking every possible and impossible chance of a shot; by the time I had reached Corran Lake I had got two and a half brace, retrieved by Maria with a perfection that showed what her powers were when the sinuous adroitness of Slipper’s woodbine stick was fresh in her mind. But with Maria it was always the unexpected that happened. My last snipe, a jack, fell in the lake, and Maria, bursting through the reeds with kangaroo bounds, and cleaving the water like a torpedo-boat, was a model of all the virtues of her kind. She picked up the bird with a snake-like dart of her head, clambered with it on to a tussock, and there, well out of reach of the arm of the law, before our indignant eyes crunched it twice and bolted it.

“Well,” said Slipper complacently, some ten minutes afterwards, “divil such a bating ever I gave a dog since the day Prince killed owld Mrs. Knox’s paycock! Prince was a lump of a brown tarrier I had one time, and faith I kicked the toes out o’ me owld boots on him before I had the owld lady composed!”

However composing Slipper’s methods may have been to Mrs. Knox, they had quite the contrary effect upon a family party of duck that had been lying in the reeds. With horrified outcries they broke into flight, and now were far away on the ethereal mirror of the lake, among strings of their fellows that were floating and quacking in preoccupied indifference to my presence.

A promenade along the lake-shore demonstrated the fact that without a boat there was no more shooting for me; I looked across to the island where, some time ago, I had seen Philippa and her punt arrive. The boat was tied to an overhanging tree, but my wife was nowhere to be seen. I was opening my mouth to give a hail, when I saw her emerge precipitately from among the trees and jump into the boat; Philippa had not in vain spent many summers on the Thames, she was under way in a twinkling, sculled a score of strokes at the rate of a finish, then stopped and stared at the peaceful island. I called to her, and in a minute or two the punt had crackled through the reeds, and shoved its blunt nose ashore at the spot where I was standing.

“Sinclair,” said Philippa in awe-struck tones, “there’s something on the island!”

“I hope there’s something to eat there,” said I.

“I tell you there is something there, alive,” said my wife with her eyes as large as saucers; “it’s making an awful sound like snoring.”

“That’s the fairies, ma’am,” said Slipper with complete certainty; “sure I known them that seen fairies in that island as thick as the grass, and every one o’ them with little caps on them.”

Philippa’s wide gaze wandered to Slipper’s hideous pug face and back to me.

“It was not a human being, Sinclair!” she said combatively, though I had not uttered a word.

Maria had already, after the manner of dogs, leaped, dripping, into the boat: I prepared to follow her example.

“Major,” said Slipper, in a tragic whisper, “there was a man was a night on that island one time, watching duck, and Thim People cot him, and dhragged him through Hell and through Death, and threw him in the tide ——”

“Shove off the boat,” I said, too hungry for argument.

Slipper obeyed, throwing his knee over the gunwale as he did so, and tumbling into the bow; we could have done without him very comfortably, but his devotion was touching.

Holy Island was perhaps a hundred yards long, and about half as many broad; it was covered with trees and a dense growth of rhododendrons; somewhere in the jungle was a ruined fragment of a chapel, smothered in ivy and briars, and in a little glade in the heart of the island there was a holy well. We landed, and it was obviously a sore humiliation to Philippa that not a sound was to be heard in the spell-bound silence of the island, save the cough of a heron on a tree-top.

“It was there,” she said, with an unconvinced glance at the surrounding thickets.

“Sure, I’ll give a thrawl through the island, ma’am,” volunteered Slipper with unexpected gallantry, “an’ if it’s the divil himself is in it, I’ll rattle him into the lake!”

He went swaggering on his search, shouting, “Hi, cock!” and whacking the rhododendrons with his stick, and after an interval returned and assured us that the island was uninhabited. Being provided with refreshments he again withdrew, and Philippa and Maria and I fed variously and at great length, and washed the plates with water from the holy well. I was smoking a cigarette when we heard Slipper addressing the solitudes at the farther end of the island, and ending with one of his whisky-throated crows of laughter.

He presently came lurching towards us through the bushes, and a glance sufficed to show even Philippa — who was as incompetent a judge of such matters as many of her sex — that he was undeniably screwed.

“Major Yeates!” he began, “and Mrs. Major Yeates, with respex to ye, I’m bastely dhrunk! Me head is light since the ‘fluenzy, and the docthor told me I should carry a little bottle-een o’ sperrits ——”

“Look here,” I said to Philippa, “I’ll take him across, and bring the boat back for you.”

“Sinclair,” responded my wife with concentrated emotion, “I would rather die than stay on this island alone!”

Slipper was getting drunker every moment, but I managed to stow him on his back in the bows of the punt, in which position he at once began to uplift husky and wandering strains of melody. To this accompaniment we, as Tennyson says,

“moved from the brink like some full-breasted swan,

That, fluting a wild carol ere her death,

Ruffles her pure cold plume, and takes the flood

With swarthy web.”

Slipper would certainly have been none the worse for taking the flood, and, as the burden of “Lannigan’s Ball” strengthened and spread along the tranquil lake, and the duck once more fled in justifiable consternation, I felt much inclined to make him do so.

We made for the end of the lake that was nearest Shreelane, and, as we rounded the point of the island, another boat presented itself to our view. It contained my late entertainer, Mrs. Canty, seated bulkily in the stern, while a small boy bowed himself between the two heavy oars.

“It’s a lovely evening, Major Yeates,” she called out. “I’m just going to the island to get some water from the holy well for me daughter that has an impression on her chest. Indeed, I thought ’twas yourself was singing a song for Mrs. Yeates when I heard you coming, but sure Slipper is a great warrant himself for singing.”

“May the divil crack the two legs undher ye!” bawled Slipper in acknowledgment of the compliment.

Mrs. Canty laughed genially, and her boat lumbered away.

I shoved Slipper ashore at the nearest point; Philippa and I paddled to the end of the lake, and abandoning the duck as a bad business, walked home.

A few days afterwards it happened that it was incumbent upon me to attend the funeral of the Roman Catholic Bishop of the diocese. It was what is called in France ”un bel enterrement,” with inky flocks of tall-hatted priests, and countless yards of white scarves, and a repast of monumental solidity at the Bishop’s residence. The actual interment was to take place in Cork, and we moved in long and imposing procession to the railway station, where a special train awaited the cortège. My friend Mr. James Canty was among the mourners: an important and active personage, exchanging condolences with the priests, giving directions to porters, and blowing his nose with a trumpeting mournfulness that penetrated all the other noises of the platform. He was condescending enough to notice my presence, and found time to tell me that he had given Mr. Murray “a sure word” with regard to some of ”the wreckage“— this with deep significance, and a wink of an inflamed and tearful eye. I saw him depart in a first-class carriage, and the odour of sanctity; seeing that he was accompanied by seven priests, and that both windows were shut, the latter must have been considerable.

Afterwards, in the town, I met Murray, looking more pleased with himself than I had seen him since he had taken up the unprofitable task of smuggler-hunting.

“Come along and have some lunch,” he said, “I’ve got a real good thing on this time! That chap Canty came to me late last night, and told me that he knew for a fact that the island on Corran Lake was just stiff with barrels of bacon and rum, and that I’d better send every man I could spare to-day to get them into the town. I sent the men out at eight o’clock this morning; I think I’ve gone one better than Bosanquet this time!”

I began to realise that Philippa was going to score heavily on the subject of the fairies that she had heard snoring on the island, and I imparted to Murray the leading features of our picnic there.

“Oh, Slipper’s been up to his chin in that rum from the first,” said Murray. “I’d like to know who his sleeping partner was!”

It was beginning to get dark before the loaded carts of the salvage party came lumbering past Murray’s windows and into the yard of the police-barrack. We followed them, and in so doing picked up Flurry Knox, who was sauntering in the same direction. It was a good haul, five big casks of rum, and at least a dozen smaller barrels of bacon and butter, and Murray and his Chief Constable smiled seraphically on one another as the spoil was unloaded and stowed in a shed.

“Wouldn’t it be as well to see how the butter is keeping?” remarked Flurry, who had been looking on silently, with, as I had noticed, a still and amused eye. “The rim of that small keg there looks as if it had been shifted lately.”

The sergeant looked hard at Flurry; he knew as well as most people that a hint from Mr. Knox was usually worth taking. He turned to Murray.

“Will I open it, sir?”

“Oh! open it if Mr. Knox wishes,” said Murray, who was not famous for appreciating other people’s suggestions.

The keg was opened.

“Funny butter,” said Flurry.

The sergeant said nothing. The keg was full of black bog-mould. Another was opened, and another, all with the same result.

“Damnation!” said Murray, suddenly losing his temper. “What’s the use of going on with those? Try one of the rum casks.”

A few moments passed in total silence while a tap and a spigot were sent for and applied to the barrel. The sergeant drew off a mugful and put his nose to it with the deliberation of a connoisseur.

“Water, sir,” he pronounced, “dirty water, with a small indication of sperrits.”

A junior constable tittered explosively, met the light blue glare of Murray’s eye, and withered away.

“Perhaps it’s holy water!” said I, with a wavering voice.

Murray’s glance pinned me like an assegai, and I also faded into the background.

“Well,” said Flurry in dulcet tones, “if you want to know where the stuff is that was in those barrels, I can tell you, for I was told it myself half-an-hour ago. It’s gone to Cork with the Bishop by special train!”

 

Mr. Canty was undoubtedly a man of resource. Mrs. Canty had mistakenly credited me with an intelligence equal to her own, and on receiving from Slipper a highly coloured account of how audibly Mr. Canty had slept off his potations, had regarded the secret of Holy Island as having been given away. That night and the two succeeding ones were spent in the transfer of the rum to bottles, and the bottles and the butter to fish boxes; these were, by means of a slight lubrication of the railway underlings, loaded into a truck as “Fresh Fish, Urgent,” and attached to the Bishop’s funeral train, while the police, decoyed far from the scene of action, were breaking their backs over barrels of bog-water. “I suppose,” continued Flurry pleasantly, “you don’t know the pub that Canty’s brother has in Cork. Well, I do. I’m going to buy some rum there next week, cheap.”

“I shall proceed against Canty,” said Murray, with fateful calm.

“You won’t proceed far,” said Flurry; “you’ll not get as much evidence out of the whole country as’d hang a cat.”

“Who was your informant?” demanded Murray.

Flurry laughed. “Well, by the time the train was in Cork, yourself and the Major were the only two men in the town that weren’t talking about it.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/somerville-and-ross/some-experiences-of-an-irish-r-m/chapter8.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30